Sunday, September 28, 2014

How Relationships Have Shaped Me

Copied from one of my forum posts elsewhere on the intertubes (feel free to track down the original if you like):

I haven’t exactly had great role models growing up, at least not real live ones. My dad was physically abusive to me and my mom, my mom was emotionally abusive. The other adults around me were, at best, mediocre. Most of what I understand of ethics and morality I learned from television. Thankfully, my parents had an eye for good TV, which mainly included Star Trek. I’ve been an avid follower of the sci-fi cultural drama ever since, because it always questioned and was never quite settled with an easy answer.

So I learned to always question, and was never settled with an easy answer. This did me well in school and has done me well in my career. I engaged with the sciences, the humanities, with politics, eventually settling in to an amazing role that blends many of my passions and interests into one. I’m fortunate to have a career I love, built from my sweat, blood, work, and tears. Something I can truly say is my own, through and through. In the ‘practical’ matters of life, I have succeeded far beyond what anyone could have expected from me when I was growing up. I moved from an isolated little kid from a broken family (parents divorced messily when I was 13) to one who stands on his own two feet, doing some amazing things, helping lots of people, and with a great future laid out.

Yet, as with most things it seems, my price for this has been in my relationships. I have suffered bitterly with poor relationships. Over a decade of dating (I’m 31) and I have more broken hearts strewn in my past than I would wish on anyone. I’ve been gutted, through and through, with constant lies, abuse, manipulation, and even outright theft, by multitudes of women over the past several years. One broke up with me during her family’s new years eve party, another bailed on me because she wanted to ‘try things out with another guy’ and then came running back (unsuccessfully) when that didn’t work, another chewed me out extremely harshly for being too tired to spend more time with her after coming back from a cross-country interview. Countless others have just flat out lied about who they are, what they wanted, etc. and put the blame for that on me.

And then there’s my ex-wife… *shudder* What she did is the stuff of nightmares, literally. The trauma she caused gives me sleepless nights, makes my mind wander, distracts me through the day, and that was over four years ago.

Time and time again I try, looking for the problem. I’ve looked at the women I date, which covers a very wide range, and I can’t find the problem. I look at myself, but can find no problem there, even after cross-checking with friends, family, and otherwise. I don’t understand the problem, and I keep running into it, again and again and again.

I *may* be just a very difficult person to match, I’m a phenomenally deep thinker, I regularly engage with philosophy, religion, politics, the ‘big question’ fields. I have my own personal sense of morality that I’ve constructed over the years. I lack a lot of the social conditioning that most people have (one of the quirks of homeschool), so I’m not susceptible to the same persuasions that most are. My interests are diverse, including theater, needlework, programming, law, astronomy, and dance, just to name a few. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and I recognize that I’m but a blip in the cosmos. I sometimes wonder if that uniqueness, which has so benefitted me in every other area of my life, is why my relationships suffer as they do.

I’ve tried so many different things, raising and lowering my standards, different venues, different kinds of women, passive and active approaches, the results are basically the same all-around: I get heartbroken in some fashion, and often completely unexpectedly.

I have a good life, a very good one in fact. This part of it, though, has suffered greatly, and I have many, many many many, scars from it. Nothing seems to work, and nothing seems to help. I’m, simply put, lonely. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the best I can hope to achieve is to bounce from heartbreak to heartbreak, or to just give up on it altogether and resign myself to loneliness. I bounce between both ends, determination and despair, far more often than I would like.

I may be ‘only 31’, and really just facing a problem in one part of what is otherwise a rather idyllic life, yet it’s a part that drags all the other ones down. The worst thing about it, my happiest relationship memories are from my marriage, yet because of the character of my ex, I can’t say those were honest memories, given how I was lied to and manipulated in that relationship.

What’s harder is being surrounded by people in happy relationships all the time. I often feel like Tantalus must have felt: eternally hungry, with food just out of reach at all times. Oh I understand surface impressions aren’t everything, and many ‘happy couples’ aren’t as happy as they seem. I still argue that they’re better off in this area than I am, and it’s torturesome for me to see that.

I think these challenges are why I’m so drawn to Fredrick Nietzsche’s philosophies, the abridged version being ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, and there’s no doubt that I’m a stronger person for the suffering I’ve endured. I’ve overcome the kinds of emotional stress that would completely cripple many people; I’ve endured countless sleepless nights due to the emotional trauma of my relationships; I’ve tested my character by not being vindictive on those who did me harm. Yet when is enough, enough?

I don’t really know whom this is directed at, the universe maybe? As a plea for compassion? I’m tough enough to take this, probably tougher still, yet when I tell friends of the depth of my suffering, the only explanation any of them can come up with is that I must have dome some truly horrendous things in a past life.

I’ve made some remarkable things out of this life, why am I not allowed to share it with someone? *sigh*. I’m not really looking for advice, I’ve gotten so much, and found it all rather worthless in my situation (not that its worthless advice, it’s just worthless because nothing seems to work). Compassion is appreciated, but fleeting. I guess I’m asking for prayer, that something will change for me, and somehow I’ll find myself with someone to share what I’ve built with.

- Jason

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Understanding Privilege

I think it's pretty clear I've had a lot on my mind lately. Funny how having free time does that.

I wonder a lot what exactly 'male privilege' means. I think I understand how privilege works in sociology: having an advantage due to characteristics that aren't related to one's actual skills and abilities. Whites have a privilege over Blacks because of multiple generations of being the owners of production, rather than its servants (I use that word very loosely, as slaves is just as valid). Over time this generates far more capital among Whites, which gets passed generationally to more Whites.

There's a lot to this though. Inter-racial families are an unfortunate rarity, despite the advantages (I'm speaking mainly genetically here). Is it fair to say that Whites have 'privilege' in this case, when there's other factors that are required to sustain that privilege beyond just the existence of the initial advantage. I think this is one of the reasons that privilege gets treated as a systemic problem.

It goes beyond just capital though, in post-modern societies there's particular paths, behaviors, and interactions that give one an advantage. How one presents, what skills one has, who one knows. Granted these are things that are (generally, but not always) within the control of the individual, though where does one learn what are advantageous ways of presenting, skills to have, and people to know? I'd argue that a lot of that comes from the environment that an individual is raised in.

I'd also argue that context matters significantly in which combination of presentation, skills and social ties are most advantageous to the individual. For example, I come from an upper-middle class background. Both my parents imparted in me the value of the traditional education system. They were preparing me to find advantage in the world they knew: the upper-middle class world, where I could find an advantage by pursuing and achieving a college degree.

They weren't wrong either, I have many of the advantages I do because I achieved that degree. The value of that degree, however, was imparted by my parents value of education. Yes, I bring much of my own unique individuality to that, however if not for my parents imparting their beliefs, I would have had nothing to start with.

I believe, and I think sociological theory would support me, that the same process happens for many, if not all, children. They learn from their parents, and their early environment, what behaviors, skills, and connections provide an advantage. The problem is, it's limited to their environment. I doubt my fancy-pants policy degree would matter worth a whiff in Richmond, CA though.

For those who don't know, Richmond, CA is one of the roughest neighborhoods around San Francisco. Oakland gets a lot of the attention, but it's really Richmond that houses the most challenging environment. There's a particular part called the 'iron triangle' (due to how the rail lines cross the area) where violence and death is not uncommon. I have a friend who grew up there, and falling asleep to gunshots was a regular occurrence.

Everything I got from my parents wouldn't matter a whiff in that environment. I was raised in an environment where the norms are vastly different than the iron triangle. In a lot of ways, it's a completely different culture.

Traditional rhetoric would identify me as having 'privilege' over people who grew up in the iron triangle. I wonder though, what exactly that means? I have advantages in the upper-middle class environment, I was raised in it, and understand its nuances and subtleties. I am much better at 'playing the system' in the upper-middle class world than anywhere else, because I've been exposed to it much longer.

But that understanding doesn't extend beyond that realm. It actually presents itself with a phenomenal challenge if I ever wanted to migrate outside of an 'upper-middle class' environment. That 'privilege' that I have here, in upper-middle class world, is lost as soon as I step outside of it. This applies not just to 'downsizing' my class status, but also to 'upsizing'. I don't understand the environment to survive as a wealthy individual any more than I do as a poor one.

Yet the argument is that the rich are privileged in what they have over me. I find myself confused with that argument, as much as I'm confused by how I have privilege over the poor. In much the same way that I would loose my advantages outside my upper-middle class environment, so would others loose their advantages in their environment.

Yet the common view of 'privilege' would have this top-down perspective of how I'm exploited by the rich, and how I exploit the poor because of these learned advantages. Ignoring how I feel on the matter (in some ways I do and others I don't) for the moment, as that's got a ton of bias in it already (which I touch on a little here), let's think this through for a moment without my personal experiences on the matter.

There's apparently a 'hierarchy' of privilege, with some at the top, middle, and bottom (all to varying degrees), and varying influences (gender, race, age, etc.) determining where a person would fall in this hierarchy. What determines privilege though? Yes, a poor person, with their experience, background, and understandings of what methods of presentation, value of skills, and use of social connections is most advantageous would do, on average, more poorly than someone like me in an upper-middle class environment, however it also works in reverse. Same applies between me and the rich. There's no inherent hierarchy in that chain.

Often, though, along with discussing privilege is discussed power. Let's examine the power dynamics between different class groups then.

Also, I realize I'm using only three class groups, divided among a subjective socio-economic status, which can be fairly criticized. It's a simple illustration that helps me draw into my larger point.

Anyhow, So, what's the power dynamic between me and the poor? This gets super-complicated, but I think the main one is that I'm more protected from the influence of actions of the poor on me. Consider how the culture of the poor relates: it's more dangerous, more prone to physical violence. There are laws in place to protect people from that. I would argue to protect people like me from that, as in 'middle class' society, that's considered a disadvantageous way to behave (violently). However in poorer environments that could be an advantageous way to behave.

The irony, though, is that middle-class behavior standards also apply to poor individuals, so they end up caught between middle-class authority, and the advantages gained in their environment by acting in that way. The same thing happens between middle-class and the rich. Middle-class constantly complain about how they're getting swindled by the rich, and in much the same way that's because the behaviors, standards, and whatnot of the rich are applied to the middle-class (I would say this is more due to the exceptions in laws, rather than their explicit intent, but the result is similar), creating the same basic dynamic, and therefore causing 'oppression'. It's more complicated and pervasive than just within the legal system, but I figured I'd start simple.

So then, would privilege be to have been raised in the environment of a group with at least some power over other groups? I think there's more to examining this issue than just that definition, but it's a good place to start.

Let's examine that power though, as one of the things I would argue is that it only exists within that group. This is somewhat self-evident as we're defining privilege as being in a group that can exert power over other groups, but I wanted to explicitly mention it, because as soon as someone falls out of that group, their power falls with them, and they need to re-calibrate their behavior to match their new environment.

How does one stay in their group though? Generally by taking advantage of the environment of that group: by presenting in advantageous ways, by learning the most useful skills, and by knowing the right people. If someone doesn't do that, they fall out of the group, or lat least the amount of capacity they have in that group is rather minimum.

Doesn't this inherently limit the range of behaviors and actions that those within the group can perform though? Doesn't that homogenize the behavior of the group? Oh sure things change over time, but as it changes, the group will re-homogenize around the new 'optimum strategy'. In a way, it's inherently limiting to be in that position. I would argue it works across all groups too, not just 'privileged' ones. If you want to succeed in a poor environment, you'll need to 'act poor', because that's where the advantages in that environment are.

Doesn't that inherently trap people's behaviors within their class? Or, to put the argument more pointedly: doesn't that mean that the people in the most privileged positions are just as limited by the norms of their group as those who don't have that privilege?

I won't dispute the idea that one group can have power over another, but I would argue that doesn't mean either group has more individual flexibility to operate outside of their group. There are rules, policies, guidelines, standards, expectations, and norms that are applied upon each individual depending on their group.

I say this because there seems to be this interesting idea that people higher up on the privilege chain have more capacity to do more stuff than those lower on it. I would argue that we're all pretty equally stuck by the norms of our group, even if that group does give us power over other groups.

Does this mean I'm stuck to forever live my life within the realm of middle-class America? Possibly, and rather likely too. There's always exceptions and I'm already an exception in other ways as it is. So, what does it really mean that I'm 'oppressed' and that others have 'privilege' over me? Basically that there's a group of people who can exert influence on my life whether I like it or not, and they can do it because they have a different upbringing than me.

And what does it mean that I 'oppress' others and have 'privilege' over them? Same thing really, just in reverse. There's a group of people that I can exert influence on whether or not they like it, and that's largely because of my upbringing.

There's a lot of discussion about breaking down this privilege, which I can only assume means either breaking the ability for one group to exert power over another (which I think is impossible), or by homogenizing everyone into a single group (which I have a multitude of objections to).

I think, though, this rant has gotten long enough, and I've got more than enough food-for-thought already to work with for any future posts I put out there.

Always welcoming of thoughts, feedback, ideas, and whatnot. I've actually got a Twitter account now (despite my distaste of social media) which would be a great venue to engage me on. I'm at @Calvin_xc1.

Cheers everyone.

- Jason

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sampling Bias

One of the more interesting research concepts that's been on my mind lately is sampling bias, or put simply, what happens when your sample doesn't represent your population?

This has been coming up a lot for me because of a few things:

  • A good friend of mine that I have regular political conversations with has had vastly different experiences with the same group of people that I have had. I've found most liberals, feminists, and LGBT's to be rather moderate, rational (though not always informed), and highly capable of intellectual discussion. His experiences have been much more extreme.
  • The whole #GamerGate thing (and really any heated online discussion) paints a lot of rather... 'colorful' pictures of both sides of the discussion, yet when I actually engage someone 1-on-1, I find things tend to (not always) be more moderate, rational, and level-headed.
  • Since my job involves a degree of research design, it's a regular question I face professionally. 'who can we sample, and how are they different from those we can't?'
It's the first point that's really driven it home for me, as I'm more personally vested with my friend than I am with #GamerGate, or my job.

Side note: If you're not familiar with #GamerGate, Three of my more recent posts touch on different facets of the issue, here, here and here.

I'm really starting to wonder exactly how much of our understandings, impressions, assumptions, and whatnot is framed by these inconsistencies of experiences. Naturally each of us is limited in our personal sampling frame to our personal experiences, but as any good researcher would tell you, that's (at best) a step above a convenience sample, and is unlikely to be representative of the group as a whole. Yet we still form our opinions based on this bias sample.

So, I must wonder, if we're forming opinions based on our personal experiences as an override to something less bias, then how can anyone really trust their understandings of any group at all? This gets back to the idea of media bias, and the Orwellian nightmare. If the state controls what information we have, then that's creating a bias on our understanding of our environment and ability to come to broad-based insights.

Yet aren't we self-imposing the same kind of Orwellian nightmare on ourselves by functioning on personal experience? If our own personal experiences are as influential to how we perceive the world around us, and those experiences are based on bias sampling, then how can we help but form an improper concept of our world?

Going back to the real-world examples: My friend has had very negative experiences with individuals of a liberal persuasion (thankfully excluding myself), to the point where his perception has shifted from the belief that there's different objectives between the groups, to the suspicion that liberals pose a real threat to him and those with his perspectives.

My experiences have been radically different, with liberals and conservatives holding space for different views, debating each other, sometimes getting heated, but not being hateful or threatening (overall, there's always individual exceptions).

So, since both of our samples are quite bias (Mine mostly from the San Francisco, Boston, D.C. and Denver areas, and his mostly from South Carolina), where can an accurate picture of liberals be found? I'm not entirely sure, I can't say that my perspective is any more legitimate than his as I have no evidence, given that I have a rather limited knowledge of the full scope of the sampling biases involved.

Don't get me wrong, I *like* my perspective more, not just because it paints the group I associate with in a more positive light, but also because it's more positive in general. That's personal bias though, and doesn't make for objective generalizations.

Now, it's easy to take this concept to its logical conclusion and state that there's no way to get to an objective generalization of our perspectives. I would argue this stops short of a full analysis though, in that the goal is not necessarily to reach it, but to reach for it. It's similar logic used in the #GamerGate debate to support the idea that objective journalism is important (link here) as in doing so improves who we are and what we do. Complete objective generalizations is the perfect goal, reality gets in the way, and we still end up better off for the attempt than if we throw up our arms in nihilistic futility.

That may be me just being overly Nietzschian though (-:

Anyway, it's a food for thought.

Best thinking folks.

- Jason

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I'm Tired

I'm tired. The world's been a cruel place to me. It's also been wonderful and amazing, but dishearteningly cruel at the same time. In much the way Tantalus suffered by having food to quench his hunger eternally in sight, but out of grasp. What have I done to deserve this punishment?

I look around me and see people happily content in their relationships, or sometimes not quite so, but still in them. I try to find my own slice of that happiness, and yet it seems I'm forever locked at the gates of a relationship, never allowed to step in.

The one time I was able to make my way in, I was brutally and savagely punished for it, as if having a relationship is something that is eternally forbidden to me and any attempt to have one is deserving of the same torment that those in Tartarus suffer for their crimes.

Yet in trying to understand my ostracization I find nothing but lies, misdirection, and manipulation. No one can tell me what the problem with me is that makes me somehow unworthy of the land of relationship; when I ask I get nothing but half-truths, dissemblements, and dismissals.

I feel like an outcast, good for little but exploitation from others and to be their emotional whipping post. I feel like my value is less than that of a slug, and I am cast aside by so many at that same level of value.

*sigh* What am I to do about it? I've tried so many different things, everything but being as deceptive, back-stabbing, manipulative and dishonest as everyone else. They say that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. What was left out was that the one-eyed man is king only of himself, as everyone else would have cast him out for being able to see.

I'm so tired of fighting this alone, it's as if the whole world is against me. One of my favorite parts of Shakespeare's Hamlet is what I consider the most mis-understood part of all time.:

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them? (,_or_not_to_be)

Most see this as about death and/or suicide. I see it as a morality question: should one suffer the immorality (slings and arrows) of a comfortable life (outrageous fortune), or should one hold true to ones morals (take up arms) and challenge the overwhelming tide of abuse, loneliness and sorrow (sea of troubles) that comes from being resolved in one's morality? I've always chosen the latter as I refuse to let the impositions of what I see as an immoral society control my actions, much less my thoughts and feelings.

I believe this is the root of my suffering in relationships. Because the cultural view on what a relationship is 'supposed' to be, and how I do not conform to it, I fail spectacularly.

One thing I can say for sure is that it has served as an excellent filtering mechanism for people who are too caught up in social norms to actually see what's in front of them.

I just hope there really is an extraordinary woman out there who can see what's in front of her, rather than just the filter that society tells her to see with.

- Jason

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Criticism and Advancement: Why I Support Both GamerGate and Feminist Frequency

Disclosure: I do financially support Feminist Frequency, and after my rant here you may understand why a bit better.

Let me say straight up that I'm rather fond of Fredrick Nietzsche's philosophies on how suffering, pain, and adversity is the path to growth and strength. As such it should come as no surprise that criticism, differing viewpoints, alternative perspectives, and even personal attacks are welcome (though challenging) experiences, because they help me refine my opinions, strengthen my rhetoric, and harden my proverbial skin.

This is a big part of why I support GamerGate, and also why I support Feminist Frequency. These days a lot of people would argue that these two should be in separate camps, and that I'm some kind of abomination, hypocrite, or somehow mentally deranged or whatnot. A lot of this connects back to my very Nietzscheian perspective. Put another way, there's a wonderful piece of dialog in Star Trek: TNG (S2E21 "Peak Performance", about a minute in) that I'll draw from to give another perspective on it:

Data: "For over nine millennia, potential foes have regarded the Zakdorn's as having the greatest innately strategic minds in the galaxy."
Worf: "So no one is willing to test that perception in combat?"
Data: "Exactly."
Worf: "Then the reputation means nothing."

Now replace a strategic mind and combat with pretty much any form of idea, concept, or whatnot. The same still applies, unless an idea is able to survive the rigor of being challenged by other ideas, it cannot be said to truly deserve any renown. Also, by going through the process of surviving that challenge it becomes more robust, more refined, and more capable.

Unfortunately there's one thing that will kill the ability for an idea to survive these rigors: censorship. If there's no dialog to challenge an idea with, then how can it be challenged? If it cannot be challenged, then how can it be reputable?

Using this logic it's pretty clear why I support GamerGate, I believe. Censorship limits the ability for ideas to be challenged, and also to grow. Using similar logic I support Feminist Frequency, as what good is gaming of we 'sacred cow' it and censor criticism of it? If gaming is truly to grow, evolve and improve then it most accept such criticism and respond, either through rebuttal or revision (or both).

So, my ideology puts me at a rather interesting split between the more radical (I'll get into what exactly I mean by 'radical' in another post at another time), and more publicly seen, sides of GamerGate and gaming feminism. Both sides would accuse me of selling out to the other, GamerGate for supporting Sarkeesian, and gaming feminism for buying into a distraction from feminist issues. I would debate either on those points though, gladly, for exactly the reasons I've stated above. I support discussion, I support my ideas being challenged, I support being beaten down, because I know how to pick myself up and go at it again (-:

Now there are moderates on both sides, and those like me who straddle the middle, who can completely understand what I'm saying here. I'm hoping this is the majority, though sadly I know it's not a vocal majority. Level-headedness and clear thinking doesn't tend to jive with being highly vocal. The voice of reason often gets crowded out in the open room.

Regardless, I think there needs to be more people like Sarkeesian, bringing more perspectives on gaming, including critiques of Sarkeesian's work. I also feel the same about GamerGate, and something I've been appreciating the twitter feed for the diversity of opinions I come across on it, both the ranting scathing hateful stuff, the thoughtful contemplation, and everything in-between.

Hopefully that provides insight into my stance on a few things.

- Jason

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What Games Means to Me

I've been a gamer for as long as I can remember. I started on an old Atari 2600 and a pre-windows PC. I remember competing with my mom playing Centipede, I remember playing the old text-based game Adventure, and it's Hall of the Mountain King. For context, I'm only 31 y/o, so I was easily single-digit age when I started gaming. Games have been more a part of my life than anything else, if I'm being truly frank her, even more than my family. It's something that's been a part of my life for over two decades, if not more (memories of my childhood are pretty fuzzy). So, what happens in gaming matters to me.

I think that's why I can't seem to shake the Zoe Quinn thing. As long as I've been gaming I've also been consuming game journalism. I remember back when Gamespot was a fairly rag-tag site that I used to read on a regular basis. I eventually drifted away from it because the reviews weren't lining up with my tastes anymore. No biggie, that happens, at the time (mid 90's, if I remember correctly) gaming was diverging more towards multiplayer that singleplayer experiences, and I've always been a singleplayer kind of gamer. I drifted for awhile without any good professional feedback on games that I found useful, then I stumbled across a site I'm still fond of today: Ars Technica. I like their game reviews, and I've found that my tastes generally align with their reviews. More recently I've expanded that a little to include TotalBiscut's YouTube channel, and I absolutely delight on his game industry commentary. I can easily disagree with TotalBiscut's approach to gaming, and what he does/doesn't like (Dear Esther being the quintessential example), but I absolutely adore how he reviews games, as it gives me a phenomenal amount of information on whether or not I'd like the game.

But, I digress, and probably over-provide context here. I feel that the core idea of the message I want to convey here is what games mean to me. I am a gamer, and I wear that badge with the same level of pride that I do all of the other ones that I assign myself (for anyone who knows me, I've got an ego that's hard to match, so there's a lot of pride in those labels for me).

Over the years my understanding of my medium of choice has evolved. At first it was an entertaining challenge. I remember my first time playing the original X-Com and was totally engrossed with the complexity of the game, and how much I had to juggle at once to be good at it. I loved the challenge, and I still do today. As I started getting educated and more critical of my environment I got inclining of some of the norms in gaming that were rubbing me the wrong way. The most prominent thing is that gaming was popularly thought of as a 'guy' thing. This bothered me, I never considered women to be any worse at gaming than men, as my mom could regularly trounce me at centipede back in the Atari days. I wanted to understand why, so I researched it. Before that I was never very engaged in the online community of gamers, and when I got there I was rather shocked at some (admittedly not all) of what I saw. Misogyny was common, and women were being harassed out of the scene. Can I point to specific examples? Well, kind of, but my memory from that far back is pretty hazy (I think my memory is crap until about ~3 years ago or so, that's for another post though). I do remember one article I read talking about how in competitive gaming, one woman got sexually harassed out of a competition by her male contender, and afterwards the guy who had done the harassing said that such harassment was a 'part of gaming'. I seriously re-considered if I wanted to be a gamer at that point.

But I persist in calling myself a gamer, not because I feel that sexually harassing women is a part of gaming. Heck, the same group can (and often does) mean different things to different people. I do think I share at least one thing in common with the harassing guy: we both love games. For me that's the essence of my identity as a gamer.

So, I had recognized that gaming was a hostile environment to women, and I disliked that. It's a medium that's important to me, and anything important to me I have a desire to share. I shuddered at the thought that I may not be able to share something so important with most of the people in my life (It's always been for me that most of my friends are women). Most of the times I do share that, I get cynical feedback. I remember one instance of sharing the last bits of Brood War with a female friend, and as we were watching the ending cinematic the only thing she could say about the entire thing was to mutter "cyber barbie" about Kerrigan's appearance.

Now, granted, this isn't someone who's been through the Starcraft campaign, so I understood the emotional connections would be absent, but I still felt hurt. Here was a character that I had seen through countless adventures, who I had watched fall to the Zerg and be reborn as the Queen of Blades, who had slain many other characters I had come to adore. This was a character I was emotionally vested in. What I saw at the end of Brood War was the culmination of all those experiences into one dark, dreadful moment. I wanted to share that dread, that sense of loss and sadness. All, it seems, I could share of that was "cyber barbie". My heart sunk, and I think that was the point I stopped sharing my medium with others. It wasn't something that could be understood by someone who wasn't already there.

It's not to say that I didn't understand where my friend was coming from, games do oversexualize women (Dead or Alive, anyone?). I never saw that as an issue specific to gaming as I see the same thing in every other form of media as well. As my college education continued so did my ability to identify and critique it. I absolutely adore Bioware, and I still roll my eyes at their concept of the female figure. Sometimes my objection over portrayal of women in games pushed me to boycott certain franchises. Tomb Raider is the perfect example, I was just so turned off (ironically) by the physical representation of Lara Croft that I just turned away from the franchise entirely, up until the recent reboot.

I was thrilled when Anita Sarkeesian started Feminist Frequency. Finally there was someone bringing that kind of analysis I was already familiar with (academic) to this part of gaming that I'd been critiquing in my mind in an unstructured and subjective way. Now I had an analytical framework to work with! Shortly thereafter started coming the indie game development scene, and some of the games I love the most today that came from it: Kerbal Space Program, Journey, FTL. Journey especially, as that's when I first started to really profoundly identify women's contributions to game development. Before that it was piecemeal, at best. I was seeing perspectives that I never had before, ways of engaging with my favorite medium that were new and refreshing for me. I still remember the first game I played where I felt that women weren't being blatantly objectified: The Longest Journey. As much as old-school point-and-click adventure games infuriate me (Wait, I need to get the deflated rubber ducky float, patch it, inflate it, and combine it with a pair of huge pliers and rope so I can get the key that's sitting in the subway, so I can open the power junction by the theater to distract the cleaning guy and get in the theater? *seriously?!*), I still love them. Call it an acquired taste (-:

Then I saw something I was not expecting: Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, The Big Bang Theory, game advertisements on television and in theaters. Gaming was becoming mainstream. I was thrilled! To thie day I still don't feel like I can really share my experience as a gamer with most people, but that's more to do with me. I was excited that more and more people would be having the experiences that I've had over the past few decades though. Yes, it is 'just a game'. It's also fair to say that games reflect ourselves, especially in the Bioware games (still annoyed about what I can only refer to as 'BioBoobs', though). I played through Mass effect as a good-ish character. I wasn't afraid of being an asshole if I felt it was necessary, or if something/one rubbed me the wrong way (I was a total ass to Verner).

I also saw a step up of the vitriol that was coming from the kinds of gamers with the same attitude as that one guy who sexually harassed his competitor out of the competition. I couldn't help but resignedly sigh and accept that I was probably going to see more of that. I had become comfortable in my identity as a gamer, and moreso because I wasn't *that* kind of gamer. Certainly a degree of pride about that.

Honestly I never really dug myself into the politics of gaming until I started listening to TotalBiscut. Given that I've got a degree in public policy, one would think this is something that would come up for me more frequently. I haven't been to a gaming convention in a long time (full disclosure though, I did volunteer for Arisia 2013), and it's been hard to find a group of gamers that I really connect with well, so I really haven't been connected well enough to know about any of this.

So then I find out about this whole Zoe Quinn thing, and I rally shouldn't be as riled up about it as I am. Ok, yeah, she's something of a screw-up, that's fine. People can be screw-ups, that's just how it happens. I guess what's been spinning around this for me is that some of the things I've been noticing outside of gaming that I've been annoyed with when it comes to a feminist critique, found their way into gaming. As for those 'things I've been annoyed with', see items 5 and 6 in my previous post. Take those and apply them to other fields, it's something I've been noticing and critiquing. I play a dangerous game though, as in these critiques I tend to put some of my friendships at risk, because I do critique very emotionally-laden topics.

And this is where I try to come full circle, I suppose. It traces back to one of my core values: the things that matter the most to us are the ones we should be critiquing the most, otherwise they have no method of improving over time. I am critical of games, as I've mentioned to the point of boycotting a franchise for awhile because of how I disagreed with it's portrayal of women (Tomb Raider). I even wrote a paper that did a critique of how games present relationship options for the player character. I gave Mass Effect some good shit in that thing, and I absolutely love Mass Effect!

Part of it is also that I think I needed a bit of hero-bashing. I'll come straight out and say that Wil Wheaton's been someone I've admired for awhile, especially given that he started his stardom as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: TNG. He's really embraced the geek/nerd/gamer/whatever-you-wanna-call-it culture when he had every reason to turn away from it. I can't agree with his opinions in this matter, and I feel that his opinions reinforce the anti-criticism spirit that's been surrounding the entire Zoe Quinn issue. That's just something, being a person who absolutely loves games as much as I do and who values criticism as a vital part of how games will grow and evolve, that I can't condone.

So, I'm in a weird and very isolating place, again, where I'm not sure exactly how to express what gaming means to me. In a lot of ways, I guess I'm, again, redefining what it means for me to be a gamer. What it'll morph into, I'm not sure. I do know that my values of critiquing the things I care the most about, and the people who work with/create them, will play heavily into it going forward, however.

I guess to give a TL;DR version: I love games, they're meaningful to me, and I value them. That's why I care about our ability to critique them, as well as how they're made, who makes them, and how we as a culture perceive them.

Cheers folks,

- Jason

Update (9/22/14): I've since moved the sites I get news from to The Escapist,, Niche Gamer, and Tech Raptor.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

How Feminism Tries to Dominate Multi-Faceted Issues

This has been something of a soapbox rant I've had stewing in my head for awhile now, and I think a situation finally came up that can allow me to articulate it in a more concise manner.

First though, a bit of prior material is a necessity before I launch into this rant -

I think this gives a nice overall of the general situation that I can start from.

Secondly, full disclosure: I fully support Sarkeesian's work on Feminist Frequency, and am a funder to the show.

So, let me see if I can first outline all the issues here:
1) Zoe Quinn's ex airing her 'dirty laundry' publicly.
2) The DMCA claim on MundaneMatt's video discussing (in part) what Quinn's ex aired.
3) The misogyny directed at Quinn and (later) Sarkeesian.
4) The lack of ethical standards within gaming journalism, highlighted by one of Quinn's relationships.
5) The emphasization of the feminist aspects of this issue in a way that neglects other aspects.
6) The double-standard of airing men's dirty laundry vs. women's.

Ok, lemme see if I can go down the list here.

1) Generally not a good thing for Quinn's ex to have done. Modern social norms differentiates the public and private spheres, and stuff isn't really supposed to cross from one to the other. Having been in a similar situation myself I can understand the motivation behind his action, but this still demonstrates a lack of good impulse control.

2) So, because of the screwball way YouTube does DMCA claims it's impossible to confirm that Quinn submitted the claim. I'm inclined to believe she did, as the dirty laundry aired by her ex indicates she's got just as much poor impulse control as her ex does, and I'm inclined to believe the information her ex posted. Generally jilted lovers don't BS, and there's enough evidence supporting his story. So I'm running under the assumption it was her.

Now, the claim was officially for using an image from the game, however I'm not inclined to believe that was the motivation for the claim, as if someone really wanted to push that angle, there'd be a LOT of DMCA claims one would have to go through. Timing also makes that motivation suspect. I'm inclined to believe that the claim was an attempt at censoring MundaneMatt due to what he was reporting on.

3) From everything I've read, everyone but those who are directing the bile they are at Quinn and Sarkeesian agree that this is really shitty stuff to do. This is BS, and the people whop are doing this need to stop. Especially airing a person's private information like that, that breaks the public/private divide (mentioned in item 1), puts people in danger, and wastes public resources (police force, specifically). If you're throwing shit around, knock it off.

4) Alright, this is the issue that keeps trying to get sidelined, which I'll discuss in item 5 (and will get to in a moment), but here's the basic jist: Yes, there's no clear evidence that there's journalistic bias because of Quinn's relationship, to focus specifically on that, however, misses a larger point: It's a rather common occurrence for there to be strong personal relationships between indie developers and indie journalists. Quinn's situation just happens to highlight that yes this DOES happen. Does it always bias journalism? No. Can it? Yes. Is there any mechanism to protect against this bias in place? No. It's that last bit that this issue is all about.

5) This is the first of these points that really gets under my skin. First, I'm a declared feminist. It's been a major part of my academic studies, and I appreciate the critical perspective on gender that a feminist analysis brings to an issue. As such it REALLY annoys me when people 'cry feminism' in the way I see here. I reference the Ars Technica article (the first link) as the most mundane example where the non-feminist issues are barely given a sentence, and dig up some of Wil Wheaton's actions and statements on the issue to see the more extreme examples.

I see this a lot, where there's a feminist aspect to an issue that tries to totally dominate the conversation. As if somehow because there's misogyny going on it somehow has to totally override any other issue present int he conversation. This is bad form, through-and-through, and no single issue should ever dominate a conversation. Everything in life is multi-faceted and it's totally legitimate for one issue to bring light on other issues, like how Quinn's dirty laundry highlights issues in game journalism. This is not a problem, so if you're telling people to stop talking about the issues in games journalism because of the shit that's being thrown at Quinn and Sarkeesian, knock it off. It may not be *your* biggest concern in the situation, but that doesn't give you the right to try and invalidate it for others.

6) This is the other one that gets on my nerves. Basic jist is that when a man's dirty laundry is aired it's seen as a social triumph. When a woman's dirty laundry is aired, it's seen as a reflection of a misogynist society. I'm not saying that it should be lauded or condemned when this stuff happens, just that there's a clear gender divide here.

Now, some interesting observations looking at this rather holistically:

a) First, the public/private divide. Part of the feminist argument supporting Quinn is how this stuff should have never come to light. This is ironic because one of the core feminist concepts is "the personal is political," which makes sense if your a woman in a society that 'privatizes' women's abuse at home. It's an argument that legitimizes bringing what has been historically viewed as a private matter into the public sphere and being addressed.

Now we have a situation that's the inverse of what the saying was designed for here. We have a woman acting in an abusive (will dig into this definition in a moment, bear with me) nature in a private context, and a man who's turning it into a public issue. This is NOT something that feminist should be opposed to, quite the contrary it's vital that the private light gets a public spectacle, otherwise harm that is happening in one's private sphere is ignored. I would posit that what Quinn's ex did is perfectly in-line with feminism, and should not be decried.

I do feel the need to remind people that feminism is NOT about protecting women, but understanding the power imbalances between men and women, with an eye on re-balancing them. It's horribly inappropriate to take a feminist stance and claim that Quinn's ex shouldn't have aired her indiscretions, as doing so is perfectly in-line with "the personal is political."

The challenge comes in with where do we draw the line in airing people's private lives. I believe most would argue that the line should be drawn around harm. If someone's being harmed, then the private should be public. What defines harm though? It's easy to make an argument that if someone's getting physically beaten in their relationship, that would qualify as harm. What about psychological harm though? There's plenty of evidence supporting that psychological harm is just as damaging, and likely moreso, than physical harm. Yet there's much less consensus that psychological harm is a 'valid' form of harm.

Personally, I'm in favor of getting rid of the entire concept of privacy, as privacy ultimately only serves individual's delusions of security, and allows them to skirt accountability for their actions. My personal opinion though.

b) I seriously think people need to stop listening to the loudest voices in the room. Every side here is responding to the minority of idiots who are screaming their heads off for attention. Gamers aren't total misogynists. Yes, our medium of choice is replete with misogynist themes, so is pretty much every other medium. To claim gamers are inherently misogynist would require us to claim that everyone is misogynistic, which goes well beyond absurdity.

Also, and I think MundaneMatt is a good example of this, by and large people aren't trying to 'quiet' the issue about gaming journalism bias. Yes, there are some who are, but most people latch on to the perspective they're first exposed to the issue from, and assume other perspectives are 'just trying to distract' from it. It's a psychological bias problem, and I know I suffered from it when I first heard this story. MundaneMatt's 'rallying cry' arguments highlight the same degree of idiots on the feminist side of the argument as feminist do of misogynistic gamers.

Now, to be fair, everyone's been fairly decent in recognizing that they're actually addressing a minority of the populations they're targeting, however their analysis tends to stop there. Simply stating that you're addressing a minority isn't enough, the perspective of the majority (or other groups if it's more divisive) needs to be brought in to really highlight that you're talking about a minority. Otherwise people *will* psychologically latch on to the example you provide, and externalize that to the larger group as a whole. In much the same way, the game journalism arguments are being just as blind as the feminist arguments.

So, at this point I've started to run out of steam in soap-boxing on this. There's one more point I'd like to cover though, and that's about what ethical standards game journalists should be held to. Frankly I'm not sure. I do see bias as a huge problem. Yes, people go into an article understanding that the biases of the individual will be reflected in the article, however I doubt that readers fully understand the scope of those biases. TotalBiscut has some very good discussions about journalistic integrity that I think are a great starting point to figuring out what game journalism ethics should be.

Ok, there goes my steam.

Until next time folks.

- Jason