May 9, 2008

Literacy: Another Privilege to Access Games

Filed under:Education, Gamer Culture, Privilege — Lake Desire @ 10:58 am

Games are for kids, right? That’s a popular perception, or one gamers like myself seem to have about how nongamers see games.

But I’ve been playing Pokémon and Twilight Princess with my friend’s six year old son, and I find it amazing how much supposed “kids” games or kid friendly games rely on intensive reading skills. And Pokémon is a game I don’t find especially intellectually challenging, yet there is still a huge barrier dependent on reading to not only to intake the story but even navigate playing.

I appreciate games that are smart and well written and challenging. I don’t mind reading in my games. But I do want to note the high level of literacy necessary to comprehend and play games limits accessibility, even in supposed kids games. And kids aren’t the only folks around who aren’t great readers, especially with classism and racism in the U$ educational system that particularly unprepares poor folks and people of color to have the same reading skills as middle class white folks bred for college.


March 25, 2007

Final Fantasy XII: Why Vaan

Filed under:Final Fantasy Series, Gender, Privilege, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:54 am

I recently started a thread on Final Fantasy XII on The IRIS Network forums and realized why it bugs me so much that the protagonist of FFXII is Vaan, a 17-year-old street kid: entitlement.

The story is told through the eyes of the supposed audience of the game. Even though the plot revolves around Ashe and role in international politics, we see it through a peasant kid. I really do enjoy stories about fighting imperialism told from the point of view of everyday people (hey, kind of like my life), but Vaan never justified why it deserved to be him. He’s got a grudge against the Archadian Empire because it’s their fault his brother died, but so what? Same with Penelo’s family. So of course the main character is a teenage boy. That’s taken for granted. It’s privilege that Vaan can just be the star, no questions asked, without having to prove why he is interesting enough to be the protagonist of the world’s most popular RPG franchise.


March 14, 2007

Yes, women gamers blog!

Filed under:Gaming Women, Privilege, Sexism — Lake Desire @ 9:17 pm

Kotaku accused women gamers of not blogging. 100LittleDolls listed 51 blogs by women gamers.

tekanji originally directed my attention to the irresponsible Kotaku post, On Women and Gaming. According to Kotaku, there aren’t any women game bloggers, and that’s our own fault for not blogging. Crecente wrote:

While I think that strong woman writers who cover gaming are not proportional to the number of women playing games, the bigger issue it seems is that there aren’t a whole lot of immediately recognizable female writers on the net. I think the ones out there now need to be more vocal perhaps, or maybe I’m just not reading the right sites.

He’s right that women’s voices are under represented on mainstream game blogs. As far as I know, there are zero women blogging at Kotaku, and only three out of 20-something at Destructoid. Instead of examining his own site for alienating women (just read the comments to see examples in action), Crecente blames women for not being writers or vocal enough. (Seriously? Since when do nonfeminist guys think being a vocal + woman != bitch?)

I promise it’s not like we’re hard to find. And I for one just don’t want to step out onto sites like Kotaku where I’ll be called an uppity bitch because I don’t suck joystick.


November 22, 2006

Range of Wii-Motion

Filed under:Privilege, Videogames, Wii — Lake Desire @ 9:01 pm

There is an open letter to Nintendo on Kotaku, The Disabled and Wii, by a man named Samuel Kahn. He asks Nintendo and developers to be considerate of people with disabilities when designing the Wii. Kahn would like adjustable sensitivity for people with limited ranges of motion. A valid point, and something I hadn’t thought about.

Many of the Kotaku commentors are supportive of Kahn, but what is alarming is the attitudes of some less caring folks. HellaBAD wrote:

I don’t think that it is fair to, for lack of a better word, cripple our games and technology for an audience that isn’t the majority.

It might sound harsh, but I think this is something that disabled gamers will have to live with. As technology advances, new modes of play will and should become available.

And from La Sepultra:

Fortunately the majority of the population doesn’t have Muscular Dystrophy. I would appreciate it if the disabled would not try and gimp the future games for the Wii.

Making something accessible to a minority group does not mean the majority has to suffer. I haven’t played the Wii yet, but I imagine that sensitivity options would benefit everyone by giving all players more options.

I hope Nintendo becomes more considerate of people with disabilities. Video games are a good opportunity to allow people to experience things they can’t in real life.


May 20, 2006

Racialized Trafficking of Bodies in World of Warcraft

Last quarter, in my cyborg anthropology class, I wrote a paper called “The Traffic of Virtual Bodies in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.” I was nominated to share my paper in my university’s scholars week, and joined two of my classmates to present a fifty minute talk on World of Warcraft. To embody how ubiquitous World of Warcraft is, the classroom was standing-room-only. My first classmate showed us a slide show of the gamer’s architecture and talked about the ideas of real world cultures invoked by Blizzard. My second classmate logged in the game and showed us her tauren. She discussed how taking on a virtual avatar is a posthuman experience. I spoke last and discussed how I categorize the virtual bodies in MMORPGs by the individual, social, and political bodies and how they partake in the game’s economic body and are all trafficked for real world currency. Our presentation was a hit, and we had a great Q&A with the audience. I’m happy my first presentation to a big group (outside of the classroom) went so well. I closed by saying although I believe video games in many ways are sexist, racist, and classist, it’s okay to both critique and enjoy them, and that I’m optimistic people like us can demand games become more progressive.

As my classmate pointed out, Blizzard invokes what the (supposedly) mainstream male gamer wants. I left thinking about this, and wonder how much the audience becomes what the game designers think it is. Gamers may become the audience through a self-fulfilling prophesy when we either conform to their status quo or drop out when we’re told this game isn’t for us.

I personally find it racist for cultures to be appropriated and re-marketed as what the hegemonic white male gamer is told he should want (which gives the message that you’re the secondary audience if you’re a person of color and queer and a woman). I’ll use the tauren race as an example. As my classmate pointed out, tauren villages are decorated with long houses, teepees, totem poles, and a dream-catchers to represent a pan-Native American culture. Thousands of indigenous nations are lumped together, painted primitive, and sold to the Western gaze.

During my presentation, I brought up Ed Castronova’s finding that female avatars sell for 12% less than male avatars. I notice that because gender doesn’t affect the mechanics of gameplay, people are paying more for the desired social role in the game. I find this phenomenon fascinating, and I hope I have a chance to study it more in school and blogging.

I realize that cultures are appropriated and sold in video games, and gender influences the trafficking of virtual bodies (as feminist theorist Gayle Rubin points out, women are trafficked for gender alone), so I wonder… how is the traffic of virtual bodies racialized? I don’t have an answer yet. Your thoughts*?

*I expect you to respect my opinion that race is a social construct and racism is institutionalized when participating in discussions here. Do not derail the conversation to argue otherwise.


April 19, 2006

Feminist Gaming Manifesta: Identifying Problems

Filed under:Feminism, Gender, Privilege, Sexism — Lake Desire @ 5:01 pm

A feminist gamer manifesta. About damn time somebody wrote one. Part 1 and Part 2 of the Feminist Gaming Manifesto by Matt Wilson. My post here is a response to part 1, which identifies problems in the gaming community and how they’re perpetuated.

I don’t mind that this is written by a man because feminism in theory and practice is ending sexism. Ending sexism shouldn’t be entirely women’s responsibility since we’re already oppressed by it. It is also nice to find more male allies. They’re too few in number.

I like this quote:

The result of that assumption is a set of behaviors that exclude everyone who isn’t considered part of that norm. In the case of gaming, it’s a predominantly white male group, so you end up with the assumption that the ‘normal’ gamer is also male. If that assumption manifests in game texts, rules and communities, then they can all make women feel unwelcome, even though gaming might be an activity they’d really like to participate in. It could be artwork, language in the game texts, the focus of discussions online, specific game rules, verbalized assumptions, even choice of words. Most often the things that provoke those feelings weren’t even intended. Nobody wakes up and says, “today, I’m going to oppress some women.” But when there are unquestioned assumptions at the level of the group as a whole, the results are inevitable. If you just don’t know what does and doesn’t exclude, you can’t easily avoid doing it.

I appreciate Wilson giving guys the benefit of the doubt. Most people don’t want to think of themselves as oppressors, and he’s reaching out to his peers and discussing how they can turn their well meaning intentions away from perpetuating the status quo.

Wilson also identifies many of the responses marginalized people face when raising their concerns (whether gaming or otherwise). I’m going to quote a few of them to add my two cents. On Denial and Minimizing:

Men will respond with comments like, “oh, come on, it’s not unwelcoming, you’re wrong,” or “is it really that bad? I don’t think so.” See, as the predominant group, men get to assume the right to interpret the experience of women and deny the validity of what they say. Then they get to impose their own views upon them, like “really, my game text that you think makes you feel uncomfortable is about this other thing.” If you can deny the problem, then you don’t have to take any responsibility.

I also sometimes hear that my concerns aren’t valid. I should be focusing on domestic violence or poverty or hyper-masculinity or some other “real” problem. This derails the discussion and determines what is valid. Well meaning or not, men are using their power to decide what my interests should be. (On a side note, I never say I’m not involved with other form of activism, although I don’t feel I need to bring up details from my personal life to prove myself to someone who has already intentionally disrespected me.)

On victim blaming:

When women speak up about something in various forums, men will say something like, “I think you’re just not looking at it the right way.” It’s essentially “your problem, not mine” with a polite veneer, focusing attention on the perceived limitations of women. Men are the norm, right? Everything was fine until the women complained. Any problem, then, must be from outside.

I’d like to add that sometimes women are also blamed by being told the problem is their fault. For example, a friend of mine was harassed in an online game. Rather than analyzing if and how the game environment normalizes misogyny, she was told she must have done something to attract the harassment. Want another example? Read comment 12 to Wilson’s post.

Found via Acid for Blood.


January 29, 2006

Gaming Parents

Filed under:Gaming Women, Privilege, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:31 am

The Entertainment Software Association has released a new study revealing that 35% of American parents play video games.

If the survey is indeed nationally representative, I think that the percentage of gaming parents would be higher if video games were more accessible (I’ve blogged before, games are more readily available to certain people).

Of the gaming parents:

Among these “gamer parents”, 80% report that they play video games with their children, and two-thirds (66%) feel that playing games has brought their families closer together.

I’m happy that most parents who game play with their kids. My mom, blog commenter Liz, was nice enough to let me quote her opinion: “It is a good way to take an interest in what your kid does. Spend time together. Parents need to take more interest in what their kids do. Get involved in their interests, rather than expecting your kid to be a certain way, or be interested in the things that you liked when you were a kid, or succeeded at or didn’t succeed at.” I’m not a parent, but I think just that is one of the reasons my mom and I have such a great relationship.

My mom and I used to play video games together, and she, as far as I can recall, introduced me to them. She stopped gaming around the 16-bit era, but she always showed an interest in what my brother and I were playing. She has surprised the kids at her work by knowing who Sephiroth and the King of the Cosmos are.


January 7, 2006

Race and the Future

Filed under:Literature, Online Communities, Privilege, Race, Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 4:10 pm

Like a typical geeky 90s kid, I grew up inhaling scifi and fantasy YA books, fashioning my NES controller into a belt to emulate Captain N, and revolving my schedule around any mediocre scifi TV show. I didn’t realize until I was older that most of the pivotal characters–the captains, the princesses, the superheroes, the predestined saviors–looked like me. Why should I think anything of it? Thanks to my annual MLK assemblies, I thought diversity meant a person of color was present to serve as an ambassador of their race.

Being oblivious to my own race was part of the privilege being white gave me. I wish I would have discovered Ursula K. Le Guin when I was younger. She was one of the earliest fantasy and scifi authors to have nonwhites star in her novels. She had difficulty getting publishers to accurately represent characters on her book covers because they thought featuring a person of color on the cover would hurt sales.

I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being “colorblind.” Nobody else does.

I have heard, not often, but very memorably, from readers of color who told me that the Earthsea books were the only books in the genre that they felt included in—and how much this meant to them, particularly as adolescents, when they’d found nothing to read in fantasy and science fiction except the adventures of white people in white worlds. Those letters have been a tremendous reward and true joy to me.

So far no reader of color has told me I ought to butt out, or that I got the ethnicity wrong. When they do, I’ll listen. As an anthropologist’s daughter, I am intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice, an act of extreme arrogance. In a totally invented fantasy world, or in a far-future science fiction setting, in the rainbow world we can imagine, this risk is mitigated. That’s the beauty of science fiction and fantasy—freedom of invention.

(On a side note, Le Guin says in the same article that she had difficulty getting publishers to accurately represent characters on her book covers because they thought featuring a person of color on the cover would hurt sales.)

Although I do wish I’d read Le Guin when I was younger, I don’t know that, as a child, I wouldn’t have been one of those oblivious readers. I’d been trained to ignore race until I hit university and realized my experiences weren’t as universal as I thought. I began noticing how race was portrayed in the literature and movies and video games that I enjoyed. So often a person of color (or woman, or person with disability, or… the list goes on) was included as a token, as someone who had made it into the white world. Scifi did this, too, and if any genre should be free of tokenism, it should be scifi. The freedom of invention Le Guin mentions is an ideal tool for showing, for inventing, other possibilities. And in scifi, the excuses for the same old white dominance get rather contrived than they do in fantasy. Globally, whites are not the majority. If the world were to move onto the galaxy, wouldn’t that be reflected in the people we’re seeing in stories and films?

I’ve role-played online since I was a knee-high, and was oblivious, like most privileged whites, to race in the scifi and fantasy games I played until a few years ago. Around the time I started university, I founded a play-by-E-mail role-playing club based on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsdawn. The story took place ten years after the planet Pern had been colonized, several hundred years into a future where humans dealt regularly with aliens, nations of old were long dissolved and humans had founded colonies across the galaxy. I had a hard time getting players to veer away from creating peaches and cream Britons and red-headed Irish-folk (it didn’t help the heroes of McCaffrey’s novel were Irish). Too many others, rather than writing characters of ambiguous lineage, empathized how exotic their “dark” characters looked–further enforcing the idea that white is the norm.

What was my gripe? Five hundred or more years down the road, I didn’t picture such a racial homogeny. Maybe it was the optimist in me hoping for a future without white supremacy, without white men (or the token woman or “minority”) continuing to be the picture of authority and normality. Role-playing is self-indulgent, and I certainly didn’t want to role-play in a world like that, I had real life. At the same time, was it wrong of me to ask players to play a character who looked different than them?

Submitted to the Radical Woman of Color Carnival:


December 26, 2005

Privilege to Game

Filed under:Gender, Privilege, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 10:30 pm

While I was jotting down a list of the gifts I received for Christmas, I thought about a remark I made on yesterday’s entry about boycotting sexist games. Often, being able to boycott is a class and wealth privilege because you need access and money to patron alternatives to unethical companies.

When I worked at Walt Disney World on its college program, I lived in an apartment complex and rode buses provided by companies that Disney contracted. One bus route included hourly runs to Walmart on certain days of the week. Walmart is a store I choose not to spend my money at, so I found the location of a Publix grocery store. There were three ways I could get there: rides from roommates with cars, taking an on call shuttle that made special trips to the Publix, or taking the contracted bus to another Disney housing complex that was a mile walk from the store. Taking the “on-call” shuttle would require a cell phone (a privilege) or finding a pay-phone or phone to borrow. I was able to get rides from roommates (who had cars–again, a privilege) on a few occasions, but generally walked to the store, where I endured the summer heat and the shouts and honks from passing cars while I carried my groceries. Even after all that, I was still able to afford to purchase organic and prepared health foods because my parents gave me money to supplement the $100 US I averaged (after rent, which Disney deducted from my pay check, and taxes) after a 40+ hour work week. Being middle class, even when I working a job that paid less than my home state of Washington’s minimum wage, allowed me to have the privilege of boycotting.

Being able to game is a privilege. Being able to boycott is a privilege. I have the power to engage in the leisure activity, and try to change things about it that I don’t like. In the spirit of invisible knapsacks and unpacking them, and this blog’s themes, below I’ve listed some of the ways my situation has given me an advantage over others in relation to technology. I am an American, white, from a Christian family, middle-class, young, able-bodied, average-sized, and non-transexual.

  • I can decide what technology is valuable, and look down on those who do not have access to technology or choose not to use it.
  • I can ignore my positions of power. I didn’t think to preface this post with a disclaimer of the American-centric point of view.
  • I can decide what products to boycott, afford to boycott them, and criticize others for not boycotting them.
  • I can have an ad-free blog.
  • When I purchase a game, my payment is unlikely to be questioned because of my physical appearance or dress.
  • I grew up with a computer, and was taught how to operate one and type in school. I grew up with video games and access to them.
  • I can afford a cell-phone and a laptop.
  • I have the leisure time to game.
  • I can afford to purchase the newest games and technological gadgets.
  • I can drive to the store to immediately purchase something I decide I want, and can afford to pay shipping if I choose to purchase it online.
  • I can decide what others could afford or should purchase if only they didn’t spend their money on what I define as frivolous.
  • Games are written in a language that is familiar to me.. Game reviews and magazines are written in a language I understand, and “experts” are usually from my race and class.
  • I can use the internet as a tool to reach others like myself.
  • I can determine which genres of games are valuable and which are “beneath me.”
  • I can easily find games that represent members of my own race.

    Links to Privilege Checklists and Articles

    Here’s a collection of privilege checklists I’ve come across online. I’ll update it as I find more, and please share suggestions for additions.

    The Male Privilege Checklist

    Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack White privilege checklist by Peggy McIntosh, who started privilege checklists.

    Social Class Privilege — Beyond Ethnicity, Gender, and Religion

    Non-Poor Privilege Checklist
    The Invisibility of Class Privilege

    Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack II: Sexual Orientation

    Able-bodied Privilege : Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

    Non-Trans Privilege

    The Costs of American Privilege Not a checklist, but I still wanted to include American privilege.

    Fatshadow’s Average-sized Privilege Checklist
    Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Sexual Conservatism…

    Heterosexism 101

    Last update: March 14, 2006

  • end

    November 29, 2005

    Fandom and Male Privilege

    Filed under:Fandom, Privilege — Lake Desire @ 11:38 am

    From LJ user Cereta posted an article on Fandom and Male Privilege:

    The second result of the invisibility of male privilege is that a lack of male privilege is taken as active oppression, as male-bashing or bias towards women. It is not enough that the mere presence of something which actively aims at women and women’s interests is taken as oppressing men; simply not catering to men’s interests is perceived as oppression. And I mean, by the way, honestly perceived that way.

    It is not enough, you see, not to exclude men. We have to actively get them involved. I’m not sure what’s more insidious, there: the notion that we must find it not only desirable that men get involved in fandom but also some kind of imperative, or the notion that it is our, women’s, responsibility to get them involved in fandom.

    Read the full article.