January 20, 2010

Classism: beyond being nice to poor people

Filed under:Videogames — Lake Desire @ 11:28 pm

As I moved from being politically progressive to a radical leftist, I began to question how I could fight “classism” by going beyond advocating being nice to poor people but actually challenging what causes poverty in the first place. My friend JOMO recently wrote a post called Queer Liberation is Class Struggle that articulates many of my problems with middle class activists challenging “classism” without challenging capitalism. She calls for analysis of oppression that goes deeper than simple “intersections” that compartmentalize our identities. She powerfully argues that queer liberation is invested in class struggle.

Here’s a few of my favorite passages:

The erasure of class in the intersectionality theory is most clearly expressed through the replacement of class oppression with the defanged term, “classism.” Rather than advocating for class struggle of the working class and the poor taking over the means of production and the running of society, the “classism” analysis is an attempt to raise the consciousness of the rich, to be NICE, FRIENDLY, SENSITIVE to their poorer brethren. Under “classism” ideology, working and poor folks become the rich man’s burden, not an agent for change in our own right. In fact, the organizing that arises from such an ideology is as condescending and patronizing toward working class and poor folk as the snobbishness it aims to criticize.

On the criminalization of non-nuclear, non-heteronormative families:

Yet under capitalism, these [non-nuclear] families are illegitimate. Single mother households, or households with people with disabilities, or extended families with elderly and young dependents, or communities that take in non-blood relatives as their own, struggle to survive off of welfare checks or minimal paychecks. These families do not readily and predictably churn out the future, obedient disciplined workers that will deliver their bodies to capitalism, in exchange for a pittance of a wage. Our rejection of capitalist discipline is written off, as our cultural inadequacies. Perceiving our labor as unwanted and untrustworthy, capitalists reject us from the economy and ship us off to prisons, nursing homes, mental institutions or into the informal economy of the streets, still managing in the process, to extract some profit for themselves through our oppression.

Criticism of non-profits as a “solution”:

Middle class ideology cannot liberate us because it reiterates capitalist attacks on our chosen, non-heteronormative families. It will teach us to reject the families we have, and to settle for the more nuclear, more hetero, the more “responsible” family. Yet another non profit will offer us job training programs for the worst, cheapest, most demeaning service sector jobs and expect us to be thankful. Clinton’s welfare act did just that and masqueraded itself as a well-meaning “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” program. This is couched in terms of us learning “life skills,” learning to be responsible citizens under a capitalist system, to unlearn our rebellion. Yet there is no understanding that many of us disdain these programs and these jobs, not because we are lazy, but because class oppression at the workplace, in the service sector is not a desirable alternative. That we would find a minimum wage job ruled by an increasingly heavy- handed managements, demeaning and undesirable, is then blamed on us: We are undeserving, lazy and untrustworthy.

On working class men’s investment in liberation:

The fraternity of male supremacy also institutionalizes this division to prevent male workers from questioning their own oppressions — there is always someone worse off. Through the process of slavery and white supremacy, the U.S. ruling class realized that it could keep white workers under its thumb by giving them better wages and other benefits denied to Black workers. It encouraged them to reflect on the fact that, as miserable as they may be, at least they’re not Black. Similarly, too many male workers congratulate themselves for not being sexualized, objectified and devalued as women workers under the capitalist system. There is always someone worse off. Under this binary, gender benders, trans workers cannot find a stable liberated place. To the male supremacists, the transwomen have betrayed their gender, and transmen desecrate the male gender. By their crossing, both render the division undesirable, indefensible and transgressible.


December 17, 2009

Where I’m writing

Filed under:Lake Desire Elsewhere, Personal, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 11:59 am

This blog is getting a bit decrepit. I started writing on a feminist gamer group blog called Border House. I’ll probably post most of my videogame related writing there in the near future because I’m into doing a group project. As always, my general science fiction related writing goes on Feminist SF – The Blog!

I’ll still post here now and again, especially things that don’t belong on either group site.


November 18, 2009

New Super Mario Bros Wii: Men, men, men, men

Filed under:Sexism, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 11:40 pm

Every year or so Nintendo releases a hot Wii game that gets me so excited I’ll go spend $50 of my measly grad student salary. I would be lining up to get New Super Mario Bros. Wii based on the return of Yoshi-riding alone, but not if all the playable characters are men: Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Toad. Would it be that hard to make one of the Toads into Toadette? And guess who needs to be rescued again. Come on, it’s not like we’re living in 1988… oh wait, back then, Princess Toadstool was playable. Who ever said the world gets more progressive with time?

It’s so ratifying when I’m not the only one who noticed blatant exclusion of women from getting to do anything cool!. Thanks for the link, Olivia.

I’m going to wait and get this game used.


September 29, 2009

I beat Mass Effect!

Filed under:Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:46 pm

I beat Mass Effect. What a great game! Check out Alex Raymond’s posts on Mass Effect on her blog While !Finished for more discussion on sexism and feminism in the game. I think she’s pretty right on!

I’m still figuring out Xbox live. To my disappointment, the game didn’t record any of my achievements. I transferred my save file from my first profile when I created my Xbox live account, so perhaps I screwed something up. How silly is that the Xbox made me make a new profile when I joined Xbox live and that it was difficult to transfer my save files to my online profile.

PS… if you’d like to friend me on Xbox Live, my username is lakedesire.


September 23, 2009

I miss Final Fantasy XI

Filed under:Videogames — Lake Desire @ 6:21 pm

Now that I have an Xbox 360, I’ve been thinking about playing Final Fantasy XI again. I gave the game up about 5 years ago because I traded my PC in for a Mac and I also had no offline social life. Perhaps when I’m starting a PhD program is not the ideal time to replay a game I was once addicted to, but I’ve changed a lot in the last half decade.

Does anyone still play Final Fantasy XI? If I replay, I’d like to find a friendly linkshell that might help me level a new character. I could also look into reviving my old character (if that’s possible!), but I gave away or lost most of her good gear. I used to be on the Midgardsormr server, and I’m not sure if that’s still around.


September 12, 2009

Mass Effect and Queer Relationships

Filed under:Gender, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 6:24 pm

I’ve been playing Mass Effect on my new (second-hand) Xbox 360. Wow! Videogames have sure come along a lot in the last two years or so since I followed what was hot and joined in on all the blog gossp. Just when I was feeling jaded (I went back and played some of my old favorites and they just didn’t charm me like they used to), I pick up a used copy of Mass Effect because I heard it had some themes in common with Battlestar Galactica.
Mass Effect is a thoughtful science fiction game. Sort of like a good book, only with a lot more choices than a linear story I sit back and enjoy.

I really appreciate that more games these days allow customizable protagonists. When I was a teenager, I pretty much had to access fantastical worlds through the eyes of a white male. Some of those protagonists were pretty rad (usually the quiet ones like Link and Crono because I had more room to imagine what they might be like) while others were obnoxious and oblivious (Squall, Sora). In Mass Effect, the default Commander Shepard is a white dude, but you can custom him to the point that he’s no longer a man. I’m playing the game as a butch black woman, and I bet I’m having an entirely different experience seeing her as a military officer and special agent than if I’d just gone with the default protagonist.

Only one thing about this game really irks me so far. (Well, besides having to kill biotic “terrorists” fighting for reparations that I thought were the good guys.) As a female Commander Shepard, I have the option of pursing a romance with a human male or an alien female. So I can play a queer romance, if I choose. I also can have a sexual encounter with another female alien. Awesome. But I hear that if I play a male protagonist, my romance options are with a human female or an alien female. There’s no option for a queer romance if I play a male character. I suspect the game designers
that their players are heterosexual males and want to indulge in a lesbian relationship through playing a female character. I understand games are a fantasy and indulgence, so why deny players the option of developing a romantic relationship between men? It looks like Mass Effect is an example of queer women getting a pass as long as they’re sexy and doing it for the indulgence of male players who watch. But because of homophobia, queer males get no airtime at all.

Is this inclusion of queer romances among women but exclusion of queer romances among men a trend in games these days, or is Mass Effect unique? The Sims is the only game I can think of that allows all around indiscriminate lovin’.


September 8, 2009

A belated update and a question of what’s cool

Filed under:Videogames — Lake Desire @ 10:56 am

My blog was broken for a while, but I finally figured out how to fix it. Besides an occasional post I’ll write for Feminist SF — The Blog!, I haven’t had much of an internet social life these last few years. Grad school and not having the internet at home didn’t help, but I largely have been focusing my activism on community and labor organizing. I guess I took the Le Tigre song, “Get off the internet” to heart. I went to my first mass convergence last summer, protesting both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I should have posted this link 8 months ago, but check out the report-back video I worked on with submedia and Pepperspray Productions, Ground Noise and Static.

The summer before this one that’s just wrapping up, I decided I was a social anarchist, or advocated anti-authoritarian socialism. I was radicalized as an undergraduate (as much through blogging as through college activism) and I’ve been challenging sexism and racism for a few years now. Studying the history of oppression led me to a pretty solid critique of capitalism. I argue that we can abolish oppression based on socially constructed categories like race or gender or ability if an elite group still owns most the wealth and calls all the shots. Capitalism has a rich tradition of creating hierarchies so the working classes are too busy fighting each other to challenge the wealthy. But I wasn’t sure what I advocated as an alternative. While I am sympathetic with Marxism and largely agree with Marxist critiques of capitalism, I was uncomfortable with the authoritarianism of communism. A lot of folks will agree capitalism sucks, but so did the USSR, so we get stuck thinking there is no better alternative. It was Angela Davis who through her work on prison abolition that convinced me that another world is possible, a world without prisons or police or military.

Davis spoke at my university my senior year, where she said, “We often don’t think about the extent to which virtually everything has become commodities in our lives. The culture we enjoy, the education we try to get, the health care that we all need. It’s really all about profit.” I went on to read her short book on prison abolition, Are Prisons Obsolete? She offers a great critique of the prison industrial complex, or the incarceration of undesirable bodies to make a profit for the wealthy corporations that own privatized prisons. Capitalism relies on racism and that prisons are storehouses for undesirable bodies. It’s a great book, and quick read. Read it. The prison abolition movement, and later reading The Color of Violence: the INCITE! Anthology, written by activists working outside the criminal justice system (not a safe place for women of color and trans people to go), convinced me that another world is possible and people are building it right now.

Politics aside, I also feel like a total gaming loser, which is another reason I have not been blogging. I don’t even know what’s cool anymore! I’ve been playing Okami on the Wii and The World Ends with You on my DS, but those games are old news. Unless I can pirate it with my R4 chip, the games I play are used and the heated discussions are long over. But the good news is that my brother recently gave me his Xbox 360, so a whole new world of used games awaits me. I am giddy. What great hit of yesterday do I delve into first? Mass Effect and Bioshock and Fallout 3 all look pretty fun. And I think I’ll even try Resident Evil 5 despite its racism–I’ll be mocking the game all along. If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you’ll know how much fun my friend Meghann and I had playing RE4 through on PS2 and then again on Wii, mocking Ashley and Leon the whole time.

In other news, I finished my master’s degree and I’m beginning my Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington. I got into mountain bike racing and collegiate road bike racing. Wow! How do I have time to even play games at all?

So what’s cool these days? What new feminist gamer blogs have popped up that I need to start reading?


October 3, 2008

Southland Tales: Bullshit I Kind of Liked

Filed under:Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 9:00 pm

Donnie Darko is my favorite American movie, so I was excited for Richard Kelly’s next movie, Southland Tales, for years before its production. Then I forgot all about it and realized the movie was release two years ago and recently came out on DVD. I picked up a copy at my university library today and watched it in one sitting. Here’s my initial impressions, probably to be revised once I read the graphic novel. (The film is parts 4-6, the graphic novel parts 1-3.)

I’ll try to avoid major spoilers, but I do hint at what happens in this post.

The Rock, Buffy, Justin Timberlake. Cool. Republicans and Neo-Marxists fighting over the election, ubiquitous surveillance, the draft, brain-washing an actor and a cop to make black-mail footage, World War III, mad science teleporting the ocean’s energy to fuel perpetual machines. Wow, that’s a lot going on. Justin Timberlake describes his world as being on the verge of anarchy to describe an increasingly repressive government and its resistance.

I found the first chunk of the film pretty overwhelming. I was lost in an overly complex plot that failed to convince me of it’s epic importance or justify the violence. I was introduced to a radically alternate 2008, and wasn’t convinced of such cultural and technological changes in the three years since the fictional nuclear attack in Texas that split off Southland Tales’s timeline from mine.

This movie is explicitly leftist, and I love it when science fiction features politically radical characters. But the radicals in Southland Tales were superficial. As much as I like seeing women with guns yelling, “facist pigs” at the police, I found the Neo-Marxists unbelievable because both the men and women used sexist language and mostly just accused people of being facists without any analysis or clear political objectives. What was their goal? To help the democrats win the election? That doesn’t really make sense to me.

By the second half of Southland Tales–once I started to follow the plot (probably because some of the convoluting side-plots narrowed with killed-off characters) I actually was getting into the plot. It was like my old school games: you start off thinking the fate of a city or nation is at stake, which is a pretty big deal, but it’s actually literally the whole frickin’ universe.

In addition to themes of time travel and dimensional rips, Southland Tales visually cites Donnie Darko. There’s a poster of Frank’s rabbit mask on a wall. Near the end of the movie, a character is shot in the eye and channeling Gyllenhaal’s cute/whiney/mumbling/dreaming Donnie. There are probably a few other references I overlooked.

Southland Tales did turn out to be a bit like Donnie Darko in some of its themes and music sequences, but also with an explicit political theme and engagement with radical politics. I think neither goal really turned out especially well.


September 18, 2008

Welcome Back!

Filed under:News — Lake Desire @ 7:21 pm

I finally fixed my blog! I somehow broke it in August and then left on a road trip to go to the DNC and RNC protests. Woohoo! But now I’m back and ready to blog again. I may even try to figure out how to do a new layout that isn’t so 2004.


June 24, 2008

Critical Approach to Analyzing Games

Filed under:Theory — Lake Desire @ 12:54 pm

My gaming and academic work have lined up rather nicely. I started this blog in a women’s studies class when I was a junior. At the time, I was in an interdisciplinary program studying science fiction and gender, and that eventually opened up to include race and cyborg theory. All of that provided plenty of blogger fodder for videogame discussions, although looking back I could have written more accessibly in my old posts since for theory to really mean something, it needs to speak folks in the real lives we actually live. I just got so excited when I learned those smarty-pants words, I was giddy to use them.

I study English now, already less than a year away from finishing my master’s degree, and although I’ve written on videogames in some of my classes English studies lacks that personal is political drive that prompts me to blog on media. If anything, I feel like blogging takes time away from my studies. Fuck that! If I can write about videogames in school, what I study can come back around and make an appearance here.

BomberGirl of Girl in the Machine writes an accessible post Musing Over Method in which she uses the theory of new criticism (or perhaps more accurately new historicism) to debunk the “authorial intent” defense of an art. She writes in response to defenses of Resident Evil 5:

Which brings us back to my initial question: What’s a writer / artist / video game designer to do when a critique reveals some important theme in her work that she neither foresaw nor intended? Getting defensive about it definitely won’t help; it’s out there, it’s what it is. Absolutely everyone is prejudiced to some degree, including when it comes to race and sex. It’s my firm belief that a lot of racism and sexism is actually subconscious, molded by our experiences of social conventions throughout our lives, and the first step to overcoming these prejudices is to recognize that they exist. You are not a Horrible, Awful, Terrible person for admitting you’ve done something prejudiced. The point is to see that it’s there, and to do something about it; to fix it, to change how you think; to spread awareness to others.

Theory is a pretty useful approach to analyzing games, and defending critical thinking and debunking passive absorption of media. Especially since gaming is especially not passive in comparison to television/movies or even reading.