“Our society pressures us to accept so many types of violent expression and see it only as meaningless "venting." It encourages us not to take people seriously. It suggests that "I want to kill myself" is equivalent to "I am very sad." In order to rise above the emotional noise, it requires those who intensely suffer to express actions of such violence that they risk involuntary hospitalization (or jail).” the Alienist
“Don’t be afraid to open up again. I promise not everyone will love you with a knife behind their back.”
--seen on tumblr, original source unknown
I love video games. I've played them ever since Doom came out. I spend at least some part of every day in some game or other. Most of the games I played then and play now are violent to some extent. They are set in dangerous worlds and require me to commit mayhem in order to succeed. This has never really bothered me. I'm not a violent person and I am fully capable of separating real life from fantasy. That said, most of the games I've loved often don't involve violence against humans, or at least against random humans. Usually the bad guys are aliens, monsters, AIs, or humans that have been converted to zombies, vampires, or the like. When my targets are human they are usually unredeemably bad people: slavers, megalomaniacal murderers, that sort of thing. When my housemate started getting into GTA and some of the more realistic combat shooters I found them almost entirely uncompelling despite their technical sophistication. Detailed headshots, impressive body counts, and killing hookers for money just doesn't appeal to me.
Because I tend not to play these gritty, "realistic" shooter and fighter type games I've been fortunate enough to not have had much exposure to some of the less appealing aspects of gaming culture. Lately though it has been hard to avoid them. About a year or so ago a woman named Anita Sarkeesian started putting out a video series called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. It was a followup to a video series she did looking at depictions of women in media in general and was funded via a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign. To say this project is controversial would be some kind of epic understatement. Even during its fundraising phase, before a single video was made, Sarkeesian was viciously attacked via Youtube, Reddit, Twitter, the Kickstarter comments page, and Facebook. Her Wikipedia entry was repeatedly vandalized with pornographic images. Someone created a game that consists of nothing more than punching her in the face for points. Every article that is written by her or about her is accompanied by vitriol that would make a strong person blanch. She is regularly threatened with very specific and gruesome types of sexual assault and has been forced to leave her home out of fear for her safety. She has had to disable comments on her videos and most online journals that write about her have to heavily police responses.
All of this is because she points out the stereotypical and negative ways that women are commonly depicted in popular video games. She's not the only one. In general, it appears that being an opinionated female in the gaming world is dangerous. I have to be honest. As a female gamer and as someone who loves video games and who never wants to stop playing, this is really depressing both because of the issues she highlights but also because of the community's reaction to the messenger. Criticisms of her actual work tend to focus on her personal failings (unattributed use of someone's artwork for her KS campaign, a delay in getting out the first videos, not being a "real" gamer, etc.) or her somewhat preachy persona rather than on the actual merits of her argument. While I am not surprised that schools apparently no longer teach critical thinking skills, it is distressing that so many people feel they can invalidate any criticism simply by putting the word "feminist" in front of it. Many commentors fall back on the tired and incorrect notion that videogames are for men and sexy, objectified women are what men want so, I dunno, shut up and make me a sammich? It is also clear that many of her detractors do not have a clear grasp of what a trope is.
A couple of days ago a cosplayer that I follow (because he makes awesome cosplay) basically invited his followers to use his FB feed to hate on her. Within a few minutes someone had posted a sexist graphic of her and my cosplay friend had responded with a photo of Hitler. In my dotage I totter back and forth between engaging the world and calling it on its bullshit and walling myself off from it entirely. The miasma of bile swirling around Sarkeesian is a mystery to me. I've watched her videos, read a few articles on her (both supportive and critical), and while I can fully understand many of the critics' points I can find no reason that people get their panties in such a twist. So I asked the cosplayer, who usually seems sensible, to explain it to me. Several impassioned posts later I am still unlightened about the hate but other things have become abundantly clear. The first of these is that actually watching Sarkeesian's videos is not considered a prerequisite for denouncing them and rejecting their premises. The second is that many arguments against her are parotted from other sources without any application of critical thought; nor do critics understand that "someone on reddit..." is not a reliable source. Corollary to this is that people substitute personal attacks for critique of substance. Third is that even when critics do watch the videos or go to original source material they read things into them that are not there and fail to see things that are there. (My conversation with the cosplayer on what constitutes "past tense" in twitter posts was almost funny.) Fourth is that people see what they want to see and they have already decided that Sarkeesian is a lying, showboating, thieving bitch whose sole agenda is to take away one of their favorite pasttimes and replace it with feminist PC pabulum. Fifth is that people seriously do not understand feminism (no surprise there). Sixth is that, well, I think I have finally run into the age gap. The cosplayer is 18 and I assume most of the people in the echo chamber in which we conducted our sort of debate are also around that age. I have literally been gaming since before this young man was born. Sarkeesian is 30. When she was born I was in grad school. To me she seems so young. To them she's too old and worse, she's lecturing them. So I look at these people and I realize there is nothing I can say to them that they will hear. I am too far past the divide of what they consider relevant. (le sigh.)
As far as the videos go, I've watched most of them, despite the fact they are pretty long and I have no patience with Youtube. They are the same sort of analysis we expect in film criticism, book reviews, and the like. I think they are well-done, thoughtful, and provocative. Sarkeesian has clearly been thinking about these issues for a long time and offers plenty of support for her thesis. Her analysis tends to be broad rather than deep and it's not entirely original, but then much of our culture builds on what has gone before it. Some of her arguments seem a bit strawmannish. I haven't played all the games she uses as examples but for the ones I have played or seen played, she's usually pretty spot on. Occasionally she's wrong or misses the point on a specific example but this doesn't invalidate her entire argument. They aren't the be-all and end-all of video game criticism but are as good a jumping off place for debate as anywhere else would be. In a better world they would serve as the catalyst for discussion, rebuttal, and expansion of the conversation surrounding the past and future of video games. Instead she gets death threats. Honestly, the woman cannot win. If she posts a video she is accused of attention-whoring; if she doesn't post she is accused of stealing her KS backers' money. She is routinely accused of cherrypicking her trope examples by people who turn right around and cherrypick details from her videos (or her life) to discredit her entire body of work. If she doesn't allow comments on her videos she's accused of avoiding debate; if she enables them, trolls use them to get her videos blocked as inappropriate content. Almost everything that is written about her has to be tagged with trigger warnings.
Regardless of my take on Sarkeesian personally or on her arguments regarding tropes in videogames, as a female gamer I face certain realities. They may often seem sort of silly. For instance in WoW and ESO the exact same armor sets can look very different on male and female characters. Would it surprise you to learn that the female versions of armor often feature deep cleavage and a distinct lack of coverage on the torso and thighs? And OMG, what is up with WoW's female dragon aspects? In general though, particularly in single player games (the MMOs I play are very different), as a woman here is how I am likely to see myself represented:
1. I most likely will not be able to play a female protagonist because in most games the only playable characters are males. There may be ancillary female characters (team members or followers, for example) that are under the control of the main character. This actually doesn't bother me a whole lot. When I'm hunched over in the dark playing Bioshock I get so immersed that I might as well be in Rapture and I usually forget completely that my avatar is male. I never minded playing Gordon Freeman, Jack in Bioshock, the space marine in Doom, or even Duke Nukem for that matter. I'm still the one on the right side of the gun/crossbow/crowbar. But still, in general, the default hero is a dude.
2. Primary female NPCs are likely to fall into only a few types: the victim that needs to be rescued, the victim that needs protecting, or the victim that is already dead. These characters often serve as little more than a gateway to the motivation of the main male character and exist to give him a reason to get all medieval on any number of bad guys. This way of representing women is more problematic to me partially because it is primarily a laxy shortcut. These women have no agency or any purpose outside of whatever motivation their existence or death provides the male protagonist. I'd be more OK with this if the dead ones weren't so often raped and murdered in exquisite detail before the player's eyes, usually in the game intro. Bottom line, if there is a primary female NPC she's probably going to be a victim of some sort.
3. I am likely to spend hours in a world where a large number of incidental female characters I see are routinely brutalized for purposes unrelated to game progression. They are beaten, their throats are slit, they are sold, they are shot, they are raped, they are nailed to walls. Why? Well because apparently the quickest shortcut to demonstrating that life is harsh baby is to toss in a few anonymous chicks for skeevy dudes to beat up on and kill. Most of this is entirely incidental to any plot development. They are set decoration and no different from the cars lining the road or the derelict buildings or the lampposts.
Are all games like this? No. Are the specific games highlighted like this all the time? No. Are men also the victims of violence in these games? Yes, and usually more of them die than women. The issue isn't how many women die it is how and why they die and that usually tends to be fundamentally different than how and why men die. Are women always depicted in this fashion? Of course not. Are there a ton of games out there that subvert these tropes or forego them? Certainly. In every video that I've watched Sarkeesian points out exceptions and often makes positive comments about particular games. Sarkeesian's point, which she articulates fairly regularly, is that these depictions of women in videogames aren't really the product of vicious scheming on the part of game developers. No one sits at a table and says "let's use our game to keep the wimmens in the kitchen, bwahahahah". The idea of women as various sorts of victims is so ingrained in our culture that tossing a few mutilated hookers into the background or putting yet another pretty princess into a cold stone tower and sending a prince off to rescue her is just how it is. Developers don't think about it and neither do gamers. We just play. I really think Sarkeesian just wants us to at least think about it. I know that I do and I have her videos to thank for that. Paying careful attention to what is going on around me in game hasn't lessened the immersion any. If anything I've gained a deeper appreciation of the artistry that goes into the games I do play and a respect for developers who've created such wonderful places for me to explore. But yes, now that I notice these tropes in action I am able to make my own decisions on whether they enhance game play or are merely gratuitous.
The games I love the best and tend to play over and over are the games with good stories. I fully understand that rescuing someone or protecting someone or avenging someone can be a great story hook. I also understand that the Wasteland and Rapture and Black Mesa are dangerous places and sometimes really bad things happen to people there, things that I can't do anything about or can at best barely affect. I understand that developers use a lot of unpleasant things as window-dressing and that in many games this is just part of the motif of unrelenting violence. But I also know that gritty and realistic doesn't have to equal exploitive and voyeuristic. I can't think of a more gritty and realistic environment than the Capital Wasteland and there is nearly none of this shit going on there (thank you Bethesda).
You can choose not to care about this. That's fine. In the end they are just games and and no one will force you to watch Sarkeesian's videos or read articles about her. But if you do want to engage, then engage honestly. If you object to her premise then challenge her on the substance of her argument and leave off the rape threats.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have a dungeon to clear.
"Suicide: a permanent solution to a temporary problem"
Every time someone famous takes their own life this pops up. It's an easy platitude. Rolls right off the tongue. Has that Twitter philosophy feel to it. And it is a giant load of shit. There is nothing temporary about mental illness. Yeah, sure, some people might have setbacks, lose a lover, a job, go bankrupt, might, in the darkest night they've ever known, decide just to chuck it. And honestly that might be a mistake. But I suspect that for a surprisingly large number of us, it's not the proximal stimuli, it's the never-ending miasma of life that brings us to the cliff. I think sometimes it is our strength that lets us finally take the step over.
Myself, which I am sure bores you, might serve. I have been depressed all my life. It's not the depression I tend to read about on Tumblr or WordPress or that the therapists and doctors tried to put into my mouth. I don't feel guilty. I don't hate myself. I am not angry (usually). I'm not a failure. People like me, I have friends. My childhood was awesome, my family loving and kind. I don't usually despair. What I am is sad. Always and all the time. It has always been like that, as long as I can remember. I was always the loner, my face stuck in a book, always affected by things harder than other people. Everyone argues with me. "You always smile. You always have so much fun." Yeah, and? You learn very quickly to act happy. Emo kids (or whatever we were called when I was a youngling) get stomped on hard in this world. You learn that no one wants to hear about it, and if they do it is usually to tell you to get over it. Be happy. Look at everyone in the world who has it worse than you and get the fuck over yourself. Tomorrow will be better and you'll be sorry if you miss it. Blah blah blah. Even people who should know better say this stuff and I have to believe it is a talisman against the darkness.
Well, I have no talisman. I know from experience that tomorrow won't be any different from today. I go on. I travel. I make photos. I enjoy life and my friends and food and beer (oh yes, sweet, sweet beer) but that doesn't really change anything. When I say I am having fun and enjoying myself that's not a lie. I love everything I do. But it changes nothing. If I could convince you of anything it would be that. I can create. I can love. I can laugh. Every morning, every single morning, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I wake up and wish I didn't. It has been like that nearly my entire life, sometimes it is just worse than at other times. Does that sound temporary to you?
So stop with the "temporary problem" crap. Some of us have been dealing with this shit for longer than you can imagine. We literally have no hope of recovery. We have no idea what recovery even is. I have done the therapy, taken the pills, made the life changes, and whatever else they do, none of them take the sadness away.
Anyways a friend sent me this earlier and I liked it because it has a good perspective on a painful and unwanted situation: Judge Not His Death
I am sorry Robin is gone. He's always been one of my favorite comedians. Meeting him in person back when he was Mork was a highlight of my life. But my sorrow is for my loss, not his freedom. As far as that goes, if it is what he wanted, then I'm happy for him.
The magazines started coming January, eight months or so ago. I don't know why. They aren't addressed to me. They are addressed to Dennis. The first one was Travel and Leisure. It makes sense sort of. He likes to travel and probably doesn't get to do very much of it these days. I figured that somehow or other a courtesy copy was accidentally sent to an old address, possibly because somewhere in the vastness of the internet some business or other thinks he still lives here. When the second one came and then the third I assumed that the courtesy copy was actually one of those "free one year subscriptions" you sometimes find at Amazon or B&N or when you fill out a survey. How it ended up coming to an address he hasn't lived at in more than 5 years is a mystery.
In March Sports Illustrated started arriving. This is weird, to say the least. Dennis has no interest in sports of any kind. It's one of his better features. I certainly can't imagine him actually signing up to receive a weekly general sports rag like SI. The only SI he ever reads is the swimsuit issue and that doesn't appear to be included with the subscription.
In June I started to receive People magazine. Yeah. Now we are getting into bizarre territory. It's not a magazine I've ever seen him even glance at, although maybe these days he's bored enough to care about what celebrities do with their copious spare time. But still, if he's subscribing why are they coming to this address? If he's not subscribing, why are they coming here at all? As far as I know, no one is paying for them. I haven't received a bill. They come like clockwork, every week. I don't even know who half the people on the covers are.
In July the postal person brought me the latest issue of Golf magazine. It now comes every month and this little...whatever it is...has finally reached epic ludicrousness. Golf? Really??
I am more amused by this than anything. I'm not sure if this is some sort of cosmic accident wherein I receive free magazines that I will never read or if someone is playing some kind of game with me. Whichever it is, the magazines sit piled on the dining room table gathering dust. I'm not sure why I don't throw them away. Maybe when the last of them finally stops coming I'll do an art project or a photo thing or just donate them somewhere. Or recycle them. Whatever. At this point I'm just curious to find out what is going on. Not actually curious to call the magazines and find out, but maybe I'll get to that point.
Every life needs a little mystery in it. I guess this is mine.
you know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline.
I come off an hours long photo editing session to find that Robin Williams has died. I'm sad about this, possibly sadder than I should be, but suicide has been in the air the last few days, hovering around me. I saw a concert a couple of days ago by a man who lost his father and two friends to suicide and who makes no bones about the fact that anger and sadness drive much of his music. You can see it in his face when he plays, it's all happening again, at that moment. And every one diminishes me.
I'm part of a tribe that has no boundaries, I find myself everywhere.
This will make people mad. Every time this happens, when someone famous takes their leave by their own hand, it starts again. The earnest pleas to "call someone", the lists of numbers, the posts short and long about their own struggles with the demon bastard, the personal paeans to finding a way through, the promises that you'll be glad you lived, "depression lies", the dismay that someone died "that way", as if any other way would somehow be less tragic, less of a loss. Reblog, signal boost, retweet, like and share, post a video, and then roll over and forget. What a world.
But the numbers they give you to call are always strangers. The reasons to live usually come down to "the people that love you". Sometimes I think that if the people who love me really love me, they'd let me go. I'm not asking them to help me, I don't want them to tie the knot, buy the gun, give me the push. I'm just wondering why they stop me. Why can't they see? It's their own pain they fear because mine isn't real and I need to stay here so they won't hurt. It's really pretty damn selfish if you ask me. But no one ever does.
I walk along the edge of a very steep cliff. I've been balancing here all my life. Sometimes the edge recedes but it's never very far away and I can always see it, I always know it's there. Don't look down, don't look down, don't look down. There is no bottom, only endless falling.
I will tell you this. Depression has never lied to me. Not once. I can't say that about anyone or anything else. I'm sad, of course, I'm sad. But...I am jealous too.
Oh well, I should go back to bed. This sort of thing never ends well.
“You are a wildfire and the world is made of brush. Go ahead and burn.” --Lora Mathis
It's crazy what you could have had.
Anyways, because I'm a gamer and I'm into anime and go to cons I've been following in a sort of half-assed way recent controversies over the way women are portrayed in comic books, the way they are treated when they engage in cosplay, and their trials and tribulations as "girl gamers" in a male world. That's what it's all about, I guess...a male world. Anyways, there's been a few exceptionally well-written articles of late and so I've been reading them and pondering them and ruminating on them and not really coming to any sort of gestalt. You know, I'm a gamer and I've never experienced any of that, and I go to cons where quite lovely women and men cosplay and I've never seen any abuse, and I don't doubt that any of these stories are real but they don't resonate with me personally because my experience has been different.
And then Elliot Rodger happened.
If you haven't read his manifesto, you probably should. Yes, yes, I know. Don't give the little shit any more publicity. But to be honest, if you have not read it, then you will have no real idea of how unbelievably horrible it is that there are people out there who 1) try to deny that he hated women; and who 2) applaud his both his beliefs and his actions. Whatever else he did, he laid out for us in nearly 140 pages exactly what he did and why. The only comfort is that he failed to realize the full extent of his vision.
After you've read that, read this and this too.
I'm not going to go into anything about guns and the 2nd amendment. His guns were all legally purchased in a state that has very progressive gun laws. I'm not going to go into mental health issues. As far as I can tell, he was getting the help everyone around him felt he needed. But I will tell you a story.
Once upon a time, when I was younger, as we all were, I had one of those enormous 300-student intro biology courses in college, where some teacher you could barely see conducted his class in an auditorium with a slide projector and some overheads. (Kids, you won't remember those. Not to worry. They aren't important.) One day a guy sitting next to me, who I did not know, asked if I could help him understand something the teacher had said. He was an Iranian student (he told me), English wasn't his first language, and given the enormous class size and the accompanying noise levels, he hadn't really caught some point the professor had made. I sat with him for maybe 10 minutes, explained it, and then went on my way. The next class he sat by me again. He was nice enough, very polite, told me his name (I've forgotten it), and otherwise just sat there. After a few days of this, he asked me out to dinner. I was seeing someone at the time, so I declined politely, and he seemed fine with it. Or so I thought. The next class he showed up with a rose and asked me out again. I again told him I had a boyfriend. He insisted I take the rose anyway because I was "so lovely and kind" and we were such good friends. (Ikr? wtf?) He continued to ask me out but got increasingly aggressive about it, until he essentially got to the point of offering to buy my company. His family was quite rich, he could not believe any raggedy American boyfriend I could have could ever offer me the life of luxury that he could, and he promised to shower me with clothes and cars and houses (!) if I would go out with him. Plus, he knew I liked him because I was nice to him. Seriously freaked out by this I made a point of sitting in places in class that he could not sit next to me but he then made a point of waylaying me after class and pursuing his case. I finally told him to leave me alone, that the few minutes I spent after class one day to help him out was just being nice and didn't mean I was interested in him, that I had a boyfriend.
Then it got ugly. He called me a whore. Told me the way I dressed meant that I was available to any man so why not him? He knew what American women were like, all harlots, all sexually available to any man with money. That in his country a woman like me would be shamed, and then bought like an animal, and treated accordingly. He was a decent person to want to honor a dirty thing like me with his love, with his money, with his family. He'd show up outside my classes, follow me, alternate asking me to date him and calling me a heathen slut. I was terrified. One day I got into work and there was a GIANT bunch of roses sitting on the bar. For me. From him. (To this day the largest bunch of flowers I've ever received. There must have been three dozen of them.) I have no idea how he found out where I worked, other than that he'd been following me off campus. I started taking odd routes home, checking my rearview to see if anyone was following me. One night, late, he called me at home. I had an unlisted number. Turns out he'd shown up at my job, turned on the charm, and convinced someone there that he was a good friend who had misplaced my number and they'd given it to him. He started calling at all hours, heavy breathing, dirty talk, obviously jacking off, and calling me a filthy whore the entire time, listing all the ways he'd violate me and how I'd beg him for it. And always talking about his money and all the wonderful things he could offer me. I started letting the answering machine take the calls; one night I got home from work and there were 20 minutes of sex talk, name calling, and vague threats about "doing something" to me. This was back in the day when you got maybe 30 seconds to make a phone message and then you had to call back. He'd nearly filled up the tape. Yes, I went to the police. They said he'd done nothing illegal and there was nothing they could do. The campus security people got tired of me calling them for escorts to my car. My boyfriend offered to get some friends and take care of things but I'm not a violent person and I was afraid they'd be the ones to get in trouble, so I wouldn't let him.
Finally, after I don't even remember how many months of this, I had a Psych final on the far side of campus that ran late. The school was doing some kind of earthquake proofing on its older buildings so my class was meeting out in some isolated quadrant of the campus in temporary quarters. I finished my test early (because I was a hella good student) and got up to leave. I walked out the door and there he was, out in the hallway, with a half dozen of his friends. Waiting for me. I looked him in the eye, I saw what he meant to do, and I turned right around and went back in the classroom. My teacher, who was a pretty cool guy, took one look at me and asked me what was wrong. So I told him. Everything. And I'm pretty sure I cried because I was really scared. He sat there for a couple of minutes calming me down and then he asked the three biggest guys in the room to come with him and they went out into the hall.
I don't know what my teacher said to him or what happened in that hallway. After some time they all came back into the room and the professor said they'd taken care of it. Two of the guys walked me to my car and both of them told me that if he ever bothered me again in any way to let them know and they'd "have a little talk" with him. I never saw him again. The phone calls stopped. I didn't stop looking for him everywhere I went until I moved away to an entirely different state several years later.
So that was bad enough. The worse thing was how nearly everyone else reacted to it. I was raised to be a strong and independent person and feeling at this guy's mercy throughout my entire life was horrible. I got little support anywhere; most people laughed it off. The police, campus security, people at work, my friends They minimized it, said he probably wouldn't do anything, I was overreacting. And btw, did I lead him on in any way? Christ. The only people that ever took it seriously were my boyfriend and my teacher. Anyways, I got past it, and moved on. It never really left me though. Years and years later, when Dennis wanted to post some photos of us on the internet, I wouldn't let him because I was afraid the guy would find me, and he was pissed about it. How could I let something that happened years ago and didn't really turn out all that bad keep him from doing something he wanted to do? Yeah, it was probably an unreasonable fear but unless you've been there you have no idea how reasonable unreasonable fear can seem. It pervades every part of your life and it takes a long time to go away. I can't even imagine what it's like today, when it is so easy for people to find anyone they want on the internet. I've had fucking therapists tell me it was no big deal when obviously if I can remember it in this kind of detail twenty plus years down the road it goddamn mostly certainly is a big deal.
I have been raised my entire life to fear men. Don't take candy from strangers. Don't accept rides from strangers. Don't give your number out. Don't walk alone at night. Keep your keys in your fist. Be prepared to run. Don't let men you don't know buy you drinks. Don't go to frat parties. Don't wear skimpy clothes. Don't do whatever it is you did that made them do what they did. I did nothing but be nice to this asswipe for 10 minutes in a lame biology class. And yet somehow I've never stopped thinking that somehow it all was my fault. Somehow I failed to learn the appropriate lessons that would have prevented it from happening.
I don't know where I'm going with this, other than that I've been reading the news again and it's never good. It never ends well. It dredges up all kinds of crap I wish would stay buried. But what are you gonna do?