All the RE5 discussion needed was a Nice White Gamer

Dear Nice White Gamers,

I am glad that you, unlike the Not Nice Gamers, understand that we don’t live in a post-racial world. It’s nice that you’re able to see the the word “racism” in the same paragraph as “video games” and not launch into the “it’s just a game!”-type knee-jerk reactions that can be summed up as, “”Gamers want games to be taken seriously until they’re taken seriously, and then they don’t want them taken seriously” (hat-tip: Kieron Gillen via Brinstar).

But, Nice White Gamers, you do not deserve the plate of cookies you’re passing around. And, even if you did deserve those cookies, you should not be passing them around. This is because (among other reasons) white people patting other white people on the back for being aware of racism is, in itself, kind of racist.

If a post, written by a Nice White Gamer over a year after the first criticism (made by a POC 1 I might add) was linked in the gaming blogsphere, that offers a shallow interpretation and no links to the more in-depth criticism that has been posted is “the first time I’ve read people actually thoughtfully examine the perception problems of RE5”, you need to stop and think about why it is that you are ignorant of the plethora of writings made by POC (especially when a simple google search of “racism” and “Resident Evil 5” will at least give you a starting point). I’ll give you a hint, it’s something referred to in anti-oppression circles as privilege.

On that subject, it is a Nice Person fallacy that “considerate” conversation is praiseworthy in every situation. Yes, I know we’re taught the whole “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” line, but “politeness” isn’t a neutral concept. Praising someone who said something bigoted for phrasing it and/or the ensuing discussion “politely” privileges politeness over not saying something bigoted. It puts you on their side instead of the side of the non-privileged individual/group that was targeted by the bigoted remark.

Let me give you a tip, from one Nice White Gamer to another: you aren’t as nice as you think you are. Being one small step above the Not Nice Gamers, who are blatantly racist and/or deny that racism is still a problem, is not praiseworthy; it’s the bare minimum. And, as long as you continue to be satisfied with having only the bare minimum level of awareness, your continued cluelessness regarding oppression and how it operates (and how you, as a white person, benefit from racist systems) will continue to perpetuate harm on POC. In the grand scheme of things, that puts you not on the side of anti-racism, but rather on the same side as the Not Nice Gamers.

For those of you who want to raise the bar and confront your own racism and privilege (in the process hopefully becoming an ally), I’ll give you some advice. Take a breather from posting your thoughts on racism and start doing some reading on the subject. Lurk in forums that regularly have discussions on race, racism, (and for bonus marks, other issues such as gender and sexuality), but don’t participate in those discussions until you have at least a base level understanding of how racism/oppression works and how people (including you) wittingly and unwittingly contribute to it.

Even if you aren’t interested in raising the bar, for the love of little green apples, at least have the decency to keep your thoughts (as they are on something you know very little about) to yourself. If you think a discussion on racism is something you want to post about on your blog, then link what other people (preferably POC) have said on the issue. But don’t act as an authority on the issue (or allow yourself to be praised as one) and don’t act as if your thoughts are new or revolutionary when they’re not (hint: linking other people who have said similar things avoids this misconception).


A Pissed off Anti-oppression Activist Gamer Nice White Lady

1 POC stands for Person/People Of Color; it is the current standard in most anti-oppression movements for referencing anyone who isn’t white. Sometimes, especially in feminist spaces, you will see the term WOC, Woman/Women of Color. Note to Nice White People: know these terms, use these terms.

* My title is a reference to the “What These People Need Is a Honky” trope, which can be summed up as:

White guy flees from his own culture for personal reasons (to set him up as different from those with white privilege). White guy meets natives. Natives educate white guy. White guy learns the way of natives, possibly also converting a native person who was originally doubtful of him, thereby proving white guy’s worthiness. White guy fights for naties. White guy makes dramatic escape while the native guy dies, possibly trying to help the white guy. The movie then ends with a dramatic coda and captions that inform the audience that despite white guy’s triumph, the Situation Remains Dire.

The key to all this is that the entire movie is about the white guy’s personal growth and realization and that people of color serve only to further the white guy’s epiphanies.

I leave it to you, Nice White Gamers, to figure out the connection between that and my open letter.

Retiring the blog

So. My life is super busy, I rarely have time to update, moderation has become a chore that I take care of only once a few weeks, and I really don’t have the time and the energy to deal with the abusive comments that I get on a regular basis.

I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to close comments and retire the blog for the foreseeable future. I got a review copy of All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear that I need to read and review, but in all likelihood that’s going to be my last post.

The only other workable option I can see happening is if someone wants to take over posting and moderating so I could take a breather without the blog having to. If you have the time and drive to blog here (or even just moderate comments), comment on this post or drop me a line via Shrub’s contact form.

Responsibility of comedy writers

Although I had never heard of Graham Linehan before, he’s apparently a writer for some fairly popular UK comedies, including one called The IT Crowd.

Now, apparently there was a recent episode of that show that included a sub-plot involving a transwoman named April. The plot was basically that Douglas, the Asshole of the show, goes out on a date with her and during the date he propositions her. She seems reluctant and eventually tells him that she “used to be a man”, to which he says that it doesn’t matter and his offer still stands. Except, the twist is that he misheard her! He thought that she said she was “from Iran”; this leads to a physical fight where she throws the first punch but he ends it by throwing her through a glass window and the last the audience sees of her is her lying motionless in a pile of glass.

All this played up as comedy, mind you.

So, Graham has a blog and on this blog a commenter named Leanne pointed out to him that he isn’t writing in a vacuum and the kind of violence he used as humor has a real life correlation.

The first comment after hers? A guy telling her that she’s “oversensitive”. So far he’s been the only one and no flame wars have been started, so I suppose that’s something.

Graham’s response to her comment was as follows:

Thanks for the letter, Leanne. I’m sorry you didn’t like the show.

I don’t really feel the need to defend it further as it’s a very silly show, and not meant to be taken seriously. But thank you for remaining polite on a matter that obviously means a lot to you.

Ignoring all the other problems with the response, I find his claim that “it’s a very silly show, and not meant to be taken seriously” to be just another cry of “it’s just a television show!” that I’ve debunked in the past. Not only that, but framing it as an issue of being “taken seriously” or not completely misses the point. Just because people aren’t going to look at the show as something 100% true to life, it doesn’t mean that they won’t find truth in the themes.

Graham’s depiction of violence involving a transwoman that resulted from a sexual encounter where the man thought she was a ciswoman draws from real life situations which are prevalent enough that men who commit these violent acts defend themselves using something termed the trans panic defense. It is with this underlying theme that’s rooted in reality that Leanne was speaking to, rather than the “silly” comedy trappings of the final depiction.

In fact, I would go even further and argue that the humor of the scene is dependent on the audience, at least a little bit, sympathizing with Douglas*. While April is upfront about her past (and I do give Graham minor points for not making her “trick” him into having sex under “false pretenses”), it’s significant that she throws the first punch. By initiating the violence, it lessens Douglas’ fault in the assault and one could argue that it even goes so far as to justify said violence***. And, since the violence is played for laughs, the audience doesn’t have to actually think about sad/scary things like how the same kind of violence happens in real life but with tragic consequences.

Ultimately, Graham is right; he doesn’t have to defend his work. He can write whatever he wants to write as long as the networks are buying it. But I find it to be rather intellectually dishonest for him to use “it’s a very silly show, and not meant to be taken seriously” as an excuse to try and weasel out of the responsibility his writing, as part of a fairly popular television show, plays in not only shaping popular culture but also in reinforcing the beliefs of his audience.

* Darren, the commenter who called Leanne “oversensitive”, argued that it was Douglas who was meant to be the butt of the joke**. While this would seem to fit the way that the show treats Douglas’ character in general, it’s hard to agree that April “gave as good as she got and got the better of him in the end” when he threw her through a glass window and that was the end of it. Or am I missing a part where he actually faced some real consequences like jail time for assault (doubtful since she threw the first punch)? What about even some in-show criticism of his actions from the characters we’re supposed to see as sympathetic?

** Darren also argued that we were supposed to see Douglas’ actions/opinions as bigotry, but I don’t buy that as his views are fairly common. One might argue that those opinions are more extreme than that of the average person, but I’m not so sure. In my experience (which has been backed up by the various research I’ve done into trans* issues) most people I’ve talked to about transwomen believe that transwomen are, if not “men”, at least not fully “women”. In the case of the heterosexual men, most of them say that they would not only not date a transwoman, but if they slept with one and found out later that she was trans they would be “disgusted” and more than a few said that they would want to do violence to her. And, mind you, most of the people I have access to, while not anti-oppression activists, are left-leaning and at least try to be conscious about issues of oppression.

*** For evidence to back up my assertion, I cite Andrew’s comment, where he says, “Leeane – if you recall in the episode, April threw the first punch. She started it and so deserved everything she got.”

Highlighting the responsibility of online community leaders

I know I haven’t been around much; my life is busy and I don’t have the time to blog that I used to. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Anyway, I’d just like to highlight a post I read today, The Importance of Leadership on Gaming Websites.


The point of all of this is that, despite claims by games bloggers that they have no control over what random people say on the internet, they actually do have a lot of control over the community on their sites, without even getting into moderation: it’s all about tone.

Tone is why Destructoid and Kotaku are sexist cesspools. When you post sexist headlines like “Jade Smells Pretty at London Games Fest“, when you post pictures of booth babes that are completely irrelevant to your post, when you think the height of humor is using the word “pussy” as many times as possible, you are not only engaging in sexist behavior, you are inviting sexist people to your site and making them feel at home, while simultaneously turning away most women and non-sexist men. It is truly the editors that build their site’s communities.

Joystiq generally does not do the above things, so things are marginally more civil there. However, any time a relevant picture of a woman accompanies a post, there are always a slew of sexist comments that go unchecked. I saw this happen to two posts that went up within hours of each other; the first was about a new executive at EA, who is an older woman, and many of the comments were extremely violent and objectifying (one charming example: “I’d hit it… with a crowbar”). The other was about the Lara Croft model, and since she’s young and beautiful the comments were instead about how much they would like to fuck her. It’s true that the posts did not encourage this sort of behavior the way they might at Kotaku, but at the same time, allowing these comments to remain up does–silence is the same as agreement.

For those of you interested in issues such as video games, online communities, and/or moderation, I would highly recommend giving it a read.

Nothing to buy. Not yet.

[As one speaker said today, “Pretty much all the games today are the same five games in different packaging.”]

I have an Xbox 360. I want to buy more games. I mainly play sports (basketball and baseball) games and I have little interest in shooters with more guns, more blood and guts. I was perusing Amazon and I came to this conclusion: Jesus H there is nothing to buy. I thought Left 4 Dead would be fun but viewing the actual gameplay made it look like CounterStrike with a zombie skin (and since when do zombies leap like the Hulk?). And I didn’t think it’d be possible, but it might be worse than Dead Rising.

But luckily, there is reason to not be so pessimistic after I went to IndieCade’s exhibit/forum/workshop at Open Satellite in Bellevue, Washington yesterday. I went with my Little Broham which meant we weren’t there for very long (he forgot to have breakfast so he had little attention span or energy left after 90 minutes or so) but it was nice to check out some of the more artistic/innovative games that aren’t rehashes of stuff we’ve seen for years and years (because seriously, how many shooters and RPG games (new story!) can people make?) and aren’t meant to be The Game that you play for 80 hours. Merci Grace from GameLayers was there and she spoke about getting into the industry, securing funding and about her team’s upcoming game PMOG. It was interesting to hear about the creative process and how you don’t necessarily have to know all the code in the world (though it does help) to be a part of a creative team. I kinda wished I was still in college so I could maybe try and join in on the video game design fun.

This event/forum/exhibition was hosted by a volunteer that I work with and since it was a cool and kid/teen friendly environment, we mass emailed it out to all of our volunteer mentors. I didn’t stay for the entire thing and some might’ve gone to the later dates, but I was a little disappointed that we were the only match there. Specifically, I was hoping that a few Big Sister/Little Sister matches would’ve shown up because it would’ve been particularly great for them to see and talk to Grace because as we all know, kids (and society in general) still see video games and those behind them as a Boy’s Club.

This is as serene as I get

I have been a semi-regular reader of the blog Feminist Gamers since its conception, but after reading this post I don’t think I’m going to be going back there anytime soon. I admire that Mighty Ponygirl wants to foster a stronger bond between feminists (don’t we all?) but I disagree with her chosen methodology.

If we’re being perfectly honest here, I have to admit that I take her words personally because I’m pretty sure that I was one of those “internet feminists” she was chiding. I say this because she and I exchanged words on a post where I said that I was strongly considering dropping the “feminist” label because I feel that a failure to address privilege in all of its forms is fundamentally incompatible with the feminist quest for equality. If you notice, she pretty clearly references the term “retard”, which was also referenced in the ableism discussion.

Mighty Ponygirl’s attitude is actually a pretty good example of what frustrates me about the mainstream feminist movement. Over the past few months, I would say that the Feminist Gamers blog has become the representative feminist gamer blog to the greater gaming culture. As such, MP has the unique power to influence (to a certain extent) mainstream gamers’ opinions of feminists and female gamers in general. As I see it, she is the gamer version of famous internet feminists such as Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti. Like them, her success is owed to various factors such as being intelligent and witty, passionate, knowledgeable about her subject matter, dedicated to regular/semi-regular posting, and — of course — that ever present element of luck.

However, I would also argue that part of what makes her popular is that she’s a more palatable version of a feminist than, say, I am. As much as I would like to believe myself to be a middle-of-the-road type, I know that I get placed firmly in the “hardcore”/”militant” category because of my steadfast insistence that, while focusing on gender equality is a good thing, it’s not good enough if we don’t also acknowledge and incorporate other anti-oppression movements into our theories and actions. Simply put, someone like me is too scary to be the face of feminism.

Sure, there are times when Mighty Ponygirl can be scary (like when she’s ripping a troll a new one), but that’s a kind of scary that gamers can relate to. The way that she’s scary is the way that they’re scary: ready and willing to lob snark at people who earn their ire. In a lot of ways, she fits in with gamer culture. This is, of course, a good thing; she fits in so people like her, when people like her they listen to her, when they listen to her they begin to understand the fundamentals of feminist thought, and when that happens for enough people feminist thought begins to be normalized.

But when it comes down to it, part of why she’s palatable is because her message doesn’t rock the boat too hard. Although she does help familiarize gamers with the fundamentals of feminist critique (thus giving them the tools to better understand misogyny and sexism and how they operate in gamer culture), ultimately she is asking more for the inclusion of a certain group of women into the clubhouse rather than for gamers to understand oppression and how they (wittingly and unwittingly) contribute to it.

Despite all the words about unity and understanding in the second paragraph of her post, the first paragraph is basically saying that those of us who believe in anti-oppression activism aren’t allowed to express our anger/disappointment over mainstream feminism’s seemingly inability to recognize that women come in more combinations than just straight, white, able-bodied, middle- to upper-class (etc etc). According to her, we should just STFU and accept that some people are assholes and some feminists will only see feminism as a fight for gender equality (which somehow doesn’t include groups like women of color or women with disabilities).

But, you know? I can’t do that. I don’t sit down and shut up like a good little girl when some jackass is spewing misogynist shit in my face, and I’m damned well not going to do it when I see someone who’s supposed to be a feminist contributing to the image of feminism being for rich, cissexual, straight white women only. Women of color? Women. Telling them to take race out of the oppression equation and only focus on gender is like telling them to pretend that they are white and that their experiences as women of color are the same as those of white women (hint: they’re not). Transwomen? Women. Are you really going to tell them that they should keep quiet when some asshole feminist says they shouldn’t be allowed in women’s spaces because they’re really men? What about the woman with a mental disability who has to deal with taunts of “retard”? You gonna tell her that when internet feminist #49058 called an ideological opponent a “retard” it had nothing to do with her?

If it were just one or two assholes, then maybe I could follow MP’s advice. But it’s not. It’s Seal Press and Michfest and how it feels like every month there’s another woman of color being trampled on by some well meaning white feminist who can’t bloody get over her damn self and admit that maybe she was acting from a position of privilege. As long as feminism is “just about gender equality” it will be hurting women. I took on the feminist label to help women, not just to further my own equality.

Maybe I’m just not a very good feminist. But, then, isn’t that the problem?

Bitch magazine needs your help!

Bitch might now have enough money to publish last month, so they’re seeking donations. If they don’t raise $40,000 by October 15. If it sounds like a lot of money, it is. But it takes a lot of money to run a print magazine.

I’ve signed up for a year’s subscription and donated $30. What are you going to do to help ensure that we don’t lose such a major voice in the field of feminist critiques of popular culture?

Hat tip: Racialicious.

ETA: Bitch lives! But don’t let that stop you from donating; we don’t want them to have to do this again next month. 🙂

Reflecting on the murder of Melissa Batten

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This post is several years old and may not reflect the current opinions of the author.

Melissa Batten was a Software Development Engineer for the XBox team. Before that she was a Harvard-educated lawyer who worked as a public defender, handling domestic violence cases, in North Carolina. She was also a victim of domestic violence (DV). Her abusive husband killed her a few weeks ago in a murder-suicide after she had moved out and taken out a restraining order on him.

Domestic violence is a pervasive, deadly problem that affects us all. This incident is not an isolated act, nor can it be viewed in a vacuum. We lost one of our own. But there is more to take from this tragedy than it simply being a woman in the industry who died. Batten’s murder wasn’t an outside incident; it was part of a greater pattern of violence against women. It was enabled by a culture of misogyny that all too often trivializes domestic violence and puts obstacles in the way of the victim who tries to protect herself. Even in this case, where Batten did everything she could to get out of her situation and stay safe, her abuser had no problem shooting her outside of her workplace.

As gamers and game industry professionals, it’s our responsibility to take a deep look at ourselves, and our industry, and think about the ways that we’ve enabled a culture where violence against women is not taken seriously. Many gamers think that greater societal problems such as domestic violence and violence against women has nothing to do with their beloved hobby, but they are wrong. For one, games like the GTA series rely on sexualized violence and otherwise reflect sexist dynamics in order to add to their realism. Tying it into an example closer to real life, consider the harassment of Jade Raymond. The violence may have been verbal rather than physical, but it was rooted in the same sense of ownership of women that was the root cause of Batten’s husband killing her before he killed himself.

One way that we can honor Batten’s memory is to get educated on issues such as DV and violence against women and stop denying that they have nothing to do with us and our hobbies/careers.

More on Melissa Batten

Domestic violence resources

X-posted: The Life and Times of a Video Game Design Student

The New Yorker gets a 0 on the Swift-o-Meter

Racism is satire when “progressives” do it!

I am not a regular reader of The New Yorker, but I have never been a huge fan of their cartoons. Some of them have made me chuckle, some of them have made me roll my eyes, and many more have just provoked a, “Okay…” kind of blah reaction. But, I am sorry to say that they have joined the ranks of all those other jerks who create something bigoted, present it without any obvious criticism, and then dare to call it “satire”.

That cover is not satire.

I understand the reasons why people are calling it satire, but their explanations fall flat when you’ve seen the same arguments used to defend insulting articles/pictures/etc that only serve to reinforce the status quo.

Satire isn’t a synonym for “mockery”. It isn’t something that is easy to do right, and it certainly isn’t accomplished by simply rehashing elements that have been used by a group that’s in political opposition to the person doing the satire. It’s not enough to say it’s satire because “everyone” knows the object of mockery is ridiculous, especially when there are plenty of people who obviously don’t.

The thing that the satire is mocking needs to be blatantly and obviously ridiculous and wrong. And not just to people who already see the subject as ridiculous and wrong. Satire needs to expose the logical fallacies of the object of ridicule, not simply summarize them.

If the satire can reinforce a person’s conviction as easily, if not easier, than it can shake it, then it is not satire. It’s just mockery, and mockery whose target is ambiguous at that.

Via Feministe.