Monday, April 30, 2012

Why I Am Embarrassed to Admit I Love Video Games: Part 2, Sexual Arissment

Trigger warnings: Sexual Harassment, Transphobia & Rape.

That controller probably costs $300+
In the golden age of the video arcade the biggest draw were the fighting games. These were titles wherein the player would control the actions of one particular character selected from a stable of fighters, who would be pitted against another fighter in a timed martial arts bout. The opponents would deliver and attempt to dodge or parry flurries of punches, kicks and more exotic techniques until one of the fighters was knocked unconscious twice in a best-of-three series. The most popular titles had a huge variety of playable characters, each with their own dizzying array of special “moves” that took considerable dexterity with the controls to master. Crowds would form around consoles where skilled players were going head to head, and if you were feeling brave you could signal “dibs” on the right to challenge the victor by placing your quarter on the edge of the arcade console - surreptitiously, so as not to disturb the match in progress, though cheering and jeering from the assembled spectators was common in some arcades. These games combined the thrill of gladiatorial blood sports with an element of gambling; to challenge a player you had to feed quarters into the machine, but the winner could continue playing without paying additional money, monetarily rewarding skill and punishing ineptitude. Many men - and no small number of women - from my generation have fond childhood memories of watching these games being played by the best among us. Those lucky enough to have lived in cities with financially successful arcades might have gotten a chance to witness a sponsored fighting game tournament with cash prizes! Nothing brings the competitive spirit to the fight quite like a little moola. The arcades that hosted these typically sold overpriced pizza, hotdogs and popcorn, if you are wondering what the business model looked like. I didn't think about that when I was 12, I just forked over my allowance and considered it money well spent.

Like most video games from that era, all of the best fighting games came from Japan. The Japanese had huge arcades, we were told, with weekly tournaments paying out thousands of dollars. Everybody lived within walking distance of an arcade in Japan and everybody played; their skill was legendary. None of us could have imagined a future where people made a living playing arcade games and scrappy Americans would compete with the Japanese legends in tournaments that would not just determine who was the best player in the mall, but the best in the whole world! Yet here we are living in that future... and people have the gall to complain about a lack of flying cars. Also, we have smartphones so...

The arcades are dying, by the way. Video arcades, I mean. Modern arcades aren't really the same thing. They are full of ticket redemption scams, claw machines and prop based games that have no immersion value. In the few places that people are fighting to save them, they are fighting to save the Fighting Games. Yeah, they have an antique Galaga and Centipede in the corner, and maybe a collection of pinball machines, but it is the Fighting Games they want to preserve. It's a community.

We need to be careful about looking back on that era with rose tinted glasses, because it was far from perfect  (it only seemed great in comparison to the 80s). Looking back with the perspective I have now, highlighted by recent events, I remember a sinister side to what went on in those arcades. Girls were an uncommon sight in the arcades of yore, and those that were present were frequently the girlfriend of one of the older boys, crassly displayed as a trophy, as though he had traded in an absurd number of ski-ball tickets for her. Some amount of gawking and staring was inevitable in that environment, I suppose, but outright harassment was uncommon... unless, one of the girls had the audacity to place a quarter on the console. This would always create a stir among the the milling onlookers, and could scarcely pass without comment. She would be permitted to play, "dibs" was a sacred trust, and those who violated it were banished. I'm not being melodramatic, at a lot of places the management had official policies about it; you could get kicked out for disregarding a token. Even if that particular crowd had been silently observing previous matches, commentary from the peanut gallery always accompanied a female competitor. Players who normally concentrated silently on the game would start talking shit. The ones that already did that as a matter of course would become coarser. This, incidentally, is how I first learned the words cunt and twat, though divining their exact definitions would have to wait another 5 years or so for the invention of the internet (thanks, Al). If the girl lost, she would be told to go back to her boyfriend, or shoe shopping, or playing with dollies or whatever stereotypically gendered activity the hecklers imagined was most funny to mock her with. Making us sandwiches was not yet a thing we said. I guess misogynistic humor wasn't yet that advanced in the 90's, or perhaps men still remembered how to make their own sandwiches back then. They were different times.

I did not see it at the time as an obvious double standard, but if she won, her male opponent would be the victim of mocking – losing to a girl?! The shame! Better go buy a dress, pussy, etc... I realize now the true victim of this mocking was still the girl. Not only did we mock either loser with "girly" things, but her prowess with the controls was being dismissed; her victory was always attributed to a shameful lack of skill on her opponent's part. If she lost, all girls sucked. If she won, just one guy sucked, temporarily. Her defeated opponent would feel he had no choice but to pay for a re-match, to prove she "got lucky" (in a genre where there are no random gameplay elements). If she defeated him into token bankruptcy - often feigned after two or three defeats to save face, I imagine - she might be punished with the further insult of facing no additional challengers. Who would risk the shame of being beaten by a girl? The “real players” would shuffle over to the second most popular game in the arcade, disgruntled at the disruption of our play by this interloper and pretending we weren't cowards. She would be left to battle computer controlled opponents in solitude, or worse, be forced to play while simultaneously fending off the creepy advances of (often disturbingly older) suitors whom, I am ashamed to admit, I usually thought were incredibly suave for having "the balls" to pursue her. The girls never stayed in the arcade as long as the boys.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why I Am Embarrassed to Admit I Love Video Games: Part 1

As the medium of video games gets older and becomes more popular, “gaming” will be less and less of a thing. The concept of being “a gamer,” or the existence of “gaming culture” are concepts that only exist because most kinds of video games are still on the margins of society's collective consciousness. Those who regularly purchase games are a niche market. Being a fan of video games confers an identity to those who do it because of its relative rarity, like being a motorcycle rider, and unlike common activities, such as watching TV. Any kind of group that people can be categorized into is prone to having stereotypes and prejudices applied to its members by outsiders, and gamers are certainly no exception.

The prejudices against gamers are many, but the one I am concerned with is the generalization that we are ourselves very prejudiced people. Gamers - a group dominated by straight, white men - have a reputation for being overtly sexist, racist, homophobic and otherwise socially regressive. This is not why I am ashamed; I'm not concerned that people will think I am any of these things. If they know me well at all, they won't. A person who doesn’t know me might prejudicially assume these things if they somehow learn I am a gamer before they learn anything else about me, but that won't happen often except with other gamers, so I am not especially concerned.

To the extent that any prejudice is ever justified, this one is. The gaming community has huge problems with these issues. The stereotype of the bigoted gamer is widespread. It is well known that most spaces dedicated to communicating about games - or worse, within games - are rife with disgusting amounts of hateful bile. Admitting to liking games is tantamount to saying I am willing to tolerate this kind of shit for the sake of accessing entertainment, which calls my values into question. That is why I am embarrassed. It is very difficult to maintain the position that I value social justice, tolerance and acceptance when I appear to be ignoring blatant violations of these values among the people with whom I discuss and play games. Many non-gamers are people who might have become new gamers if not for the way that existing gamers behave. They were not wrong to conclude it isn't worth it. Half the time I think they made the right call and I should have taken up basketball or bird watching or something.

Of course I despise bigots, but I realize their occasional appearance is pretty much a given in any human endeavor. The places where they are known to congregate are suspect, however. What flaws do gaming spaces have that allows such vile behavior to flourish? I am aware that there is a silent majority of gamers who are not overtly bigoted, but who meekly tolerate the presence of bigots because they think they have no choice. Worse, there are some who, in their zeal to defend their beloved hobby from criticism, unwittingly support the bigots with minimization tactics: Don't feed the trolls” or “stop white-knighting.”  These enablers frustrate me to no end, but the ones who say nothing are incredibly aggravating as well; their silence lends tacit approval to the bigots' behavior. Many of the bigots are cowardly bullies, using the anonymity of online environments as cover to spew invective and slurs the use of which would ruin their extra-gaming social lives if, indeed, they have one. This same anonymity protects everyone, though, so why are the silent remaining so? The forces of anti-bigotry should be equally emboldened by the anonymity enjoyed by bigots, but by and large, they aren't speaking up. When I call out a chauvinist or homophobe in gamer-space, I often find myself the only voice of dissent, and my protests stir up even more bigots, as though by being decent I sow dragon's teeth.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Name and Shame

On February 1st, 2012, in Olympia, WA, the State Senate voted on SB 6239: Concerning civil marriage and domestic partnerships. This bill, if it becomes law, legalizes gay marriage in the State of Washington.

Michael Baumgartner (R), Randi Becker (R), Don Benton (R), Mike Carrell (R), Jerome Delvin (R), Doug Ericksen (R), James Hargrove (D), Mike Hewitt (R), Janea Holmquist Newbry (R), Jim Honeyford (R), Curtis King (R), Bob Morton (R), Mike Padden (R), Linda Evans Parlette (R), Pam Roach (R), Mark Schoesler (R), Tim Sheldon (D), Paull Shin (D), Val Stevens (R), Dan Swecker (R) and Joseph Zarelli (R) all voted 'Nay.'

They were overruled 28-21 and the bill passed the Senate.

On February 8th, 2012, the bill came to a vote in the WA State House of Representatives. There, John Ahern (R), Gary Alexander (R), Jan Angel (R), Mike Armstrong (R), Katrina Asay (R), Barbara Bailey (R), Vincent Buys (R), Bruce Chandler (R), Cary Condotta (R), Larry Crouse (R), Cathy Dahlquist (R), Bruce Dammeier (R), Richard DeBolt (R), Susan Fagan (R), Larry Haler (R), Mark Hargrove (R), Paul Harris (R), Bill Hinkle (R), Mike Hope (R), Christopher Hurst (D), Norm Johnson (R), Steve Kirby (D), Brad Klippert (R), Joel Kretz (R), Dan Kristiansen (R), Jim McCune (R), Mark Miloscia (D), Terry Nealey (R), Ed Orcutt (R), Jason Overstreet (R), Kevin Parker (R), Kirk Pearson (R), Ann Rivers (R), Jay Rodne (R), Charles Ross (R), Joe Schmick (R), Matt Shea (R), Shelly Short (R), Norma Smith (R), David Taylor (R), Judy Warnick (R), J.T. Wilcox (R), and Hans Zeiger (R) voted 'Nay' on the bill.

They were overruled 55-43 and the bill passed the House. The following day the bill was signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. It is now on the Governor's desk, awaiting her signature, which she is anticipated to grant today. Once she signs it, it is law, and Washington will become the 7th state in the Union to legalize gay marriage.

The legislators named above are all bigots.

A quick aside for any proudly “politically apathetic” or “fiercely independent” non-voters reading this who have ever claimed that the political parties are the same and it doesn't matter who wins the election: count the R's and D's above. Only 4 of the 28 Senators and 2 of the 55 in the House that voted 'Yea' are Republicans. There is a clear difference between the parties, on this and many other issues. The only way you could come to the conclusion the parties are the same is through willful ignorance, so shut up and let those of us that have informed opinions speak.

I am also sick of hearing that the 6 aisle-crossing Republicans that voted in favor of marriage equality should be praised for their bravery. No they shouldn't. Believing that homosexuals should have the same rights that heterosexuals have is one of the minimum requirements of human decency. By crossing the aisle, they met it. They don't get a tolerance cookie, there is no decency ribbon for good behavior. Their reward for voting 'Yea' is that I'm not going to call them a bigot. Today.

Make no mistake, the people who voted 'Nay' hate homosexuals. I have no doubt that every single one of them would deny it if confronted, and many of them might even believe their own denials. They think they have gay friends who's existence proves their tolerant and accepting nature. These bigots, and those who would defend them from my charges of bigotry, think we live in a world where hatred of homosexuals means gay-bashing. As long as you don't beat them up for being who they are, you don't hate them. Demanding they be fired, spreading lies about them, barring them from military service and voting away their rights is love and acceptance, just don't call them a faggot them and you aren't a bigot.

This is the 21st century; it is not okay to be opposed to gay rights. Do you remember what it was like to learn about slavery in the United States? About the anti-abolitionists and their rhetoric? You remember what you thought about those people. How could they be so stupid? How could they be so wrong about a question with such an obvious right answer? Quite simply, they told themselves that white people's dominion over black people was the natural order of things. It had always been that wayGod endorses it. Does any of this sound familiar?

Eighty years from now when school children are learning about the Gay Rights Movement and the opposition it faced, those children will be just as confused about its opponents as you were about the slave owners. They will consider the opponents of gay marriage stupid for being on the obvious wrong side of an easy moral question. As Judge Walker – presiding over the 9th district court panel that just overturned prop 8 – made clear in his hilarious, scathing ruling, mutterings about tradition and appeals to dictionary definitions  (yes, the defendant literally appealed to the dictionary as part of his case) do not constitute a legal argument, nor even a logical one.

These “arguments” are just the lame rationalizations used by bigots to convince themselves they aren't bigots, and excuse the various ways they are oppressing a minority group. "Family values" and the "sanctity of marriage" are the rhetorical disguises that homophobia wears. The fact that it has to wear a disguise these days is movement in a promising direction. The KKK wears masks for a reason.

Gay rights are human rights. Opposing them is immoral. All of the congressional representatives who voted against marriage equality are bigots; acknowledging or recognizing your own hatred is not a prerequisite to bigotry - that rarely ever happens. Anyone who votes for these representatives in the future is bigoted or ignorant or both. All of their political careers should be over, but I know they won't be. Let's work to make a world where this kind of bigotry is political suicide. Don't forget, we Washingtonians will have our own Prop 8 to shout down. 

There are bill signing parties all overthe Puget Sound region, raising a glass together for equality at 6:00pm. I will be at the party at the Desert Fire in Redmond.

...for ALL!

UPDATE: From the party