John Walker's Electronic House

Rum Doings Episode 171: Into Isolation, BABY

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Rum Doings

In our 171st ever Rum Doings, our topic is what is the chromosomal configuration of Kate’s zygote?

We talk about the nature and consequences of political criticism of art, at quite some length, especially how it relates to gaming. This meanders onto talk of our continued struggle with the pink and blue nature of childhoods, and a brief detour into baby having.

We’re such grown ups that Nick’s daughter starts school this week, so we chat about that, and then our horror at how young everyone is. No one is allowed to have been born after 1985.

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8 Comments for this entry

  • Jambe

    Nick: so John/Sarkeesian’s concerns are political and such calls for better games grease the slopes of censure and/or censorship for exploitation by unsavory moral majorities? Are we to presume that your concerns aren’t political and can’t be usurped or co-opted by bads?

    I don’t think art just reflects culture or that “merely changing the representation in art” is trivial. Both those topics seem too broad to speak to definitively, though. I felt your follow-on to that thought was more clearly wrong, namely that developers will respond to critics trivially then feel smugly self-satisfied, contributing nothing of meaning to culture.

    I know that we have limited willpower and time, but if I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that caring about well-written fictive people reduces one’s ability/desire to care about the well-being of real people. This seems counterintuitive and cynical in a defeatist, pessimistic sense.

    Of course it would be great if society aligned to prosecute hitherto-unpursued rapists and apply social and perhaps legal pressures to the cultures enabling such blindness.

    I don’t think “games should be better!” detracts from that. I may be wrong. Maybe a bit of Puritanism-Lite(R) sidelining of art/leisure concerns is in order given the severity of the problem (i.e. “stop worrying so much about your crappy games until this more pressing issue is fixed”).

    I… don’t buy that. Surely appropriate changes can happen at many levels of society simultaneously.

  • NM

    Jambe: the problem is this falls into some variant of the Politician’s Syllogism:

    We must do something
    This is something
    Therefore, we must do this.

  • Jambe

    I’ve seen that argument everywhere and haven’t responded to it yet so I’ll try to congeal something.

    The problem’s so broad as to rule out the thorough grasp of applicable somethings one’d need to overcome the syllogism. As you pointed out, one would also need a clear grasp of whether action is truly preferable to inaction (you can dispute the major premise in conjunction to the traditional tack of noting that the minor is undistributed).

    I don’t think anybody has such grasps, though. Do you?

    So: why shouldn’t the syllogism apply to every social issue? Why should we not be universal inactivists?

    As an aside: Dan Geer recently identified what he called the four verities of government. These verities seem applicable beyond the realm of government. They are:

    * Most important ideas are unappealing
    * Most appealing ideas are unimportant
    * Not every problem has a good solution
    * Every solution has side effects

    To reiterate: that sword you’re wielding is all blade and no hilt. You are right that calls for better games are political, but that observation undermines your own pleas as much as anyone else’s.

    Stopping institutionalized rape (and social and governmental indifference thereto) certainly seems more pressing than stoking the better games furnace. This is your strongest claim.

    It’s not clear, however, that “make better games” detracts from “stop rapes and be more socially aware”. It could certainly do that in some cases, but in others it could promote anti-rape action and social awareness.

    Your argument isn’t baldly wrong or unsound; I simply distrust it. It may be that we ought to devote less time and attention to the uncritical tropiness of toys until more dangerous and/or sharply-identifiable problems are addressed. Maybe you’re right that art is best improved as a natural, undirected consequence of other issues being explicitly bettered.

    I don’t trust that idea because I don’t see art as a mere reflector or indicator of culture (or ftm as its apotheosis). It’s not just a lens through which to more clearly descry mores and norms, nor is it a flower (or cyst) on the vine. Art is all tied up with other aspects of culture; it’s integral.

    On editing that down: unwitting masturbation euphemism retained.

  • Steve

    John mentioned the immaturity and misogyny of games, and talked about how embarrassing it was that the medium seems to struggle so hard with this while no other medium does. Is that really fair?

    Big-budget cinema has many of the same problems (for example the number of movies which fail the Bechdel test), and those films aimed at a female audience (e.g. Twilight/Insurgent) are often written-off by critics for exactly that reason.

    That genre of films haven’t evolved on their own; they’ve been drawn from existing book franchise with a strong, established fan-base. They aren’t big financial risks. If you take those films away, how many big budget releases have there been in the last year which aim at women as their primary market? You’re mostly left with the chick-flic genre, which has almost as many issues portraying realistic female characters as games do.

    More balanced genders are far more common in indie and lower-budget movies, but isn’t that the root of the problem? Spend enough money on making art and its primary purpose becomes making a return on that investment.

  • Gassalasca

    We were all taught cursive back when we were seven and eight. It was during my secondary school years that I realized that, unlike me, most other students had abandoned it. I still use it because it’s either that or full-on block letters for me. I don’t know how to write in any other way.

  • Jambe

    To condense that cruft:

    The syllogism undermines all political/social action.

    In other words: so what?

    By way of parody:

    John: better writing in games would be nice.

    Nick: John, we’re mortal. Get your priorities straight.

    Perhaps I overreact.

    It really bothers me that I’m sympathetic to your point of view because specifying how people are misusing their attention (especially wrt leisure) seems quite Puritanical.

    I suppose they weren’t all bad.

  • Marc Forrester

    Wow. I understand that Nick enjoys the role of Devil’s Advocate, but I’m not sure that’s helpful when Beelzebub is currently squatting over the witness box picking a target for his next sulphurous turd.

    If folks in the world outside videogames can form the impression that it’s the Social Justice Alliance who seek to suppress artistic expression in this conflict, then we desperately need better messaging.
    “I have met some of the most amazing women I have ever known through the game industry. Larger-than-life, funny, warm, sweet, razor-sharp, overeducated women, the kind who laugh too loudly in quiet rooms. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard most of them laugh. One of them IMed me today about how she was leaving the industry and she couldn’t handle the idea of disappointing me but she just couldn’t take it any more, and I told her it was okay, it’s fine, self-care is so important, because it is.

    The truth is that after our conversation ended, I put my head in my hands and cried.”

  • Trellism

    Further to the ‘pink’ discussion. I think our attitude changed because we realised that pink is not a negative thing. It is not bad to be pretty or girly. Frills, princess dolls and tiaras are not morally reprehensible. To restrict toys, clothes and the like to only ‘blue’ stuff is conveying the message that ‘pink’ is weak and less worthwhile than ‘blue’. It’s also partly our experience of our nephew, whose parents struggle with the opposite.

    And of course there is the tacit assumption amongst many parents that permitting a boy to play with pink toys will turn him gay – and that’s something they wish to avoid.

    I saw a woman in a toy shop recently refuse to buy a Peppa Pig backpack for her on because it was pink. Peppa Pig is pink! Meanwhile J was browsing the Star Wars lego.