Author: saerickson

Feminist Frequency Is Brought To Loyola

On November 7th, Loyola University Chicago had the opportunity and pleasure of having gamer and feminist, Anita Sarkeesian, as a guest speaker for their fourth annual international symposium on digital ethics. Sarkeesian runs an educational non-profit organization called Feminist Frequency in which she discusses issues in the video game culture regarding the representation and attitudes towards women. Like many other feminist speakers, Sarkeesian has gained a lot of attention from the media due to horrible and grotesque threats that she has received from people who disagree with her (specifically, gamers from Utah State University, 4Chan, Reddit, and GamerGate).

As an attendee of my school’s event, I was extremely eager to see Anita Sarkeesian and experience her presentation in person. I was interested to hear the words that have infused so much anger in some gamers that they feel the need to make horrendous threats to her.

One of the larger issues in the gaming world that Sarkeesian addresses in her Youtube videos and at the digital ethics symposium is the portrayal of female characters as damsels in distress. Many games feature female characters as scantily clad, dependent women in need of a macho male figure to save them. Sarkeesian challenges this norm by asking: why can’t there be a female hero, who isn’t sexualized, and does not need to rely on a male character? Some gamers retaliate and say that games are not for women and that they enjoy viewing these damsels in distress.

These same gamers are the ones who have used “tactics of defamation”, as Sarkeesian calls them, in order to bring her down and alienate women from the gaming culture. Sarkeesian has been a victim of impersonation hoaxes, the spreading of false information, conspiracy theories, loaded questions, and victim blaming. Despite the threats and ridicule that Sarkeesian has received, she remains cool, collected, and firm in her believes. I find these tactics of defamation extremely misogynistic and, honestly, evil. I don’t know how someone could hate another person so much that they would resort to these actions. I am pretty confident that no matter how much I dislike someone, I wouldn’t ever do something so vile.

Why does poor representation of women in video games matter? Sarkeesian and her supporters believe that video games are a reflection and window to the norms and values of society. If we can change women’s representation in video games and shift the attitudes towards female characters, we can change society’s attitudes towards women.

I find Sarkeesian extremely admirable because she has classily handled crude remarks, braved violent threats, and still manages to speak passionately and publicly about her values. It takes a strong soul to manage and continue such controversial work when in the public spotlight, and she has weathered it beautifully.

Do you agree that video games are a reflection of our current values in society? If so, what values do you see being reflected in popular video games?

Anita Sarkeesian

Anita Sarkeesian (third from left) gladly took a photo with my friends and I (second from left).

By Sarah Erickson

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LambdaMOO Experience

I lost myself in the virtual world of LambdaMOO for a solid forty minutes. LambdaMOO is an online community created in 1990 that allows players to explore and communicate in and around the virtual Lambda House. LambdaMOO only uses text descriptions for the players to understand what it going on. Meaning, there are no pictures or videos of the Lambda House and its surroundings. Players must use their imaginations to immerse themselves in the online community.

On my first attempt at LambdaMOO, I was very overwhelmed by the descriptions of my virtual surroundings and the other players that were online at the same time. I felt as though the descriptive text was too long and made it difficult for me to remember where in the Lambda House I was. Since I was playing with everyone in my classroom, I also felt rushed to read everything that was happening with my twenty-five classmates. After about fifteen minutes of confusing and anxiousness, I gave up on LambdaMOO for the day. I had never experienced a game that involved so much reading and memory.

My second visit to the Lambda House was much more successful. A few days later, I logged back in as a LambdaMOO guest and knew what to expect. Using my imagination, I pictured the Lambda House’s rooms and even made my way all the way out to the grocery store down the street. It certainly helped that I was familiar with the system and there wasn’t as many people online at this time.

Although LambdaMOO is an online community, it is difficult to get a grasp on what exactly is happening in the community if there are too many people there. Newer online communities are much easier to comprehend because they use images, videos, and organize players’ actions in a simpler way. With less text and the new organization and media used in new online communities, players can easily understand what is happening in their digital world.

I thought that one of the reasons I initially struggled with LambdaMOO was because there was so much reading to do. It reminded me of how Carr describes the way we read now. He says that we usually skim what we read and we don’t really think deeply about the information. My habit of skimming over texts was probably the reason that made LambdaMOO difficult for me.

Another reason that made LambdaMOO challenging for me was the feeling of disconnect between myself and the other online players. Although I knew that the other people were real people somewhere in the world, I couldn’t help but feel like I was interacting with robots. This sense of disconnect most likely has to do with anonymity that is given to LambdaMoo users. The feeling of disconnection happens because “the virtual environment of the MOO dramatically illustrates the separation of the intellectual self (mind) from the physical world (body).”

While many players enjoy this feature, anonymity is what gives some players too much power and can lead to cyber bullying or cyber rape.

Cyber Bullying

Do you think anonymity is more of a positive or negative feature of the game experience? What did you find the most challenging about this older online community?

 

By Sarah Erickson

Is Texting The End of Human Relationships?

 

In recent years, text messaging has exploded in popularity. It has become so popular that nearly everyone has a phone that has the capability to text message. In fact, for many people, it has become their dominant channel of communication.

Those who use text messaging as their dominant channel of communication typically see texting as a utopian technology because they believe it is the easiest and most efficient way to communicate. Texters can take their time mentally formulating their message and compose their message with little effort. Unlike a face-to-face conversation, texting allows the communicators to more carefully plan their messages. Well thought out messages with content created at your leisure seems to be a great way to communicate, right?

The dystopian side of texting would absolutely disagree with my last question. Sure, texting may be alright for impersonal or strictly business communications. But what about forming personal relationships and learning how to act in a social setting? We can’t expect to create lasting relationships through a screen. So many people, and it’s not just parents, complain that texters today aren’t truly hanging out with their friends and creating personal relationships because they only text while they’re “hanging out” with each other. If texting becomes everyone’s main form of communication, what will the future of human relationships look like?

Texting also takes a lot away of our need for social skills. From an article on psychcentral.com, Suval wrote, “Texting has the ability to reinforce ineffective communication. Individuals can ‘hide behind a screen’ to escape confrontation in friendships or romantic relationships.”

With text messaging becoming more and more prominent part of our daily lives, our social skills may fade because we aren’t learning how to create a response quickly or learning how to deal with as many social cues or emotions. Will texting messaging be the end of real human connection?

 

Screen shot 2014-09-25 at 4.24.07 PM

(livablecities.org)

 

By Sarah Erickson

Twitter and the Loss of Attention Span

As technology and social media trends evolve, we begin to question if our thinking processes are changing. If so, are they changing for better or worse? Nicholas Carr, author of the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, wrote that our ever changing and fast paced media platforms have caused his attention span to dwindle.

I have had the same feeling about my attention span. Once a bookworm, I lost myself for hours at a time in a novel. Now, I can only read a few pages without getting distracted by a social media notification or losing interest. I noticed this change in my attention span but never really understood why it was happening.

Julian Dibbell offers an interesting theory as to why some of us can no longer stay focused on a topic for a long period of time. The title of his article, “Future of Social Media: Is a Tweet the New Size of a Thought?”, is pretty self explanatory. Social media, particularly Twitter, only allows for short messages and as social media users, we are bombarded with short, uncomplicated messages that consist of little detail. Meaning, it is possible that our constant interactions with short messages have made our thought processes less detailed and our attention spans shorter. Nicole Plumridge, in her article called “Is the Internet Destroying Our Attention Span?”, wrote that “Our brains are becoming rewired to suit these technological times.”

However, some tweets have more detail than meets the eye. Tweets that have multiple layers, also known as “thick tweets”, offer Twitter users the option to find more information about the 140 character message. In my two thick tweets, I included links, hashtags, and other twitter usernames. By clicking on any of these, you’ll be redirected to another page that has much more information. I believe that most Twitter users that are my age overlook thick tweets. This is one of the first times that I have ever included a way to get more information on one of my social media posts. But, I think it is a good start to teaching our brains to slow down and absorb more details.

In my opinion, seeing short messages, such as tweets, on a daily basis could be either a positive or negative thing. On the negative side, such messages could be harmful to our ability to process complex information. On the positive side, tweets allow us to obtain the essential information more quickly and even open up a new way of thinking.

 Have you felt that your attention span is becoming shorter? Do you think that this new way of thinking is more beneficial or harmful?

 

By Sarah Erickson

 

 

New Media (Blog #1)

My first memory of using the Internet is of visiting Disney Channel’s website, http://disneychannel.disney.com/, to play the online games. The games I used to play as a pre-teen included characters and story lines from various Disney Channel shows that ran in the early 2000’s such as Kim Possible, Lilo and Stitch, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and many more.

As I played these games, the Disney Channel website would prompt me to send a “shout out” for other users of the website to see. If I wanted to, I could send a comment about the game I was playing and hope that it would be posted. This was probably the first time I experienced interactivity in new media. Although it was nowhere near as interactive as social media today, I still experienced a level of connectedness with Disney Channel and other players.

The option to send a shout out is also an example of democratic new media. By sending a shout out, I could write any opinion or statement about the games (as long as it was kid friendly, of course). Taking a step back, we can see that the evolved democratic characteristic of new media has given Internet users a voice and with that voice they can say anything they please. These voices shape other Internet users’ opinions and even world views.

Bailey Socha and Barbara Eber-Schmid in their article titled “Defining New Media Isn’t Easy” state that new media enables “the average person to engage in political, cultural, social, and economic action” (http://www.newmedia.org/what-is-new-media.html).  

Obviously, a single shout out from a young girl playing Disney games isn’t going to change society’s world views. But, new media had to start somewhere, didn’t it?

Anyway, whether my shout out would be chosen to be posted on the Disney Channel website was out of my control. But back then, the fact that I had a chance to have my own idea or opinion posted was good enough for me. Would Internet users today take the time to send a message that may or may not be posted? (Even if it was going to be posted by a reputable company, such as Disney, with a large audience?) How has the use of interactivity and democracy in new media evolved?

By Sarah Erickson