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Spector Blog 5

I viewed the speech by Sandee Kastune of I.C. Stars.  She started out as a science teacher and worked with trouble kids.  She found that these kids indeed were teachable.  They were told to pick an element to be:  from the solids, liquids, and gases.  Their seating assignments were determined by the group they belonged too.  She created a policy where students had to come back after they graduated and told them how they were using the science that they learned in her class.  She ran into her brightest student years down the road and found out that he became a janitor.  But he was passionate about his career and explained how much that he had learned about chemicals.  Sandee then decided that she wanted to apply technology to community leaderships.  She started an institute to teach people to use technology that would get them a better job.  The program lasts for a year and includes a small stipend.  Their incomes increased by an average of 400%.  They stayed in the south and west sides, where they came from, and bought homes there; they invested in their communities.    

She asked us how are you heating people are cooling them down?  How are you helping people be in there element.  How are you in your element?  She in a sense was motivating the audience to make a a difference.  It is remarkable how many lives this woman has changed.  She took so many out of poverty by providing them the opportunity to better themselves with hard work, not handouts.  It is also amazing that once the graduates were making a decent living they decided to invest in the low income communities that they came from.  It is interesting to imagine how people like that could transform a community form an impoverished place to a desirable community within as little as a decade. the_early_years_0

Not an Easy Battle, but Sarkeesian Won’t Stop

I should have known as I emptied my pockets, handed over my bag, and stepped through the buzzing metal detector, something wasn’t right.

Why in the world does a woman speaking on a college campus about video games need this much security? Every other on-campus talk I had attended had the security risk of zero: filled with professors, students furiously jotting notes for desperate extra credit, and others taking a nap in the back chairs.

This was different. The room was buzzing as campus safety officers patrolled the perimeters of the room.

So why the security? Because she is a woman. Talking about video games.

It sounds ridiculous, and most certainly is, but #gamergate has spiraled quickly from a frank and honest discussion about women’s (as well as LGBT and POC’s) sexualized, inferior, and/or nonexistent roles in the gaming industry, to a violent storm of “trolls” sending death threats. All of this is happening in the name of protecting a traditional “space” these usually white, heterosexual males have held dearly for so long.

As Anita Sarkeesian took the stage, I had no clue what she would talk about. Would she focus on the topics of her videos? Would she talk about #GamerGate? Or, gasp, would she address her threats and harrassment?

I’m pleased to say all three were addressed at least a little. She began the presentation with a short snippet of one of her videos on game tropes for women, and how most video games with strong female protagonists don’t make it to store shelves. One in particular was re-written so the female lead became a feeble princess who needed to be rescued by the male character, now going on all of her adventures.

Sarkeesian didn’t spend too much time on her videos however, mostly for what I assume is time reasons. It’s hard to explain everything wrong with how women are treated in the gaming industry in an hour.

What the bulk of her presentation focused on was her personal experience with her harassers.

She showed the disturbing tweets, photoshopped images, doxxing, and what looked to be like ridiculously large pizza orders used to harass and intimidate her in every way.

The fact that she was unafraid to stand up and speak about this, and even able to laugh about certain ridiculous conspiracies, was pretty astounding to me.

As the talk continued, like any good journalist given the opportunity, I made sure to livetweet some of her more interesting quotes (one of which @femfreq liked!):

I didn’t think I was important enough to feel the wrath of the gamergate trolls. I was wrong. Quickly my feed filled with the likes and retweets, but also comments. Many were positive, others were not. I was so surprised how quickly these “activists” started to reply. Honestly, they must follow the #gamergate tag all day.

To the tweet about how we must listen to all women, I received this reply:

This #NotYourShield movement is defined by CinemaBlend.com:

As noted on KnowYourMeme, #NotYourShield was a collective movement of minorities of all ages and types, stating that they were not oppressed by a straight, white male patriarchy; that they had their own voice and that they were not a shield to be silently used in order for gaming media – and those that gaming media represents – to push an agenda.

To me, it sounds like another #WomenAgainstFeminism twitter movement. In other words, people wishing to disassociate themselves from an issue they believe does not involve them, via misinformation usually. In my opinion, these women should be heard, and just like #WomenAgainstFeminism has been a force that only seems to strengthen feminist thought and prove important misconceptions in society

I also recieved a tweet saying that gamergate was nothing but a conspiracy meant to make money, namely for Google and Amazon.

While what I experienced was little, it felt exhausting. I did not want to get in an argument with these tweeters. I couldn’t imagine how Sarkeesian felt. I’m sure its depressing to talk in circles with those who don’t want to listen, only defend their point of view.

I think my favorite part of the presentation was how she tried to provide concrete ways to prevent harassment like she has suffered. One quote really stuck out to me:

She’s right. While the web is essentially “the wild west,” in terms of legal protection law enforcement needs to start finding out how consequences can be enforced for those who abuse the web.

Overall, I enjoyed the talk and hope it opened some eyes to the true issues pervading this community, as well as exposed simple (and not so simple) solutions to this problem.

Here’s to hoping that soon, she will not need security like this again.

Using Threats as a Springboard

Anita Sarkeesian hasn’t had the easiest time in recent months. Between death threats, rape threats, and all other kinds of horrendous personal attacks, she has been constantly harassed and discriminated against for daring to call out the misogyny inherent in video games. During her talk at the Digital Ethics Symposium, Anita went into a fair amount of detail about the situation she currently faces, instead of delving into the research and work that caused this furor.

Honestly, that was the refreshing part. Video games, while a large source of revenue for the companies that create them, aren’t really that important. Yes, they do provide a forum for people to interact, learn, and explore, but they pale in comparison to interacting in real-world scenarios, and the issue of misogyny in games, while definitely something to address, isn’t as important as misogyny in the physical world.

At this point, I don’t think people can deny that women are portrayed in most video games as objects, designed to titillate the (predominantly) male players. The bridge here is that Anita isn’t really saying that video games are misogynistic, and that’s it. No, instead the discussion should (and has) shifted into the way women are treated in a larger societal context. We live in a society where an entire industry has been male-focused and male-dominated since its inception – the Gameboy has a decidedly masculine name, and is one of the foundational pieces of the video game industry and history.

This focus on males as being the primary targets of video gaming is two things: sexist, and not that smart. We have moved out of the age where it was socially acceptable to treat women like second-class citizens, and both genders need to be treated equally. That’s an established fact, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone to disagree with that. The “not that smart” argument is that video game creators are essentially ignoring an entire market for their games by ignoring women. There is no other industry that has such a willful disregard for an entire part of the worldwide population. If Apple decided to just market to men, they would have gone out of business quite a long time ago.

The interesting part about what has happened to Anita is that she has actually accomplished what she set out to do – show that the way women are portrayed in gaming and in video games is horrible. The sad part is that she had to sacrifice so much to do it. I did enjoy when she described the outrage towards her as a “sexist hyper tantrum.” Yes, the threats against her are very real, and need to be treated as such, but it does need to be said that the people who issue such statements should not be given the credibility that they are currently receiving.

Anita noted this – because of the anonymity of the spaces we inhabit on the Internet, people can create situations like this and post threats with impunity. There is a fundamental lack of oversight and responsibility in these spaces, and we clearly aren’t able to police these spaces effectively enough to make them safe.

Hopefully she is able to continue doing her work and research, and use her publicity and attention as a way to effect system change. For being a figurehead for this movement, she deserves nothing less.

 

GameGirl

I attended Anita Sarkeesian’s digital ethics symposium talk and I do have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed. After discussing with people about her talk I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people expected more out of the talk and hoped she would breach a further discussion about her personal work and data found through analyzing women’s roles in video games. But instead she took the time to discuss the current situation that she has endured because of her work. I understand the intensity and importance of the threats Sarkeesian has faced, but I also think the media recognition she is receiving should be used as a venue to further note her discoveries and work, not give these extremists the attention that they so crave.

The GamerGate community wants us to share their works and get their name out there and that is exactly what we are doing. I think this limelight would be better put to use to reiterate the importance of Sarkeesian’s work. She touched on this a little bit, showing the audience that their threats only intensifies the need to look into women in games, but not as much as I’d hoped. When I look back at my notes from the talk, majority of them are about this community and their recent actions they have taken against Sarkeesian. We’re giving them exactly what they want. Their work doesn’t deserve any more attention than they have already received! But I did appreciate her ability to discuss this hardship in her life with courage and transparency.

I do think through this talk, Sarkeesian was able to touch on some important topics about digital media and the digital space. Because of her recent threats, Sarkeesian pointed out social media’s lack of responsibility and control options to eliminate this kind of Internet bullying. Sarkeesian talked about her experiences with Facebook and Twitter and their inability to protect her from harrassment during this challenging time. She was able to criticize this neglect and in turn discuss options for creating a system where harassment isn’t as simple to do through creating sharable block lists and allowing family and friends to block users.

One of the moments I loved in the speech was when Sarkeesian took an obvious and past-time toy— the gameboy and highlighted its significance as a male dominated object, hence the name. Which is something that I never even realized but says so much about gender roles within the gaming community.

gamergirl

Another moment that I found to be influential was when Sarkeesian compared sexism to pollution— although we aren’t all contributing we all still have the responsibility to clean up the mess. I think here Sarkeesian used a very effective way to state her call to action. We live in a world where so many people bypass an issue because they think it’s not their problem or they haven’t done anything to contribute to the issue. But this is the exact mindset that furthers the issue and leaves it untouched. If everyone thinks it’s someone else’s responsibility then who do we have left to implement the change?

 

Learning to LambdaMoo

I found LambdaMoo to be extremely frustrating at times. It was really hard to navigate through without someones else’s entry ruining your response or your own entries not being a route. But once I started to understand what the space was about I really enjoyed the freedom of it all.

I appreciate the exclusivity of it and the space being a kind of escape for many people on the Internet. I could definitely see myself going there just to free my mind or blow off steam because it is almost soothing to be able to navigate your way through a digital space.

I think what I loved most about LambdaMoo was the fact that there were no visuals. LambdaMoo opened my eyes to how limiting visuals can be, because you are given a description and then the photo paints a specific description that doesn’t allow your mind or imagination to perceive anything else. Because LambdaMoo was so open for interpretation i enjoyed reading the imagery or the different spaces and the unknown of it all. You are able to paint a vivid picture in your mind of what you think the scenery would look like based of of the detailed description they give you. I also really liked the whole aspect of being in charge of you own destiny. Which ever route you decided to go would then effect the rest of your journey, and so on. So you as the player has limitless options that could even take you to Paris or on an air balloon.

There’s something ironic about the old-school system with a innovative and creative concept that I don’t think new technology and games have today. I also think it’s funny that so many of us, who consider ourselves to be tech-savvy millennial’s who grew up with technology, were lost when it came to LambdaMoo because we are so used to modern technology and easy access. We aren’t used to the difficulty of navigating through a digital space because it comes so easy to us now– the computer does it for us.

The one thing I wasn’t so keen on was the anonymity of it all. I grew up watching my dad play final fantasy where he was able to communicate to different Xbox users with anonymous gamer names. Some of the peoples responses and interactions with my dad were inappropriate or just plain odd. I think spaces like these attract people who can be cruel and hateful using their anonymous persona to spite and express their cruelty to a larger group. Mentioned in Solove’s article “The Virtues of Anonymity,” this can create dangerous spaces of unwanted “hate mail” and can take away from the freedom and community aspect of spaces like LambdaMoo.

A second life

My experience signing on to LambdaMOO marks one of the most frustrating experiences ever. Getting into the mindset of the game was not difficult. I took it forgranted that people actually live in the MOO. Before we all jumped in, I was already concerned what the regular players were going to think about fifty strangers showing up on their front porch. While my experiences gaming may have prepared me for the alternate reality of the MOO, I was completely thrown for a loop when it came to the control system. The instinctual systems that I am used to had done little to prepare me to interact with a program like LambdaMOO. In fact, my experience in the MOO reminded me more of programming than of gaming, this is likely due to the fact that on my PC the MOO was a white on black universe.

When I logged in later, I found, as expected, users were a bit friendlier, answering my cries for help. Although it was more difficult with MOO than in the other games I play, I found myself imagining the other characters in my mind’s eye. As the characters gradually because more realistic and their personalities fleshed out, I found myself smiling in real life along with my avatar in the MOO. In retrospect, I really was myself in the MOO and I can understand how people can be more connected to their online friends than with their friends in real life, because as Rushkoff says, “we bring our humanity with us into the digital realm.” In a place like the MOO users can feel free to express themselves completely without fear of sharing unpopular ideas or truly being themselves. That’s why a rape in cyberspace is so emotionally disturbing. Common excuses like her skirt was short, she was asking for it, don’t really apply in the MOO and so when someone is raped it’s not their body but their soul that is violated. Before having played the game, I didn’t really understand how attached one could get to a character/avatar that we couldn’t see. Now I understand that the fact we use our imagination to partially understand the characters makes it all the more intimate.

Did you find yourself imagining the setting and people in the game?

Based on your experiences in the MOO, do you think that it is possible to create “real” friendships online?

I Did Not Like LambdaMoo

LambdaMoo's opening screen defines its antique character.

LambdaMoo’s opening screen defines its antique character.

The way you access the interactive online community of LambdaMoo instantly defines its antique character. Mac users must enter LambdaMoo through Terminal, which is an application that provides text-based access to the operating system. PC users must download extra software to access LambdaMoo. Until LambdaMoo, my only previous interaction with the “prehistoric” ages of the Internet was through the Internet Archives. Therefore, as I accessed the community, I had few expectations.

All users are greeted by the same message when they enter LambdaMoo’s 4×6 virtual space:

“LambdaMOO is a new kind of society, where thousands of people voluntarily come together from all over the world.  What these people say or do may not always be to your liking; as when visiting any international city, it is wise to be careful who you associate with and what you say.”

I began my – what turned out to be 45 minutes long – journey like most users in the Coat Closet, where I attempted to find the right combination of words to exit the closet (open door – by the way). In fact, this was definitive of my whole experience with LambdaMoo. My interactions were overwhelmed with, “I don’t understand that.” It became frustratingly difficult to identify the purpose of the space, which I walked through by identifying directions. The entire concept relied on text and responses, a very limited experience compared to today’s online virtual communities. In fact, due to single spacing and small font, in addition to large amounts of character and room descriptions, the experience became dull. Most importantly, I could not identify how LambdaMoo can be described as a community. I perused Lynn Cherny’s, “The Modal Complexity of Speech Events in a Social Mud,” to learn more about the various types of actions and emotions I can portray in the digital space. Despite my greater understanding of interactivity within LambdaMoo, my experience was still limited to entering rooms and reading descriptions, rather than interacting with other users. My attempts to page other users were all futile. How have your community interactions been different?

Perhaps my experience with LambdaMoo was limited in time. Perhaps I would have garnered a greater picture of text-based interactivity if I had spent more time attempting to find actions that would do more, and allow me to contact more people. But I did not want to. The text-based descriptions and requests for responses, as well as failed attempts to leave certain rooms and the frustrations that ensued made me grateful for the media ecology that I am accustomed to today. What types of frustrations did you develop, if any, when playing with LambdaMoo? Despite the difficulties and frustrations I experienced, I take into consideration the context of LambdaMoo’s history. The internet and its applications were extremely limited in look, feel, content, and community compared to the graphic powerhouses we access on the web on today. But LambdaMoo’s unattractiveness is deceiving I realized, as its underlying power lies in its ability to tell a diverse, ever-changing story among connected users. This is the community it developed and attempted to push. There may be a niche group interested in interacting this way today, but I am not in it.

The following articles present an interesting look at the MUD universe:

Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities by Pavel Curtis comments on MUD’s – like LambdaMoo – effects on social phenomena, leading to new mechanisms and modes of behavior not usually seen in real life.

Virtual Reality: Reflections of Life, Dreams, and Technology. An Ethnography of a Computer Society by Michael S. Rosenberg is a reflection on the culture that has developed within the “virtual world” of a MUD, the people behind the culture, and its relationship to real life. It is a 22 year old article, and is interesting as it presents a perspective from the early ages of the internet.