Archives for posts with tag: gender politics

Olivia plays Team Fortress 2. Scratch that, she submerges herself into it. It’s verging on being a lifestyle choice and I’m not sure if I still rate higher than it. Every once in a while, I look at the time she has logged playing the game – I’m pretty sure it’s in excess of 400 hours by now. She loves it, and rightly so. While most first-person shooters are dour, angsty and grim variations on Halo, Team Fortress 2 is silly, exaggerated and genuinely funny. Instead of near identical hulking masses of testosterone, each character is designed physically and stylistically around their function (as you can see here). It helped to get her through a rough rehabilitation after her surgery last year. The main draw for her now, though, is the element of teamwork involved: she tends to avoid the free-for-all carnage of arenas, wherein the goal is to shoot everyone else, in favour of team games like capture-the-flag and domination. She enjoys the interaction with other people, even from a distance or through anonymity.

There is a line she has not yet crossed. She never speaks to any of these people. I wondered long and hard about this before eventually asking her why she didn’t plug in a mic. Having spent so many hours playing the game, her grasp of strategy and team deployment is well refined by this point, and my thought would be that she would be a valuable leader to have. It might also cut down on her cursing when people don’t defend her while she is busy constructing sentry guns and teleporters (her preference being to play as an engineer). Her answer saddened me.

“It’ll spoil the game.”

Girls are still not overly prominent in the world of video games. It’s not that they aren’t out there or lack interest in the medium, but the environment is not open or welcoming to them. Olivia had observed what happened when girls actually did speak up in Team Fortress as being one of two things…

1. They are mocked, insulted, demeaned for their gender and demands are made of them that none of these guy would ever try in reality (imagine a much less tactful example of “Show us your lady bits!”) or…

(…and this is possibly worse…)

2. They are venerated to the point that the team dynamic is thrown out. Those lady bits, they are placed on an unassailable pedestal, and the team isn’t playing together, they are playing for her. Which of course leads to further resentment and…

… Who needs it?

It’s hard to think of a male equivalent, usually because the male variant personified is someone like myself, and I and mine don’t give a crap about who knows where tastes and predilections lie. What women will pay heed to my pursuits will more often than not be happy to discuss a shared interest rather than mock me for enjoying Mean Girls, disliking football or whatever else. I’m a show-off and demagogue, I enjoy the attention. Olivia however is not and does not, and is far more indicative of how a normal mind works, simply because she is not an egomaniac with little care for other people. She’s a well-intentioned person who wants to enjoy the game and not disrupt everyone else’s enjoyment of same. She simply wants to play on equal terms. Much like the female perjorative that resembles a misprinted ‘clint’, the problem is that there is no real equivalence in the social dynamic: men can enjoy things aimed at women, but if women engage in an area dominated by men they receive an extreme reaction. Whether negative or excessively positive, the end result is one of detriment to fun. The scariest part is that, frustrating though it may be, the Team Fortress community tends to be one of the most opening and pleasant around. The behaviour with a game more actively aggressive (and ironically homoerotic) like HALO is far less palatable…

The sexism isn’t a blanket cause for her silence in-game, just the initial motivation: the fact that she didn’t use a mic early on just began a pattern she has no need to break from now. She has joined groups, enjoys their online company and has no need to adapt her modus operandi. More often than not, she tends to avoid servers with mics as anyone who feels the need to talk often don’t shut up (and you are left at risk of mic-spamming, which is worse again). Generally, the best games do tend to have teams slip into roles and strategies without being ordered around to do so, and there is an audible bump in Olivia’s enjoyment when that happens. There are more than enough decent people playing the game, so why risk the frustration of harassment or special treatment? Better to shoot them in the head – at least you can do that in games.

While Olivia now gets what she wants from the game – and I am delighted that she was able to not be put off it – there still remains the problem that she is an outlier rather than a trend. Whether they are a silent majority or minority amongst their gender, they are alienated from a pursuit they should be able to enjoy, without having to tolerate douchery or fulfill the role of Nerdbait (there are those willing to perform either function, some times gleefully in the case of the latter, but they are really not helping matters for everyone else by doing so, the tweaked guys in particular).

This is all well and long before you get to the specific marketing and semiological crises of games for men and women, as typified by the role assignments of Cooking Mama and Science Papa. There, a shift occurs from disappointment to unbridled rage and we see why I do not bring Olivia near a video game store if I can avoid it… [To be continued]

Whirly whirl whirl. Trying to focus on writing this morning is going even more poorly than normal, so I’m split between trying to incubate what I should be doing while looking at (or for) inspiration in everything else on the ticket at the moment. Which, truth be told, is a great many things.

I should state for the record that I had written at this point a Gilbert & Sullivan pastiche which common sense and a return to sanity have spared you from. It was weird, even for me.

One truth I will offer in its place is that no matter how up on the matter any fellow may be, when it comes to a wedding, commitment ceremonies, civil partnerships or whatever it is being planned, their significant other will proceed to amaze, shock and leave them in general awe of their determination in same. Mean as well as you want or can, you will never keep up.

What’s scarier is that when mentioned to any woman I vaguely know, the response was a uniformed glance, lowered head and raised eyebrow, all psychically communicating one thought: “Well, of course!” (which, in gentlemanly terms translates roughly as “Duh”).

I get that I am generally pretty slow on the uptake to grasping the politics of the fairer sex, but I did not think I was this far down the curve. A part of me wonders how much is social programming (on either side) versus the co-opting of the masculine mind towards the goal of absorbing the pointless minutiae of their preferred trivial pursuit (typically football, the history of Spider-man and the X-Men in my case).

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m into the whole event, kit and kaboodle. I have no small amount of emotional investment in it. The key is context, I suppose. By contrast to my understanding and body of knowledge before the plunge was taken, I now have a very acute grasp of why the standard wedding as a social construct is in place. Its capacity for social signifiers is immense on a scale you don’t quite grasp until you look at it in close detail or try to tweak it some. In trying to follow a path even slightly alternate, you run into difficulty not because people don’t understand but because the ‘standard’ model is just so efficient.

It is a very cold was of looking at it on some levels, but nonetheless I find it fascinating. This may just be because I’ve never put much thought into it, but then I have never had occasion to. Hells, I may just be very slow, enjoying as I do the confines of my own head (more than I should, but I digress).

That said, a part of me is also feeling that twinge of guilt, because I am not doing nearly so much in terms of working on this as my partner in crime is. While the ladies aforementioned and their male counterparts have all assured me that this is Perfectly Natural, and my workload somewhat presupposes that I won’t have the same amount of time to work on it, the pangs still ping in the quiet moments. Then again, this may also be my subconscious chafing at the evocation of the gender stereotypes and my inherent laziness at work.

On the other hand, I have been able to justify looking at a lot of artyfarty(tm) and or attractive-lady infested websites as Genuine Research for a change, rather than just being a Standard Male Pervert.

To be continued…