The Philosopher Queen of the Night: On “Hate Plus'” Oh Eun-a

"She seems ...well... like one of the most amazing villainesses I've ever encountered."

(Note: This essay contains spoilers for both Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel Hate Plus; in addition it assumes knowledge of the game and its story.) “I just can’t believe a woman is responsible for all of this!” exclaims *Hyun-ae as you finish reading the most revelatory letter in all of Hate Plus’ archives. Her fury boils over—the regressed patriarchal nightmare that had taken hold on her colony ship, the Mugunghwa, the ninth circle of hell she had awoken into when her stasis pod was shattered by a feckless noble in want of a marriageable daughter, the same man who would steal her voice with steel—all of this was sired by a woman who made of her ideology a terrifying suture to bind the wounds of womanhood. Oh Eun-a, no less an emancipated woman than the President of Mugunghwa University herself. She was the architect of the neo-Confucian patriarchy that the Mugunghwa degenerated into. If pressed to name my favourite character in the series, I would—to no one’s … [Read more...]

But For the Grace of Tuche: Why Writers Should Avoid the Temptations of Caricature

An earth like planet set against the deep of space with two yellow suns glowing in the backdrop.

It is an indispensible commonplace of feminist criticism to say that prejudicial archetypes are not only socially harmful but make for bad storytelling. We are not just saying that to be diplomatic, however. It reflects a truism of narrative art and characterisation themselves: the easy catharsis of cardboard-cutouts is alluring but a dead end in terms of artistic staying power. Making a character a lazy stereotype may plug a gap in your story, but ultimately leaves it hollow and unaffecting. To use such stereotypes ensures art that merely goes through the motions without actually taking us anywhere. Original characterisation, and its delightful conveyance of the player to another world, have never been a monopoly of so-called “high art.” After all, the best popular art can manifest that quality as well: to be memorable precisely through avoiding the paint-by-numbers of stereotypical characters. The Mass Effect series does this spectacularly well. But I think a good example that has … [Read more...]

Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism

An image of a dark haired and light skinned woman, eyes closed with two fingers pressed to her temple as she is surrounded by a number of holographic images.

To all new readers: I've written a follow up to this article. Not long ago my partner and I were seated in her car discussing the arbitrary nature of certain holidays and I opined, perhaps halfheartedly, that New Year’s was a worthwhile holiday simply for it being a useful vantage point for reflection, however arbitrary. It provides an overlook whence one can see a year of one’s life and world. A recent tranche of writing by several prominent members of the trans and queer feminist gaming community has renewed my faith in that idea-- with the overleaf of the year we suddenly find a great deal of penetrating insight into activist discourse and the risks incurred by our silence about certain excesses that have come to define us too often. The wages of rage in our communities, and the often aimless, unchecked anger striking both within and without have created a climate of toxicity and fear that not only undermine our highest ideals, but also corrode the comforts of community for the … [Read more...]

Crowds Are Calling Your Name

A young feminine person with light skin, a tattoo of a skull on her right shoulder, long pink hair and glasses, wearing gloves, a collar, and a corset, looking at a glowing tablet.

"As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy." --Christopher Dawson The cyber conflagration that began with Bachelor producer Elan Gale’s live tweeting of his “epic” takedown of fellow airline passenger “Diane” has now metastasised into that most schismatic of internet events: the hand-wringing-cum-bacchanal with outposts in Salon, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and beyond, either celebrating or decrying the episode. It is easy to roll one’s eyes at this—whether “this” is Gale’s own immaturity masquerading as street justice (aisle justice?), or the proliferation of articles on the subject (my own included). But I would not be so quick to dismiss this incident as insignificant piffle, or a joke that got a little out of hand. Nor does it really matter if Diane didn’t exist, as some have suggested. Elan’s behaviour itself, even, matters less than the true acme of our problem: … [Read more...]

Amber Scott’s Sword of Burning Gold: Inclusion in an Incursion

An image showing the cover of The Worldwound Incursion. A green Orcish woman with short black hair, wearing resplendent gold armour and bearing a sword and shield dominates the cover, while in the background a white dragon fights a red demon in a dramatic battle.

This article is crossposted from my latest feature for the Border House; that version can be seen here. What is staggering about much that passes under the banner of “fantasy” is how decidedly narrow its escapist vision tends to be. In both fantasy and sci-fi, far from transcending the fetters of real world limitations, we see our own world with its myriad failings reinscribed in uncritical verbatim form with only a smattering of chrome, Medieval grit, or magic to poorly disguise the copy. Dungeons & Dragons, long the towering mainstay of fantasy roleplay whose name is synonymous with its genre,  has at times been either a magnificent carnival of fantasy or a pitiless mire of the same tired clichés about gender, race, and sexuality that bedevil so much of nerd culture. This schismatic approach to its material is, I believe, a psychic scar left by the culture wars of the 1980s when D&D was accused of various and sundry evils; all ranging from reefer madness with dice to … [Read more...]

At the Edge of Night: Who Owns a Woman’s Truth?

One of Chloe Sagal's games, Homesick.

UPDATE 2: Chloe is doing a good deal better and has started a new fundraiser for her SRS which can be found here. She has also told her side of the story in a revealing post at Indie Stone here. UPDATE: I'm leaving this article up for the time being but everyone concerned with the issues discussed here should read this roundtable between Chloe and Allistair at Gamers Against Bigotry. This post at Destructoid also gives some further updates and details about the case, and Allistair Pinsof himself has replied to this article; you can read his response and my reply here. Needless to say, I'm overjoyed Chloe Sagal is well enough to discuss what happened and I look forward to her joining our community very soon. I still welcome you with open arms, sis. By now word has spread like a nauseating shockwave through the various channels and tributaries of the Internet: independent game developer Chloe Sagal “defrauded” online contributors to her IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign for what … [Read more...]

“It’s Just a Game”—The Discursive Construction of the Virtual

Visual metaphors! M.C. Esher! Giant ants! This picture has it all! (Giant ants-- at least I like to pretend they're huge-- walking around a wire-mesh mobius strip).

It’s been quite a while since I updated here. I’ve been exceedingly busy working on a research project in my sociology department and with some of my other commitments as well as a few personal problems I had to overcome. But, I'm back, and I thought that in the wake of Anita Sarkeesian’s struggle with a cavalcade of trolls over her proposed webseries it’s worth digging up a recent piece of writing I submitted as a final paper in one of my classes (Gender and Geography). This paper sought to chart out the geographic dimensions of cyberspace, particularly gamer subculture, through the lens of “the space of exception”. I’ve excerpted a part of the paper that I think is quite relevant to what had just transpired with Feminist Frequency. In a section entitled “It’s Just a Game” I describe how the “unreal” nature often imputed to gaming space gives licence to abuse that would be intolerable outside of it. This “unreality,” I argue, is on the flip-side of a pleasurable “reality” that also … [Read more...]

Immoral Women: Why We Need More of Them

"Do not brand me a tyrant!" What I also find interesting about some of these characters is that they are portrayed as being older-- lines of middle age are visible on Meredith's face, for example, and Kreia is older still. It's a positive image for older women, to say the very least.

This article is due to be published on Border House this coming Tuesday. In case its raging nerdular nerdence doesn't give it away, it's about video games specifically. Enjoy! One of the most irksome things I hear when I make arguments for ‘good/positive portrayals’ of characters from traditionally marginalised backgrounds is that my interlocutors immediately assume I’m calling for portrayals of moral paragons. They seem to think I’m saying “if you write a gay male character, he must be the most righteous dude ever.” In a word, no. That’s what today’s article is about, particularly with regards to women characters. The reality of the situation is that the portrayal of women as pure, stainless alabaster icons of virtue is a huge problem that arises from cultural stereotypes of women. The notion that women are inherently more virtuous, kinder, and so on is part of the limiting and fetishising pedestalisation that serves to fence us off from being thought of as persons. Human … [Read more...]

I’m Being So Sincere Right Now: Gaming as Hyperreality

Sisters of Janus: Therese and Jeanette Voerman from Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Both blonde haired, pallid women, one wearing a dark grey business suit and black rimmed glasses, the other wearing a stylised schoolgirl's outfit, bra and thong visible, and a blood red choker. She also wears deep makeup.

When I play certain video games I get the strange feeling of wandering through the weird and lurid landscape of a Dali painting; beholding the familiar, albeit distorted in the strangest of ways. One might expect this. After all, video games are not supposed to be realistic by default. They operate on their own internal logic, their worlds hewn out of something called ‘game design needs’ rather than say billions of years of geology and thousands of years of culture and history, for instance. But I came to realise it was something beyond that point which I could comfortably suspend my disbelief and immerse. What jarred me out of, almost consistently, was the fact that many games have had the pretension of being representations of the real. A artificially warped landscape is a good and interesting thing so long as one does not purport that it is, in fact, akin to a photograph. Rated M for Misconception Whenever one hears the word “gritty” or “grimdark” appended to other … [Read more...]

In Faith, I do not Know Thee by Thy Name

Shodan

In my recent article for The Border House I took on a number of the arguments made by a few starry eyed technophiles in favour of ending the practise of online anonymity. This is a significant issue for me that, in its many facets, presents me with the ultimate intersectional landscape on which to grow my ideas about interpersonal politics. In other words, it is very easy to talk about sex, race, power, class, and a range of issues surrounding both individual and group behaviour (group psychology and sociology), identity, and just plain old techno-geekery. It touches on a myriad of issues that are important to me. What follows is a refinement of what I wrote for The Border House and an expansion of it. I.- Setting Information Free(?) It is very much worth mentioning that the central idea behind the anti-anonymity advocate’s vision is the firm belief that the death of anonymity will allow information to flow more freely. The reality, however, is that the end of anonymity means a … [Read more...]