Friday, March 29, 2013

Belated Media: Hollywood Horror & Societal Scares

I'm up-to-my-eyes in deadlines right now and thus without enough time to really post anything of substance, but in one of my post-work veg-out sessions I've come across a fantastic video that I just have to share with you all. It's from Belated Media, who I've posted about before, and covers how horror movies discuss societal concerns through...

Wait! Wait! Don't go!

Seriously, even if you're not a fan -- hell, especially if you're not a fan -- of horror movies, I urge you to check out this video. It answers the "I don't get what people see in those movies" question brilliant, with the absolute least amount of gore necessary and precisely zero actual scares. Seriously, there are none of the things you (think you) don't like about horror movies in this video. It covers everything from the original War of the Worlds to the Saw movies, with stops along the way for Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, Scream, and others. It's an incredible canvassing of the genre that should not be missed, either by horror fans (though admittedly there's not much new here for you) or people who just don't get what all the fuss is about (yet).

Without further ado, check it out. After all, what better way to procrastinate than to learn something cool? *I'm looking at you fellow students in exams*

Monday, March 25, 2013 Narrative in Gaming

The folks over at have put together a great video on narrative in gaming. It's well-worth a watch if you're interested in the kinds of subjects I've explored here in the past.

Also, can I just say that I love where GameTrailers' editorial direction has been moving recently? I'm not going to say it's because Shane Satterfield left, but there has certainly been a dramatic change that's coincided with his departure. Some aspects haven't been ideal (a few of the new, free-form reviews have felt too scattered) but generally there's more varied and interesting content coming out of the site, and all of it feels more earnest and human. For the first time in years the site feels more like a legit source of criticism than a corporate advertisement hub, and it is a fantastic change for viewers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bradley Manning Tells His Story in Leaked Court Recording

Democracy Now! is reporting on a leaked court recording of Private Bradley Manning speaking at his pretrial hearing last month. It is the first time Manning has been heard publicly since he was arrested three years ago for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, including the "Collateral Murder" video of US soldiers in Baghdad firing on civillians from an apache helicopter (viewable below).

This is a fascinating opportunity to hear from the man whose actions sparked the controversy that put WikiLeaks on the map. It's also a reminder that Manning's legal battle is still ongoing and that his guilt is yet to be determined, despite President Obama's problematic assertion in 2011 that Manning "broke the law." In fact Manning only just recently pled guilty to the charges against him for leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks, and notably continues to deny charges including "aiding the enemy."

Manning's battle continues to be politically and ethically charged, inspired by horror at the US Military's "bloodlust" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democracy Now!'s transcript demonstrates Manning's belief that greater public knowledge would lead to more informed political discourse and foreign policy:
I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables, this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan. 
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the debate—that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day.
It's hard to believe this is the first time the public has heard directly from Manning since his arrest, but then it must be difficult to release statements when you're in custody. To this day Manning remains confined at Fort Leavenworth, KS, where he continues his three year wait for a trial.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

MovieBob on Tropes vs Women in Video Games

I've spent more hours than I care to admit over the last few days fighting with people on reddit about the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. I know, I know, it's fighting on the Internet (and reddit specifically) but I just couldn't help myself after reading so many arguments that a) Anita Sarkeesian thinks video games are evil, b) Sarkeesian is a shitty journalist and that's what the backlash against her was about, c) it doesn't matter that the damsel in distress trope reduces women to objects because it's just a simple storytelling device, or d) in fact the trope also objectifies the male hero figure so lets talk about that.


Anyway, after putting so much energy into fighting about shitty responses to Tropes vs Women in Video Games, the prospect of a video on the subject by MovieBob filled me with palpable fear. I really, really like MovieBob. I think he's a great, witty commenter who puts out a prolific amount of amazing content. I do not agree with all of his opinions, both on culture and politics, but generally I enjoy his perspective and look forward to his videos. However, when I saw that he had put out a ten minute long video on Tropes vs Women I was nervous. A few days of fighting about it on reddit had more or les conditioned me to assume that any video on the subject would be frustrating and infuriating, and I wasn't sure if I could take that from someone I admire as much as MovieBob.

Thankfully, my gut reaction was completely misguided. It's like I forgot who MovieBob is, as he's repeatedly demonstrated that he has a solid understanding of gender politics. His video is a great addition to the debate going on right now, and more or less just calls out all the trolls who have been/still are freaking out over this. It's a solid video that does a better job at identifying exactly what Anita Sarkeesian is doing with her videos than anything else I've seen lately. Check it out, enjoy, and if you end up back on his The Game Overthinker website avoid checking out the comments, because man are they ever depressing.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Tropes vs Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress Part 1

The first video in Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs Women in Video Games series has been released, and can be viewed below. It's the first part of a discussion of the gaming-incarnation of the "damsel in distress" trope, and is a fascinating watch. This entry effectively canvases the use of the trope in the Zelda and Mario series, as well as the transformation of Rare's Dinosaur Planet into Starfox Adventures. Check it out, it's worth your 25 minutes!

In case you weren't aware of the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series before checking out this video, you should know that the newly-launched series has already been the subject of much controversy (all of which kinda makes a good case for the series' existence). Sarkeesian has been making her Tropes vs Women videos for a while, but for the video games extension of the series she turned to Kickstarter to get funding from fans. For reasons that (frankly) allude elude me, this was seen as some sort of irredeemable transgression on her part, and attracted the collective hatred of misogynistic gamers from the depths of the Internet. Slate's Amanda Marcotte sums it up nicely:
Sarkeesian's story is a doozy, by the way. She started a Kickstarter page to raise money to make a documentary about the tropes used by video game designers to portray female characters. She hadn't expressed an opinion about video games yet, but simply by stating that she would at some point in the future do so, she had to endure an absolute avalanche of misogynist abuse from men who hoped they could silence her before her too-scary-to-be-heard opinion could be voiced. Every access point they could exploit was used to try to get to her, especially her YouTube page. Her Wikipedia page was repeatedly vandalized with lies, links out to porn sites, and pornographic pictures. Eventually, Wikipedia shut it down.
Wow. Sarkeesian asked for a paltry $6,000 from fans to make a series about videos games and the roles of women within them, and just for that she was viciously attacked. Helen Lewis at the New Statesman canvases the harassment and intimidation tactics Sarkeesian was subjected to, and it's a pretty harrowing read. Thankfully the story at least has a happy turn in that Sarkeesian was able to raise over $150,000, and will be putting out follow ups to the video above.

So now we have a solid video series examining gaming with a critical lens that is sorely needed. We also have a moment of shame in the gaming community that can be pointed to as evidence that there is something tangibly wrong with the way (many) gamers think about gender and deal with other people. I'm at a bit of a loss trying to conceive of how anyone thought it would be reasonable to harass anyone the way Sarkeesian was harassed, much less for the mere prospect of having an opinion, but clearly that was the case for a great many people out there. Again, this kind of thinking within the gaming community is precisely the reason why we need these kinds of videos, as the only way to make any sorts of changes to these phenomena is discussion and education.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Repost: The Good, Racist People

Last month Forest Whitaker was falsely accused of shoplifting and frisked in a New York deli down the street from Columbia University. Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Atlantic has weighed in on the event by identifying the larger problem behind it in his fantastic piece, "The Good, Racist People." I don't want to summarize it for you, it's a concise, powerful piece that you should go read now. That said, I do want to highlight this particular passage for elegantly identifying (one of) the issue(s) at play here:
In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist ... The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion.
As Coates points out, this distinction between being racist and being a good person makes racism forgivable. Good people can't be racist, and so when these people do racist things they are forgiven in some other way (they were just doing their job, they were just trying to protect their family, they were reacting poorly to a crowd, etc.) because, again, they're good people and so they can't be racist. The net outcome of this type of doublethink is that society refuses to examine how racism continues to exist today. Where "good people" are guilty of it they are forgiven/excused because their goodness negates the possibility of them being either evil or racist. When people can't be forgiven for it, well, anyone heard from Kramer lately?

I'm reminded of the fantastic ill doctrine video on "How to Tell People They Sound Racist" (below), which provided a handy guide for telling people how to examine when they sounded racist. That video drew the distinction between the "what they did" conversation and the "what they are" conversation. As an informational guide, the video gave advice for how to have a conversation with people about their statements and beliefs without making them feel accused of being racist (which tends to end a discussion on bad terms). The point was to provide a methodology for having productive discussions of race (and racism) while being mindful of the possibility that people involved in such discussions might say things inspired by underlying prejudices without them being aware of it.

Coates point is similar in how he wants to have a conversation about racism in contemporary society that doesn't end the moment someone gets called out for their prejudices. The tension underpinning both their arguments is precisely this linking of racism and evil that works to cease productive discussion and forgive transgressions. We freeze the moment someone drops a 'hard R' and immediately turn to the defensive, "Well I'm a good person and therefore not a racist and therefore right" mentality. At best this isn't helping and at worst it's ignoring the problem in such a way as to allow it to continue and proliferate in an act of, you guessed it, racism. Coates goes on to allude to how this attitude towards racism in society "haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence." There's a real and measurable cost of this notion that racism exists only in the worst people of the world or in times gone by, and until we can do away with that idea and confront the continued prejudices alive in society today we will continue to live in an unequal and hostile community.

(Coates piece via @JAWalker, ill doctrine video via a good friend a long time ago)
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'Reposts' are inspired by other articles or blog posts around the Internet. They are used here with accreditation as the basis for short bursts of Max's interests.