Am I The Problem? A Reaction to Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames

The following is a reaction to Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs. Women in Videogames series.  It is written by a white, cis male, which I recognize is possibly the worst thing to be in writing any critical response to the series as presented so far.  I am not denying the points the series makes, and I am certainly not denying the industry’s huge problem with gender, stereotypes, and women in general.  Sexism is real, and it is entirely possible for someone to not be sexist and still benefit from its deeply entrenched roots in modern society.  I have no doubt that I benefit from sexism in ways that I cannot enumerate, though given the quality of my life and the fact that the most recent major event in it was getting a type of cancer that it is physically impossible for someone of the female sex to get and the subsequent loss of my ability to procreate, I will admit I find it hard to see exactly how I benefit.

I am going to be honest about my reaction to the series and it is my sincere hope that nobody hates me for it.

Tropes vs. Women in Videogames makes me feel like a bad person.  Really, really bad.  Downright evil, and no, I’m not exaggerating for comic effect like I normally do.  I know that this is likely not the case and that part of the point of the series is to target people like me, straight men who consider themselves feminists and make us uncomfortable with the state of affairs.  Well, it succeeds.  Forgive me if this is oddly disjointed, most attempts to play hop-scotch in a minefield are.

The series, if you haven’t seen it, is presented as a very matter-of-fact lecture, and seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, which, given the deranged and disturbing response to Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter I entirely understand.  Many of the people most in need of education on this subject have not exactly shown that they are capable of understanding complex, nuanced subjects such as this.  Honestly, I’m impressed they’ve managed to attain even a limited grasp of human language.  While I understand that I am not the lowest common denominator that lashes out and makes threats if someone dares to challenge something that I like, I do feel like I am being patronized and talked down to while watching the videos.

Maybe I need to be talked down to, though.  Again, I’m serious, maybe I am part of the problem.  But am I?  How broadly do you define the problem?  I’ve supported dozens of the games specifically called out in her three installments on Damsels in Distress.  I’ve supported them with my money, and I’ve enjoyed playing them, and I haven’t really given a tremendous amount of thought to the implications of this.  I’ve also played and greatly enjoyed Beyond Good & Evil, the game most praised by Ms. Sarkeesian in her series for its general excellence in both quality and positive portrayal of women.

“Isn’t it enough for a game to just be fun and well made?” I thought to myself at one point.  Well, that depends.  If games are just toys, diversions, distractions with no deeper meaning, I’d say yes, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  If no one will ever take them seriously, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  That’s not true, though.  Perhaps the hidden point of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is that games not only are art, but they have always been art.  There was no magical threshold crossed in the mid-90s or early millennium that transmuted them into art.  The ideas presented in games have always mattered, even if the creators did not necessarily have that intent at the outset.

Still, I wonder, “Am I the problem?”

If Ms. Sarkeesian’s method of presentation bothers me, and if I am bothered by the implication that my taste in games does include, but is not limited to games called out as problematic, is that not my conscience telling me that I am a bad person, and deserve to feel bad for it?  Especially considering that while after viewing and carefully considering her points, I have no intention of more carefully vetting the games I buy for their portrayal of gender?  I will certainly be more aware of it, yes, but if some future game employs this trope to some extent and is otherwise excellent, will I still buy it?  Yeah, probably.

As you can tell I am, in many ways, a deeply insecure person.  Is it a good thing for the world that I won’t even theoretically be able to reproduce?  Would the world be better off without me?  Am I even a man anymore?  These are common refrains.  Experience shapes and forges us all, and my experiences have directed my critical gaze more inward than most.  I’m not a stranger to being on the wrong side of debates.  I’m sure I’m still on the wrong side on a great many things, life is about learning and adapting, becoming better in the process.  In recent years I’ve found myself arguing out of ignorance on the topic of rape culture, something that the modern, more educated variant of me is rather ashamed of.  Likewise, while I respected transgenderism, until Lana Wachowski’s brilliant and revelatory speech on the subject, I held some rather ignorant views on it.

Open and intellectually honest debate is of course worthwhile, and that’s what I’m attempting to do here.  If I’ve failed, I apologize.  I’m trying to respond in an honest fashion.  I do not consider myself a sexist, I consider myself a feminist.  Have I been a bad person, though, in not speaking out more, not doing more, not attempting to in some way repay those whose oppression I benefit from?  Is my patronage of certain media harmful, and if so, aren’t I morally obligated to stop supporting it, even if I otherwise enjoy it?

I don’t know.  Maybe there’s more point in the question than the answer.

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The Epic Legends: The Great Trial of the Sword Kings

I know I have only posted one epic legend before, but lo, another has happened during my long absence.  A force that will no doubt shape many things to come.  Read on, dear friends, and learn of the Great Trial.

Over the past two years I became a proper adult human.  I know, you’re thinking “Surely, Sword King, you could never be considered Adult or Human!” and two years ago I would have heartily agreed.  Oh how times have changed.

Before I fought with raid bosses and people taking things too seriously, I fought with women, mostly in an attempt to get them to end the, my god, nearly ten year dating hiatus.  I’ve slayed trolls and took a picture straddling the Washington Monument, as if it were the great stone phallus of freedom granted to me for my unchallenged cocksmanship.

The foes I’ve faced of late have been far different.  I’ve had to deal with problems financial, navigate the treacherous labyrinths of federal and state bureaucracy.  I’ve had to watch as my father, a great man, was broken down by the state of the world and fell into depression, bitterness, and cynicism.  I’ve watched constant pain take its toll on him, I’ve raged at The Man for doing nothing to help.  I’ve made miracles happened, made promises I can’t keep, and kept promises I thought impossible to keep.

In September of 2009 my father lost his job after over a decade of hard, honest work.  At first I found myself in a panic, and then, as days turned into months I started to find solutions.  Solutions, sometimes from the unlikeliest of places.  From World of Warcraft, a good friend of mine needed a place to live in Northern Virginia for an internship.  We had a spare room and rented it.  His help came at a time when our resources were all but spent.  It gave us nine months of precious time, time to think, time to regroup.

From the mother of a man I consider a brother, and among the best, most stalwart friends anyone could have, I learned of a government disability aid program that did not require an extensive work history.  I applied, and just as the now-Guild Master was moving back to school, I was certified disabled.  I had enough money to make up for what was lost in rent.  Once more, we had time.

Time, however, grows short quickly when you’re living hand-to-mouth, making every penny count.  My aunt Gail and, yes, even my mother provided significant financial aid and support during the Great Trial of the Magic Sword Kings.  As bureaucracies stalled, bungled paperwork, the clock was running out.  My father’s own application for Disability was taking a long time, unemployment money had run out early this year, and I was pulling miracles out of my ass on a semi-daily basis.

My greatest duty, though, was to try and be a rock.  An immovable object of belief and hope that would keep my father and I from being swallowed by the storm.  Being the nerdling I am, I took a liking to the philosophies and purpose of the Blue Lantern Corps, who wield the power of hope, to which there is no equal.  I wear a Blue Lantern ring on my finger to this day to remind me that no matter how black the night, All Will Be Well.

If I learned anything from this, any advice I can pass on to you, take your strength where you can find it, even if it seems silly to someone else.  Never be ashamed of what makes you strong.

Hope and willpower and luck will only last so long, though, and the reality was that August was going to be my final month in D.C.  There was no avoiding it, the lease was up, the money would either be utterly depleted, or reinvigorated.  I hope for your sake you never have to live through a month, knowing that you stand on the precipice, and your fate is no longer within your hands.

In July, my life, and the lives of my entire family were at a great crossroads.  We waited breathlessly for word on a disability determination.  It is a very strange thing indeed to hope with all your being that the government agrees that things are, in fact, as painful as you think they are.

Two paths lay before me. If the money were to come through, I would be able to move away from DC, preferably to New England, and know I had succeeded in my task.  I would know that I had kept my promise to stand by my father through the dark and the light until we emerged triumphant.  We had no idea if it would happen, but day after day I would look my father in the eyes and tell him “I have no doubt.  We will succeed in this.  We will make it through.  We will survive.”  I believed it, harder than I believed anything.  I would, at times, recite the Blue Lantern oath as a sort of mantra, to keep me focused on giving hope, and holding hope.

Down the other path, the path of least resistance, waited catastrophe.  My father would have been utterly crushed, and I, for all my effort, would have followed suit.  No doubt I would have eventually made my way into the care of my mother’s family.  My father, though, my father had nowhere to go.  No one to turn to.  His family all but abandoned him long ago, and he abandoned them in turn.  If this had indeed been the outcome, I would not be writing a blog post.  I fear I would be writing a eulogy.

I’ve never faced an existential threat that didn’t come from the darkness within me before.  Like many who suffer from mental illness I’ve done horribly stupid things.  Over the past two years I’ve overcome addiction, I’ve found treatment for what turns out to be a supremely rare circadian rhythm disorder that is found most often in the blind.  I’ve made my peace with love lost and chances missed.  After twenty-four years, I have left Washington, D.C.  Reading my own blog (which I do think is a form of intellectual masturbation, but sometimes a man’s gotta do, you know) I remark often about how I “gotta get out of this place”.  Well I did.

The outcome was not ideal, nothing ever truly is.  We were victorious, though.  I was victorious.  I was right.  I remember sitting outside on that fateful September day when this long trial began, thinking I would never survive it.  To grow up is something people do in different ways.  Most go to college, or get jobs.  I fought my way through the dark to save my family.  And I kept my promise.  I never lost hope, I never lost faith, and I stood by my father as he has stood for me time and again.  I fought the world and won.

I do not write this from the forests and rivers of New England, rather the foothills of the Appalachians, four hours southwest of Washington.  It is peaceful here.  There is a tranquility that over time, I hope will heal many of the battle scars that I endured.  I know now that I can resume my life having survived the dark, and emerged the stronger.  Sure, Jerry Falwell’s megachurch and “university” are five miles down the road, and there is a church next to the local dildo shop, but that’s fine, after what I’ve been through I can deal with this.  I am happy to be able to look out on a clear night and see the sky filled with stars.

I’m a different man now, than the one I was when I started this blog.  A more proper man in some ways.  A wiser Sword King, to be sure.  And sitting here, at the dawn of a new day in my life I am reminded.  As Scott Mosier said, and as I echoed in my very first post here at The Chaos Fold, “Not every moment rules.”

But then again, some moments do.

This is one of them.

in fearful day, in raging night, with strong hearts full our souls ignite, when all seems lost in the war of light, look to the stars – for hope burns bright

 

Finding My Mind

I’ve recently realized that I have a blog with some pretty good shit on it that I have systematically neglected for far too long. Yes, the Lost Posts from when I had private hosting are forever gone, and they do fill a page or so, but it shames me to both want to say so much, and actually say so little.

It may be the worst case of chronic writers’ block to ever exist, but more likely it is the result of the great trials from which I have just emerged. The past two years, in many ways the past ten, have been transformative and revelatory beyond what I had previously thought possible. Time has seemed to speed up, I never quite lost myself in the storm of change, but now, in my new home, I am having trouble reconnecting with my mind, my writerly ways. Still, now is the time.

Have I ever mentioned that I love Warehouse 13? Sure it isn’t the greatest Sci-Fi show ever made, but it is fun, and it has some wonderful human character moments. I found myself watching this video of the one-of-a-kind treasure that is Allison Scagliotti, performing The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” on the show. Her character has had her troubles, to say the least. The preface to this video has her character, Claudia Donovan talking about how she needs to get out of her comfort zone. I concur. I think its time to get out of my comfort zone, and back to my mind.

Thanks, Scags.

P.S. Allison, if you’re ever reading this, you’re pretty awesome. I’m pretty awesome too. We should totally get together and be awesome sometime.

Fourteen years.

Twenty-four years ago yesterday I was brought screaming, chestburster-style from my mother’s bio-prison.  Twenty-four years in the DC Metro area, twenty-four years since I was born in the building next door.

Fourteen years ago I moved from a townhouse to an apartment, for economic reasons.  it was cheaper.  I was ten, and the moving distance was one block.  Now, after two years of trial and triumph through seemingly endless crisis, I have spent my final day in the underground apartment that I have at times referred to as my fortified compound, the Citadel of the Magic Sword Kings, and a shithole.  My possessions are packed and ready for transit, my destination, unexpected.  I venture now to Lynchburg, Superjesusland.  Home to Liberty University and the cult of Falwell.  140 miles, four hours drive, but still just off a road a mere mile from where I sit now.

I move to a home on a hill, leaving much sadness, much anger, much bitterness, and yes, joy in the city that brewed me.  I do not know what trials await me, only that I have conquered much in my time here.  My fourteen years.  My twenty four.  My entire life.

So begins Chapter Two.

This is Andrew Zimmer from The Chaos Fold in Fairfax, Virginia, signing off.

A Bit of Seriousness

When I last updated this version of The Chaos Fold (unfortunately all the posts on the independently-hosted website are lost to the sands of time), it was 2008.  Barack Obama was not yet President of the United States of America.  I didn’t have a roommate and I was barely old enough to buy alcohol.  Time’s passed, people mature.  I would explain my tremendous lack of writing, but honestly it is a very sad story with bad things happening to good people and while I may come off as crass and cynical from time to time I’m not going to inflict that particular story on anyone who might read it.

A long time ago, an entire age of the world by internet standards I had a traffic explosion because of a wonderfully interesting pastor and blogger by the name of Carlos Whittaker.  At the time I felt a little silly, the staunch atheist allied firmly with a wide array of practicing Christians to unseat the word “cocksucking” from the number one spot on my referrals list.  Reading back I see a great variety of people who stopped in to comment, and especially in this day and age, with extremism running roughshod over everything in its path my cynicism cracked more than it had during those heady days of “Yes We Can”.

I may be something of a lewd court jester of the internet but I do pride myself on my intelligence and my tolerance.  I will admit that in the last six months, I’ve been losing a lot of tolerance for my fellow man, as it were.  At times I’ve thought “why me?” and cursed the people who I found responsible for the situation I found myself in.  I took solace in the wonderful friends I’ve made, many through World of Warcraft of all things.  Now, reading those posts that Los and I wrote, and the comments on each other’s blogs, I find that tolerance returning with a new found pride.

Too often we lose sight of the big things, the important things.  Too often those important things are each other.  In those comments and posts I latched back on to the ideal.  A quantum of peace within the storms of the world that we get swept up in all too often.

So I’m setting down my sword as it were.  The world is too precious a place to wrap yourself in intolerance and excuses.  Even now, while such horrible things are happening in the Gulf of Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, I am reminded of the words of one of my heroes, words that have given me hope through the ages.

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” – President John F. Kennedy

That’s all.

The Return

June 21, 2010.  It seems like a date that never should have happened.  Some science fiction land where the aliens have landed to meet with the robot overlords on the nuclear-charred wastes that once were home to the human race.  While our current dystopia is wildly different than those imagined by Arthur C. Heinlein K. Dick, et al, it seems as good a time as ever, even at this late hour, to write once more.

The story of my world, this corner of planet Earth, just outside Washington D.C. continues to be one of absolute insanity.  The populace seems to be barely holding back their personal Deepwater Horizons of madness, rage, and sadness.  In fairness, that could be me projecting.  I continue to live in a truly ironic fashion, penniless yet owning no end of treasures.  Lonely but less physically alone I as a sapient being have ever been.  So it should come as no surprise that I was watching stand-up comedy when the panic struck.

Allow me to rewind the clocks to earlier in the day.  My life of quiet contemplation mixed with brief interruptions of gunfire from video games continued this day much as it had the prior.  I was playing a game, (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic if you must know) for the umpteenth time, having just created a character,  I saddled him with a horribly offensive name as that is the only way I can be evil in a video game, to create something so obviously not myself that I have no problem acting like the violent, impulsive cockend that defines the bad guy end of the Manichean morality systems that have been in vogue for oh so long.

Then the phone rang.  Rather, it buzzed with an odd sort of swooping sound, denoting receipt of a text message.  I was glad to receive it, as it had been sent by one of my very favorite people in the world.  I never got text messages often; I don’t know why I do now.  It strikes me as positive momentum, though.  Perhaps soon I’ll be a real boy.  The message was short and sweet, and I do emphasize sweet.  I was oddly touched by it, enough for the sudden uptick in my opinion of humanity to cause Double Hitler (my intrepid dark Jedi) to be nice to approximately three people before the force-choking of adorable animals began anew.  June 21, 2010 continued its unremarkable trajectory.

Several hours later, possibly, time gets fuzzy when you’re building a megalomaniac, I receive another message.  My great friend would be visiting!  Visiting soon no less!  In a week or two, they would be here! In my world!  Not their world, which to me always strikes me as far more appealing, and indeed I am far more appealing when I exit the orbit of this one to visit the other.  The reality didn’t sink in at first.  In fact I’m reasonably certain I committed at least ten more digital atrocities before it struck me.

I am not only uncomfortable in my world, I am embarrassed by it.

I sit, typing this in a room that has, over the course of twelve years, been engineered specifically to distract me from the fact that I have spent the majority of my life in the same room.  A room, which I must add, that is roughly 100 meters from the previous room I occupied, for the prior five years.  And an equal distance from the room that I first occupied, when I burst screaming into the world on August 24, 1987.

Spend twelve years in any one place and it will begin to reflect certain details of one’s life that you would rather leave behind you.  There is an inconceivable amount of garbage that has accrued in the dresser drawers, spaces behind and under objects, and closet space over the course of the occupation.  To remove it all would be impossible under present circumstances.  Indeed, objects exist in these areas that predate my own existence.  There are marks on the ceiling telling the tales of when I discovered that a pool cue for an overpriced games table I once owned could quite easily make small craters in the drywall.  Uneven paint shows where a large NASA sticker once covered a portion of the door for far too long, being possessed of some hell-adhesive that anchored it long past the point of novelty’s failure.  Most embarrassingly, a carpet stained with substances ranging from the bright pink remnants of spilled strawberry milk as a much younger creature, the not-quite-erased spot where 32 oz. of vodka and bourbon were jettisoned by my body.  Bits of snot that I concluded belonged on the walls, floor, or carpet for preservation through the aeons of the world.

Twelve years has shown a clear portrait of a messy tornado of a human who is obsessed with shiny things, and not terribly worried about being an unhygienic mess.  The results of my anthropological study prove stunningly accurate.

Yet twelve years is a long time by anyone’s count.  Has my carefully constructed world become a prison of my own design?  What will my friend think when they leave the fresh, polished world of the promised land behind to visit the wasteland?  She is far too nice to cast her judgment publicly.  Still, what sort of adult would continue to exist in this place?  Can I even allow her to see it?  Just how much can I clean this hellhole up before she arrives?  Will the strawberry milk stains finally come out?  Have I finally turned pro?

At 11:30 PM, on June 21, 2010, I turned over in my bed as I attempted sleep, tormented by the questions that now flooded my mind.

“Fuck.” I muttered aloud.

And then I wrote it down.  Welcome back Andrew.  This is the story of your life.

Old.

I am currently sitting in a foreign land, an apartment, not many miles from my own, where a good friend of mine lives… with his wife.  His pregnant wife.

I just turned 21 on Sunday so you might understand how this comes as something of a shock, my friends spawning podlings.  It is deranged and disturbing on a base level.  I am barely equipped to handle the idea that my own physiology is capable of spawning a hybrid version of myself with the aid of a host maiden.  To see friends, friends of similar age, engaging in the practice that results in this horrific merging is common.  To see them complete the horrific merger and not, I believe this is the correct term, “freak the fuck out” is unheard of.

Yet now I have seen it.  A happy married couple barely older than I, living in an apartment of their own, with a son on the way.  A boy!  A male human!  I know this is how I was produced and I’ve seen my aunt pregnant twice, I’ve held babies lovingly in my arms but they were all family, not friends.  To see it made real so suddenly is jarring to say the least.

Still, in the interest of science, I persevere.

In any case, when I arrived I found to my surprise, there is a way to make an environment more geeky than my own citadel.  There are anime wallscrolls and posters/prints covering 90% of the wallspace, and action figures/statues from World of Warcraft, Hellraiser, Megaman (lots of Megaman), various incarnations of Gundam, more manga than I’ve seen in most bookstores,

The characters I recognize are few and far between.  Comfortable icons of gaming are largely absent, a Big Daddy exists on a shelf, partially obscured.  Disgaea characters can be found among the gallery atop the mantle, as one might find flowers or commemorative plates in another scenario.

Did I mention my friend is married?

With a child on the way?

Clearly there are women out there who not only tolerate this level of geekiness, they revel in it, they thrive, they SPAWN in it.  Compared to their apartment, taken as a whole, my single room appears… normal.

Time goes on, we talk about World of Warcraft, a pastime we both share in (as does his wife, apparently) and call in another member of the old guard to throw down in some Soul Calibur.  It suddenly loses the feel of a distant experiment and the four anti-anxiety pills I had waiting in my pocket appear as if they won’t be needed.  The people I knew haven’t changed as much as their circumstances would indicate.  They have not mutated fundamentally.  I begin to question: Am I the mutant?  Am I the aberration?  One friend is married with broodling en route, the other is engaged and so content in his relationship that he doesn’t even notice when he flirts with other women.  I’ve always known him as something of a ladies man, not a predator, but a smart guy with a pretty face and a way with words.  Something I envy, to be sure, but I’m content with my own gifts for now.

Am I the mutant, though?  Marriage at 21 seems unthinkable, but clearly it is being done.  I have seen with my own eyes the evidence.  Not too long ago another friend of mine was engaged.  A former friend of mine married recently as well, as did my first girlfriend (to a contemptible prick).

We told stories of our lives and laughed, reveling in how funny everything seems now, even if it was horrific and painful at the time, at the very least embarassing (and in some cases punchassing, don’t ask).  Another epiphany:  Here we were, three barely-men of age 21 reminiscing about the good old days, when things were simpler and somehow more vibrant.

I felt old.

I am a mutant.