Single Girl Syndrome

For me Mario Party showdowns begin long before the actual competition, at least in the early editions anyway. It doesn’t begin the first time we enter a mini-game or a lost duel. No, it begins at the character selection screen where, as long as I’m playing with at least one other woman anyway, the battle for Peach begins. We grip our controllers anxiously and send each other intimidating glares. Initial cursor placement is key; the closer you are to Peach’s headshot the better. Sometimes a bit of negotiation is necessary if you don’t want to end up getting Yoshi as a consolation prize. This conflict is a product of having a single female character in a cast of men, and while the Mario Party franchise has added more female characters since its first few games to create a more balanced cast, whenever it happens I’m left wondering if it’s really any better than not having a female character at all (putting aside the often annoying personality traits present in that single female character because that’s another post in and of itself).

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A customer looks at the doll section in the Village of Paris JoueClub toy shop during the holiday season in Paris

The Danger of Pink

Yesterday, NPR ran this story on the history of pink. I imagine that the actual history of pink as gendered and non-gendered is no surprise to the audience of this particular blog, but, in the comments, the story sparked a discussion about how IMPORTANT it is to many, many people to be able to quickly and easily identify a person’s gender. So, baby girls wear pink and baby boys wear blue (and I guess every other color besides pink). One commenter wrote:

Yes! I dress my baby girl is greys, navy, white, green, etc. (colors *I* like, if I’m being honest) that I usually have to get from the boy section because anything NOT pink is in the boys section. People think she is a boy all. the. time. Now, all babies look like babies, so I’m not offended by this and never correct people by saying, “Actually, she’s a girl.” But in a conversation, I obviously end up using “she,” “her,” etc. and people who have misidentified her then protest, “But she’s not wearing pink!” THEN I get annoyed.
Oh, and don’t get me started on strangers who insist her gender would be clearer if I put a GIANT flower headband on her tiny head… :-)

Why is being able to “identify” or “label” someone’s gender so important? As I was reading the discussion, I was reminded of this article from last week about a girl who was KICKED OUT OF SCHOOL because the administration thought she looked too much like a boy:

The family received a letter telling them that if their eight year old granddaughter didn’t follow the school’s “biblical standards,” that she’d be refused enrollment next year. She’s out and in public school now.

She is eight-years-old. When I was eight-years-old, I was playing with Barbie, LEGO bricks, Transformers, Hot Wheels, My Little Ponies. None of it was hard-wired. I like what I liked (and, I probably liked what I saw on the afternoon cartoons). I don’t recall liking pink, but I loved purple. For a time, my hair was really short, and perhaps boyish. But, no one ever said anything. I can’t even imagine the devastation I would have felt had I gotten kicked out of school at eight years old because someone thought I didn’t look enough like a girl. Not because I would have necessarily wanted to be more “girlie,” but because I would have heard loud and clear that I wasn’t good enough; that I wasn’t accepted by society. At EIGHT-YEARS-OLD. Nice.

I’m glad she’s out of the situation, but what does being kicked out of school for what amounts to “not wearing pink and having short hair” mean? For me these two discussions come together to suggest that there is nothing about us that is as important to society at large as what our gender is and how quickly other people can identify it. One of the commenters on the NPR story suggested that people feel they need to be able to identify the gender of a baby because they fear the mother will get upset if they pick wrong, which may be true in some cases, but overall? I don’t know. Maybe some parents, like the commenter above, think “babies just look like babies.” And, MAYBE babies are valuable regardless of gender.

This whole “pink” thing has been on my mind a lot recently because I have been working with LEGO in my technical writing class. I’ve paid more attention in recent weeks to conversations about toys, LEGO and otherwise, and have heard many comments from friends, family, and the Internet about how pink is hardwired into girls. Allegedly, girls love pink. Society assumes it’s true. You can walk into any toy store and see the pink aisle. At my local Target, the LEGO Friends sets were previously placed a few aisles over from the regular LEGO sets. (If I recall correctly, they were with the Barbie’s.) In the past couple of months or so, Target moved the LEGO Friends to the aisle next to the LEGO sets, but now they are with the Duplo sets. This is just one example of where the assumption that “pink is hardwired” is a big problem. This is one of the reasons people’s focus and “need to know” gender is scary. Because once that gender is determined to be female, it’s off to the pink aisle for the child: right next to the Duplo, in case the pink toys are too complicated.


Play With Your Kids: Yoshi’s New Island Edition

The Yoshis are back and their fixing a mix up from the stork. Having never played a Yoshi game before, the new 3DS version seemed like a good opportunity to jump into the franchise. The 3DS has done wonders for catching me up with the old school Nintendo platformers so I was pretty confident that Yoshi’s New Island wouldn’t be any different. And it also boasted of having 2 player local co-op via a wireless connection so it was a double bonus because it was going to give me another chance to play with Pea.

wingedcloudLet me start by saying that there was a bit of a learning curve for me because I wasn’t familiar with the grammar of Yoshi games (and reading manuals is outside of my realm of reasonability). Don’t get me wrong, there are little floating tutorial cubes along the way, but it took me a moment to realize what they were since there are also winged clouds with question marks floating around (for the uninitiated those function like the blocks in Mario games rather than as hints or clues as the iconography suggests). Once I figure out the cubes and how to access them (by jumping into them) progress was definitely more steady. N.B. the question clouds can only be accessed by hitting it with an egg. And you really aren’t missing it every time you jump into it (not that I thought that at all).  Read more »


Sparklegate and Silencing “Silliness”

Let me start by saying that I have not entirely been following the so-dubbed Spaklegate fiasco closely. Mostly what I’ve seen are hurt reactions by people who cared about what things like sparkleponies was doing for people, particularly for graduate students. It made us feel comfortable, and it let incoming academics know that 1) we a have a sense of humor 2) even topics everyone may not agree with can find a place of respect in our field and 3) we aren’t afraid of play. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, let me back up.

A few years ago, a couple rogue academics decided to do something outrageous: bring a little fun into an incredibly stodgy, often overwhelming, academic conference (CCCC’s). They began C’s the Day, a game that called for conference attendees to do things like go to sessions, ask questions, and meet others in the field. (UNFORGIVABLE, RIGHT?). As a prize, these academics hand-made things called sparkleponies, featured in the image above. This year after the conference was over (and during it, no doubt), there came an outcry against C’s the Day and sparkleponies, basically making fun of those involved. However, some of the insults cut very deep for those like me who do games and rhetoric work that could easily be maligned in the same way as sparkleponies.

Yep, sometimes in rhetoric we study sparkleponies. We also study games. We study car engines. We study workplace. We study writing. We study music videos. We study 2000-year-old documents. We study mommy blogs. Any place humans are making meaning, making sense of the world, or communicating, rhetoric is there. Sometimes it’s “silly,” like sparkleponies, sometimes it’s grave, like genocide. It’s varied.

Then, the asinine Gawker article. Yes, this happens every year. People pick through the conference presentation titles at CCCCs and take out a few that sound silly to make fun of how irrelevant our field is. We should be used to it by now, but we aren’t. The critiques here are especially painful because it’s what we all fear when we start researching things we care about: they aren’t relevant, they make us look like bad scholars, they will doom our graduate students to adjuncting positions.

Now, before I get to my point I have to make a confession: I don’t actually give a shit about sparkleponies as sparkleponies. What I do care about is what they mean for the field. What I do care about is that people who do care about things have the space and freedom to explore them. What I do care about is that we don’t back down when people challenge our work out of fear. What I care about, more than anything, is that we recognize the rhetorical tradition we come from is flawed, and that sparkleponies, as frivolous as they may seem, represent something absolutely critical for the future of rhetoric.

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Power Hour Review: inFAMOUS: Second Son

Like everyone else, I was hyped for the release of Infamous: Second Son (Sucker Punch, 2014) after seeing the trailer at E3 last year. A new infamous with a young Native American character on a next-gen system that looked absolutely beautiful. Kinda grungy, all flashy, and starring a minority character. Sign me up! I had HIGH hopes, but somewhere in the back of my mind I kept going back to Prey with it’s drunken natives, spirit walks, and really bad alien metaphors. Video games really don’t have a good track record with representation of minorities as we all know.

Well the moment of truth finally came for me this week when I popped Infamous: Second Son into my PS4. Let’s start by saying that the game is just as beautiful as I had hoped that it would be. The PS4 did not disappoint and neither did Sucker Punch.  Read more »


Episode 74: Failing (in Order) to Win: The Role of Failure in Games and Game Studies

Episode 74: Failing (in Order) to Win: The Role of Failure in Games and Game Studies (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

The episode where we talk about failure in gameplay and game studies. We are joined this week by guest co-host, Jennifer Lynn. A fun discussion that starts with Jesper Juul’s work on failure.


Bad Behavior and Appropriate Consequences in Xbox Live

Back in July of last year Microsoft announced new changes to the multiplayer system for their then upcoming Xbox One. This primarily referred to a reputation system that they would be implementing in an attempt to create a better social community. Today Microsoft announced some new details on the monitoring system that I presume will be coming into full effect shortly. The objective of the system seems fairly clear: make the social and online gaming scene on the Xbox One a more welcoming place by holding players accountable for what they say and weeding out the trolls. Although I’m sure eliminating hate entirely on Xbox Live is too big of a task for this single program to manage (and of course the system is also likely to be abused), it’s encouraging to see that people who harass others in online gaming wont get to hide behind anonymity and will face measurable consequences for their actions.

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Ruining it for Everyone

I saw this cartoon on my Facebook feed this week, and at first I applauded. But, then I realized that I could totally relate to both sides. When I first came to Purdue and met Sam, I realized she was trying to “lure me down the rabbit hole” (as she puts it in her bio) into game studies. I was resistant for the very sentiment expressed in the above cartoon: I just wanted to play games; I didn’t want to think about the social justice issues while I was playing them.

But, she obviously succeeded in luring my down the rabbit hole, and along the way, I’ve come to realize a couple of things. First, I realized that once you see the issues, you can’t unsee the issues. They are always right there, staring you in the face. So, after a couple of semesters here, I found the problems to be glaringly obvious, and like the girl in the cartoon suggests, the problems make it hard to enjoy the game. Tomb Raider came out around this time and I stumbled across the first fail state and the first suggested rape seen. (Apparently, I was the only person in the universe to fail at this first scene because I suck, but anyway…) And, it made me uncomfortable. The more notorious rape scene also made me uncomfortable, but the two together set a precedent: my character was going to be raped; that was part of her “coming of age.” This reflects society in disturbing ways, not just in the high-profile cases, but in common everyday interactions. I’ve had recent conversations about rape where I was told that date rape wasn’t “real” rape. Yeah right. And, so second, we have to think about the social issues. The portrayal of gender and minorities in video games reflects the reality of gender and minority issues in the world. I’m not one of the people who think video games cause issues (e.g. video games causes violence), but I do see the very really parallels between how women and minorities are treated in games and how they are treated in society.

The girl in the cartoon wants to play her games without social justice issues just like every other gamer. The problem is she can’t, and telling her that bringing up the issues ruins the game for others leaves out the fact that not bringing them up ruins the game for many. I fear that I have friends that will read this comic and just not get that. They will read it and think “exactly, I just want to have fun.” So do we. Talking about the issues or “harping” on them is intended to help people see the issues represented in video games from a new perspective; it’s not intended to “ruin” anyone’s good time.

Unfortunately, as we have discussed extensively in this blog and in our podcast, almost every game displays negative or problematic (I hate that word) attitudes toward women and minorities. Even my favorite game, Rayman Legends, which I wrote about here, displays gender stereotypes that I find aggravating at best. Mostly, I’m glad I went down the rabbit hole, and most of the times I find playing games with a critical eye much more fun than just zoning out. Of course, sometimes I do want to just zone out, but I think my inability to do so has more to do with then entire PhD experience rather than just game studies. (I also can no longer watch movies or read a novel without thinking, “what is happening here??”) I just want to be able to have the conversation about problems in video games without the accusation that I’m ruining someone’s fun.


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Embedded (In)Equities: The Silencing of Women in the Video Game Industry Through Company Policy

After a wonderful presentation at CCCCs with Cody and Sam, I thought I would share my zoho presentation that I gave. A lot of it comes from research I’ve done for my diss. It was received fairly well, though I imagine that anyone who went out of their way to come to the presentation was probably already leaning toward caring about these issues. What I did get a very positive response to was the idea of procedural ethics as a way to contextualize, ground, and do ethical research in games, something most agreed was not encouraged by theories like Procedural Rhetoric.