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Live right now! Episode 85!

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LEGO: Don’t let me down!

Last month I wrote about the release of the LEGO Ideas Research Institute set. This set, which is a collection of three female scientists, sold out on LEGO’s website within 6 days. Recently, LEGO announced on their website that the Research Institute would no longer be available online, but (hopeful) purchasers could possibly find one in a retail LEGO store, in October. This is typical LEGO in many ways. LEGO Ideas sets, in particular, are typically short run sets and tend to sell out quickly, leaving the buyer with little option other than to go to Ebay and hope to find the set from a different seller. (The Exo Suit set, released around the same time, sold out in one day.) The LEGO Ideas sets and some of the other more advanced Creator sets are not the sets you typically would expect to find in a mass-market retail store. I would imagine, in part, because they are (typically) expensive and marketed toward a slightly older demographic. I often have friends express shock over the retail price of some of the LEGO sets, advising me to wait for a sale. But, many of the sets I’m interested in will never go on sale. They sell out, are retired, and, from then on, only found from second-hand sellers, often at 3x the price or more. While the Research Institute set is not expensive, it’s also not a set I would expect to see at a mass market retailer. And, I’m seeing its price jump right now as I look for the Research Institute on ebay. The retail price is $19.99, but it’s selling (not just listed, but selling) on ebay at prices from $60 to $100.

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I own the set though; I got lucky. But, when the set arrived, I was reluctant to open it, not because I want to profit on it (I will never sell it), but because I saw this coming (mostly for the reasons listed above.) So, I put the box on my bookshelf in the living room, and this weekend I was looking at that unopened box and wondering what this means for females and LEGO. Like I wrote above, I don’t think this decision is anything other than typical LEGO. Meaning, I don’t think they made the Research Institute such a short run to make any kind of statement. But, LEGO got a lot of attention after releasing that set, as I wrote in my last post on the subject. In the news and comments, I read lots of “yay, finally” type sentiments directed toward the set. But, what’s next? I want more.

The LEGO Research Institute was originally named the LEGO Female Scientists set, seen here. The designer of the set also designed other small sets featuring female LEGO minifigs engaged in a number of other, typically male dominated fields: falconer, geologist, robotics engineer (my favorite!), judge, mail carrier, mechanic, fire fighter, and construction workers. I want these sets, too! (Please, LEGO? The Research Institute sold out so fast!)

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But more than that, I want to see these sets make a difference in how LEGO approaches integrating females into the sets that have typically excluded females. You know, the “regular” sets: the sets on the shelf of any mass-market retailer in the toy aisle. The sets that do go on sale and are played with by millions of children. I want to see these female minifigs equally represented in these sets. I want to see these minifigs in sets other than the expensive, niche sets that are marketed more towards an Adult Fan of LEGO demographic rather than children. I’m not seeing it yet, but I’m hopeful. That set sold out fast. Maybe LEGO has some behind the scenes planning going on.

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Games, Mechanics, Narratives: Can’t we all just get along?

I feel like all of our blog posts lately have started with something along the lines of “in the wake of recent conversations”. Nonetheless, here I go: in the wake of recent conversations, I’ve been thinking again about what seems to be an eternal debate among gamers and in game studies: narratives and mechanics. Which is more important? Which really defines a “good” game. There’s been a fair bit of conversation about gamers who only pay attention to narratives/representational forms (and therefore miss what “really matters” in gaming) or gamers who only care about mechanics (and are therefore miss what “really matters” in gaming). Yes, those are scare quotes on both “really matters”. Read more »


To Critique or Not to Critique? Feminist Work V. Feminist Work

As we have seen over and over in the past week, feminist are rarely, if ever, in full agreement on any topic. We may have general goals that we share, for example full equity for women, but as for how we go about that, it varies. I have even seen women who are vehemently anti-feminist, but use that anti-feminism as their path for making things better for the lives of women. Who is to say how the lives of women are best served?

I was once accused by a friend of being detrimental to the feminist cause because I work to help women. Helping women, they argued, was essentializing that there exists a homogenous group labeled “women.” This is not the perfect way to proceed. Every time you do any work you need to have a full acknowledgement of all of the philosophical pitfalls of what you’re doing. Except then each time we wanted to say anything or do anything, we would end up writing a book of philosophy that still has no good solution and nothing would ever get better. This is one practice I don’t agree with, though I still think we should be asking hard questions about the implications of our work. The thing is, I just don’t care. I look at the women being sexually assaulted, harassed, and marginalized in the game community, and I want to do work that helps them and do work that forces anyone in games studies to acknowledge this problem in order to be taken seriously.

Read more »

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Power Hour Review: Sims 4

As you may know, the Sims is one of my favorite franchises. In high school, my mom, my boyfriend, and I had a computer schedule so that we could each get the same number of Sims hours in per day. I was, am, and always have been, obsessed.

People wonder how anyone can like the Sims. Is it even a game? You’re just like making grilled cheese sandwiches and buying rugs appropriate to your income level. You’re doing things you do in real life, but without actually being able to reap any real rewards. I don’t claim to know why simulation games are so enticing to me. I enjoy the aspects of the game where I can play with identity, but you know what, I usually just try to make characters like myself and get them through life as prosperous and happy as possible. Maybe it’s a control thing: in Sims, you know if the input is A, the output will be B. Nothing is mysterious and everything is transparent. I know that if I read this book and go to work for two days in a row with a good mood that I will be promoted. Real life is never so clear-cut. My Sim will never get sexually harassed at work and lose her job because she chose to report it. She won’t have to face the glass ceiling. Sure, there are bad things that happen in Sims that you can’t control, like a burglar breaking into your house. However, everyone who plays knows the rules in advance and the rules are fairly distributed and enforced. There is a kind of beauty in that.

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When the Innocuous Becomes Harmful

In my experience as a consumer of Japanese animation, I have found that most anime can be grouped into two overarching categories. The first are those that actively embrace fanservice or, in other words, scenes or even full sequences that pander to the male gaze in a distinctly sexual way. This can be anything from lingering over a cleavage or butt shot to flashes of underwear to full nudity. This is the stuff anime has regrettably become infamous for in the western world; although fanservice is not quite on the level as the unfiltered porn alternative.

Needless to say, there’s quite a lot of problematic content and themes in this first category. The objectification is pretty blatant as these girls are used to sell titles and appeal to a male audience. Although the little extra “excitement” it adds to the series is a pretty substantial addition in a long list of media offenders that over sexualizes their female characters and reduce their worth as a character to their appeal to a male audience, anime that tends to feature consistent and/or frequent fanservice makes no attempt to hide it. While fanservice anime may have a defined and serious plot, world building, and character development, it, at the same time, is far from discreet in its sexual nature. The second category, however, has the potential to be more widespread and even damaging than the first.

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Code Red: More Commenting on the Conversation

Yesterday, I got sucked down the rabbit hole of watching anti-Sarkeesian YouTube videos. Many of the arguments against her are laughably ironic, but one in particular stood out to me as not ironic, but just sad. In the video, Anita was accused of shutting down the conversation because she has turned off the comments, ratings, and statistics on her YouTube channel. I can’t really say I blame her. I won’t link the video; you can Google it. But, I will say this accusation was made a year ago. Even though Anita Sarkeesian finds herself once again in the middle of the shit storm, the harassment of her has been going on for years. That’s sad and terrifying. (If you haven’t heard of the latest situation, the last couple of posts on this blog cover it with some detail.)

Due to personal stuff over the last month and the latest situation with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, my own anxieties about taking about anything feminist have reached a level of code red. Thankfully, I have never had death or rape threats, but, I often find myself in situations like the one I wrote about a few weeks ago in which the rhetoric reaches incredibly low levels with accusations like “ugly whore.” The anxiety and fear of a situation turning ugly can make it pretty hard to carry on.

Last night, we were talking about the somewhat bizarre insult of Social Justice Warrior. I’m no warrior, but the “insult” makes me feel anything but disempowered (as I suppose it’s meant to make me feel). During this conversation, my anxiety levels were going down. I can get on board with being a Social Justice Warrior. That’s what this is all about, right? Social Justice. But, then I got an unexpected text from an old and dear friend that read, “I’ve been FB stalking you today. What’s up with the feminism posts?” And, with that I sort of froze again. Like I said, I’m not a warrior, and I’m becoming increasingly anxious about engaging in a situation with someone that could end with some variation of “ugly whore.” I almost didn’t answer him, then I realized I was being somewhat ridiculous (or maybe cowardly is the better word). This particular person is an old and dear friend because he’s an awesome person. So, I told him some of the stuff that was going on, and I pointed him to this blog. It was a productive conversation.

Many factors have led to this sense of anxiety I now feel. But, I’ve been hearing quite a bit about how this other side feels silenced and wants to be heard. But, if your argument is the one that has always/already been the one heard, then you have always already been heard. (I hate the phrase always already, but it is what it is.) Lately, it seems that I and many others have to fight to be heard and are being told for one reason or another that we don’t really have the right to even be in the conversation. I shouldn’t even say “lately” because it’s always been a battle to be heard, but lately, it seems to be an even more uphill battle.

I don’t believe that Anita Sarkeesian is shutting down the conversation by shutting down the comments. But, like I said, I can’t say I blame her for shutting down the comments. I think we all have seen how ugly and unproductive that can get. And, she is in the conversation in other ways. Those anti-Sarkeesian videos are inherently “in conversation” with her (although those are sometimes also pretty ugly conversations). She’s on Twitter. She wrote:

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And, that’s what I think it has to come down to. My anxieties are high and conversations often get ugly, but I think it’s important. Despite this being a terrifying conversation sometimes (yes rape and death threats are terrifying), I’m ready to talk and have a productive conversation. It’s not about me wanting or needing to be right; it’s about me wanting to be heard. So save the ugly rhetoric and save the “arguments” about what I should or should not be offended by. I say “I” because I cannot speak for the entire feminist community. There are things that offend me that wouldn’t offend others and vice versa. But, we want to be heard and have productive conversations.


I’m a gamer.

At a faculty picnic last week I was asked if I was a gamer by a very well-meaning (but completely out of the loop) fellow faculty member. I almost laughed- it’s been a pretty rough few weeks in gaming culture and I know this faculty member didn’t have any idea how contentious the question she just asked was. Still, I didn’t hesitate. I answered: “Yes, I am a gamer”. I’m a lot of things: a feminist, a scholar, an extremely amateur harp player, a fledgeling jogger, and so on. I’m also a gamer. I game. I game a lot. I game more than I should. I game less than some people. Read more »


Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One…

Game critic Anita Sarkeesian and her family were driven from their house earlier this week after she received a series of extremely violent sexual threats towards her and her parents. The week before that, game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest) had her personal life (both real and imaginary) strewn across public forums by an angry ex-boyfriend in an attempt to destroy her career.

Both of these terrorist acts–because what else do you call rape and death threats?–occurred because some gamers have decided that “…gaming and tech culture have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors.”

Or that feminists “have to corrupt every single facet of our hobby that we bought up because they aren’t being victimised”

Or possibly because feminists would like nothing more than if “someone, preferably the state, take over the Internet and make it safer for lying, feminist con artists.”***

I don’t need to go into just how ridiculous and horrifying it is to respond to disagreement (even strong disagreement) with threats of violence and mental and emotional trauma. That’s been beautifully covered by many other writers this week, including Gaming Editors Andrew Todd and Tim Colwell.

Instead, I want to address the charge that feminists want to ruin gaming. Not because it deserves a response (it doesn’t), but because it’s a question I run into every time I sit down to write a blog post or participate in a podcast. What does it mean to be a feminist gamer? What do I want?
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Game Theory According to Kim Kardashian: Or Bad Game, Good Design

So I have to make a confession to make, I tend to taunt casual gamers relentlessly. Not because their not gamers, but because it’s just fun. Especially since I go through periods where all of my gaming happens on my phone or tablet. But I have to admit that I was dumb founded by the recent success of Kim Kardashian’s freemium game, Hollywood. So I did it. I installed the game on my phone just to check it out. That was like a month ago and I have yet to uninstall it and I’m kind of addicted. Yes, I know it’s a shallow game where you play dress up, flirt with strangers, model for second rate companies, and try to make it all the way to the level of B-class celebrity. But after playing the game for a while I really started to see some interesting things in this game.

Hollywood is actually a mechanically solid game….there, I said it. The game actually acknowledge differing sexual orientation (in a cursory way) by asking you specifically if you would prefer to date men or women, but it gives and it taketh away. The way that you get people to fall in love with you is to buy them clothing and accessories and taking them out for expensive dinners and drinks. But absent this, Hollywood feels less like another time management freemium game and more like a pretty solid RPG.  Read more »