Colonization games

Game Developers Conference seems to be on right now. A few years ago I would have been following posts about the presentations. I’m still interested in interactivity design and game design, but I am taking a break from the technorati’s vision of revolution and progress (short version: pretend everyone can have a cell phone without destroying the planet).

Seeing all the GDC headlines reminded me of watching Will Wright present the demo of his super-hyped Spore game at the elite/elitist TED conference in 2007.

That’s the first time I remember being horrified by game design. Will Wright, known for his non-competitive, open-creative-outlet games, Mr. SimCity, spent fifteen minutes talking about teaching kids to colonize territory. Ouch. It is easy to dismiss the racist, sexist, violent shooter games when there are supposed alternatives. Where do you go from the alternatives when they have all the same domination and hate in a more covert, abstract form?

Are there any video games out there about resisting colonization? I mean as a whole system, not just in terms of blowing up invaders from space using weapons you built by invading and occupying your own planet to get resources and labour. I never got around to writing Will Wright to ask him to read up on what colonization really means before developing his next game idea. Spore II: Indigenous Resistance. I’d play that.

So here I am wishing for better video games when I am intending to take a break from people who focus on saving the world by building video games and electronic gadgets. Moving on.

Russell Means on orality and literacy

Russell Means braids his son's hair, by Ilka Hartmann

I like the way Russell Means began his 1980 speech, For America To Live, Europe Must Die.

The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.

So what you read here is not what I’ve written. It’s what I’ve said and someone else has written down. I will allow this because it seems that the only way to communicate with the white world is through the dead, dry leaves of a book. I don’t really care whether my words reach whites or not.

I read a lot of media theory, where orality and literacy is a giant topic. (I can see a book called Orality and Literacy from my desk.) And I think this is the first time I’ve encountered a first person, pro-orality perspective from someone with an oral culture. I feel shocked to realize this. But of course books about media have a bias towards text. And of course online articles have a bias towards text and mass media. Somehow I had the two topics in my mind, media theory and resisting white supremacy, but hadn’t made many connections between them.

There’s a rule of thumb which can be applied here. You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society. You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself. I defy anyone to point out an example where this is not true.

Means was talking about Marxism, but now I am thinking about printing presses and the internet.

I’m ready for my telepathic computer now please.

New device reads minds pretty well.

Whenever I read articles about advances in computer mind-reading technology, they focus on the benefits for paralysed or locked-in people. Fair enough, but I am also waiting for my generic mind-to-computer input device. Could you not then basically send telepathic messages to your friends? If a computer can read my mind, and computers can already talk to each other… that means I can send telepathic email at least. It makes me laugh. It’s such a clunky, budget vision of telepathy, but I think it’s good enough.

A few years ago, after seeing a documentary about a locked-in man’s telepathic computer, I had elaborate fantasies of starting a company to manufacture open source, recyclable, telepathic PDA things. It would be such an interesting device to design interfaces for. In my elaborate fantasy, there are mind-reading headphones that whisper interface feedback to you.

Being apparently more environmentalist than the average geek, I barely even buy any electronic gadgets, but I am so compelled by the prospect of adjusting my music volume up and down with my mind that I thought I might have to move somewhere cheap and kidnap an engineer to make it happen.

I have since chilled out, but I note with delight that these articles are showing up more often.

Look good naked, bring your own analysis, a lot of video links.

A bloggy friend of Erin’s posted about a TV show called How To Look Good Naked. I don’t have cable, and I didn’t know anything about this show. This blogger, Sarah, said the show basically relied on body image coaching to help women like their nude bodies, with no weight loss or surgery suggestions at all. I found this improbably thrilling news regarding a reality makeover show, so I looked it up on YouTube. This is from the American version (the original is British).

They just pointed out that plastic surgery doesn’t work? On TV? And they used their feelings to decide how to solve their personal distress? Yay hooray! The clips I found raise a ton problems for me, but wow, I am really happy to see this conversation happening on a mainstream makeover show.

Problems/boring parts:

And yet, I am still definitely pleased to see a rounded woman’s butt cellulite on screen in a positive context, hear someone make the basic point that clothes need to fit your body and not vice versa, and even see men touching each other fairly comfortably.

This is a very narrow discussion of body image, but it is at least in a direction that I value: unpacking all the crap that people said you should do and deciding for yourself. (My body and I are totally bff almost all the time anyway, so I’m not disappointed about the lack of new ground.)

It’s quite the comment on the state of TV that eliminating weight loss and surgery without discussing anything else is cause for celebration, but maybe these baby steps will make some room for a similar show that adds a couple of elements, and then a couple more. No weight loss, no surgery, and no dissing fat. Or getting to know your body without looking at it. Queer eye for the straight girl, finally, or a show where women come up with ways to enjoy their bodies without a host/star/authority at all. I dream.

G-rated YouTube porn, feathers.

I ran into this while I was looking for info about whether found feathers can have any germs or mites or whatever (probably not). I love the wealth of g-rated porn that has blossomed under YouTube’s anti-nudity terms of service. I don’t think they intended to create a video sharing service where only kinky sexplay is allowed (watching women fart, smelling socks…), but I guess that’s a fairly predictable side-effect of banning mainstream, tab-a-slot-b, show-the-boobs sex in an online space.

So far I haven’t found anything especially subversive— lots of groomed women and muscular men, lots of hypergender, whatever— but I actually like this tickling video because the tickler and the ticklee seem to have actual communication with each other. “OK, OK,” feet flex, feet relax. That’s kind of magic to see on YouTube.

Old men knitting, a gap, then young men knitting

Flickr photo

I posted a few photos of knitting ideas this week, and when I was thinking about what to post to round on the week’s set, I got to thinking about men knitting.

Several times, I’ve had old white men come up to me while I’m knitting (or especially the few times Galen has been knitting in public), and they’ve talked about how they used to knit, or about how all their sailor or fisherman coworkers used to knit their own socks, hats and sweaters. People in my grandparents’ generation. Pretty much the exact dudes in that photo. The middle one is knitting. Can you tell? That’s my usual move, knitting while everybody else drinks beer.

My gramma, who has been my main knitting tutor other than books, is totally unphased about men knitting. She seems to find it normal and expected, which strikes me as odd since knitting is now cast as such a gendered activity, as a feminine art to be reclaimed and valued, as something our grandmothers did. When guys knit now, it’s celebrated as a happy transgression similar to chicks fixing cars. I should ask my grandparents about this, see if they remember a break when western or North American men stopped knitting.

(My brief googling for pictures of men knitting turned up lots of men knitting within apparently conventional knitting roles in Peru — Andean male knitting traditions are well-known— as well as Turkey, plus net-makers all over the place. Only the young urban male knitters in North America had any kind of “breaking tradition” vibe happening. E.g., a drummer, a subway rider.)

I wonder if it has anything to do with different modes of transmitting knowledge. I’ve never seen any written knitting instructions or patterns geared to guys before the last few years (Knitting with Balls and the like). All the heaps of vintage commercial patterns I’ve seen are for the ladies. I would assume the knitting sailors and knitting workmen maybe learned it right from another person. I could also see job changes, mass production, world wars, and gendered income differences being involved in there.

I haven’t even tried to google this. It’s just going in a pile with other vague research topics that I casually keep an eye out for. Knitting grandfathers. Maybe I’ve got some.

Scar pride

{Flickr photo}

At first I was just looking for a few photos of people’s scars, having been reminded by Erin’s copy of the Learning to Love You More book. But, in typical internetto fashion, now I am intrigued by the patterns that show up when you look at a mass of public scar photos. There are some popular subjects— self-harm exhibitionism and processing, scars from pregnancy and cesarians (not so much finding episiotomy scar pics), voyeurism with optional processing (especially around major burn scars, and ritualized scarification by some African cultures), manifestos and statements about beauty and beautiful scars, and more general scar pride and storytelling. I find this last one the least complicated, the easiest to post photos without major accompanying comments. (In this one I’m only spotting basics, about how it’s easier to be proud of pretty much anything when you are cute and posing, but I still like how that calculator watch makes her look tough.)

Imax, slasher films, pornography

I feel a meandering mind-map coming on, starting from an essay about slasher movies by Carol Clover (roughly summarized here ) that I read in this anthology about gender in myth.

On the civilized side of the continuum lie the legitimate genres; at the other end, hard on the unconscious, lie the sensation or ‘body’ genres, horror and pornography, in that order. …

It is a rare Hollywood film that does not devote a passage or two— a car chase, a sex scene— to the emotional and physical excitement of the audience. But horror and pornography are the only two genres specifically devoted to the arousal of bodily sensation. They exist solely to horrify and stimulate, not always respectively, and their ability to do so is the sole measure of their success…

I’ve seen a lot of people try to show that horror and pornography are related, usually based on some inarticulate statement about the similarity of sex and death. This bodily-sensation aspect seems like a more accurate connection. It’s got me editing my ideas about pornography (again), too.

For the last couple of years, my working definition has been that something is pornographic (to me) when it is presented for its own sake with no intention to communicate further meaning. Literal as opposed to symbolic, I guess. Showing literal sex rather than any experience of eroticism, or showing literal blood and gore rather than communicating a meaning of injury or death or fear (a la gore-porn). I don’t mean that as a diss to actual porn, more as an explanation of why I call Cute Overload cute-porn, and why I sometimes object to the ways other people use hyphenated, non-sexual porn labels. (I’m not sure I experience the Ikea catalog as storage-porn just because it shows a lot of shelving.)

This sensation definition is way simpler, and avoids having to argue about what is meaningful or symbolic. Since porn is some of the most intensely deconstructed media around and easily supplied with symbolic meaning, I think this simple sensation definition is a lot more accurate too. So thanks for that, early nineties essay collection.

Thinking about movies that are made for my body got me thinking about imax. All I want from a six-story tall movie is a strong sense of vertigo! I see an imax film about once every two years, but in my limited sampling they seem to be getting less motion-sick overall. Anybody have better evidence on that? (Tosczaks, or other bearers of yearly passes?) At the least, I’ve been disappointed with the imax films I’ve been seeing. I don’t want a plot at the imax, I want a bodily experience. More helicopter shots going over a cliff, please. I want imax to be more pornographic. Imax has not been fulfilling its potential.

So yup. The other idea I want to store here is about “legitimate” genres. I don’t really buy the idea that they’re less focussed on bodily sensations. The most pretentious, high-class films I’ve seen could be called superiority-porn. Feeling superior is a real sensation, although not often acknowledged as a physical/chemical state. I just dug up a clip from the Helvetica movie where Erik Spiekermann explains that he just likes looking at type. “Other people look at bottles of wine, or whatever, or you know, girls’ bottoms. I look at type.” He looks; it feels good. I’ve only seen the trailers, but that documentary is clearly modernist-typography-porn, and totally classy. (Or, ahem, neutral.)

The pretense seems to be that some cinematically-induced sensations are intellectual, rather than bodily, which actually seems very similar to my original working definition about pornography being devoid of meaning. So again, why am I reading anthologies about symbol and myth in these “body” genres if they are so literal and physical? This seems like a very weird manifestation of the usual classist aesthetic distinctions, where “legitimate” good taste just happens to be whatever working class / uneducated / trashy people don’t appreciate. Classy movies are secretly about sensations, and trashy movies are secretly full of cultural symbolism. Oops.

I’m probably specifically bad at this game— personality quiz questions on the theme of “do you pay more attention to rational thoughts or gut feelings” make my head explode, because surely thoughts and feelings exist in the same soup. I mean, you have to feel whether you’re being honest about your logic; I don’t know any other way. From now on I’m paying special attention to how my body feels when I watch fancy art films.

Persepolis, surprises, posting to the future

This year’s Mystery Movie surprise screening at Cinecenta was Persepolis! I’d never been before, but the idea is that they screen something anticipated that hasn’t been released over here yet. Our only guess was that it might be that crazy Bob Dylan movie with multiple people trading the lead role… and then as soon as we had any kind of guess, I was worried that when we were wrong it would be disappointing. Surprises are fragile.

Seeing the film come up in black and white animation was so optimal that it felt sort of charming. This was the only upcoming movie I’ve been looking forward to, and almost the only one I even knew anything about. It’s hard to be more fun than anticipation, but I don’t think that accomplishment was the charming part. A guy from the Cinecenta staff had come out and introduced the screening beforehand, so already it was feeling like a human social event rather than a commercial transaction, and then it turned out to be a movie made by people I could picture in my head from watching the little making of feature on the movie website. Lots of people involved, rather than only vague forces of fame and culture and money. I think that was what felt so warm and fuzzy. (Maybe especially after considering a movie about Bob Dylan as a sort of opaque, unknowable icon?)

I don’t understand why more cinemas don’t put an effort into spectacles and gimmicks like this on a regular basis. Surprise movies (old or new) are going on my local cinema wishlist, along with having a human introduce each screening, offering table seating, downloadable mp3 commentary tracks, loveseat-style seating in more places than just the back row of The Roxy, and beer in non-plastic containers.

I’m not much for movie reviews, but I suppose I should mention that I liked Persepolis. Funny parts, sad parts, angry parts, cute parts, and a lot of characters processing ethics out loud, and integrating external wars and politics with internal, personal feelings. The animation was very beautiful. (And boy do I like the various Arabic Persian nose shapes that Satrapi draws.) I think you could check out the books and the movie in any order without wrecking anything.

This whole episode has been a curious test of my 7-day posting lag. When I realized which film was showing, I felt like I’d been hoarding information because none of my companions could read the future archives of my blog, where I’d stashed links and details about the movie. That’s exactly counter to my anti-exclusive motives for posting to the future. And then I felt disappointed that I wanted to write a follow-up post when the first thing I wrote about Persepolis might be due to publish less than a week in the future— my follow-up was at risk of being weirdly late. It turned out to be pretty well-timed after all, but it is hilarious the way media influences real life reactions. This is more disconcerting than the “I wish I’d brought my camera / Kodak moment” feeling.

Reading Marjane Satrapi interviews

A hand-animated movie version of Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s two-part graphic novel about growing up in Iran during the 1980s Islamic Revolution, will apparently be out on December 25. I’m curious about this movie. I read the first of the two books quite awhile ago, and I remember liking it, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and learning since then and I wonder how I’d find it now. I think it has promise.

Out of this curiosity, I’ve been reading a bunch of interviews with Marjane Satrapi. She’s pretty opinionated and direct, so even though the same topics come up over and over, I like to read her responses.

Most press I’ve seen about her is by writers who see her books as “complex,” because she writes about “good” people who do bad things and “bad” people who do good things. In interviews, she talks a lot about dealing with people as individuals rather than making assumptions based on their culture or race (that really doesn’t sound complex). But in this recent promo interview in the NY Times, the journalist seems to want Satrapi to act as an anti-fundamentalism or anti-Islam spokeswoman, rather than taking the usual “complex,” general progressive stance.

All that intro (hmm…) so that I can announce: I love the turn that interview takes, right here.

Your books denounce Islamic fanaticism, particularly as it curtails the rights of women. Is that your main theme? Oh, no, not at all. I don’t consider myself as a feminist but more a humanist.

Still, in your work, you are constantly contrasting your love of food, smoking and sensual pleasures with the acts of self-denial demanded by the mullahs, like wearing a chador. It’s a problem for women no matter the religion or the society. If in Muslim countries they try to cover the woman, in America they try to make them look like a piece of meat.

Are you suggesting that veiling and unveiling women are equally reductive? I disagree. We have to look at ourselves here also. Why do all the women get plastic surgery? Why? Why? Why should we look like some freaks with big lips that look like an anus? What is so sexy about that? What is sexy about having something that looks like a goose anus?

I never really thought about goose anatomy. I looked when I was on a farm in France.

I am making an effort to barf more on this blog, and to write long-winded, feelings-based rambles like when I first started making the vagina website, ages ago. But I am still self-conscious about it. I have realized that even though I was always in favour of keeping my various websites fairly integrated and putting the vagina website on my resume etc, it’s been a really long time since I wrote anywhere that I actually expected my friends might read, rather than just writing for internet strangers. Not as fearless as I thought. So, working on that. Fewer “this sure is long” disclaimers in the future.