Showing the DudeBros the Door

I don’t play many video games, but I remain on the informed fringe of that world because many of my friends and peers DO play them, and because so many aspects of video game culture – and critique thereof – have direct bearing on the tabletop gaming culture of which I AM a part. The video game hobby gets most of the press because it has grown into a huge industry, but almost everything that is going on in that sphere is also going on in the much smaller sphere of tabletop gaming. In other words, both hobbies are engaged in a struggle over issues of representation, equality, and access. And as more women, people of color, and LGBT folk become involved in gaming and/or speak up about the issues, the more entrenched, belligerent, and asinine a certain subset of straight white males has become in their attempts to claim the hobby as their own.

As I continue my quest to write and share more here on The Monkey over the next year and beyond, if you follow along, you’re going to be reading a lot about this stuff. Because it matters to me, and like so many of my peers, I’m tired of having the most visible public face of the hobby I love be represented by a bunch of loud-mouth misogynistic racist dudebros, and even more importantly, I’m tired of watching them do the horrible things they’re doing to people who simply want nothing more than to have equal access and equal representation in the hobby and in the games themselves.

So, I’m going to start off by posting some links to several excellent articles that’ve been written over the past few days by people who are saying things I think are important and potent.

First, in this post from GamesOn.net, Tim Colwill invites any of his readers who are threatened by Equality to exit stage right and not let the door hit them in the ass on the way out:

“So, here’s another change for you: if you really think feminism, or women, are destroying games, or that LGBT people and LGBT relationships have no place in games, or that games in any way belong to you or are “under attack” from political correctness or “social justice warriors”: please leave this website. I don’t want your clicks, I don’t want your hits, I don’t want your traffic. Leave now and please don’t come back.” – Tim Colwill

Go read the full article. Because Yeah.

Next, game designer Elizabeth Sampat shares some potent truths about the recent threats against fellow designer Zoe Quinn:

I could tell you stories about the voices we’ve lost, the women we’ve scarred, the people we’ve left behind. I want to, but I’m not sure you’d get it. I tweeted earlier today, We should have a war memorial for all of the women we have lost to this. We should lay flowers and grieve and see our reflections in stone. And I meant it. I wish there were a way to honor the people our industry has wronged, and a way to visualize the enormity of what we have lost because of it— some representation of the gap between what games are and what they can be, and the pieces of the bridge between that have fallen away.” – Elizabeth Sampat

Read the article on Elizabeth’s site

Edit: There is also this gem from Leigh Alexander on Gamasutra, where “Gamers” are declared over:

‘Games culture’ is a petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works that they can concoct online ‘wars’ about social justice or ‘game journalism ethics,’ straight-faced, and cause genuine human consequences. Because of video games. ” – Leigh Alexander

Read the whole article on Gamasutra

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There are more I could share. No doubt you can find several others being shared by other bloggers, Facebookers, and G-Plussers. Go be informed. And let’s fight this crap. They wanna take the term “Social Justice Warrior” and make it a derogatory label, I say we own it and claim it and wear it with pride.

Not Today, My Friend. Not Today

A Monkey's HarpSeveral things have been swimming in my brain for the past few days — My plans and hopes for becoming actively involved in justice/equality/human rights issues. My plans for creating and sharing ideas for growing as a tabletop roleplayer. My reborn itch to run/facilitate games again, and my desire to work on and finish some of the half-baked designs I’ve left lying dormant for years.

Of course a lot of this energy has been fueled by my time at GenCon, which has fueled bursts of similar energies in the past. This time it also has a lot to do with a wakeup call regarding P.G. Holyfield, a brilliant, creative, wonderful human who supported and participated in the Harping Monkey podcasts and website who now is dying of some fucked-up form of cancer that only showed itself after it was far too late.

So yes, I’m energized. My creativity and determination is on the upswing.

Problem is, I’ve been here before. Many, many times. And in almost every case, sooner or later, my own chronic disease, Depression, rears up and drags me down into inactivity, lethargy, and self-doubt. And I quit moving forward. I stop before I’m even really started. I break promises, I turtle up, I go dark.

The subtle, snickering voice that reminds me of my history, of my habit of giving up – it’s been there this past few days, too, waiting around the edges reminding me that the last twenty times I said I was going to get up and do something useful or meaningful or creative, it always went sour.

Here’s a thing, though. Something else happened recently that shook me more than I ever imagined it would. Robin Williams, one of the most brilliant, creative, energetic people in the history of ever, hung himself. His depression got him in the end. His disease reared up one too many times and killed him. And on the one hand, I think it shook me because some voice inside me said, “See, dude, there you go. Depression is an incurable terminal illness. Even someone like Robin Williams couldn’t fight it when all was said and done.”

Well.

You know, I suppose I could try to write something more hopeful and shiny at this point. I could say to myself and to you, “Hey, Bullshit! I’m not going to listen to that voice. My disease is NOT terminal! I’m gonna beat this thing, and all of us who are stricken with it, we can beat this thing! RAWR!”

But that would be very, very dishonest of me.

Because here, now, in this present darkness, I really don’t know. I just don’t.

On the other hand, there is at least one hopeful takeaway for me – and perhaps for many of you – thanks to Robin Williams. 

Because yes, the disease eventually beat him. It did. We can’t sugarcoat that and we sure can’t deny it. But oh, dear gods the stuff he accomplished BEFORE the end. The lives he touched and the difference he made, not just as an actor/comedian/celebrity but as a humanitarian. He fought depression all his life, and every single day, until the last one, he held it at bay. Maybe it’s fair to say that even though the disease ultimately beat him, it really only beat him once. The rest of the time, he pretty much kicked it right in the teeth.

I guess my point is, whatever happens in the end, whether Depression gets me or not, whether it gets you or not, I can still – WE can still – fight the damn thing every day, beat it back and not let it bury our creativity, our human uniqueness, our will to be meaningful, our truth. 

True Grit?

Angela Lee DuckworthLeah chose this video last night for our family tv-time and while we watched it, I must say, I wanted to rail against it big-time, a feeling that increased as the talk went on. As I pondered it afterward though, I realized I wasn’t pissed off because I thought Dr. Duckworth is wrong, but because I’m forced to admit that – at least in terms of how success is measure in mainstream education and society – she is right.

The thing that she calls “grit” (I’m not fond of that word, honestly, but whatever) is something that I lack in abundance – at least in terms of the success rubric being covered in this talk. So this is a particularly touchy subject for me.

I’ve grown up telling myself that the ease with which I tend to give up on things is mostly a product of two big childhood factors: One, how easy school was for me in general, to the point that I was rarely challenged to try very hard and thus never learned how – and Two, how difficult my home life was, where I was taught to equate “grit” with violence and bitter rage, to the point that I tried to excise any hint of “toughness” from my personality so that I would not grow up to be the violent hair-trigger ball of anger that was my father. Somewhere along the line, those two factors added up to me having lots of trouble mustering the kinds of stick-to-it behaviors that mainstream society puts under the umbrella of “work ethic”. That is apparently what Dr. Duckworth is calling “grit”.

Since I’ve grown up and encountered various types of therapies, I’ve learned to adjust my thinking and cope with this stuff a bit.  And I’m still working on it, because I realize it is incorrect to assume that every time things get really tough or challenging or tense that my only two choices are to lash out violently or totally turtle up and make myself as small as possible. I don’t need to take the concept of fight-or-flight to its dramatic extremes and then always choose flight.

Anyhow, here’s the video that got me musing all this stuff today. What do you think? Is “grit” the right answer to the question of success in school and in life? Is the prevailing rubric of “success” even the right question in the first place?

 

Direct link to this video on TED channel

Embers of Imbolc

Monkey Goddess FoolI’m sitting here tonight learning how to make chain-maille jewelry, I’ve got a new leather mask drying in the other room, I’ve made several other nifty things this past week that’ll go up on my Etsy store soon, I’m thinking all kinds of thoughts about fools and vagabonds and how I’m not inclined to let those parts of me die, and it’s the evening of my favorite holiday. Here’s to Brighid’s fire that keeps burning within me even if it is sometimes only an ember.

In defiance of this often dark and bitter winter, may you be warmed by the fire of creativity, nurtured by the spirit of your muse, and strong in your passion to protect those things that matter to you most.

Tales from an Elementary School Hallway

school hallwayFor the past few days,  I’ve been keeping a certain distance from emotionally engaging with what happened last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary. Clearly, I’ve been plenty engaged with – and really pissed off about – various trending reactions to the tragedy, which you can easily see in my social media and blog history if you haven’t already. But as for the thing itself, I’ve buried it for the most part. I’ve hugged my kids a few extra times, but that’s about it.

This morning, though, I went to our local elementary school to help out with WildLion’s holiday party. The announcement sign outside the school currently reads “Our hearts and prayers are with Sandy Hook Elementary and the families in Newton, Connecticut”.

Now I’ll admit that the first thing my ample imagination did after reading that was to envision myself grabbing Mike Huckabee and all the other “God was absent because we’ve kicked him out of public school” asshats and shoving their faces into that sign and then punching them in their square white male Evangelical jaws. I don’t admit that proudly, but it is honest.

That immature hormonal rage lasted until the moment I crossed the threshold of the building.  Then, instantly, it shattered.

I went into the office and signed in as a parent volunteer, said “hi” to Lynne and Diane, the office managers, like I always have, with a smile on my face but a massive surge of – I dunno, vetigo, I guess – welling up inside my chest.

From the office I entered the main hallway of the school and headed toward WildLion’s second-grade classroom. It’s a relatively new building, well-maintained, with ample lighting and lots of things like kids’ art and spirit banners and stripes of school colors (royal blue and yellow) all over the walls. There is plenty of activity – kids with passes going to restrooms or to other classrooms, teachers and teaching assistants and school administrators & counselors walking around. From the open-doored classrooms, the sounds of children learning and teachers teaching and … life.

And that was the moment when my emotional failsafes all broke and my imagination kicked down the door of my fear and sadness and knocked the mask of the “angry progressive white male father” right off me, exposing the scared little boy fully capable of envisioning this bright idyllic middle-class scene full of learning and life becoming a hellscape of screams, gunshots, and chaos.

So much for keeping my emotional distance.

I cried. And I felt like throwing up. I actually had to divert into the nearest restroom. I’m not really sure an adult visitor is supposed to go into the boy’s restroom, but I did because otherwise I’m crying in the middle of an elementary school hallway. Thankfully, no kids were in there. (Which I think kinda proves that God is in fact very present in that particular public school).

So yeah, I cried it out in the boy’s bathroom. Then, after few minutes I pulled it together, left the restroom, and went to help my kid and his friends have a holiday party.

The rest of the morning went “normally” for the most part. Except for one thing that I felt I just had to do – I took WildLion’s teacher aside for a moment and told her that I am thankful for her. That I am grateful that she is spending her life teaching, caring for, and protecting my kid and all the other kids she devotes herself to every school day.

And when I left the party, I went up to Cartographer’s 5th-grade classroom, dropped off the teacher’s gift Leah had made and told his teacher the same thing. Then I saw Cartographer’s counselor in the hall and thanked her, too. And as I signed myself out in the office, I thanked Lynne and Diane and the assistant-principal who happened to be standing there.

And as I walked out past the sign I’d read earlier, I guess I felt a little better. Because yes, I *do* still wish I could shove Mike Huckabee and his ilk through that sign. But I can’t, and even if I could it’d be stupid, immature, and pointless (not to mention lowering myself to senseless violence). But what I CAN do is appreciate, support, and help the people who are educating and caring for our kids.

The Root of All Evil

american-flag-tattered

Here’s what had me up much of the night, noodling around in my rather messed-up noggin:

Behind the curtain of every cause we’ve come up with for why tragedies like the Newtown school murders happen, there are people whose job it is to keep the status quo going – to keep us afraid, insecure, and wanting some kind of product to drug us out of our despair. People whose mandate it is to maximize shareholder profits over all other considerations. Media companies turning journalism into riveting entertainment so we’ll watch them instead of the other channel. Health insurance company lobbyists keeping comprehensive and authentic mental health care reforms from happening because they’ll drain company income. Gun manufacturers working hard to keep certain American myths about independence, frontier spirit and self-protection alive and well in order to sell more weapons. It seems like the love of money really is the root of all evil after all.

On the other hand, here we are, desperate to be entertained. Desperate to keep pretending that mental health problems are things that happen to OTHER people who are not as tough as we are because otherwise they’d pull themselves up by their own brain-bootstraps. Desperate to secure ourselves in little safety bubbles so that the scary-crazy Other can’t get to us. Desperate to get to keep playing Cowboys and Indians long after we’ve supposedly grown up. Desperate enough that we will in fact pay any amount to try to meet those needs even as we never seem to be able to quite meet them. Desperate to put the blame for all the things that make us insecure on anyone or anything as long as it isn’t us.

So maybe the OTHER root of all evil – the twin-sister and eternal dance partner of the love of Money –  is our desperate need to avoid losing our Privilege.

Dancing with the Hunger Games

Gilles Marini and Peta Murgatroyd. This is a random screen cap from ABC but let’s all imagine that Gilles is saying “that is the yuckiest fucking idea I’ve ever heard” after being told of the new mid-competition rules add-on.

Leah and I have both been longtime fans of the ABC-tv reality-show/dance-competition Dancing with the Stars. We haven’t watched every season, and we don’t always vote, but in general, we’re fans. We enjoy the show, the dancing, and the interplay of personalities. I really like host Tom Bergeron, we both enjoy several of the recurring pro dancers, and although the judges clearly are either intentionally – and not very deftly – trying to game the system or just being unhelpful jackasses half the time, it’s a good mix of stuff that hits the entertainment sweet spot for both of us. Leah & I fell in love while dancing together in a production of Dancing at Lughnasa. It’s kinda our thing.

Is it the perfect television show? No. It has some stuff in it that has been kinda silly and annoying over the years. But those are par for the course, right? In any case, I’m pretty sure there’s never been a moment where I’ve turned to Leah while watching DWTS and said, “You know, this show would be so much more interesting if it were more like The Hunger Games!”

See, although there has always been playful banter between contestants about beating one another or out-dancing a rival or whatever, in truth, the real challenge is not about doing something better than somebody else, it’s been about the journey of the particular celebrity-pro couple and how well they can dance against themselves – how much they can improve from being the “I’ve never ballroom danced before in my life” celebrity to the “wow, I’m actually really loving this and I’m pretty good, too!” celebrity. And the measure of that has depended upon how they score with the judges and maintain audience popularity. It’s never actually been about one-upping or directly complicating the journeys of the other competitors. That was for the judges and tv viewers to do, not the fellow contestants.

But lo and behold, last night they pretty much went there. After several season’s worth of subtle – but not particularly game-changing – tweaks to the rules and procedures that were clearly designed to be of shocking entertainment value regardless of whether or not they enhanced the actual dance competition part of the show, last night during the third episode of the current season, host Tom Bergeron introduced a rules twist that apparently was intended to be as much as surprise to the dancers as to the viewing audience. And it is a really sucky, yucky, terrible twist.

Here’s where it gets all Hunger-Gamesy. In a surprise move that – unless we are all being played by the DWTS execs – was a newly-devised twist that not even the contestants were told about before-hand,  Tom Bergeron revealed that starting tonight, during the results show where we learn who will get voted out of the competition based on last nights’ judges scores + the audience vote, each contestant-couple will choose the style of dance that ANOTHER contestant-couple will have to perform during next week’s show. Up until this twist, the dance style and music were selected by the producers based on a fair distribution where everyone – or at least the ones making it deep into the competition – would have to do all the various dance styles, i.e. they all were on equal footing. The occasional exception to this would be a week wherein the couples would get to choose their own dance style, which of course gave them a chance to play to their own strengths.

Now, we’ve got the situation where each couple is going to have to dance a dance chosen for them by ANOTHER contestant. Maybe this seems like a small thing, but it is a thing. It means we’ve now crossed into territory where contestants get to directly futz with one another. And it’s all purely for the bread-and-circuses shock value.

So, assuming this rule really was not part of the original bargain and was sprung on the contestants in mid-competition – we have years of precedent wherein all the contestants could root for one another and be friends and cheer one another on – or at the very least never have to worry about actual direct interference from other contestants – because the only obstacles to success were judges and audience.  Now we’ve got this thing where contestants can start screwing with one another.

This is probably no big deal to many fans but it is to me. It crosses a line. I mean, I think the new rule is pretty icky-sucky regardless of the circumstances, but if it had been in place from the get-go, i could at least say, “well, the contestants knew about it and they signed up for it.”

But they didn’t sign up for this. They’ve had it sprung on them IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COMPETITION. How is this not pretty much the same thing as, “Oh, hey, Tributes, guess what, we’ve decided we’re gonna let there be TWO winners this time, as long as you’re both from the same district!”

I’m not one of the dancers in this competition, but if I were, i’d be pissed. So, here’s what I wish would happen, although I doubt any of this will play out like i want it to:

 

Either:

1. Host Tom Bergeron says, “So last night the producers told me to announce this big surprise twist and I did but I couldn’t sleep last night because I felt so icky, so tonight I’ve just gotta say, I didn’t sign up for this and it sucks and I’m taking my Emmy and going home”

OR:

2. One of the contestants and/or the pro dancers steps up and quits after making their own similar “I didn’t sign up for the kind of show where we start cockblocking each other, buhbye!”

OR:

3. One of the celebrities – hopefully somebody classy like Gilles – after being told that he has to pick the dance for Kirstie Alley & Maks Chmerkofsky (or whomever it may be), publicly says ON LIVE TV “Hey, Kirstie, which dance would you like to dance next week?” and then after Kirstie replies, “The cha-cha, Dude!” then Gilles would say “I choose for Kirstie and Maks to dance the fucking cha-cha!” And then, if possible, do a mic-drop and walk off the set.

Go Van Gogh Indeed

Van Gogh Van

I took this pic coming out of my local coffee shop a few hours ago and then posted it on Google+ with the following text:

Hey, if you wanna kick mundanity right smack in the teeth by dressing up your minivan with a full-body paint job to honor Van Gogh, then I say Go For It! I also say, THANK YOU, random person who parked near me at the local coffee shop, because you totally brightened my day! BTW, you can’t tell from this picture but this whole thing was hand-painted stroke-by-stroke as far as I can tell. The paint actually has texture and depth.

Well, after doing some research on Le Internetz, I discovered the Website of Paula Cundiff, the artist who both painted and owns this wonderful vehicle: http://go-van-gogh.blogspot.com/. She’s a resident of Louisville and also apparently a fan of the same coffee shop I favor, so perhaps I’ll get to meet her someday soon. At which point I’ll thank her for her art, gush about our mutual love of Van Gogh, and probably also offer to design a Website for her that actually properly reflects and supports the awesome that is The Go Van Gogh Van.

Like I do.