Outrage Fatigue

There's a lot of terrible stuff going on right now -- police brutality unpunished. That torture report. GamerGate trickles on like a sewage leak, somebody poisoned a furries convention, and oh yeah other parts of the world are dealing with the manifold joys of ebola and ISIS.

Hate is everywhere. And anger is everywhere. It's impossible to escape the idea that the world is terrible and getting worse, even if it's not entirely true.

I've been having trouble with this, because I'm so tired of fighting. So tired of being angry. I want to focus on good, just to remind myself that good things still exist in the world. We landed on a comet, and we're going to Mars! It's finally raining in California. And... there's more, right? There has to be more, if only I could find it. I want to look away for a while.

But not everyone can look away. And so my conflict, born of my privileged position in life: it's a tremendous failure to be silent in the face of the suffering of others. But it's all too much, it's too overwhelming, and sometimes you have to save yourself because you can't help anyone else if you've been crushed by existential despair.

I don't know how to thread this needle. Spotlighting kindnesses, maybe, and perpetrating them. Fluffy kittens and delicious cookies and video games? But that's just looking away, isn't it? And so the worm bites its own tail and we start over again from the beginning. 

I suspect I'm not alone in this feeling. How are you holding up?

Debut Year

Next year is shaping up to be a big, big deal for my career. In the coming months, my release schedule includes Revisionmy debut novel; three short stories, two in pro-rate magazines and one in a charity anthology; an interactive children's book; The Complete Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart, in one finished volume; and Mermaid Hunter, a Choice of Games game set in the Lucy Smokeheart world. And that's just the first half of the year. Who knows what else will come to pass?

And so I have The Terror.

This is not my first rodeo, of course. I've been a pro writer since I joined the team of Perplex City back in 2005. I'm intimately familiar with the pernicious logic of: this thing I'm about to launch sucks, everyone who sees it will hate it and by extension will hate me personally, and I will never work again. 

But this time, The Terror is different -- the flavor is different, the texture has changed. This is my debut year. This is my work, the stuff that means something to me. This is me.

Calling this a debut year might at first seem eyebrow-raising. But I'm accustomed to working under very different circumstances -- stitching together the pieces of story needed to hold a marketing campaign together, or to show how the future echoes the past. Taking a musician's songs and ideas and spinning them into functioning rules. Distilling the sensory descriptions of someone else's fantasy world into something that can be touched and tasted. But none of that is mine.

These are no "little goofy side experiments," like Lucy Smokeheart or My Super First Day, executed and promoted haphazardly so they cannot hurt me if they go badly.

This time, there is no team effort nor collaboration. There is no shell of "experimentation" to hide behind. I've woven the cloth of these stories warp and weft; every stitch of their embroidery is mine. Which means if these things go badly, that's also completely and thoroughly and inexorably mine.

So. The Terror.  

The Terror arises from that unknowable chasm between ambition and reality. It's easy to fill that chasm with absolutist thinking. Either I will be a raging success -- the next big thing, with all the awards and acclaim and money the imagination can conjure -- or I will be an abject failure, no future opportunities will ever present themselves, the song will have ended forever.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Few writers make an enormous splash in their debut year; the ones that do aren't always destined to have a long and flourishing career afterward. But it's easy to tell yourself the story that as goes this year, so goes the rest of your career. And it's hard to logic away The Terror.

So. Next year will be a big year for me. It will be my debut year. There's a certain amount of pressure for it to be a big year. But then again... it may not be a big year. All I can do now is wait, and worry.

Games Belong to Me

I'm a gamer. I also happen to be a woman and a feminist. And I am angry.

A bunch of frightened little boys led by a bitter ex-boyfriend have created this thing called #GamerGate. I haven't addressed it here directly before, though we've spoken about it on CulturesCast, mainly because I was afraid the filth would splash over onto me. And it couldn't keep up, I thought. The whole thing will blow over. It would be enough, I thought, to continue quietly playing and making my games; living well is the best revenge.

But that's a decision rooted in fear, and that's exactly what those frightened little boys are angling for. Meanwhile, game developers are being harassed, games journalists and critics are being harassed, and in the latest, these trolls somehow persuaded a major advertiser to pull a campaign from one of my favorite industry publications.

I'm not afraid anymore. I'm furious. I will not be silent.

Fuck those guys. They're not gamers. You know who's a gamer? I am.

Games are mine. I've earned them through trigger blisters and sleep deprivation, through screen headaches and corrupt save files and knowing the cheat codes but not using them. Games are mine, and they have always been mine.

Zaxxon is mine, and BC Quest for Tires, Centipede, Space Invaders. Joust is mine, and the Dragonriders of Pern strategy game that nobody else seems to remember ever existed. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is mine, earned in notes about currency made on scrap paper in a room lit only by screen glow long after I should have been asleep.

Infocom is mine, from my first whispering taste of Zork to Infidel and Wishbringer and Trinity, a game whose haunting premise is with me to this day.  I earned Infocom in all the years I spent all my allowance on their games -- and then waited eight to twelve weeks for international delivery to the Philippine Islands. Do you know how long twelve weeks are when you're eleven years old?

Infocom gave me Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Moonmist, Plundered Hearts -- games that even then catered to a female audience. Women have always played. We have always been here.

Games are mine from the lunchtimes spent staying in the geometry room playing Spy Hunter instead of going outside. Archon is mine. Wing Commander is mine. Nethack is mine, from a thousand corpses eaten and sinks kicked to the bottom of the pit where I found my own bones... twice over.

Ultima is mine, every damn one of them, even the last one when it was so bugged you couldn't find Shamino and so couldn't win. EverQuest is mine, and The Sims. Zelda is mine, and Ocarina of Time is my Zelda. Samorost is mine, and Boomshine, and Grow games. Katamari Damacy is mine. Phoenix Wright is mine. Kingdom of Loathing is mine.

Farmville is mine from the intricate spreadsheets establishing quickest time-to-mastery and the 4am wakeups to harvest a limited-time crop.

Glitch was mine, and always will be in my heart. May it be so again.

Dragon Age is mine, and so is Mass Effect. Journey is mine. So are Railroad Tycoon, World of Goo, and dozens of Big Fish hidden object games. It should go without saying that I own the hell out of Candy Crush, too.

Games are mine from the Space Invaders t-shirt I made myself to wear to E3, all the way to the Zelda cross-stitch map I swear I'll finish one day.

Games are mine because of the games I've made, games that have always pursued a social justice agenda, from Perplex City and our quiet matter-of-fact gay marriages back in 2006, all the way to that game I made called America 2049 that is explicitly and comprehensively about social justice and oppression.

When I speak about representation of women in games, I am no outsider agitating for changes that would ruin things for core gamers. I am a core gamer, and I am acting to shape an art form I love to promote a world I want to live in.

And when these frightened little boys growl and threaten that feminists are ruining games, what they do not understand is that they are attacking me in my place of strength. They cannot take something away from me, because it is not theirs to take.

Games belong to me. They have always belonged to me. And they always will.

My Bollywood Faves

I've received a couple of requests now to make a few recommendations on where to get started watching Bollywood movies. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I AM SO HAPPY TO TELL YOU THANK YOU FOR ASKING I HAVE MANY OPINIONS.

First, the films referenced in my last mega post! That closing credits scene is from a film called Dil Bole Hadippa, which is about cricket, and believe it or not is basically a feminist sports film. I recommend it very much. You do not need to understand cricket in the slightest, though my husband was able to correctly deduce the rules of cricket by watching this film with me.

The second one is Chance Pe Dance, which is a terrible movie from a writing perspective -- the story is paper-thin. There also aren't any female characters to speak of, besides the love interest who is arguably not even a SEXY lamp, she's just a regular old lamp. But... there aren't any MALE characters to speak of in that film, either? The focus of that movie is on Shahid Kapur dancing and being hot and emotionally vulnerable, and *everything else* is an afterthought. So if it sounds like your thing, hey! Try it!

My first Bollywood film was Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which is hilarious and weird and touching, and was the film that made me realize that any one Bollywood film isn't one genre, it's like three to five all mixed together. There are very strong religious elements, if you find that potentially offputting, and it's not an overtly feminist movie. (Though I've seen a stronger feminist streak out of Mumbai than I ever expected.) I deeply enjoyed this movie, and I think it makes a good intro to Bollywood. I should go back and watch it again, in fact, now that I get some of the film vocabulary and conventions a lot better.

My very favorite Bollywood film, though, might be Band Baaja Baaraat, though it's arguably not a classic Bollywood film at all. Actually -- in a sense, none of these are classic Bollywood. But this one in particular has ON SCREEN KISSING, SUPER SCANDAL. It's also a great way to spend a few hours of your time. The music is catchy, the choreography and costuming are amazing, the actors put in a good performance, the writing is pretty great, and the plot is convincing. A+++ would watch again!

If you want to watch the KING of all Bollywood films, though, and a true-to-form classic Bollywood film to boot, you want Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which was released in 1995 and is STILL PLAYING IN THEATERS TODAY. No joke. It's the movie that made Shahrukh Khan the superstar he is today, and you'll notice that Shahrukh Khan is referenced in other films like Band Baaja Baaraat the way that, say, Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp are in a Hollywood joint. There are a few scenes in this one that you'll see referenced all over the place in other films -- in fact Dil Bole Hadippa pays homage to it, and I think Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi may as well. Watching Bollywood without having seen this film is a little like playing with light sabers without ever having seen Star Wars. You get it so much better once you have the baseline. 

I don't enjoy Dilwale Dulhani Le Jayenge very much -- I think the main characters are both immature and kind of obnoxious, and there's a ton of super problematic gender stuff going on in that movie, above and beyond what you see in something like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. But it is substantially older, and it's operating in a cultural context that American white-girl feminism has no standing to talk about. Regardless, it's an important movie to see so you know what these other movies are in conversation with.

A few other things about Bollywood you should know, if this is your first time. These movies are usually very long -- over three hours long, in some cases pushing four hours. There is an intermission in the middle! And the description of the plot you see in eg. Netflix basically describes what happens before the intermission -- indeed, in that second half, sometimes it transforms into a completely different film than you thought you were watching.

I should also add that these are my favorites based on what Netflix had available over the last year or two. They've sadly pulled a lot of films over the last couple of months, so you may need to go elsewhere to find these. It also means my taste is skewed toward Yash Raj films, presumably because they had the best distribution agreement with Netflix. These are probably movies made with an eye to the foreign and ex-pat market, and probably don't accurately reflect modern tastes and trends for domestic film in India proper.

Right! Bollywood! Get your snacks together and start watching! It's fascinating and fun and wonderfully different from the stuff you see out of Hollywood. Enjoy your movies, and let me know what you think!

Equal-Opportunity Objectification

As a long-time strident feminist and also a believer in the power of stories to shape the world, I'm inclined toward certain opinions. One of those has to do with sexual objectification of women in media, more or less summed up as, "Objectification is bad, mmkay?"

Let's do a quick recap of what objectification is, and why exactly it's bad, though. If you're up on your feminist theory and can't be bothered to read it again, feel free to skip to the next subhead.

So here's the thing: women in films, games, TV, advertising, comics, and literature are very often super-duper sexy. They are sometimes super-duper sexy in a way that isn't in keeping with the role they're supposed to be playing in the story world. In imagery, they are placed in poses and framed in ways that emphasize sexiness above all, for the enjoyment of an imagined straight male viewer. And sometimes, that sex appeal is basically their only notable trait as a character -- they're not portrayed as real actual people so much as sex dolls who happen to talk or move around from time to time.

Think about women in an RPG with skimpy chainmail bikinis for armor. Megan Fox bending over an engine in Transformers. The loving ass shots of Miranda in Mass Effect 2. The fantasy cover of your choice, as demonstrated by Jim Hines. So many comics that I can't name just one. Hell, even ads for a hamburger chain.

Meanwhile men in media can be fat, thin, bald, graying, muscled, wrinkled. Women can be hot, or they can be gone. (This is, by the way, how you wind up with ludicrous situations where we're supposed to believe that an actress like Kate Winslet or Janeane Garofalo are actually ugly.)

Why is this a problem? Because what we see in media shapes how we behave and what we expect back in the real world. And showing women as being sexy above all ties into a cultural norm where a woman's consensus hotness and sexual availability are the most important things about her. A woman can be clever, funny, generous, hard-working, powerful... but none of that matters unless she can pass a basic minimum bar for attractiveness first. Don't believe me? Ask Hillary Clinton about her hair sometime.

This situation is not OK. Women are people. Women are not sexual objects that exist solely for the gratification of men (or to be fair, for the gratification of everyone who happens to enjoy seeing a particular flavor of sexy woman.) Women deserve to be -- NEED to be -- represented in media as doing all kinds of things that are not just swanning about pouty-lipped with their tits and ass mysteriously both stuck out for the titillation of an imagined male heterosexual viewer.

I could happily go the rest of my life without seeing another camera licking some nineteen-year-old actress's cleavage. Metaphorically speaking.

So yeah. Objectification. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. 

The Female Gaze

A funny thing's happened in Hollywood. There's this:

And this...

Oh and let's not forget this.

These, my friends, are examples of the female gaze, as it's called in film theory, where an actor is posed and framed in a sexualized manner for the gratification of an imagined female viewer. I have three observations about this.

One: It seems to be happening a whole lot more often lately.

Two: Scenes like this make a lot of guys really uncomfortable. Really, really uncomfortable. Not unlike the way that I feel really uncomfortable watching something like, say, this:

Three: You guys, I... I like this. I like seeing hot guys with their shirts off.

But objectification is bad, right? So surely objectification of men is bad, too? I mean... if it makes men uncomfortable, then arguing that this is OK makes me a hypocrite, right? Or have I been wrong this whole time?!

Well. It's... it's complicated. For one thing, despite the increasing volume of shirtless dudes flexing and/or smoldering vulnerably in front of the camera, it's important to note that most of those guys up there are the leading man. (...Team Jacob!) Hotness is an element of what's going on there, to be sure, but these characters are active. They make decisions, they have an internal life, and in general they're going about their business with an incidental helping of sexy on the side. Sexy is not the whole meal.

But Transformers isn't about Megan Fox. The James Bond films aren't about any of the Bond Girls (and note that there's no male equivalent of a Bond girl.) You play Halo as Master Chief, not as Cortana. The problem isn't with sexy women. The problem is when sexy = women, and that's the whole equation so far as female characters go. Let's see some more women who aren't sexy. Not even a little bit!

Now, Jamie Lee Curtis up there is the leading lady, too. But you'll notice that Ahnold kept his clothes on in that scene. That's another key difference -- sheer volume. it's a lot easier to find a sexualized woman in media than a sexualized man, it turns out. For every Old Spice Guy, there are a hundred, even a thousand Heidi Klums. And that just underlines that message that the role of women is to be hot, not to do important stuff.

Jeez, though! Why does this have to be so complicated and fraught when all we want is fun? Isn't there some way where everybody can just enjoy looking at the hot people of the genders they're attracted to and not get hassled about it?! 

Another Way: Look to Bollywood

Now, India is no shining beacon of gender equality. But I've been watching a lot of Hindi film over the last eighteen months or so, and I've noticed a startling and wonderful trend. Call it equal-opportunity objectification.

You guys, this is the closing credits of a sports film. About cricket. No, for real. Look at the camera licking the sweat off those sexy, sexy bodies. Look at them get splashed with sexy, sexy water. Look at them move! I think most people can find something to be pretty happy about in watching that, right? 

And this is a common thing in Bollywood, to the extent of my experience. Men and women both tend to be well-represented as sexual beings -- Mumbai has no qualms about portraying a dude as smokin' hot. (I'll let someone else write the thesis on whether this is the result of differing attitudes toward sex in India vs. the U.S.) I mean. Can you imagine this happening in a mainstream American film?

Yeah, me neither.

And women in general tend to be well-represented in Hindi film, so far as I've seen. You commonly see characters of a variety of ages and body types, not just the hot girls. (Plots often revolve around hot girls and boys, and their eventual marriage, but I'm admittedly mostly a fan of the Bollywood romantic comedy musical, so that goes with the territory. Forgive me.)

So look, when I think about the objectification of women, lately my perspective has slowly changed from "Hey! Stop showing us women's bodies all the time!" to something more like "Hey! Let's even things out around here so everyone gets a turn."

I get it. Looking at people you find visually attractive standing around and being hot for your benefit is fun. I can see why you'd want to keep that around. So I'm cool with women being objects... as long as men can be objects, too, right? And in the same degree. Give me my candy, too.

But here's the thing. Candy for the eye rots the same way candy for the teeth does. Objectification is still pretty bad in the sense that we shouldn't be setting "reduced to a passive object for desire" as a standard way of viewing other human beings. The way to solve sexism isn't to dehumanize everybody forever. Oh boy is it not.

But that's by far not the only way for superhot people to exist on the page and on the stage! The thing about those sexy, sexy people in Bollywood film is that all of them, men and women both, still have agency and inner lives. All of them are characters who dynamically move through the story and affect how events unfold. They are whole people, who have thoughts and opinions and not just secondary sexual characteristics. It's amazing. It's inspiring. It's a whole lot of fun to watch!

So my solution is this -- fine, let's have tons of scantily-clad, oiled-up, wind-tunneled, vaseline-lensed people in all kinds of media! Great! Fun! Men and women alike, and the more the merrier. But let's make sure that all of those sexy people, above all, remain human beings.

Because that's the whole point of feminism, right? Not to shut down sexytimes, not to kill all the funs, not to remove joy from the world. Just, everyone should be treated like a person. And as goes our media, so goeth our world.