Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts

Monday, July 1, 2013

My passions

As a writer it is often hard to admit what I cannot write about.  There is actually quite a bit.  When you build fiction, you build characters and stories.  You have this internal removal system where what you write is you but not you at the same time.  It’s a glorious thing to tell the secrets of the people who live in your head.  It’s not so easy to tell the secrets of the one who dreams them up.

I think as writers we use these characters as avatars to live loudly when we need to live quietly.  To boldly explore places we may fear to tread.  To tell our true desires, our fears and silent hopes and dreams.  Writers often out live their far share of life.  After all we are usually living at the very least 3 to 4 different lives every second every hour of every day.  They have names that are our characters and while Chris may not be having a great day Fiona is making out with the man of her dreams.  Charlie just got whisked out of the country and Claire just got even with her crappy ex.

I often love what I write about.  I write about love, what is there not to love. But the things I’m truly passionate about get caught in my throat and my pen.  Some days they overwhelm.  I love education.  I know it’s weird. Some people love fish or chocolate.  But I love education like dudes love football.  It makes me cry, weep, it stills my heart and takes away my breath.  Its hard to place that kind of intense emotion into words. 

I was going to lunch the other day and it just hit me so hard, like it does sometimes.  I was thinking about my current job and how its all about money and nonsense and then I thought about the day when I would be a teacher.  Watching someone learn from my efforts and my eyes welled with tears, my chest filled with this strong tight emotion.  I could barely breathe, I lost my strength, my senses left me.  There was no me, just the cause just teaching just learning. In that moment I understood what they mean when they say you have a calling for something.  I fought it as people do, but it cannot be fought.  It is like denying breathing, eating, sleeping, love.  The only person that is truly harmed is me.

I have a wide variety of talents.  Many will tell you I’m an amazing singer.  Some will say I’m a good writer.  Others will tell you of my grace, my friendship, my ability to love. You’ll find all manner of artistic pursuits in my arsenal. I love looms and weaving, wet clay and ceramics, watercolors, sports, stage performances and all else that places the human spirit in its best or worst light.  It’s the drama of life but it all gravitates to one overall goal.  Learning.  It is everything we are and everything we do. We learn we adapt we adjust we move forward.  

All that we have is due to education.  And all that we can be will be at the hands of education.  I see no finer purpose or pursuit in this world and it moves me beyond words to think that maybe one day someone, or many will be able to trace a definitive moment in their lives to my involvement, my support, my teaching, my undying faith in them.  A commitment to education is a commitment to something beyond right and wrong.  It is a commitment to understanding what we as humans are capable of.  My dedication to education is a dedication to humanity and the amazing things we are can accomplish when we are led by will and faith.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Casual Racism in America

As a rule of thumb I believe most people actively misunderstand what racism is.  I believe that is because they misunderstand what discrimination is.  Discrimination is the act of determining the value of one thing as opposed to another based on criteria set by the person or by the social group they adhere to. Whenever you decide that you would rather have orange juice opposed to cranberry juice this is an act of discrimination no matter the reason you decide.  We do it with all things, we make choices based on what we desire and need in that moment, or what we historically have had success with.

Discrimination is a form of discernment.  In some dictionaries it is listed as the ability to make distinctions. Psychologically it is the ability to respond differently to different forms of stimulus. The core of this is that it is the process of treating something differently than you would treat something similar.  In essence every time you make a decision that leads you to choosing one thing over something else you are actively discriminating against the other thing.  Whether it is positive or negative is strictly up to you. 

Now that we have discussed discrimination lets apply it to racism, sexism or any other ism you can think of.  In the case of racism you are deciding that one race is preferable to another.  It's not about recognizing or acknowledging race, it's about using it as a qualifier for who the entire person is in a positive or negative way.  Note that it can go both ways.  If I am asked if so and so is a certain race, it is not racist to answer.  It isn't racist to make that the only way a single person is described.  It's dehumanizing, but it is not racist unless this signifier has a positive or negative value to the person using it. When you determine that you prefer a person of a certain race over a person of another race for no other reason, or as a part of a set of reasons, that is racism.  When you decide that you like Chuck because he brings you presents and not Billy because he doesn't, that's a form of discernment that is based strictly on other designations besides the physically constructed attribute of race. Clearly Chuck is more considerate of who you are and Billy is not.  But are you going to then treat everyone named Billy badly because of it?  You shouldn't.  But in cases of racial discrimination everyone who is of a certain race somehow must answer for the supposed crimes or well intentions of everyone else in that racial group.

It gets confusing because people will make generalizations connecting an unlikable attribute to a race turning a personal preference into a racial distinction when it is not. They usually sound like this.  "I don't like Black people because they are loud." "I don't like White people because they lie."  "I don't like Asians because they drive badly."  "I don't like Mexicans because they won't speak in English."  "I don't hate Black people I just prefer White people." Yes while this may in fact be your preference, it is a racist preference. "It's not that I dislike (Insert race here) they just make me uncomfortable." Still racist. Even if you have a supporting story. This works with entire countries of people as well. "Canadians suck." "The French blow." You get the picture.

If the only way you can describe people is by the color of their skin you have made a discerning choice to acknowledge this physical attribute to the point that you cannot describe them beyond that.  This isn't really anyone's fault.  We are exposed to a constant stream of education when interacting with people on a strictly racial basis.  This is called media.  Television, movies, advertisment, music.  There is a reason why it took George Lucas 21 years to make Red Tails, the story about the Tuskegee Airmen.  Even though they are American heroes they were black first and the words black and hero have a low amount of association in media. In general audiences aren't conditioned to accept this. It calls into question whether the movie will be accepted by a mostly white America and an American culture exposed world who have been conditioned to believe that black means criminal in the most negative and perhaps athlete or musician in the most positive.

The key is in being able to actually confront this reality within yourself and determine how to best combat this. Like all things the first step is acknowledging that this is happening.  No one is innocent.  There is no such thing as not seeing race.  Which is why it's so funny when Stephen Colbert says it.  We are citizens of a country whose actions have always somewhat hinged on race.  Since the founding fathers came here and determined that true Americans were one special kind of white and everyone else was either an issue to be eradicated or property to be owned. All of us, myself included are racists in some form or fashion.  We all have some preference whether we admit it or not.  I'll start; my preference is to not have a core of friends who are all one 'race' or ethnicity.

When someone asks me about someone I know and they mention race as the first thing to describe them it takes me a moment to actually remember that this person is of this 'racial' group.  This is because I have identified them as many other things so race becomes a none functional descriptor. Their race has not made them compassionate, intelligent, or funny.  Their personality, their perspective, and their humanity have done that.  When race is the only descriptor I question the ability of the person to understand that human beings are separate from what they are 'racially' known as which is a constructed instance.  In essence a fantasy casing that allows a person to not acknowledge who they are underneath. It is the laziest form of human interaction.

But this casing rears its ugly head a lot more than I think I'm comfortable with in this day and age. All the sunshine and hugs aside the fact is there are still a lot of people operating under assumptions about others based on race. The differing definitions on casual racism being part and parcel to this. How funny are racist jokes supposed to be?  I'm not wondering about this.  I'm honestly wondering if we are socially mature enough to understand the difference between ironic racial joking and masked judgment based on racial stereotyping.

One of the most annoying things I've had to confront is the effect casual racism has on building relationships because so many of us are not sure what is acceptable and what is not.  At first glance it would seem like a no brainer.  Of course you as a person of color cannot care for or truly love someone who is a casual racist.  That is unfortunately a lie. If you yourself are not restricted by skin color, religion, or background as crucial factors to love you see potential in every relationship no matter the circumstances. The issue usually stems from the other person being unaware of how much of a problem they actually have.  The worst is the person not believing it is in fact a problem or misunderstanding their own reactions and thoughts.

There are just day to day aggressions that are hard to understand.  Certain populations get it.  Those who experience religious or nationality discrimination. Thoughtless assumptions based on being a Muslim.  The way most Latino populations get generalized as being from Mexico.  Canadians get their fair share of "but you're not American" guff.  It’s all part and parcel to a bigger idea which is part and parcel to our value system. Methods to determining the deserving and the none deserving. Casual discrimination.

I don't believe casual racism is the unmitigated hate of another group of people.  Casual racism, like all forms of casual discrimination, is more subtle.  Usually it is defined as being humorous in nature and not truly an indication of a deeper problem with racism. However it is usually on the same lines as class elitism, religious, ethnic and nationality superiority. If someone constantly makes jokes about bums and poor people you consider them a snob or elitist.  If someone is constantly downing another country they are also considered a snob or elitist.  Yet if it is racially or culturally based they are not a racist because they have not let this propel them into acting violently towards that race.  Or even worse they are allowed because there are considered a member of the racial community they are discriminating against. This is inconsistent because this humor represents the way the person thinks and how their mind functions.

The truth is that they are racist but they cannot stand to bare the stigma that this designation carries in society. As consumers of media we have to be able to recognize when something is being displayed as satiric irony or as truthful masking of discriminating dogma in entertainment and especially in our own lives.

Social media has manifest two things.  Our shameless desire for self-promotion and our still exiting issues with discrimination. While there is shame in being racist there shouldn't be in being honest.  Some people just are and there shouldn't be this get out of being a racist failsafe. Like any other illness of society it should be dealt with and the only way it can be is to acknowledge it. I don't believe discrimination can ever truly be weeded out of the human spirit, but we should be able to deal with it and lessen its effects on the ability of people to prosper and follow their dreams.

The criminal justice system is supposed to rehabilitate criminals not just store them to keep them away from 'good' people. Yet we as Americans have the highest imprisoned population in the world as repeat offenders find it difficult to live life on the outside because they have been so conditioned to being social outcasts. The ignoring of this population just creates a cycle that grows instead of shrinks. We have a tendency to lock up the problem and not deal with it appropriately.  Racism is starting to look like a prison to me as we desperately try to convince ourselves and each other that it doesn't exist and doesn't factor in the outcomes of affected populations. While it is not as detrimental as it once was, it has not dissipated enough that we can declare it has no power here.

The foundation of all forms of discrimination is based on a thought regarding the worthiness or acceptability of another option other than the one the person considers to be the best.  Casual racism is an indication of a belief that a race of people are better or more acceptable than another because of the attributes the discrimination enables. It is the blind acceptance that certain human traits can be defined by race. Thus it makes certain behaviors acceptable and expected and allows the claim that not associating with certain people is a simple preference and not indicative of being racist.  It allows people to use racist jokes, stereotypes and ideologies without guilt and become defensive of consequence if anyone takes it too seriously.  After all it was not serious.  It was only a casual observation that is not indicative to a bigger problem. As they say there is some truth to every 'just kidding'.

A causal racist is not truly the evil person we would like to paint them to be.  They are usually good people who are just painfully oblivious to their bias. They are the people who will see an obvious violently racist situation, condemn it as wrong, but then still lock their doors or clutch their belongings tighter if they see a person of color coming near to them. They don't really disagree with the prejudice, they disagree with the violence.

They are the people who will congratulate interracial couples for their bravery and then quietly admit that they could never do what they have seen done. They have developed a value system that has determined that knowing and caring for a person of a different race and culture is not worth the problems commonly associated with mixed race relationships.  They have determined that this group of people are less in value and not worth truly considering.  This is an act of racism, determining that a certain person cannot attain your affection with race or skin color being the only deterrent. These people tend to assume that being a little racist isn't really a problem because everyone is. It then becomes an accepted condition of human nature.

The issue is that we as humans do not react automatically as a natural reflex of nature in these situations.  We respond the way we have been conditioned to. We have a tendency to accept well-conditioned responses as byproducts of human nature.  Let me clarify, they are.  We follow patterns and notions to their obvious conclusions and we are constantly trying to find ways to streamline our processes.  Our natures require us to complete the pattern because this is how we associate to the world. However it is not human nature to dislike or distrust someone because of their differences from us. That is a conditioned response.

I've had friends of different races confront this in their children as they are being raised.  The concerns are that their children have to some degree at very young ages developed a distrust of people of color they have not frequently interacted with.  The same holds true for children of color with other races. When I first meet a child who is less than a year old, no matter their race they have no preconceived notions of what is good or bad. They simply stare trying to absorb what they see. As the child develops and you begin to teach it to discern from right and wrong they identify with their parents and who their parents' trust. As soon as you introduce the word no or prevent a child from doing something that is bad for them they begin to associate everything from that perspective until they have more to work with. 

Children aren't in a bubble. They see what we see and they associate life according to what you present them and how you respond to certain situations. There are occasions where life prevents certain associations.  But in more cases than not any aversions your children have to race has been supported by your actions. Which in turn is more than likely unresolved issues from your parents instilling these values in you. We forget that less than 60 years ago we still had wide spread segregation. In many communities and areas we still do and our knowledge of other cultures is embarrassingly incomplete considering our role in their economies.

I suppose the issue comes with severity. People have an unconscious thought regarding "acceptable" levels of racism. But it really can't be parsed out like that. You can't acceptably kill someone.  You either kill them or you don't. In many cases the attempt is punished just as harshly as the success. By practice people do not congratulate a person for not sexually abusing a child or comment on their bravery.  Like in all situations there are exclusions but as a general rule of thumb it sounds absurd.  It is expected that this is unacceptable by societal standards. 

Racist laws were repelled because life couldn't work that way. You can't be somewhat right and somewhat wrong when it comes to civil liberties.  It’s why so much gray is entering debates about healthcare, rape, and marriage. People want to determine absolute right and wrong by too many degrees as it suits their needs. They are making a basic argument about the details because we've trained ourselves to be overly discerning when contemplating right and wrong. We believe the jest is in the details as opposed to the big picture. It’s because we have only dealt with our problems as particular instances and not as a whole. We patch the bridge instead of building a new one.  We fix one little spot without examining the cause and effect making only temporary progress.

So that leaves us telling people don't be racist while supporting a system that insists they do. So in the meantime mixed race children are still being forced to define themselves by a narrow margin of one race when they are more. Legal systems still convict people of color at higher rates even though more whites get arrested. Our media still grossly underrepresents or misrepresents people of color and none American cultures. Pay rates are still different, housing is still subpar and education is still poorly funded for areas with higher people of color populations.  With these examples and the insistence that America's racial troubles have subsided confusion regarding race is at an all-time high. Even 'good, proactive' so called none racists still have trouble understanding what is and is not racist. 

This issue presented itself again over the Super Bowl as many people were up in arms about a 'disrespectful racist' commercial by Volkswagen where they had people of multiple visual ethnicities speaking with a standard "Jamaican" accent. The protesters of this were mostly white and they thought they were being racially sensitive by condemning VW when in actuality they just highlighted how big of a problem their protest represents. The issue is that Jamaica is a country with different races like all countries of the world.  Because no one in the commercial appeared to be "Jamaican" in the eyes of the protesters, the assumption was that it was racially insensitive, when in actuality the assumption that all Jamaicans have dark skin and certain features IS racist. The commercial was actually representing cultural diversity that is usually not represented when we pull to mind images of Jamaicans. Being Jamaican is a nationality, not a race. But the imagery compared to the sound was so 'foreign' and uncomfortable to viewers that they were upset by it and in assuming they themselves were not racist they inadvertently proved that they were.

The problem is the casual nature of racism in America.  It stems from an idea that we can't help but to dislike each other because of racial differences and it breeds ideas about children and how they have to choose what to be. It’s in hidden messages we give each other as we either support or begrudgingly accept a situation. If racism called down the same horror and outrage as child abuse or animal neglect we as Americans wouldn't be so casual about it. The issue is people are not forced to feel any substantial amount of shame for their racist thoughts or none violent actions as often as they should be. The problem is twofold.  Its people comfortable being racist and people comfortable being discriminated against. The combination creates a chain of inequity that will continue indefinitely.

The sea of casual racism places a person being discriminated against in an odd damned if you do damned if you don't position. If you decide to confront racism you are propagating the problem by talking about it and if you don't you are propagating the problem by not talking about it.  It has truly become a no win situation because of the nature of victim blaming.  It matters not what the action of the victim is, they will always be the one blamed for the outcome.

Racism in America is in many ways the trick the Devil played on the world.  Most people would like to pretend it doesn't exist so they accept the lie of post raciality.  However if you are not frequently discriminated against it was just a saying you could agree with because you don't have personal proof to counter the assertion.  A surprising amount of people can willfully ignore the obvious signs of it happening to other people.

The good thing is that more and more conversations like this blog are starting to happen.  More people of color are realizing that just saying we are post racial and accepting the brunt of the ugliness is not enough.  And because of it more people not of color find themselves agreeing and following suit. It’s time to point out all the ways we are not. And perhaps the truth will eventually set us all free.

Images Courtesy of:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Of Games and Men

One of my favorite movie lines in the history of movies is the one from "The Usual Suspects."  "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."(Suspects)  I think that is applicable to a lot of things in American society.  Has media convinced us that some things that do exist don't? What is the most damaging? 

In my estimation the thing that has been the most interesting is the perception of achievement and the acceptance of class as a racial, gender, sexual orientation, and ableist identifier. How often are people of color depicted as affluent and deserving of it when it is not related to sports or entertainment?  How often are women portrayed in the same way? And citizens with disabilities, are they even depicted at all? Gays and lesbians aren't left out.  If anything they suffer the most as all populations no matter how abused can hold their sexuality over them in addition to all the other social classifications. Think of seeing any of these populations being referenced in regards to technological advancement and technical proficiency. The images just don't come readily to mind do they? However when a negative connotation can be added, all parties are displayed to a sensationalistic degree.

Americans have an over ridding belief system in place that declares loudly that whatever station a person finds themselves in they only have themselves to blame.  People of color just don't work hard enough to get promotions.  Women should've made different choices to avoid being abused. And somehow a disability is a slight from the Almighty Himself marking someone as unfit.  Why do gays and lesbians CHOOSE to be that way?

The implication is always that a position in life is a matter of will and choice, and not a desired result of an unseen, unspoken structure put into place for American society by the privileged class. No one looks to the other end.  Why do equally qualified applicants of color get over looked for promotions?  Why does that man feel the need to abuse women? The person with the disability is here so that God can teach us tolerance not avoidance. Why is it not ok that they are gay or lesbian? To some extent these populations are aware of their undeserved designations and understand that sometimes through no fault of their own opportunities just aren't available.  

The most interesting victim of the system is the privileged man who is aware, sees this inequity, and is rendered powerless to change it for fear of repercussions from the class he finds himself in.  What a tragic figure indeed as the bounds of their masculinity is defined by their ability to dominate and subjugate others. Constantly they are asked to continue the structure causing a little bit of their humanity to be eaten away each time.

All it builds is a sea of anger and self-hate for all.  The result is a need for violent behavior and overt aggression against those who would try and unseat the ruling class by just existing.  The goal becomes this process of blind self absolution where everyone is aware that admitting that this structure exists would be admitting their guilt in maintaining it. No one wants to be found guilty of such a horrible crime against the bulk of humanity.  Think of all the victims, millions of men, women, and children.  It would practically make you a Nazi.

With this in mind I recall my game design classes and sitting with my classmates as we had a discussion about our field, and the issues inherent with being a game designer in the modern world. Believe it or not game designers have a slew of social issues they have to navigate. The main stays are violence in games, the depiction of women and ethnicities in games, and the lack of diversity in game development companies.

Game Designers Image 1
While I often referred to them fondly as 'my video game boys', I was mostly an outcast during my educational stint.  The teachers appreciated me because I was a good student, but my classmates always treated me with a passing sense of discomfort.  I understood why. I was in fact a white elephant for them.  There is a reason why most game design companies have issues with depictions of women, minorities, and the propagation of violence. That is because in most game design classes you'll find a very prevalent self-fulfilling stereotype.  Young middle to upper class privileged white males who have no idea that they are any of the above however instinctively maintain the structure.  Most do not acknowledge privilege at all.  In fact most would imply in class and outside of it that privilege is a lie.  When confronted directly a few will tell you that there is no such thing as white male privilege. The playing field is even, and anyone who has a desire to create video games has the same opportunities as they do. 

I would sit quiet for a time and then ask the question that was to me as obvious as a 1 ton gorilla.  Then why is it that I'm the only person like me in this classroom? Usually the room grows quiet and people look nervously from one to the other seemingly trying to understand the question. On their face's accusation as if asking this question is picking a fight. Why I would ask such a thing their looks say. And yet the best they can come up with is, "Certain people just aren't interested in creating games."

In a lot of ways I feel like this inefficient answer is the only one that my classmates feel they can actually say.  The underpinnings are there, and can be felt seething beneath the surface. Minorities aren't intelligent enough; women aren't intelligent enough to create video games citing me as the oddity that sustains the rule.  Women don't enjoy things like games.  Non-whites are lazy and don't want to work hard enough to compete in a career like this.  They want things to be given to them, and won't work as hard as I do and people like me do.

Game Designers Socialize
These are still not viable answers simply because they aren’t true.  It is a result of the victim blaming society that American culture has fostered. What I’m after is the real reason why is it that at most I have usually seen a handful of none-white male students since I've begun my 4 years of education, and even less female students? Is it possible that only white males have a desire to use technology to create video games?  Considering how 'cool' everyone thinks it is that I'm trained to do this, I sincerely doubt it.  So what is the REAL cause of this disparity?

I realize that my inability to socialize with my classmates was multi fold.  For one instance as a woman I was already embarking on hallowed 'male' ground by even trying to become a game designer.  This was something that I realized my teachers loved that the male students came to resent.  Then of course there was the race issue which became a point of contention that the few female students came to resent.  Video game design is a very competitive industry.  Professionals in game design will tell you that it is an industry deeply entrenched in 'who you know'.  So while I was trying to create a social network to secure my future as a game designer, my classmates were taking it for granted that somehow my status as an African American female would guarantee me a job.  Furthermore they viewed me as someone who was in this industry specifically for that purpose.  Otherwise known as 'not really a game designer' despite my graduating Cum Laude status. What my classmates saw due to media portrayals of affirmative action was a free job pass, and this lead them to not actually taking the time to view me as a peer that could one day help them attain a job.  Instead I was an obstacle to be overcome, ignored, and hopefully passed over.  Some one that would bring down the quality of something they loved.

The third and seemingly most damning factor was my age.  My average classmate was in the early to mid 20s range.  As an adult student I had already had a career as a graphic designer and was redirecting myself for game design.  This final nail in my coffin of being a 30 something student solidified their thoughts about me.  Clearly, by their estimation, I was not a peer at all.  It was a perspective that negated anything of a social fashion.  In general I felt like an outcast.  When I did endeavor to try and become involved in the social aspects of their lives it was readily apparent that this was to be avoided.  The thought was that my presence would somehow alter how they themselves would and could act with one another. There was this irrational 'angry black woman' fear that seemed to stand as a deterrent.  The thought being that at any time something none offensive from their eyes would happen and I would somehow revert into this media hyped beast known as the 'angry black woman' officially ruining the evening for all involved from my inability to take a joke. 

Of course the lack of socialization with me was chalked up to 'not having interests in common'.  This was a fallacy as I shared many of the same interests that my classmates shared that provided moments of bonding between them. The only things I did not share were sex, race, and age.  Which has proven to be the only interests that most of them felt needed to be shared.  And then I think back to that question with a few more facts.  Why was I virtually the only person like me in that program?  Keep in mind that I live in Baltimore, MD which is one of the cities in the US where the African American population is actually the majority. Baltimore also has approximately 12% more women than men. In an actually equitable system the ratio I've seen should not be the case.

A casual game that features a woman of color
People need support from others when they venture into a field such as this.  My age was perhaps the quality that I carried that made me persevere despite the feelings of being odd woman out.  That and my constant desire to buck the system regardless of what obstacles are placed in my path. But not all people are as engaging in self torture as I am, and they moved on to programs that offered more emotional support. Of the people of color and women I had classes with, only a select few of those made it to the end of the program.  Most vanished early in my training unless they came equipped with a social network that was in this program as well.  My assumptions that I would find peers in an industry that I loved was proven false as I had little support from other students to fall back on when I needed that type of assistance.  For me group work was always difficult because despite my work ethic, no one wanted to form a group with me. I was seen as an undesirable partner.  I do have peers from my time at school but they are few and share either race and/or age with me.  Ironically I was not able to establish peers among other females in my program.

So to answer the question why was I such an oddity in game design, I have come to the conclusion that this is an industry that has not endeavored to change its perception of itself mostly because the main participants in the industry have negated all responsibility for making their industry more diverse.  Instead people like me find themselves removed from the inclusive boundaries of this specialized group.  A boundary erected so high that not even the commonality of sex can overcome it.  Game design has in fact Keyser Soze'd itself out of the need to diversify.  It has convinced itself that the devil of its inclusive nature does not exist, and therefore does not need adjustment. 

I fear for this industry because the world around it is changing, and people are building games for more than just play.  Game design is being used to influence, to teach, and to inform.  The truth is games are a very impactful form of media.  Almost more so than television, radio, or film because of the interactive nature of this media.  People have to become involved to play a game.  It is not a passive activity. So the way they are built and by whom they are built has to become a less passive activity. Right now stereotypes rule game design as the so called 'geeks' and 'nerds' who run the industry with repressed rage at being mocked by others and treated as outcasts now visit this onto other populations.  I don't believe this is malicious. I just believe they are like most Americans and are just uninformed of the realities of American life for other populations that are not considered white and male. All sides have their cross to bear as I've mentioned, but if the ones that can influence the most reinforce instead of influence, how is the world ever to recover from the injustices that are being committed for the sake of social status.

Game Designers Image 1 courtesy of:

Suspects image courtesy of:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Super Hero Theorem

I love all stories about super heroes.  I always have.  I realized that this fascination came from Saturday morning cartoons.  Let's just say when you are a little black girl growing up poor in Texas you have very little to believe in. Religion was taken from me by a Sunday school teacher that found it offensive that I wanted to be like Jesus. Needless to say I recall so clearly watching the X-Men, and thinking no one cares that Storm is black. She's just a mutant, and thus one of them. It was a really revolutionary thought for me. If you find the group that is the most like what you are at your core level, it won't matter what race, age, or religion you are.  In the eyes of the world you are all the same, and deserve the same treatment. What a concept.

I'm older now, and I still love super hero rhetoric.  I find the readings sometimes refreshing and more tolerant than anything I can find in any other form of media. The lines are sometimes very simple.  There is good, and there is evil. Upon occasion some of the contemporary classics have featured graying between the two.  Some such as DC's award winning Identity Crisis and Marvel's House of M sequence that leads to Civil War blurred the lines with a ruthless aggression that made the stories all the more human.  However these stories are about defining the lines between good and evil. Very rarely do the good ones even mention such uninteresting incidentals as race, class, religion, and gender. These are instead visual descriptors that have nothing to do with whether or not the character is good or evil.  Their actions and the reasons behind their actions determine this.  If only the world in general followed suit. With that said, DC's The New Frontier was a stunning entry that did account for race, class, and gender within the time period while being very honest about the world we do live in.

I find myself wondering how comics have been able to mature the way that they have, and I can only come up with one answer.  Stan Lee. Then I have to acknowledge that Stan Lee is a social genius.  He found a way to deal with very sensitive issues at a very sensitive time of our nation's development.  The first issue of The Uncanny X-men was released in September of 1963.  Please keep in mind that initial desegregation had only occurred in 1954, and supplementary legal actions occurred well into the late 1960's as states were resistant. This version of the X-men by all accounts was socially acceptable accept for the fact that they possessed mutant powers.  A gene anomaly that made them capable of doing things normal people could not do. They were outsiders, and an almost perfect simulation of ethnic and racial profiling and inequality.  Mutants were treated badly, looked down upon, and shunned.  Mutants were subject to being lynched and physically harmed. Some had mutations so radical that it changed the way they appeared making them not resemble a normal man or woman at all. This addendum is a precursor to people who are not able to disengage from their ethnic designations.

Let me flesh out this concept.  During this time period there were several ethnic groups that were being discriminated against.  The irony is that most are now considered 'white', and can choose to be viewed as their ethnic group or as census classified 'white' which is most people of European descent.  Other ethnic groups cannot 'blend' in, and pretend to not be a mutant. .  I mean a minority : )

This within itself was rather groundbreaking; however in the 70s this comic series took another brave step and began to introduce nontraditional characters of many ethnicities and nationalities. Now the X-men were international with differing political, religious, and social beliefs.  Yet despite this they were bound to each other by the overwhelming blanket of what they are.  To the world they were not even human, but a mutant first and always.  Any other differences from each other they may have has paled in comparison. It's so funny because I am one of those people who believes that despite humanity's best efforts, in the end Adrian Veidt from the Watchmen comic is absolutely right.  In many situations we do need a greater cause to make us forget our differences, and be reminded of our similarities.

As I find myself delving deeper into readings concerning race, class, gender, and religion I find myself being reminded of simple truths that I feel like I have always known that media is slowly trying to drown out.  My personal project for this summer is to prototype a game that will aid in teaching these concepts related to issues in sociology.  The ones that Stan Lee managed to endear so gracefully so many years ago.  I wonder if he planned it from the beginning.  If he intentionally made the first set of X-men the way they were to broaden the impact of the ones that came later or if it was just a blessed accident?

What my research has shown is that people are adaptable to certain forms of stimulation.  They will take in the information given and apply it to everyday life as a means to be a more socially acceptable creature.  However there has to be an entry point of familiarity.  To some degree they have to be able to relate to one concept in order to discover another. We are a pattern making species, and even if the pattern is perceived incorrectly, the die is usually cast. 

The brilliance of the way Stan Lee did this is that the original X-men looked exactly like the bourgeoisie at the time.  This was an epic point of relatability as they were concerned for the safety of those they loved and conducted rather normal lives.  They weren't fugitives; they were students trying to do what was best for an ignorant and intolerant world. With this identity of the X-Men firmly established you introduce new elements that will become relatable because the label has not changed.  The tenets and the belief system are not different, just the packaging.

So as I look at the fringes of society and the 'geek' and 'nerd' groups that enjoy eccentric entertainments I wonder if they have somehow been changed by their exposure to things like the Uncanny X-men as I have?  It is a fact that most people who read graphic novels and comics have a rather pronounced sense of detachment from mainstream society. Especially if they are an adult reader as 'mainstream' socialization tells people that a certain age is 'too old' to enjoy this type of entertainment. Yet it thrives as movies and television shows have tried to emulate these teachings about equality and the far reaching hand of justice. Even those who do not participate anymore in the reading feel a kinship towards the stories and are eager to engage childish sensibilities once again.  But the most telling is the fact that these sub-cultures of society exist and thrive outside of the machine so to speak.  It is an indication that it is possible.

For all change there has to be an entry way.  There must be those who dare, and those who succeed.  I’m just hoping that I have just enough Stan Lee in me to make a difference.