Friday, 22 June 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen *Book spoilers alert*

Ok, I saw Salmon Fishing in the Yemen quite a while ago with my friend, but I thought I'd wait until I'd read the book before I posted anything cause I thought it'd be good to make a comparison. And boy are they different in the end!

I'll start with how I felt about the film, as a film, not knowing anything about the book:

Story - A middle-aged fisheries scientist is roped into a crazy scheme entirely funded by a Yemini Sheikh to export salmon fishing to Wadi Aleyn in Yemen. Involved is the Sheikh's representative, Harriet, and a publicity-hunting MP.

The cast: 
Ewen McGregor was the right sort of age for a grouchy middle-aged man, and there's something quite comical about a thick scottish accent saying how much salmon need fresh water.
The way he plays a character whose emotions and beliefs shift so gradually in the film and book from those of a bored, lost soul, to one who has found love and belief in the impossible project is warm and subtle and human.

Emily Blunt, though marginally typecast as a business associate (she is almost wearing the same things as Emily in The Devil Wears Prada) plays a good romantically inclined but clear-headed business woman and organiser.

Amr Waked plays an almost mystical Sheikh, with a great deal of wisdom and almost ethereal understanding of the world.

Kristin Scott Thomas is fantastic as a civil servant who's main goal in life is simply to provide good media coverage for the government and the relationship of the UK with the Middle East. She's sharp, witty and even looks the part in her skirt suit and strange moussed back hair.

The film was funny, emotional and carried the theme of faith and belief very well. Its settings were perfectly chosen, from the rurals of Yemen to the great Scottish country house at Glen Tulloch.

It is a romantic comedy, mapping the emotional journeys of middle-aged Fred, whose marriage is loveless, and of Harriet, who is waiting for the return of her newly deployed soldier boyfriend. As they are separated from their loved ones, with spanners thrown into each's relationships, they grow close, finding solace in their shared project and shared emotions.

It's a good film and romcom, and I'd recommend seeing. I'd give it 3-4 stars.


Now, the book on the other hand, well. I'm wondering whether to go with a step-by-step comparison of the themes and events or whether to just outline what is different and then give my overall impression.

Fred's character: Naturally, the film could not provide much background. From reading we learn that Fred has just started writing a diary, because he is upset and emotionally unfulfilled in his marriage, as well as being pestered into taking part in a ridiculous project that he believes is utterly undo-able.  As the book goes on we learn about how he met and married his wife - she's pro-active, career-driven, emotionally-distant and even suggested he propose in the first place! He is quite passive and unsure of what he wants to do with his life, though he does despair a little at his wife's inability to even discuss children or think past what she deems to be most important in life: how much they earn and how financially stable they are.

In the film, Fred's wife is barely touched, though we do see that their marriage is on the rocks and pretty lacking passion or romance. She's also obviously pretty independent from him. In the book however, I'm afraid that the more I read emails from her or Fred's memories of her, the more I thought, "what a complete bitch!". They were just not well suited at all.

As the story progresses and his wife goes to Geneva for six months to work, we see the style of Fred's writing change. It's less formal, perhaps even less analytical. It's simply his thoughts and feelings. He is more emotionally involved in his writing, and it's quite clear that he cares about the people involved in the project, and has been touched by the Sheikh's philosophy in life.

Harriet: In the film, she has just met Robert, and is quite clearly swept head over heels by him. She promises to wait for him when he is deployed. In the book, she is engaged to him and planning a romantic holiday with him when he suddenly calls from Holland or somewhere, saying that he'd received a call and been packed off to Iraq! Quite the difference. In the film I think the fact that she has just met him when he is called away makes it easier to explain her gradual emotional un-attachment (Rom Com storyline) - something that is also more relate-able to people who start seeing soldiers, wait for them, and then realise how little they knew of them when/if they get back.
She writes to him and tells him what we can guess but don't otherwise *know* about her feelings towards Fred in the beginning - he's a bit of a boor, but he grows on her. However, in the book, NOT to the extent that he does in the film. In the book, she remains true to Robert, but unfortunately grief and uncertainty result in an emotional breakdown, and she loses all faith in life and perhaps even the project, shutting herself off from people involved.

The Sheikh: It is hard not to like the Sheikh, though we are seeing him entirely through Fred and Harriet's eyes. He's calm and polite and very wise. He is a holy figure, of sorts, as he talks about faith and belief and how one must have belief in order to have hope in order to have love. He does not necessarily talk of theist belief, but simply belief in something. He manages to call Fred a man of faith because he fishes even though he can not be sure that he will catch a fish. He believes that he could, hopes he will and loves the sport.
The Sheikh's belief rewards him with God, Fred's with a fish. I thought this was incredibly interesting and not a very down-your-throat interpretation. As an atheist, I have nothing against faith or belief, and think it is nice to have it. It's just religious dogma and institutionalisation that I hate.
His fate in the film does not match his fate in the book, I am afraid.

Peter Maxwell: Well, in the book he is just one odious character, whose job is to make sure that the Prime Minister is kept looking good. Somehow, in the film, his character is split into two - which is very unusual! Book characters get merged into one film character all the time, but I can't think of any others that are split. In the film, he is Kristin Scott Thomas's character, and another smaller character who's the useless twerp, perhaps (though I can't remember) even referred to as P. Maxwell.
He is quite clearly a satirical parody of an idiotic, short-sighted civil servant who's constantly trying to second guess the public. He also seems to think that the sun shines out of the Prime Minister (Jay Vent)'s backside. As the government's political alignment is never specified, the reader can picture them as any politician stereotype they like, though personally I think they're a mishmash of Tony Blair's New Labour and Cameron's Conservatives. Blair's good publicists with Cameron's cabinet incompetence.
But enough of politics...

Faith and religion are handled beautifully by Paul Torday, prompting questions and thoughts from the reader. For example, the contrast between the unquestioned and undeniable faith of those living in the Middle East and the way the majority of England seem to have "moved beyond Church", not even going once a week to worship.

The plot is narrated through letters, emails, diary entries and interviews, all provided as evidence for an inquiry into the disaster that occurred at the launch of the Wadi Aleyn Salmon run.

The emails between the Al Qu'ida members, as sinister and dangerous as they were intended to be, made me laugh. I couldn't help it. Perhaps it's because I don't believe in the twaddle they do, or perhaps it was intended that way, but I found the religious justification for assassinating the Sheikh and the angry, barbaric discussion of what to do with a failed assassin attempter funny.

As far as the ending goes, I am not sure that I am completely satisfied with the way the deaths were handled. Perhaps the film is better in that as a comedy book, the ending in the film fits better with its genre, whilst the book ending of Salmon Fishing does not, in my mind.

The book also gets 4/5.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Swords & Sworcery - Part 1

I got hold of Swords & Sworcery in the Humble Bundle V, cause a) sounded like a click and cast and b) my best friend was playing and said I should too. And also cause I like giving money to indie game designers and stuff.

It's not quite a click and cast; it's a 'click click click'. And there's no casting - yet. I have, I admit, only played through the first chapter, which takes 15-30 minutes, according to the narrator at the start of the game. Whom I suspect to be some sort of scientist.

Anyway! It's fun. If you don't mind just double clicking a lot. There are fight sequences, but yes, that involves clicking either on the sword or the shield and killing the other thing before it kills you - though there does have to be some thought behind it. You know, like knowing when to block and when to jab. Each opponent type seems different - I had more trouble with the wolf than I did an undead statue, cause it was harder to predict move wise.

Logfella is in the stone shelter whilst 'I' stand in the rainbow.
The graphics are incredibly basic - it's a visual-audio based game. The soundtrack is really good - it's atmospheric and fun, creating mood music to match the thoughts of the character.

Dialogue is mostly in thoughts, though if you have your volume up enough, you will hear other people in the vicinity talking at you - Logfella asked if I knew anything about red something. (Unfortunately I had not turned it up enough). It was just conversational whilst he sat on his ass and I - the Scythian - worked out how to bridge the chasm.

As you can see, the artwork is simple, but it's nice. And going a bit on from what Bart Kelsey said in the guest column, as a more or less silent protagonist that refers him/herself and the player as "we", it's entirely possible to consider the Scythian as either sex - the pixels are androgynous! That's either a dude with long hair and skinny legs or a girl with long hair and skinny legs. Which I guess I quite like!

The scripting is both contemporary and half-assed fantasy. And thanks to the inbuilt twitter function, it's possible to tweet all the stuff that "you" are thinking - that is, any piece of diaologue you feel like tweeting. If at all. I confess I ended up tweeting.  And the sequence looks like this.

See what I mean? And whenever it says "we", it pretty much refers to the Scythian and the player. Inclusive language, no? Specially since Logfella did naff all! 

Anyway, plot so far? It would seem that for some reason, the Scythian/you are to go and get a burdensome megatome of dark sworcery from a deep dark cavern. It's more than a cavern, really. Whilst you'd think that it's all inside creepy head -> there are the occasional tunnels and temple-like doorways.

Eventually you find the tome and you get the tome and you attempt to leave the caverns alive - just as you'd pledged to Logfella!

Naturally, it's not as simple as just taking the tome. You appear to have awoken a dark lord-like wraith - who is somewhat reminiscent of the Horned King in the Black Cauldron. But smokier. Kinda... Horned King mixed with No Face. Yeah. That's it.


Yes? No? I think so. Anyway although I have escaped from this dark shadow man, it is indicated that my journey with the megatome is not done. Something about increased exposure being bad and the fact there's a mysterious wolf following me... Anyway I don't think this guy is going to let off. 

I shall have to keep adventuring with my Scythian friend through this troubled land with interesting landscape and see what happens!

I'll keep you posted - but I think it's worth paying a quid or two for.  If only for the soundtrack. Which I shall be listening to!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Guest Column: A critique of Anita Sarkeesian's kickstarter on Sexist Tropes in Video Games

First off, I wanted to say thank you to the Chief Mauskateer for taking interest in what I have to say, and for including my thoughts on her blog. This whole thing originated from a Reddit discussion on Anita Sarkeesian's kickstarter campaign, but by the time I had a chance to really collect my thoughts and write an intelligent criticism, the community had moved on, so I don't think very many people got to see it. What you see below is a slightly revised version, based on some criticism I received.

Secondly, I caution you to have a grain of salt handy as you read this. As Ms. Sarkeesian hasn't actually made her videos yet, I'm making some inferences based on the press language from her kickstarter campaign (including the list of tropes she's planning to cover) and the views she expressed in a set of similar videos about female tropes in Hollywood.

I have two main issues with Sarkeesian's argument. These are:
I'll cover both of these in depth, but first I'd like to present my own thoughts on the representation of women in gaming:

It's blatantly obvious that a large majority of video games and video game characters are geared toward a specific set of preferences, namely those that the video game industry believe to be their primary audience. As a straight white male, I share that set of preferences, so I enjoy some of those games (aside: some games are just plain terrible, and I don't require a game to appeal to me sexually in order to like it). On the other hand, it seems pretty obvious to me that if video games were heavily balanced toward serving a different set of preferences, I would feel really unwelcome in the gaming world. This is a very serious problem, but the mere existence of these games (or the tropes used therein) isn't the issue; in fact, it's not even an issue that these games are common. It's the fact that, by and large, the only two options you have as a gamer are games that are meant to appeal to a heterosexual male audience and games that aren't geared toward any particular demographic. It's an entirely reasonable thing for someone to ask where the games are that are meant to appeal to them.

That being said, tropes are tropes. I don't believe that they're inherently sexist, and I don't buy into the implication that people are too dumb to realize that characters in a story are characters in a story. What I do believe is that the IT industry as a whole (and, by extension, the video game industry) has a huge problem with endemic, institutionalized sexism, and the fact that these tropes (which are often just a result of bad writing on the part of a male writer) are over-represented is a symptom of this larger issue. Here's a blog post I wrote on this issue as it applies to the open source world. Here's another article about a group of people called 'brogrammers', a term you may or may not already be familiar with.

It seems to me that sexism in the video game industry is particularly prevalent in board rooms where people decide on the plot and style of their games. People make the claim that 'sex sells' as justification for this imbalance, but there's a lot of really strong evidence that you don't have to portray women unrealistically or in an over-sexualized manner in order to sell games -- all you have to do is make games that don't suck. Again, though, I don't feel that there's anything wrong with the fact that these games exist, and I don't think there's anything wrong with liking them. The trouble is the lack of balance, and that's largely a symptom of a different problem.

Now, my thoughts on the issues I mentioned:


I think my snarky and poorly drawn image is probably self explanatory, but I'd like to go into a bit more detail than that. Sarkeesian holds up Portal as an example of positive female characters in video games. There are (ostensibly) two major female characters in Portal: Chell, and GlaDOS (Disclaimer: I love Portal).

Looking at both of these characters:
  • Chell is a silent protagonist, which means the writers didn't even have to give her a personality. Chell is simply a more awesome version of the player, so all they really needed to do was find the exact line for her appearance (attractive but not unrealistically so, athletic and in good shape but not unrealistically so) and then set her loose in the game world and allow the player to imagine what her personality must be like. There is very little characterization there -- she has no spoken dialog.
  • GlaDOS is a computer. She's a computer with a female personality, but there is no sexuality or body to speak of because her physical form is just a bunch of electronics. So there is another line that the writers didn't have to worry about straddling. She's not ugly. She's not sexy. She's a computer.
As I said, the goalposts are pretty narrow. What this might tell me if I were a video game writer is that the only way to win is not to play. Want to make a female main character? Silent protagonist. That way you don't have to worry about someone bashing her as being overly slutty or overly feminine or not feminine enough (omg, seriously, "man with boobs" is a misogynist trope? -- the only sin there is trying too hard not to over-sexualize a character, or -- crazy as it may sound -- writing a character who is just unfeminine because that's the sort of character they want to write). Chell isn't an example of writing a character at all; she's an example of not writing a character.

Imagine how people's opinions of Chell might differ if she had DD size breasts but were otherwise exactly the same (I'm not advocating this, by the way -- I love Portal as it is, and such a change would be pointless and arbitrary at this point). Do you suppose she would still be held in high regard as an exemplary female character? If not, what does that say about our opinion of women with larger-than-average breasts?

The take-home from Chell's body is this: If I were a video game company specifically trying to build a female character to weather any sort of body-related criticism, I would make her athletic but not overly curvy or thin, I'd make sure that her breasts were an in 'acceptable' B to C range, I would dress her in form-fitting but not overly revealing clothes, and I would give her a pleasant, feminine features that don't appear overly sultry.

Similarly, GlaDOS is a convenient evasion of the Ugly Is Evil versus Sexy Villainess tropes. Put her in any female body and suddenly the issues with her character get a lot more complicated. Forget that she's a computer for a second and consider her sultry voice. With a real woman's body, that would probably constitute a 'sexy villainess' right there, unless the character were deliberately designed to be non-sexy, in which case the other trope would apply.

Take another Valve character, Alyx Vance from Half Life 2. One has to wonder if someone just said "here's this idea for a character", or if there was a ton of thought put into delicate line-straddling between all sorts of different tropes. I don't think there are a lot of people out there who would deny that Alyx is a 'good' female character, but one really starts to suspect that an inordinate amount of care had to be taken to get to that point. Real women deviate from "flatteringly normal" a lot more than Alyx does.

I would not make the claim that Chell and Alyx are portrayed in a sexist way -- far from it, in fact. Rather they serve to illustrate the tiny box that female characters have to fit into in order to avoid being picked apart for falling into one or more ostensibly sexist tropes.

I'll illustrate this further. For reference, here are the tropes that Ms. Sarkeesian plans to cover:
  • Damsel in Distress - Video #1
  • The Fighting F#@k Toy - Video #2
  • The Sexy Sidekick - Video #3
  • The Sexy Villainess - Video #4
  • Background Decoration - Video #5
  • 1st Set of Stretch Goals Achieved! (emphasis mine)
  • Voodoo Priestess/Tribal Sorceress - Video #6
  • Women as Reward - Video #7
  • Mrs. Male Character - Video #8
  • Unattractive Equals Evil - Video #9
  • Man with Boobs - Video #10
I left the 'goals achieved' bit in there because it seems to me like the second set of tropes are on a more tenuous ground than the first set. They were added on later, and I'm left with a sneaking suspicion that they were to some extent put in there because she felt like otherwise she wouldn't be producing adequate work for the amount of funding she's received. On one hand, I get why she's doing it, but on the other hand it's frankly kind of irresponsible to start criticizing female characters for being too masculine. It's easy to argue that some of these tropes (Women as Reward tops the list, I think) are harmful and sexist. On the other hand, taking the list as a whole, her argument starts to overreach pretty badly.

Let's examine this from another direction for a moment. Valve's games are frequently held in high regard for their positive portrayals of female characters, but Valve has its problems with sexism too. Want a zillion stupid hats in Team Fortress 2? Awesome! They've got you covered! Want to play as a female version of any of the TF2 classes? Sorry, you're out of luck! Have a stupid hat!

This goes back to what I said earlier about seeing this from the perspective of a game designer who sincerely wants to avoid being sexist: the only way to win is not to play. If you're overly critical of female tropes in games (Sarkeesian has stated her intent to do extensive research into these characters), the end result could very well be that we'll just get more games with no women in them at all. The graphically impressive FPS Brink was widely criticized for allowing tons and tons of character customizations, but no option to play a female character. This may be better than the treatment of women in Duke Nukem Forever, but only slightly.

Unnecessary Polarization and Lack of Focus

In the original version of this criticism, this was my first point, but it occurred to me that it makes a lot more sense in the context of the point about goalposts.

From Sarkeesian's youtube video page about her kickstarter:
NOTE ON COMMENTS & TRIGGER WARNING: I've left the comments open on this video as a way of showing why this topic is so important. I apologize in advance for the hate speech and ignorance that will inevitably be left below. So don't feed the trolls - they are just proving to everyone that sexism in gaming is indeed a huge problem.
She opens by lumping everyone who might disagree with her into a group of people who are horrible and do not deserve to exist. These trolls are not indicative of the problem, they are indicative of a different problem -- namely that whenever anyone on the internet speaks out in defense of a minority group, racist scum-sucking sociopaths emerge from the depths of the internet to rain their hate and filth down on a convenient target. The internet is absolutely bursting at the seams with these people, and I know that because I've dealt with them myself.

But I repeat, they are not an example of the problem she is attempting to illustrate. There is no evidence that the people making these threats and comments even like to play the sort of games she's criticizing. They just hate her because she's an outspoken feminist and a convenient target for their abuse.

To an outsider seeing her kickstarter project, in implying that the swarm of ignorant and hateful internet trolls are part of the problem she's addressing, she's essentially opening with "You people are all a bunch of misogynists." People seem to like throwing the term 'over-sensitive' around a lot. Depending on who they are, they might be using it to justify actual misogyny, or they might be using it to justify inflammatory, blanket criticisms.

There are video games which have characters that fall into those tropes that I'm quite fond of (and given how broad these tropes are, it would frankly be pretty difficult as a gamer not to happen to like at least one or two games that contain them). If you make the claim that a bunch of misogynists on the internet and the video games that I like are the same problem, then what does that tell me that you think about me for liking those games?

Let's follow this logic for a minute. In implying that these two issues are connected, she's making an implication that liking these games (and, by extension, liking images and characters with certain body types) makes you a misogynist. I realize that I'm risking my reputation by saying this in public, but I like what this character looks like. This does not make me a misogynist. It does not mean that I have unrealistic expectations about what a woman ought to look like. It does not mean that I judge a woman's value as a person based on my estimate of how attractive they are, and it does not mean that I don't also like realistically-proportioned, normal women.

She could easily separate people who happen to like characters like that from internet misogynists, but she has chosen not to do that, instead implying that a) these things are connected, and by extension b) heterosexual male sexuality makes you a bad person. The implication is there, and much like other implied sexism, it's fairly obvious to the people who are affected by it.

Several people have assured me that I'm taking this way too personally. Perhaps I am, although I should note that when I blogged about sexism several months ago, I was very careful not to be specific and not overly inclusive in my language describing who the people were who are causing the problem. But if these videos aren't about people like me, then who are what are they about? What's the ultimate goal?

Here's a brief outline of what I'm not understanding:
  • These tropes are inherently bad.
  • Is it necessarily a bad thing to enjoy these tropes?
  • If not, then what? Do we get rid of them? Keep the old ones but stop using them in new works? Or acknowledge that they're silly and a result of bad writing, but keep using them anyway because some people just like them?
If all Sarkeesian is doing is attacking the fact that these tropes are overused in comparison with other ones, or if she's just talking about how people could improve their bad writing, then she's using a chainsaw where she should be using a scalpel and it's entirely justified for people like myself to take legitimate issue with them.

Finally, for the record, it is, in fact, quite possible to discuss these issues without inflammatory, accusatory, and otherwise polarizing undertones. Extra Credits managed to pull it off just fine.

Thanks for reading!

Bart Kelsey

Saturday, 16 June 2012

My thought process when re-watching RED

  1. Oh Bruce you charmer
  2. Aw it’s cute that they bond over bad erotic literature
  3. You know, cause it’s Bruce Willis. (Guitar music as he takes out assassins in his house)
  4. Don’t try this at home.
  6. Oh right cause buying dinner = invitations for “coffee”
  7. Mary-Louise Parker has pretty big eyes when she does that. Contact lenses me thinks?
  8. God my gran would totally have vacuumed too. More than. Dust. Tidy. All of it.
  9. N’aw Bruce. 
  10. Bruce Willis’s head and neck ratio is interesting. 
  11. That’s it, let it out Sarah.
  12. Does William Cooper’s wife know he kills people for a living?
  13. Ouch. (Ducktape)
  14. No, she does NOT want to watch t.v without the ability to change channel.
  15. Oh, Morgan, you dirty, dirty old man.
  16. What IS that tracksuit you’re wearing btw Morgan?
  17. That bed was REALLY badly made.
  18. Hah she’s high.
  19. CHOREOGRAPHY <3333
  20. I think Bruce has done it so many times, they don’t need to slow down the scenes - he actually DOES get out of cars in slo-mo.
  21. Good old America. You put your weapon down and still get tackled.
  22. Aw, don’t be sad, Morgan :(
  23. OMG evil eyes from Mary-Louise Parker is too funny to take seriously.
  24. Bruce you know that is an old guy’s jacket, right?
  25. This whole China Town scene reminds me of that episode of Sherlock.
  26. ‘The Record’s Keeper’ sounds like such a fantasy character. 
  27. John Malkovich is so awesome.
  28. I love that he thinks tin foil will help him somehow. 
  29. Can’t believe that John Malkovich was Valmont in Dangerous Liasons.
  30. Duh, decoy!
  31. Yay! The pig!
  32. He has such funny teeth.
  33. Wonder where her camera went.
  34. I swear James Remar is just wearing his costume from Dexter.
  35. “shake the tree”?
  36. Wow, you’re going down for saying that.
  37. Can’t believe they show a man blow up into smithereens like that. 
  38. Who did the soundtrack?
  39. Oh Brian, you and your funny Russian accent. 
  40. Kinda remind me of Vlad in Anastasia
  41. I swear this sort of thing is the only time I’m ok with people going on about how they miss killing people - I mean, it’s psycho talk.
  42. Cool down Sarah, death or life imprisonment isn’t that awesome…
  43. What does “cute hair” even mean?
  44. Bruce, you’re too old to pick fights like this.
  45. MORGAN
  46. The tea set suggests she knew they were coming…
  47. Helen Mirren is so classy. Love her little accent.
  48. God I hate Richard Dreyfuss’s voice.
  49. What is that accent, Morgan?
  50. Oh, Morgan ._.
  51. Keep expecting him to say, “I said someone, not me! Dude!”
  52. Aw, Bunny.
  53. The three bullets in the chest thing is amazing - but how did MI6 not make sure he was dead, rather than just borderline?
  54. Tact is not your forte, Marvin.
  55. I want Helen Mirren and Brian Cox to get married. (As their characters obviously)
  56. Ding ding ding. (William’s realisation of Bruce’s whereabouts)
  57. Poor William - it was a bit mean of Bruce to use his family like that.
  58. Not sure ‘love’ is quite what the VP will be feeling, Marvin
  59. How do they know which bin will be used?
  60. God I hate women that talk all clueless the way she just had to before knocking out security.
  61. Combat boots <3
  62. Hah, panic.
  63. The Vice Pres has hardly any facial expression. He reminds me a bit of George Osbourne, but better looking. Still bland and weird though.
  64. Ok, there he did. And he whimpered.
  65. Poor kitchen staff.
  66. You could have argued with her more, Marvin.
  67. I bet they had to take loads of takes for this - John Malkovich is too funny
  68. Yeah no, always listen to the crazy man splattered against your car.
  69. Does the President know that the VP is currently a hostage?
  70. FUCK that’s some horrific move there
  71. HOW is that snogging doable in real life? without sloppiness and ick.
  72. HOW does he keep going when he knows that John Malkovich is sitting right there and pulling that face.
  73. OMG that wig.

Been a pleasure watching with you.

Friday, 15 June 2012


I have today approached a guy who mentioned that he had concerns about both sexism in gaming/gaming culture and the problematic approach that Anita Sarkeesian has taken in her opening video introducing her latest video series on tropes in games.

Whilst I in part agree with Sarkeesian, what this guy has to say is just as interesting and perhaps even illuminating in discussing the problems that her opening video (and by inference - though it's not to be taken as truth obviously) her series creates.

I also hope that he will give his own take - as a feminist white male - on sexism and "troping" in video games.

I have also approached another person who challenged the idea that it is the minority gamers that have a problem with mainstream video games, rather than those that defend sexism (very bitterly, some of them). Whether he's willing to expand or write anything on that is to be seen.

So, if any of you have a game/book/film/t.v. show you want to talk about (for the lighter writers - though obviously there could be problematic themes you want to rant about) or any social issues you want to discuss or challenge, do message me - either via my tumblr ask box (no registration required) or in the comments below.

*Disclaimer (mostly cause it was posted out on tumblr - I don't think I really need to say it here but I shall anyway): I will not accept any submissions that are openly misogynist, racist, or people-bashing in anyway. I do not mind discussing the other view, but it must be as balanced and civil as possible. When I say “issues with feminism”, it could be that there is a group or opinion or movement or individual that is trying to critique and change, but going about it the wrong way, for example, NOT “I hate feminists, they’re the entire problem with this damn country” posts.

Though of course discussion of misandry and the damage that causes is equally welcome.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ask them "why".

In the last week, I have come across more open discussion of the verbal abuse and threats that women - both as a sex/gender and as an individual - experience in online communities, largely to do with gaming.

We all know the "Get back into the kitchen" jibes that women get from pathetic little boys (and little men) who can't bear the thought that someone has beaten them in a game on Xbox Live. If it's not a woman, then they'll pick on their name, accent, sexual orientation or race.
However, the articles in question discuss the more sinister and darker side of online banter. Rape threats, death threats, vandalism of online identities, systematic intimidation and abuse and general extreme unpleasantness. The first results purely from having a female voice, the second because a female wanted to critique the tropes that video games keep reusing. Whilst a few of the comments make the point that males are tropes too, I do not think they quite realise what tropes are and why they should be looked at in a while. In fact, sometimes, there's nothing wrong with a trope, provided it's done properly. But then I guess it wouldn't be a classic trope... anyway, I continue with my questioning.

The responses to these articles have been pretty unvaried:

From the women:
  1. I too have been on the receiving end - whilst I can handle this crap, it is very off-putting to those who'd rather just play the game in peace.
  2. That is awful. 
  3. It's not just women - everyone gets abuse.
  4. It's sad that women can't discuss things from a feminist POV where games are concerned.
From the men:
  1. Everyone gets abuse. Just learn to put up with it.
  2. It's not sexism - it's just sexist-themed abuse because you have boobs and beat them at the game.
  3. It's not that bad, my brothers wind people up all the time just to see how long it takes before they're put on mute. It's harmless.
  4. It's like when I went into the sea once and complained it was wet.
The last two from the men (an almost exact quote) are what pissed me off. First of all, what his younger brothers have been doing is just childish behaviour that most 12-15 year olds go through, even at school. It's the same crap they'd spout in the classroom and even then that is not acceptable behaviour, which we hope they grow out of. 
What the articles were detailing was far worse - had these people started yelling at a girl in a gamer t-shirt "I'll rape you myself" or "I hope you get raped for being out of the kitchen" or "go and die, whore" in the street, and there was a policeman or security guard near by, they would at minimum get a ban from the shop or a caution for disorderly behaviour or abuse of another member of the public.

It's emotional cyber bullying, intending to intimidate in a way their physical presence is unable to. They either get ignored or they succeed in putting an individual off the community or online gaming experience. There is a lot more to hate speech than just immature baiting.

Second of all, the sea analogy is just the apathetic rubbish that people always spout when things are bad but they don't have any good ideas.

In both instances, the threats and abuse were being trivialised - either by blatant down-play or an acceptance of what has been "normal" behaviour.

So I have been asking the same damn question all week, and received no answer: 
Why is it acceptable behaviour, and why should we expect that?

After all, it used to be expected and normal to go into Mississippi and to see black communities being treated like diseased vermin, but that did not make it ok.
 When I spoke out and said that it was this exact apathetic attitude that paved the way for victim-blaming, rape culture, and the continued acceptance of homophobic, sexist, racist and religious discriminatory behaviour, I was disagreed with and "downvoted" on the website that I was commenting on. A very common  occurrence where over 70% of its users and actually incredibly sexist and misogynist.
It's equally sad that pretty much everyone gets online abuse - yes, even the white men - but apparently it's not ok to be unaccepting of it.

Once again, I spoke out because of the second article linked above (click on "an individual")  was posted and this quote:

I am certainly not the first woman to suffer this kind of harassment and sadly, I won’t be the last. But I’d just like to reiterate that this is not a trivial issue. It can not and should not be brushed off by saying, “oh well that’s YouTube for you“, “trolls will be trolls” or “it’s to be expected on the internet”. These are serious threats of violence, harassment and slander across many online platforms meant to intimidate and silence. And its not okay. 

had resonated with me, because I had argued the exact same thing last week. Again, I have been disagreed with. Whilst everyone is in agreement that what has happened to Anita Sarkeesian is 100% disgusting, her individual experience should not in anyway result in the  the behaviour of others towards her sex in general being dealt with.

The more I asked "why though", the more apologist the responses became. Apparently, my expectations of people's behaviour are too great. I am limiting free speech (which, in another topic, I pointed out has limitations in set cases - cases which actually are displayed in the treatment of Anita Sarkeesian, and this time I was "upvoted") and I am being "facist" in my social views.

My "social" views are these:

  • Everybody should be treated with respect - unless there is a good reason that this respect has not been earned. Simply being online and a particular sex, gender, body type, race or creed is NOT a good reason. I have very little respect for those that spout abuse at people for these reasons - they've proven to me that they are not worth an iota of my time. I'd try to remain civil, but that is all.
  • That equality among sexes should be practised in both online and offline communities.
  • That people should not be intimidated and abused just because what they are saying is a new point of view. As a feminist pro-choice atheist I do not silence or intimidate anti-choice/pro-lifers, misogynists or theists. They can say what they like. I do not agree with them. I will offer a counter argument or point out where I think they're being unfair to others, but I won't tell them that I wish rape, cancer, death, bludgeoning, or any other form of natural or man-delivered vengeance.

    Fortunately it is possible to say that generally, it is religious extremists and violent women/gay/minority-hating people that exercise these intimidation techniques, and even go so far as to active terrorism - be it threatening to blow up the studio of the creators of South Park or murdering an abortion practitioner. We have yet to hear of people with my thinking of actively destroying buildings and lives because of something a classic case bigot has said - online or in print.
  • That forms of bullying - cyber, physical, emotional, mental - and intimidation should not be tolerated anywhere. I firmly believe that the more people that stand up now and say "I won't stand for your bullshit behaviour" (maybe not those exact words at school) the more people will find the courage to stand up themselves. The feminist movement was about changing perceptions and behaviour of men towards women through winning civil rights and challenging their perceptions and behaviour. And haven't women come far? They're not at true equality yet. Maybe we won't be. But feminism isn't just about gender equality. It's about fairness and humility and humanity. That no people should be discriminated against for things beyond their control. 

Feminism and racial/sexuality equality movements have all done the same thing: They have questioned and challenged what is considered "normal behaviour" in communities and changed them. Black people can now go on the same beaches, use the same toilets and even sit at the front of the bus now. It wasn't "normal" in 1940.

Why should online behaviour and "ettiquette" (or lack of, in my opinion) be as unchallenged? Just because nearly everyone involved is anonymous? Not good enough.

When you hear people explaining away a social injustice as something "to be expected" or in some way acceptable behaviour, I charge you to ask them why.
If they can honestly come up with an acceptable answer as to why it's expected and therefore acceptable, then you should let me know or shout from the rooftops 'Hallelujah', cause I can almost guarantee that they won't.

Just now I tried to think of an example where it is an acceptable expectation, and I couldn't.


Additions/further reading:

A good related post on the white privileged male's defence of sexism in gaming - often sexism in the game itself and the sexism of its players go hand in hand, whether they know it or not.

The key quote that links in well with what I have just been saying is this:
It opened my eyes, to use a cliché. I couldn't stop noticing how much was made for me. Everything. Movies, TV shows, books, and especially video games and commercials. All for the straight white male, and it had never even occurred to me. I was ashamed for a little while that I hadn't noticed before, but I got over it. Suddenly, I realised that the attitude of "What's the problem?" was a far greater issue than I had thought.
Sexism, racism and homophobia are not the domain of extremists such as the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK and the 50s. These are ongoing issues, and they affect everyone, and most people are guilty of perpetuating the negatives, whether they realise it or not.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

On Sisterhoods and Feminism.

Over the past two or three - perhaps even four - years, I have been increasingly involved with feminist/equality/humanist movements. Usually in the form of petitions, informing those around me, spreading the word.

I have taken part in marches for causes - before Sixth Form, I had been on at least 4 Anti-Iraq war marches (There were far more that took part than police or politicians at the time gave credit, as per usual).
I took part in the Lancaster Slutwalk (much good that did to such a small town) and I have done my best to educate those online who've asked me to - prod them in the right direction of articles or 'Feminism 101', inform them of female or minority perceptions of their behaviour, that sort of thing.

Today I filled in a (what should be a superfluous) form for the Home Office telling them that homosexual and trans* people should be allowed to marry in full, not just have a civil 'partnership'. I also said I think that civil partnerships should be open to heterosexual couples - not everyone wants a full marriage, but they damn well need and deserve the same benefits and safe guards.

I drive my chauvinist grandfather crazy with my latest news and incidents against minorities, or more frequently with American news, women.
I think that as much as she may feel tired about my chosen topics of conversation, my grandmother is in her own way pleased that I care that much about other people.

But I wanted to get active and to meet up with like-minded people. So I did a google and found that there's a local action group of feminists in my town. I joined the facebook group and I'm on the mailing list. Can't hurt to know what's going on more in my local area - a lot of crap happens everywhere after all.

And was I disappointed once I was reading through the facebook group postings! It isn't the issues, or the causes... it's the fact that (so far) one member has addressed us all as 'Sisters'.

'Sisters'. Maybe it's just me being funny about it, but I hate it when a community of like-minded people end up being called 'Sisters' or 'Brothers'. Perhaps it's the anti-dogma-and-religious-institution atheist in me, but it feels like cult behaviour to me.

This isn't the main reason I hate the term, but a good example of cult like behaviour is this: My grandmother got briefly entangled with a group of Colin Firth fanatics (Mr Firth, if you, or your publicist, are reading this, I'd advise you take out some restraining orders pre-emptively) on Youtube called "The Firth Sisters" or something ridiculous. And it IS like a cult. They rehash the same video clips, put it to music and talk about Colin Firth as 'Colin' all the time and go to every public appearance he does and worship every move.

Colin Firth is a top-notch guy. Great actor (Should have got the Oscar for A Single Man, more than The King's Speech but I like to think the Oscar was recognition for all his works) and a huge philanthropist. He and his wife practically own Oxfam, for example. (Slight exaggeration but they do actually own a famous charity shop in London and possibly a linked chain in New York?)

But he has done nothing to deserve the cult-worship of these women.

I digress.

I guess what I am saying is that I greatly wish that movements wouldn't start using such language. 'Feminist' is already considered a 'dirty word' full of negative connotations - we're bra-burning, ball-busting castraters who wish men would be taken down a notch - which is grossly untrue. But it doesn't help when a group of women (and men) go around calling each other Sister and Brother whilst doing feminist work or protesting.
I'm picturing them all with long dreadlocks, peace signs, marijuana joints and brightly coloured hemp clothing or sari-like shawls as I type the word 'sister'. Yes, it's a stereotype, but not a helpful one.

I can understand why they think of us all as a Sisterhood. I really can. We are a united community, sort of, as we fight for gender equality. After all, William Cobbett said,
Women are a sisterhood. They make common cause in behalf of the sex; and, indeed, this is natural enough, when we consider the vast power that the law gives us over them
But I can't help but feel that in order to be taken seriously by anyone, we should stop referring to ourselves in that sort of language - I'm picturing US University frat houses and Greek houses and stuff, you know, "the sisterhood of the omega" and whatnot.

And whilst the idea that feminists are a sisterhood can be uniting and communal, it also sounds selective. That only particular people can be part of the sisterhood. Preferably ones with ovaries and uteri. There are men in the facebook group, and I don't know how they feel about being referred to as Sisters - or, by singled out by omission.

Whilst feminism is about embracing all people and fighting for equality of everyone regardless of race, gender, sex or orientation - and perhaps this is very singular and abrasive of me - I just can not bring myself to refer to other members of the human race as "brother" or "sister" just because we share a common belief or interest.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dear Esther

I actually started writing this on the 19th or something of May - we played it on the 18th May. But again, I was having a great week and stuff kept happening.

In what I hope to be the start of a really fun and nice tradition (perhaps even with recording - turns out that I come out with rather spontaneous outbursts of funny and oddly cute nerd commentary) of playing through games with The Boyfriend, we played through an indie game called Dear Esther. (Currently around £6 on Steam - bear in mind it takes about 2 hours to play through, depending on how much exploring you decide to do.)

It is first and foremost an atmospheric game. There are no action sequences, no dungeons, no fighting, no tactics involved. You are exploring, allowing yourself to enjoy the gorgeous but bleak scenery, discovering strange runes in florescent paint, abandoned shacks, wrecked ships - boats became a thing for me - and listening to the entries of a diary being read. What soundtrack there is is very quiet and background, perfect for immersion in the scenery.

Once night has fallen. Unfortunately we did not think to screen cap any of the inside of the caves.

And what graphics they are. From the cliffs of what appear to be Devon to the insides of gorgeous caves to the running water and ocean, no details are spared. If only to experience some amazing sights, you should play this game.

(Click the second image to see it in its full screen glory. Look at the detail of the sand, the rocks, the reflections.)

The voice acting is ideal - it's understated but not boring. It's doesn't chug along and it's not a dramatic reading. It is simply the thoughts of an old? man being put to paper, written to someone named Esther. Who she is, we don't know, but I think it is generally assumed that it is his late wife.

The story is based, as I've indicated, on diary entries of an unknown person. Whether we are the person writing, or whether we are simply following through his life as a ghost is uncertain. There is a lot of ambiguity in the storyline, which makes it all the more interesting. Only one thing is clear - we are following the last days of his life. As we make our way across the shoreline to the caves and abandoned shipwrecks, we do see shadows of people - just that. I called them ghosts. Perhaps shadows of the player's past self, if we are to assume that we are the reader. Since it is possibly using the same engine as Amnesia, there was one mildly creepy noise that made The Boyfriend suddenly yell "GET OUT GET OUT" when I was looking around an empty shack. However there is NO scary evil here. Maybe a creepy sadness about the game. And strange ghostlike figures, but nothing will take over your mind just because there's a dark corner.

The story is very simplistic. I will avoid spoilers as much as possible, but the only thing clear from the start is that Esther is dead.We learn how quite quickly, and when jumping into a very deep water pool deep in the caves, we experience the visual memory of the scene of her demise, which is poignantly shown as he makes his way back to the surface. We also know that he - possibly they - is an explorer, and he's nearing the end of his life. But aside from what he's been doing on the cliff sides, from the diary or letters we know little else - just the writer's feelings and thoughts.

As we travel through the wilderness of Devon (actually, it turns out it is an island in the outer Hebrides, but I think the Esther's accident happened in England), we discover many strange markings. Is it science? Aliens? Madness? Towards the end of the game, there are whole phrases and sentences on the cliff face - they both mean something and nothing to us. We have no idea otherwise who the author is, whether he even painted all these strange markings! Just that he lost someone very dear to him and is going through grief.

The ending is quite the climax, for a game in which technically nothing happens. It is a journey and all journeys have to end. How it ends, you'll have to play to find out.

Were the 2 hours worth it? From a couple play through point of view: yes. We had fun. We were both engrossed as I navigated through, investigating anything that the boyfriend pointed out, or that I felt was worth seeing. There are no directions as such in the game, and I guess we were just lucky that we'd taken the "main route" and played through more quickly. There may have been some more at the start, outside of the caves.

From a gaming point of view? It's a short game and not a lot of effort is required. I think it was worth it, if only to play through once, and I believe that on Steam it is never much more than £7. Which is reasonable for what the game is.

I'll certainly end up buying it just to play through it again - maybe play through with my brother. Some things just have to be shared. Aside from that, the game apparently offers a unique experience each time you play, as the audio is randomly generated, and so aspects and emphases might change. Either way, you should probably play through at least once.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Ode to Joss

Ok, so I actually saw The Avengers the first week it was out (for my birthday, GREAT timing :D), but you know how it is with blogging. You're too busy having fun elsewhere sometimes and everything piles up!

What I like to call his 'visionary' pose.
Oh, Joss Whedon, you've had a very good year. You've announced the secret production of 'Much Ado About Nothing', starring the world's favourite Whedonites, you've released a popular horror film with Cabin in the Woods (I've not seen it, but I'm told it's very good and not too scary - Joss couldn't resist adding his trademark humour, throwing in the odd pastiche and homage to the genre) and then record breaking The Avengers.

It deserved its record breaking status. The thing that amazed most audiences, I think, is the fact that the film simply shouldn't work. It's the culmination of 4 super hero films, with the addition of two extras whose background films haven't yet - if they ever do - been made. There needs to be continuity for the four main films in order for it to flow, and yet it needs to make sense. A lot of the time, the characters are just talking at each other - and this wouldn't have worked if, say, Steven Spielberg had directed. (Sorry, Steve.)

Joss's wit, storytelling and general genius really shines through with this film.

We don't require too much development of Tony Stark, as we see how he has changed in Iron Man 2. However Joss still throws in a nice bit of Tony's homelife now that he is with Pepper. They're seen working together creating building designs and whatnot. Pepper is wearing casual clothing - no shoes. They're quite lovey dovey, really. 

He is seriously gorgeous, too.
Hulk needs to be reintroduced, since we all know there have been two or three flop films previously. And may I say, Mark Ruffalo, where have you been all my life? He is PERFECT. He's a quiet, understated and observant Bruce Banner, with all the underlying menace as he bitterly comments on SHIELD's 'craziness' at keeping him cooped up with everyone in the sky. His relationship with Stark is lovely, too, as the two scientists share mutual respect and insight.

Black Widow's character is the most developed of all, as Whedon works his magic to undo any indication that she is somehow a token female, with the few dimensions of Michael Bay's Mikaela Banes. (Even Megan Fox wasn't happy with her character.)
We see her use her whiles to get information out of Loki, showing tenderness and emotion, coupled with professionalism as she listens to what Loki has done to Hawkeye. 
She is proven to be a dangerous adversary without the bizarre and unrealistic choreographed kung fu stylefighting seen in Iron Man 2. 

And, to defeat once again that she is 'just a token female', we have of course Maria Hill briefly introduced, who is herself a key player in the storyline, for the sequel AND as a scene filler. She is a career woman who is just as capable as Black Widow to hold her own, her first scene being the evacuation of a SHIELD HQ in a fast driving car, shooting guns at an escaping Loki.

She gets her hands dirty, and although we don't see much of her or much character development, you can tell she will be a key figure in later films.

I wasn't overly taken with Hawkeye at first - I didn't care that he'd been taken over so quickly and easily by Loki, and I wasn't sure I cared much what happened to him, but I really do hope now that they do a cross over film with Black Widow's. It'd be good. I think if Marvel reckon they can't flesh out a Black Widow background film, they should definitely throw in Hawkeye. I mean, I think I speak for most of the internet fandoms when I say, WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN BUDAPEST.

And of course, Coulson's built upon, and even gets some of the best lines in the entire film.

The only criticisms I have - and it's not entirely Whedon's fault - is the shallowness of Loki's character. He doesn't really have a drive or real motive (though there are plenty of theories explaining his actions in this film to be a means of getting back to Asgard for Thor 2, the *real* sequel) and his mental state and emotions are less complex than they could have been. It was a very watered down Lion King 2 style storyline, only instead of being Kovu, he's Zira.
And boy, does Whedon punish his arrogance. xD

And perhaps that Maria Hill was a teeny bit shoe-horned, but only a bit. And it's not really anybody's fault. Couldn't very well leave her out, either.

Perhaps the reason the film works so well weaving the characters' stories together is that the characters themselves have to learn to work as a team - The Avengers. To start with they each have their own opinions and agendas, not really trusting each other. Captain America and Stark start on the wrong foot, whilst Thor just generally does not get them.

The script too is a big reason the film works so well. It's full of sharp one liners, with perfect delivery and comic timing. And there's plenty of piss-taking of each individual character - from Nick Fury's one-eyedness to Captain America understanding a Wizard of Oz reference.

The Avengers was quite simply marvellous, putting the bar very high for potential Black Widow/Hawkeye/Hulk and other sequel films in the Marvelverse, and I am certain that Whedon will do a great sequel.
(Though apparently he's 'torn' about doing it. Which makes fans everywhere weep.)

Incidentally, if you're interesting in what Joss had to say about his phenomenal record breaking week, read his thanks to his fans.