Credit Where It’s Due

I’ve been really harsh on Arizona in my last few posts, mostly because of brilliance like Free Shotguns and the stubborn zombie that is SB1070. It’s easy to find things that are wrong with this state and for that, I am correspondingly despondent. However, at my heart, I remain an idealist, however cynical I may seem, and at its heart, Arizona proves that it, too, is capable of brave actions that offer a glimmer of hope.

Bisbee, Arizona, you give me hope that this state can be better. That we can all be better. From my own little corner of Tucson, thanks for being excellent. I’m proud of you guys.

Tucson Is On the Daily Show

Considering all the gun related ranting I’ve been doing lately, it would be remiss of me not to share the link to this Daily Show clip about Tucson’s gun buyback program that happened in January of this year.The clip itself is pretty funny, although Tucson itself manages to come across as looking like *sigh* a haven for redneck gut nuts, like always.

The silver lining, however, comes from the fact that at least Councilman Steve Kozachik is a rational and reasonable person and comes across well in the clip. I’m glad he’s the elected official and not that other guy.

Tucson, You Continue To Disappoint

I know that the state I’m from doesn’t define me. I’m my own person, after all. Just because I’m from Arizona doesn’t mean I fit the mold of what Arizona is to the rest of the country. I shouldn’t let this kind of thing bother me, right? It’s just that it’s hard to even want to call a place home when you have brilliance like this:

A former mayoral candidate in Tucson, Ariz., is launching a privately funded program to provide residents of crime-prone areas with free shotguns so they can defend themselves against criminals. . . McClusky said citizens need to do more to protect themselves because city government is failing to do the job.

“We need to take back our city, and it needs to come back to the citizens and not the criminals,” he said.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even . . .

I don’t even feel the need to point out the idiocy of just handing out guns to people with nothing more than a background check, considering how thorough and reliable such background checks are. I imagine there’s also a part in this program that plans for each person to “solemnly swear that they will use this free shotgun only for good.” Maybe they’ll swear on a Bible, ’cause, you know, that always works.

The thing that really bothers me? It’s not even about the guns at this point. It’s about the fact that there are people that think like this and even worse, there are people that look at the first group and say, you know, I think that there is a good idea.

I’m not afraid of guns. I understand their place and their purpose. I own a gun myself. But to launch a plan to “take back our city” makes it seem like it’s a gunfight a minute around here. Honestly, it’s not, although I suppose that will change when everybody has a free shotgun and it’s like that time all the neighborhood kids had a big Super Soaker fight, except that everybody will be dead instead of soaked. Can’t wait for those good times to roll.

It’s like the people that moved out here arrived in the Southwest with their minds filled with images of cowboys and gunfights and OK Corral shootouts. And when it turned out that, surprise, the Wild West isn’t, those people were disappointed. There’s a part of those people who really wish, deep down, that they could tote their shotgun and their revolver and just lay waste to the first motherfucker who does something to deserve it. It’s like they’re disappointed that we don’t need to solve things with shootouts.

Every single time Arizona does something, it’s embarrassing for anybody that engages in rational thinking. I’d really like for that to stop, but I won’t be holding my breath, because then somebody might see me holding my breath, assume I’m up to nefarious purposes, and it’ll be another Wild West shootout.

When it comes down to it? I think that for the vast majority of people, even so called responsible gun owers, guns are just another form of toy. They’re dangerous toys and they’re expensive toys and they carry an awesome burden of responsibility, but I think that years and years of immersion in a pop culture where the dramatic gun cock is considered the ultimate form of punctuation have made us forget that this isn’t a fucking game.

I’m not blaming pop culture and movies and video games for making us violent, especially when statistics show that overall, things are getting better. It’s not the media’s fault for making violence sexy. I’m blaming us for being too immature not to realize that violence in reality is not fun or sexy or exciting. Deep down inside, we think it’s going to be just like the movies and that’s why we want it. That’s why we long for a zombie apocalypse. That’s why we hope for the chance to shoot a home invader so we can be a hero, even though if we really wanted to “be prepared,” we’d eat better and exercise more instead of buying more guns, considering the likelihood of dying to cardiovascular disease in comparison to violence.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

About That Supreme Court Thing

I shouldn’t have to explain my feelings on this one, so I’ll keep this short.

equality for all

 

Marriage is a basic human right. It’s not a Christian thing or a Jewish thing. It’s not a Muslim thing or a Hindu thing. It’s not a religious thing. It is not a liberal thing or a conservative thing.

It is a human thing.

There is no discussion about this, there is no debate. This is reality.

There is nothing more sacred than love. There is nothing more important than loving one another. If you deny this simple, self-evident truth and you justify your denial for based on the words from some ancient writing? Some book or scroll or tablet? And the words of that ancient scroll (misconstrued or not) are more important to you than loving your fellow person?

Nothing I could write here could even begin to come close to showing you all the ways in which you missed the goddamned point about . . .

Well, about everything, really.

More About Tombs And The Raiding Thereof

Still working my way through the new Tomb Raider. Actually, that’s not an accurate description; it would be more apt to say that I am savoring my way through this game. I’m taking it slowly, playing only a few hours each day. This is not because the game does not hold my interest and is in every way analogous to not wanting to finish your favorite book, because then the story is over. I’ve never had this happen to me before.

Usually, when a game hooks me, I’m in a rush to play it, to get through it, to just immerse myself in it the way a more sane person might take an immersion bath or something. Otherwise, the game is enjoyable but not all-consuming, and so I take my time with the game at a leisurely pace unaffected by overwhelming affection. Or I take my time because the game is fucking Skyrim and you can play every day for six months and still have things to do. Ahem.

Tomb Raider has created a new paradigm; a game so engaging that I’m forcing myself to not play it to draw out the experience. The other thing that’s very interesting to me about this game is the level of identification I’m feeling towards this incarnation of Lara Croft. There are a few reasons why this is cause for reflection.

I make no secret about the fact that, when given a choice, I tend to play female characters more often than male characters. Although this is not a universal tendency, if you would look back at my recent playing list, it would look something like this:

  • Fable III: Female Character (you don’t really get to specify your character more than that)
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning: Female Dark Elf Archmage
  • Skyrim: Male Dark Elf Archmage
  • Mass Effect 3: Male Commander Shepard (this was a continuation of the saved character I began back in Mass Effect 1 when it was released in 2007).
  • Dragon Age 2: Female Mage Hawke
  • Divinity 2: Female Dragon Knight
  • World of WarCraft: Female Blood Elf Paladin, Female Night Elf Druid, Female Night Elf Priest, Female Draenei Hunter, Male Undead Warlock

Looking at that list is personally revealing in several other ways as well, namely that I also tend to like dark elves and mages of one sort or another.

Anyway, you get the idea. Skyrim is really the only game where I never had a female character, not counting Mass Effect 3, which imported your earlier save game. Otherwise, I tend to create female protagonists when given the option. This tendency extends outside of games, as well: the protagonists for both of the novels I’m working on at the moment are female as well. My superficial theory is that this has something to do with the fact that most protagonists are male anyway, so this is my small effort towards balancing things out.

However, I’ve never really taken the time to perform an in-depth psychoanalysis of why I do this. I know that the stereotyped answer for a man playing a woman in a game is the tired “if I’m going to stare at a butt for twenty hours, I want it to be a nice butt.” That one is so tired, I think it’s actually deceased. It was a product of its time, back when most players (for better or worse) assumed that you played a character that matched your real-life gender. Anybody that did otherwise was an aberration in the nascent online gaming culture.

I don’t think it’s about titillation via pixels at this point.  I had to go digging for it, but I think this post from Tycho of Penny Arcade really sum up my own feelings about why a male player would prefer a female character:

I’ve made it pretty clear that I tend to play women in Bioware games . . . It reminds me of when I first saw Samus Aran’s face in Metroid: Prime, my face, flashed inside the visor, saw my eyes, which were her eyes, blinking at the brightness.  These are truly alien experiences for me, and I’m exposed to them and enriched by them because I didn’t have to fill out some questionnaire before playing the game to make it aware of my sacred boundaries.

Now, here’s why I’m particular interested in my personal reactions towards inhabiting the character of Lara Croft. For one thing, she’s a gaming icon; up there in the ranks of the Video Game Pantheon with Mario, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, etc. She’s not my character in the same sense that I customized and personalized the various characters in the games I listed above. Usually, I don’t forge the same connection if I haven’t been able to define the character in some way; I loved Halo 4, but I never really felt like I “was” the Master Chief, merely that I was along for the ride.

Consider this remark made by Ron Rosenberg, executive producer for the new Tomb Raider:

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character,” Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.

“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'”

That comment sparked a lot of discussion about the nature of gender roles in gaming, a discussion that really needs to keep happening, but that’s not the point I’m getting at here. The point is that I went into Tomb Raider fully expecting to feel the way Rosenberg explained I would feel: that I wouldn’t really be projecting myself into the character, I’d be trying to protect her, etc. And indeed, if you look at my previous post, I definitely thought I was going to have that “protective” vibe going on.

But as I actually started working my way through the game? I didn’t want to protect Lara, because I saw her as myself. I became her. I stepped into her role and her perspective and subsumed myself in her character. Her fears were my fears. The interesting thing about this immersion was that it wasn’t simply “oh, there’s me, but now I’m a hot chick with a bow and I’m fighting for my life.” It’s not simply an aesthetic thing; if it had been, we’d still be back at the “looking at hot butts” mentality.

Male privilege is one of those things we (males) don’t like to talk about. In fact, my particular demographic (middle class straight white male) doesn’t like to talk about the p-word at all. Confronted by the word privilege, it seems we are destined to retreat from it like a vampire exposed to sunlight, misconstrue it and argue foolishly, or simply bury our heads in the sand and say la la la, can’t hear you.

Privilege is a real thing and it’s a pernicious thing, not because those that have it are morally bankrupt (although some of us are that, too) but because it’s the result of a society that is not not egalitarian towards all of its peoples. Male privilege is, I think, the reason why Rosenberg feels that male gamers will want to “protect” Lara, even those she is the hardened survivor (eventually) with the gun and the climbing axe and the survival instincts and I’m a geek with myopia who works in a library and writes a blog post about video games. Let’s face it: she’s the one who should be protecting me.

Male privilege means that rape isn’t something I spend a lot of time worrying about. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge that male rape is a real and awful thing. However, it’s slightly less of a problem than female rape, considering the fact that roughly 91% of rape victims are female and 99% of rapists are male, according to the Bureau of Justice. That’s just a little bit unbalanced, in my opinion.

I’ve heard mutterings on various posts and things about there being an attempted rape scene in Tomb Raider. I don’t know the specifics, so I’m not sure if that’s a scene that is coming up or it already happened, like in the scene when the guy choked me to death six times before I blew his head off. What I do know is that in the first few hours of Tomb Raider, I was fully immersed in Lara’s character and I was deeply, painfully aware of the fact that I was a woman alone and unarmed on an island filled with brutal men who very much wanted to visit harm upon me. I don’t think I’m projecting some latent personal insecurity here when I say that the early atmosphere in Tomb Raider is one of fear. Part of that fear was that I didn’t know what the crazed men were going to do to me if they caught me. Were they trying to kill me or capture me? If they captured me, what would they do to me?

These were the thoughts that went through my head. It wasn’t that Lara was an extension of me. It is more accurate to say that I became part of her. I was drawn into her world and her struggle in the way that only the very best fiction can do, except that unlike in fiction, I have agency in the story. I can see what happens when I fail.

Lara’s transformation from victim to survivor is powerful. I’m halfway through the game at this point and at this point, Lara is cut and bruised and burned and bloody from countless injuries and attacks. And she keeps pressing on, keeps fighting, keeps struggling to survive. She’s come into her power at this point and more than once, the thugs who once hunted her and instilled such fear are now afraid of her.

It’s a story about empowerment and I’ve been immersed in it every step of the way. Because, at least for the duration of this story, she’s me and I’m her and because of this, I’ve been able to experience her journey in a way that no other medium could ever hope to achieve.

Tomb Raiding

I picked up the new Tomb Raider game this evening. I’m only a short way into the game, but it’s unlike everything I’ve ever played. It’s raw. It’s emotional. I don’t know how to describe it, but I want to try. Minor spoiler warning if you haven’t played the game, although the scene I’m going to talk about happens pretty early on.

There’s this thing that’s pretty common in fiction: the cathartic response. I’m not sure if this is a stereotypical male thing or not (probably is), but there’s something in particular that always gets to me; it’s the scene where the female character is in trouble. She’s fallen into the serial killer’s lair or she’s been ambushed or disarmed or she’s been hunted. It doesn’t matter what the genre is or even the medium. The point is that she’s in trouble and the consequences if she doesn’t a)get rescued or b)self-rescue are dire. I watch (or read or play) enduring the increasing tension until the climatic moment arrives and the hero busts in or (more satisfyingly, in my opinion) she turns the tables on the antagonist. Now the creep is the one that’s in trouble.

And always, always no matter the circumstances or the characters or the situation, I’m in the mood for some “avenging angel” type stuff. I want the protagonist to put two rounds into the creep’s head. I want to see the monster suffer for what he has wrought. I feel good when it happens. I feel pleased that justice (or vengeance) has been doled out. Later, I’ll wonder what that says about my own psyche and I’ll fret about some latent bloodthirstiness or whatever, but at the moment? I’m glad.

Bringing things back to Tomb Raider now; there’s a scene very early on where Lara is in, as they say, deep shit. Her hands are bound and she’s scurrying from shadow to shadow trying to stay one step ahead of these monstrous thugs, all of them armed and all of them huge in comparison to her slender frame. And then you get to a moment where she’s hiding, looking away as one guy in particular moves past her, and then the fucker just turns and eyeballs her. Got you, he (probably) says. He’s speaking Russian without subtitles, so I have no idea. Maybe he says something even worse.

I’ve played a lot of games, I know what happens next. Struggle time, right? I’m ready for this; she’ll knee him or something and it’ll be fine. Except that it wasn’t fine. I missed a crucial moment, didn’t react quickly enough and he chokes her to death. And it’s horrible. It’s horrible enough that when I reload and try again, I fumble even though I know it’s coming. And again, he chokes her to death.

It takes me six tries. On the fifth try, I pull off the proper command and she knees him in the groin and he staggers away. I’m so enthused by this that I miss the follow-up; he grabs her again and chokes her to death anyway.

On the seventh try, I’m ready. I’m pumped. I’m ready to pull this shit off because I want to kill this asshole. I’ve watched him choke the life out of Lara six times now. Each time he laughs and my screen goes black, I’m that much more involved. I can’t wait to get this right and visit some virtual bullet vengeance upon this fucker.

Seventh try: I pull it off. Both commands are executed flawlessly; Lara knees the guy (twice) and gets the gun away from him. Then there’s the struggle for the gun and Lara tries to push the gun towards him. And then bang. The gun goes off. The top of the guy’s head explodes. He slumps to the ground, gurgling and twitching. Lara is covered in blood that isn’t hers, but damn it, she’s alive and he’s dead. The helpless damsel isn’t. Nine millimeters of justice has been visited upon the deserving. I expect to feel that moment of rightful vengeance and satisfaction.

I don’t feel that.

I’m not glad about any of this. I’m sad that this happened. I’m emotionally wrecked. I’m watching as Lara breaks down, because this early in the game, this is the first human she’s ever killed. This is the death of her innocence. This is the moment when the game goes from “Woman vs. Wild” to “Woman vs. Evil.” This isn’t the glamorous violence so common in fiction. This isn’t sexy or exciting or satisfying. It’s ugly and it’s brutal and it’s awful. Most of all it feels real.

I’m not prepared for how realistic my own reaction is; numb, horrified, relieved, saddened. I don’t feel glad about any of this. I just want to keep going, keep moving.

As Lara pulls herself back together and moves on, I find myself contemplating the entire experience. I’ve played a lot of video games and consumed a lot of fiction. I believe in the power of stories. I thought I’d seen it all but somehow, this feels different.

It feels important. It feels powerful.

I don’t know what it all means. I just know that I had to share it with somebody.

Life’s Funny Like That

I don’t really have much to say tonight for the blog, but I wanted to share this amusing moment I had yesterday in regards to feedback I’ve received on my fiction writing. Brief background for context: I’m currently hard at work editing and rewriting a novel manuscript in the hopes of publishing. I’ve sent it out to a few publishers, but haven’t had any bites yet.

The last publisher I sent it to had a few bits of feedback for me, including “drop the prologue. Nobody writes prologues anymore. If it’s important enough to the story, it’s chapter one.”

Never one to ignore advice, even when that advice contradicts my own experience, I dutifully made the changes and the Prologue became Chapter One. Now we come to last night; I’ve been meeting with a writer’s group for the past few months to talk shop and offer critiques of each other’s work. There was somebody new there tonight and what’s the very first comment she offers after reading my Prologue Chapter One?

“This reads more like a prologue to me,” she says. “I don’t think this should be Chapter One. It should be a prologue.”

At that point, I can’t help but smile. It really does amuse me. Will I change it back? Hard to say; I think it’s ultimately a minor thing to worry about at the moment, especially when I have so many other, larger problems.

Still, I think it nicely illustrates the futility of trying to follow any offered “rules” when it comes to writing. There’s always going to be something or someone who exists in opposition to your rule. Just something to keep in mind.

Zerglings Have Feelings, Too

I love this parody campaign from PETA reminding us to treat all living things with compassion, even the zerglings. For the record, yes, Zerg is my favorite race to play as in StarCraft,

Seriously, though, who can resist this adorable little guy?

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Although PETA tends to go off its meds, so to speak, overall, I consider their mission of opposing animal cruelty to be a worthy one. The horrors of factory farm were one of the primary motivations that encouraged me to become a vegetarian seven years ago. I particularly like this quote, explaining the motivation for a fictional campaign against fictional cruelty against a fictional being:

So remember, while Zerglings are not real, there are many equally “strange” and exotic animals we share this planet with who deserve our empathy. Just because crocodiles and snakes look alien to us, that doesn’t make it OK to skin them alive for a handbag, shoes, or a belt.

It’s something to keep in mind. Maize and Morrigan are my two pet snakes and they are every bit as dear to me as your dog or cat is to you. I can tell you that it’s just as upsetting to see your handbag made out of the skin of one of my favorite animals as it would be for you to see me in a coat made from puppy-fur.

Just something to keep in mind. Also, in case it’s not obvious, I don’t own a coat made from puppies. That would be wrong. Also, it would be impractical since I live in the desert.

Why This Man Loathes Snakes

I’m on a bit of a pro-snake track today, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day and snakes are on everybody’s minds.

Explain to me how this makes any kind of sense. A guy relates the story behind his ophidiophobia.

Here’s the short version. Guy is in 7th grade. Guy has a 9th grader friend who finds a snake and decides to pick it up and put it around his neck. Snake slithers into the kid’s short and bites him on the dick. After some struggle, the kid manages to pry the (actual) snake from his (trouser) snake and then proceeds to stomp it to death. The kid goes on to “accept the bite marks as a badge of honor” and our author is scared for life.

The snake, by the way? Harmless garter snake. Yeah, I’m real glad that your friend killed a snake for engaging in a natural response to a perceived threat and now you are the one scarred for life. That makes perfect sense to me. No, really. It’s just like that time I was doing something stupid and then suffered perfectly reasonable consequences and then had a completely irrational reaction to those consequences. Yup.

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Behold the tiny face of pure evil!

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Snakes?

St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that commemorates the unjust and wrongful expulsion of a proud and noble species from its native land. I oppose speciesism and anti-snakeism in all of its forms. I stand up for the reptiles that can’t stand up for themselves, because they do not have legs.

I support this snake wearing a tiny hat. Do you?

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Here are 11 other snakes that oppose the rampant anti-snakeism of St. Patrick’s Day.

Compulsively iconoclastic!

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