Delayed Impressions: Unpretty Rapstar Season 1

Unpretty Rapstar

maxresdefault-1The contestants of Unpretty Rapstar Season 1. Top row from left to right: Cheetah, Jessi, JollyV, Tymee. Bottom row from left to right: Kisum, Lil Cham, Jimin, Yuk Jidam.

I often find myself ambivalent about Kpop. Sure there are loads of artists I enjoy and keep up with and songs that are on my iPod but often I don’t participate in the fandom. In fact, I find Kpop fandom to be completely insane half the time and do my best not to engage.

Part of my issue with the industry is that there’s a strong emphasis on females being absolutely perfect and demure. With South Korea boasting some of the highest rates of plastic surgery in the world, sometimes you want something more real and more dirty. Less of the cutesy youthful long legged wonders of idol girl groups but a bad bitch trying to carve her way in the world, unafraid.

It wouldn’t be right of me to write an article talking about females in Korean hip-hop without laying out the state of affairs. Every kpop group, male and female, tends to have someone who occupies the position of rapper in the group. These rappers tend to have a verse or bridge in a title song and often aren’t very good. So rappers wishing to make it big have a choice of either joining an idol group or doing the slow grind as a member of the underground scene. There are very few options in between, especially for women. The last solo female rapper who made it big was Tasha aka Yoon Mi-rae, whose story of being half black and half Korean made for a great overcoming the odds narrative. Her song Black Happiness struck a chord with girls who didn’t fit with societal ideals of beauty.

Enter Unpretty Rapstar. Unpretty Rapstar answers a gap in the market that I fell for, hook line and sinker. It is a survival rap competition by Mnet with talented female rappers vying for the opportunity to show their skills on tracks done by some of Korea’s finest hip hop producers. The concept is similar to Mnet’s other show Show Me The Money and in fact, some of the contestants had previously auditioned and been unsuccessful in Show Me The Money.

This is not to say that Unpretty Rapstar is real in any way. It’s a reality TV show, so it’s scripted to hell and back but it’s the great kind of unreality I like so I will give it and it’s weirdly named title a pass. The logic behind the name Unpretty Rapstar was that instead of focusing on the looks of these women, we’re encouraged to look at their swagger and to listen to them. These were girls who were actively going against the grain by not being… pretty? And here’s where it gets slightly baffling, as I find nearly every contestant pretty in a way that is real. They’re closer to the reality of girls who exist in the real world rather than the glitzy world of showbiz. Hence why they’re unpretty? Or something?

Either way, Unpretty Rapstar had a great premise and being a relatively short series with 8 episodes, I binged watched the entire thing in one go. I had no regrets in doing so.

The contestants are a mix of underground rappers, music industry veterans and previous Show Me The Money contestants. Cheetah, Tymee and JollyV were all names in underground hip hop. Jessi and Jimin were pros in the business; Jessi being a member of Lucky J and having been active since 2005 while Jimin was the leader of AOA, arguably one of the most popular groups in Kpop at the moment. Meanwhile Lilcham, Yuk Jidam and Kisum were looking for a chance to prove themselves on reality TV again, having failed the first time round on the largely male dominated Show Me The Money.

The claws come out early, with the girls judging each other as they discover the competition and introduce themselves to each other. The judging gets worse when they all show off their skills in rap on the spot. It’s catty, sassy and there are some catchy tunes.


The Introduction Cypher Featuring The Ladies of Unpretty Rapstar

Not only is the drama rife from the get go, but there are team challenges and diss battles a plenty. While it’s produced and scripted to a certain degree, there’s still an organic feel to the whole thing. We see Jimin, the idol contestant deal with being dismissed right off the bat and crying in the confessional interviews, desperate to prove that she’s not just a pretty dancing singing doll. Jessi is hoping to revive her career to keep doing the thing she loves and she does so in a blisteringly honest fashion, cutting down anyone who dares to challenge her. JollyV and Tymee’s feud from the real world carrying over into the show. Cheetah’s quiet tenacity, wisdom and spectacular eyeliner. Yuk Jidam wanting to show that her age is no barrier to some sick rhymes. Kisum and Lilcham wanting to prove that they had soul rather than just being pretty faces. Meanwhile host and veteran rapper San E serves as the anchor, instigator and comic relief between all the drama – skilfully delivering the challenge details and critiquing the girls with a hint of mischief to him.

The skill levels between the girls are pretty variable but that’s just par for the course. Lilcham’s lack of confidence in her rhymes means that she gets the boot and is eventually replaced by Jace from Miss $ (???), who is similarly dreadful. JollyV only lasts until the end not because she does well, but she does just enough to remain out of trouble. Yuk Jidam writes like a teenager, with metaphors of a teenager but spits them out with such ferocity that I want to see her in 5 years time with more experience. Jimin’s lyrics are weak but her delivery stands out. Jessi is just a threat all round, but uses far too much English for a Korean based audience. Cheetah just assassinates all round while Tymee struggles to keep her emotions and a professional face on while rapping. I felt for these girls. I wanted to root for all of them, but there were some that I felt myself drawn to more than others.

This all culminates of course, with a pretty great compilation at the end of it. My advice would be to not listen to it if you’re thinking of watching the show as every track has a story behind it.

The success of Unpretty Rapstar has led to Volume 2, a second season being produced. All the girls are now more recognizable then they have been ever before. It’s a great story of females doing well and succeeding on their own terms, with some crazy catchy tunes coming out of it. If you’re in the market for some reality tv, then Unpretty Rapstar fits the bill quite easily.

Geek Word Wednesdays: A Definition of Meta in Fandom

Welcome to Geek Word Wednesdays, where members of Girls Got Game! will be featuring common terms relevant to geeks everywhere, and to a more critical discussion on geek identity, geek culture, and geek discourse. If you’ve ever got a word that you’d like us to study, let us know!


So we kicked off our #GeekWordWednesdays column with the definition of “geek”, which is the best term to discuss in light of what we’re trying to do here. This was followed up a few weeks later with the definition of “fandom”, which moved our discussion from talking about the individual to the community. Now we’re going to take a look at the definition of meta in fandom, within the specific context of the works people are fans of, fan works themselves, and discussion within fandom circles.

Throughout the course of my research for this article, I realized that there is no unifying definition for “meta”, which is interesting in itself. I’m pretty sure, as well, that lot of geeks don’t even know what meta entails – it seems as though it’s only popular as a term within certain online circles, while other circles either avoid using the term or aren’t aware that it exists at all. As such, I plan on constructing this definition from my position as a fan and literary/cultural studies scholar, based on what I’ve dug up online, what I’ve seen in the communities that I participate in, and from the critical opinions of other scholars. This, therefore, is less an attempt at standardizing a definition, and more like an informed opinion that readers can use as a launching point for further discussions.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s proceed!

Definition of Meta, for the Definition of Meta in Fandom

Etymology Online’s entry (pictured above) illuminates the specific context behind the use of the prefix in tandem with academic study. There is no mention of its use in the context of fandom and discourse within fandom. On the other hand, FanLore.org has something a little more specific to our interests:

Meta describes a concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter. It is derived from the Greek preposition and prefix meta- (μετά-) meaning “after”, or “beyond”.
In fandom, particularly LiveJournal-based fandom, meta is used to describe a discussion of fanworks of all kinds, fan work in relation to the source text, fanfiction characters and their motivation and psychology, fan behavior, or fandom itself.
Meta or a meta essay can also be a fan-authored piece of non-fiction writing that discusses any of the above topics.

Interestingly enough, the next section of the article is titled “Not All Fans Agree on the Definition”. Surprise!

“From Metaphysics to Teen Wolf Meta: The Evolution of a Word” takes a look at meta from a philosophical (phenomenological?) standpoint, tracking the evolution of its use from its literary origins. On my end, I’d like to frame my definition of meta in fandom within this context for one simple reason: everything fandom-related can be viewed as a text that one can analyze. The works themselves, regardless of their medium, are stories with elements that we can study in parts and as a whole. The interactions between fans also have their own “narratives” that we can look at. There are patterns we can observe, textual gaps we can speculate on, subtext we can attack, and the like.

On that note, let’s talk about two terms: metafiction and metanarrative. Wikipedia defines “metafiction” as

…a literary device used self-consciously and systematically to draw attention to a work’s status as an artifact. It poses questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection.

Metanarrative, on the other hand, is “a ‘narrative’ or ‘story’ is used for what we might ordinarily call a ‘theory’ about the way the world operates. Many such ‘theories’ are ordinarily taken to be the objective ‘truth’.” (The Literary Link)

Based on my personal observations, when some fans “do meta” online, they do a mix of metafiction and metanarrative. Their discussions count as metafiction, in a way, because they’re providing MORE fictional aspects to a fictional work, which is either grounded on their reading of the text at hand or their personal preferences as a fan of the series, character, or pairing. Fans know, of course, that there might not be any basis for their theories or interpretations whatsoever beyond their own opinion. Many of them don’t care. Some of them, in fact, continue to believe in their take on the character/series/pairing even AFTER the original creators of the work introduce elements that disprove their interpretations.

Image Reference of Mark Hamill, Definition of Meta in Fandom

Opinions regarding Mark Hamill’s statement on Luke Skywalker’s sexuality have been mixed. Some people feel that it was “revolutionary”, others weren’t happy with it. Still others were apathetic, because at the end of the day? For some fans, it doesn’t matter what “official voices” in their fandom have to say on any of the things that they love. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney, taken from this article)

This is REALLY relevant, I feel, to blog-based roleplayers, many of whom create “headcanons” for the characters that they roleplay from their fandoms. No two Roy Mustangs are alike: the “muse” of a roleplayer (slang for the character that a fan has decided to roleplay) is an artifact that a fan constantly constructs and deconstructs. RPers “canon review” for their characters, mining the source text for the sole purpose of depicting a character of their choice as “accurately” as they can manage, determining what is “useful” to them and what isn’t, locating points of ambiguity that they can exploit in a plausible (or, at times, downright gratuitous) fashion. It’s sort of like how several actors will all have different takes on the same concept, with just a few points of convergence.

A DWRP's Muse List, for the Definition of Meta in Fandom

Here’s a screenshot of the muse list of a roleplayer on DWRP. Using HTML codes, the roleplayer created a table whose cells each link back to the journals that she uses for each of the characters that she roleplays. They are all from different canons, with different levels of complexity with regard to their portrayal in their respective series. Furthermore, of interest is the tag “!63”, which means that those are genderbent interpretations of the characters mentioned above.
Making a muse list is common practice in DWRP, especially since it helps other roleplayers find someone to play with. You can look other examples here and here.

As implied above, however, meta may also involve other aspects of the series outside of characters and relationships between characters. When I posted an open call to share their definition or understanding of the word “meta” on my Plurk account, two of my old buds from DWRP (hello, Sabriel and Momo!) mentioned that meta is the providing of details or conjecture on the fictional world or history of a fictional world that the author or canon was vague about, or did not mention at all.

I’ll continue my theme of using Fullmetal Alchemist as an example by mentioning the country of Amestris. Many fans believe that Amestris is meant to be Hiromu Arakawa’s take on an alternate post-World War I/pre-World War II Germany, framed within the context of how the world might have changed with the existence of alchemy. There is nothing specifically stated about this, and yet an analysis of the narrative, a study of the aesthetics of design behind Amestris, and a close look at the details that readers are provided with lend itself well to this interpretation.

Map of Amestris (for the Definition of Meta in Fandom)

Amestris is, in fact, the warmongering country in Fullmetal Alchemist. The conflicts it engages in with its neighboring countries provide the basis for a lot of the tension. Many of these fictional wars can be viewed as allegories for historical conflicts.

Peter, Kuri and Anne – three of my scholar friends – have more to add on meta and how it is used among fans. All of them framed meta as a form of literary analysis – specifically, something akin to a “closed reading” of the text at hand by looking, as mentioned above, at the elements of the piece.

Performing a closed reading of a text in literary studies means taking a Formalist approach to a story. By looking at the elements of fiction – plot, character, setting, and so on – and seeing how the author uses each of these elements, a reader can formulate an interpretation of what the story “means”. Since it focuses on the raw elements of a story, closed readings are always the basis upon which someone can interpret a work of fiction. Other theoretical frameworks – like, let’s say feminism – rely on the groundwork set by a solid closed reading.

Academic literary analysis is, of course, meant to be as “critical” as possible, where the analyst’s own personal opinions and biases are not meant to factor in on the discussion. However, Anne noted that while literary analysis and meta are used interchangeably, meta distinguishes itself precisely BECAUSE of the personal slant it possesses:

…you go a step further and posit details that do not exist in the canon itself. An example: the tumblr post I saw recently that requested “meta” on Steve Rogers and the USO girls, what his interactions (outside of the canon that we saw) would be like, why would he act that way, what would he know, etc. extrapolating from canon to a point where we posit these ‘what about this detail that isn’t ever brought up in canon’

Meta, therefore, relies initially on a closed reading, and then extends outward using what is likely a mix of the fan’s personal preferences and the fan’s need for wish fulfillment as born by their love for the canon in question.

Yet ANOTHER strain was cited by Peter, who pointed out that people also claim to be doing meta when they’re discussing fandoms themselves. It’s a “confused” term, which is probably the impression that you all have been left with throughout the course of this article.

How ever it is used, meta discussions are grounded in fandom and discussions between fans who “speak the same language” of canons and personal preferences. Its critical edge varies from fan to fan, and its relevance waxes and wanes according to the practices of individual fan communities. It’s possible that we’ll never end up having a “proper” definition of meta in fandom, but that does beg the question of whether we even need one. After all, inasmuch as providing a definition means laying out the groundworks for further understanding, specificity can be restrictive.

Flashback Fridays: Me and My Playstation – A Girl’s Story

playstationloading

This round of Flashback Fridays is the republication of my love note to the Playstation, a console line that is dear to my heart. It’s been spruced up a bit and edited to be a little more timely, especially since it was published for Playstation’s 20th Anniversary. The original can be found on What’s a Geek.


On September 10, 2015, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with news of the PlayStation celebrating its 20th Anniversary. I took a moment out to feel Great Shame™ at not saving the date, especially since the PlayStation – all versions of it, really – is close to my heart.

So begins the story of my life with consoles, also known as “My Shoujo Journey™ With PlayStation”. Back when I was still a wee thing in Vancouver, most of my afternoons after school involved sitting around with another Nirvana song blowing out the play room speakers, watching my four older brothers dick around in Doom on the computer, or try to kill each other in a round of Street Fighter II on the old Super Nintendo. The SNES fascinated me, mostly because it meant that more than one person could take it for a spin at the same time. In a large family like mine where we all like to feel included in each other’s activities, that was a good thing.

Chun Li art from Street Fighter II

Chun Li, by the way, was one of my first video game heroes. I didn’t know shit about fighting games, but it didn’t matter. She looked so cool to me, and was pretty much all that I wanted to be before Macross and Myrna made me want to be a veritech pilot.

The only time, however, that I started to play video games in earnest was when we bought a PlayStation (what we now call the PSOne) in 1995. My parents made it a joint graduation gift between me and Older Brother Number Four (henceforth abbreviated as “Older Bro No. 4”), because conveniently he had just graduated from high school and I had graduated from grade school. The first game that I got to play was Final Fantasy VII. I still remember what it was like, at ten, to listen to that opening sequence, and descend upon the streets of Midgar.

Speaking of that opening sequence…

F-e-e-l-i-n-g-s.

Anyway, playing games on any console was always a collaborative experience for us. All of us siblings had a strong preference for single-player games: we had the tendency to lose interest in fighting games, racing games and other co-op experiences very quickly. What we all shared a love for, however, was a damned good story. As such, the entire lifespan of our PlayStation was drained away on RPG title after RPG title after strategy game after adventure game, with the likes of Suikoden II, Final Fantasy Tactics, Tales of Destiny, Xenogears, and Breath of Fire III becoming group experiences like no other. We’d play each other’s save files (especially when one of us managed to commit the Capital Sin of accidentally saving over somebody else’s progress), change hands on the controller whenever one of us couldn’t get past a boss fight or figure out this one puzzle, and share many a sleepless night in the common areas of the house, feelsing over particularly emotional scenes in our favorite titles. In fact, one memory that really stands out for me is the first run that us siblings ever had with Breath of Fire III. Older Bro No. 4, Younger Brother and I stayed up until sunrise in order to get through the very last sequence that you ever have of Kid!Ryu and the death of his innocence. The drama of the moment was interrupted by a cockroach flying over to casually perch on Older Bro No. 4’s shoulder, because it just had to be in on the Feelings.

The PSX came next (the slimmer first-gen PlayStation), in the form of yet another joint graduation gift between Older Bro No. 4, me, and Younger Brother all celebrating the end of college, high school, and grade school. Because all of my brothers were starting to get busy with Adult Life, the PSX was left to ruin my heart, my grades, and quite possibly my social life.  The PlayStation 2 (this time a reward for the website that I threw together for my father) continued this trend, especially since I could never get over the HUGE leap in graphics and gameplay that it made from its first-generation counterpart’s humble pixels and simply-toned music. Few things compare to that first moment where you saw the winds of Spira wash over grasslands that look so real that you almost want to reach through the screen and touch it, or the “be still, my beating heart” hitch of admiring Solid Snake’s beautifully rendered ass (or Raiden’s impossibly pale naked butt, linked below) shaking itself just for you on your screen…

Ahem.

I was probably one of the last gamers ever to get on the PlayStation 3. I spent the entirety of my college existence slugging it out on the PS2, juggling the drama llama that is university life with the occasional table top session, and having a good run in the Versus TCG and Mechwarrior strategy game scenes down in Metro Manila. Like all of the other PlayStations before it, the arrival of the PS3 marked a milestone in my life. Unlike all of the other PlayStations before it, however, the PS3 was something I acquired all on my own. And what a machine it was, given that once again, it was a huge departure from its predecessors.

(Cough, cough, boobs and ass in HD all day erryday, cough.)

While there aren’t a lot of titles that I ended up sharing with the rest of my brothers in the same way that we used to, the story of the PS3 in my life is definitely a continuing story of two siblings. At least half of the titles that I have at home were completed through a joint effort between me and the Younger Brother Unit, and each one always ended in a long session of processing imaginary feelings over cigarettes. Family car rides and drinking sessions still end up devolving into discussions on the finer points of this or that franchise, and recalling the best clusterfucks we’ve had in our gaming lives. We’ve both shared a lot of geeky things together, but the rest of our experiences are rather transient in comparison to all of our console stuff. It’s right up there with our New World of Darkness campaigns.

On another note, more of my defining moments as a geek were definitely found through my experiences with the PS3, especially since I now hope to be an active member of the scene, either as a fandom studies scholar or as an actual producer of games for other people to play in the future. Case in point: three of my six years of teaching Literature 13 at Ateneo de Manila University always had 2-3 weeks devoted to me lugging my PS3 around campus three days in a week, and letting my students play Heavy Rain together.

Heavy Rain, the Finger Scene

Spoilers: a lot of screaming happened during this part of the game.

TL;DR: families that play video games together stay together, and I have a lot of Feelings over PlayStation Things that I insist on sharing with everyone.

Within this month, I’ll have enough money to buy a PlayStation 4. I’ve got my eyes set on that Limited Edition unit for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. My PlayStation 3 is currently on loan to a fellow MGS fan who never got to play Metal Gear Solid IV due to the evils of platform exclusivity. I miss it, though, in between the madness of tabletop and online roleplaying and good old Adult Existence. PlayStation Anything has been a constant presence in my life. I’m looking forward to returning to my roots really, really soon.


 

POSTSCRIPT: I didn’t end up getting the limited edition PS4, but das okay. We’re not done with our run with Phantom Pain, and I’ve magpied from Dragon Age: Inquisition in favor of being Geralt of fucking Rivia. The little brother has been doing runs of The Last of Us with our friends from Ateneo – the feelings stay sharp every damned time. Oh, and my PS3 is now with another friend who wants to play all the things before I loan it off to another set of siblings who are dear to my heart.

Which consoles do you have fond memories of? Let me know in the comments!

Geek Word Wednesdays: The Definition of Fandom

Keep Calm

Welcome to Geek Word Wednesdays, where members of Girls Got Game! will be featuring common terms relevant to geeks everywhere, and to a more critical discussion on geek identity, geek culture, and geek discourse. If you’ve ever got a word that you’d like us to study, let us know!


Attempting to define what “geek” means goes hand-in-hand with discussing the definition of fandom, and what fandom is. Google, as always, provides the curious with a good place to start.

The Definition of Fandom via Google

Etymology Online provides a point of origin for the word, pinning its first use in the year 1903. Fandom thus combines two words, “fan” + “-dom”. Other sources claim that the suffix is shortened version of the word “kingdom” (which you’ll see below), but I find this explanation – also from Etymology Online – a lot more comprehensive:

[“-dom” is an] …abstract suffix of state, from Old English dom “statute, judgment” (see doom (n.)). Already active as a suffix in Old English (as in freodom, wisdom). Cognate with German -tum (Old High German tuom).

Back in 2002, Dave Wilton of Word Origins provided a definition of fandom that was less cut-and-dry than what we’ve presented above:

…fandom, n., a base of enthusiasts for a particularly activity, book, movie, or television series; originally from baseball; from fan + [king]dom; (1903).

Fandom is quite a sub-cultural phenomenon. The word dates to the turn of the 20th century and was originally used to refer to baseball fans. But it achieves it greatest linguistic heights in the realm of science fiction. Science fiction fans have their own lingo in referring to themselves and to their activities.

Fans engage in criticism and discussion. They write their own stories, or fan fiction. They publish web sites and magazines devoted to their subject. All this activity generates a vocabulary and jargon unique to these sub-cultural groups.

So in a single word, we’re getting the sense that fandom is simultaneously an individual state of being, an actual community (or sense of community), and something that involves discernment or judgment. I’m sure you all know just as well as I do that it’s not nearly as paradoxical as it seems. As the old saying goes, like attracts like: people connect easily over common interests. Connecting with each other is precisely what fans do using the common ground of the stuff that they enjoy. Being a fan also entails being enthusiastic enough to discuss their interests and interrogate aspects of these interests that bother them. Said interrogation also includes discussing the behavior, opinions, and works of other enthusiasts, and of the creators of their favorite things. Thus we can say that fandom is participatory. A fan doesn’t just absorb the source material: a fan tries to include herself in an exchange of ideas about the material at hand, either by talking about it (see also every single social media platform out there) or by writing or drawing back (i.e. fanart, fanfiction).

Last year, BBC wrote an excellent article about how Sherlock Holmes was instrumental in the formation of modern fandom. Arthur Conan Doyle’s work touched the hearts of so many people that when he attempted to put an end to the series, hundreds of fans wrote him letters on the matter. This was likely the first incident in Western fandom where fan feedback contributed to the narrative flow of a story.

Batman_A_Death_in_the_Family_(ad)

If you’d like another example, here’s an image of the promotional ad that allowed Batman fans to decide Jason Todd’s fate in the 1987-1988. (Image taken from Wikipedia.)

Later down the line, it became common practice for comic book companies or television stations to publish the addresses of their office in the spirit of getting readers/viewers to write to them. Some comic books published letters and fanart of interest in their issues. In a similar vein, Japanese manga publications put together things like character rankings, a poll that the likes of Shonen Jump continues to release yearly together with  beautifully rendered artwork in their magazine. The rise of the internet, however, drastically changed the face of fandom by making it easier for fans to connect to each other, exchange fan works, and express their views. The internet is also the reason why fandoms have become global communities. Such ease of communication paved the way for bigger conventions, faster feedback for creators and companies, near endless possibilities on trading/creating fan merchandise, and much more expansive discussions on issues that concerned enthusiasts.

Social Media & Fandom

Facebook has only recently become a popular place for fan communities to place themselves. Most fans make it a habit to keep their RL identities separate from their online identities, and flock to the likes of 4chan, Reddit, and Plurk. Some of these platforms, we note, specifically cater to fan works, like FF.net and AO3 for fanfiction, DA and Tumblr for fanart, and Dreamwidth for blog-based RP.

Another major effect of fandom moving into the digital space of the internet was a rise in new forms of fan works, ones whose formats were inconceivable before social media platforms and fan-specific online communities existed. From “fan soundtracks” to blog-based role playing starring one’s favorite characters to publishing crossovers in the form of web comics to uploading fan music videos on YouTube to developing erotic mobile games, us geeks could express our love in amazing new ways to an audience far beyond our friends, or to the creators themselves.

Anne Rice

…Which isn’t something that all creators appreciate. Book lovers may recall Anne Rice’s hardline stance against fanfiction of her works. It stands in contrast to the far friendlier stances of the likes of Neil Gaiman, or against the approach of people like Josh Whedon, who was known to integrate fan theories into his series in the past.

This is definitely one of the contributing factors behind the rise of geeks and geekdom in mainstream culture.  In spite of the fact that they are often rife with problems similar to what plagues “real life” geek circles, participating in a fandom (even if said participation involved lurking in the background and consuming the works of other fans) made fans feel less alone. Such camaraderie has the potential to reduce feelings of alienation, and is often enough of affirmation for enthusiasts – especially the young ones in high school and college – that they’re not all that strange for liking what they do. Barring that, it at least assured them that they weren’t the only weird ones out there.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, there’s now a huge potential for cyberbullying within fandom communities, so much so that the bullying becomes a “public” spectacle within the digital space.

An RP Secret from LJ, circa 2011

Pictured above is a “roleplay secret” targeted, anonymously, at an LJ RPer (circa 2011). Back when Roleplay Secrets was active on Livejournal, the comments sections were often filled with speculation on any one “secret”. We note that as of this date, sites similar to Roleplay Secrets exist on Tumblr.

It’s common practice in blog-based RP, we note, for “anon” posts to provide a space for players to express their anger, upset, or disdain for other players and for games. The intense gossip generated by these communities causes many online roleplayers to abandon the hobby entirely. This is concrete evidence against the assumption that online fan communities should be typically friendly because of the unifying factor of common interests. Other examples of how political fan communities can be exist in the comments section of places like YouTube. Discussions there can get as intense and as unfriendly as exchanges on “real life” or “real issues” can be.

Because of the many political, sociological, and cultural implications of the rise of fandom, scholars like Henry Jenkins began focusing their studies on fans and fan communities. There’s much to be said about Fandom Studies, which is one of the newer fields of academic discourse. It’s an interdisciplinary field by default because of the multitude of factors that a Fandom Studies scholar has to consider: the fan as an individual, fan communities and their interactions with each other, the cultural artifacts that fans are enthusiastic about, and fan works. And that stuff is just specific to fandom. Pile race, gender politics, sexuality on top, and you’ve got a hot mess of questions that you likely won’t be able to exhaust in your lifetime as a critic.

Since it’s inexplicably tied in with pop culture, Fandom Studies constantly faces the issue of legitimacy against more traditional or “more important” fields of study. This is a little ironic to me, especially since it is clear in recent movie trends alone that big name companies consider the geek market a lucrative demographic to cater to. If that – together with the aforementioned cyberbullying – isn’t proof of how important it is to understand fans on a sociological/psychological level, I don’t know what is.

Fandom, for many of us, is a huge place that is equal parts intimidating as fuck as it is wonderful. Being a fan is simultaneously something that a geek is, something that a geek lives through, and something that a geek does. However one decides to view fandom or participate in fan activities, it’s clear that the existence of our fan communities and the noise we generate within them is making waves in the “real world”.

OTHER SOURCES FOR THE INTERESTED:

Gendered Marketing Needs To Stop

Gendered-toys-books-SIZED

In the UK and Ireland, it’s common practise to give, consume and generally partake in large chocolate eggs. You’re not allowed to eat them until Easter, but even then – you knew they were in the house. They range from being very posh and fancy to simply larger versions of your favourite chocolate bar. Either way, everyone gets to have one.

I recently went to my local supermarket to see what kinds of insane Easter Eggs I’d find this year, and my eyes saw these monstrosities in front of me.

Why, Kinder Surprise, Why??

It seems like chocolates were not safe from the menace that is gendered marketing and that annoys me greatly.

Chocolate is one of those things that I find deeply universal – or at least I’d like to believe so, Yorkie bars aside. But as Bic showed, you can gender anything. Including pens. Shock, horror.

“But Kimi,” you say, “It doesn’t say FOR BOYS or FOR GIRLS on either one, so a boy can pick up a Disney Princess one and a girl can pick up a Justice League one no problem.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s not the kids who are picking these eggs up, it’s the mothers and fathers who have been inundated with this stuff from before their kids were even anything more than a ball of cells. These Easter Eggs are coded with the telltale signs leading to one gender or the other. Blue. Pink. Straight, clean lines and stark colours. Soft, floaty sparkles and gentle gradients. The word Princess on the Disney Princess egg being the focal point of the actual chocolate’s packaging. Meanwhile the male orientated Justice League fails to give any nod to Wonder Woman, arguably one of the most important women in comic books ever. If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought that the Justice League was a boys only club that featured only Batman and Superman.

You should all know by this point that gendered marketing is not great – it reinforces stereotypes, the gender binary and yet advertisers continue to do it because someone has it in their heads that this is the only way that units will move. It permeates how we consume and interact with popular culture. Geekdom is decidely not safe from it, especially not in our beloved toys and figures. We know all about the controversy around the lack of Rey toys when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit cinemas despite the film being decidedly centred around her. There continues to remain a lack of Black Widow toys and merchandise and we’ve yet to see whether Mark Ruffalo’s polite words about the lack of toys have reached any of those at Marvel/Disney.

Even grimmer still is the prospect that these toy sales are part of a vicious cycle that feed into media creation. Using a TV series/anime/cartoon/manga to sell units of toys is not unheard of – many a popular series is based on it ranging from Marvel Disc Wars, Bratz, Monster High to Yu-Gi-Oh. Paul Dini’s tell all interview of how network execs cancelled Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series based on one principle: executives were spurning female viewers because they believe girls and women don’t buy the shows’ toys. Boys bought toys and only boys bought toys. Girls didn’t buy toys therefore they weren’t worth investing in. But because girls didn’t see any toys that appealed to them, they didn’t buy. And so the cycle continues.

Similarly, one of my own personal peeves regarding toy sales and a televised product is that of the WWE’s belts. For those of you who are unfamiliar with wrestling, the WWE has a number of belts which the wrestlers regularly compete for. The belts have an air of prestige about them, or they’re supposed to at any rate.

This is the current WWE Championship, the biggest and most prestigious prize of them all.

WWE_World_Heavyweight_Championship

Notice that the belt is a large weighty affair that features a considerable amount of gold and crystal. The side plates are customisable, intended to help emphasise the champion’s individuality. This is the guy who is at the top of the pile and the belt shows it. I would not like to mess with whoever is holding this belt. (For the record, at the time of writing it is a Mr. Triple H.) I hesitate to call it a masculine belt, but it does have qualities that are normally associated with masculinity.

It’s a similar affair for the Intercontinental Belt, the next prestigious belt down the line.

New_Intercontinental_Championship_design_2014
The design is more stylish, features a white strap and more of a white-ish gold. It’s my favourite of the current belt designs because it’s less blocky than the WWE Championship and it’s sleeker. The Intercontinental Champion is meant to be an up and comer who is on their way to the WWE Championship and it perfectly encapsulates that.

Belts then, are meant to have character. They’re meant to emphasise the kinds of qualities that champion has to have. So what does WWE have for its fighting ladies?

2014_WWE_Divas_Championship_Design

This monstrosity. The Divas Championship is a garish pink, with a big embossed butterfly that looks completely out of place on the belt itself, nevermind if you compare it to the previous two examples. The side plates look like they’ve been done by someone with their first bejewelling kit and the swirls are completely offputting. Everything looks cluttered and you’re just overwhelmed with the pink. It looks like a toy. It looks like an accessory rather than an actual symbolic prize.

This is the crux of the matter. WWE makes a fortune in licensing and making toys of its performers and properties. The boys are going to buy the men’s belts, no problem. But how do you get the girls to buy the Divas belt? The solution that WWE has come up with, was to make the belt look as toy-like as possible – which means that the current crop of WWE ladies are fighting for a belt that was intentionally made to sell to girls because (here we go again), girls don’t buy these things unless it’s specifically marketed to them.

It’s not like WWE is making a belt that is incapable of looking good but still displaying the kinds of traits its holder is meant to possess, the Women’s Championship of WWE’s developmental brand NXT is testament to that.

NXT_Womens_Championship
The NXT Women’s Championship belt is a cool silver on a black strap with lightly pink Swarovski-esque crystals. The belt looks flexible yet with some weight behind it, plus it’s very sleek. The pink is not garish but is the kind of mild nod to traditional feminine qualities that I have less of a problem with. The point being, it doesn’t look like a toy. It looks like a belt, a prize. Something worth fighting for.

These things are so ingrained, so deeply embedded in the way that these kinds of protests seem moot. But they aren’t. I want to emphasise that there is a constant need to talk about these things and to not let up on talking about them. It’s important to say that these things need to be changed and that we can work towards a more gender neutral norm that celebrates the differences and strengths in the sexes and genders, rather than reinforcing harmful stereotypes. We live in an age where thoughtful discourse can lead to productive and fruitful things happening. But these things are slow, and require time.

For now, I’ll buy the decidedly less gendered chocolate – no matter how much I want the Justice League surprise.

Girls Got Game Needs You!

Art by Jobo Nacpil

In case it wasn’t obvious before, Girls Got Game has returned from the dead. We’d love to have more contributors, editors, graphic designers & illustrators, and social media bunnies. We’re looking for sensible straight girl members, LGBTQI members, and sensible straight guy writers from all over the world. Some quick facts:

  • GGG is, generally, an international girl/LGBTQI-oriented space. We’re out to provide another platform in which we can discuss the things we love and the issues that concern us.
  • It’s also meant to be less about event coverage and news, and MORE about reviews, interviews, honest geek talk, critical analyses, fanjizzing, and yelling at what annoys us properly instead of having to be nice (yes, that’s a thing). Granted, if our volunteers feel like talking about a geek event in their locale, they’re more than welcome to use our site as their platform.
  • We’re affiliated with What’s a Geek, GMA SciTech, and Noisy, Noisy Man.
  • We’re not expecting a high level of commitment (not yet). It’s more of a post if you like and when you like sort of thing!

Interested parties can email Pamela Punzalan at derridamustdie@gmail.com. Please introduce yourself to her, and give her a sample of your work if you’re going for graphics, or a sample article if you’re interested in becoming an editor/contributor. Please note, of course, that if you’re coming from the Philippines, your application to Girls Got Game may also be considered by the administration team of What’s a Geek.

Girls Got Game is also looking for affiliates. If you have a blog, a podcast, a YouTube channel or whatever else that you think aligns with our interests, contact Pam as well. Affiliates of Girls Got Game will get constant plugs of their content on our Facebook Page, and on our future Twitter account.

If you have questions, you’re more than welcome to comment on this article, or PM our Facebook Page.

Help Girls Got Game stay awesome. Spread the word!

 

Credit for the art we used in our featured image goes to Jobo Nacpil!

Kumiko Yamada Refutes the UN Proposal to Ban Violent Video Games and Manga – And We Agree With Her

cedaw

Welcome, everyone, to Real Talk Tuesdays! This is where we encourage contributors of Girls Got Game to share their feelings with us on so-called issues in “the real world”. They may or may not have to do with geeky things. If you ever stumble across something that you think any of us would be interested in, feel free to drop us a line!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, Girls Got Game! as a whole.


Early last month, Niche Gamer reported that CEDAW — the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women — launched an examination of Japan’s record on women’s rights. This is already an important matter to discuss all on its own, but it’s of interest to us because their proposal included the “banning of the sale of video games or cartoons involving sexual violence against women.”

A few days back, Niche Gamer had an update for us. Kumiko Yamada, representative of the Japanese wing of the Women’s Institute of Contemporary Media Culture, spoke against the ban. Her refutation brings several old issues to the table: the representation of gender and sexuality in media, the question of fictional violence especially in video games, failure in policy due to cultural divides, freedom of artistic expression, and the trouble with the breed of feminism that most institutions and political bodies are attempting to apply to policy.

We are absolutely in agreement that the protection of the rights of women in Japan is important. On the other hand, we think it should be carefully and seriously evaluated whether the measures taken to ensure those protections are valid ones or not. If we are asked to consider whether “Protecting Women’s Rights in Japan” requires us to “Ban the Sale of Manga and Video Games Depicting Sexual Violence,” then we must reply that that is an absolute “no.”
Reasons for Our Opinion:
Reason #1 – The so-called sexual violence in manga and video games is a made-up thing and as such does not threaten the rights of actual people; therefore, it is meaningless in protecting the rights of women.
Reason #2 – In Japan, and especially when it comes to manga, these are creative fields that women themselves cultivated and worked hard by their own hand to create careers for themselves. If we were to “ban the sale of manga that includes sexual violence,” it would do the opposite and instead create a new avenue of sexism toward women.

The proposal in itself is contentious because it seems to come from people who don’t actually play video games. Its similar to how reactive laws towards the Internet come from nations with low Internet literacy, or how reactive laws against reproductive health come from nations with ultra-conservative religious groups and crappy educational institutions. The United States of America has a hell of a time with gun violence, and since the Columbine Massacre, video games, violent comics, and other “dangerous” material have been blamed – yet incident reports of mass shootings continue to go on the rise. You can check the data out for yourself.

Has censoring violence in their media helped them at all? Doesn’t seem like it. It seems even LESS credible to blame video games and comics when you realize that other countries with depictions of violence in their fiction – like, let’s say, Japan – have far lower crime rates than they do.

It goes without saying that the rape and other crimes of actual real people who experience sexual acts from partners without consent is an actual violation of their rights concerning sexual violence and should obviously be forbidden by law, and that it’s necessary to protect and support victims. However, the figures in manga and video games are creative fictions that do not actually exist, and thus this is not a violation of any real person’s human rights. We should focus on attacking the problems that affect real women’s human rights as quickly as possible.

The boldfacing of those statements comes from my end because I feel like this drives home a REALLY important point about fiction. People often forget that there’s a really shaky connection between how violent a person is and the amount of imaginary violence they consume on a daily basis. There have been no definitive studies on how participating in fictional violence affects the way a person interacts with their world. The studies that do exist are, frankly, often myopic in their coverage, exclusively focusing on analyzing the media that the subjects of the study consume rather than their environment. One of the most basic tenants of psychological and sociological study is the fact that a person’s sense of self and their actions come as a result of a MULTITUDE of factors. You can’t just look at what they read and play, and determine, from there, whether they’re future serial killers or not.

One of the official logos of Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game

Anybody remember how everyone insisted that D&D players were Satan worshipping escapists who were a menace to society? So how many of your D&D friends are notorious criminals in real life?

Let’s go down to our own experiences as gamers and avid geeks. Sure, we participate in imaginary blood baths. Sure, some of us play games that raze towns, or involve beating up gangsters and fucking prostitutes on a regular basis. How many of us will actually DO these things in real life? How many of us actually think that what we do in our video games is acceptable human behavior? The logic that every single one of us is a ticking time bomb of violence boggles me. It doesn’t help, of course, that trolls on the Internet are real, as is the issue of cyberbullying, particularly cyberbullying against women – but that begs the question whether these perpetrators really can be seen as the majority of the demographic or not.

Stop making the exceptions to the rule — aka, people who have crossed the line and committed atrocious acts against other people and just happen to play violent video games, people who are just part of the reason why the stigma against mental health needs to end — the standard by which geeks as a whole and the things that we love ought to be treated.

In Japan, and especially when it comes to manga, these are creative fields that women themselves cultivated and worked hard by their own hand to create careers for themselves.

In this way, it can be predicted that if we were to ban the sale of “manga that depicts sexual violence,” a great deal of publishers would cease publication of a huge amount of works. In the creative field of manga, the effect would be that women who have worked so hard to create a place for vibrant careers would have that place shrink right in front of them, as well as have their efforts negated. In addition, if we were to put ourselves in the places of manga readers the chance to know about the history of the sexual exploitation of women would be lost, as well as a method for them to come to know about it. If the creative fields of manga were attacked, trampled on and destroyed with such prejudice, it would damage not only the women manga writers, but also spread to other women creators in the field, as well as the female readers. This would be a sexist punishment that only narrows the career possibilities of Japan’s women.

Female manga artists like Keiko Takamiya, Akimi Yoshida, Naoko Takeuchi, Rumiko Takahashi (who is a nominee to the Eisner Hall of Fame) and CLAMP have formed the shoujo and josei manga as genres that deal with women’s issues. Through their stories, they continuously interrogate gender stereotypes and the existing patriarchal structures within their own society. Subversion and parody allow their readers to explore topics that are viewed as “taboo” for women (such as sex and female sexual pleasure) — and I haven’t even BEGUN to talk about the place of dojinshi and dojinshi artists in the grander scheme of things.

Kaze to Ki no Uta

Kaze to Ki no Uta (The Poem of the Wind and the Trees) is a boy’s love classic. The genre of BL manga in itself is an exploration of feminine sexuality through the use of homosexual relationships, and the stories are traditionally tragic and violent. I guess whatever scholarly insight they can offer ought to be ignored in favor of the “dangerous” content, right?

In the hyper-conservative society of Japan, rebellion against the status quo — men are the breadwinners and heads of the household, women are expected to stay at home and rear the children — isn’t violently punished; it’s rendered invisible through shaming. Said invisibility has had many adverse affects on their populace, a few examples being the lack of upward traction for women in the workplace, an aversion towards romantic relationships, and the suicide epidemic. Women’s manga and dojinshi are popular spaces of interrogation, and also serve as possible social weather vanes. Where are they going to be able to do this if that space is taken away?

It is noted that on the other hand when it comes to “manga that depicts sexual violence” a certain segment of people are going to find it unpleasant. Nevertheless, to ban expression and commerce unilaterally based on feelings of whether or not something is unpleasant, or viewpoints on what should be moral, is a practice not to be condoned. The basis for feelings about what is or is not repulsive, and moral viewpoints, will differ based on the individual or their region and that culture’s segmented local society. The basis for the values in Local Society A and the basis for the values in Local Society B are not necessarily going to match.Therefore it stands to reason to suddenly use one local society’s standards as the standards of a society as a whole would only prompt a massacre of discord in conflicting values among the people in the greater society.
If we are to aim for the smooth operation of society as a whole, then there might be workarounds we can implement so that a certain type of person can avoid suddenly running into “unpleasant expressions” they don’t want to see, but these should be limited to regulations in zoning and circulation only. We should not ban any manga that depicts “unpleasant expressions” under content guidelines that enforce moral standards unilaterally on society.

This pushes so many of my buttons, particularly those pertaining to the actual rights and responsibilities ascribed to freedom of speech, and feminism as a whole. Political correctness is a hot button topic in light of the rise of cyberbullying, internet censorship, and representation. This discussion should go hand-in-hand with an understanding that what works for one demographic of people doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else.

Bayonetta

Many uninformed, self-professed feminists bash characters like Bayonetta for the way they look using their moral standards, ignoring her very important place as a protagonist in her own story.

Authority figures and powerful institutions should not be allowed to ban or censor works based solely on their personal preferences, or on the cultural context that they come from. To simply erase that which is offensive to a person is denying their existence. In denying their existence, one denies everyone else the right to understand its history, and talk about how things have changed, or how things have stayed exactly the same. You can always choose not to listen. What you can’t do is completely mute it out for the people around you.

There is nothing to be gained from regulating fictional sexual violence. However, while you’re trying to fix the rights of fictional characters, you’re leaving the human rights of real women in the real world to rot. As well, in Japan, the entire reason we have a media genre such as manga that developed to take on themes such as the sexual exploitation of women came from an attitude to tolerate “drinking the pure and the dirty without prejudice.” It’s because we had the freedom to express our views and with that to express the view of a world of humans that live and die, that there are pure and wonderful things and dirty and nasty things mixed with each other.

I’m ending on this quote because I would like, once again, to remind everyone to stop what I call cookie-cutter feminism. There is NO “one size fits all” when it comes to discourse on women’s rights and empowerment: the issues an American woman faces differ from an African woman, which differs from a Chinese woman, which further differs from a Filipino woman. And I exclusively talked about race there. What about differences in sexuality, in social class, in location? What about women of mixed races, or women who hold several passports? What about women who have families versus women who are single, or women who have graduated from college versus women who never managed to finish high school?

Stoya

The typical argument used against pornography for Western countries is that they objectify women. This criticism completely ignores how many women in the porn industry are professionals with the same concerns as more “wholesome” fields of work. What is most ironic is how the “immoral” porn industry almost unanimously stood WITH Stoya when she accused James Deen of rape. “Proper” industries continue to encourage a culture of silence on the matter, or – like in the case of Ke$ha – place the burden of proving sexual assault upon the victim.

The underlying issue behind feminism is an issue of power and agency, and such things are always informed by cultural contexts. Can we really say, without question, that the boob jiggling and skimpy outfits of Dead or Alive objectify women? Can we insist upon the sorceresses of Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt being “weak” for falling in love, and Geralt of Rivia being in a position of power simply because he’s a man who knows his way with a sword? Sites like Feminist Frequency have encouraged us to develop some sort of universal standard for feminism. Critical frameworks die the moment you enforce a single measuring stick on everyone.

I’ve got my fingers crossed for how things go down. Hopefully, the United Nations will see reason.

What do you guys think of all of this? Comment here and let us know what you’re thinking!

OTHER SOURCES: the original response in Japanesean English translation of the full response on Reddit

On Love and Gaming, from Gamers and GMs Philippines

My friends are painfully aware of the fact that Sundays tend to be non-negotiable family days for me. It’s a Traditional Catholic Family thing, it’s a Pinoy Family (specifically, Batangeno) Thing, and it’s an “I Am the Only Daughter In This Brood” Thing. Hence, you can imagine how sad I got when I heard that Gamers and GMs Philippines holds their mini conventions exclusively on Sundays. This yearning only increased after What’s a Geek released on article on one of their mini-conventions late last year. However, this time around, I got lucky just in time for Love and Gaming, their most recent event.

Promotional Poster for Love and Gaming, Gamers and GMs Philippines

Took home one of their posters. It’s so pretty…

In my experience, tabletop roleplaying has always stayed on the fringes of the geek scene. Beyond the fact that it’s difficult to explain even to other geeks, it also takes effort to get involved in a gaming group, much less run a campaign for longer than a single session. Furthermore, most folks gravitate towards TCGs, tabletop strategy games like Warhammer, or board games over pen-and-paper RPGs. Others are interested, but don’t really have access to people who can show them what tabletop RPGs are all about. Gamers and GMs Philippines doesn’t just provide a space for people to get their feet wet and experience a campaign: they also host talks that are geared towards helping players and GMs/Storytellers become better at the table. Love and Gaming, for example, had talks about story construction, and handling romance and intimacy as roleplayers. The convention even had a workshop on Dramaturgy and RPGs!

Mahar Mangahas during "Dramaturgy and RPGS", a workshop run for Gamers and GMs Philippines

“Let’s not look at our stories as sacred cows. They’re cows. They’re meant to be butchered.” Mahar Mangahas, conducting his workshop “Dramaturgy and RPGs” for Love and Gaming. (Gamers and GMs Philippines)

And of course, it’s not just a matter of hosting panel discussions/lectures to begin with, but the content of these discussions. I was told that Gamers and GMs Philippines is all about providing a safe space for people to talk about what it’s like to be enthusiasts of pen-and-paper RPGs, engage in discourse on tabletop, and bring up issues that they normally wouldn’t be able to do. I wasn’t disappointed.

Love and Gaming talks/workshops for Gamers and GMs Philippines

Hell, look at that lineup of workshops and talks. Gamers and GMs Philippines knows what we want to talk about.

Anyway, as mentioned above, for those of you who are tired of the special sort of stress (hell) that comes with scheduling campaigns or looking for groups to play with and you’re just looking for an excuse to roll some dice, Gamers and GMs Philippines makes it a point to provide us with many opportunities to enjoy themselves in excellently constructed oneshots with no strings attached whatsoever. You don’t even have to prepare a character beforehand: most of the GMs that they get for their conventions have pre-generated characters, or will devote some time before the session to build somebody that you’d like to be for the next few hours.

Description of a campaign held for Gamers and GMs Philippines

All of them looked awesome, but I was especially interested in this one!

Their organizers, their speakers, and the GMs running one shots represented a healthy range of sensibilities and positions. They are not shy about discussing topics that most players try to avoid, or feel uncomfortable about. Heck, what OTHER group would dare to discuss roleplaying romance in a smart, candid fashion in this country? What other group can offer people really effective means of developing characters and storyboards for their own campaigns? Furthermore, when has anyone managed to find a group willing to do all of this, and are always open to feedback on how they can improve their conventions? I don’t know about you, but I’m one to appreciate a progressive, competent lot that’s always out to better themselves and give their fellow geeks more fun things to try out. Friendly, geeky spaces deserve more attention.

Tobie Abad during his talk for Gamers and GMs Philippines

Speaking of romance… here’s a shot of Tobie Abad during the talk he did for Gamers and GMs Philippines.

This also needs to be said, especially since I’m a girl gamer, and I identify as bisexual: beyond the beauty of their enthusiastic discussions on tabletop gaming, mini-conventions by Gamers and GMs Philippines are breathtakingly inclusive. Only too many tabletop gamers fit the stereotype of distressingly heterosexual male gatekeeper, especially with their propensity of their conventions to be ridiculous sausage fests. Love and Gaming did not have that vibe at all, and they do seem to be out to foster an environment that frowns upon bringing old biases and prejudices to the table. If the participants look a little skewed in favor of straight guys for an observer, I believe that’s hardly a reflection on the organizers. Us straight girl and LGBTQ tabletop gamers should just pile on down here to – and I’m only saying this because there’s no other way to put it – “even the odds”. We’ve got nothing to be worried about with this group.

Storm from Pamana Languages, a guest star at Gamers and GMs Philippines events

The team of Gamers and GMs Philippines occasionally includes adorable cats. Call me biased, but you can’t go wrong with animal lovers, and. well. Animals.

Gamers and GMs Philippines generally holds their mini-conventions once a month, give or take long vacations, the busy levels of the organizers, and logistical concerns. In fact, while they won’t be hosting something in March, they’ve got a really interesting event planned this April. Three of their GMs are going to host a shared storyline across their individual campaigns for two sessions, and I do believe that they’re looking for players. They’re also always on the lookout for more people who are willing to host a discussion, or a newbie-friendly oneshot campaign for any system during any of their other events, be it World of DarknessDungeon WorldDungeons & DragonsFate, or whatever else. I’ve also confirmed with the organizers that they’re fine with GMs testing out their homebrew systems on interested participants. This is a huge selling point for me since I’m interested in game development, and in making my own settings and systems that cater to gender, cultural, and racial demographics that the general tabletop market hasn’t quite managed to tap into yet. I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in this.

In case you’ve still got doubts about whether their events are worth going to, I’ve included recordings of some of the talks. This first one was done by Adrian, as an intro to tabletop roleplaying games:

This second one is “The Game of Love” by Tobie, which I mentioned above.

And this last one is by Jay. It tackles story construction!

Did you love what you just watched? Spread the word and come to their conventions in the future! Chances are I’ll see you there.

 

Credit for the featured image and all images in this post save for the picture of their program + Storm goes to the admin team of Gamers and GMs Philippines team. More pictures of the Love and Gaming event can be found in this album. The videos were uploaded to YouTube by the Gamers and GMs Philippines team.

Practicing with Praxis

Praxis-1

I lead my company’s Games Club, where I recently formed a community for tabletop players. One day, a colleague who is a Sun Life Financial Advisor asked me if they could share a game in the office. Sun Life wants us to play board game in the office? I was sold immediately. A few e-mails later, my group organized a Game Night featuring Praxis – a simple game centered around the complex subject of life.

Goal

To win in Praxis, you must accumulate as much wealth as you can before time runs out. The game is designed to be as close to real life as possible by simulating real economic conditions. This adds to the suspense you will experience while playing, thus making every session different.

Setup

the praxis board game at setup

Praxis only takes a few minutes to set up. Aside from the usual play money, plastic figures, and dice, the game has several components that represent the available financial instruments a person has access to in real life:

  1. Savings Cards
  2. Insurance Cards
  3. Retirement Plan Cards
  4. Stock Cards

These factors all have an impact on your final score, and only through playing the game will you learn how much each card is worth at the end. To add to this, each session will have a game master who will facilitate the session and at any time stop the game to announce changes which will impact how everyone plays.

Gameplay

Playing Praxis is very straightforward. Each player starts with the same job and salary, then moves around the board with a dice roll. Depending on where you land, you can do any of the following to help you accumulate wealth:

  1. Get savings
  2. Purchase a retirement plan
  3. Purchase insurance
  4. Purchase property

Each of these actions will cost play money, but you will have opportunities to change your job so you can afford them. It’s possible to get a higher paying job, but you might end up with a lower paying job or, worse, no job at all!

After a certain amount of time has passed, the game master will announce that the stock market is open, where you can choose to buy stocks from several industries at a set price. But when this happens, the game can be stopped at any time with which the game master can announce breaking news which will force you to change how you play. At any moment, there can be an epidemic where you will be hospitalized and be forced to pay high bills, or a recession which will drop the value of all the stocks you bought, or a boom which will make your property more valuable than when you purchased it. The breaking news adds to Praxis’s unpredictability and fun, as any or all of these can happen to you in each game you play.

Praxis Around the World

The game was designed by Sense for Money, a company whose focus is to enable financial literacy and education through games. In the Philippines (where I’m from), Praxis is licensed to Sun Life Financial which uses it in line with its financial literacy advocacy and has received positive feedback from players which you can find here and here. Should you wish to hold game sessions for your institution like a corporation or school, you can contact Sun Life by going to www.sunlife.com.ph.

In Singapore where Sense for Money is headquartered in, Praxis is being taught in schools where you can view here and you can find more information about Sense for Money on their Facebook page here. The game is seeing play around the world and should you wish to hold sessions to an area closest to you, contact Sense for Money by going here.

Praxis is a simple game that will teach you a very important lesson, which I won’t spoil; you have to play to find out. After just one game, the players I saw were so inspired from what they learned that they started talking to the Sun Life facilitators about planning for their future. It was then I realized how powerful a game can be in making you think about the rest of your life.

Flashback Fridays: No, That Is Not Kinky – Fifty Shades of Grey, Fandom & Fantasy Production

fifty-shades-red-room

For today’s round of Flashback Fridays, I’ve reproduced an article I did on Fifty Shades of Grey, timed with the release of the movie adaptation. I’ve cleaned it up a bit, and added new feature images. The original article can still be found on What’s a Geek.

To this date, I don’t believe any of the issues that I brought up in this article have been resolved. If you’ve picked anything up on the internet that I missed, though, leave a note for me in the comments!


 

You know what I’m NOT going to do this weekend – or ever, for that matter? Watch Fifty Shades of Grey, the silver screen adaptation of the first book of E.L James’ trilogy. I am also not going to touch that entire series with a foot-long pole, and it is likely that I will not read any other thing written by that author in my lifetime.

This merits a little explanation. My decision to boycott these works comes not from the fact that the movie and its source material are, by the standards of anyone with a discerning brain, mediocre and boring. It also doesn’t come from the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey is supposedly THE mainstream pornographic work that people should turn to if they want to spice up their love lives with a little kink. It ALSO doesn’t come from the fact that I believe it to be religiously offensive (yeah, that’s a thing). I refuse to support to entire franchise because I believe that Fifty Shades is offensive on several fronts: as a product of today’s publishing industry, as a story that implies that an abusive relationship is “romantic” and “hot”, as a misrepresentation of BDSM and the BDSM community, as a former work of fanfiction, and as a work of fanfiction that has been produced by an INCREDIBLY irresponsible author.

Many brilliant articles have already tackled some of the reasons why I cannot stand Fifty Shades. Jenny Trout, for one, presents her personal position in “Let’s Talk About 50 Shades in a calm and rational way”. Emma Green, writer for The Atlantic, discusses BDSM and how Fifty Shades represents it at length in “Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of Fifty Shades”. Rose Waterland articulated her personal discomfort – one shared by many –  in this review. There have also been some very interesting reactions from professional dominatrixes, found here, here, and here. As such, I don’t think I need to speak any more on these matters. What I’m going to focus on, instead, are things that hit very close to home for me: my issues with Fifty Shades as a writer, a not-so-casual Fandom Studies academic, and as a fan.

A screenshot from Fifty Shades of Grey

Maybe I’d find this shot from Fifty Shades of Grey hot if I didn’t know that it came from Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades is, by far, not the first work produced by former fanfiction writers. Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series, used to write for Harry Potter. Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire saga, used to write for Harry Potter and Star Trek, among others. I have absolutely NO issue whatsoever with fanfic writers getting “serious” and trying their hand out at producing original work. I actually think that it’s great that more of these authors are getting attention. What is problematic about E.L. James, however, is that she didn’t ACTUALLY produce an original work that can be viewed as a separate entity from her fanfics. Fifty Shades is, at the end of it, an Alternate Universe fanfic for Twilight that she sold to a publishing house.

Does anyone else think that this is bad? If you don’t, let me spell it out for you. Her series is reputedly derivative, careless, and poorly written, and most people are blaming it on the fact that she used to be a fanfic writer. Furthermore, instead of taking some proper time out to attempt to write something totally new, James basically went “Oh, I’ll just change the names and hand this over to a publisher”. That says a lot about her (lack of) discipline and skill, doesn’t it?

Now, because of her carelessness and lack of discipline, readers and critics alike with no previous exposure to fanfiction, or who believe that fanfiction is not creative at all, will walk away with a pretty bad impression of what fanfic writers are capable of. James and Fifty Shades, I believe, is the embodiment of all of the bad stereotypes and examples that plague any fanfic writer who is attempting to be taken seriously as an author, and it’s likely that the very existence of Fifty Shades has just set back any progress we’ve made in this field by a couple of hundred steps. This is a Problem, guys.

Here’s another problem to consider. Fanfiction has always, in its essence, been about fantasy production: fanfics are living and breathing expressions of a fan’s devotion to a particular series. On one hand, they can be the explorations of possibilities that aren’t really elaborated upon in the work that they’re derived from. On the other hand, they’re wish fulfillment for the original writer, disseminated among his or her peers in the hopes of finding that one fellow fan (or several) that will read their work and go “OH MY GOD, THIS SO MUCH”. At best, fanfiction is both. As a general rule, most members of any fandom ascribe by the rule of “whatever floats your boat, man” – that is, we acknowledge that we all love the same thing, but each one of us has our own personal preferences and kinks that others may not necessarily share. And that’s okay. In fact, one of the so-called golden rules of posting one’s fan work online is to place warning labels as a means to respect the individual experiences and positions of other fans.

Screenshot from Fifty Shades of Grey

TL;DR: I like this stuff. If you do, awesome. If you don’t, awesome.

What is Not Okay is when a fan shames another fan for having these preferences, and – worse yet – said offender shames the other in a public venue, or resorts to attacking them personally through intimate channels of communication. This happens so often that it’s becoming uncomfortable for the larger and saner demographic of the community, especially since some have come to believe that it’s just part and parcel of our “culture” as fans to bully someone whom we don’t agree with. What is also Not Okay is failing to call a spade a spade, and not properly labeling the themes that readers might find in your works. An honest mistake is understandable; a deliberate omission or outright denial is not.

Unfortunately, this is what is happening with Fifty Shades: outright denial. Many dissenting voices have come forward with carefully written and intelligent critiques of this series on the basic premise that Fifty Shades of Grey equates domestic abuse and a lack of sexual consent as ideal and romantic. James, for the lack of a better term, has been a fucking irresponsible brat about this entire matter. While she says that she is in full support of promoting awareness of domestic violence, she is “horrified” at the fact that the romance she wrote up between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is viewed by a body of readers as an abusive relationship. She has also, on several instances, called readers who have attempted to start intelligent discourse on the matter “trolls”.

James isn’t the only person we should blame. James’ marketing team (assembled by her publisher, Random House) is now marketing Fifty Shades as the go-to instructional manual for how to have kinky sex. They have all tiptoed past or outright ignored the points that critics and readers alike have raised, and continue to tell everyone the same damned thing: “It’s not domestic abuse! It’s a redemption story! It’s love!”

I think I can see what is happening here. Random House wants to make a fuckton of money in a very offensive and irresponsible fashion, and this reflects poorly on their entire company. Like Jenny Trout, I do not think that banning the books or the movie outright is the solution, nor do I think that it’s entirely fair for us to do that. What I DO think, however, is that the least they could do is take a long, hard look at the issues at hand, and deliberate on it in a professional fashion. Heck, I’d be fine if they just went up there, said “yes, it is possible that Fifty Shades of Grey endorses domestic violence”, put warning labels on their books, and left it at that. But they haven’t.

James, on the other hand, has decided to expose as all to her immaturity by acting like a special snowflake. Instead of attempting to see the bigger picture, she is reacting to the “attacks” that people have made against her personal fantasies, and is doing the metaphorical equivalent of clapping her hands over her ears and singing her favorite song at the top of her lungs until the offending parties remove themselves from her presence. This kind of reminds me of one of my nieces when she’s having a tantrum. Note: the niece in question is six.

E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey

CEASE AND DESIST, JAMES.

The actions and statements made by James put ALL fans, especially those of us who are aiming to produce creative works in the future, in a bad light. Due to the popularity of her work, James has effectively become the new face of fandom entitlement. She may be instrumental in leading many to believe that everyone who shares a background similar to hers will be as tasteless, as reckless, and as immature as she is, beyond being a pretty crappy writer. I will even go so far as to say that they may use James as an excuse, yet again, to deny the legitimacy of fan works, and their place within art, criticism, and discourse.

At this point, some of you guys might be wondering if this discussion is futile simply because Fifty Shades of Grey garnered such a big reader base, and will likely just get bigger due to the existence of the movie. Demand begets supply; that a lot of people bought the thing means that there must be something in the work that speaks to them. However, it is on that very point that I want to say that discussing Fifty Shades in a critical light becomes necessary. Its popularity leaves us with several questions. Why DOES Fifty Shades speak to such a large audience? Why DO a lot of people think it’s a great work? If we follow the idea that works of erotic fiction play upon our own desires, the next logical step, in my opinion, would be this: maybe a lot of people who like Fifty Shades do believe that the creepy, abusive relationship between Anastasia and Christian is what love and romance ought to be about. Either that, or a lot of people have been led to believe that Fifty Shades is, indeed, a desirable love story that ought to be emulated.

Once upon a time, discerning readers were worried that Bella Swan and Edward Cullen of Twilight would become a generation’s standard for love and romantic relationships, beyond becoming a fictional presentation of the code of behavior by which two parties engaged in an intimate relationship ought to act. Fifty Shades makes those two look harmless and almost socially acceptable. There already exists a prevalent culture of domestic violence all around the world, and there are alarming figures that show how many believe that in some cases, raping somebody may actually be okay. The kind of effect that Fifty Shades seems to be exposing all of us to some pretty ugly realities, and we might just be able to do something about it.

Still don’t think that any of this is a problem?