Much of the discourse around modern understandings of gender identity, gender expression, biological assignment, sexual attraction, romantic attraction, et al. revolves around the idea of a spectrum. People may try to represent such spectra as scales, grids, Venn diagrams, or even layer cakes. I hear generally positive things about the Gender Unicorn, but I am also a bit wary because of how often these kinds of things are thrown up on the internet with no research or vetting. (Here’s a hilarious article deconstructing a few such diagrams.)
Yet there is value even in flawed representations because of the conversations they generate. They may need to be improved, but their very existence may inspire someone to improve them. And in the meantime we expand our visual and verbal vocabulary for discussing these important concepts of identity, which is always a positive. I believe that increased vocabulary brings increased clarity of communication and thought.
But there is clarity we’re missing, particularly in the category of gender experience and expression.
Several of the fandom arguments I’ve seen recently are more similar than they seem at first, not just because of how they express (though that is also important). They are similar at what I believe to be a root cause level, and it has to do with my favorite subject – subconscious biases. In this case, the subconscious biases belong to the authors/creators.
In this article, I’m going to be arguing about base axioms, which is dangerous ground. I’m not going to say that one is inherently better than another, but simply to state my personal preference and (here’s the sticky part) that the other causes the exact problems we see in audience reactions to certain fandoms.
With all of that dancing around out of the way, let’s get to the discussion.
Have you ever heard someone talking on a podcast about a playgroup or local gaming community and you think, “Wow, that area sure has a lot of great game designers in it?”
That’s no accident. But the causal relationship doesn’t quite go the way we often think it does when we hear these conversations.
It’s not that there is one great game designer who teaches other people around them to design. It’s not even that several great game designers happened by chance to be in the same place at the same time. You see, great game designers are everywhere, but the ones we notice are the ones who have the backing of a social network.
I’ve been thinking hard about how I want to approach this subject. It’s extremely important, but it’s also a little touchy, because I’m going to be talking about not enjoying things that my friends continue to enjoy. The last thing I want to do is come across as trying to persuade people to dislike something they love. I’ve explained in other contexts in the past that that’s never a useful approach.
Instead, I want to examine how expectations and priorities change how we view something – in this case conventions – and why that’s important for organizers, participants, and attendees in how they communicate about them.
It’s another Metatopia-inspired post!
There’s something about the rich offerings at this convention – both in terms of design and discussion – that inspire me to examine gaps of experience and conversation in the overall gaming community. Sometimes, as with last year’s extensive 4–part rant, those gaps are noticeable even at Metatopia itself. This year, I noticed once again that there was something missing in the conversation, and it’s missing everywhere.*
(*Almost everywhere. Brie Sheldon’s fantastic ‘zine Behind the Masc is one of the few exceptions I’ve seen, and very much an inspiration for this post.)
As I expected, I caught a fair amount of disagreement with my last post, but I was happy to hear it. I had a few really good conversations where people explained to me the positives of loyalty, and they definitely brought up some things I hadn’t considered. But ultimately they did not change my mind about loyalty being inherently virtuous.
That’s not because (as some people took it) I hate loyalty specifically, but rather that I don’t think any character trait is inherently virtuous. I was picking on loyalty last time mostly because it was on my mind, and it’s one I don’t think we question enough. But I’m happy to question the virtue of every supposedly positive character trait, including my own.
So now I will need to break that down and then talk about how we can behave in the absence of virtue.
I am skeptical about loyalty. I’m not normally one to inspire it, and when I have given it I have not often received it in turn. It’s important for me to say that because I realize it colors the argument I am about to make:
Loyalty is not an inherently positive character trait.
My last post was a rant, so now we get to the follow-up on how to do better.
Specifically, I want to discuss how we can do better as designers. Private games are private games, and we don’t really need to discuss what you do on your own time with your own friends.
But if you’re designing and publishing or talking about your games on a public platform, then that is my concern. It’s everyone’s concern, because it’s public. What you contribute to gaming is part of the ongoing conversation of who we are as a community.
I’ve been debating with myself how I want to handle this, because what I have to say affects people who are friends of some of my friends. On the one hand, that seems like a place to walk carefully, but on the other hand that’s exactly the problem that perpetuates privilege: not speaking out just because you “know” the people. It perpetuates privilege because it leaves the task of criticizing people to those who are outside the group, people who are inherently less likely to be listened to.
So screw it – I’m going to be blunt.
I don’t normally do this, but this time, I’m going to start with my conclusion. Because I want you to know where this is going before you get into the pointed jokey part. So here’s the main point I want to make:
You are allowed to like or not like any Star Wars movie. But it’s time for you to acknowledge that your preferences are emotional, not rational.
Those of you who hate The Last Jedi (even if you’re not an utter jerk about it) are doing so for emotional reasons. All the rational criticism you like to throw around is what your brain does to legitimize a decision you’ve already made. This is not an insult, it’s just how human brains work. We fool ourselves into believing that we make logical choices, but most often those logical chains are built to justify rather than to decide.
I’m going to show you how this works by criticizing Empire Strikes Back in all the same ways that many people have criticized The Last Jedi.