Some Stuff I’ve Been Up To

Man, I sure wasn’t kidding about being busy in that last post. (I guess I was kidding about doing another post “soon,” given that that was two months ago. Yikes.) I hope you’ll agree, at least, that I’ve been keeping busy with interesting things lately.

Let’s Sing!: Not too long after I wrote that last post, I got to work on graphic and interactive design for an iOS game designed by Lex Friedman and Marco Tabini. It was my first foray into designing for an iOS app and doing visuals for a video game, so I was pretty excited. Also, it’s really, really fun. (Think “Draw Something, but with humming instead of drawing.”)

Five Ways Games Appeal to Players: I did a bunch of research about why people play games – quite a bit of it appearing in an earlier form on this blog – but finally decided I’d rather get it in front of game developers than just in front of academics. (Long story short: it’s a little more complex than “people play games because of challenge!” or “people play games for different reasons based on their personality!”) I’ve been a fan of Gamasutra for a while now, so I was pretty proud to get this in there.

Hate the Gamer, Not the Game: This piece at PocketNext is specifically about gamer identity rather than geek identity, but I think the sentiments will be pretty familiar to readers around here. While some people wish that terms like ‘gamer,’ ‘geek,’ and ‘nerd’ would go away entirely, normalizing the habits they describe, I think it’s problematic to deny people the right to choose their own terms of identity.

The Worst Company in America: As long as I’m going to defend my fellow nerds with one link, I might as well chastise us with another. This PocketNext piece is about EA winning the Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” poll over Bank of America, and what problems that might suggest about geeky voting blocs.

The Flip-Flop President: Look, there’s just no way to say this that doesn’t sound awkward: I made an political attack ad against President Lincoln. But it was for a good cause! is a humorous spinoff of, dedicated to educating about political communication through humor. This is part of a campaign to use modern-day political advertising techniques against our nation’s most beloved president, encouraging viewers to think critically about how ads are made.

All right, I’ll try do to better than two months before getting to the next post I have in mind – some links on geekdom by others I’ve been looking forward to sharing for some time now.

Geek Studies in the News (and on European TV)

The life of a freelancer doesn’t leave a lot of time for personal blogging, but I figured I’d post some links to stuff I’ve been involved with lately. Today I’ll start with some pieces for which I was interviewed.

La Revanche Des Geeks: I was interviewed last year for a documentary on geek culture by Franco-German TV station Arte. (You know the one.) I don’t speak French or German, but I hearing excellent things about it from people via Twitter, email, and comments around here.

Indian Geek Uprising: I was also recently interviewed by CNN Geek Out for an article on comics creators in India. My own geek studies didn’t look at the development of geek culture in other nations nearly as much as I would’ve liked to have done, so this was a really interesting perspective for me.

Batman and Superman and Spiderman, Oh My!: Rounding out this trio of publications that have interviewed me, here’s a piece from Medill Reports on a superheroes, inspired by the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. (Not quoted here: a rambling comparison between superhero fandom and sports fandom. The more I think about it, the more similar they seem, geek connections aside…)

That ought to do for now. I should have a post soon, too, with links to some pieces I’ve been writing and producing, and another post linking to stuff I didn’t write, but kind of wish I had.

Somebody Else’s Thoughts on Misogyny & Popular Culture

Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a post titled “Six Thoughts About Misogyny and Popular Culture.” Some of my favorite bits include:

1. Just because women buy misogynistic products, or sleep with artists of misogynistic products, does not mean that those products don’t express misogyny. […]

4. Feminists are not always looking for something to be angry about. But it’s hard to overstate the sexism in American popular culture. […]

6. Liking art that is misogynist, racist, sexist, or homophobic doesn’t necessarily make you those things, and indictment of that art doesn’t have to be an indictment of you. […]

Folks need to breathe a bit. I think our conversations about culture would be a lot healthier and more interesting if we could hold two thoughts in our hands at the same time and acknowledge that we like problematic stuff. Because really, we all do.

She’s responding to recent discussions relating to rap music, but the connections to ongoing debates in geek culture struck me as so relevant that I couldn’t just link to it on Twitter and move on. I want to be able to refer back to this later, as these debates seem to end up in the same places every time.

Into Cosplay Before It Was Cool

I came across this pre-trick-or-treating photo while rummaging around a box in my mother’s house, looking for photos for a documentary, and today seemed like a good day to share it. In case it’s not clear, this lineup includes a robot, a ninja, a pirate, and a zombie. (I’m the tall one.) All we were missing was a monkey, and we would’ve had a complete geek zodiac.

Thanks to Jarrod, Jeff, and Stephen for permission to share this one with the world, roughly 20 years after it was taken.

“People Create Culture”

I wanted to share with you an anecdote from Jerry Holkins at Penny Arcade:

I received the strangest question in an interview once: somebody wanted to talk to me about MC Frontalot, who coincidentally has a new album out. They wanted to know why rap about nerd things, or make comics about nerd things…. I scrunched my whole face up, and the region between my eyebrows shifted tectonically from plain to mountain. But he could not see this, so I was forced to express my confusion with the human words.

This was a person writing an article for a newspaper, a device which transmits culture, but he didn’t seem to understand what he was doing! Maybe he was confused because he was taught to “speak” without “voice,” that is, to communicate neutrally. Maybe he found the printing press in the woods, and operates it via dimly understood rituals. But here’s the apparently impenetrable math: people create culture. And they create it by describing the world in terms which are relevant to them. Who does he think makes all this stuff?

All that changed was the hand on the tiller.

I find myself having a similar conversation quite a bit. I try not to hold it against people who don’t understand, though. It’s not always obvious to outsiders why the whole “nerd” thing would remain relevant to us into adulthood. I guess that’s why I wrote a dissertation trying to explain it.

How (Not) to Date a Nerd

A friend of mine sent me a link yesterday to a Gizmodo post titled “My Brief Affair with a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player.” The date goes precisely as a nerd might fear it would.

At dinner I got straight down to it. Did he still play? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “I’m preparing for a tournament this weekend.” Strike two. Who did he hang out with? “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” Strike three. I smiled and nodded and listened. […]

So what did I learn? Google the shit out of your next online date. Like, hardcore.

I’m not writing this to condemn the author of this article; a sizable portion of the internet seems to have done so quite extensively already. Nor am I writing this to speculate about what Gizmodo, a heavily nerd-trafficked blog, was thinking in running the article (though the “nerd bait” theory seems reasonable). Rather, I’m writing this because I think I might disagree with the message many of my fellow nerds take from this story.

Continue reading “How (Not) to Date a Nerd”

Sexism, Misogyny & Misandry in Geek Cultures

A certain blog post caught my eye on Google today: “Sexism and Misogyny in Geek Cultures.” I had never seen the post on Google before in my regular checks just to see what the internet thinks the top 10 results for “geek cultures” should be. I was pretty disappointed with it, though, given its exceedingly narrow definition of sexism, and complete failure to recognize what sexism looks like off the internet. It was all the more galling that I’m the one who wrote it.

Continue reading “Sexism, Misogyny & Misandry in Geek Cultures”

And Now for Something Relatively Different

For the first time in a very long while, this fall won’t be “back to school” season for me. Instead of returning to a faculty position, I’m taking an indefinitely long leave of absence from working as a professional academic.

The reasons behind this decision are personal, so I’ll skip the details. I will say, though, that I don’t see this as “quitting academia” so much as engaging with it differently. I’m still slated to go to at least one conference this year, still keeping up with my favorite journals, and still working on a book that I hope will be of interest to general and academic audiences alike. I like academia. I just don’t feel the best way for me to participate in it right now is as a tenure-track professor.

All of that said, I’m really enjoying working on some projects I didn’t have much time to do as a full-time teacher and the coordinator of a Communication department. Currently, I’m developing a mobile game with a friend that I’ve been dreaming about making for years, writing about games and culture, doing some freelance production and consulting work, and, of course, getting Geek Cultures into shape for publication.

For the time being, I’m working on establishing a reliable income from freelance writing, design, and consulting. My LinkedIn profile is geared toward part-time and temporary work, but if you happen to know of a neat company or nonprofit that could use a full-time, Boston-based specialist in geeks, games, online communities, and visual communication, please feel free to drop me a line.

And stay tuned to this space – I probably won’t be any less busy than I was as a professor, but I still have plenty of nerdy things to blog about.

Zero Pronunciation

I am a big fan of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation reviews at The Escapist. They’re laugh-out-loud funny, irreverently witty, and more often than not, very much in agreement with my own tastes (if you can read between the lines and figure out which games he actually likes despite slamming them). I also think it’s hilarious that when you google “Yahtzee”, the Zero Punctuation gallery is the top result, indicating the disproportionate influence that geeks wield in determining what’s relevant on the web.

But that is not what this blog post is about.

This blog post is about “Zero Punctuation: Achieving the Cross-media Transformation of Ludological Hermeneutics,” a recent article from the Escapist. The author critiques Croshaw’s reviews as themselves critiques of gamer culture and gender norms. At first, I found it pretty spot-on, if a bit unnecessarily obtuse. Then, I started wondering if it was actually intentionally obtuse. I honestly wasn’t sure of what to conclude until I got to the end, where “Max Steele” claimed to have a Ph.D. from Miskatonic University.

I relate this anecdote for two reasons.

First, that’s a pretty funny gag right there.

And second, Lord help me, but I still found the article interesting, despite being nigh-impenetrable. I can’t decide whether this is a credit to the author or a sad commentary on academics’ willingness to inure themselves to overly complex writing. Maybe both. Or maybe I just used the word “inure” in a sentence without even thinking about it.