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.

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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.

How to Help a French Documentarian

Jean-Baptiste Peretie is a director working on a documentary about geek culture for Arte. (For my fellow Americans: it’s kind of like a European PBS.) You might have seen the documentary’s crew if you were on the floor at Wondercon this year. We were chatting today about how hard it is to get a good, broad sample of people to interview for a study on such a diverse group (and don’t I know it). I offered to help out by trying to put you, my good readers, in touch with him.

If you’re a geek or a nerd and you’d like to be interviewed—especially if you happen to be over 40 years of age and/or are living in Europe—drop JB an email at European interviewees will be easier for JB and crew to film, of course, but rest assured that you can get away with speaking in English if that’s your only language. (We got on just fine with that this afternoon, which is good, as I speak no French, and my Spanish/Russian/Old Norse skills are rusty at best.) And don’t worry if you’re camera-shy; they’re not only looking for people to film, but even just people to chat with on Skype to help with their research.

So, once again: email to chat about geek culture, and help a French documentarian today.

“Ethnographic Blogging”

The latest issue of Cultural Science—an open-access, peer reviewed journal—is devoted to Internet Research Methods as Moments of Evolution. I had an article published in this issue, titled “Ethnographic Blogging: Reflections on a Methodological Experiment.” It is, as you can probably guess from the title, about how this Geek Studies blog was unexpectedly instrumental in conducting research for my dissertation on geek cultures.

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Listen to Me Talk Too Much

I made a guest appearance on the latest episode of The Incomparable Podcast with my good friends Dan Moren and Tony Sindelar, and my new gaming idol, Scott McNulty. The topic: roleplaying games! (Apologies if you’re offended by podcasts that break Godwin’s Law as early as the title, though, even if it is in the context of a gaming joke.)

During the podcast, each of us chats about our personal experiences in gaming, I fail to restrain myself from babbling about my dissertation research, Scott awes and terrifies with his tales of villainy, and Hipster, Please! gets an unplanned plug (because we recorded it right when I finally got around to listening to 20-Sided Rhymes). I hope you enjoy it.

The Game(s) of The Year

I love video games. But….

I realized recently that just about everything I write about games could start that way. I write about games because I find them so interesting to play and to analyze, but as any of my friends will tell you, I am one of the most cantankerous and critical entertainment consumers you will ever meet. I’m the guy who complains on the way out of the epic movie we just watched together because of that plot hole in act 2, or who watches every episode of Lost just to pick apart every foreshadowed plot point that never comes up again, or who tells you in one conversation that he loved Red Dead Redemption and then will go write an entire blog post about its flaws.

I am hard to please, and even when I am pleased, I’ll probably still criticize. This is why I don’t really reflect much on the “Game of the Year.” I can’t pick one; I’m too picky.

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Red Dead Railroading

Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption represents an interesting contradiction in game design. On the one hand, as a “sandbox” game, it represents everything that game critics and scholars have been saying about how the real strength of the medium is in choice, challenge, and exploration, and not in traditional storytelling. On the other hand, the story it tells—if you make a point to actually follow instructions and go complete story missions—is exceptionally linear, sometimes even restrictively so. Critics seem pretty darn near universally tickled pink by both aspects of the game, gushing not only about the richness and fidelity of the world, but also about their involvement with story and attachment to characters.

I liked the game, too, but I think I must have been spoiled by all the RPGs I play that take “choice” as a matter of course in plot development. Actually, what bothered me most about Red Dead Redemption wasn’t the lack of choice per se in any given interaction—such as not being able to choose your own dialog in cut scenes, as you might in many RPGs—but the times where it looked like I had a choice and it turned out I didn’t.

(Some major SPOILERS follow.)

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Hunting for Mysteries

I have a new article up online, titled “Hunting for Mysteries.” It’s a short piece inspired by both my research and my personal experiences at the MIT Mystery Hunt (which I look forward to attending again in about a month).

You might notice that this isn’t the kind of peer-reviewed, open-access academic research article I normally link to here. For a change of pace, I thought I’d pitch this one to one of my favorite online magazines, The Escapist Magazine. I’ve been reading The Escapist‘s thoughtful articles on gaming since the publication was available as a (smartly designed) PDF download, and I’ve been pleased to see it getting some additional attention lately through features like Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation reviews.

Even in my academic writing, I try not to sound that academic. Still, it was nice in this case to just relate an experience without worrying about whether I mention enough French theorists or statistical data to be taken seriously by my readers. Also, did you know that some publications will pay you to write things? The novelty of this has yet to wear off. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the piece as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Wonks vs. Nerds

Inside Higher Ed directs us to a couple sites describing American University‘s new branding campaign around the word ‘wonk.’ American has a website offers a description of what the term means, suggests that there are many different kinds of wonks (policy wonks, science wonks, theater wonks…), and draws a connection between the word ‘know’ (which does happen to be ‘wonk’ backwards).

I find the campaign interesting because it’s very much like MIT’s “Nerd Pride” slogan, but even more official and widespread. The various ways that American has tried to lay claim to ‘wonk’ strongly resemble the ways that people have tried to define reclaim ‘geek’ and ‘nerd,’ down to claiming that there are many “types” of geeks, and explaining meaning through backronyms like “general electrical engineering knowledge” or “knurd” (for “drunk” backwards). Given that American University is based out of Washington D.C. and attracting many students who are quite interested in being described as “policy wonks” someday, the new campaign is a kind of way to signal that it’s producing a particular local flavor of geek.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the Cultural Critique

For a movie that hasn’t made much of a splash in box office take, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World certainly seems to have people talking. The movie opened 5th in the box office last weekend. It was beaten out by two new movies, The Expendables and Eat Pray Love, and by two movies who’d fallen about 40-50% in sales (one being Inception, arguable another nerd-bait feature).

Cinema Blend offers “5 Reasons Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Failed to Find an Audience,” but its reasoning is somewhat suspect at times, and even the title seems like a misnomer to me. “Scott Pilgrim” is currently the top Trending Topic on Twitter. My friends have been talking about it for weeks; a bunch of us saw a free advance screening, and a bunch more saw it on opening weekend. The blogs I follow regularly have been generally gushing praise. The issue doesn’t really seem to be that it “failed to find an audience,” but that the audience it found wasn’t really big enough to promise the kind of box office take that you’d expect with a $60 million budget. The whole phenomenon feels strangely reminiscent of Snakes on a Plane: Everyone was expecting the hype to equal success, when in fact it might have been only enough to make sure the movie makes a modest profit in the long run.

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