The first rule of fight club is not to talk about fight club. Oh wait. Wrong. The first rule of art club is you critique the work, not the artist.
This repeating voice in my head (no, not the one that keeps telling me to get air put in the tires or check on the dryer), no, that other one that kept asking why I printed Xak’s essay, and all I kept, and keep, coming back to is public service announcement.
Yes, admittedly, perhaps I wanted to know what it was like to stir up trouble, discussion, throw some paint on the wall, etc. It's true. But from what I have seen in recent blogging/Twitter scuffles, it is when someone criticizes the creator personally, and not their work or deeds, that halts any responsible conversation. This is a conversation, not an “I know the answers” moment, because I do not.
What do I really want? I want young women to go in to any situation with eyes wide open.
I want them to know the Xaks are out there.
And I want them to know I'm out there, too.
Recently I sat through training on Digital Citizenship. One of the minor points that was not explored thoroughly enough or explained enough was the concept that as adolescents, many find on-line social communities/games a place to try on ‘new identities.’ They're trying things on, roles or gender identities they cannot explore in the real world.
I was thinking back to the critical importance of early childhood play. Many educational trends are leaning toward, and have started, doing standardized testing in kindergarten. Yes, little Timmy, if you can’t tie your shoes or say your alphabet you have to go back to…um. The hours of just ‘playing’ have been diminished in schools. There are no longer dress-up boxes, or play kitchens, and the time to build forts has been banished from early childhood education. (I can’t make this stuff up.) Okay, so let’s say that kids still can find a cardboard box and some spoons and a pot to bang them on, and old discarded prom dresses (one of my personal favorites), and still get to play dress-up. The pre-digital, usual coming-of-age journey allowed all the same awkwardness, bullying, humiliation, and growth, but with one key difference of this generation: we didn’t have a virtual world to experience all these same sublime and terrifying judgments and harassment of others. One of Xak’s points is about anonymity—and this is where we have lost our way.
Our Azeorthian lives are all about dress-up, role playing, and make-believe. And it's damn fun. I would suggest that, however, our levels of mental and emotional health provide with sturdy springboards by which to jump into our virtual worlds, and back out again. When we can't find our way back out, out of the virtual worlds, is when we are in critical danger. I am concerned that there is a generation who may not know how to get back out. And while I'm busy carving a ladder in the sinkhole, there are some dangerous characters down in Wonderland. And no, the on-line predators and creeps are horrible, but most folks are getting pretty savvy about them. What we're not so savvy about are the folks who continue to push with powerful bullying tools. Bullies know the weak spots. They know girls are sensitive about weight. They know guys are sensitive about their virility. They know the political hot-buttons to push in troll chat. They were the kids who were pushing down the Lego castles and dumping out the finger paints while you and I were playing tag or house.
And before I go on: Men aren’t so perfect, either. The other day on visual thesaurus was the word ‘philanderer.’ Nuff said.
Words like “racism, bigotry, misogyny, and sexism” are sometimes misused. In the case of Xak’s point-of-view, I am not qualified to analyze his own pathologies. He is a friend of mine, but as I am sure you would all agree, you don't want to be guilty by association with all thoughts and opinions of everyone you know. We all have the racist guildmate, the bossy one, or the clueless one.
Let me explain: On Facebook and even Twitter, I have contacts with many people. Most of those on Twitter are in a professional, entertaining, or Azerothian context. I like to know what they have to say in 140 characters. I don't agree with everything everyone says, but it does lend itself to some interesting, concise conversations. Facebook is a whole ‘nother story. I have friends. I have some friends of friends. I have work colleagues. I have relatives. I have close family. I have really close family. The other day I posted a photo and tagged the faces. A perfectly normal thing to do, but one I hadn’t done on this scale. The unintended consequence was I got comments on this photo that reached to the outer regions of the Facebook sea. I am fairly sure some of those folks do not agree with me politically, socially, or ethically on many things. Their opinions don’t affect me. But what about my uncle, whom I really love? This is where another paradox of social interactions comes to play. My uncle, I suspect, is a racist. My cousin is one, too. I think that guy over there is a jerk. And that woman over there is just plain rude. But I am not going to “unfriend” them because I don’t believe in the same politics (however misguided they are). (Xak may be many things but he hates humanity with equal disdain --not labels warranted. And he is not a racist.) No, in fact, I want to know what they have to say. I think it’s far worse to shut down discourse. Cross-dressing rogue disagrees with me on this one, and like I said, I do not have the answers: because while I think it’s bad to shut down discourse, we do need, and get to, choose our friends in Azeroth, and we do need to choose carefully.
Which brings me to the heart of this issue: There are the “Xaks” out there. There is a culture, and it steers towards the toxic. But I believe one of the key points Xak makes is for (women) players to acknowledge when they are playing a role that may be construed as less than...ladylike? That is a horrible word choice. Perhaps he is asking for players to reflect on their own part in their gaming experience? Be a bit more in control?
I was wondering if the sentiments expressed in Xak are no more than articulated trolling. I pondered about some of the groups of (young men) who are usually between 18-32 who might even be construed as the Kings of Trolls. They have extended their dress-up time from the playground and found a venue to continue their on-line role-playing observations and entertainment.
What I wish I could teach young men and women is that as in the real world, they don’t have to put up with that shit in the virtual one. I want to teach them to reflect on their self-esteem. I know what I am talking about. I know how awkward, painful, and distressing adolescence is. I am seeking a cultural shift.
Some quick responses:
Fat/weight: This is still one area that seems to be considered all right for people to make fun of. It is a fact that in the US there is an ‘obesity epidemic’ and Michelle Obama has done what she can to get school lunches to change. Jon Stewart’s take on this on the Daily Show last night was hilarious and perfect. But I know some chubby kids, and I struggle with weight now, too. Our personal relationships with food tie into our earliest memories of nourishment and love, or lack thereof. Ladies: watch your body image. It’s yours. Don’t let a troll be in your own mirror.
Flirty girls: This one has admittedly driven me, and my friend Kaylyne, a bit bonkers. Yes, there are girls/women, and even men who pretend, to be females to “get what they want.” And the flip side is, there are men who will treat them accordingly. Again: Public Service Announcement: if you want to play the “I got boobs” game, fine. But know what you’re doing, know why you’re doing it, and go do it somewhere else.
Women players in general: Even one of my dear friends said something that in his experience, women tend not to be ‘as good’ as men. He immediately back-peddled and brought up on of his dearest friends in game, who is one of the top players he has ever encountered, and go figure, is a woman.
Here is what I want: I don’t want people to say any longer “XYZ is a great player, and she’s a woman!” Or, “She is one of the best women players I know.” But yes, we have a long damn way to go. In an effort of full disclosure, I was the woman who was feeling guilty for admitting I liked being on a raid team without other women. Because of the limitations of time and text, I did not have a chance to explain why. There are a few reasons: first, most of my player friends are males by demographic. It seems there are more men in my age group who play than women. Second, I have really good women friends in game and outside of the game. I do get along equally well with men and women. (See the Facebook comment.) But playing with a predominately male raiding team was just the opposite of the ‘attention,’ --the reason why I found it refreshing was because they weren’t paying attention to me. They tend to dominate the Mumble mic, and I wanted no one to ever notice a mistake or oops that will lead to that stereotype of ‘women can’t play.’ I don’t want them to notice me at all. Sometimes I find the judgmental tones of both male and females players a bit much to handle.
Ultimately, and I am dashing these thoughts off before I bolt to work, just be aware of yourself and surroundings. That is the only way to stay safe, and even then, there are no guarantees. Just trying to put the odds in favor of those who may need protection, even from themselves. If I didn't get a chance to articulate all my thoughts, my apologies. Gotta get out there and fight the good fight. This has given me a lot to do in the real world, and help some real people.