Feminist Games

quo magis speculativa, magis practica

snakes

Harriet Tubman, according to Lydia Maria Child, once said:

“God won’t let Master Lincoln beat the South until he does right thing. Master Lincoln, he’s a great man, and I’m a poor Negro but this Negro can tell Master Lincoln how to save money and young men. He can do it by setting the Negroes free. Suppose there was an awful big snake down there on the floor. He bites you. Folks all scared, because you may die. You send for doctor to cut the bite; but the snake rolled up there, and while doctor is doing it, he bites you again. The doctor cuts out that bite; but while he’s doing it, the snake springs up and bites you again, and so he keeps doing it, till you kill him. That’s what Master Lincoln ought to know.”

In this analogy, we can imagine that Tubman thinks of slavery like a snake, or perhaps an enslaved creature as the snake itself. In either case, it is the conditions of slavery that motivate the biting. But neither slavery, nor people subject to it, operate like creatures, like the snake. Which is not to criticize the choice of creature that Tubman identifies, but simply to account for the reason the body and snake are in relation in the first place. This metaphor, while trying to punctuate the stakes of abolition, takes for granted the necessity of the body’s (the United States’) continued existence. It takes for granted the need, will, or want to live, and perhaps consequently, to reproduce. Such a premise is central to the colonization of the Americas, and it serves as a precondition for settlers to enslave anyone in the first place. It is through property relations that the politics of reproduction are brought to bear on the backs of black folk, and it explains a central premise in black liberation politics: the right to be included in the project of setter colonization. The fight between you and the snake, what characterizes your relationship to each other, is competition over the right to live and reproduce. So while the snake in Tubman’s metaphor might represent an oppressed person, we might also see its constitution – as locked into this competitive dynamic with a man – as representative of colonial politics or coloniality, writ large. If we do, we must be mindful of the ironic limitation to imagining settler colonialism in this way: if it were so simple to contain colonialism into a body, perhaps it might be slain. But colonialism is not a body; it is an act. It is a universe of possibilities and of laws, of priorities and values. And to really know colonialism is to be outside it; to be so completely alienated by it that your existence constantly teeters on the brink of violent erasure. In other words, to be so far removed from any power within the system, that the idea of ever living away from it is impossible for some people to ever accept.

note

Diversity is the fruit of a poisoned tree. [1] [2] [3]

sitting with nausea

nausea is my self involuntarily reacting to something i cannot see. i sit with nausea most days.

nausea reminds me that something doesn’t belong, but it does not evidence that i do not belong: it’s arrival is more akin to an unsolicited reminder, specifically that things you take for granted have a tendency to break or break down, or otherwise change.

nausea is sometimes a symptom of toxicity.

when reading makes me nauseous, something has broken down. something that I am reading is toxic. certainly the cause is right in front of me: i can see the words. so what is the thing that I cannot see?

if i assume there is something i cannot see, i should consider the things around the reading that are impossible to know but probably exist as evidenced by the reading.

  • What motivates this writer?
  • Why did they write this?

i think the nausea usually follows that last question, but it’s just a gut feeling.

answering that last question requires a great capacity for empathy, and a wide variety of worldly experiences, in order to hazard the most generous answer—the answer that preserves the dignity for the author. and that is so much work. it’s exhausting. it requires multiple drafts, and probably research. it takes time.

nausea reminds me that regardless of the intention an author might have, the things that people write can evidence conflict between us (something I didn’t see before, and so feel) — a break in our assumed community. a breakdown in our relationship. a change in my expectations.

taking care of nausea — the something that doesn’t belong — typically involves mediating that conflict with the understanding that there is no cure for it.

mediating what makes you nauseous does not involve changing you;

in coping with nausea, i learn about the ways in which i can change the world or my condition in it by accepting the things i cannot change about myself.

august 5, 2015, 8:32 PM

I endeavor for the sensation of serenity;

I fight for the courage to self examine my life

circumstance and wisdom to discern

circumstance from responsibility.

I labor for a just and forgiving world.

 

#forgottenNotes

4S 2019 – A Sociotechnical Ethics Analysis of Overwatch’s Endorsement and LFG Systems

Below I’ve copied my presentation notes and embedded images of my slides for a presentation delivered at 4S earlier this evening (Sept. 5, 2019). These thoughts represent the better part of an argument I am developing for a dissertation chapter. They are very rough and I have cited and evidenced VERY, VERY LITTLE. That is because this is a conference presentation, where I don’t feel as obligated to rehearse an exhaustive literature review. That said, I have co-published a more comprehensive review of existing scholarship on digital labor with Ilana Gershon; it is in a forthcoming volume titled Digital Anthropology: Second Edition. That essay definitely informs my thinking here.


4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_01.jpg

For starters, the title of my presentation is embarrassingly long: “The Value of Recognizing Certain Gameplay Behaviors: Efforts to Shape Sociotechnical Ethics with Systematized Qualitative Evaluation Metrics.” Sometimes it is the case where you draft a title that you hope captures the thesis of your argument. I think this was the case here, before I knew exactly what I wanted to argue. C’est la vie.

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_02.jpgGame developers have a problem. That problem is commonly framed as “toxicity,” an ill-defined concept that often operates as a synonym for cyber-bullying or incivility. From the top, toxicity is perceived as a problem because it is often used as justification for low retention and adoption rates with players, especially white women and people of color who publicly talk about their experiences of multiplayer, competitive video gaming environments. ‘Toxicity’ generally affects everyone, but it is often discussed in relation to high-profile or viral accounts of gender-based or race-based harassment. Among the people I play with, the everyday identification of toxicity suggests that the concept is widely appropriated to discuss a wider variety of behaviors and social circumstances that on their own require a particular context to become ‘toxic.’ The identification of toxicity, as with all things, is obviously a reflexive and discursive social practice that happens as part of particular boundary making practices between individuals or within a community. But for that reason, designing with toxicity in mind is a minefield because inclusivity is often defined by maximizing the number of people who are part of your consumer base, regardless of the boundaries individuals or groups might draw between themselves.

Game development companies are not the only ones dealing with a ‘toxicity’ problem, but game development companies are uniquely constrained in the systematic implementation of detoxification or content moderation strategies. Today I want to talk about how one game development company, Blizzard Entertainment, is working to ‘solve’ this problem through system design and why I think their commitment to maintaining a specific kind of consumer relationship with players distorts their perception of the problem space they are working in. I also want to try to apply a sociotechnical ethics framework to think practically about how to developers could address some of the more complex, underlying reasons why players act out or act in a ‘toxic’ manner towards others. This is because I think of toxicity as a structural issue for all digital platforms that operate on heteromated­­ labor (Ekbia and Nardi, 2014), as it seems to appear regardless of the goal of human computer interaction. My goal here is to identify similarities between people who play competitive games online and people who participate as workers in the gig economy, and to develop a grammar for talking about gamer labor that more readily qualifies the value of each person’s participation in a game, regardless of the competitive stakes that might seem to dictate that value. Making these connections is important, I reason, because all of the platforms we could be talking about when we discuss heteromated labor are really toxic. I know you know what I mean by this.

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_03.jpgI believe that they are toxic because the normal operation of such platforms relies on end users to perform uncompensated emotional labor for other end users, and that toxicity is often a symptom of platforms failing to (1) mediate a feeling of equitable exchange between end users, and (2) facilitate conflict resolution between end users when they disagree about (a) how a goal or task should be completed, and/or (b) who is best suited to complete a specific task. Users I’ve talked to in my field research generally do not think of these platforms as toxic when these meta-structural goals are met by the platform, although they may still have problems with how a platform manages their time and activity. So I want to be clear that ‘managing’ or addressing toxicity is not the same thing as responding to someone’s general discomfort or criticism of platform design. There’s usually a little something extra in that experience; my hunch is that someone’s toxicity (when someone is toxic) usually has to do with someone else’s fundamentally held values and beliefs about what normative behavior should be through a specific channel of communication or platform for social activity.

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_04.jpgHaving said that, I realize that there are important differences between gamers and gig economy workers, and that there are meaningful limitations to my study of toxicity by focusing only on platform users because it means I’m not developing a grammar that necessarily anticipates the harm to local communities that materially support platform capitalism.

But this is a conference presentation! So I’m going to try and focus on articulating my argument, and then maybe you can help me explore those limitations. I’m presenting work that reflects over 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Overwatch competitive community. That has mostly involved playing the game on multiple accounts and at different tiered levels of competitive play, talking with people involved in competitive play, participating in organized communities outside of the platform itself on Discord, and trying to maintain a pulse of dominant discursive practices on various Overwatch-related subReddits and the official game forum managed by Blizzard employees. I’ve also tried reaching out to Tier 1 esports teams playing in the international competitive league, and establishing a rapport with some of the employees at Blizzard – mostly unsuccessful in this regard for reasons we can get into later. I am still in the process of putting together a dissertation proposal, so really I’m hoping that my presentation here inspires someone to reach out with practical advice which is why you’ll find my Twitter handle on every slide here.

I’m going to assume that most of you don’t follow games or play games, especially not competitive multiplayer games. So if I touch on anything that doesn’t quite make sense, please let me know. But also, I hope that my slides will illustrate how systems present themselves and that my analysis will explain how the operate in general.

In the interests of time, let’s jump right in to thinking about the work gamers do for companies like Blizzard. Then we’ll talk about how Blizzard is trying to improve working conditions for players. In my conclusion, I’ll offer an analysis of where I think technologists should focus their efforts in this ongoing, iterative development process.

I have actually been thinking about gamers as workers for a long time, but I have never found existing discussion of ‘playbour’ sufficiently illuminating for my fieldwork. That concept more often relies on the production of something akin to intellectual property to distinguish between hobbyists and consumers. In that intellectual tradition, there’s really no challenge or pushback against the assumption that players are fundamentally not workers. That the category or identity of ‘gamer’ and ‘player’ are legitimately distinct in the right context, you just need to find some way of justifying someone’s activity or participation as leisurely, voluntary, or possibly selfish. I was very inspired when I picked up Hamid Ekbia and Bonni Nardi’s volume on the concept of heteromation published in 2014.

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_05They coined this term to describe videogames, social media, and crowdsource applications that paradigmatically rely on end users to complete critical tasks for a technological platform to work and serve its intended purpose (2014). It’s a very useful concept for discussing gamers who play competitive multiplayer games because these platforms are designed and regulated around the boundless availability of people who want to play with others. Unlike a first person shooter like Quake, both Blizzard and their end users rely on a large population of people playing or participating on the platform concurrently, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Without this population, the game effectively death spirals and people will abandon it for alternatives that promise a very similar experience: something like Fortnight or Apex Legands are two such competing alternatives, with players (often assumed to be on the younger side by other people in the community) who often publicly wonder if Overwatch is ‘dead’ or ‘dying’ as a popular game.

Players perform technical and emotion labor for their fellow players. There’s what game scholars like to qualify as ‘mechanical skill,’ which has to do with tasks that involve key strokes and mouse-clicks. Mechanical skills always leave a digital trace. These traces are often the basis for statistical analysis and quantitative comparisons between players in terms of performance. To oversimplify this a bit, we can think of these tasks as: How fast can you click heads, how much damage you do, or how much healing you distribute across your team. There’s more to say here about the problems with statistical analysis done and the types of behavior game developers do and do not track. For another day, can’t focus on that too much now.

Instead let’s focus on what’s immediately not obvious, to both players and end users, and sometimes the developers. Emotional labor. For me this concept borrows from Arlie Hochschild’s work on flight attendants is The Managed Heart (originally published 1983) and the expectations women are expected to adhere to in order to do ‘good work’ or receive acknowledgement for work well done. In this book she talks a lot about ‘feeling management’ to describe the form emotional labor takes in this particular service industry, with something like a well-timed smile serving as a practical example of making sure someone else feels welcome, heard, appreciated, or something similar.

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_06.jpgIn a competitive gaming environment, players are sometimes under intense pressure to manage other players emotions, to meet other people’s expectations for strategic action, and to conform to rapidly changing hegemonic norms that change with the creation and completion of every simulated game. Overwatch is a first-person shooter, but unlike many other such titles this game requires teams of 6 to cooperatively collaborate in winning each match. Winning typically involves executing complex, open-ended tasks. There are different heroes with different abilities that functionally operate as tools in your kit for executing strategic maneuvers and collaborating on eliminating opponents or breaking up enemy formations. No one person can win the game for a team; there power to win matches is distributed across multiple players, the degree to which is mostly irrelevant. What is relevant is that this is the sort of game that typically requires everyone to conform to some sort of normative behavior. That occurs through explicit deliberation among players on a team, or it happens as a matter of happenstance; there are some games that players have where no one really communicates at all, and they are still able to collaborate because everyone happens to share expectations for how to strategically accomplish standardized tasks: to create space, to isolate individuals from the enemy group, to focus a high-priority target, or to distribute team resources efficiently to maximize the value of particular hero abilities. There may be some hybrid interaction where players only organize strategy at the beginning of a match, and in other games players will constantly organize and plan throughout each team fight. In those games, players may shout an enemy character’s name over and over and over again to motivate and direct players on the team to a specific task.

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_07.jpgGame developers at Blizzard recognize the inherent complexity and difficulty of these logistical problem: how do players efficiently and consistently communicate gameplay strategy, and how do players know whose opinions or beliefs about gameplay strategy should be prioritized over others? Addressing this question is paramount. When communication breaks down, the consequences for many are often more fraught than having lost a match. The psychological trauma of how the game was lost can trigger unpredictable reactions from people who normally perceive themselves as easy-going, chill people. I can speak to personal experience of this, but I have had many conversations with players about this phenomenon. In popular discussions of it, players refer to this psychological state as ‘tilt’. ‘Tilting’ is often discussed as a downward spiral of emotions and the feeling of losing control or having no control in a game. This feeling may prompt players to grief, troll, or otherwise ‘misbehave’ in a social environment, but it is distinct from other experiences because people tend to think it can be controlled and managed. While a toxic player is someone who cannot be controlled, a tilted player is someone who can be rehabilitated. Within the discursive competitive community outside the game, players frequently discuss effective strategies for managing tilt and communicating with particular stereotypes. These discussions reflect a common belief that behavioral psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (among others), can be effectively applied to manipulate others into cooperating, focusing, communicating, and bonding with other players in the group. Failing to manage tilted players or appropriately respond to their needs is often perceived as the reason a team loses the game, and it can be itself seen as a ‘toxic,’ inappropriate, and reportable act to other teammates. This inter-player dynamic has particular consequences that I don’t have a lot of time to talk about for white women and people of color specifically, at least on servers or in competitive communities in the United States. Delving specifically into these consequences is what I hope my larger dissertation project can meaningfully explain and comment on. But today, I want to talk a little bit about one of the ways Blizzard is trying to address this dynamic between players. I think the implementation of qualitative evaluation metrics at least superficially recognizes the demand and need for this emotional labor on the part of our corporate overlords. 4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_08.jpg

Blizzard implemented the Endorsement System in the summer of 2018, about 2 years after the game formally launched on Windows and Console platforms. They launched this feature concurrently with a formal, in-game Looking-For-a-Game (LFG) system, which was intended to put the Endorsement System to practical use. In summary, the Endorsement System was designed to gamify and metrify classes of behavior that developers and players have a hard time accounting for. Whereas existing systems are well tuned to identify, monitor, and compare ‘mechanical skills,’ ‘soft skills’ like communication, leadership, emotional support, logistical planning, and care work do not leave obvious digital traces that algorithms can automagically track and surveil. The endorsement system was designed to ‘empower’ users to track that sort of information about players on their team. That data about a player is anonymized, aggregated, simplified, and filtered to produce a single number: your Endorsement Level.

Your endorsement level doesn’t directly affect your experience in the game, necessarily. Participating in the system is compulsory, in that everyone starts out at level 1 by default, but it is not designed to be directly punitive if people choose not to endorse you. Instead, the system rewards both direct participation, high-level achievement, and high-level maintenance. In combination with the LFG system, players can sort themselves into selective groups on the basis of endorsement level. In theory, this affords LFG participants with the ability to filter out all sorts of deviant people: people who don’t earn endorsements because either they don’t have adequate soft skills or they don’t communicate, or new accounts often operated by people who aren’t experienced in meta-level analysis and strategy in the game.4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_09.jpg

This system was widely heralded as a success in the immediate months that followed from its implementation. At a game developer conference held the following March in 2019 (approximately 9 months later), a researcher at Blizzard employees attributed a “40 percent decrease in matches that resulted in disruptive behavior”—which several outlets reported as a “40 percent decrease in toxicity”— with the implementation of the Endorsement and LFG system. The argument here being that these systems contribute to the development, identification, and maintenance of consistent social norms around how to play the game. A few things we could say here about what this number represents or means, but let’s take it at face value that the only forms of toxicity Blizzard needs to worry about are the ones people thing to report. I don’t think that Blizzard is wrong here; but, in practice, the system does not always work as intended, and it has not necessarily evolved to keep pace with changing norms and expectations held by more senior players.

The game is constantly changing as new maps, heroes, and modes are routinely introduced. The development team tweaks hero abilities about once a month. This creates instability and plurality in what people perceive as appropriate meta strategy in the game (which heroes are viable, how to play around obstacles on a map, when to use abilities, etc). The Endorsement System obscures the routine, necessary discursive practices that flex a person’s communication skills and analytical thinking. I’m not just saying that the number you’re given is inaccurate, I’m saying that the number is not adequately representative of a person’s in-game education or soft-skill ability.

Although, the number is not ‘accurate’ in an empirical sense, either. It fluctuates over time according to a black-boxed algorithmic process that calculates the value according to some equation that accounts for the number of games you’ve played, the time you’ve played, they types of endorsements you’ve received, and the number of endorsements you’ve received. Eventually, if you play long enough your number will go up by virtue of playing a lot. It’s a statistical inevitability. In part because the number is cumulative and I think you’re only punished when you leave matches early (so folklore about the system goes), and in part because other players are differently motivated to participate in the system. Lower-level accounts are implicitly motivated to pass out endorsements carelessly or without real consideration for the cheap experience points. I have several stories in my back pocket that I don’t have time to share that entail receiving completely unjustified endorsements from other players. And many more of people using the endorsement system to throw shade or low-key troll opponents.4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_10.jpg

And in practice, experiences of toxicity are often completely outside the scope of what Endorsement and LFG system can reasonably mediate. This is in part because toxicity is not fundamentally a problem of ‘bad apples’ or even intentional maliciousness. Toxicity is not a consequence of inadequate rewards. Although the perceived success of the Endorsement/LFG systems suggests that people’s behaviors do change when incentivized in particular way, I argue that the apparent failures of this system also suggest that there are better ways to conceptualize and theorize what’s going on when people tilt.

My proposal here is two-fold:

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_11.jpgFirst, I think it is imperative to think about toxicity as epiphenomenal of information systems. As part of a collaboration with my colleagues at Indiana University — Tristan Gohring, Javon Goard, and Lucas Kempe-Cook — we argue that toxic behavior is a consequence of boundary-making practices more generally—those practices that co-constitute who wins and who loses, who deserves this and who deserves that. Toxicity is not something that can be ‘fought,’ as it is an inevitable consequence of diverse people whose purpose in coming together is to resolve conflict of some kind, and obviously in the case of platform workers, resolving some conflict through and with a specific information communication technology.

By couching toxicity in an understanding of sociotechnical ethics, we argue that we can understand a person’s perception of toxicity or another toxic person in terms of their experience and familiarity with context-specific norms and ethics related to using or interacting in a complex system. The range of behaviors we might refer to as ‘toxic’ often other and dehumanize those that deviate from some perceived norm, and that othering process is part of establishing and negotiating normative behavior. It is an essential function in making communities that matter. Players are not ‘toxic’ before they start to communicate and express their beliefs and expectations about proper conduct; rather, players become toxic when people do not share an ethical disposition about what should happen, when some action should occur, or how someone should participate.

4S 2019 - Endorsements Presentation_Page_12.jpgMy second contribution is to think specifically in terms of toxicity as a consequence of players facing an ethical dilemma and completely disagreeing about (a) how a goal or task should be completed, and/or (b) who is best suited to complete a specific task. This model bears fruit even when thinking about forms of toxicity that are simply instances of identity-based harassment. In the case of gender-based harassment, it is sometimes the case that information about a player’s perceived gender enters into the discursive calculus of how a team can win the game. This sexist ideology or prejudice that women, specifically, are inexperienced or incapable of efficiently playing a specific role reflects a sexist’s assumption about who is best suited to complete damage-related tasks in the execution of a assault-based strategy.

If I’m right, developers at Blizzard need to think more critically about the infrastructure that platforms the resolution of routine ethical dilemmas in a match. I’m personally excited by their recent implementation of a Role Queue system, which I believe works towards this goal explicitly. With this system, it is no longer a debate about who should play what role because the game has taken away the ability for players to make a choice about which hero to play after they’ve learned something about the people on their team. Players don’t waste time on debating the merits of who plays what role in the 30 seconds they have to prepare for their upcoming match. But with that said, I think there’s room for improvement in structuring how teams plan and communicate about strategy and task completion.

 

 

—-399: Intro to Critical Game Studies Syllabus

last spring i put all this time into drafting the syllabus for an experimental, small, upper-division course thematically oriented around the notion of ‘critical game studies’. while i would make changes to this syllabus given more time … why not share what i have now? if you find this useful or have comments, please share them. the only comment i’m not really interested in goes along the lines of: this looks like a lot of reading. …obviously.

[PDF: syllabus399]

dear auntie – updated

update 1: this post is regularly updated with new chapters as they develop. chapters do not develop in a sensible sequence due to the multithreading of conversations that can happen on facebook. chapter 1, however, was (what in retrospect) i will call ‘the beginning’—knowing, of course, all ‘beginnings’ are impure. 

update 2: as of publishing chapter 4, I have reflected more on what this post is supposed to be doing, and i have considered the potential harm it could be doing as a work that recontextualizes people’s words outside of their initial form and format. perhaps it is telling that i have decided not to discontinue the project and maintain this page as a repository for these observations (essentially, a kind of data collection). i am doing this because i think there is something about what’s going on in these posts, this project, that is of public interest. this is not the same thing as journalism, but there is something pedagogical in character to looking over people’s shoulders and listening in on how they conduct themselves in civil discourse on the internet in 2016. when most of the nations opinion leaders seem to be suggesting that politics should not be brought to the family dinner table around this Thanksgiving holiday, it seems of the utmost importance, then, to demonstrate other ways of weaving political discourse into the fabric of everyday life. this weaving is not inherently obvious in character or technique, and from conversations with my students in the classroom, there is a general demand for demonstrations of this rhetorical art form in practice. in sum, i see this project as a technological demonstration of sorts: a practical example of how i am using technology in everyday life to have conversations that seem impossible around the dinner table.

what is inherently technological about this practice of conversation is the ways in which Facebook affords a very different kind of conversation than what would normally happen at a family get-together. the space is differently-public, and time is differently-experienced; people speak and reflect in different ways when they write, compared to when they speak. the social pressure points and rhetorical subtexts are different. the process overall of engaging and disengaging from conversation is radically different. if my aunt or anyone else starts to express things that offend me, on Facebook i can walk away from the conversation for a few days, reflect on an appropriate response, type it up, review and revise, and then re-engage in the conversation. in the real world i don’t have those affordances, and the consequences are such that we don’t have political conversations at the table because when someone says something offensive, our instincts kick in and we start to act and behave in ways that both simultaneously shut down conversation and enact strategies for self preservation. in other words, we get defensive, and when we’re defensive, we’re not able to think strategically about the ways in which we can technically continue to engage with the offensive issue.  

attenuating to the form and format of technical engagement is increasingly an important aspect of my praxis. i am a white, cis-gendered, educated, employed, able-bodied person who comes from an upper middle-class (6-figure income) family who cares for me and accepts me. i am empowered in ways that help me cope with the ways in which i am not privileged as a queer, depressed, overweight woman. i can leverage that power to take risks, and engage in ways that others may not be able to afford—especially when it comes to having conversations with people in my kinship network. these conversations on Facebook, for example, take up a lot of the time i should be spending on my coursework or teaching, and taking this time to respond has definitely affected my ability to do good work on time for my supervisors. but—this is work that needs to happen. i am lucky enough to also be at an institution, working with generous scholars who know this. 

what i hope does not come of this project is the sense that i am doing this to make an example of the people in my family who voted for a fascist. i mean no ill will! this project is in many ways about being generous because generosity is a prerequisite for civil discourse. i am trying to model what generosity looks like in this particular socio-technological context. it is easy, after all, to talk in vague generalities. what i think people demand in a demonstration of civil discourse is a meaningful, concrete example of what an attempt at bridge-building looks like. again—an attempt. this might be a spectacular example of spinning wheels in mud, but i hold out hope that the process and the subsequent effort to document it has a longer-than-average-life in the context of Facebook comments. furthermore, bridge-building, once you have accepted the burden of first conceding time and effort into the project (remember, all beginnings are imperfect, but projects must start somewhere to nurture the phenomenon of duration), requires a strategic assessment of where common ground can be made. it must be a calculated and thoughtful process. generosity is aspirational, yes, and i cannot by myself say for certain if this project achieves its aims. 

another one of the many failings of this work as a censored blog post is that it does not characterize the subtexts that characterize power relationships in this kinship network. while i maintain the distinction between when i speak and my aunt speaks, i do so to underscore a very basic power relation that would have probably been self evident anyways from even a superficial assessment of writing styles. i also think this distinction helps make the work more relatable for some people, even if it does seem to compromise an expectation of privacy that may or may not exist for my aunt. this may be where this work transgresses ethical boundaries, but then again—i have many aunts. people who know what is going on in these posts are already privileged to this discourse if they were to read posts on my Timeline. if i am doing something that is transgressive, i hope this regrettable oversight (at the very least) inspires discussion on the unique situation of privacy on Facebook—especially in situations when their proprietary algorithms that govern notifications and ‘News Feed’ content selectively participate in opening up these conversations to people inside and outside my kinship network. this is to say, i think the politics of reblogging censored versions of these conversations differs from what would normally govern a research agenda or formal scholarly project. it is in this sense i feel obligated to characterize this project as an aspect of my work as a community activist.  

Continue Reading —>

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Draft: NCA Presentation 2016

this morning i presented the following material for an NCA practice panel. the organization of what i have here will changed somewhat in the next two weeks, and i definitely need more visuals (thanks audience feedback!); but, i’m sharing this preemptively because i wanted to respond to this tweet. the tweet speaks to the larger relevance of the work i’m doing here, because while i’m talking about a television show, my focus here is on lessons that can be applied in other media production contexts. without further context…

nca-2016-feminist-production-culture

Thank you for your attention here today. My name is Iris and I am a PhD student with the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University within the Culture, Computing, and Society group. For the last several years I have concerned myself with questions of feminist praxis and industrial practice, and today I want to relay some initial conclusions I’ve come to following a year-longish analysis of an ambitious serial project that—like many similarly ‘risky’ shows—was prematurely cancelled. These conclusions follow from an analysis of possible shortcomings in existing scholarly projects that work to frame articulations of political practice in industrial media production settings. In particular, I’m interested in recovering value from aspects of producing a television show that are typically regarded as fluff or epistemologically suspect. These are moments that orient production workers in the position of explaining themselves in relation to their work, sometimes under the guise of ‘selling’ the show or themselves. What I take issue with is the derision of these moments; in particular because I think that they uniquely afford production workers an opportunity to ‘take back the mic’—to articulate interpersonal relationships and personal information that tends to complicate possible interpretations of what a project is and who a project is for. Thus, in thinking about what feminist praxis looks like in an industrial practice setting, I argue in this paper that it is by attenuating my analysis of the show to a study of mutually reinforcing discursive practices on both sides of the camera that I am better able to appreciate the many feminisms done in the production of Strange Empire. Read the rest of this entry »