Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
Emails from the Edge VI - The Undiscovered Forum Post

Robert B. Marks | 29 Mar 2017 16:00
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imageOnce again it is time for another installment of "Emails from the Edge," with even fewer emails involved than ever. For those who might be new to the column, this is where we take a look at the discussions that followed each installment, and highlight the best (or, at least, most interesting) posts for and against each topic.

(The obituary for Carrie Fisher was not a think piece like the others, nor it is not part of the official rotation - as such I have not given it a number, nor will I be quoting any reader comments from it. There was a wonderful thread with many fond words of farewell for Ms. Fisher, and please do read it if you have the time.)

Garwulf #37, "Defending Private Ryan," launched a great discussion with enough really good posts on the forums and Facebook that it was actually quite hard to choose passages to highlight. Gethsemani wrote:

Saving Private Ryan should be a classic, because it is a movie where every scene has something significant to tell us about the characters, the story or the war and is a deliberation some aspect of war and sacrifice. It manages to also be a movie both about the horror of war and about the debt we owe those that fight on our behalf, irregardless of if we ask them to or not.

Chewster thought that Fury was the more interesting film:

In Saving Private Ryan, we get a better appreciation for the hell that soldiers go/went through but in Fury we got the chance to see the same sort of impact on civilians and I think that is important to remember that in any war situations, civilians (especially children and other vulnerable groups) are the first to suffer and the ones who suffer the most. There were bits involving civilians in Saving Private Ryan IIRC but they weren't especially prominent. There are probably even better examples than Fury that tackle the same subject matter but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

Garwulf #38, "Words, Words, Words," sparked an immediate discussion that was intense, thoughtful, and non-toxic (and left me once again very grateful for a readership that could do that). Pyrian wrote:

I am deeply suspicious of anybody whose principle problem with racism is being on the receiving end, and wants to argue that it's not so wrong when they do it.

[...]

Plus... I really do think that inter-minority prejudice is a problem (the Hispanics and Asians around here mostly don't even try to hide what they think of each other), and that "defining" it as somehow non-racist is not helping anyone. Not having as much total collective power is not the same thing as not having any.

From what I can tell, the whole "let's re-define racism" thing came about as a response to charges of (tiny, ineffectual amounts of) reverse racism. And it's not a healthy response.

Hentropy disagreed with the starting premise of the installment:

Racism was never "redefined." Like many words, it was given a context-specific interpretation. When talking about interactions between individuals, racism is what it has always been, bigotry towards someone based on their race.

The sticky part comes with interactions on a societal level. Can a minority group on a societal level be racist against a majority group? Well that's kind of antithetical, majority groups always have more power than the minority, so a minority group would have no vehicle to practice racism in anything but the individual level.

I will say some of these conversations have gotten out of hand, but the basic definition has not be redefined. The focus on power relationships has more to do with assigning impact.

But the final word, I think, has to go to Callate, who wrote a post so eloquent and powerful that I wish I had the space to quote it in its entirety:

"The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people for many of our white brothers as evidenced by their presence here today have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone."

That was Martin Luther King Jr., from a part of his "I Have a Dream" speech that is less likely to be heard. We tend to focus on the more immediately stirring potion, the part where King begins to describe his dream. And especially of late, there's an awful lot of willingness to overlook the earlier message.

We miss "We cannot walk alone." We miss the recognition that it wasn't a given that the white people would show up to join the struggle; that doing so was not without its own price for those who chose to do so.

And as some - not all - would define hatred, in whatever form, as only being meaningful when it happens to people of particular groups... What we see is holding on to anger and self-righteousness being more important than progress. We see people so caught up in their fervor, their particular dogma, that they no longer care if they add to the burdens of those who might join their cause, even if they wouldn't directly benefit from its aims. We see an incredibly blind dis-interest in whether rhetoric might be alienating to potential allies, or kindle the suspicion that equality is of less interest than supremacy.

[...]

It's easier to redefine words that make you uncomfortable when they're applied to you than to change behaviors that look awfully familiar when they're viewed in a clear light. And keep redefining them as needed so you're always just outside the relevant circle.

Even as you tarnish a good cause into irrelevance.

The discussion for Garwulf #39, "Citizen Kane-ing," took a couple of days to get started, but once it did, it became a wonderfully complex discussion that made it very difficult to pick the best posts for and against, with a running discussion between Sigma and Saelune that was truly thought-provoking. Sigma took issue with going too far with the idea of a "Citizen Kane" moment:

...because the medium of games is so diverse, having a "Citizen Kane" for each genre starts to seem like a cumbersome idea, because there's too many ways to begin expressing ideas in the medium. I want to separate out that from new ideas to ones that gets perfected. Compared to film, it would be like rediscovering the concept of making a movie each time a genre is created, and that's just too much to analyze. I'd rather look at the beginnings of genres (Wolfenstein, Doom) to be more of a prototype for the concept of the genre, than the actual defining moment of what the medium can do (any modern shooter). Finding a good turning point that took the idea, and then perfected in it a way that not using it as a blueprint for future titles is a bad idea.

Saelune wrote:

Minecraft, though a great game, I think was a catalyst more for games with unending development. A blessing when done right, a curse when done wrong (mostly based on if the developers keep going and if the gameplay leaves it open ended).

I think chaining games to movie development is holding the genre back. I don't want to put down movies (or books) and both will always have a place I'm sure, but I think gaming is a far superior medium overall due to all the different ways you can experience them compared to those other mediums.

And Imperioratorex Caprae, in a post that really should be read but was too long and detailed to quote here, put forward three titles as being such axial points for gaming that they deserve to be called "Citizen Kane moments": Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda and Metroid.

Garwulf #40, "The Glimpse of Who We Could Be," started a really good and thoughtful discussion about human nature. KissingSunlight wrote:

...to deny that people don't ever do bad things is really naive. People do. They do it more often than you would like to admit it does. I am not saying everybody is a bad person. Yet, we do have the capacity to do evil things. It doesn't take that much for someone to do something bad to another person. Especially, if that person finds some justification to do so, or just simply believe that they can get by with doing it.

Gethsemani took a different stance:

...most people are indisputably leaning towards "good", in so far that even when they can get away with stuff they don't do it. Most people won't take an unattended purse or rape a passed out woman or kill a hobo during the final hour of their stay in a country with no extradition agreement. We all have selfish sides, but they are rarely as dark or as big as they are portrayed in Westworld. It would be entirely possible to imagine that Westworld could be the complete opposite series, where people go there to feel like important heroes. To get away from the dreary monotony of their day-to-day and pretend to be the brave Cowboy that saves the farmer's daughter, helps the prospector find gold and who enjoys a night at the salon being toasted for his bravery. Because pretty much all of us nourish those kinds of desires too.

The discussion around Garwulf #41, "Living the Experience," took a while to get started, but was quite interesting. CaitSeith expanded on the points I mentioned while raising a very important question:

Well... depending of what kind of experience you were looking for, games have been able to do that for decades (and there are experiences that games still can't offer properly). But I agree that some of the most wanted experiences are now at the reach of the hand (and middle-class budget).

However, should the experiences become close enough to reality to make them indistinguishable, would they inspire people to go for the real deal? Or would dissuade them on doing so (if they are even able to choice)?

Synigma elaborated on the argument for "walking simulators" not being video games:

Walking sims interactivity with the player is so limited that they blur the lines between video game and movie. Secondly, there are a lot of people who believe games should be fun; most walking sims are more 'experienced' than 'fun to play.'

What is the difference between a video game, surfing facebook or even using 'Do Your Own Taxes' software? They are all interactive and displayed on a video monitor.

Garwulf #42, "Appropriating Culture," sparked an immediate and fascinating discussion. Fiz_the_Toaster took a step back and looked at the entire phenomenon:

I think a certain level of ignorance comes into play by both parties. The people doing the appropriating may be acting out a stereotype of what they think of the culture with no knowledge of what they are actually doing, and I think they deserve to be called out, or at least told that what they are doing isn't cool and explained why. Then again, people will always be assholes and do it for the "lolz" with zero regard for what they are doing.

As for the outrage people, I just think they like being the moral crusaders and try to be "the good guy" in all of it. I think it comes with the mentality of "if you are X you should not being doing Y because it's their culture". Not that I agree with it because how else are you going to learn about a culture if you don't bother to engage in it[?] I mean, there's a Greek festival happening in my city next month and the Greek community here puts on a huge party at their Greek Orthodox Church with lots of food and dancing. They encourage people to come to their festival that are not Greek in order to mingle and learn, and eat some awesome lamb.

I think cultural appropriation is just one of those phrases that no one has a real good idea of what it is when they see it, but everyone has an opinion on it. Not that that should be a discouraged topic because if we are going to get anywhere with each other culturally then we should at least try to know how each culture functions rather than just go off of assumptions.

Maninahat noted that:

I can easily see how what [April Lavigne] does in her video could be called out as inappropriate. As the linked article points out, Gwen Stefani was criticised for doing the exact same thing years before. We don't have to wait in hope for a Japanese person to complain about it before we can say it is a bad idea. I'd argue it is necessary that people learn to act out on behalf of other cultures without being prompted, and not at all overbearing like some people paint it.

But the final word, I think, should to Worgen, who wrote:

This is one of those odd subjects that is difficult to come down on one side of. On one hand its easy to come down against it since its so easy for someone to just take the base trappings of a culture and use them for a look or something without having any understanding of the culture. On the other, what culture is so special that it can only be enjoyed by one group[?] I mean saying that just because someone isn't born into a certain culture, they can't still become part of it is pretty arrogant.

I think one of the reasons this tends to happen in the US is [be]cause we don't really have a big obvious underlying culture. Since we are a melting pot we tend to take a lot of cultures so people can take parts of any other culture they see around and become part of it. A lot of countries seem more mono-culture than multi-culture.

And that's it for this installment of "Emails from the Edge." As usual, my utmost and ongoing gratitude to my readers, who remain a wonderful mix of outspoken and insightful. In the upcoming block of Garwulf's Corner columns, we'll take a look at why we need a new Star Trek series, question the nature of our reality, explore one of the stranger manifestations of double standards on the small screen, look into why Dungeons & Dragons movies keep missing the mark, and more.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf's Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is available in print and Kindle formats. He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook.

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