Eater of Trees

Archive for January 2011

[crossposted from my tumblr]

I am colorblind.  I see reds at a slightly reduced intensity compared to everyone else, especially when they’re mixed with other colors.

People who claim to not see race are privilege denying asshats.  However, (usually) they can see all colors normally.  Therefore they are not colorblind. (Except obviously when they are)

If people who claim to not see race do claim to be colorblind, then they are also appropriating ableist asshats.  I mean like seriously.  This also applies to when people who think that ignoring race is a terrible idea call it colorblindness and talk about how terrible it is.

(And it’s especially egregious when they do it in an article that talks about appropriation.  I MEAN SERIOUSLY.)

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You know how the past couple posts I made I mentioned that for the shorter stuff I should probably just get a tumblr?  Yeah I did that.

So if you happen to be one of the people who reads this site and not the tumblr (if you even exist) then go read my tumblr.

Warning, I am sooooo less formal there though.

Tags: ,

Again, this is one of those “I really should get a tumblr for these types of things” posts.

Useless Graph

A bar graph with a single, very wide bar.

I was checking out my monthly traffic, and guess what? Looking at your traffic breakdown by month is a terrible idea when you’re blog’s only been around two weeks. 😛

I recently was reading someone talking about how silent protagonists in video are awesome because they let the player assume the role of the character, and the character is basically an insertion of the player into the game or some such.   Which seems reasonable on the surface, except in practice it doesn’t work that way.

My biggest issue is that they completely are not representative of the player.  At least, not if the player is me.  Most notably, almost inevitably these silent protagonists are male. (Examples coming to mind: Crono from Chrono Trigger, Gordon Freeman from Half Life (and sequels), Link from Zelda; I know there are more, feel free to look up ‘heroic mime’ on tvtropes)  They’re also often white, lack disability, and straight, but those don’t quite effect me in the same way.  (Which is to say, I’m not straight and do have several disabilities but the latter rarely would come up in the game’s story–possibly in the game play though–and the former means that I still generally like the same gender as the protagonist.)

The issue that I’ve found comes up is that I completely cannot relate to male characters.  It’s probably especially significant that I’m trans here.  This means that when I’m playing a male character, if I am in some way percieving the character as me, that I’m being forced into a roll that I have a very long history of being coerced into assuming and really would rather not.

For example, recently I was considering playing Half Life 2 again and found that just considering playing it was enough to cause me to panic about how flat my chest was.  Which is a rather unpleasant experience.  (And also: my chest isn’t flat. So it was mostly unpleasantly recalling a time when it was.)

This is, obviously, a significantly more dramatic reaction than many people would have.  But it still highlights something important: a character who is depicted entirely as silent is very rarely depicted without numerous traits that the player may not have. Race and gender being quite common but not the only examples.  And that can completely break the ability to relate to said character.  (It certainly doesn’t have to. And I will readily admit that again, my experience is not typical.  But it’s also not unique.)

Really, once this connection to the character is lost, it quickly becomes problematic.  Especially if the story is at all complex, which is less the case in early Zelda games or Mario, for example.  But when the protagonist barely has any sort of interaction and somehow drives the plot, or even more so when they don’t drive the plot and just do what people around them say, as is more or less inevitable in a video game, you suddenly have a weird situation where the game focuses on a remarkably uninteresting character at the expense of the much more interesting ones around them.

(This can also apply to the much more detail-free AFGNCAAP type protagonist if they turn out to be significantly less GN or CA than the trope would imply.  Which the TVTropes article on this points out is not entirely uncommon.  And for examples, see the advertising of nearly any RPG with character creation ever.)

And this of course doesn’t touch on the fact that most linear narratives are not remotely player controlled, and so inevitably the ‘protagonist’ is not driving the action at all.  Which, much like when some incorrect assumption about the player’s identity breaks your connection to the character, also leads to a very boring character being the focus of things at the expense of those around them.

(When games acknowledge this, though, it can work really well.  Portal, for example, works really well because the focus is not on the players character, but on GlaDOS.  Also I may be a tad biased because the silent protagonist isn’t male. But regardless the game’s focus is not on Chell at all.)

So in short, I really hate silent protagonists, especially when they’re male, and except occasionally when I don’t.  Because the narrative of “they let the player take the role of the character” frequently falls apart in practice.  Especially when your identity is non-normative or the narrative is at all complex.

We all know about hypersexualized armor.  Oblivion does a bit better on that but it still is kind of terrible sometimes.  For example, this happened:

A woman in metal armor with a low neckline. An arrow is stuck in her upper chest in a part of her body the armor doesn't cover.

I mean seriously that’s exactly why this type of armor makes no sense. (Also I went with heavy armor with this character because it seemed like it would be less sexualized.  So far I am wrong. ._.)

Also, hmmm… maybe I should get a tumblr if I’m going to make microbloggy posts like this…

I can pretty confidently say the world hates me.  About an hour ago my computer stopped working.  Ironically in the middle of writing a post about why the internet is really important to my (and other people’s) life.  Now I am without it. 😦 Considering while I do have a backup computer, it’s old and runs a five year old version of linux and can’t work with my internet.  And as of five minutes ago doesn’t have a left arrow key.

Well… okay I can at least at the moment use my parents internet some of the time, and I should get a replacement computer soon.  Tomorrow is not out of the question, which is good because if I don’t get a replacement I will probably start developing some ridiculous stress.  Well, moreso than what I already have. ._.

(And I mean, I could tie this into ranting about privilege if I really wanted to, since reason I didn’t get a new computer several weeks ago is some really fucked up bureaucracy and tied up with the idea that people with mental health issues need others to do their thinking for them; and for that matter, half the reason I can get out of this situation is that while I’m really poor, my parents aren’t.)

Something I have heard a lot, often from well meaning people: “Gender is social, sex is biological.” Okay I’ll give you that (mostly).  But then it turns into something like “So your gender can be whatever you want, your sex is the biology, and fixed.”  or even “Your sex is what your genitalia are” (or less often, your genes).  And that is completely bullshit.

Sex is not just genitalia.  That’s something that’s really obvious when you put a couple seconds of thought into.  Genitalia are one part of your body that is pretty much inevitably covered all the time.  Which is to say, for most people you will probably never see their genitalia, unless you’re a doctor or someone who has a specific reason to interact with them en masse.

Ergo, whenever you decide the sex (or gender) of a person, you’re not deciding it based on their genitalia.  Unless they’re an infant who’s just been born, then that’s pretty much the only sexual characteristic you can see.  For that matter, that’s pretty much the case until puberty.  Hence why coercively assigned birth genders are based on that.

And genes are even less important.  Certainly they decide quite a bit about how you develop, but you don’t see them.  A lot of people have probably never seen their genes.  Whether you have one or two X chromosomes is pretty much irrelevant to your interactions with people, except indirectly through how that manifests sexual characteristics.

(I can be pretty certain I have one X chromosome due to the genetics of colorblindness–my maternal grandfather was also color blind and my mom wasn’t, and nobody on my dad’s side of the family was, which is pretty much a situation that’s only possible if you’re genetically male.  But beyond that, I’ve never seen any direct evidence either way as to what my genes are.)

Thus you cannot reduce sex to either genitalia or genetics, as in practice neither are traits used to determine what it is in interactions with people.  But it isn’t just that.  Sex is not one single unambigous trait, it is composed of a large collection of different characteristics (mostly biological, but the line between sociology and biology can get really thin sometimes.)  And these traits are not always unambiguous–intersex people exist for a reason–nor do they necessarily all correspond.  It is entirely possible to have some traits of one sex and some of another.  For example it’s not too hard for trans women to have both breasts and male genitalia, which are both really strongly associated with their respective sexes, but with both it becomes rather hard to rely on either to dictate sex.

(You can, of course, declare people with ambiguous sexual characteristics to be one or the other sex, which you generally can and should do by asking them what they prefer to be.  What you can’t do is reduce their sex to one trait without consulting them on it, especially when other traits directly contradict the one you’re trying to reduce them to.)

Further, many sexual characteristics are really not that unambiguous even on their own.  Even breasts come in a variety of sizes on both men and women, and they can blur together.  And traits like body hair, size, voice, and the like vary more between people than they do between sexes.  As such, sex can become ambiguous on cis people, and what traits you reduce sex to is mostly a judgment call.  And certain characteristics that do have a basis in biology (eg regarding women as more “emotional”, or men as being easily aroused) really blur the line between sex and gender.

The fact is, there is no a priori reason to treat sex as either genetics or genitalia.  The decision to attempt to do so is purely a social construct, and in addition, not particularly practical as neither is readily visible.  And other sexually associated characteristics are even less unambiguous.  Furthermore, such ideas are inherently erasing and discriminatory to trans people who can and are attempting to alter their sex and to intersex people, who cannot really be put into even a biological box in the first place.

This is actually a normal characteristic of language.  Most words refer to a really wide variety of things that may be really ambiguous as to whether the word can apply to them as you move away from the core of the semantic space.  (This is also why I really hate the concept of ‘definitions’ because they tend to create these rigid boundaries between semantic fields that don’t actually exist when you actually speak or think.  Though to be fair they can be useful for scientific jargon.)  This is especially important to be aware of as the tendency for words to imply certain traits that may be pretty fuzzy around the edges or are not universal can easily be used to further oppressive systems, often unintentionally and especially when you are unaware of these things.  (For instance the tendency to assume “person” implies “white” and “male” when not otherwise specified tends to lead to unintentional exclusion of POC and women.)

(Disclaimer: I’m not particularly an expert on semantics–I mostly studied it in high school so I could make my own (naturalistic) languages :P–so I may have screwed up something–and I know I simplified it–in that last bit.)