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Simon Steele

Gamergate? Toxic masculinity? Ready Player One?

108 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

16 minutes ago, karaddin said:

The problem there is that you're assuming that the view held by GG of gaming having been the domain of white boys is actually an accurate one, rather than an ahistorical view that they hold as true despite the fact that minorities have been in gaming from the beginning. It's also not the very early days that really spawns this view - it's the gaming of the 90s when that perception of gaming really started to coalesce, not the early days of the 70s/80s.

I mean, the thing you have to bear in mind is that a decent chunk of them (not all of them by any means, but the most easily convinced to jump on the outrage bandwagon) aren't even old enough to have been part of that era of gaming. What they believe about it becomes a reality of its own.

I understand this, and I think this is very true of GGers. But I think the ahistorical view is just as readily being accepted by people who want argue that games were always the domain of white men. This is problematic because they let GGers shape reality. I still think I'm on tenuous ground here, and that I'm missing something...obvious? I suppose I'm dismissing GGers outright (they're not worth the time or effort), but I'm critiquing this need to apply the mentality of GGers to everything. And I think I'm having trouble putting this in the correct words.

Edited by Simon Steele

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1 hour ago, Simon Steele said:

I thought on this, but isn't RPO all about the nostalgia of console based 80s games? 

Depends who you ask.

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As I said earlier I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but the references seem much more broad "western nerd pop culture" rather than "gaming specifically". The part that seems to elevate gamers is that the "now" in the narrative has the fate of the world being decided by gamers in a game, not that all the pop culture references are gaming.

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It actually has nothing to do with the fate of the world, just the fate of Otherland, er, The Oasis.

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Close enough. The description of the setup makes it seem like The Oasis is comparable in importance to the real world because everyone escapes reality into there?

Speaking of, does it reference Otherland at all? Shame on him if not.

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Posted (edited)

I have finally seen the movie now! It doesn't treat the issues discussed here as well as the book does.

I read the article in the original post, and I don't agree at all. To elaborate:

 

The fact that Samantha has a birthmark isn't to prove that Wade is somehow a hero for looking past it. It shows the insincerity of her as a person. Her avatar in the Oasis is "realistic" and based on her actual appearance - but she has still idealised it. Wade, on the other hand, values the real-world more than he does the Oasis not in spite of imperfections but because of imperfections. Samantha's birthmark is just a plot device for this, no different to the fact that Wade is overweight and wears glasses.

And Samantha and Wade spend several months together developing their relationship. That part is very poorly written, I will concede, as it's not really explained in depth. It just says it in a few paragraphs without ever going into specifics. Which is kind of boring.

It's worth noting that Samantha has control and agency in how the relationship develops. It may seem creepy and stalker-like, except that it's meant to be an uncomfortable point: neither of them really knows the other until they meet in real life. And when they do, they decide to take the chance. It's an extreme example of online dating - where the online courting was much more intimate, but also much more idealised. The time period between them meeting and becoming romantic is very brief.

And for all of the discomfort of Wade knowing more about Art3mis than she knows of him when they meet, it's her intelligence and her passion that he finds admirable. It's not her knowledge of the Egg-Hunt, as literally millions of women in the Oasis have that, too. He likes her unique perspectives and her artistic mind. That's not dissimilar to following someone you haven't met on Instagram or a blog. What if you then met them and befriended them in real-life? What if it wasn't quite real, as such, but in a more life-like but still not quite real scenario? We don't have a direct comparison to the Oasis.

The book is using extreme examples of online relationships.

There's a crucial counter-argument in to criticism of Ready Player One:

 

Wade's original goal is to give up on the world, move away with his close friends and leave the world to suffer on its own. Samantha changes his mind to instead make an effort to reverse the crippling social and environmental disasters facing the world that everyone ignores while they are in the fantasy of the Oasis.

Can you really think of that many stories with a male lead who changes his dream to match that of a woman's because she persuaded him to? And where the male is completely contrite about his original goal and agrees that he was wrong, and the woman is right?

The bit of the article that I didn't like much is that it was deciding that the text implies misogyny rather than the reader having inferred it. It's possible to read validation of a love of pop culture as misogynistic, but it's also not intended. This is really easy to prove by the fact that the story openly criticises the fact that women and sexual minorities in the Oasis feel the need to hide their true selves. This is frequently criticised. Wade's response is still insufficient at the start of the novel, but not because he goes along with the idea of male entitlement, but because he doesn't do a thing about it.

It does begin to bother him over time.

It's even turned on its head by the fact that

[spoilers] Aech is really Helen, a gay black woman. The time they spent as confidantes in a reclusive haven would be seen as stereotypically masculine, but the discovery of Aech's real-world identity makes no difference to their friendship. It explicitly shows that gender was in no way relevant to how they related to one another. [/spoiler]

The criticism that the book validates a love of pop culture is an unfair blow. That's every bit as outrageous as if I said that I don't like the Vampire Diaries because it validates a girl's love for Twilight. It is completely okay for people to have their interests and their niches. Toxic masculinity exists within hardcore fandoms, absolutely, but this does not make those communities evil. I can't think of any male-dominated community that lacks it, sadly.

Why hasn't the author also painted such a broad stroke over every sport book ever written? Sport is famed for is toxic masculinity, so ought I criticise sport as being a safe-haven for men with absolutely no sense of right and wrong?

Who cares if a book says that loving obscure and nerdy things is okay? I'd love for my children to immerse themselves in their imaginations. I haven't played Dungeons and Dragons before but I would be absolutely rapt if my kids were to play it, using their imaginations and mediation skills to work with others in a collective, team-based game.

Edited by Yukle
Can't get the spoiler tags working properly. :(

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Posted (edited)

I am not sure if the true silliness of the book (I have not seen the movie) has been brought out explicitly in the thread: These protagonists are NOT 1980s teenagers who refuse to grow up and wallow in nostalgia. The action takes place in a dystopic (except for OASIS) 2044. So while the book was obviously written by a 1980s nerd for other 80s nerds, the premiss would be like today's teenagers obsessing about marginal nuances of 1950s popular culture (which could not work because for a virtual reality future like in that book, the 1980s are the earliest plausible point of departure). Of course, there is a (weak) explanation for this obsession because of the riddle hunt. But it seems  implausible that people would not only learn such stuff because of these riddles but immerse themselves totally in such a way they not only "get" all this ancient stuff but really feel about it the same way people who actually were young at that time did. I don't remember if it has anything like that but if it was a good book there would be some scene where the lateborn fans realize that they have a very skewed image of the epoch they are obsessed with.

I found the book (which I read long before "Gamergate") somewhat entertaining but overall very silly and way too obsessed with these trivia. I also felt excluded because although I am almost exactly the same age as Cline, I grew up in an apparently backwards part of the world, spent far more time with books, sports and board games than with video games and have only vague and superficial acquaintance with most of the stuff that is so important in that book.

Edited by Jo498

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15 hours ago, karaddin said:

As I said earlier I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but the references seem much more broad "western nerd pop culture" rather than "gaming specifically". The part that seems to elevate gamers is that the "now" in the narrative has the fate of the world being decided by gamers in a game, not that all the pop culture references are gaming.

I think there might be more references to games than to any other single type of pop culture, but it's probably not a majority of the references overall. There's a lot of film/TV references as well as things like D&D.

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I think it may be time for me to withdraw from this thread before I get too angry,  but I will say I think RPO is more of a symptom of toxic gamer culture then the actual disease itself, if that makes any sense.

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6 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

I think it may be time for me to withdraw from this thread before I get too angry,  but I will say I think RPO is more of a symptom of toxic gamer culture then the actual disease itself, if that makes any sense.

I hope I didn't make you angry. I've appreciated your input.

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On 4/12/2018 at 9:28 PM, Simon Steele said:

I understand this, and I think this is very true of GGers. But I think the ahistorical view is just as readily being accepted by people who want argue that games were always the domain of white men. This is problematic because they let GGers shape reality. I still think I'm on tenuous ground here, and that I'm missing something...obvious? I suppose I'm dismissing GGers outright (they're not worth the time or effort), but I'm critiquing this need to apply the mentality of GGers to everything. And I think I'm having trouble putting this in the correct words.

You're conflating who makes the games with who plays them. And the advertisements, the movies, the TV, even the characters themselves - were all overwhelmingly white men in the 80s - even when the games were made by Japanese companies. Mario ain't Japanese, y'all. 

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8 hours ago, Kalbear said:

You're conflating who makes the games with who plays them. And the advertisements, the movies, the TV, even the characters themselves - were all overwhelmingly white men in the 80s - even when the games were made by Japanese companies. Mario ain't Japanese, y'all. 

There was an interesting observation that video games were marketed to boys and girls reasonably equally in the first flush of gaming in the 1970s, but then after the great gaming crash they pivoted overwhelmingly towards men. I've seen the suggestion being that's because in the early 1980s you had the first guys who'd grown up with video games getting into making them, and women were relatively rare in the industry for a long time.

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1 hour ago, Werthead said:

There was an interesting observation that video games were marketed to boys and girls reasonably equally in the first flush of gaming in the 1970s, but then after the great gaming crash they pivoted overwhelmingly towards men. I've seen the suggestion being that's because in the early 1980s you had the first guys who'd grown up with video games getting into making them, and women were relatively rare in the industry for a long time.

I think it's because of the choices Nintendo had to make to get their system in stores. In the U.S., after the great gaming crash stores were very wary to get into selling video games again. When Nintendo came onto the scene they had to deal with this wary market so they decided to sell their system as a toy. They developed R.O.B. the Robot to go with the console and dubbed the whole thing the "Nintendo Entertainment System". Back then toys were very strictly segregated into boys toys and girls toys. You'd go into the girls section of stores like Toys R Us and everything literally turned pink. With the robot and the zapper gun it was pretty obvious if Nintendo had to choose, they needed to choose it being a boy's toy. That set the precedent and Nintendo became so huge in the industry everyone else followed suit. So while girls loved playing Nintendo and other video games you only saw boys in the commercials and other marketing so that it became part of public conscious video games were for boys.

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On 4/13/2018 at 8:37 PM, Jo498 said:

I am not sure if the true silliness of the book (I have not seen the movie) has been brought out explicitly in the thread: These protagonists are NOT 1980s teenagers who refuse to grow up and wallow in nostalgia. The action takes place in a dystopic (except for OASIS) 2044. So while the book was obviously written by a 1980s nerd for other 80s nerds, the premiss would be like today's teenagers obsessing about marginal nuances of 1950s popular culture (which could not work because for a virtual reality future like in that book, the 1980s are the earliest plausible point of departure). Of course, there is a (weak) explanation for this obsession because of the riddle hunt. But it seems  implausible that people would not only learn such stuff because of these riddles but immerse themselves totally in such a way they not only "get" all this ancient stuff but really feel about it the same way people who actually were young at that time did. I don't remember if it has anything like that but if it was a good book there would be some scene where the lateborn fans realize that they have a very skewed image of the epoch they are obsessed with.

This also assumes that everyone in the book is so actively obsessed. It explicitly says that this isn't the case. Several times it's mentioned that the overwhelming majority of people in the Oasis used it as a surrogate real-life and don't care at all for all of the pop culture parts. They live in the main city parts and just treat it as a fantasy land.

It'd be like saying that all of the Harry Potter universe loves quidditch, because the book is from Harry's perspective and he loves it. Or that all of Westeros cares who sits on the Iron Throne, because most of the POV characters do.

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I think you are missing my point. The obsession is reasonably widespread because otherwise the riddle game would make no sense (or rather, there would not be so many taking it up or at least following it) and the 60 year old stuff would be too deeply forgotten for the obsessors to get their detailed information. Can you really imagine a widespread obsession with 1950s popular culture TODAY on the level it is shown in the book with 1980s and 2040s respectively? I lived in the 1980s and remember at least some of the stuff (despite never caring for pop music and not having a computer before the very end of the decade) but I cannot muster a lot of nostalgia or enthusiasm, it is almost unimaginable for me to obsess in such a fashion about the trivia of an epoch that had passed 50 years before I was even born. (I would have to get really into roaring 20s or even Edwardian culture for that which is interesting because I actually would find this far more fascinating than either the 50s or the 80s. Comes from being raised on Agatha Christie and following up with Wodehouse since my 30s, I guess.)

I admit that I might be missing the point myself because the book is structured around that premiss (together with the even more important one that "my nerdy useless skills now get really important") and I am taking far too ernest what is only supposed to be silly. OTOH it would fit perfectly with the bizarre "elitism" of "nerd culture" to really believe that the pop culture of one's teenage years was so great that 60 years later people will obsess about it.

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It's pretty hard to imagine anyone really caring *that* much about things from decades ago, even though I do think pop culture things like movies and TV and games have more longevity now than they once did (which is to say very select items since there's a vast amount of stuff that has been rightly forgotten). 

All this reminds me of Star Trek TOS fans arguing with fans of TNG or DS9 about minor (and irrelevant) inconsistencies or changes. Of course, these were taken as heresy against a sacred text, and evidence of the irredeemable apostasy of DS9. The movie wasn't quite on the nose with that attitude, but certainly brought it to town when Director Krennik was deemed to be a "poseur" of pop culture knowledge. I mean, I love Back to the Future too, but I'm not in love with all pop culture from when I was a little kid, let alone to the extent that I get most of Seth MacFarlane's 80s sitcom references. I don't have any interest in reading this book, but from the movie alone it's fairly clear that the "nostalgia as guiding ideology" aspect doesn't sit well with me. 

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I agree but in defense of RPO (again, I am slightly de-railing the thread having only read the book and no real opinion on GG etc.) there are two points that are different from our time: 1) The 1980s really were the foundation of the Cyberspace/VR world of the 2040s and 2) because of this quite a bit is in fact preserved there and comparably accessible at least in principle.

Still, I think it is instructive to imagine the "translation" I mentioned (2040s -> 2010s, 1980s ->1950s) because then one realizes how bizarre this central idea is.

To take pop culture seriously in the first place is a very recent thing. This probably did not happen at all before the 70s/80s. Heck, before the 50s there simply was no teenage-centered popular culture and while there was some sort of popular culture since the mid-19th century or so, most of it was far more transient, because that's what fashions are and there was neither seen the need to preserve it nor was there a cheap and easy way to preserve the music and plays of a decade or more ago.

If Stephenson in Snow Crash mood had written the book it could have become better. But in fact Snow Crash is close enough in some respects and towering so far above RPO (besides being rather prophetic in 1992 when VR really was in its early infancy) that it renders RPO largely superfluous. And there is also far better stuff reflecting upon the silliness of taking pop culture and nerdism too seriously (which is what RPO does not really do), e.g High Fidelity (and such themes appear in other books by Hornby as well). It does not help that Cline is not a great writer. Someone like Hornby (or even TC Boyle in his better moments) manages to make me enjoy a book although I don't care at all (and have pretty little knowledge) about the stuff the characters are obsessed with. For RPO one already has to be a fan of cheesy 80s games and movies.

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8 hours ago, Aemon Stark said:

It's pretty hard to imagine anyone really caring *that* much about things from decades ago, even though I do think pop culture things like movies and TV and games have more longevity now than they once did...  I love Back to the Future too, but I'm not in love with all pop culture from when I was a little kid, let alone to the extent that I get most of Seth MacFarlane's 80s sitcom references. I don't have any interest in reading this book, but from the movie alone it's fairly clear that the "nostalgia as guiding ideology" aspect doesn't sit well with me. 

 

6 hours ago, Jo498 said:

To take pop culture seriously in the first place is a very recent thing.

To address both of these, I have two qualms.

Firstly, the nostalgic setting is a plot device. So what if it's unrealistic? It's more probable than the Oasis itself, something which is likely utterly impossible to do (no latency, worldwide and in a time of limited resources). Cline decided he wanted it to be significant to his story, and therefore it is. It's a genuine choice as sensible as the fact that Westeros is a completely ridiculous world where weather is irregular, feudalism has survived for thousands of years and very little technological or social advances seem to occur.

But I don't see those as criticisms, I see those as just the world-building. If you applied this logic to any sci-fi world, you'd soon find that none of them adhere to any rules other that what the author wants to suit the story.

It's especially relevant, I think, given the sudden nostalgia wave that is coming. TV series like Stranger Things bank in on it, too, while other series such as Black Mirror are, like RPO, focusing on the most extreme elements of human nature within the focus of advanced technology.

 

The second issue I have, though, is that nostalgia is most certainly not new. There's a reason that Arthur Conan Doyle had to keep writing Sherlock books, and why they've endured well beyond his death. There's a reason that Agatha Christie's Poirot stories have endured long after her death, and why Shakespeare is seen as the epitome of English writing by many. These are nostalgia throwbacks to an earlier period, romanticised and enduring.

Pop culture has existed more or less since culture has existed. In ancient times (which I know I always fall back on, but oh well) there were crowds who followed particular satirists and poets, clinging onto every word. They'd memorise their speeches and expect new ones every time.  And then, centuries after such people had died, you were expected to either respond to or build upon their works. You were meant to get the stock characters just right when using them. In the European Renaissance, Italian theatre was focused very much on an established pop culture of recurring themes, recurring characters, common tropes and so on. These endured long after their relevance to the present culture. And, after a few decades, there was a resurgence in interest in such theatre.

Following the middle-ages there was renewed interest in "the classics" and "English canon" among common people, and it became an expectation that literature, performance and culture would reflect the aspects of pop culture from a much earlier time period. Roman and Greek theatre was back, Juvenal quoted endlessly and so on.

Even a book series like aSoIaF owes itself to this. It is definitely a book that is part of this culture of nitpicking the tiny details, being part of a nerd-culture, rewarding rewording and having hardcore fans.

The most important thing to understand from a historical point of view is that humanity is more or less the same now as we were centuries ago. Our technology improves, but our interests, our motivations, our strengths and our drawbacks are as they always were.

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