Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gaming and its Discontents

I never seem to have enough time or inclination to do any online gaming; I have enough distractions as it is. But when I was about 13, everyone seemed to have an account on Runescape, one of the biggest multi-player online games out there, and possibly the easiest to play. There are no skills required, or commitment - it's free (unless you choose to become a member, for lots of extra perks) and you can log out and in anytime you want.

Over the course of many years, I fiddled around on Runescape whenever I was bored and, perhaps, the TV pickings were slim, dipping in and out whenever the fancy took me. Occasionally I'd stay up late (on a school night!) to finish a particular task, or to gain an extra level. It's a game that basically goes on indefinitely; you can go up to level 99 on about 12 different skills, do hundreds of quests and tasks, and explore the Runescape landscape. And, as I said, requires nothing more than some free time, and clicking on things. 

So I am utterly perplexed and slightly worried by people who dedicate their lives - yes, their lives - to Runescape. Presumably other online games have their own die-hard fans. Runescape is popular enough that there are whole online communities outside of the game where you can swap advice, talk about the finer points of the game, get help for quests (this is why I stumbled upon these communities - I am notoriously impatient and couldn't figure out the quest fast enough...and I really wanted the reward, dammit!) There, Runescape celebrities are revered and their names followed on the hi-score tables. 

One such 'celebrity' is SUOMI. He is determined to reach the maximum experience ceiling (gaining experience = improving a skill), at any cost. Here's some snippets of an interview from this site. By his own admission, this guy is a perfectionist, and says:

I would probably train same skill for the rest of my life if there was no xp [experience] limit. Of course that might sound sad but I just like boring and repetitive things, always did.
But he reassures us that his gaming is not unhealthy, even though he has no job or other occupations, and spends LITERALLY EVERY DAY playing online:

Money isn't a problem because I used to work a lot before I started going for 200 million xp in all skills. I invested my money and I don't spend much. But, I need to be careful that I don't burn myself out and take good care of my health. Of course playing as much as I do isn't healthy no matter how you look at it but I have lots of time for exercising and sleeping even though some people might think otherwise. Slept 12 hours today for example, what a huge xp waste that was, but I love sleeping
Despite his claims to the contrary, anyone who, without joking, considers sleeping a waste of gaming time needs to reassess their life. 
Some people usually think I eat fast food or stuff like that. I promised myself I would at least eat healthy if were to spend so much time playing this game. I haven't eaten pizza, hambugers, kebabs, chips or food like that at all in the last 3 years. [...]
Sometimes people ask me if I use drugs or something to play so much. I have never had alcohol or smoked. I've never used any drugs either. Never drank any coffee or energy drinks either. For some reason people tend to think I am forcing myself to stay up somehow but I just go to sleep when I feel tired.
 He finishes by urging readers not to 'feel bad' if they don't dedicate to the game like he does, and that it's better not to have a 'no-life'.

I am utterly, utterly confused and a bit worried. It seems there are people out there, supported by their online communities, who have given up their jobs, relationships and dedication to a real skill in order to gain fame within those communities. But I wish someone would shake these people and say 'BUT THERE IS LITERALLY NO SKILL INVOLVED IN THIS PURSUIT AT ALL!' You give up your life to click a computer screen all day...and people LOVE you for it. They actually respect you. And the relationships you develop on these games become real for you, as SUOMI demonstrates:

Jebrim - I see so much good in you too, some people will probably never see it. I still miss the times when I was going for 200M Agility. Doing perfect laps all day and sometimes all night was something I really enjoyed especially when I knew I had your support. And that 100M donation, didn't see it coming at all. You have been such a great friend to me.
Mi Thrill & Fire Dancer0 - Here is a picture of me mining my favorite gold rock with my friends Mi Thrill and Fire Dancer0.

I have no understanding of this mindset whatsoever. I suppose this post is just a massive WTF - and maybe this is why I was never much of a gamer.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


Since entering the feminist blogosphere and (real-o-sphere), I've developed a privilege-checking mechanism that works most of the time. Dealing with ideas about power and oppression inevitably means placing yourself on the various scales of privilege that determine our lives (gender, class, ethnicity etc.). And once you do, there are times when you recognise that, instead of talking, it's time to listen. Perhaps also instances when you didn't notice it was one of those times (hence my privilege-checking working most of the time). 

I was a big fan of the Slutwalk protests (I explained why in this post). When someone mentioned that the marches might be alienating for black feminists, I couldn't conceive a reason why, and lamented that there was a lack of ethnic diversity in the walks. 

Then I read an article. Then another. The women writing about their alienation from the Slutwalk movement showed me how problematic reclaiming the word 'slut' was for black women, who have been historically seen as lascivious and hypersexual. As this open letter put it:

For us the trivialization of rape and the absence of justice are viciously intertwined with narratives of sexual surveillance, legal access and availability to our personhood. It is tied to institutionalized ideology about our bodies as sexualized objects of property, as spectacles of sexuality and deviant sexual desire. It is tied to notions about our clothed or unclothed bodies as unable to be raped whether on the auction block, in the fields or on living room television screens.

Reading this letter, it all clicked into place.

There are certain experiences I, as a white woman, will never share with a black woman. Sometimes, no matter how much I think I know about the female experience, or the feminist experience, there are times when I have to sit back, listen, and understand. As feminists, we must always recognise the various voices which make up our movement, and recognise our own individual privileges. Sometimes, our own individual ignorances. 

This is one of the most important lessons I've learnt so far, especially because it applies far beyond the feminist movement. I encountered someone recently who was utterly perplexed by a conversation over the terms 'black,' 'non-white' and 'person of colour.' Different contexts, and different individuals, inform the language people employ when it comes to their identities. "But," snorted this white man, "I wouldn't care if someone called me white, or caucasian. It simply isn't an issue for me!"

I don't need to point out the ignorance in this comment. But it reminded me that privilege is a concept not everyone is comfortable, or unblinkered, enough to recognise (and I wondered how many times I have missed my own privilege, and blundered without being called out on it). 

I want to be called out on it. There's nothing like a bit of embarrassment when it comes to changing your behaviour.