Where’d that 6-year-old get an AK-47?

Seriously. Where.

While the rest of the internet is in a tizzy about Sexy Noun costumes being the only ones available to women in Halloween stores, my Halloween-related moral panic is CHILDREN! WITH GUNS!

As I strolled the aisles of a Halloween store last weekend, I was struck by the sheer volume of military costumes for boys. And not just any military costumes. Military costumes like this:

If that one wasn’t gross enough, I was treated to this gem as well:

I’m sure parents all over the country are thinking: Finally! Now I can teach my young son how to be racially insensitive AND hypermacho at the same time! Yes!!! Spirit is the best Halloween store EVER!

I also saw a toy AK-47 (hence this post’s title) that had a picture of a young boy on the package. I can only assume this is meant to signal that this is an AK-47 meant for children, not adults, thus saving all of us the embarrassment of showing up to a party with a little kid’s gun. (Bullet dodged! ha… ha..)

Now, I’m not saying that a child dressing up as a soldier for Halloween is necessarily a cause for moral panic. As much as it might make me uncomfortable to see a 7-year-old in military fatigues, I can’t say it’s all that much different (to a child) than dressing up as a firefighter or a cop. And if this child has a parent in the military, I can understand why he or she might want to wear a military costume.

What I don’t understand is the two costumes I posted pictures of. However, they make more sense in light of the fact that United States culture seems to be pressing hypermasculinity on boys earlier and earlier. That same weekend, I was in a Game Stop and heard a boy no older than seven ask his father if the new Call of Duty was out yet. He could barely pronounce Call of Duty, he was so young. Of course, the problem of Call of Duty and its effect on other games, and what effects they all have on our society (especially when younger and younger children are playing them) is a complex enough issue for its own post.

As much as we as a country pretend to be concerned with keeping guns off our streets etc etc, where’s all the moral panic about 6-year-olds carrying toy guns and wearing weird dreadlock wigs? What are we teaching little boys about violence? Why does Call of Duty have to ruin every non-fantasy game series I enjoy? Who the hell would let their kid wear a “Dreads Commando” costume?

I can’t answer any of these questions, at least not in so small a space. In any case, deconstructing the hypermasculinity sold to boys is just as important as deconstructing the hyperfemininity being pushed on girls. Both are extremely detrimental to society and to individual boys and girls. So, consider raising hell about these at the same time that you’re complaining about cutesy pink Batgirl and her sidekick cutesy tutu Batgirl.

-Joanna

How I Vanished for a Summer, Discovered My Life’s Ambition, and Dyed My Hair Purple (Also: Guild Wars 2)

To those of you who were readers from before June: It’s good to be back! I have missed the blog and all of the kind words of support from our readers.

To those of you who started reading after Joanna’s epic takeover: Hello! My name is BatCat. Joanna’s BFFL and co-founder of geekalitarian. I hope that you continue to reading our blog and help us by shamelessly promoting it to your friends (/shameless plea for promotion)

This summer I worked at a Girl Scout Camp as the Program Coordinator, Art Specialist, and Unit Leader. I have already extensively written about how awesome Girl Scouts is and how influential it can be on girl’s lives. The majority of those articles were for the newspaper The Laurel Mountain Post, but my pro-girl leanings have snuck their way into geekalitarian as well. Going into this experience I thought that working for Girl Scouts and running programing was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. My prospects of becoming an art teacher are few, so this was another way to apply the skills I have learned and still make a difference. By the end of this experience, I was really ready for it to end. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but working 6 days a week (or 7 days on the off-week) from 6 am- 12am with children? Not for me.

But something happened at the beginning of the summer that I didn’t know would lead to one of those course-of-life-altering-decisions. I took my boyfriend to the Carnegie Museums. He had never been to a museum before, and I was practically raised in one. We went to the Natural History Museum first- for those of you who have never been, it’s amazing. There are lots of activities to keep you engaged in the information or the artifacts. There are documentaries, authentic music, a hall of ‘stuffed animals’, and a lightshow explaining the Navajo creation legend.  Then we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art (which is in the same building), and it was a much different experience. As a student of art, I could walk around at a leisurely pace and actually appreciate what I was seeing on a different level. What I have noticed in other people is that they walk really quickly, don’t stand in one place too long, glance at a work, remain completely silent or shush their children, or walk away saying “I don’t understand why that’s art.” Later in the summer on one of my breaks I was thinking about this again and decided that that is it. That’s my life’s goal. Infiltrate the ‘institution’, tear it down, and bring art to the people! I want to make art museums just as engaging and interactive as science and history museums (and I am not talking about making a ‘children’s’ art museum) . Think about it: What is the difference between art museums as we know them and galleries? That you can buy the work. What is the difference between a history museum and an auction house? That you can buy the antiques and the museum provides the public with interactive and informative information. Why can’t art museums be like that?

Of course infiltrating the ‘institution’ will require me to go to graduate school. So I was looking into things and realized that I only have one semester left before student teaching. One more semester to be unprofessional. This was my last chance to do anything crazy to my hair. Thus, I dyed the underneath of my supa-blonde hair purple. End of that story.

This summer I also purchased a HP desktop pretty much exclusively for gaming. Guild Wars 2 comes out Saturday, so in celebration I want to share the infographic below with you. It is about the economy of Guild Wars 2 and has me pretty much convinced that we should elected game developers to Congress and budget committees:

-BatCat

Gearbox: Doing It Right

I tried playing a little (and I do mean a little) of Borderlands once. The world was pretty cool, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into it. It might have been because I hate guns (omg why can’t ammo just regenerate like magic does?), or because I was trying to break myself out of the habit of playing a ranged character. (Attacking from the hallway or from behind a pillar tends to be my style, unless I’m playing Orochi Warriors. Being a tank involves way too much multi-tasking.)

My boyfriend loves the game, and I feel weird that I just didn’t like it. And now that I’ve been inundated with Borderlands 2 ads in every comic I pick up, I feel like I should revisit the game, or maybe just try out the sequel come September.

This introduction is sort of irrelevant to what I’m posting, but in case you wanted to analyze me as a person based on my style of fighting in games, there you have it. (I’m also a Libra, and purple is my contested favorite color.)

The real reason I’m bringing up Borderlands 2 is that I found a really cool article about an NPC in the game. Tyler Wilde over at PC Gamer asked the Gearbox team some questions about Ellie, Scooter’s sister. Their answers showed a lot of thoughtfulness, in both the design of the character herself and the knowledge that their game has the power to send messages to players, sometimes perhaps unintended ones.

My favorite answer, one that sums up why I’m so happy, is this:

“The narrative goal with Ellie was to have a character who hits all of the tick marks of a good Borderlands character (funny, unexpected, looks as if they could probably kill you in thirteen different ways if you got on their bad side), while also making an independent female character who looked the exact opposite of how most females tend to be represented in games. We also wanted to make sure that, through her dialog and visual design, we never cast her in a light where the player is encouraged to pity, laugh at, or mock her because she doesn’t look like Jessica Rabbit.”

Obviously, I’m pretty happy when developers intentionally create characters (even NPCs) that look the “exact opposite” of most video game women. But the last sentence is what I really like the most.

More than just trying to assure that there is some representation of non-standard game body types, the developers wanted to make sure that players would treat her with respect. Gearbox wants people to see a heavy woman and not just think of her as comic relief or as pathetic. Given how little respect fat women get in real life and on the internet, and how few fat women exist in video games, Gearbox is doing something rather revolutionary with Ellie.

So this, more than the fact that every time I pick up a comic, there’s a Borderlands 2 ad, has actually gotten me excited about the game’s release. Even if I don’t end up playing it (fucking ammo), I look forward to at least seeing Ellie in action!

Thanks, Gearbox, for trying to promote the idea that fat women are real people who deserve respect and who can do badass things.

-Joanna

An RPG For the Rest of Us

Are you tired of medieval RPGs reflecting a Eurocentric view of everything? Of how uncreative developers can be with their universe’s cultural mythos? Of having only one humanoid race of non-white people to choose? Of the fact that everyone in the game is presumably heterosexual and cisgendered?

Introducing The Arkh Project. The Arkh Project is a video game whose developers seek “to make a game that focuses on queer people and people of color as main characters, and beyond that, allow people who are tired of mainstream gaming to have something completely off the wall and step into a new role.” The developers also intend to work with queer and/or PoC artists and programmers.

Basically, this is the RPG of my dreams. The concept sounds pretty cool, too:

“Follow the story of a deity bored with life amongst the gods, who leaves to find a purpose in life and seek out a lost love. Reincarnate your deity onto numerous worlds, live through the lives of others and gain life experience…but watch your God Energy, you need a lot of it to continue your astral journey.

Fight monsters only you can see, sometimes around very particular civilians who refuse to get the heck out of your way. Collect world-specific plants to enhance your healing items, and acquire numerous different kinds of weapons and scrolls from all different cultures.

The game draws inspiration from real mythos, from all sorts of different cultures, and each world reflects the culture it draws from.”

The character concept art looks pretty amazing. My favorite is Queen Zahira:

See that fancy dress? It’s made “from ethereal components that she reconstructed to exist in more planes.” She made the cloth herself, meaning she manages to be intelligent, badass-looking, and super pretty all at once. I’m on board.

In case you’re wondering what armor might look like:

The game is still in the development stage, but expect it to be released for the PC at some point.

Though there is more information which I could post, I’m stopping here because frankly I’m tired of navigating the hell that is tumblr. I’ll leave that to you, intrepid reader. In any case, I look forward to following the project’s progress (via their Facebook group), and hopefully playing the finished product.

In other race/fandom news, Racialicious has broken down Comic-Con for us in The Racialicious Guide to San Diego Comic-Con. I’m sure that one day, when I finally get to go to Comic-Con, there won’t be amazing panels that year, like How to Better Understand the Sociology Behind Cosplay or Subaltern Counterculture and the Strengths of the Underdog (which talks about Storm!). Sigh. Or I can be hopeful that talking about these issues at places like Comic-Con will become normal by the time I could go. But that would be optimistic.

-Joanna

Catwoman as Contortionist and Tropes Vs. Women

Today I was all ready to post my thoughts on Prometheus, but I’ve decided to let those stew a bit longer, so instead, here are some interesting links for your perusal.

First, ComicsAlliance posted a compilation of artist responses to the most recent WTF superheroine pose, this one belonging to Catwoman:

This cover definitely makes me wish that I didn’t have a spine. Think of all the cool pictures I could take of my boobs and butt at the same time, if only I didn’t have that pesky spine. Ugh! As if being a woman wasn’t hard enough!

Speaking of life being hard for women, boy am I glad I’ve never had the audacity to make a video explaining my KickStarter project! Because apparently, if someone disagreed with the premise of my project, I’d be setting myself up for rape threats. Yes, this is the world we live in.

Anita Sarkeesian over at Feminist Frequency wants to fund (and, in part due to the vehement harassment, has already succeeded in funding) a series of videos called Tropes Vs. Women: Video Games. Tropes Vs. Women is an existing series that deconstructs gender tropes present in pop culture, i.e. in Legos. This particular series would focus on video games.

Like women the internet over, Sarkeesian is now facing brutal harassment, including misogynistic and racial slurs as well as rape threats, simply because she pointed out an area of pop culture where women don’t exactly fare very well. The mildest of negative reactions from YouTube commenters involve griping that women are not only equal to men now, but are more equal (which is obviously why we get paid less than men– we’re just trying to level the playing field) and that Sarkeesian is trying to guilt regular ol’ gamers into feeling personally responsible for gender-based injustice (which, if you actually watch the video, she clearly isn’t). People are also having a field day pointing out numerous (read: one or two) examples of strong female characters in games, like The Boss, as though Sarkeesian hadn’t said in the video that she would also be discussing games that actually do get women right.

As her mission statement clearly maintains, “This video project will explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games. The series will highlight the larger reoccurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry rather than just focusing on the worst offenders.” That sounds pretty horrifying and insulting, right? I mean, take a look at this outrage yourself:

The fact that this is the internet’s response to a fairly mild suggestion (sometimes video games portray women in ways that are the same as ways women are portrayed in other video games) proves just how important Sarkeesian’s work is. I commend her for fighting the good fight, even after suddenly finding herself the target of enormous backlash and harassment.

The sad thing is that this is hardly an isolated occurrence. Every day, women (feminist or not) and other members of marginalized groups face this kind of internet harassment. I guess life must really be hard for people faced with the thought of losing the firm grip on their privilege, the grip they’ve had since birth. Sorry, male gamers, that women have the audacity to play video games and then analyze them. Life is really, really hard, right?

At least I’m given some hope. Sarkeesian hoped to raise $6000. At the time I’m posting, she’s raised $73,388. Looks like Sarkeesian and her smart, incredibly necessary analysis of pop culture ain’t goin’ anywhere.

So you know what? Fuck you, trolls.

-Joanna

P.S. BatCat’s presence will be a little sparse until August, as she is off empowering girls through art at Girl Scout camp.

Dragons and Vampires and Dragons, Oh My!

Today, Bethesda released the trailer for Skyrim’s downloadable content, called Dawnguard. Seems like it’ll be a vampires vs. crossbow-wielding townsfolk storyline, with shadow-flame horses you can ride and dragons swan-diving into frozen lakes. Makes sense, right?

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the DLC release, so when I first heard that it was about vampires, I was a little disappointed. The vampire part of Skyrim was one I paid little attention to, because I was too busy slaying Alduin, World-Eater to care. That and I didn’t accidentally catch vampirism, being a Redguard and having already been accidentally turned into a werewolf. (“Hey, guys! I definitely want to be a Companion. You guys are so cool! Meet you in a secret place at night? Sure! … Uh… you mean I have to become a werewolf now?”)

That being said, at least the vampires turn into gargoyle-looking bat creatures. And mounted combat? Hell yeah! It was always a bit of a buzzkill to have to dismount before fighting anything. (“I’m gonna get you, troll! … In a second!”) I’m also excited to see that demon horse? and some Dovah (or one, anyway). One of the most disappointing things about finishing the main storyline was not having any more dragon-related things to do. Despite the vampires, I look forward to playing Dawnguard, after I wait first for the release and then for the end of the cruel 30-day period in which Xbox has a monopoly over it.

In other video game news:

As I’ve said before, I fucking love dragons. And any game where dragons exist, I will want to play. So when I saw the trailer for Dragon’s Dogma, I thought to myself: omgomgomgdragonsdragons. I found out that it’s basically the Capcom answer to Skyrim, with you playing as the Arisen (code for Dragonborn), but this time with chimeras and griffins thrown in the mix too.

When I played the demo, the first thing that I did was go to the character creator. I expected a fairly limited level of modifications, thinking my character would have the obligatory double -D’s and weird hour-glass armor. (Seriously, even if a woman had a perfect hour-glass figure, her armor wouldn’t be form-fitted to her body like a too-small tank top. Anyway.)

I was enthusiastically wrong. Not only is there an enormous number of details you can change, the presets and how you can modify their bodies actually reflects a wide range of body diversity. You can make an actual fat woman, put actual wrinkles on her face, or make a muscular woman with 34Bs. I’m in character creator heaven. This link leads to the best video I could find that walks through the whole creation process:

Dragon’s Dogma Character Creator

As you can see, there are only a couple dark-skinned presets, which is a little disappointing. But given how amazing the rest of the creator is (and that you do get a variety of skin tones once you’re doing further edits), it’s a small blemish.

One thing I’m not thrilled about is the fact that, in the game, you have three companions who are called “pawns.” This makes me feel super awkward and classist. To make matters worse, I’ve been told that pawns are basically a race of people in another plane of existence who are incapable of making their own decisions, until I guess I summon them and tell them they’re going to fight with me now. After that big decision is made for them, they are loyal to their “master” and are willing to help you out/serve you. Pawns definitely sound like human pets. If I think of them as human-shaped spirits this might creep me out less.

Weird classism aside, the rest of the demo was fun, and I look forward to playing the real game soon. And before I play, I will make a 6-foot tall, 250-pound, 65-year-old woman warrior, and I will rejoice.

-Joanna

Dare to Play: Nancy Drew for a New Generation

Nancy Drew is one of the most celebrated and recognizable characters of all time. Created by Edward Stratemeyer ( also creator of the Hardy Boys) in 1930, the character of Nancy Drew became the super-chic and intelligent heroine of her own series of mystery novels.

Nancy Drew is a fictional 18-year-old amateur sleuth (16 in earlier versions). She lives in the fictional town of River Heights[14] with her father, attorney Carson Drew, and their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. Nancy’s mother died when she was three (10 in earlier versions). Nancy is often assisted in solving mysteries by her two closest friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, and also occasionally by her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson.

Nancy has often been described as a super girl: in the words of Bobbie Ann Mason, she is “as immaculate and self-possessed as a Miss America on tour. She is as cool as a Mata Hari and as sweet as Betty Crocker.” Nancy is wealthy, attractive, and amazingly talented.

“At sixteen she ‘had studied psychology in school and was familiar with the power of suggestion and association.’ Nancy was a fine painter, spoke French, and had frequently run motor boats. She was a skilled driver who at sixteen ‘flashed into the garage with a skill born of long practice.’ The prodigy was a sure shot, an excellent swimmer, skillful oarsman, expert seamstress, gourmet cook, and a fine bridge player. Nancy brilliantly played tennis and golf, and rode like a cowboy. Nancy danced like Ginger Rogers and could administer first aid like the Mayo brothers” (Wikipedia)
Nancy Drew has undergone numerous transformations over the years to keep her relevant to the generation. In 1998, Her Interactive began a series of Nancy Drew computer games and became my personal heroes. With their 27th game in the series released last week, the franchise is still going strong. Nancy is still the attractive and talented sleuth who is capable of thinking her way out of any situation (but who has also been known to karate-chop and threaten baddies with a gun).
Part of Her Interactive’s mission involves one simple fact: Girls play video games too- just like the executives that spearheaded the creation of the original novels realized that girls also read mystery novels. I’ve been playing Nancy Drew games since I was in the 4th grade. Before that, I really didn’t have any insight into the world of video games or computers. This is what sparked my interest and made me want to learn more. Not just about gaming, but each Nancy Drew games focus on some sort of niche or knowledge-base that the gamer has to call upon (this is usually in the form of a puzzle or a conveniently placed book) and in the process sneakily learn about things they may never have had exposure to. For example: Secret of the Scarlet Hand- you are a junior curator at a museum in Washington, D.C. and explore temple replicas, play traditional games, and explore a virtual exhibit while also learning what its like to work in a museum; Danger By Design, Phantom of Venice, Shadow at Water’s Edge and the Captive Curse all have puzzles involving other languages. I could go on and list examples for all 27 games- but I think I’ve made my point.
However, if you are still not sold that as an adult Nancy Drew is a role model, a friend of mine recently lent me ‘Confessions of a Teen Sleuth‘ by Chelsea Cain in which me learn that everything we thought we knew about Nancy Drew was a lie- invented by her unattractive, jealous college roommate, Carolyn Keene. The novel is Nancy’s true confessions about her life, from her time as the cool, trendy teenage to her elder years. Although it is a parody, Nancy experiences a lot of the same troubles women faced then and face now. Since I apparently all about books that relate to life to help you through issues, pick this book up.
Now I am about to play the crap out of the newest Nancy Drew game with my little bro. Yeah, that’s right. Boys can like Nancy Drew too. Here, enjoy these videos about female and homosexual video game characters:
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-BatCat
PS: Oh and did I  mention the Nancy Drew manga?