But What About Second Breakfast?

We've had one, yes.

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And Now For Something Completely DifFURRYnt: A Look Inside FurryMUCK

furry \ˈfər-ē\ noun

1. A fan of anthropomorphic animal characters

2. The anthropomorphic animal character itself

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(Empires by Kacey Miyagami)

Let’s face it. Furries get a bad rap. When I told one of my friends that I was thinking of writing about furries, his said, “Goddamn furries. Goddamn them. I mean, its [sic] weird as fuck.” Of course, I only told him afterward that I was one of those goddamned furries. Thanks to mainstream media like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, MTV, American Dad, and Something Awful, everyone seems to think that all furries are depraved, sex-starved weirdos who like to do the dirty in fursuits.

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(Will you? by Gen Whitmore)

Of course, these furries constitute a small minority. This post aims to move away from the furry stereotype to see the furry subculture for what it really is, and I’ll be doing that by looking at FurryMUCK, the biggest and longest-running non-combat MUD (multi-user domain). Many furries were introduced to the fandom through online MUDs like FurryMUCK, myself included.

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(FurryMUCK, launched through Trebuchet Tk client)

FurryMUCK started in 1990 when Drew Maxwell wanted to find a way to unite the “original” furry fandom (who communicated through emails, snailmail, and fanzines) with the high-speed role-playing MUD crowd. Now, it houses several thousands of fursonas (furry personas), with around 400 players logging in every night. On FurryMUCK, people create different fursonas, build virtual houses, interact with other furries—all in text. Think of it as Second Life, but text-based and with anthropomorphic animals.

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(My kitchen in my home on FurryMUCK.)

There are multiple forces at work in FurryMUCK. I will discuss three: the user, the virtual community, and groups with various interests. I will discuss the first two separately while the third will be interwoven with the two.

The User

Because FurryMUCK is entirely text-based, the fursona (or fursonas) you create is determined only by the limits of your language. Fursona descriptions can be as rich or as subtle as the player wants. Because of its instantaneous role-play element, it becomes a unique tool for creating new identities that are otherwise impossible to explore in the real “meat-based” world. I’ve encountered fursonas of every size, color, species, age, sexual orientation, and gender affiliation on FurryMUCK. I’ve even encountered some unconventional animal mixes, like winged wolves, dragon-foxes, and chakats.

Meet my own fursona, Nimueh:

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With Nimueh, I restate certain parts about my meat-based identity (20 years old, 5 feet tall, hourglass) while completely rewriting other parts (gray wolf, gray eyes, steampunk).

Players devote themselves to their fursonas in varying degrees. Some, like myself, are content with text descriptions and casual dialogue. Others are so devoted that they commission reference sheets (which specify body shape, fur patterns, tail length, etc.) based on their fursona’s textual description. These can go for as low as $10 for the really crude ones to $300 for the really detailed ones. Players will then give their reference sheets to artists who will use them as a basis to paint or draw elaborate pictures of their fursonas. Most artists will refuse commissions without reference sheets. Players often link to images of their fursona in their character descriptions or by using the @image command. Players can recommend furry artists to other players, ask for recommendations, and share links to their art in public spaces on FurryMUCK. These artists also frequent real-life furry conventions and release art/comic books on their personal sites. Furry artists certainly have an economic interest in FurryMUCK.

The Virtual Community

What goes on within a virtual community is determined by real-life cultural and political contexts because the people who are participating in the virtual community belong to those contexts.

FurryMUCK is a virtual community in which different people interact with each other through their fursonas. However, these fursonas are still controlled by real, meat-based people. Most furries and FurryMUCK players are concentrated in North America, so their conversations are laden with references to North American popular culture and politics. In my three years on FurryMUCK, I’ve yet to see more than two other Asians, let alone players from other ethnicities.

In addition to this, most non-North American players cannot participate in the virtual community because of time zones. Everything that happens on FurryMUCK happens in real time. My boyfriend in Calgary logs on at his 12 PM while I log on at my 2 AM; on FurryMUCK, we’re logged on at the same time. Because most players are concentrated in specific time zone, people who live in other time zones (say, in Asia) will find themselves with no one to talk to when they log on, unless they drastically alter their sleeping patterns. I can’t log on as much as I’d like because I’ll have to log in at an ungodly hour if I want people to talk to.

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Language is another limit. Because FurryMUCK was conceived in North America and is populated by mostly North Americans, the dominant language is English. Unlike other virtual communities where the interface languages can be switched, there is no such option for FurryMUCK. This limits the capacity of a non-English speaker to participate in the virtual community.

Players immerse themselves in the furry virtual community role-play to varying degrees. Some players are comfortable with slipping in and out of character, often discussing real-life happenings with each other through their furry characters, such as being called away from their computer by their boss or the weather or current movies. Other players are very strict with remaining in character, and will insist on appending OOC (out-of-character) to all of their out-of-character statements, and that other players do the same.

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Adherence to IC/OOC is often determined not just by the player, but by his location within FurryMUCK. For instance, role-play in the West Corner of the Park is more lenient and casual, while my boyfriend’s role-play on his spaceship The Wingfoot is very serious and technical.

Let’s end with another nice picture so it’s not all white text on black.

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(Dragon Dance by Kacey Miyagami)

Filed under IS 163.3: Cultural Studies of Technology furries FurryMUCK furry

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Sasha 2: Digital Boogaloo

For me, one of the most interesting issues in digital media studies is the question of digital identity. Real life identity is already a big enough problem for existential philosophical bigwigs, and then you throw in digital identity. Where does real life identity end and digital identity begin? Are they completely separate, or do they flow into each other?We all have that one friend who’s a completely different person online. Let’s see if I’m that friend.

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My online identity is spread over many websites. Let’s start with the most prominent one: Facebook.

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One look at my Facebook page will tell you a lot of things about my identity, whether implicitly or explicitly. The “About” section explicitly mentions what university I attend, what course I’m taking, the city I live in, and my relationship status. The photos I post are suggestive of certain experiences, like a vacation at the beach or an overdue reunion with old friends. The posts that I share and the pages I like give you an idea of what I like: if you scroll down, you’ll find that I love random historical trivia, dogs, and Dungeons and Dragons because I post about them. Even my Facebook URL suggests something about my identity: I like Game of Thrones, 90s pop bands, and terrible puns.

My Twitter page will say mostly the same thing.

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The “About Me” summarizes parts of my identity, whether they be real-life (gamer) or idealized (zombie apocalypse scholar). My frequent tweets and retweets to my sisters suggests my close relationship with them, as well as the playful immaturity that colors most of our interactions. My Twitter handle suggests a penchant for either The Lord of the Rings or breakfasts (spoiler: both are true).

My Steam page shows the gamer aspect of my identity.

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This aspect is crucial, as I spend perhaps 1/3-1/2 of my online time playing games on Steam. It doesn’t only show the games I own, but the games in which I’ve invested the most time and work.

My Pinterest page is where things start to deviate more towards the idealized than the actual.

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There’s a certain “future” aspect to the things you pin on Pinterest: You pin recipes you want to try out next Christmas, places you want to visit some day, outfit combinations you’d like to try, and even wedding dress ideas when you’re not even engaged. You can see all of that on my PInterest: unless I state it explicitly ("My go-to recipe for scones…" etc.), all of these images are ideals and wishes that have yet to be fulfilled.

However, there is one aspect of my identity that is impossible to be realized in real life and as such can only be realized online: my furry identity.

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This is one aspect I rarely discuss with people outside the furry community, because most people outside the community have a negative impression furries. In reality, furries are not as strange as you might think. Furries are basically animal personas that people create to interact with other furries in MUCKs (text-based online virtual words). Depending on how much a person identifies with their fursona, they might create elaborate text descriptions or even commission artists to draw their characters. Personally, I made the decision to make a fursona (mine is a grey wolf named Nimueh) because I liked the idea of having soft fur, soft ears, and a soft tail—things I can never achieve in real life.

My digital identity is one that is multifaceted and is the sum of numerous aspects. As such, I think a majority of my online identity is a truthful representation of myself; my identity doesn’t change much when I log off. However, there are certain imagined aspects of my online identity that have not been or cannot be realized in real life.

Filed under digital footprint IS 163.3: Cultural Studies of Technology digital identity

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"You’re Not A Real Gamer": The Fake Gamer, the Gamer Girl, and Other Cockamamy Bullshit

I’ve played and loved a lot of video games from a lot of different genres: from turn-based strategy like Jagged Alliance 2 to first-person shooters like Black and Left4Dead to action RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins. But for every game I have played, there are hundreds—thousands, even—of other games that I’ve never heard of, let alone played. Yet I don’t see this as an earth-shattering, unforgivable transgression, because (1) more often than not, I have shit that needs to be done, (2) I can’t afford to buy all the video games I’d like to play, and (3) some games just don’t appeal to me (like games set in outer space). I still consider myself a gamer.

Suppose that one day, I happen to enter an online discussion as a girl with a bunch of guys who also love video games. The conversation moves to a game I’ve never played—maybe Pokemon or Star Craft—so I voice my ignorance. What might be their response?

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If you haven’t played it, then you’re not a real gamer.

You probably don’t even really like video games.

I bet you’re doing it for the attention.

You’re one of those Gamer Girls, aren’t you?

Go back to the kitchen and make me a sandwich.

Years of slaying darkspawn, overthrowing the evil dictator Deidrianna, and thinking with portals—all invalidated because I didn’t play a few games.

After all, isn’t that why all girls play video games—to get guys to notice and validate them?

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Over the past two decades, more and more women have been playing and loving video games. From a paltry 3% in 1989, female gamers comprised 47% of the game-playing population in 2012. That’s practically half! Yet certain members of the male half seem intent on keeping the female half out of the MMORPG and in the kitchen.

The amount of backlash that women face as a result of their participation in the video game industry is astounding. Anita Sarkeesian of Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games fame has received countless rape and death threats on all of her social media platforms. A petition on Change.org tried to get Carolyn Petit fired from Gamespot after she commented on Grand Theft Auto V's misogynistic portrayal of women. Countless women have stories of their knowledge and skill in video games being questioned so much so that a whole blog called Fat, Ugly or Slutty devoted to them. Despite comprising almost half of all gamers, it seems like women are regarded as outsiders who will never be “real” gamers.

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Enter the “Fake Gamer” and the “Gamer Girl.” These two pejorative terms describe how female gamers are perceived in the gaming community. Although they might sound similar and are indeed related, I will use them to describe the two distinct models I’ve observed. I’m not saying that all female gamers can be categorized according to these models. Far from it, in fact. What I am saying is that when it comes to criticizing women who play video games, these two models arise.

The first model, the Fake Gamer, can be illustrated by the example I gave in the first part of this blog post. The Fake Gamer is an ordinary woman enjoys playing video games as much as any gamer. She might even be a devoted fan of certain games, like Assassin’s Creed or the Bioshock series. But any video game knowledge or skill she possesses is no match for that of her male counterpart. No, that shit’s too mainstream. He might challenge her to validate her knowledge of the game and if she doesn’t know this tiny, obscure detail, then OH MY GOD SHE’S A FUCKING POSER OSTRACIZE THE FUCK OUT OF THAT BITCH BROJOS BEFORE SHOJOS

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 The Gamer Girl is a slightly different story. Unlike the Fake Gamer label, which is used exclusively by men, Gamer Girl is used by both men and women to refer to a particular subset of female gamers. Like the Fake Gamer, she might also enjoy playing video games and demonstrate a high degree of knowledge on the games she loves. The key difference behind the Gamer Girl and the Fake Gamer is the motive for gaming. The Fake Gamer plays for funthe Gamer Girl plays to get noticed by men. The Gamer Girl realizes that gaming is a boys’ club, and will do whatever she can to infiltrate it. This might include posing suggestively with a console controller or spontaneous declarations of her love for video games or cosplaying video game characters. The Gamer Girl feels the need to stress the fact that she’s a girl who plays video games to distinguish herself from other women. This can breed hostility with other women who play video games, who make it a point to separate themselves from Gamer Girls: “I’m not a Gamer Girl, I’m a girl who games.” 

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The root of these two models can be found in what social psychologists call ingroup-outgroup bias. We define ourselves in terms of social groupings. These groupings are determined by shared, often arbitrary characteristics: we might be of the same nationality, support the same sports teams, or have the same hobbies. Anyone who shares these characteristics forms our ingroup, while everyone who doesn’t forms our outgroup. We will defend the members of our ingroup because they give us the self-esteem and support we need, and decry any outside interlopers.

Now let’s apply that to the video game community. A certain portion of male gamers feel that their ingroup of “real” gamers is being threatened the outgroup of female gamers, so they denounce them as “fake” gamers whenever they intrude in the male-dominated space of video games.

Ingroup-outgroup bias can also explain the Gamer Girl model. Female gamers push Gamer Girls into the outgroup because they feel that their motivations (playing for fun vs. playing for attention) are different. Because Gamer Girls don’t get the support the need from other female gamers, they will try to find a new ingroup by way of male gamers.

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These two models can lead to undesirable consequences. One of the most well-known pictures that poke fun at Gamer Girls is of a girl named Courtney, often coupled with the caption “Yes, I play video games.” Unsurprisingly, the photo was met with nerdrage as male and female gamers alike denounced her as a “fake gamer girl.”

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As it turns out, Courtney took the picture as a joke for her boyfriend, who at that time was so in love with his PS3 that she decided to express her own love for her XBox. In reality, she’s been playing video games since she was 3 years old, and unlike the Gamer Girl label that other gamers decided to force on her, she doesn’t feel the need “spout to everyone that [she’s] a gamer.”

People weren’t aware of these facts, yet they still saw fit to pass judgement on her:

I was honestly baffled by how many assumptions everyone could come up with about who I was based off of one photo. Apparently I’m a slutty bitch who borrows her brother’s Xbox to take photos in an attempt to seduce the men of the internet by feigning interest in gaming.”

I’m not denying that some people really do play video games for attention. It’s definitely not impossible. But I think the same can be said for every hobby; why fixate on Gamer Girls?

I’m also certain that not all male gamers view female gamers as either Fake Gamers or Gamer Girls. I have the good fortune of having many male gamer friends who simply see me as a fellow gamer whenever we play video games together; my gender has no bearing on my skill, and as such is of no consequence.

Does anyone really have the right to wear the Gamer Inquisitor’s badge and decide who’s a “real” gamer? To paraphrase the Youtuber albinwonderland, you can own every video game in the world, but you don’t have the right to decide who can enjoy them. No one has that right. Names like “real gamer” and “fake gamer” only serve to divide a community that should be playing together and enjoying video games together.

I have a revolutionary idea: let’s all just be gamers.

Now pass me that controller.

Filed under cockamamy is a funny word women in video games feminism video games IS 163.3: Cultural Studies of Technology

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lahionline:

“Be careful what you wish for.
Lahi presents: Seriously Trivial
Source: Halsall, Paul. “Modern History Sourcebook: A Legend of the Austrian Tyrol: The Legend of Saint Kümmernis.” Fordham University. November, 1998
Submitted by: Bea Orante

lahionline:

Be careful what you wish for.

Lahi presents: Seriously Trivial

Source: Halsall, Paul. “Modern History Sourcebook: A Legend of the Austrian Tyrol: The Legend of Saint Kümmernis.” Fordham University. November, 1998

Submitted by: Bea Orante

Filed under Seriously Trivial Lahi history

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The Internet: There’s More To It Than Naked Guys (No, Really)

Two centuries ago, if you lived in wanted to see the Mona Lisa (assuming you were educated enough to even know of its existence), the only way to do it was to get on a boat or a carriage to France (if you didn’t live there yet) and go to the Musée du Louvre in Paris. If you didn’t have enough money to do all that, tough titties.

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Now, almost everyone knows what the Mona Lisa looks like, and even if they don’t, all they have to do is go on Google and search for it. No need to pawn off grandmama’s good silverware. In a time when "the computer screen has become the primary way in which mediated culture is experienced," information has been democratized like never before. You don’t have to be exceedingly wealthy to have access to digital media. You don’t even need to own a computer—all you need is access to one (say, from an internet cafe or an obliging sibling who’s away at work a lot).

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There are several aspects of digital media that contribute to its democratization. One is its digitality. Because all information is in binary code, digital media can be manipulated, transferred, copied, and shared easily. Second is its decentralized network structure. Because there are many producers of digital media, there is a greater choice of what media can be consumed. Third is its interactivity. Digital media consumers are more active because they can influence and give feedback on the presentation of media. Last is its hypertextuality. Pages on the internet are interconnected, making navigation from page to page easy.

Because of all these aspects, digital media has the capacity to reach almost everyone, perpetuating a culture where everyone can participate and everyone can express their views on almost anything. This democratization of information through digital media is a result of the destruction of what German literary critic Walter Benjamin refers to as the “aura” in his seminal 1936 work titled The Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

The aura of an object can be loosely defined as its authenticity, its unique existence in time and space. Everything from its creator to its exhibition history to its past owners contributes to the object’s aura. When an object is reproduced, the aura decays. “By making many reproductions,” says Benjamin, “it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.” At that time, Benjamin was referring to the mechanical reproduction of films and photography. For him, the decay of the aura was a good thing because it allowed normal people to participate in a sphere that was previously exclusive to the elites. He would have been amazed if he found out just how much art and information have been democratized because of the reproducibility of digital media.

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I’d have to agree with Benjamin on this one; I’m all for the democratization of mediated culture through the internet. I can’t stress how many times my ass has been saved by Youtube videos that explain physics and chemistry concepts like this one (perhaps moreso than my actual textbooks). I don’t fret when I miss a movie in the cinemas because I can easily get it online. I get almost all of my news online—I find it more efficient than watching news on TV because the updates are instantaneous. I can bond with my dad over new music because Soundcloud noticed that we both liked Joni Mitchell and recommended similar artists. If I’m doing a research paper on the Ancien Régime and I need the Duc de Saint-Simone’s Memoirs of Louis XIV as a primary source, I don’t need to fly all the way to France and do somersaults over bureaucratic red tape to get the original because I can access it easily on Project Gutenberg, and I don’t even need to know French because it’s all been translated. And I don’t have to go to an art gallery if I want to find amazing art because some of the art world’s best, newest, and most challenging art works are available only on the internet. All of these wouldn’t be possible if digital media wasn’t democratized.

Filed under the internet digital media Walter Benjamin democratization IS 163.3: Cultural Studies of Technology

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3D Printing: The Greatest Thing Since Gutenberg

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A 3D printer making an Iron Man figurine. Photo by Tala Wong

Growing up, we had a lot of board games. More often than not, play pieces from these board games would go missing: the little plastic people that you put on cars in Life, pawns from our chess set, the One Ring from our Lord of the Rings version of Risk. It made me wonder. Why wasn’t there a store that just sold board game pieces to replace the ones we lost?

As I grew older, I realized that such an enterprise wasn’t the most lucrative idea: there are just far too many board games with far too many pieces to lose, and the board game industry isn’t exactly booming either. But what with recent developments in 3D printing, perhaps my idea isn’t so far-fetched.

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3D printing is a process by which three-dimensional objects are made by piling layers of material one at a time. You start by creating a virtual design with a 3D modeling program (if you want to make something new) or a 3D scanner (if you want to make a copy of something). The 3D printer will use this design to create the object, layer by layer, out of one material: plastic, glass, food, even human tissue.

So if you can get past certain limitations (like the slow speed at which objects are created or the fact that you can only “print” with one material at a time), you can make practically anything. Even human organs.

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Let’s think about the implications of this for a second. Artists will be given a new medium to express their ideas. High-speed 3D printing will revolutionize the way we mass produce things, making the process cheaper and more efficient. Patients won’t need to wait for kidney transplants that might not even come because a new kidney can be printed in a matter of hours.

New kinds of businesses will also emerge as a result of this 3D printing, especially since it’s been made more accessible. Take my ingenious idea for a misplaced game piece shop and tweak it a little. Imagine a 3D printing shop where you can go to every time you misplace or break something, from game pieces to laptop parts. I won’t have to wait a month for my stupid laptop to get fixed because Asus has to ship in a goddamned battery latch. Special 3D printing customization shops can satisfy even the pickiest hobbyist’s needs for certain products like cellphone cases and ridiculously customized guitars. The possibilities are just endless.

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Such a revolutionary technology isn’t without its consequences, though. Using 3D printing in the mass manufacture of goods means that more and more people will be cut out of the equation as industries rely more on 3D printers. Factory workers and truck drivers will find themselves out of the job if the business owner decides to shut down large factories and set up smaller 3D printing hubs in different localities in order to cut labor and transportation costs.

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As to what kind of culture 3D printing would promote, it would be difficult to say definitively. On the one hand, it could give rise to a culture where we value the things we have more. Instead of throwing away this chess set because too many pieces are missing, I can go to a 3D printing shop and have the pieces replaced. It could also promote a culture of creativity. Many 3D virtual designs are made available for free on Thingiverse, encouraging people to create their own designs or build upon existing designs and share them with others.

On the other hand, it could also give rise to an even more consumerist culture as 3D printing gives rise to whole new lines of products (did you see those guitars?). In our consumerist society, people who desire these products will do almost anything to acquire them. And 3D printing means there will be more shit to covet.

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Filed under 3D printing technology IS 163.3: Cultural Studies of Technology

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Post-Sleeping Dogs thoughts

Has anyone considered exploring the language skill-building potential of video games? You get to learn the meaning, pronunciation, and contextual use of a word or phrase through in-game dialogue and interaction. Even something as mundane as in-game street and shops signs can be used, especially for languages that have their own unique writing systems. This was something that I felt Sleeping Dogs did with Cantonese quite well. Granted, it might not be able to replace traditional language teaching completely, but I think it could certainly serve as a supplementary teaching aid.

Filed under Sleeping Dogs Cantonese language education games