Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The written woman

This blogpost is about a lot of things, but mainly it's about the two books written by a former student, "som i himmelen, så og på jorden" and "men fri oss fra det vonde." Both titles are taken from the Norwegian version of The Lord's Prayer, which in Norwegian is named for the first two words: "Our Father - Fader vår." They are definitely not religious pamphlets though. I am not naming the author, since she has chosen to be anonymous.

In her books I hear her voice. It flows, wicked and funny, through them both, as she gives us mystery and thrillers from an intelligent woman's perspective. They are early books and flawed, showing the lack of a large publishing firm around them. Still, they are special, not just because this is a person I like, but because they have taken the traditional gender hierarchy in action novels and written the world as it both of ten is, and as it should be. In these books, Norwegian - nah, Scandinavian writers have been given crime novels where women are powerful not because they are sexy, but because they are intelligent, brave and willing to take risks.

The stories are complicated and ambitious. In one, the women set out to save the black rhino, taking on a large group of illegal hunters, poachers, and they use both feminine viles and feminine power to get there. These are not man-hating books though. Making all the heroes female and all the villains male would be too easy. The main actors are female, though. Matriarchs, even, in some cases, wise to the point of cruelty in the decisions they have to make.

Both books are concerned with what is happening to the planet, right now, the loss of species due to human greed and stupidity, and the threath of the climate change. There are conspiracies, spies and murders, silent actors pulling the threads from behind the scene, and more than one point of comic relief. However, there are weaknesses too. Abrupt, sudden leaps in the story, bewildering decisions, jokes that are a little too "in" for me, at least, to get them. I don't see this as a big problem though. It's early works, with a very small publisher. The books are still worth a read.

How come I read them?

I received these books last summer, as I was leaving Volda. It was, perhaps, the best gift anybody could have sent me off with; as the author and former student let me know, quite clearly, how important I had been to her as a teacher. Such things always take me by surprise. I work, work some more, and then I work, I never stop to think if I please, if I change something. I give of what knowledge I have and can gather. And then, sometimes, it is enough.

This student though, she wasn't hard to remember. She was on the front row, she asked questions, made comments, took notes. She was the terror of some of the other teachers, but I liked her sharp, often wicked, wit. Perhaps I saw myself in her?

In her recent mail, she told me I taught her to see and analyse in ways she had never done before. Little did she know that she taught me to be an honest, straightforwards and humble teacher.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"Straight male gamer" - a gamer minority

By way of an insomniac friend, this post and its subsequent response from Bioware has come to my attention. The response from David Gaider, lead writer of Dragon Age II was claimed to be perfect by several blogs, such as No more lost, a blog discussing gay rights and bemoaning the loss of lives to homophobic hatred. David Gaider stated eloquently and clearly that no, straight male gamers have no particular "rights" in computer games.

This has started a rush across the internet, blogposts and discussions, including petitions to get rid of David Gaider, and to support him. And while the infamous straight male gamer did throw women a bone (straight female gamers should be allowed some romance, too) the response to the post and Gaider's come-back has resonated even with the marginally acceptable potential partners of the straight male gamers. Actually, parts of his post was almost enough to make me wish I was more queer than I am.

I don't think many would argue with the fact that the overwhelming majority of RPG gamers are indeed straight and male. Sure, there are a substantial amount of women who play video games, but they're usually gamers who play games like The Sims, rather than games like Dragon Age. That's not to say there isn't a significant number of women who play Dragon Age and that BioWare should forego the option of playing as a women altogether, but there should have been much more focus in on making sure us male gamers were happy.

The original post was followed by Gaider's celebrated response. Now, in his response to Gaider, the straight male gamer claims:
The whole point of the argument relies on the central point that straight male gamers make up a overwhelming majority of players. As I said before, I estimate that the number is around 80% (this includes straight males gamers who plays a females). Now if my numbers are at all wrong (that in reality the split is 60-40-10 (male, female, gay), then consider this post to be null and void, I've wasted your time (No doubt some of you already feel that way).

Apart from the fact that our dear straight gamer adds percentages up to 110%, he's pretty much at the point where yes, he has wasted our time even by his own standards. The Entertainment Software Association's numbers for 2010 show that the gender distribution is 60-40 male/female. Now, since the gay male contingency has to be taken out of the male part, let's say 10% of the men are gay, this means something like 6% of the entire gaming population. This brings the straight male gamers down to 54%. Now, imagine that out of the 54%, perhaps 20% (which other research indicates is a very conservative number) are open to people having different options and choices for their sexuality, or enjoy playing with the "what if" of different sexualities. We know many male players enjoy playing with female avatars, having both straight and gay cyber relationships to male avatars. The straight, male, homophobic, "my-avatar-should-be-like-me" group is, in fact, a minority.

And in the words of the straight male gamer, designers shouldn't cater to minorities. Luckily for him, they mostly do.

The Penny Arcade says what needs to be said, really, about this.