Hot Hoof Action

February 15, 2008

Spoonman/come together with you hands/save me…



The above image is from: . I cropped it because all I wanted to use for this entry is the Draenei. It is part of a fascinating paper by Andrea Rubenstein ( that says many of the same things I’m about to say in different ways.

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks. When I started playing World of Warcraft, I chose to play on the Horde side (longstanding tradition of going with the villain :)). As such, I’ve done a great deal of thinking about the Horde races (see my article—hopefully one day forthcoming—on male blood elves and homophobia), but not nearly as much thinking about the Alliance races, other than noticing that all of them are either super buff (humans, night elves, Draenei) or fantasy dwarf/gnome style small.

Then my girlfriend (yes, my girlfriend plays WoW—she’s awesome, and no, I don’t think there’s another like her so step back, Jack) created a Draenei paladin and showed her off.

I know as a researcher and an adult and someone who lambasted an icon in the field of gaming studies for NOT talking about the problems of objectifying women, who wrote a sustained argument about the ever-changing figure of Lara Croft, I should not have had this initial reaction, and I’m going to attribute it to carry-over from the fact that she was sitting in front of the laptop while she showed me her character so I might have been reacting to my girlfriend herself… but the toon was… as embarrassing as it is to say this… sort of “hot.” In the Paris Hilton use of the word, though not at all like Paris Hilton who is sort of repulsive.

So instantly I had to re-think Draenei lore. For some odd reason, there are really no PVP female Draenei on the two servers I frequent, so it isn’t often that we encounter one. The males of their race are—as you can see in the image above—hypermasculine to the extreme. They basically look like someone sat 300 pounds of solid muscle on a pair of upright goat legs then gave it a weird sci-fi head. The women… look like Victoria’s Secret’s newest accessory is “barely there hooves.”

This fascinates me based on the discourse analysis I did while studying the blood elves. The prevailing pressures on the game’s design are the expectations of a very specific discourse community (one that is hyper-male and has a penchant for fantasy) and the genre expectations of fantasy gaming in general. Knowing this, I’m not so shocked that the Draenei are presented so that both male and female are “attractive.”

What shocks me is that they do NOT look as if they “go” together. The Horde has two races which feature hulking males (truly hulking males, anyway). The Orcs and the Tauren. Both races have females that are significantly less hulking but still seem as if they are based on the same anatomy.  The Draenei female and male appear to be the sort of zenith point for WoW’s alterations of how physical form is idealized (and it is someone’s ideal, though it might not be the average user’s ideal—that’s a place where we’d need more research). There is a massive size/build difference, but even the odd tentacle-like facial/hair protrusions that characterize the males (some have ridges akin to the Klingons of Star Trek lore) do not appear on the females.

What I want to research later, based on these musings, is how these differences shape the game play experience. I noted, anecdotally, that I don’t see many female Draenei on my server(s). That could be coincidence. But if there’s a chasm between what seems “right” in the gaming genre and what gamers see in practice, the design of the characters could have something to do with that.

We shall see. More research is needed.


Come on, Come on, tell me if it’s “like that”…

February 14, 2008

Stand in the place where you were/now face west/think about direction/wonder why you haven’t now… -R.E.M.

 I recently read Wisdom Sits in Places by Basso, which is an ethnographic study of how the Apache see land and the stories told about land (that’s really not a fair summary, but it gives you context). As we discussed the text, several people in the class started talking about how their experiences of place were “just like” what is described in the book, but what they were describing was in fact different from what the Apache in the book were doing. The Apache saw physical places as taking on agency based on events that happened at a specific time in that place, and these places were named in ways that instantly called to mind a vivid mental picture (this isn’t a direct quote but a comparative example: “Cluster of rocks which water flows down, smoothing,” a place that might take on agency because of a story wherein a boy steals from another boy then slips on the rocks and falls to his death. Those hearing the story would then associate that lesson with that place and would carry it with them any time they thought of the place, giving that location the ability to act). This is not “just like” how people think of the arch in St. Louis when someone says “St. Louis” because one time the person went to St. Louis and saw the arch. Knowing there is an arch in a place called St. Louis doesn’t give St. Louis agency, and understanding that difference is critical if one wants to understand the Apache on their terms. 

 In the same class I presented this commercial: then asked the following question:

If we think about the importance of place, what does this advertisement get right, and what negatives does it re-inscribe? 

For some reason, the question (and my follow-ups) were poorly received, but I think there’s a lot to be unpacked here.

The ad features a man who is NOT a Native American “playing” Native American. It also plays with a very simple train of thought: “Natives love the land. Pollution is bad for the land. What if the Native American cried when we littered?”  One of the things I am fascinated about in popular culture is the way these stereotypes crop up and repeat (this commercial has been lampooned everywhere, even in the Simpsons and Family Guy).

 And certainly the core “nugget” is correct: Native Americans DO—in general—think about land (and nature) in a different way than do those who have colonized their lands. I was hoping we could unpack everything that goes wrong and how it re-inscribes either dangerous or painful misconceptions, but my classmates weren’t interested. Perhaps I’ll do all that work myself at some other point. 

But the big point I was trying to make is that the indigenous sense of “place” is not “just like” knowing X thing is in Y place so you think of Y when you hear X. That’s not even close, really. That sounds like someone who doesn’t understand attempting to map something to a construction that the person DOES understand.

 It’d be as problematic as me saying “I can kill turtles in Super Mario, so I’m an assassin!” 

Of course if I jump on someone’s head after eating a mushroom the size of my chest, it might kill him (or her).  I digress.

Dane was right about this and my desire to name my son Optimus Prime…

February 14, 2008

She turned away/what was she looking at?/she was a sour girl the day that she left me…


I want to rant about something, but I want to be fair to the here and now, so I’m going to rant about an example from the past. I consider myself, to some degree, a “student of people.” I grew up in a dysfunctional family. I was a quiet kid (I’m a quiet adult).  I think (too much—often to the point that I feel stupid for over-thinking), and I listen. I’m like some sort of dime store constant ethnographer (the constant ethnographer– wouldn’t that be a cool movie title?).

And I’ve noticed something about the academy. There’s always… well, I’ll just say it… there’s ALWAYS a D-bag. Any group, any class, any function, you will find a D-bag (yes, I know this sounds a little like a Dane Cook joke about Karen, but I borrow from him only to say that if you’re saying “no, there isn’t always a D-bag,” it is, indeed, probably you).

In the time before I was a PhD student, I studied at a few places, learning a few things. In one particular class, there was one fellow student—this student who shall remain genderless (and who I hope cannot identify itself from the context here)—who was in several of my classes. This person was a complete and total jerkwad and needed to be the center of attention. I tried, for the most part, to ignore this person. But one day… things escalated.

We were discussing genre. Genre theory is something I am relatively comfortable discussing (two graduate seminars, three sustained projects and a full 30 page thesis chapter of research make me think I know at least a little about it), and we turned to a discussion of hip-hop/rap. This person, for reasons I will never understand, felt the need to somehow draw directly to Northrop Frye while discussing  rap music. I made reference to a Ludacris interview in which Chris (not as Luda) talked about how he didn’t own any of the “rapper” stuff that appears in his videos (the spinning rims, the lowrider Caddy, the outrageous bling, etc.). He talked about how it was all formulaic application of a genre of “thuggishness” (his word). I then said “and Chuck D, though I realize he’s not a theorist, wrote recently that…”

D-bag didn’t let me finish my sentence. Instead the next fifteen minutes were a campaign to point out my embedded racism in calling Chuck D—a career rapper and producer—“not a theorist.” The point I was trying to make was that Chuck D claimed, in 2004, that no “real” rap had been made since 1989 or so, and he cited the internal genre shift away from “socially relevant” songs (starting with “The Message,” and I believe Chuck was calling PE’s own “Can’t Truss It” the last really subversive rap track) to songs about women, sex, drugs and money. After a while I stopped defending myself, and as the only person of color in the room gave in to the label of “intellectual racist.”

Two weeks later, the same student claimed bell hooks wasn’t a real scholar. I jokingly said “because she’s black?” and another explosion occurred.

I should have known better than to trade blows with the one D-bag that has to be in every class or program. I knew better, and had I not at the time been a scared MA student cowering before a crowd of PhD students, I’d have just said “you’re not stupid. You know EXACTLY what I meant.”

Why share that, you might ask as a reader.  One reason is because I’m trying to rant, and the whole art of the rant is talking about something that made you mad. But the other reason is that I COULD tell a very similar story about almost every class I’ve taken, but since I don’t want to step on any toes I only mentioned a situation I don’t think anyone who reads this blog would remember (if anyone does, please don’t out the person I’m talking about). But more importantly I say it because I see other quiet(ish) students, and other students at lower “academic level “ suffering at the hands of similar situations. I now know to ignore the D-bag or to cut the D-bag down in due time with one of the many passive aggressive attack modes I’ve fashioned over the years. But for the others…

Don’t worry about the D-bag. There’s loathing, deep in his or her soul. That’s the reason for that behavior. It isn’t that you don’t understand what the D-bag knows, or that your ideas aren’t of merit. Don’t be silenced. Don’t be afraid.

And there is one at every University. Sometimes several.

Don’t let them get you down.


OMG. Am *I* one, too?


Creative thing from Friday…

February 14, 2008

just say the word-o/Phill-Phill-Phillure-o, oh, oh

-Kinda Phil  Collins


To borrow a line from Julie…

February 14, 2008

you’re doing it wrong.

Or, rather, *I* am doing it wrong. It’s the 13th. I missed five posts. GAH! GOOD GRAVY WTF MY BFF JILL?

 In rapid succession tonight I will Phill in the gaps (ah! puns, too? Is this guy a sadist?). With any luck, I won’t fall this head-over-fail again.

Who am I kidding? 365 days of blogging? I’m going to trip a few times. All I can promise is that I’ll make it all up in time.

This is going to count as my reflection on my goals for this week. FAIL!

The moment you know you’re a PhD student…

February 8, 2008

I’m not as good as I once was/but I was good once/as I ever was…

-Toby Keith, at least I think that's what he said

This week was a little rough around the edges, but I’ve finally come to the realization that I AM a PhD student. And I can tell by this simple fact: I have embraced the sense of fragmented chaos.

I’ve been told by many folks in the field (other students, professors, innocent bystanders) that no one does ALL the reading. But that’s like being told by a police officer that people speed all the time. Sure– you know it’s true. Why would a police officer lie? But that doesn’t mean you can speed past that particular cruiser, does it? But… yeah. You can’t do all the reading. If you’re a PhD student out there reading this, believe it. You WILL NOT get all the reading done in such a way that it sticks with you. I tried, all of last semester and for part of this one, to read every word. It just won’t stick.

So I’ve learned to power read/skim/read like I’m trying to do something specific with the text.

I’ve also started to look at the people around me– particularly professors– at least partly in a sense of “this is how this person can help me get to where I’m going.” That is, of course, how we should view academia, but there are always some who see this as some sort of contest, as if one could WIN grad school. *sigh* More about “those people” when I rant tomorrow.

But the big moment… the sort of epiphany, as it were… came when I realized that in spite of the fact that there’s too much reading, I’m poor, I’m half-way through forming a committee and sometimes I’m a little lost, I feel good about things. I feel like important concepts are clicking, and I feel like the questions I pain myself with are literal gaps in the field that I can work to fill in some way.

 It’s exciting. Lil Philly can has scholar.

So… that was my week. It was also a big ball o’ stress, and if anyone out there would like to send money, I’m taking charity.


Reflections on spaces and virtual places

February 8, 2008

you belong among the wildflowers/in a boat out at sea/you belong with your love on your arm/you belong somewhere you’ll feel free…

-Tom Petty

Note: I switched order a little this week bccause I wanted to do another anti-Brady photo. I also had a long run in with a butter-tongued biscuit.

This is only sort of game-related, but it’s something I’m working on and would love to hear some thoughts on. It’s abridged from a different piece of writing:

                I am currently mulling over this issue: how does “land” or “place” work in our current reality. This is something I’ve identified as a personal problem I have with current Native/Indigenous scholarship, if it isn’t, in fact, a problem for the field in general. Part of my problem is that thinking about “land” as the origin point or birthplace of a culture is difficult and fragmented for someone of mixed blood like myself.  The other problem is that my primary research focus is digital environments/networked worlds. And as I consider what has become of “land” or of “place,” I can make moves an intonations (for example the virtual “inn” in Orgrimmar, the orc  town in World of Warcraft that my character calls home, is in many ways a “place,” but no one can physically visit), 

I cannot justify these virtual spaces as “places” in the way that most Indigenous scholars talk about places. This dilemma is compounded by a discussion I had recently with my girlfriend. She came to the realization that she needs to feel close to where she was born and raised. As she shared this, I thought about the fact that there has only been one time in my life where a “place” really felt like home (to the point that I actually longed for the physical space): the one time that me and my family lived in/around a wooded area. I also thought about my mother’s almost primal, reactionary need to have “a home” and “a yard” (land), and I feel a disconnect. 

As I have studied embodiment, I have come to the realization that like so many of the scholars I have met who are obsessed with theory, I have in some ways divorced myself from my sense of my surroundings. I think in some ways my sense that my life, and my reality, is highly portable and constituted in my head/in a social web that technology allows to grow ever larger is partly indicative of the way society is changing. But I also think it creates a bit of a blind spot as I try to understand the importance of place. I am writing this précis lying on my bed, in my apartment in Okemos. But beyond the fact that I have configured this space for my needs, it is no more or less comforting to me than my office on campus, my bedroom in my mother’s apartment in Richmond, IN, the guest room of a friend’s house. The value of place is a concept I can understand, but it is more difficult for me to embody.

While reflecting on all of this, a quote got stuck in my head: “The land is always stalking people. The land makes people live right. The land looks after us. The land looks after people” (p. Basso’s Wisdon Sits in Places, p. 38). There’s something both sinister (in stalking) and comforting (“looks after”) in this statement, but it also brings back into sharp relief the issue I am grappling with. I believe that people DO feel this connection to their land. It makes perfect sense, and I’ve seen people who feel that way. But what does that leave for those of us who do not know our land, or who aren’t—as self-loathing as this sounds—pure blooded enough to have A specific land? How then does the mixed blood, or the radically displaced, ever reconnect with this sense of belonging?

I sense that there’s a Neitzsche-esque response that would claim that such a person—displaced without hope of finding a tangible straight line to the past—is simply lost. But a more positive turn would be to look at the sort of work Basso does in this book as a way of bridging the gap. Basso talks of history, and of mapping, and of locations in at times highly concrete ways, but “place” can also be conceived in a more hypothetical way.

One of my colleagues has a close friend from graduate school who always dreamed of having a huge yard  to decorate with flowers and other plants. Because of the reality of academia, that person—now a fairly respected scholar at a major urban university—couldn’t afford a house with a yard in her geographical space. She instead bought a plot of “virtual” land in the online simulation Second Life, built a house, and maintains a virtual garden, which she tends to in her free time. In one sense, this could be seen as incalculably sad: a person dreams so deeply of land and of connection to nature that she must simulate it through a game. But on another hand, it speaks to a rhetoric of survival and to a solid attempt to connect to something. It speaks to the desire for connection and for a translated form of what is needed (and I would argue that this woman NEEDS her garden—this goes beyond simply wanting it).

There’s a song by the band Keane called “Somewhere Only We Know.” The first time I heard the line “I came across/a fallen tree/I felt the branches of it looking at me/is this the place/we used to love/is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?” triggered a memory deep in the recesses of my mind. I could clearly see the clearing in the trees where I used to sit in the woods behind our house. I could hear the wind in the leaves overhead, could feel the humidity of an Indiana summer day. That place is gone. It was plowed under so that a house could be built (they paved paradise/and put up a parking lot, to keep my pop culture motif going here).

Is that place still real? Can I still connect with it, even if it’s physically gone? If I build a virtual model of it, and it reminds me of something that now exists only in my memory, is  that virtual space any less real than the memory? Is the memory/virtual space any less real than the place once was? And here’s the cliché book-title-invoking kicker: if “wisdom” or memory or some element of the soul or of culture can indeed inhabit a place, can that same intangible quality adhere to a virtual place?