Saturday, February 19, 2011

'Cyber Racism' and Identity Studies, A Model?

In chapter four of Cyber Racism, Daniels considers the role of the internet as a space in which white supremacist communities may be formed. What he argues is that these white supremacist communities are not necessarily geographically particular but instead may be articulated across national boundaries, that they not necessarily a politically viable threat, that is they my never produce a political candidate, they do function as spaces in which these racist frameworks may find support. However, his final point is that not all users who view these white supremacist websites are necessarily experiencing them in the same way; rather some users may run the site or contribute while others simply participate or only watch. Furthermore, some of the users on these sites may be actively opposed to the message of the group.

This Discussion is interesting on a number of levels but what I find most intriguing is the reading of community practice and the articulation of the function of these sites which Daniels offers. While Daniels’s approach is obviously useful for a discussion of racism or racist identity on the internet it also offers a framework for the consideration of various other relationships formed over the internet.

Daniels refers frequently to the work Manuel Castells, particularly Castells’s study of the patriot movement. Among the critiques of Castells’s study that Daniels presents is the suggestion that the internet functions as more than just a space for linkages between groups or between individuals. That is the internet des not just connect these groups but actively produces racist identity. Daniels first suggests that these interactions occur without regulation or without gate keeping, allowing racist discourse to validate racist discourse. Second, rather than having to actively recruit members, these sites naturalize and promote racist identity via recurring interaction. Although these observations are essential to his argument about racism, the capacity to promote certain identifications or ideologies through recurring, fleeting encounters or through unchallenged repetitive discourse is an interesting proposition. I wonder if the preponderance of homophobic dialogue in online gaming has similar consequences.

What I was really impressed by in this chapter was Daniels discussion of forum participation and “lurkers.” While I am sure this is not a new concept, the analysis of the ‘lurker’ as a particular type of user or particular user practice opposed to other more active interaction is quite interesting. Daniels addresses the “lurker” in order to suggest that users of the racist websites cannot simply be lumped together. Rather, he proposes that we must acknowledge how the user engages the site rather than just that a user engages the site in order to fully recognize the sites function. Obviously this complicates the way we read these white supremacist sites but this could also be used to complicate how we consider any kind of internet based participatory space. Perhaps this question of users’ activity/passivity could be useful in a consideration of affective engagements with internet space?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reflecting on (Academic) Inqiry within the Network

James Salvo is responding to a concern that the networked library will change the way we engage knowledge and information. Particularly, this is the concern that its infinite capacity and power to connect and index all texts will obsolete the work of scholars and researchers. Furthermore, this suggests that these academics, with access to a complete centralized index, will never actually be done researching, there will always be more work to do. What salvo proposes is a reconsideration of the role of the academic, not to be a collection of information (this is the function of the library) but rather to map a course through this knowledge, becoming well read. Thus, rather than collecting or storing knowledge, it is the academic’s role to navigate this field and develop their own personal trajectory. Salvo concludes with an interesting suggestion, “We cannot allow the network to steal our intellectual wanderings. The infinite library of the network should merely give us a bigger city, not an Itinerary.” (Salvo 40)
While this discussion is relevant to a consideration of academic labor in a contemporary moment, what it offers in the way of a discussion of the value or role of all texts within more expansive information networks is also quite interesting. That is, the increasing centralization of access to information raises a similar problem. I recognize that to suggest that we expand Salvo’s discussion misinterprets his concept of the networked library as a centralized indexed collection because texts and media across global networks is significantly less organized or centralized than in the networked library. None the less, I wonder if it could be argued that the increasing amount of information that is searchable raises similar problems for culture as the networked library does for academics? That is an increasing number of media texts, not necessarily associated with digital forms of distribution are increasingly accessible and searchable online. One could look specifically at underground media culture loosing its cache- think cult film or punk rock. However, more mainstream examples may also merit consideration; the context in which films and television (for example) are experienced is also less restricted. While the solution to analyzing these sifts may not be as simple as what salvo proposes for the academic, the concept of indexing within a not finite space and increasingly total accessibility is a question not just relevant to academic knowledge but to all information.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reading Videogames

Anna Everett’s discussion of race in video games offers a compelling survey of the way representations of race in games results in a reinforcement of racist discourses. Much of her chapter is based on content analysis of specific games which, as an introduction to questions of representation in games is useful. Everett examines a number of games and locates within them racist caricatures, narrative structures which force players into particular subject positions, and, in at least one instance, explicit , intentional racist ideology . This aspect of the discussion is productive as it reveals problematic constructions of race within video games and it introduces those unfamiliar with the medium to the potential issues inherent within it. That being said, I did not find this aspect of the chapter to be the most compelling as this kind of content driven study around video games has become an increasingly common means of critiquing sex, violence, gender, etc. in games. Much more interesting was the discussion which seemed to book end this content study- a discussion around player identification with these games.
First, Everett’s discussion of George Lipsitz’s concept of a “possessive investment in whiteness” (113) raises a crucial issue within this discussion: certainly it is significant that racist constructions are appearing in videogames; however, more important is the way that this racism shapes player experience. A game like Ethnic Cleansing, from the perspective of content analysis is alarming but is relatively insignificant to a discussion of videogames as a medium if it isn’t distributed or played widely. Thus, what makes a game’s racist content or structure significant is how it shapes player’s experiences. In this regard Lipsitz model offers a useful means of connecting content and function, a connection that Everett may not fully capitalize on. Her discussion of Imperialism and Civilizations begins to do this however the same line of inquiry would likely also have been useful at other key points in the essay.
On a different note, Lipsitz’s “possessive investment in whiteness” reminded me of a video I saw years ago about the making of God of War a game for the Playstation 2. If I remember correctly there was a point in this video where an art director responsible for designing Kratos, the game’s protagonist, recalled being hesitant to give the character a face rather than a helmet, the logic being that assigning a face to the main character could potentially alienate gamers or at least prevent gamers form projecting themselves on the character. I mention this for two reasons; first, it provides an anecdote to demonstrate the significance of a study of identification in games. Second, this question of identity projection onto the main character perhaps reveals a space in which affect theory could be useful for an interrogation of representations in videogames.
The second portion of Everett’s chapter that I found to be compelling was actually a quote that she pulled from a message board. G-Tech writes, “The gaming community isn’t dumb, they aren’t mindless drones who are being brainwashed or hypnotized. They are people like you, me, that guy down the street, etc. Who are probably getting a bigger kick out of the competition of winning than the look of the toons.” (145) This is one of the few points in the chapter where the significance of the player experience becomes the object of study. Also, here and in the discussion of Civilization we also see how game meaning is produced by players. The problem with a content driven study is that it only recognizes the game, ignoring how players participate in this experience. Perhaps a more complete study of race and racism in games would consider the meeting point between players and text. I’m sure X-Box live chat could be reveal a great deal about the subject positions gamers bring to the equation.

On an unrelated note, Everett’s section Playing the “Skin” Game is predicated on a misunderstanding of the term “skin.” Although this does not alter the significance of the observations that she makes in this section, a Character “skin” does not refer to the character itself but the image mapped onto the character’s polygon frame to give it form. So, a single character can have multiple skins making it impossible for someone to select Brain Fury  as a ‘skin’.  

-Bryan fury skins: