Against the liberation/assimilation lens

Liberationism vs assimilationism is a historically important dichotomy, which dates back to the gay liberation movement of the 1960s.  It put a name to certain political disagreements among LGBT/queer people that persist to the present day.  That said, in the present day, liberationism/assimilationism is less relevant, just one lens of many that we may apply whenever it seems particularly apt (e.g.).  And often, when we do talk about the dichotomy, we feel the need to re-explain what the dichotomy even is.

Ahem…  In a contemporary context, assimiliationism refers to the desire to blend in with mainstream culture, to emphasize “we’re the same”; while liberationism refers to a desire for more radical change.  A somewhat longer explanation is available here.

A recent video by Rowan Ellis revives the liberation/assimilation dichotomy for the purpose of understanding different forms of queer representation.  I hate it, and it illustrates how the liberation/assimilation lens can go so wrong.

The primary problem, is that “liberation vs assimilation” has largely been collapsed into “good vs bad”, while explicitly denying it.  Rowan Ellis says,

It’s not necessarily that assimilation films are bad and liberation films are good.  […] In the way in which it deals with LGBT stories and identities, for me, the liberation stuff comes up top. (14:23)

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Webcomics I’ve read to completion

I’m really into webcomics.  I like the art, the writing, the humor.  I appreciate the low barrier to entry, which means all the stuff that people complain there isn’t enough of in movies or TV (like queer representation) is available in webcomics in abundance.  And I like how a good webcomic develops its story at a trickle pace over the course of many years.

Of course, the problem is that sometimes a webcomic stops before finishing, or I stop reading before it finishes.  When a webcomic is done well, the journey is worthwhile even if you don’t make it to the end.  But still… it’s nice to make it to the end.

I have a list of webcomics that I read to completion, and I’d like to share them.  Most of these, I read many years ago, so I won’t remember all the details, but the fact that I can say anything is a testament to their value.  And if you’d like to relive the experience of getting webcomic updates at a trickle pace, I recommend Comic Rocket, which keeps bookmarks, and generates customizable rss feeds.

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What drives walking sims?

“Walking simulator” was originally a derisive term, coined in the days of gamergate, referring to a set of minimalist games where you simply walked around 3D environments. By now, a lot more games in this category have appeared, and while not universally beloved, they’re more or less accepted as a part of the video game landscape. And I find that I rather like this genre myself. I’ve played quite a number of walking simulators over the years, and still others I’ve watched on video or have seen critical discussions.

The question I’d like to ask today is, what is the appeal of walking simulators? What drives them?

I am thinking in analogy to drone and ambient music, which strips away many of the components that people conventionally enjoy in music. But what motivates drone/ambient music varies greatly depending on the work. Contrast Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, which wants to blend into the background, with Sunn O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions, which wants to mesmerize. Walking sims are also a genre full of contrasts, and I’d like to identify several different goals that they may have.

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Race in Horizon: Zero Dawn

Content note: This will contain minor spoilers only.  No guarantees about the comment section.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a 2017 video game that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where robotic beasts roam the earth. The protagonist, Aloy, is an exile from the Nora, a tribe of hunter-gatherers. Aloy’s mission in life is to end her own exile, but as soon as she succeeds, she receives her call to adventure, and must venture out of Nora lands into Carja territory.

HZD has some genuinely interesting things to say about race, far surpassing my expectations for a big-budget video game. Here I will discuss how the game hits the mark on several issues. Then I’ll discuss how the game has been criticized for cultural appropriation of Native Americans. Finally, I will discuss my own criticism: Where the main game succeeds, the DLC pack The Frozen Wilds falls flat on its face.

Where Horizon: Zero Dawn succeeds

The first thing that stands out about HZD is its racially diverse cast. Behold:

A bunch of minor HZD characters

Credit: AbyssOfUnknowing. These are all minor characters, because the image was challenging people to name as many characters as they could remember.

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Beyond Character representation

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015, with a few edits for clarity. I chose this post because the paper I just discussed makes a mention of QGCon, and I was reminiscing about the event.

I’m lucky that the Queerness and Games Conference is right by where I live, and has many fascinating talks on the subjects of queer theory, games studies, and game design.

The QGCon logo

A major theme at the conference is the idea of going beyond mere character representation. That is, a queer game doesn’t just mean having a character who is queer, or giving the player the choice of who to romance. It could be about having queer themes, such as the theme of rebelling against the status quo.

Of course, me being me, I have a rather different style of thinking from most people at QGCon. At QGCon, no one ever voices disagreement, and everyone is happy and constructive. Who would ever want to discourage all these awesome but anxious creators by saying anything even mildly critical? But personally, I don’t feel like I have properly engaged in any subject until I have cast a critical eye upon it, and listed its disadvantages. So this is the critical discussion of non-character representation that I wish I heard.

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The sexual recession: an ace perspective

“Why are young people having so little sex?” asks the title of a new article in The Atlantic. The article is also summarized in video form. The article reports that the number of high-schoolers who have had intercourse declined from 54% to 40% in the period from 1991 to 2017. The author writes,

But now some observers are beginning to wonder whether an unambiguously good thing might have roots in less salubrious developments.

The author says the decline in sex is not just among teenagers, but among young adults too. Among people in their early 20s, 15% say they haven’t had sex since becoming adults, as compared to 6% among Gen-Xers. The author calls this a “sexual recession”. What follows is a long list of speculations about what could be causing it–be it porn, dating apps, helicopter parents, bad sex, or inhibition.

I will offer an unsympathetic, perhaps callous perspective–this being largely a straight people problem, and me being a gay ace guy. Yeah, I really don’t think this is as much of a problem as the article makes it out to be.

Flipping scripts

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I tried microtonal music and liked it

The pitch of a note is determined by its frequency, and frequency can vary within a continuous spectrum. And yet, in the western music tradition, we only use frequencies with discrete values. That’s not a bad thing, but it implies a whole world of possibilities not explored. Microtonal music, also known as xenharmonic music, sets out to make use of the unused frequencies.

I recently tried listening to a lot of microtonal music, because I discovered that you can find lots of it through the microtonal tag on Bandcamp. Sure, a lot of it isn’t very good because anyone can put music on Bandcamp, but there were enough gems that I continued to peruse the tag. I’ll share just two examples. First, I selected Brendan Byrnes, because I think his music has the most pop appeal, while also being unapologetically microtonal.

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