Tag Archives: class

Wrath of the Gods: Teaching Intersectionality through Bastion

My class awash in the colors of Bastion.

My class awash in the colors of Bastion.

Special thanks to Greg Kasavin, creative director of Supergiant Games for supplying my classroom with educational copies of Bastion. Thanks as well to Damien Prystay who shared his save game data and to Christopher Sawula who graciously reprised his role as my classroom aide.
 

If you’re a Border House regular, you know that last semester I taught my students about the feminist theory of intersectionality using Halo. Intersectionality is the theory that systems of oppression like racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia interact and overlap, compounding each other’s effects in unique ways. If you think about each of these systems separately, you’ll miss forms of oppression that folks experience at particular intersections of identity.

A few examples? Imagine being a gay, lesbian or bisexual person with a disability in the United States and not being able to marry your same-sex partner in order to receive essential health benefits. Imagine being fired for coming out as transgender (which is still legal in thirty-three states) and not having the resources to survive because you are working class. Imagine being an African-American woman shopping for a sharp business suit in order to counteract hiring prejudice and getting followed by security at the department store.

If you’re just thinking about any single system of oppression, you won’t be able to understand any of the above experiences. And you can’t just add systems like racism and sexism together, either. Intersectionality isn’t additive; it’s multiplicative. If you want to practice an intersectional politics, you have to focus on the ways in which all systems of oppression interact with each other.

Video games are uniquely equipped to teach students about oppression because they are likewise composed of interacting systems, systems that can often be challenging and unforgiving. As Ian Bogost notes in a recent blog post, games might be “the best medium for expressing certain things—say, the operation and experience of systems.” But most games don’t allow you to alter the behavior of individual game systems to a truly intersectional level of detail. Continue reading

Sturgeon’s Law, Taste and RPGMaker

Sturgeon’s Law states that “90% of everything is crud.” If TvTropes is to be believed, there are a number of addendums to the law, such as: “if ever less than 90% of everything is crud than one needs to adjust their standards,” and “90% of people can’t distinguish crud from noncrud.” Almost everything created is a heap of load-bearing garbage to support the glorious minority of culture-forming genius. If you look at the brilliance of high art and find flaws than you aren’t reading it properly, if you see any virtue in the drivel beneath than you don’t have a high enough standard.

The attitudes enforced by these various “Laws” now associated with science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon prop up a status quo where creativity is a quality of the rare genius destined to speak on behalf of a generation and everyone else is just everyone else. The genius is born with an innate gift and duty to observe society, he—by sheer coincidence it is almost always he—produces culture from a vacuum and is rarely understood in his own time by anyone other than the keen publisher that collects the yearly harvest his work yields. Said another way, we are “raised to believe that a select few create and the rest are just fans. Rich white people create and we suck it up.” (Porpentine. “Creation Under Capitalism.” Nightmare Mode. Nov 25 2012.).

90% of everything isn’t crud, it’s just average. Average is, more often than not, good enough with greatness and annoyances peppered throughout. Most work comes with some measure of both genius and crud; arguing where and how each stand out on a case-by-case basis (ie criticism) is a long and laborious process. One worth taking but not one generally valued. The practice enforced by Sturgeon’s law is one of absolutes: a thing is beyond value or it’s worthless. Sturgeon’s “laws” and the attitudes at their root are about controlling taste and credibility to keep it in privileged hands.

Games have their own struggles over who controls “taste.” We know this. Fake geek girls, nerd cred, narratology vs ludology, formalism vs new journalism, casual vs hardcore, piracy, DRM and whatever this week’s issue is are all recurring debates that attempt to reinforce a structure where 90% of games and the people that play them are crud. Only a small number of games are valuable and only a small number of people can arbitrate the difference. Not accidentally, the top ten percent of “valuable” games cost a lot of money and heap of trash games it rests is recognizable from a distance because it’s cheap or free and therefore worthless. I quoted Porpentine earlier because Twine developers and players—perhaps more than anyone—have faced adversity for the accessibility of their material, and accessibility is the natural enemy of the tastemaker.

Developers using less specialized and inexpensive tools like Twine, Game Maker or even Unity are faced with scepticism. Games made with these engines have to prove their authenticity whereas no designed-by-committee, “core” targeting gun-porn has to prove a thing because a thousand fresh grads spend four years perfecting jiggle physics before being laid off.

The benefits of tools designed to be inexpensive and easy to learn should be obvious. But there’s a well-documented culture of tastemakers trying to delegitimize the work of small developers. Indies need to be judged by triple-A standards and they need to be as available and as public as triple A studios with an army of PR staff at their disposal. It isn’t that Indies can’t produce games of the same quality as major publishers or that triple A games don’t produce anything good, it’s just that the industry is judged by the standard of moneyed producers and quality is based on a return of investment. It’s no revelation to say that keeping up with games is impossible without considerable disposable income (Beirne, Stephen. “Poor Community Spirit.” Re/Action. July 12 2013.), so it’s frustrating that there’s such a stubborn elitist culture controlling what gets to be valued and what doesn’t.

Continue reading

All Skulls On: Teaching Intersectionality through Halo

From left to right: Matt, Carl, Samantha (the author), and Cody at the Halo Station.

From left to right: Matt, Carl, Samantha (the author), and Cody at the Halo Station.

“Let me just close the door so the other instructors don’t find out I’m letting you play Halo,” I joked to my Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 100 class. I knew I was taking a risk on this teaching activity. I was worried that it would come across as a shameless, gimmicky attempt to glam up the difficult topic of intersectional oppression.

My friend and fellow WGSS 100 instructor Lauran planted the seed of the idea for this activity when she, citing my proclivity for video games, recommended that I read John Scalzi’s blog post “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” I liked it. The article was clear, accessible and completely on point. Scalzi’s argument is that being a straight white man is like playing a video game on easy mode: some challenges remain but the player is at an automatic advantage.

As I tried to think about how I would incorporate Scalzi’s article into a lesson on feminist theories of intersectionality, however, I realized that it couldn’t do as much work as I would need it to. Scalzi’s article is a fantastic thought experiment revolving around a brilliant metaphor. While I couldn’t fault it for its simplicity, then, I realized that I would need a more complex metaphor that could capture the way in which systems of oppression interlock and compound each other’s effects.

That’s when Halo came to mind. I wrote an article for First Person Scholar describing how the “skull system” in Halo virtually models the way in which systems of oppression, as Kimberlé Crenshaw observes,  “interact” and “overlap.” In a Halo game, skulls are elective difficulty modifiers that affect particular game systems. For example, activating one skull halves the player’s ammo while activating another removes the on-screen radar. As I wrote on First Person Scholar, “Activating multiple skulls in a Halo game effectively models intersectional forms of oppression. The individual effects of each of these skulls do not simply run in parallel; rather, they intersect, overlap and interlock, just like systems of oppression.” For example, one skull will make enemies throw grenades more frequently while another skull increases the explosion radius of those same grenades.

When we came to our unit on intersectionality, I assigned students to read both Scalzi’s article and my First Person Scholar essay alongside some foundational feminist texts on intersectionality and privilege. And, as they did their reading over the weekend, I was at home devising an elaborate activity with a staggering number of moving parts. Given the complexity of the activity, it’s understandable that I would try to hide the proceedings of my class. It could have gone horribly awry. But did it? Here’s what happened and what we learned from the activity. Continue reading

The cover art for The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, each features a mid-shot of the game's protagonist.

The Longest Journey and Dreamfall

Writing about the game that gave this site its name feels a bit like smugly opening a discussion about science fiction with “Did you know that Blade Runner is kind of a big deal?” But with creator Ragnar Tørnquist’s new studio succeeding in their Kickstarter campaign to continue the journey and voice actor Sarah Hamilton expected to return as April Ryan, now is a good time to get caught up with the series if you’ve missed it.

Both games are available on most digital distribution sites, but the best price seems to be on Good Old Games where The Longest Journey is $9.99 (US), its sequel, Dreamfall is $14.99 (US) and the pair together are $21.23 (US). The Longest Journey is only available on PC, where Dreamfall is $19.99 is available on Mac on the Adventure Shop or for 1200 Microsoft points on XBLA arcade under the Xbox originals section.

The cover art for The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, each features a mid-shot of the game’s protagonist.

Both games come from the tradition of the point-and-click adventure (although Dreamfall adopts action elements). Puzzle solving is generally more intuitive in the series than in some of the more obtuse titles in the genre to keep the complicated plot moving. However, what makes the games required playing (and the announcement of Chapters so exciting) is the deep and memorable characters at the centre of journey. At their core, these games are about people searching for a better life and never knowing when they’ve found it.

Both games begin in the world of Stark, which is the “real” world about two centuries in the future. The world is run in a corprocratic dystopia. Screens occupy every wall and a vapid media pares everything down to the lowest, happiest common denominator. Poverty is sprawling, permanent and ignored until it has to be pushed back down at gunpoint. That said, it’s a world that’s socially liberal. As has been noted elsewhere, the game features queer characters respectfully and without marginalization. The world is also apparently free from formal conflict. The game references riots that have been met with unabashed police brutality and a last, great cola war to end them all, but otherwise the world has apparently run out of enemies. Stark could be taken straight from a Philip K. Dick novel: sure addiction is rampant, culture is controlled and technology has consumed human identity, but that’s the cost of progress and it could be worse.

A screenshot of Stark from Dreamfall: a dimly lit, rainy street with neon ads for a nearby strip club breaking through a blue haze

A screenshot of Stark from Dreamfall: a dimly lit, rainy street with neon ads for a nearby strip club breaking through a blue haze

Opposite Stark is the high-fantasy world of Arcadia. Arcadia composed of numerous independent and generally unintrusive countries. It’s a pastoral wonderland where magic is free to anybody that studies it. However, different peoples differ radically and often violently, there’s a constantly shifting power structure that individuals and groups use to exploit others. Arcadia offers liberty and privacy, but the people of the world are as likely as not to use that against one another.

The protagonists of The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, respectively April Ryan and Zoe Castillo, are both young women of Stark that shift between worlds. Much has been made of their being “strong” female characters, which they are, but what makes them exceptional is how human they are in their journeys to improve their lives.

April comes from a poor and violent family. Months prior to The Longest Journey’s opening, she runs off to the megalopolis, Newport, to study at the only school left that still teaches art. She’s underpaid and overworked (one of the first quests in the game is to cajole April’s boss into paying her money she’s owed) but she’s incorruptibly optimistic. She rolls her eyes and quips one-liners when she gets tugged along in her adventure, but there’s a sense that she belongs on the path she’s on. She’s supposed to be an unlikely hero, but through her competence and intelligence, she’s well suited for the role.

April’s most immediately visible attribute is her optimism. She’s poor and she lives in a dangerous neighbourhood, but she exudes incredible confidence that her talent will be enough to continue her life on its upward trajectory. Her biggest concern at the beginning of the game is that she’s unprepared to submit her work to an art exhibit. She hasn’t begun working, but she knows that it’s only a matter of time for inspiration to strike. That’s the attitude she takes to every challenge: she might be walking into danger, but she knows she’ll be okay because she’s savvy enough to figure out a solution. She isn’t arrogant, but she’s capable and aware of it.

The game vindicates her confidence. She is the “chosen one,” when she enters Arcadia she’s told she’s brimming with magical power, she never hesitates to put herself in danger and she always seems capable of working her way out of it. April is always comfortable, competent and positive. She may be against forces she never knew existed and the world may hang in the balance, but she’s been through worse and she can handle whatever’s next, she just needs the opportunity to succeed and, eventually, she will.

April from The Longest Journey painting an unseen picture on a large canvas

April from The Longest Journey painting an unseen picture on a large canvas

Appropriately, the game’s antagonists, the vanguard, are also motivated by a self-confidence. They’re determined to bring Stark and Arcadia together because they’re certain it’ll be what’s best for everyone. They overlook the gamble they’re taking, but it’s important that they believe they’re acting on behalf of the many. They aren’t looking to disrupt the balance because they revel in chaos or because they’re looking for personal gain, they want to tear down the divide between the worlds because they believe it would be best for everybody. There are as many people that support them as there are that condemn them.

Dreamfall’s protagonist Zoe differs significantly from April, and her perspective adds a great deal of depth to the world. Zoe is the only child of a loving, single father. Zoe was raised not in the greasy, closely watched Newport, but the warm, gold-hued cafes and campuses of Casablanca. She’s not an artist, but a gifted student of bioengineering. Also unlike April, Zoe is near paralyzed by a deep depression. After leaving school, breaking up with her boyfriend and moving back home, she becomes isolated and apathetic. Her well-meaning loved ones remind her that she has no reason—no right—to be depressed and that she should just get her life back on track, but of course that only makes her feel more depressed.

Zoe is not the chosen one and she’s not eager for a new adventure. Her journey seems more the product of chance than an orchestrated manoeuvre by unseen supernatural forces. Her primary goal is to rescue her ex-boyfriend after he uncovers incriminating information on the monolithic WATI corporation. Similarly, when she’s pushed into Arcadia—again, not because she was sent to accomplish anything, but because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time—she’s accidentally wrapped up in April’s struggle against the occupying Azadi empire.

 

Zoe Castillo from Dreamfall in front of a yellow background. She's wearing a sleeveless purple top, a large necklace with two chains and a silver armlet, her thin black hair is pulled back into a ponytail

Zoe Castillo from Dreamfall in front of a yellow background. She’s wearing a sleeveless purple top, a large necklace with two chains and a silver armlet, her thin black hair is pulled back into a ponytail

Here we also see the change a decade has made in April. In Dreamfall, April is not hopeful or confident, she’s exhausted and impatient. Her boisterousness and joie de vivre is replaced with bitterness and irritability. She’s exiled herself from Stark and taken charge of a hopeless rebellion against the Azadi. Unlike the vanguard, the antagonists in Dreamfall aren’t trying to create a brave new world for everybody, they’re trying to return to a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore. In the wake of the first game’s events, Stark and Arcadia are shocked by unprecedented circumstances. The WATI corporation and the Azadi empire have taken near absolute control of their worlds and aggressively conserve an old standard of normalcy.

The main characters of Dreamfall are still looking for a better life, but the means of achieving it have become murkier. The journey referred to in The Longest Journey series is the one to a better world and better ways of living. And when Dreamfall comes to its frustrating conclusion, the efforts to make the world better have only left people more confused and frightened by one another.

April Ryan and Kian Alvane, an Azadi soldier, facing one another in a wintry, medieval alleyway

April Ryan and Kian Alvane, an Azadi soldier, facing one another in a wintry, medieval alleyway

The Dreamfall games aren’t perfect: the plot is remarkably convoluted when it isn’t safe and cliched, but it shines in its honesty and in its lively, human characters. Again, it’s a classic that probably everybody is aware of but it’s also well-preserved, available and friendly to newcomers. With Dreamfall Chapters projected release in November of 2014, it’s a great time catch up on the series.

What is the social class of an adventurer?

Coins arranged in the shape of a question mark

A while back, Mattie Brice tweeted a very interesting observation about her play style. She said, “For some reason, I really dislike using items. I usually just sell them.”

Adam Flynn then responded with a link to this article, asking “I wonder if this relates to your internal metaphors of value and income”. The article paints different characters of middle class graduates with different metaphors about money, arguing for example that entrepreneurs don’t consider $1m to be an obscene sum of money but instead see it as one year’s running costs for a 6-person startup.

Mattie pointed out that her own background doesn’t match those identified in the article, “I’ve never (on by own) been financially middle class,” she tweeted. She said that it was perhaps significant that she grew up lower middle class, surrounded by upper middle class culture.

Reading this conversation got me thinking: does class affect play style? How might we expect it to make a difference? And is this something neglected by game designers?

Does class affect spending?

Before looking at how class affects item use in games, I tried to find some studies of how people of different economic classes use money in the real world. We all, I think, have a habit of using social class to explain idiosyncracies, so I didn’t want to take Brice’s class-based explanation at face value.

To contradict her statement, it would have been very useful to get evidence of the kind of phenomenon described by this Cracked article on stupid habits you develop when you grow poor – ‘stupid’ here meaning ‘no longer rational if you have money in the bank.’ [Editors Note: The author of this post is not endorsing Cracked's use of the word 'stupid'] I want to be able to confidently point to the situation described by Zygmunt Bauman in Wasted Lives – he argues that consumer culture has created a social need for brand-name clothes among people whose means would suggest that it is more rational to buy the most basic clothes possible.

However, I’ve had trouble finding evidence to back up the anecdotes and opinions. The Consumer Expenditure Survey asks people ‘what do you spend money on?’ but not ‘do you buy the cheapest clothes possible?’ or ‘what do you do with your tax rebate?’ Measuring spending isn’t the same as measuring the attitudes to commodities that Mattie seems to have been referring to.

Fictional economies are different

Eventually I realised that no real-world evidence would really be applicable to virtual worlds and fictional economies, because the models of wealth, production and labour are deliberately constructed around a fantasy of a simpler, more forgiving world. This is something I looked at in a term paper on Final Fantasy games last year – the economic models of video games often reflect the economic changes happening in the real world at the time the games were made, but they are deliberately recalibrated to give players a great deal more agency. Often that agency is a kind of virtual artisanship or mercantilism, with game mechanics that encourage crafting items out of found materials and the exchange of goods for virtual money made relatively frictionless. Selling off your possessions for cash in the real world is not nearly as easy as in video games.

The means by which middle class people generate and hold onto their wealth are not available in most video games. Keeping money in the bank to accrue interest is not an option. There’s no investment, no leveraging of debt, not even the ‘three for two’ shopping deals that John Cheese writing for Cracked identifies as a rational purchasing decision that he fails to take advantage of because of his experience of poverty.

In the majority of video games, there’s just objects, gold values given to those objects, and gold received in exchange for time spent grinding. The economy is simple. You put time in, you get gold back, and you spend the gold on better goods. They are giant virtual shopping malls, and players are effectively made into lower-middle-class consumers by the fictional economics of the game itself – money is earned, rather than grown as wealth.

So do personal money metaphors, or class-based experiences of wealth or poverty, affect play style? In most games, probably not – the question is whether the economic landscape of a given video game world really gives that much freedom for class differentiation. But I think the economic behaviours engendered by the constrained economic structures of video games could tell us a lot about the relationship between social class and gaming. It’s something we should look into more often.

wowmonopoly

WisCon Panel “Gender and Class in Gaming”

World of Warcraft branded Monopoly set.

The Shepard/My avatar discussion from WisCon was one of several gaming related panels this year. A section titled “Gender and Class in Gaming” had the following description:

This panel uses Dragon Age II, Mass Effect and classic tabletop games as a starting point to discuss class and gender issues that have been raised by players. We’ll discuss the ways in which class and gender are used in past and current games. How are gender and class issues used in the plot of the game? Does this detract or add to the gaming experience? Is it possible to be a feminist gamer?

It is clearly possible to be both a feminist and a gamer. I assume that line was added to get people enraged at the dismissal of such a person existing and get audience members fired up for the panel. WisCon is a feminist science fiction convention, therefore most audience members were likely feminists and gamers.

 

The following are my notes from the panel:

 

Games that discuss these issues

- Tales of Graces f

- Dragon Age series

- Dreamfall (a game that values traits that are coded as feminine)

- Sims 3 (Alice and Kev – roleplaying a homeless family)

 

Representation

- Seeing yourself represented in game/media is important for many people. So, games where girls/women get to be active and integral to the storyline help send the message to girls that they matter.

- It is important to look at who doesn’t get represented in games. Who do companies use their resources to represent? Who gets left out?

- There are so many more options than just a white, straight, male as the lead for games.

 

 Gender expectation/stereotypes

- The avatar you choose in multiplayer games often affects how other players interact with you.

- Some games impose their own stereotypes based on gender -> dexterity/agility high for women, and strength high for men. But ask any acrobat and they will tell you that strength is required along with agility.

- The characters of Sten and Shale in the Dragon Age games address gender stereotypes and expectations in their stories and dialogue.

- The more games rest on sexual dimorphism, the more stereotyping may exist.

- Even if we concede that a female and male character in a game have different strength and size, how much does that matter when the characters are using tools and magic?

- World of Warcraft had a line in the Cataclysm expansion where Garrosh Hellscream said to Sylvanas Windrunner “Watch your clever mouth, bitch!” Within the game they use a gendered slur used to silence a female character.

 

Fantasy class and race

- Tolkien fantasy intermingled race and class and has become part of the backdrop for much of fantasy. We see the same stereotypes repeated over time.

- Dragon Age had two different classes of elves and neither one were the high/rich elves of Tolkien fantasy. But while class and race were present, did the stories discuss either one enough to our satisfaction? The strata of dwarves allowed for a discussion of class, power, and oppression. What more could they have done? What do we want to see done next?

 

Board games/ Role playing games

- Monopoly was based on The Landlord’s Game, which was meant to show the negatives of monopolies. But the more popular Monopoly game is all about acquiring as much property and money as possible.

- Small World is a world conquest game that allows players to play with a mix of fantasy races but is still about world conquest and occupation.

- Puerto Rico is a game where players each run their own plantations using colonists (represented by brown pegs) as the workers.

- Eclipse Phase role playing game lets your characters play with/change genders throughout the course of the campaign. You can be gender neutral, change gender, or inhabit other characters.

 

———————-

The panel covered a very broad topic, but what are some of your thoughts on gender or class issues in games? What other games have discussed class issues but were missed in this discussion? What has been done well and what do we want to see done differently?

NLC Releases Report on Shocking Working Conditions in Xbox Controller Sweatshop

KYE Factory Workers - More than a dozen girls exhaustedly sleep at their work stations in a Chinese manufacturing facility for electronics.

The National Labor Committee, an organisation dedicated to “exposing human and labour rights abuses committed by U.S. companies producing goods in the developing world”, released a report detailing the shocking working conditions at a KYE manufacturing facility. KYE, a Chinese firm, manufactures Microsoft Xbox controllers as well as other Microsoft products and electronics for other U.S. companies. The three-year investigation uncovered damning photographs depicting the poor working conditions and their effects on the workers. The report details the following injustices (emphasis mine):

  • KYE recruits hundreds-even up to 1,000-”work study students” 16 and 17 years of age, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week. In 2007 and 2008, dozens of the work study students were reported to be just 14 and 15 years old. A typical shift is from 7:45 a.m. to 10:55 p.m.
  • Along with the work study students-most of whom stay at the factory three months, though some remain six months or longer-KYE prefers to hire women 18 to 25 years of age, since they are easier to discipline and control.
  • In 2007 and 2008, before the worldwide recession, workers were at the factory 97 hours a week while working 80 ½ hours. In 2009, workers report being at the factory 83 hours a week, while working 68 hours.
  • Workers are paid 65 cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents after deductions for factory food.
  • Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music or using the bathroom during working hours. As punishment, workers who make mistakes are made to clean the bathrooms.
  • Security guards sexually harass the young women.
  • Fourteen workers share each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow double-level bunk beds. To “shower,” workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath. Workers describe factory food as awful.
  • Not only are the hours long, but the work pace is grueling as workers race frantically to complete their mandatory goal of 2,000 Microsoft mice per shift. During the long summer months when factory temperatures routinely reach 86 degrees, workers are drenched in sweat.
  • There is no freedom of movement and workers can only leave the factory compound during regulated hours.
  • The workers have no rights, as every single labor law in China is violated. Microsoft’s and other companies’ codes of conduct have zero impact.

The comprehensive report covers each of the above bullet points in detail, citing examples of labour and human rights abuses, as well as quotes from workers about the conditions they work under. They are pretty much powerless to do anything about the working conditions. Those who speak out are sacked. There are no labour unions. Something I found interesting about the report is the point about bosses’ preference to hire young women because young women are more easily intimidated and controlled:

Management likes the high school students since they are easy to discipline and control. For the same reason, management targets young women 18 to 25 years of age, and some up to 27, to staff its production lines. If management can help it, they will not hire any males-except if they are high school students. It is only when the factory is desperate that they will hire males and workers “as old as 40.”

And this quote regarding sexual harassment underscores the powerless and dehumanising situation that the girls and women working at KYE find themselves in:

Some security guards sexually harass the young women, often using very provocative language. There is nothing the young women can do but to bear it in silence as there is no avenue in the factory for addressing such abuse.

Chinese law requires that all international companies doing business within the country partner with a local company in order to operate within the country. According to the report, the factory managers hid their illegal activities from inspectors, so it’s possible that Microsoft might not have been fully aware of what was taking place at this facility:

Factory management knew what it was doing was illegal. When management was alerted ahead of time that there was going to be a local government inspection, all the work study students under 18 years of age were gathered in the courtyard where they would board buses to be taken to another location and held until the inspection was over.

Furthermore, workers were prepped for surprise inspections and visits by monitors, and there is intense pressure for workers to answer questions in the “right” way. Those who answered truthfully were sacked:

At the KYE factory the process of preparing for monitoring visits is somewhat subtle. Management instructs the workers to “answer the clients’ questions very carefully.” They should say they never work more than 12 hours a day and overtime is less than 36 hours a month. Workers are told to respond they are “very satisfied” when asked about working conditions, their dorms and meals. To make this sound even more “authentic,” workers are told to “spontaneously” mention other factories where they had worked in the past, where conditions were “awful.” They are more “hopeful” now that that they are working at KYE.

We asked if factory management has to openly threaten workers to lie. The answer was no. As the workers put it: “They don’t have to as workers get it and know what is going on. Those who break ranks are fired. Workers have heard of others being fired for speaking truthfully. Among themselves, workers talk about this. They know not to tell the truth.”

Whilst there appeared to be deception on the part of factory bosses, this doesn’t absolve Microsoft of responsibility in this incident. Ultimately, Microsoft (and other software companies) are the ones placing orders and entering into manufacturing agreements with these factories.

Sweatshop labour has long been a hot topic in many industries, like the clothing and shoe industries, and it’s more than likely this has been going on for a very long time in the tech industry, only we just haven’t heard much about it. No one should be forced to tolerate these sorts of working conditions. It might ease our wealthy, Western minds to tell ourselves that these workers wouldn’t be able to live without taking jobs in sweatshops, but I don’t think it should be so easily dismissed like this. According to an anonymous Chinese labour rights activist and scholar, we’re fooling ourselves if we think that way:

“The idea that ‘without sweatshops workers would starve to death’ is a lie that corporate bosses use to cover their guilt.”

Keeping in mind our (if applicable) Western-centric world view, Western privilege, and class privilege (if applicable), what do you think can be done to address this issue in the computer and videogame industries? What do you think of the KYE factory management tactic of recruiting women and girls to these jobs?

[Via 1UP.com]

[Via 1UP.com: Gamers Against Sweatshops Petition]

[Microsoft supplier in China Forces Teenagers to Work 15-hour Shifts Under Sweatshop Conditions]

Teerah Shepard

 

Teerah Shepard

Teerah remembers her parents. This is not what people expect at first. She is a slumrat, one of the dregs. They crawl up from nothing and come to nothing, which is what everyone says and everyone knows. But she remembers her parents and her father’s bright smile and her mother’s strong hands. What became of them, well, she remembers that too, but it’s not important. What is important is that she kept on; she survived; she did not compromise.

When she enlists she’s still a slumrat, crawled up from nothing, who will come to nothing. Everyone says and everyone knows that she will wash out. Her kind don’t do well with authority or structure, taking orders and following rules. It is not the first untrue thing said of her and it will not be the last. She keeps on, she survives, and she does not compromise. On Akuze, she is the only one. She remembers what became of her unit, the ways in which each and every one of them died. But it’s not important.

They look at her differently then. Before: she’s damaged, no matter how many years of perfect service–perfect soldiering–precede her, a look at her pre-service history paints her in colors that bleed into everything afterwards. After: she’s broken, which is just a more heroic form of damaged. It’s all another skin they want so badly for her to slip into.

Teerah would wish to be defined by all of her actions, her attitudes, and the choices she makes, not just the parts of her past that burn bright in other people’s minds, shaping their expectations. But she’s smart enough to know that they will never stop defining her by the things she’s walked away from. She is a pristine whole–unwavering, just, and charitable. They only see her parts.

It’s not important.

She keeps on. She survives. She does not compromise.

Multiple shots of Teerah Shepard ducking behind cover, being addressed by the Citadel Council, flanked by Kaidan Alenko, etc.

This is a series of posts seeking to highlight the various Commanders Shepard of the Mass Effect universe, and make sure people don’t forget that not everyone plays a default white male option that looks like every other space marine out there. Inspiration from Arie Salih.

Hand-me-down Gamers

A second graders dream come true

A second grader's dream come true

My brother recently gave me his old Xbox 360.  It got the red-ring of death.  I mailed the console in for repair while he bought a new one.  I’d wanted an Xbox 360, but was intimidated by the cost plus equipping it with the hard-drive and controllers.

His gift reminded me of how so many of my consoles were second-hand.  I also got my Sega Genesis in 2nd grade as a gift from a cousin who had two because of divorced parents.  I finally got my SNES in high school from a generous classmate who didn’t play his anymore.  Many of the games I played were borrowed, second-hand, on sale, or bootlegs.  As a kid, I always over-stayed my welcome at neighbors’ playing their games.

New games are expensive.  A new $60 game is more than a day’s wage if you work a minimum wage job.  But I’ve known plenty of poor and working class folks who grew up gaming.  For some folks, perhaps gaming was the luxury instead of buying CDs or going to the movies.  For others, perhaps they found more creative ways to access games.  (I, for the record, did not grow up poor, but my working-class parents were frugal.)

Has anyone else grown up as a hand-me-down gamer?  What other tactics do broke gamers use to access their hobby?