Monday, November 17, 2014

Everyone's Allowed To Play

As a casual gamer, and not someone terribly interested in broader social issues in entertainment, I'm something of a bystander when it comes when it comes to questions about diversity in gaming. And as someone without much of a stake in the issue, I tend to take what strikes me as the simple view on things. People play games, and to a certain extent, write games, in order to imagine themselves in other places, times and circumstances. And given that games tend to reflect people's imaginations, they are only as diverse as their imaginations are. And most people have very limited imaginations.

Now, where exactly the limits are is open to debate. Some people blame creators for not stepping outside of their own limits, and some people blame audiences for not being open to including people unlike them in their fantasies. For me, the blame game is secondary.

What we need are more people, telling more stories. My conceptualization of a near future science-fiction setting where humanity has colonized the Solar System has a metric truckload of Asians in it. Why? Because China and India are really populous places, and they are unlikely to be left out of the land grab that moving into space would entail. If you assume a breakdown of national borders in space, you can pretty much rest assured that there will be Chinese and Indians just about everywhere you go, and Mandarin and Hindi will be spoken everywhere. So it strikes me as realistic that humanity in space would look much different then suburban America. But if I want this near future science-fiction game (or any science-fiction game where the majority of humans come from the Earth as we understand it today) to come to fruition - then I should write one, and make it clear to any artists I commission what my expectations are. And then I put it out there, and see if it swims. In the same vein, if I want to see a game where roles for Africans and African-Americans don't come across as tokens, then I should write that, and put it out there. If people appreciate it, they'll buy it.

If I write a good game, people aren't really going to care about what origins I give the sample characters, or what ethnicities are represented in the in-game fiction. They might have some appreciation of it, but it's unlikely to directly drive sales. But if people are going to insist on Space Suburbia or the carefully crafted focus-group "multiculturalism" of TV dramas, then I should expect that's what people are going to make - because at the end of the day, making games in a business, and business is about taking someone else's money and making it your money by providing them with a good or service that they're willing to pay for.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Social contracts made between entities of unequal power are always tricky, and they become even more so when the terms of the agreement don't really have a one-to-one mapping with the interests of one or both parties.

The social contract that "low skilled" workers of the baby boom generation thought that they were entering into seems to have gone something like this: "In return for labor and loyalty to the company's interests, the company will in turn take care of the workforce." And on a greater level, another agreement could be characterized as: "Work hard, play by the rules, and everything will be okay going forward." This arrangement worked well for some time. But as society changed, the companies (or rather, the people running them) found that their interests were no longer being served by that arrangement. There is always a danger, when one makes a commitment, that future circumstances will conspire to render either party unable or unwilling to live up to that commitment. And since the primary interest of any for-profit enterprise is (unsurprisingly) profits, as the opportunity to increase profits by moving jobs outside the company and/or outside the country presented itself, there was pressure from those people who stood to gain the most from increased profitability to take advantage of those opportunities.

A company here or a factory there doesn't make a national crisis. But when the greater society decided wholesale that the old agreement wasn't cutting it anymore, people started running into trouble in large numbers. Lacking any real leverage other than the social contract itself, they had no way of punishing organizations that reneged on the agreed-upon terms. Meanwhile, those above them on the social ladder, the college-educated professional class and knowledge workers, were too busy pressing for more cost cutting (in the name of making it easier for them to purchase their way into the appearance of affluence) or (although quite often, and) sneering unsympathetically at people who they chose to characterize as lazy and/or stupid - in any event, not as worthy as themselves.

The sending of jobs outside of borders can be a boon to a society, so long as the driving force is to shed those jobs that are "wasting" a portion of the workforce that would otherwise be available for "bigger and better" things. But often, the idea is to simply find poorer people to do the work, relying on more abject poverty, a relative difference in standards of living (or both) to lower prices, while at the same time capturing the difference, rather than passing it on to customers.

The Paradox of Thrift can be summed up quite simply - an economy that depends on a certain velocity of money suffers when enough people begin to hoard wealth, and even though individuals help themselves through such hoarding, the reduction or even cessation of income (due to others' hoarding) means that all but the independently wealthy eventually starve.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Or Pay Me Later

I'm of the opinion that government governs best that is the most governed by the people it would seek to govern. That is the public oversight of government is an essential part of good governance. I've made my point about Good Shepherds, and the fact that they eat mutton and wear wool, but I would add to that that Shepherds tend to see themselves as indispensable to their flocks, but may not see the flock as indispensable to them.

But exercising oversight over government is difficult, especially when we want the government to be able to keep secrets on our behalf, or to be free to act against people who make us angry or frightened. It's like spending the money up-front to have something done well - even though it pays off in the end, the very fact that it limits later problems works against it. And so we don't do it - even though we know how that's going to work out.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Audience Participation

Went to a digital photography expo put on by a local camera store, and sat in on the "Mastering Your Indoor Lighting" class taught by James Schmelzer. At one point, he asked a young woman from the audience to help him show technique, as she had a different skin tone than the model who was helping him out.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Brother, Can You Spare a Five?


In the past roughly 6 months leading up to Tuesday's elections, I have received roughly 800 unsolicited political e-mail messages, sometimes as many as 30 in a day, almost all of them asking me for money. And this does not count those e-mails which wound up in my Junk folder. By the way, the fact that the election is over has not halted the e-mails.

The number of e-mails that I have received from this Borowitz guy, or anyone claiming to be associated with him, to raise money for schools or roads? 0.

If he wants to be pissed off about how people are contributing and/or spending their money, he's welcome to. But I honestly feel that he, his followers, or whoever else is posting these pictures would be better served by starting an organization and doing some fundraising themselves.

One thing that I have noticed about political fundraisers - they do not give up. The fact that I have ignored their appeals for money for literally *years* has not convinced them to quit spamming my inbox with "one last request" for $5. (And yes, a lot of them ask for no more than $5.) They have even taken to common tactics used by spammers in an attempt to get past spam filters. (Why haven't I blacklisted them? Because I'm actually noting how the pitches change over time, and general rate of diffusion of my name and e-mail address to different campaigns.)

If the $5 that I'm constantly being pestered to donate in the name of partisan politics is better spent on a road somewhere or a school that I don't have a child to send to, you wouldn't know it from the contents of my inbox. Someone has decided that it's worth a fair amount of effort and money to work to convince me to invest in politics.

And you know what they say - if you can't beat them, join them.