In mid-February 2020, the community room at the library was festooned in red and yellow for our Chinese New Year event. There were crafts like paper lanterns and koi kites, games like Majong and Chinese checkers, traditional lunar new year treats like sunflower seeds and dates. There was even a calligraphy set for the kids to practice with. It was one of our biggest and most successful library events, and the first of many fun activities we had planned.
I had no idea it would be our last in-person library event for over a year.
Belief is a funny thing. It’s a word that gets tossed around in a lot of discussions, debates, and outright arguments without ever being properly defined. Granted, the idea of belief is a slippery concept to begin with, especially since it is so easily personalized and adapted to fit almost any mindset. In onset of the holiday season, combined with my recent read of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and rewatching Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, got me thinking about the nature of belief and its place in stories.
As someone who is trying to be a good skeptic and humanist, I’ve developed a weird, slightly uncomfortable relationship with stories about the importance of belief. I read and watch a lot of stories that emphasize how important it is to believe in something fantastic, even if there doesn’t seem to be a good reason or at least nothing solid. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt for not playing with my Barbies, dinosaurs, Hot Wheels cars, and My Little Ponies anymore, but I still won’t donate them. I feel like I’d be giving up on them, or that they would feel sad (never mind the fact that they’d probably prefer to be played with!)Dream a Little Dream by Piers Anthony and the film version of The Neverending Story feature worlds and characters whose very existence depends on being believed in by real people, especially children. If that belief fails, they don’t just die… they cease to exist. Being forgotten is worse than death. For someone with a highly active imagination, I think stories like this compounded a bunch of my weird neuroses (which thankfully got used to fuel writing rather than sending me to the loony bin. Although that could still happen…)
Why are we drawn to the past? Why do we love period pieces and costume dramas, especially relating to England? Why do we use the Georgian/Regency Era (1714-1830s) and Victorian Era (1840s-1900) as the setting for so many historical romances or as the building blocks of Steampunk? Why do I spend a great deal of my time with Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, William Garrow, and Sherlock Holmes? Continue reading “Enamored with Etiquette”→
There is a slightly frightening tendency to glorify war and battle. It’s a big part of fantasy and science fiction; we’re always waiting for the big battle between good and evil at the end. But what happens when we carry this thinking over into the real world? This us-versus-them mentality, the idea that we are the brave warriors fighting the good fight, is especially attractive if we perceive ourselves as the little Rebellion fighting against the giant evil Empire, or as Peeta and Katniss resisting the malicious Games of the Capital, or as the Alliance of Men and Elves standing against the destructive might of Sauron. Everyone loves the underdog.
That’s fine in fiction. I have nothing against battles in stories and frankly I enjoy them. Halo would be pretty boring without the Flood or the Covenant to fight. It’s when this mentality leaks into real life interactions that it concerns me. If you look at the language being passed around the internet these days, especially when it comes to politics, you’ll find buzzwords like “war,” “soldier,” “fight,” and “rebellion.” Even as the world becomes a safer place overall, the language has become far more violent and polarized. You’re either with us or against us; there is no in between. Continue reading “The Glory Illusion of War”→
In light of recent developments in the comic, gamer, and cosplay worlds, I’m doing a series of entries about “fake fans” and how established fandoms treat newcomers, women, and minorities. This entry is the Gamer Edition, wherein I focus on the gaming community. You can read the companion Comics Edition here.
How do you decide if someone is unworthy to be part of your fandom? How do you label someone a poser, a noob, or a fake? Whom do you invite into a fandom and why? Whom do you reject and why? What are the criteria to go from noob to knowledge-master? How does someone graduate from being a “fake geek girl/boy” or “fake fan” into a “true fan”? Is such a thing even possible?
I’m not sure if I want to write this entry. I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to write this entry. In the wake of #GamerGate, it’s become more obvious how dangerous it can be to be a woman online and have opinions. Especially if you are a woman involved in games, and particularly if you have some level of popularity. Granted, my profile is no where near as high as the targets of GamerGate, but the very fact that I’m nervous about posting this also makes me mad. I shouldn’t be afraid to have an opinion, provided I try to express it respectfully.
If you don’t know what GamerGate is, I’ve provided links below to various journals, news articles, and individual blogs that talk a lot more about it. To summarize, GamerGate is the outpouring of misogyny in the gaming world that people tend to ignore, disregard, or minimize. It is the systematic anonymous attempt to destroy women in gaming, be they game developers, journalists, critics, or just outspoken fans. This hate has spewed forth in a fashion that cannot be covered up or explained away (although lord knows that GamerGate tried.)
I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly. Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.” The previous entry on this topic is about the Scientist stereotype, which can be read here.
People have interesting ways of coping with scary things. Some deny their fear. Some avoid what frightens them. Some seek it out. And many people, often women, seem to be taking what should be scary and try to make it cute.
I’m talking about the “bad boys.”
There are so many villainous characters out there with cute, sorrowful, gentle, loving, or chibi-fied pictures of them out on the internet. Sometimes they are anti-heroes like Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z or Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes they are villains like Voldemort from Harry Potter or Loki from the Marvel Comics. Sometimes they are someone who flickers in between like Mr. Gold from Once Upon a Time. And sometimes they are like Alucard from the anime and manga Hellsing. Alucard is the opposite of cute. He’s one of, if not the most, badass, psychotic, murderous vampire in modern literature. He’s fucking terrifying. He’s murdered and drunk the blood of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, human and vampire, and enjoyed it. The only think that keeps him under control is the special spell that binds him to the will of the leader of the Hellsing Organization. And he’s one of the GOOD guys!
Constructing a new world filled with interesting climates, cultures, and characters is a lot of fun, but it also requires a great deal of work. There are so many details to attend to in order to keep everything fresh and interesting. One of those many details is the societal values of your various cultures.
This is something that has always been prevalent in sci-fi and fantasy, but it really didn’t hit me until I started playing Mass Effect. Each of the alien races have a certain defining characteristic, a societal value that defines them as a culture and/or species. For the turians, honor and responsibility. For the asari, it’s diplomacy and psychic awareness. For the salarians, it’s scientific achievement and espionage. For the krogan, battle and conquest. Granted, part of this distinctness comes from being nonhuman; many such races have an overarching characteristic that gives people a starting point in order to relate to them. But even human cultures and societies can have a defining value or values.
There is a great disturbance in the Force. Its name is Game of Thrones.
No, this is not another anti-Thrones rant, and no I haven’t watched or read beyond the first season and book of the series. Really, this isn’t about Game of Thrones. It’s about a trend in fantasy that I believe has come to a head.
For the first time, adult fantasy has really reached mainstream culture. Harry Potter paved the way, but that was initially a book series for kids. The fact that adults liked it too was a phenomenon all its own. But Game of Thrones never was intended for children, and HBO is definitely geared for a mature adult audience.
There are many things that disturb me about Game of Thrones, but it was really a discussion with a friend that got me thinking about why my reaction to it has ranged from apathetic to negative. One of the main selling points of Game of Thrones is its uncertainty. There is a lack of the clear-cut lines between friend and foe, antagonist and protagonist, to the point where you can’t really know who or what you’re rooting for, let alone what will happen next. Anyone could die at any time. To the show’s credit, I’ve heard that none of the deaths have been just for their shock value; there are repercussions and the characters have to deal with that. It’s a tight-woven web of realism and intrigue, something that really should appeal to me.
I recently read a book called iDisorder, which was recommended to me by my onii-san, David Greenshell. It’s about how the pervasive technology around us has encouraged the widespread development of behaviors that have the same symptoms as mental disorders, such as OCD, ADHD, addiction, narcissism, depression, and schizophrenia. I highly recommend it because so many behaviors that seem “normal” now in relation to technology maybe shouldn’t be granted an exemption from concern.
Before I go any father, let me just say that I am not a naysayer to technology. I have this blog, don’t I? I also have numerous accounts all over the web, I own a cell phone (not a SmartPhone, thank God), and I probably spend more time than I should on Facebook and Twitter. I suppose I am a little different from the majority of my generation because I do not have internet access at home, nor do I own a laptop, tablet, e-reader, or any other device that would allow me ubiquitous access to the world wide web. Sometimes this is frustrating, even inhibiting. It’s hard to look for, or even consider pursuing, an online job without a constant internet connection, and my friends can tell you just how furious I was to hear that Diablo 3 didn’t have an off-line option like its predecessors.