A Quill Pen


Hacker's Law: The belief that enhanced understanding will necessarily stir a nation to action is one of mankind's oldest illusions.
--from the net

Ta-dah! I'm up to double digits -- a small step for most contributors, but a giant step for me! This zine I'm doing some catch-up.

I was in such a rush at the end of the semester to get my zine in soonest (and hopefully make deadline!) that I'd like to take a moment to do a bit of review.

First, I'd like to personally thank folks who helped me with the paper I wrote on gaming for my anthro class. To Chris Aylott, David Dickie, David Dunham, Virgil S. Greene, David "Dobie" Hoberman, Pete Maranci, Elizabeth McCoy, Dale Meier, George Phillies, and Rich Staats, my sincerest thanks for permission to use your words and ideas. I hope you found the paper at the very least amusing.

To George MacDonald, Scott Ruggels, and Bob Simpson, who patiently answered far too many badgering questions and put up magnificently with my nervous crankiness at end of semester, my sincerest apologies -- I'm getting better, guys! No, really! Stop laughing! ;-)

To Marc Willner, who brought over his entire collection of Interregnums at very short notice after my frantic phone call telling him I couldn't find any of mine in the welter of moving boxes: you saved my life! :-)

And now, another apology. I'm afraid there's a real tendency, in school, to use the most complicated and tangled vocabulary one can find, in order to sound more er-yoo-dite to one's professors.

I wrote my paper accordingly, and then (after the quarter was over) rushed it off to Interregnum as quickly as possible. However, according to George, Bob, and Scott, my paper was not written in normal human being speech, but rather in academia nut speech. A little explanation would be not only courteous, but (according to them) de rigeur!

So for those who now believe I'm intellectually incomprehensible and linguistically snobbish, I assure you it's only one of many masks I wear -- I can also talk like a real human being on occasion. No, really. However, if you didn't care for the paper that much, feel free to skip to the next large header. :-)

Vicarious Living: Gaming as Counter-Hegemonic Subculture.

I chose the title I did due to the professor's request for a "snappy title." The theme of the paper (which I'm not sure I expressed adequately, to be brutally honest) was a short ethnography of gaming, as it was expressed through two theoretical approaches.

The first was "Hegemony: ideology, dominant/popular sensibility, distinctions and hierarchy." The second was "Inflections of power: class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, colonialism, etc."

Or at least it was supposed to be. Upon re-reading, I'm beginning to feel it slid more into "'Practices of Everyday Life': secondary production of meaning, micropolitics of everyday life."


'Hegemony' is a concept first expressed by a man named Gramsci. He wrote his theories down on scraps of paper while he was in prison, during Mussolini's time in power. I suspect one of the reasons his concept of 'hegemony' is so popular is that it's both complicated and variable -- Gramsci himself wasn't as clear as he could have been.

However, we should cut poor Mr. Gramsci some slack -- he was, after all, writing down a brilliant theory in the dark, at the same time he was being beaten, starved, and possibly tortured. I think we can forgive him the occasional lapse in lucidity in his writing.

'Hegemony' in a large and sloppy nutshell could be expressed as follows:

[the extension of] political predominance between states to relations between social classes...

[I]t is not limited to matters of direct political control but seeks to describe a more general predominance which includes, as one of its key features, a particular way of seeing the world and human nature and relationships.

It is different in this sense from the notion of 'world-view,' in that the ways of seeing the world and ourselves and others are not just intellectual but political facts, expressed over a range from institutions to relationships and consciousness.

It is also different from Ideology (q.v.) in that it is seen to depend for its hold not only on its expression of the interests of a ruling class but also on its acceptance as 'normal reality' or 'commonsense' by those in practice subordinated to it.

It thus affects thinking about revolution (q.v.) in that it stresses not only the transfer of political or economic power, but the overthrow of a specific hegemony: that is to say an integral form of class rule which exists not only in political and economic institutions and relationships but also in active forms of experience and consciousness.

This can only be done, it is argued, by creating an alternative hegemony -- a new predominant practice and consciousness. ...

[T]he hegemonic has come to include cultural as well as political and economic factors; it is distinct, in this sense, from the alternative idea of an economic base and a political and cultural superstructure, where as the base changes the superstructure is changed, with whatever degree of indirectness or delay.

The idea of hegemony, in its wide sense, is then especially important in societies in which electoral politics and public opinion are significant factors, and in which social practice is seen to depend on consent to certain dominant ideas which in fact express the needs of a dominant class. ...

[T]he struggle for hegemony is seen as a necessary or as the decisive factor in radical chance of any kind, including many kinds of change in the base. (Keywords, R. Williams, 1983)


Whew! Sorry, I know that's a mouthful, but I wanted to be sure I had it right... so I went to the source.

Thus Gramsci was trying to express a counter-hegemonic to the dominant hegemonic ideals of Mussolini's fascism. For a blatant and more modern example, the Libertarians are expressing a counter-hegemonic ideal here. This is taken from the Libertarian FAQ at http://www.libertarian.org/libfaq.html:

Why do libertarians want to repeal regulations on sex by consenting adults?

Nothing is more personal than the way people chose to shape their sexual relationships. Government has no business intruding into people's bedrooms.

This doesn't mean we must personally approve of the sexual behaviors of others. It simply means that as long as the participants are consenting adults, no one has the right to use the force of government laws to try to stop or punish them.

There is no justification for throwing peaceful Americans in jail because of their sexual choices. Let's respect people's right to control their own bodies.

Does this apply to prostitution also?

Every day millions of adult Americans agree to make love. There is no justification for throwing them in jail. These are peaceful voluntary agreements between consenting adults. A tiny fraction of these involve money.

Criminal penalties do not stop prostitution. They just create real problems. One study showed it costs taxpayers two thousand dollars every time a prostitute is arrested. Let's respect people's right to control their own bodies.

Decriminalize sex, and let it be a private affair.

In a much smaller and more personal sense, I could say that every time I game I am expressing my belief that the modern society I live in is not beautiful or imaginative or wondrous enough; that I believe, through imagination and trying to make my dreams come true, I can figure out a way to make it better.

A sort of perception of this was seen in the IR discussion group regarding utopian societies -- we, as gamers, are willing to look at what we have today, and try to figure out how to make it better.

Hopefully this helps to explain the title.

The introduction discusses a book by Hebdige which was recently (late '70s, I think) written on the English punk music scene. In it he discusses subcultural 'style' (in this case mostly the punks) as a visual statement of both the beliefs of the subculture and the sense of identity with that particular subculture.

He also discusses how the mainstream culture tends to make a frightening and non-understood subculture acceptable by assimilating it, whether by consumerism (as in make-up and clothing specifically designed to give you that 'punk' look) or by sympathetic media coverage (as in the stories about the mothers of punks).

The book's a slim little volume, but a fascinating read if you're interested in subcultures... well worth the short amount of time it takes to read it.

Let's see, what else did I say... ah.

'[G]aming is a mediated response by its members to the banality of everyday life' is a fluffy way of saying gamers use their imaginations when they're bored. :-)


'Radway's romance readers' refer to a book written by a woman who wondered what romance readers saw in the stories. She'd read all kinds of treatises about what the stories meant to the people that wrote them, printed them, published them, read them... all from the point of view of the scholar. No one had tried actually asking the readers why they read that genre so avidly.

Radway did -- her book is fascinating. I recommend it for a sympathetic portrayal of both the genre and the people that read it, even though neither she nor I enjoy the genre.

Later in the paper I mention Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self. I cannot recommend the book wholeheartedly, unfortunately. It was written in the early 50s, and contains some attitudes I consider disturbingly archaic; most notably his attitudes about women and blacks.

However, he does make some valid points about how people both present themselves to others, and how those presentations are viewed. The phrase 'dramaturgical discipline' refers to the ability to insist on the presentation one wishes to present to the public, even in the face of occurrences or facts to the contrary.

To use a somewhat biased example, when I wrote about presenting gaming sympathetically to the woman who came into the store I managed, I was maintaining dramaturgical discipline in regards to gaming, despite her initial disbelief.

And now the conclusion. All this quote means:

Instead of commodities they reposition and recontextualize ideas; their "significant difference" is not visual but mental (Hebdige 1987). Inflections of power are not opposed directly, but rather resisted through a symbolically rich discourse of alternative social possibilities within each created game world.

-is that punks take things and use them in odd ways to make a statement which (heavily simplified) says the current way things are done isn't necessarily the best or only way they can be done. An example is punk males who paint their faces and wear high heels and fish-net stockings in a deliberately gender confusing manner. They also tend to do this in the most aggressively 'in your face' way they can.

Gamers, on the other hand, make their statements with and about ideas, and do it within their games, e.g., a GM creating what he or she believes would be a utopian society living next to something close to our own, admittedly imperfect society, within the game.

Finally, gamers tend to not be quite so 'in-your-face.' You'd never see the GM's utopian society, for example, unless you were in the game.

Hope this helped some -- if anyone's got any questions or comments, feel free to either e-mail me, or ask me in your zine.

And Now a Note from Real Life...

There are those of you that may remember a fun (well, I thought it was amusing!) bit I did in TWH, in "Peaceable Demeanor #8." It concerned an impromptu and light-hearted poll to see if Modesty Blaze's technique of stripping to the waist to distract guards would work today.

I'm going to reprint part of it, to be clear. Bear with me, there is indeed method to my madness... :-)

I've read some of the Modesty Blaze books. The stripped-to-the-waist technique wouldn't, IMHO, work well today for a couple of reasons. One, it's a known technique -- known techniques get opposing tactics developed. ...

Similarly, if the guards were used to women with nothing on above the waist, they wouldn't freeze. This does lead to the interesting proposition that a further development on Modesty's technique would be to enter the room with nothing at all on -- oops, sorry, my post-adolescent prurience just got ahold of me!

Two, the technique works best on men. What happens when our heroine enters the room, finds it has a few women guards along with the customary men, and is mown down with berserk speed? Obviously, someone was jealous. :-)

Finally, I find it hard to believe that men are so completely slaves to their hormones. How about it, guys?

You're supposed to be guarding a dangerous prisoner/super-secret base/weapon with which to conquer the world, and you're waaaay out in the middle of nowhere. You're possibly a little nervous about this already, and suddenly this half-naked woman, who must have gotten past the guards on duty somehow, wanders into the off-duty room.

Do you really freeze, wondering if that course you took in auto mechanics in community college will enable you to repair her car, so that she'll be so grateful she'll take the rest of her clothes off for you?

You would?! Can I have your phone number? I've got some beach front land for sale in Texas -- no, Florida, yeah, Florida, that's the ticket! One of those! :-)

Okay, time for another heavily structured and scientifically accurate survey for TWH ! :-)

Our survey respondents are several male player friends of mine. The question: see above, sans possible reaction. Our responses so far:

  1. This is a joke, right? Who sneaked the hooker past the guards?
  2. A Babe! Eeexcellent!
  3. Where's my gun?
  4. Huh. Somebody must have just gotten finished having a lot of fun. Guess they didn't know I was here.
  5. HUH?!!
  6. What's going on? (spoken rather plaintively)
  7. Now that's not something you see everyday, Chauncy.
  8. I don't think you belong in here. (spoken rather warily)

Response #6 was actually the player's second response. The first reaction was "Oh, a Modesty Blaze shtick. Now we're all going to get shot in the back by Willie Garvin!"

*sigh* Oh, well. I guess all you guys (but two and a half!) probably get shot. :-) I must admit, I really enjoyed #'s 4 and 7!

On the other hand, some of my respondents had some very good points. For example: where are our guards on the scale of competence? Are they rent-a-cops, or are they trained elite assassins?

If they're on the high end of the scale, a stranger walking through the door is in serious trouble. Poor Modesty's going to be pushing up daisies!

Also, whoever comes through that door will get the attention of the people in the room. The reason Modesty's ploy worked wasn't completely because she'd taken her top off. It was because Willie Garvin had worked his way around behind the guards, and the guards were in a crossfire.

It's not so much that a bare-breasted woman is coming through the door, as that something both attention-grabbing, and non-threatening, is there. Non-threatening seemed to be the most important part of my respondent's thought-patterns.

The object in question occupies people's attention, hopefully long enough for Willie to kill them all. For all the effect it has, you could send in an injured man, or even Fluffy the Poodle!

Finally, you have to consider the reason these books were written. They were titillation for "our boys" over in Viet Nam. They aren't supposed to make sense! If Willie Garvin can work his way around them, why are Modesty and Willie taking the time to kill all the guards?

What's wrong with gas grenades? Why does Modesty tend to fight in the semi-nude in a scenario where a flack jacket would make much more sense? Why doesn't Willie smear himself in catsup, clutch his chest, stagger into the guardroom, and collapse on the floor, gasping, "Help me!" to distract the guards?

It's so that there's a scene in each book where Modesty takes off her clothes!

Well! That was amusing, and totally unrelated to most gaming. Sorry! Couldn't resist (much)! :-)

Okay, now that you've suffered through that, here's your reward... sorta... this is off the net.

According to French news reports, a roving female bank robber in France has the following modus operandi:

  1. She only picks men bank tellers.
  2. She then produces a gun indicating it is a holdup.
  3. After the teller hands over the money she unbuttons her blouse, exposing her breasts, then departs, leaving a stunned teller.

Police questioning her latest victim were dismayed to find the teller could not even vaguely remember his assailant's face enough to give any kind of accurate description.

However he was quoted as saying, "I can't remember her face but I will remember those breasts till my dying day. They were absolutely magnificent."

It seems all of the witnesses interviewed from the total 16 robberies to date could give descriptions of her anatomy down to the most minute detail. All except for her face. It seems at last report she is still at large.

So maybe our Modesty might make it after all! :-)

That's it for now -- I want to make deadline!