Something something lyrics linkspam

What lies beneath: Sydney gets the southern hemisphere’s first body farm Australia

We Need To Talk About Fairy Bread – Please note that Stephanie has chosen to take “you can’t gentrify fairy bread” as a challenge. But also, what counts as gentrification? As a lower-middle-class person from Perth’s dodgy suburbs, is it gentrification if I take my favourite childhood snack and change it up?

The Future’s Been Here Since 1939: Female Fans, Cosplay and Conventions

Favourite pieces from this weeks’ AusPol: Abbott coins “doing an Abbott” to mean making a mistake; on the impacts of Sir Prince Phillip; on Adam Giles and the NT.

New site Future Black, decolonising design in Australia’s built environment.

One for stationery nerds and people with Khe Sanh earworms: The illustrious history of the yellow legal pad

The article title is misleading, but about how talk of Polyamory is white, when Polyamory isn’t. (Surpriiiise)

MAPS of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Notes on the Melbourne Free Trams. We were just going to link this with no commentary, but it turns out Steph has some feelings. The entirety of the City of Perth is a Free Transit Zone (FTZ, for those from Perth), and it a) takes in a huge chunk of the tourist attractions, and b) is used a lot by workers who drive to work, and then would ordinarily take taxis or cars between meetings at different ends of the CBD. The FTZ and the ubiquity of the buses, as well as the existence of the Cats (buses that exist solely to do laps of different sections of the CBD), means they do get used. And don’t end up with the overcrowding issue that Melbourne’s CBD trams were already experiencing. I don’t have a solution, I’m just saying.

Attitude round-up

Last year, the ABC axed RampUp, its excellent site for discussion around disability.  A short time later, comedian/writer/disability advocate/all around hero Stella Young passed away.

That quote, ‘the only disability in life is a bad attitude’, the reason that’s bullshit is … No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille. – Stella Young

Now, the ABC is airing New Zealand show Attitude, a series of short documentaries about people with disabilities.  There is also also a crowdfunding project for an Australian version.

Unfortunately, Attitude doesn’t seem interested in prioritising the experiences and views of people with disabilities.  Here’s a round-up of posts about why it’s not great.

The problem with ABC’s new disability series, “Attitude”

Disability voices have to be heard to change attitudes

Disability media and Attitude TV — Carly Findlay discusses her hopes for the Australian version

Attitude series and the power and responsibility of portraying disability on mainstream TV

More favourable:

Graeme Innes, formerly Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, writes in favour of Attitude.  

I respect Innes a lot, but I strongly resent that Attitude seems to be entirely aimed at an able-bodied audience.

A different kind of attitude

(note: this post talks a lot about the so-called third world, and basically trades disability inspiration porn for poverty inspiration porn)

For my part, the whole concept of “attitude” is fraught.  My rheumatologist constantly praises me for improving my chronic conditions by having a good attitude, and it makes me quite uncomfortable.  It’s easy to exercise and practice self-care when you have a full-time job, a functional bike and access to an affordable public swimming pool.

And it’s distressing to realise that you’re being classified as a Good Patient just because you have these advantages — while, for example, your mother is classified as a Bad Patient because she has no energy to exercise, no access to a pool, and the public rheumatologist who sees her intermittently assumed she was an alcoholic.  (She’s a teetotaller.)

And I don’t even have that great an attitude.  “Yes, I have multiple chronic illnesses.  It’s very dull.  Let’s get on with it.”  That’s me on a good day.  In a bad week, I can and will bore everyone I know with my incessant complaints about being in pain — but my rheumatologist doesn’t see that.

Adam Baldwin/Supanova/GamerGate round-up

Adam Baldwin is an actor, best known for Firefly, who also holds some very conservative opinions, coined the term “GamerGate”, and facilitated the doxxing of game developer Zoe Quinn.  Here’s a handy round-up of his behaviour.

Supanova is one of the very few pop culture expos in Australia. Adam Baldwin will be a guest at the Sydney and Perth events in June. Suffice to say, lots of people are unhappy about this.  There is a petition to revoke his invitation.  (You should sign it!)

People discussing the matter have been doxxed, abused, driven from their preferred social media platforms, and generally treated badly.  (Liz got off lucky with some rather tedious mansplaining.  Nice try, guys, but I work with lawyers.)

Supanova, meanwhile, has engaged in some epic fence-sitting, also some general rudeness, also tried to manipulate a feminist comedian into supporting them. (The original article, published in Fairfax’s Daily Life, has been removed; the link is to an archived version.)

A summary.

The thing is, this isn’t about Baldwin’s politics.  Hell, Star Trek: Voyager‘s Roxanne Dawson quotes Bill O’Reilly on her Twitter, but I wouldn’t say she’d be an inappropriate guest at a nerd convention.  It’s Baldwin’s behaviour, and that of the people he supports, that’s the problem here.

As a small, fat, feminine and female nerd, I would not feel safe at an event as attractive to misogynist bullies as Supanova with Baldwin as a guest.  And I wouldn’t want to give money to a company that engineers that situation.

Baldwin himself is easy to ignore and avoid — I’ve attended a whole lot of Supanovas, and accidentally encountered a guest once. But the men he attracts?  Most are just keyboard warriors, mired in self-hatred, lashing out at women to compensate for their problems.  But as Brianna Wu’s experience would attest, some are dangerous.  And Baldwin feeds them. That’s why I don’t want Adam Baldwin to be a paid guest at Supanova.

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Mass Effect 3 and Australian border protection policy

Front Desk Log

Civilian processing ratios:
Adults, 60% sent to integration
Children, 85% sent to integration

Suitable candidates are being assigned temporary living areas in alphabetical order. Family units are being preserved for ease of processing.

B.

Last year, as Continuum drew nigh, I promised myself that when the convention was over, I’d give myself time to play Mass Effect.  Lots of my friends were into it, and it seemed like a pretty cool game.  Now, almost exactly a year later, I’ve completed my first play-through of Mass Effect 3.

It was an uncomfortable game.  Not just because I knew that the [infamously unsatisfying] end was nigh, and not just because the writing seemed less layered and interesting than the first two games.  (That’s not just my imagination, right?  There seemed to be a lot of points where your choices in previous games, like the identity of the human Councillor, was disregarded.  And there were less background conversations than there used to be, although I adored the two [female] soldiers standing guard outside the war room, bitching about the state of the universe.)

In ME3, the galaxy is at war.  The legendary Reapers are seeking to destroy all sentient life, and few places are safe.  And where there is war, there are refugees.  The game is full of displaced persons.  Those with particular skills are recruited to work on an anti-doomsday device, the worst-kept secret in the universe.  (“If your government happened to be working on a secret project…”)  The rest wind up in refugee camps, the most visible of which is a holding area in the Citadel docks.

The Citadel is the political and cultural centre of the galaxy, a millennia-old space station of immense power and beauty.  Through the trilogy, we meet its underprivileged, but not like this.  Over the course of ME3, the refugee camp grows increasingly crowded, its residents increasingly despairing.  Armed guards stand at the entrance.  Characters talk disapprovingly of the way the Citadel pretends the refugees, and the war, don’t exist.  The refugees themselves are humanised — if you can use that word for such a diverse group of species* — in various ways:  a girl waits for her parents to arrive; a human man with a French accent tries to make conversation with an alien who doesn’t want to talk.

The recurring idea here is that a society which mistreats refugees is inherently sick.  For an Australian, with our policy of locking refugees in concentration camps, which are increasingly being moved out of the country into whichever poverty-stricken nation can be persuaded to take them, this is stark stuff.  I had to take a break from the game for a couple of weeks, because it was getting politics in my escapism, and I was tired.

Late in the game, we visit the planet of Horizon, a human colony first established in Mass Effect 2.  There, it was a pleasant little planet targeted by the Collectors, aliens who are using human genetic material to create an abomination.  Now, it’s the home of Sanctuary, a haven for refugees.

We know from the start that there’s something very wrong about Sanctuary.  It appears to have been infiltrated by Cerberus, a terrorist organisation that’s pro-human the way Tony Abbott is pro-conservation.  On arrival, refugees are ordered to discard any communication devices.  (On arrival in Australia, asylum seekers who arrive by boat often have phones, satnavs and even their medicine confiscated and destroyed.)  Datapads indicate that refugees volunteered to man the reception area in exchange for the promise of better accommodation.  The facility is full of dead Cerberus soldiers, and dead Reapers.

As we progress through the compound, we learn two things:  the facility was run by Henry Lawson (voiced by Alan Dale), an Australian businessman obsessed with creating a genetic dynasty.  His “daughter” — actually a clone with a doubled X chromosome — Miranda was a team mate in Mass Effect 2, voiced by Yvonne Strahovski with the accent of a posh Sydney private school girl.  And Henry Lawson was working with Cerberus to continue the work of the Collectors, using human DNA to create monsters and, eventually, they hope, control the Reapers.

Miranda Lawson, CGI white human female, very pretty, wielding biotic powers in a pose that coincidentally draws attention to her vulva. Hey, at least she's fully dressed!
I love Miranda a whole lot, but let’s all take a moment to cringe at (a) her costume and (b) this pose.

Progress Update

Rejected subjects have proven useful for preliminary genetic testing. The death rate is 100% of course, but the data being gathered is critical to improving subsequent testing on viable subjects.

A society which mistreats refugees is inherently sick.  And isn’t it interesting that this false haven for refugees is run by an Australian?

Mass Effect 3 was released in 2012, well after Australia’s policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers was entrenched.  I don’t know if the echoes here were intentional, but I somewhat doubt it — the franchise seems pretty apolitical in real life terms, and putting Henry Lawson in charge of the facility is just taking advantage of an existing yet heretofore unseen antagonist.  But it’s interesting, and a bit chilling.  They got politics in my escapism, and the effect is thoroughly disquieting.

*  “‘Human rights’.  The very term is racist.” – Azetbur, the original Klingon social justice warrior, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Pax Australia: A girl-friendly perspective

Last weekend marked the inaugural Australian Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), a gaming and gaming culture convention that has been running in the US since 2004.

Now, I don’t self-identify as a gamer because, uhhm, I’m afraid I’ll be called a fake geek girl.  THERE, I SAID IT.  I loved Portal and Portal 2, I’m onto my second play-through of Mass Effect and I have the next two ME games queued up and waiting, and I have a copy of Dragon Age around here somewhere.  And I’m great at Bejewelled.

But for the longest time I didn’t play games at all, because I grew up in a house without consoles (or handheld devices, or even, until I was 16, a PC), and by the time I reached adulthood I was quite convinced that games were hard, and I was bad at them, and therefore gaming would not be a fun way to spend my time.  Also, gaming culture looks pretty toxic from the outside.

What I’ve discovered in the last couple of years is that difficulty settings can be adjusted, I’m not inherently bad at games, and gaming culture is in fact pretty toxic.

A lot of that toxicity seems to be both reflected and perpetuated by Penny Arcade.  I first heard of them when the Dickwolves issue erupted.  This Tumblr post documents general Penny Arcade issues in detail, with a timeline that goes up to 2013.  A lot of the problems seem to stem from the fact that PA has evolved from a fannish outlet to something more professional, without a corresponding development of professional behaviour.  This seems to happen a lot in nerddom, and understandably so — it’s really hard to step back and go, “Hey, my hobby has turned into something bigger and suddenly I’m speaking for a community.”

Problems started to develop around PAX Australia when a panel was announced with the following blurb:

Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist. It’s gone too far and when will it all end?

That came out just a couple of weeks after I programmed Continuum, and I was deeply impressed at how it represented everything I had tried to avoid.

Panellists and companies started pulling out in protest, including the Fullbright Company (whose upcoming game, Gone Home, by the way, sounds amazing and I am going to play it so hard).  

Mere days after the program was released, a senior Penny Arcade spokesman made a series of transphobic comments, some of which came under the banner of “some of my best friends are trans”.

Ben McKenzie blogs eloquently here about the issues he had with PAX and the reasons he and Pop Up Playground pulled out of the con.

A bunch of my friends and acquaintances made it to PAX Australia, though, and Steph and I put out a call for a con report that we could share on No Award.  The excellent Tole responded, and I think she gives an interesting and useful review of PAX Australia.

Pax Australia 2013 – A Girl Friendly Perspective

Tole

Penny Arcade Expo, usually referred to as PAX, is an annual American gaming expo from the creators of the Penny Arcade comic.  PAX attracts a very loyal fan base, because of its focus on community.  They do have a expo hall where the various companies show off their games, but they also have an extensive board game library, an impressive collection of vintage consoles, and a whole swarm of PCs and modern consoles set up for people to play.  This makes it different from both standard fan-run and commercial conventions, but if you go with people you know, or can overcome any social reticence, it can be a pretty rewarding experience.

The first PAX Australia drew two main criticisms that I heard about.  The first critique was the queues for the major panels.  Personally, I didn’t even try and attend any panels because I expect the queues to be ridiculous.  However since many Australian fans may not have even heard about things like San Diego Comic Con this might come as a bit of a shock.  

[Liz here!  Even those of us who have heard of SDCC might have trouble getting our heads around the queuing involved there.  I presume no one at PAX was starting to queue at 1 in the morning to ensure a place in a panel, as a couple of friends of mine did at SDCC.  Australian media cons in general don’t have a huge panel culture, and a lot of people might have been taken by surprise by the demand.]

In general, the lines were handled very well.  They had a specific room for people to queue in, they had a specific twitter account set up to warn people when queues were nearing capacity, and they mostly told people when they wouldn’t make it into a panel because a queue was too long.  I think the fact that there were times where people waited in queues for over an hour and then didn’t get into panels is pretty unfortunate.  

When confronted with the issue in a Q & A, Mike and Jerry’s answer was that they chose Melbourne because it had larger venues to expand into, that their first con in every city had been small, and that they thought it would be less of an issue next year.   

The second issue was the booth babes, models that are hired to stand around not wearing much and enticing male gamers to visit their stands.  I attended PAX with a pretty naive male friend, and even he was insulted by this concept when I explained it to him.  The salt in the wound of the booth babes’ presence was that this is something that PAX have been trying to combat, and that gamers were assured PAX Australia would not feature booth babes.  Yet the Sennheiser booth had fake cops and a booth where you could take photos with them, and the World of Tanks booths had women in short army uniforms over leggings.  

When asked about this Mike and Jerry said that it’s something the large exhibitors just do by default.  When told not to, they think it’s a joke and when the models turn up and are asked to put some clothes on they are surprised.  

I think what happened in this particular situation is that the exhibitors listened to the letter not the spirit of the request.  Technically, neither set of girls were wearing revealing clothing.  The World of Tanks at least gets some points for having their girls in uniforms that matched the theme of their game, but the Sennheiser girls were pretty offensive not just for the concept that had nothing to do with games, but for actively approaching male gamers and encouraging them to take pictures.  It was all extremely icky, and I think that most people felt that way, so I’m hoping it generated enough bad press for Sennheiser that they learn their lesson.  

[An interjection from Liz: we use Sennheiser headphones in my office, and I’ve been side-eyeing my own desk ever since I read this!]

Apart from that, there wasn’t anything that made me feel uncomfortable as a girl.  There were plenty of other girls around everywhere, not a majority, but enough that I didn’t feel out of place.  There were plenty of female cosplayers, some in revealing outfits, and I didn’t hear stories about any of them having problems.  I really hope this is because it didn’t happen, rather than because they didn’t talk about it, but I guess you can never really know.  

I didn’t notice a lot of people from non-Caucasian backgrounds, and while there were a few wheelchair users present, the number of displays that featured computers on standing desks meant the expo hall part of the convention, at least, wasn’t actually accessible.  

The games being displayed were fairly gender neutral.  I didn’t see anything being branded as boy games or girl games except for some sort of comment about ‘manning up’ during the Xbox panel.  I think Riot deserve a mention for featuring both a boy character and a girl character on each of the five designs of promotional lanyards they gave away, because small details like that are what make me really happy.  

[Another interjection from Liz: my new hobby is bemoaning the absence of fem!Shep from any Mass Effect marketing material, so that is quite pleasing.]

There were two games that I noticed as having memorable female characters (apologies if there were other that don’t come to mind right now).  The first is Ninja Pizza Girl by Disparity games.  Somewhat inspired by Mirror’s Edge (without the frustrating bits), it’s a game with a kick-arse female protagonist who runs and jumps her way across buildings to hand deliver pizza.  With witty dialogue, and a message of ‘It’s okay to speak up when someone is making you uncomfortable’ I think it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The other game is Freedom Fall by Stirfire Studios, where the antagonist is a princess who hates princessey things and instead loves dragons and designing diabolical traps.  A really interesting down-scrolling platform game with the story told through messages left on the walls.  It’s a pretty tough game, but nice to see girls that don’t have to be girlie all the time, and don’t completely reject their feminine side either.

*

Massive thanks to Nicole for her write-up!  I have to admit that I’m glad to hear that the actual event itself was better than the build-up promised.  I hope that future PAX events aren’t accompanied by pre-con fail, because Penny Arcade is effectively a cultural leader in gaming, and a more inclusive, less *ist and *phobic community is something gaming badly needs.