Hi, my name is Todd, and I am addicted to insipid commentaries.
I wish I was writing this commentary for Nerdy Raptor. If I was, it would be totally different from what it is going to be. You would be reading 1000 words on Ricardo Montalban—his exquisite monologue in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan leading to an iconic moment of cinema from my childhood, eclipsed only by Vader being Luke’s father; a second 1000 words about Benedict Cumberbatch—a love note to the bass in Cumberbatch’s voice that was ruined at the same moment Into Darkness was ruined, that god awful reactor scene. Sadly, this commentary isn’t about the character Khan Noonien Singh, but is instead about Juliet Khan whoring out her sister for the feminist sisterhood while demonstrating a total lack of understanding about videogames. It does make this scene from Wrath of Khan tangentially apropos.
A Wandering Mess
I have to admit, when it comes to Offworld my expectations fall into two categories: drunken rants and vapid narrative peddling. The Kahn commentary is most certainly the second category. Before we dig in, I’m going to say one nice thing about the commentary. There is no doubt in my mind the events described in this commentary happened. Juliet Kahn’s recounting of the conversation she has with sibling Khan is not made up for the purpose of bludgeoning the reader with baseless narrative, near as I can tell. Perfunctory compliments out of the way, here we go.
I suppose we should start with Juliet’s description of sibling Khan:
My sister is 17. She runs a One Direction fan Twitter with 10,000 followers. She plans to major in fashion marketing. She’s a cheerleader. She is as close as anyone can get to what gaming’s sweaty fever dreams envision, desire, and shame as “Girl.”
So, sibling Khan is an automaton. She undeniably, and incorrectly, conflates “popular” with “good,” which the author and sibling Khan share, and sibling Khan is going to pick a vocation that ends with a skill set useful for retail sales, Starbucks barista, and not much else.
Further, I’m not sure whose “sweaty fever dreams” Kahn is speaking of when she talks about envisioning “gamer girl.” I suppose those are the fever dreams of the hypothetical, hygiene deficient gaming convention goer Leigh Alexander regaled us all about when she kicked off the 2 Minutes Hate last August. Regardless, from the opening paragraph, we discover Juliet Kahn is a terrible sister—no one with a shred of a sense of family dignity just lets a sibling be a One Direction fan, let alone run a fan Twitter with 10k followers, unless they want that sibling to have no chance of eclipsing them in terms of success.
“Gamer Cred” of a Sort
Oh boy, it’s time for the obligatory gamer resume. “I have a Steam account. I have a favorite Soul Caliber title.” And? I bet Juliet Kahn has a favorite Star Trek movie, favorite episode of Big Bang Theory, or, indeed, favorite video game. I’ll also bet neither Kahn sister can form a coherent argument defending their choice beyond, “Because I like it.” This will be a recurring theme, because the chasm between the fake fan, fake geek, or fake gamer and the fan, geek, or gamer, regardless of gender—or any other intersectional divider—is the ability to make coherent arguments in defense of “why”. Why is Final Fantasy 7 the best videogame of all time? Why did you spec your mage for the 12th highest theoretical DPS? Why do you jump and dash in that situation instead of double jumping and doing a regular attack?
As I stated previously, being a fan, geek, or gamer is encompassed by more than just physical acts—being a fan, geek, or gamer is a state of mind.
The assertion is made that videogames are a “boy thing,” and when pressed for how she knows this, sibling Khan offers the following, “Y’know, the commercials … and everything. All of it. You know?” No, I don’t know. I know marketing is designed for the lowest common denominator of the human race. I know there have been as many commercials for the Civilization series on TV as there have been for Life is Strange. Khan then wonders why and how sibling Khan just knows. There’s no mystery, as the veil is pulled back in the next paragraph:
For girls who do not fight to be a part of the club, who are not conversant in that world of quarter-circles and Konami codes, it’s as codified as all the other gendered tenets of our lives. Video games aren’t for us the way football and finance aren’t for us: sure, there are girls who break in, and we applaud them for it at a comfortable distance. But where there is a welcome mat rolled out for men, there is only a bloodied stretch of briar for women. And it’s just not something we have in us to brave.
At best, the paragraph is a slanted view of the world, and at worst, the assertion made in this paragraph is an outright fabrication. Videogames, like football and finance “aren’t for you” because you won’t put in the effort to know things about what the guys in your circle care about. Every guy I know wishes the women in their life would take an earnest interest in watching football or gaming, and I imagine finance as well, but I know nothing about finance, so to make such an assertion would be faking it.
The important word is earnest. It’s not enough to sit on the couch and roll your eyes, and snuff when the early game goes into overtime, all while making snide, passive-aggressive comments about the game every five minutes. Similarly, it’s not enough to crush candies or match jewels on the bus to school every day and march into a circle of gamers and declare thyself one. Such declarations are made all the time, and declarer is more often than not full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Is it the gamer boys’ fault for not being able to talk Cooking Mama with you? If it is, that’s an awful lot of responsibility Khan has dumped in the lap of gamer boys, just to make herself and sibling Khan feel more comfortable. The last thing those gamer boys need is more responsibility; after all, if they’re in high school, they’re being pre-emptively, and wrongly, blamed for everything wrong on planet Earth from the time humans began walking upright until today. That’s an awfully heavy burden to carry for the “privilege” of who they are; conversely, the only responsibility my generation, and my parent’s generation, had was to win against the Soviets. I’m not sure which is worse: the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons, or the threat of annihilation by the intellectually and emotionally bankrupt.
Finally, I have to ask why Juliet and sibling Khan are so desperate for acceptance. Kahn says:
When it comes to gaming, however, I am bereft of such confidence… …I don’t get games, I argue. Don’t pass me the controller, I’ll only embarrass myself. It’s not my turf. It’s not for me. I’m a girl, ok?
If you’re unwilling to stand up and demonstrate you deserve the mantle of “gamer,” no one is going to force you. It does seem to me, however, Juliet Khan wants it both ways: she wants all the “benefits” of calling herself a gamer but isn’t willing to expend the effort to demonstrate she is one. What one doesn’t get, often enough, is a second chance. If you’re passed the controller and you shy away, then expect to get passed over later. Imagine if I had shied away from the N64 controller back in 1996 when it was passed to me. I could have written Jenn Frank’s magnum opus “I waited 18 years to tell everyone I was victimized by Mario 64” before she did, but I also wouldn’t have been able to beat a Bowser level the first time I touched the N64 controller, either.
Mercifully, the exposition part of the Kahn commentary comes to end when she and sibling Khan identify three things that constitute “everything.” Three is also the number of licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop; three is also a magic number, according to School House Rock. That’s enough evidence to suggest the potential for providence here.
Sadly, not the type of disqualification you get when your manager smacks somebody with a steel chair. Disqualification is about applying Dan Golding’s compromised into worthlessness definition of videogame to include not-games as a sort of an in-through-the-logic-side-door defense of her personal preferences. Case in point:
A mystery thriller like Her Story, a narrative exploration game like Gone Home, bestselling titles like Animal Crossing and The Sims, all manner of virtual pet sites: Not real games! Walking simulators! Boring! Easy!
“Boring” and “easy” are perfectly legitimate criticisms of creative works in an optional hobby that also serves as an entertainment medium. Those words describing every game you like is more an indictment you don’t actually like videogames—not the worthless Golding definition of videogame, but real videogames—and less an indictment of the people calling the games you like “boring” or “easy.”
Kahn then offers that Disqualification didn’t always happen. When they were nine, they went over to their friend’s house to play Nintendogs or whatever. Hold on to that for a second, because we’re going to come back to it. Khan then asserts the following:
But something changed during those latter elementary school years, as the boys started huddling together to talk Starcraft and Grand Theft Auto—as their masculinity began to ossify around ideas of not-like-girls, our femininity limited by ideas of not-for-girls
Since Khan appears incapable of asking the question, I will. What do someone who plays Her Story, Gone Home, Animal Crossing, and The Sims have in common with the people playing GTA or Starcraft? What common ground are you going to find between a “game” with no mechanics, no loss condition, which one can roll the credits in under 5 minutes, and an RTS with a huge e-sports following, where there’s at least a 50/50 chance the average person in the cafeteria has been min/maxing the game since it came out? If you said there is no common ground on which those 2 gamers can start, let alone maintain a conversation, you’d be correct.
Oh, I get it. Not only is the GTA or Starcraft player supposed to min/max, think about, and talk about the games they like, but they’re also supposed to adopt the responsibility to play and talk about games they don’t like to make Juliet Khan and sibling Khan feel comfortable sitting at the same table; that way, they can relate to “that one time when I fed my Nintendog 4 biscuits, and xol puked”—it’s a potato-kin Nintendog because intersectionality.
For this section, we’ll start with the willfully ignorant misrepresentations and try to find some reality later on. The first assertion is the following:
She doesn’t know about projects like Feminist Frequency, and the way even its most basic critiques of overt misogyny inspire firestorms of hatred.
While it is true Feminist Frequency receives some amount of hate from the denizens of the internet, and some of that hate takes the form of threats of violence, which is never acceptable, it’s also a good thing sibling Khan hasn’t heard of it. If sibling Khan had heard of Fem Freq, and if sibling Khan was capable of critical thought and analysis, then sibling Khan would know Anita Sarkeesian can’t name three games when put on the spot by Stephen Colbert. Sibling Khan would know Anita Sarkeesian can’t identify the number of successful, direct sequel arcade cabinets that existed when Ms. Pacman was released in 1981. Sibling Khan would know Feminist Frequency is 2 years late and 75% under budget on their fraudulent Tropes series kickstarter.
On second thought, perhaps Juliet Khan is right: it is a shame sibling Khan doesn’t know about Feminist Frequency and isn’t a gamer. If she were both of those things, she, too, would be pissed Anita Sarkeesian, who demonstrably doesn’t know anything about videogames, is arbitrarily and incorrectly labeling things in games she hasn’t played as sexist tropes.
She doesn’t know that something called “Gamergate” swamped everything having to do with games in virulent hatred for months, destroying careers and too many people’s peace of mind, and leaving me reluctant even to write this piece.
Juliet Khan’s ilk started the fight with gamers with the 2 Minutes Hate—suddenly she’s surprised gamers decided they were going to finish the fight with a consumer advocacy hashtag approaching 10 million tweets, the dankest memes on the net, and an actual feminist with an actual academic pedigree on stage for multiple hours at SPJAirplay? No one is that naïve. The error the corrupt and hypocritical SocJus games media made on August 28, 2014 was thinking gamers were going to just lie down and take it like people did in atheist communities, the scientific community, comics, and science fiction writing. Suffice it to say, gamers did not just lie down and take it.
The Marginalization section finishes with this:
I describe games like Journey, Transistor, Life is Strange, and Portal to her: games with female protagonists, created by women, resistant to dominant norms of sex and violence. “I don’t see commercials for those, though,” she demurs. “I see those Kate Upton commercials instead.”
I’m now going to be a better sibling to sibling Khan than Juliet Khan by offering some advice. Sibling Khan, grow up. If you base your self-worth solely by how popular you are and what other people think of you, you’re either going to have to compromise your principles and conviction until there’s nothing of you left, or you’re going to be miserable for your entire life. You want to be a gamer? Nothing is stopping you, but you have to want to be a gamer. Take responsibility, expend the effort, and care about being a gamer the same way the classmates you’re apparently afraid of do. Or don’t and enslave yourself to the emptiness of valueless popularity and fear forever.
I’m not sure how to say this beyond coming out and saying it: before mid-April, I could outspend both Khan siblings by a factor of 10 on gaming. My level of disposable income was a function of majoring in Physics and Mathematics, rather than Gender Studies and Fashion Marketing, as well as choosing to live in Colorado, instead of San Francisco or Boston.
Though, the Kate Upton commercials are largely lost on me, too. I don’t care all that much about microtransaction mobile games, and I haven’t watched TV regularly since 2010. That said, they must be effective, as for profit business don’t run on sexism; for profit businesses run on Return on Investment. The Kate Upton ads keep running, so they must work on someone.
She doesn’t know about Never Alone. She doesn’t know about Gone Home. But she knows about Kate Upton in a strategically knotted bed sheet. She knows about Booker DeWitt and his face-shredding skyhook. Anything beneath that top stratum of blood and jiggle is invisible to her. So why would she go spelunking into gaming with no clear purpose? Why would she assume there’s anything worthwhile out there for her to discover?
Because sibling Khan is not a lazy, vapid Tumblrite masquerading as a gaming pundit? I played and fell in love with the Civilization series in spite of there being no commercials on the four channels we received at our house in 1991. So much so, I played four of the five base games and all of the expansions of the four games I owned. Again, one must take responsibility and expend effort to find what they are looking for.
“Cooking Mama!” she exclaims. “I loved Cooking Mama. It was so much fun.” I agree, recalling the tricky stylus technique one mastered over the course of many digital omelets. I can nearly hear her smile travel through the phone. “That’s what I want,” she says, wistfully. “More Cooking Mama games.”
A rudimentary google search led me to cookingmamaus.com, where I discovered there are at least five Cooking Mama games; there are more games in the Cooking Mama series than there are in the Unreal Tournament series. I further discovered there are at least two Gardening Mama games. Mama, it seems, also has a Twitter handle one can follow, as well as a Facebook page. Further, if you do another rudimentary google search for “games like cooking mama,” you’ll find browser and mobile games.
So, after nearly 3000 words, we’ve discovered the following: Juliet and sibling Khan are too lazy to do simple google searches to find the games they like; Juliet and sibling Khan choose to abdicate all responsibility for discussing gaming with boys as equals in favor of making the boys play games they don’t like so the boys can make the Khans feel welcome in gaming circles; and Kate Upton commercials are apparently a super big deal.
Alas, for all my bluster about how terrible this commentary is, it most likely will be dismissed as “mansplaining gaming” to Juliet and sibling Khan. So, I’ll finish by saying I pity sibling Khan. If I’d had a vacuum where my support structure was supposed to be, I don’t know if I’d have achieved what I have before age 40. I wish the best of luck to sibling Khan in being successful in spite of her sister.