Rear Left

Mapping Fauxrabia

Posted in Dog Food, Gaming the System, Personal/Meta, Race/ism by rearleft on December 10, 2010

 

The school year’s done and I’ve made it half way through my Master’s degree in Digital Communication and Culture. I came back to school with the plan to take the work that I’d been doing at the intersection of media, education, and activism, and rethink what that work means and how it works when this stuff we call media mutates into new shapes and streams. Below is an extract of an essay I wrote in the second semester on space in video games (as in geography, not outer space), and the construction of arab/muslim/oriental identities in video games. Full text downloadable here: MappingFauxrabia.odt

[…]

Fauxrabia […] is a way of articulating the contradictory nature of this imagined (and in some sense experienced through gameplay) country that is both unreal and contributes to the production of reality. To describe the cultures represented in these games as being arab, or muslim is to conflate the vastly diverse cultures of people from as far afield as Morocco and Kashmir, Kazakhstan and Somalia into a singular signifier of Otherness when held in oppositional relationship to the Western player-character.

Fauxrabia is a simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1994). It is a lie that expresses a truth about the West’s conception of itself in opposition to the Other. It is a computer-generated, player-navigated, screen-represented space. It is a contemporary cultural manifestation of Saïd’s model of Orientalism:

…it not only creates, but also maintains; it is rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power…”

-Edward Saïd, Orientalism (1978, p 12). Italicisation from the original.

Mapping Fauxrabia

The spatiality of video games is suggested in the very fact that we refer to them by the visual medium of the interface through which we interact with them. In all but a few novelty games where audio monitors or haptic devices are foregrounded, the video or computer monitor takes primacy as the device used for human-computer interaction with the underlying code that embodies the game’s rule system and its representation through a graphical user interface. Furthermore, the vast majority of games involve the simulation of a spatial environment, often organised as one or a series of maps, segmented into levels. These two geographies taken together, the space of the interface-screen and the space of the game map, constitute what I will refer to as the gamespace. McKenzie Wark (2007, pp006-008) has argued that the logic of gaming has become such an integral aspect of contemporary culture that it has “colonised reality”, moving out of the sites of processor and screen that support the virtual world and extending the gamespace into material space.

Transcending the contentious narratology-ludology debates of video game studies, Jesper Juul (2005) suggests that games should be considered “half-real” in that they are comprised of both rules, the underlying system of game mechanics, and fiction, the narrative and representative aspects of the game. Thus, descriptions of characters, spaces, and events in a game are real insofar as they describe the mechanics of the game-system, and unreal, in their description of a fictional story or abstract setting. Questions of spatiality bring up an interesting challenge to this binary.

“[…] space in games is a special case. The level design of a game world can present a fictional world and determine what players can and cannot do at the same time. In this way, space in games can work as a combination of rules and fiction.”

Jesper Juul, Half-Real (2005, p 163). Italicisation from the original.

    To put it another way, game level maps determine the affordances of a gamespace available to the player, as well as the representation of simulated space that is mapped onto a video monitor.

    Maps are inherently political (Wood, 1992, Kolko 2000). They include and exclude aspects of geography, simplifying and distorting the material world to frame their users’ interaction with space through the embedding of their creators’ worldview. The computer interface can be seen as a map that allows human interaction with the underlying system of a software’s code (Selfe & Selfe 1994), which in turn also carries ideological assumptions (Nakamura 2005, Kolko 2000). In their study of the politics of computer interfaces in educational settings, Selfe & Selfe note:

    “Within the virtual space represented by these interfaces, and elsewhere within computer systems, the values of our culture – ideological, political, economic, educational – are mapped both implicitly and explicitly, constituting a complex set of material relations among culture, technology, and technology users.”

    – Cynthia Selfe & Richard Selfe, Politics of the Interface (1994, p 485)

    In Fauxrabian geographies, the ideologies that we see encoded in these maps remediate stereotypes of the oriental Other from older cultural forms such as cinema and literature (Shaheen 2001), as well as from contemporary political and journalistic portrayals of Western conflict with Islam.

    […]

    Consider the above remediation of militarist aesthetics in regards to the nature of the United States’ current military engagement in Pakistan. Predator drones are controlled by pilots at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, using an interface that features a screen and joystick. As satellite imaging has extended the US military’s map across the entire globe, the distance between the seer and the seen has both been extended to tens of thousands of kilometres and collapsed to the space between eyeball and screen. Viewing the terrain from above, the drone pilot is able to see and therefore to control, with the power of death from above, the territory on the ground on the other side of the world pictured on their screen. This space, framed by the ideologies of military and moral superiority, contains an alien Other whose domination defines the character of its observer in opposition. The alienation of the remote cyborg warrior in the US from their targets on the ground in Pakistan parallels that of the Modern Warfare player from their Fauxrabian enemies.

    “Once games required an actual place to play them, whether on the chess board or the tennis court. Even wars had battle fields. Now global positioning satellites grid the whole earth and put all of space and time into play. Warfare, they say, now looks like video games. Well don’t kid yourself, war is a video game – for the military entertainment complex. To them it doesn’t matter what happens on the ground. The ground – the old-fashioned battlefield itself – is just a necessary externality to the game.”

    Mckenzie Wark, Gamer Theory (2007, p10). Italicisation from the original.

     

     

     


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    Hey Hey it’s White Supremacy

    Posted in Race/ism by rearleft on October 9, 2009

    (Dear Readers: apologies for the long absence. The fates have stepped in and made me a full-time carer for my injured partner and our baby, so little time for blogging. Background here. That said, some stories are too infuriating to ignore.)

    I’ve previously mentioned the prevalence of the Golliwog figure in Australia in these pages. Last week, on a reunion show of “Hey Hey It’s Saturday“, an extremely popular and long-running television variety show that ran all through my youth, an example of Australians’ obliviousness to the prevalence of racism in oz came roaring into the nation’s living rooms.

    That’s right, producers and audience thought it was so funny the first time they did it 20 years ago, they brought it back for an encore. For those non-Australian readers, the cutaway to the caricature of a fat-lipped figure with the caption “Where’s Kamahl?” is a reference to a popular Australian lounge singer who is ethnically Tamil and was born in Malaysia.

    kamahl_loveunited_lp_jeffw_dec2006

    Get it? Kamahl has dark skin! And sings! Hilarous, right? Kamahl is reportedly not amused.

    Discourse around the story in the media and blogosphere is following a similar line to that begun in the exchange between Harry Connick Jr and Daryl Somers in the clip above. To summarise:

    Rest of World: Hey Australia, that shit is racist and it’s mind-blowing that you’re still yucking it up to minstrel shows.

    Australia: This is not America. Blackface is not considered racist here. Take a joke, mate.

    Me: White Supremacy is so deeply entrenched in Australia that ridicule of people of colour, even in the crudest and most outmoded of forms of expression, is a socially acceptable form of entertainment.

    Note that Daryl’s apology is directed to Harry for offending his American cultural norms, not for the content of the segment itself and its offense to people of colour.

    While Australian blackface commonly mimics the Golliwog/Sambo/minstrel type, we also have an indigenous form. Growing up in North Queensland, King Billy Cokebottle was a popular performer who did his routine on a local radio program, when not out touring the pubs of the nation and selling audio cassettes by mail order.

    It is important to remember that the assault on racial justice in Australia is not only taking place in the field of representation. The government has suspended the Racial Discrimination Act as part of the “Northern Territory Intervention” in order to enact policies that explictly discriminate against indigenous people, and deployed the and federal police to enact these laws. Lynchings occur, and semi-organized fascist groups are sprouting.

    But it’s just a joke, mate…

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    Of Wogs and Golliwogs

    Posted in Race/ism by rearleft on June 18, 2009

    There are certain things that it seems that Australia has not received the memo on. Glitches in the cultural continuum that send a jolt of culture shock through my system and let me know that I am in thoroughly americanized space, but not the US.

    Being a new parent, I spend a fair amount of time browsing through childrens’ shops for cute new clothes or toys for Ramona. Many average mall baby/toy shops stock some version of the Golliwog.

    Golly_50%

    As racist as the US is institutionally, this type of “Sambo” minstrel character is generally understood for what it is, a deeply insulting racist caricature from a bygone era. Apparently not here in the supposedly progressive Australia.

    Golly_blackwhiteblack

    Until recently, Arnotts, an Australian company iconic for its Tim Tams, Iced VoVos, and many other baked confections sold biscuits called “Golliwogs”. (NOTE: I tried to find an image of this, but was amazed to find that I could not. Australians not so good with uploading? Arnotts on an aggressive revisionism campaign? weird…) In a seriously half-arsed PR move, “Golliwogs” became “Scalliwags” when Arnott’s sought to expand business in the US (maybe? not great sources on this).

    scalliwag

    Not only is the Golliwog still alive in Oz, it has spawned descendants. In Australia, dark-skinned people, particularly immigrants (often southern Europeans, Arabs), are often referred to as “Wogs”. “Wog” is a shortened form of “Golliwog”, first used by British troops to refer to Arabs, and later becoming a more general slur against people of colour. It is reported that in the 1960s soldiers from the Argyll and Southern Highlanders Regiment would display a Robertson’s Golly Badge for each Arab they had killed in Aden (Yemen), a British mandate until 1967.

    Jason Di Russo remarks on the morphing context of the term “wog” over the past 20 years in his well thought out essay in The Australian. Russo does a good job of pulling the ridiculous framing of the Chk-Chk Boom non-story into focus. The story here is not whether or not Clare Werbeloff witnessed a shooting (she did not), it is the normality of white Australia’s caricatures of people of colour.

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