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A short note on Cards Against Humanity as reminder to self of the importance of production in the po [Dec. 26th, 2014|11:12 pm]
Kristian Stupidness

A starting note:
This post was originally going to be about Cards Against Humanity and GTA:V. In short: These games set up the possibility of gameplay that is racist, sexist, etc but ultimately the decision to engage in that is entirely with the player - indeed, it is the players political ethics that determine whether these games are problematic or not rather than the games themselves. In writing, I re-thought this and found myself working back into the problem I worked out through my MA thesis.

I've played Cards Against Humanity twice, and the second time was far less enjoyable and far more uncomfortable than the first. Sometime between the two games I realised that while there has been a lot of focus on the fact that the game encourages players to be offensive (by offering easy combinations that are racist, sexist, trans and homophobic etc) there actually isn't any need for the game to be offensive at all. The card combinations and rules for combining them are sufficiently broad to allow other types of humour to be winning strategies. Indeed, in both games I played going for the most wildly offensive combination was not a winning strategy. Among my friends absurdity rather than obscenity gets you the appreciation from the card czar.

While the game gives a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, towards a certain kind of play the cards also act as a kind of means of projecting our comfort zones, and give a (imaginary) legitimacy to the indulgence in the politically obscene. The cards, not the devil, made me do it. So, while you can be racist, there is no gameplay requirement for racism. The racism is projected into the game primarily by the players themselves. One way to see this projection is in how particular cultural references play out. Certain combinations which would be immediately recognisable as racist in the US do not carry the same weight elsewhere where the shared understanding is simply not possible. A transgression only emerges when players are able to bring shared cultural understandings of transgression to the game and use the cards as the medium for that exchange. For example; an answer might combine two cards - one about watermelon and another about African Americans. This combination has direct contemporary and historical references to the use of the watermelon as a racial stereotypes (and associated histories of racism, slavery and white supremacy) in the USA which are only intelligible by those (likely to be USian, but also elsewhere) who understand the racism they are signalling (and indeed performing).

In this sense the responsibility for politically ethical play is not in the cards (and as a metaphor - our languages and their particular racist/sexist vulgarities) but in the deployment of those cards. You have the right to free speech - you can choose the hand you play - but that does not mean all hands are reasonable, acceptable, ethical. Sometimes, when the cards you have give you no option but to play a hand that feels (or is) hateful towards non-privileged or oppressed groups then the only way to win is to not play at all.

Yet this seems itself irresponsible (in the sense of not taking responsibility), the cards are there to play, and they are there to play for a reason. Watermelon isn't inserted as a random but representative member of the family of melons. Grounding responsibility of the politics of the game with the player and not the game itself ignores an implied subject position that is privileged both in the cards and the players. The naughtiness of the obscene and politically incorrect answers are for the most part pushed apart from whiteness. That is, the answers are problematic because they can be used to ridicule and target identities that are "othered" by whiteness. Mexicans, Jews, Gay people etc are the inappropriate answers. White people do feature, but often as the question (eg White people like _____ ) rather than answers. (The winning answer is Nickelback). The subject position is not managed by the designers (and audiences can and do subvert the ways in which media positions them) yet by working back the intended audience can be discerned (and here audience is the market - yes, even for a "free" game). Intention here is not only the conscious decision making of the marketing department (e.g we'll target white 18-25 yr old men) but the ideological baggage that designers, producers, writers etc bring to the table without necessarily knowing what they are carrying. For example; a group of middle-class hip white USians might understand how to make offensive stereotypes about Hispanic Americans but be obvious how Hispanic Americans might not only experience that, but also resist and indeed return those stereotypes.

Design itself is only part of a network of political economies that cross through a whole range of issues from intellectual property rights, access to education and capital (social, cultural and economic) through to the conditions of material and intellectual labour, workplace (and workspace) cultures, resource mining, unionism, and so on.

At this point there seems to be two conflicting propositions about the game: first that the ethical burden is on the player and second the designers have the ethical responsibility for creating the game knowing players could play it in a racist/sexist etc way. While the temptation here is to try to determine which is right, I think the lesson I learnt from my MA thesis was that the point isn't necessarily (or only) to make a judgement on the ethics (we in a sense have done that already by positioning the critique from an anti-racist/anti-sexist perspective) but rather to realise and illuminate the multiple ways these problems manifest and are resisted, performed or encouraged, and that means an understanding not of just the content of the cultural product (game, film, book) but also the means and conditions of its production.
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This War of Mine, A tale of Ethics and Boredom [Dec. 19th, 2014|10:19 am]
Kristian Stupidness
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This_war_of_mineGames that form the booming survival genre (DayZ, Minecraft, 7 Days to Die, Rust, The Forest, Project Zomboid, etc, etc) are in theory an exciting simulation of struggle against the odds in a harsh and hostile world, but as is well known, in theory even communism works. These games inevitably seem to encounter the problem that they are supposed to be, well, games. And games should not be painful, in that they are supposed to be a recreational activity entered into voluntarily. There is a delicate balance between the dramatic tension of say, scraping together an axe from stone shards and rabbit sinew, and the sheer boredom of a world without anything actually fun to do. This is where survival games continually let me down – at a certain point survival becomes mere existence, life guaranteed but empty. It isn’t necessarily the fault of the games either. Each of those I’ve mentioned are fun in their own right, for a time. Survival seems to be enjoyable in short doses.

At some point in these games “losing” no longer becomes an issue – enough food is stocked, vegetables are growing, water is plentiful and so on. Or, conversely, dying is so frustratingly guaranteed that survival becomes meaningless. At some point the gamer asks “What am I surviving for?”. In the first circumstance death is not something to avoid, but something to flirt with. In DayZ, for example, I inevitably found myself drawn to the cities to face other players, not out of necessity but because there was no other challenge. The game then generally descends into a form of deathmatch with the occasional forage for pork and beans.

“Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom?” Raoul Vaneigem

This War of Mine brings a slightly new take on the genre – it carries with it a strong narrative element and a bleak seriousness about it. Gameplay is perhaps more simple than many of the others in the genre, which seem to be heading towards ever more complex crafting trees and base building elements. This War of Mine is more The Sims than DayZ, though the pencil-shaded and bleak aesthetic might suggest otherwise. The visuals are without doubt some of the most evocative I’ve seen in a game for sometime. They are not the most complex, nor the most beautiful, but the layering of black foreground against grey and cobalt backgrounds gives the otherwise two dimensional graphics enormous depth (very reminiscent of Limbo, for example).

The simplicity of the gameplay however (there is no tutorial, but the controls are simple and intuitive) is an invitation to the far more complex ethical narrative it (or more to the point – the player) develops. The aesthetic of the game is important here because it grounds the ethical experience. It is difficult to play this game frivolously – it is slow, deliberate and humourless. There are no hordes of pantless men chasing you with rocks. Attempts to break out of the aesthetic, with for example a spree of murder, is never as cathartic as it might seem. As the game does encounter periods which are ultimately boring there is a constant temptation and tension – who will crack first? The player or the characters being played.

The management of boredom (both the player’s and the character’s) is balanced by the ever-present ethical demands within the game. The developers have clearly sought to inject ethical weight into the game, but not in the same way that is found in say, Mass Effect or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, where there is the clearly defined “good path” and “bad path”, that the player is prompted to make decides between.

Rather than a choice between two pre-determined ethical paths it confronts the very possibility of ethics itself by weighing survival against ethical consistency. When does stealing, lying and indeed murder become permissible, and what kind of ethics and ethical deliberation is required to get us through these problems. The choice This War of Mine presents is not a moral choice, it isn’t so much a choice about whether a certain action is virtuous or evil but a choice (or more likely a long term negotiation) between ethical necessity and ethical contingency. In other words, how do we hold onto the prospect of ethics being meaningful when the choice is between ethical consistency (and death) and bare survival.


There are instances, events that occur randomly in each game that put the player in a specific ethical situation. On one occasion my female scavenger Arica was about to liberate goods from an abandoned supermarket when she happened upon what appeared to be a sexual assault in the making.


Arica reacted before the assault began – taking the soldier from behind and repeatedly stabbing him until he dies. There will never be a trial or clear idea of what would have happened if she took no action. The situation blurred the line between threatening behaviour and a threat, and demanded an immediate answer. There was no obligation that the player even choose to intervene, or intervene in the way I did. I could have, for example, simply walked away and I could have done this for a number of reasons from personal safety to an ethical commitment to non-intervention in the sense that the only crime that had been committed was that the soldier was being creepy and threatening. It seemed intuitive that this would be ethically permissible in the circumstances (i.e breakdown of civil society). There were no police to call. This was only the first killing. While I had taken the objective of no murder by Day 18 Arica has killed at least 6 people. I think they were all bandits, robbers and so on. I think, but it isn’t always so easy to tell. Interestingly, she seems to becoming less and less reflective about the deaths, as if she has embraced her role in the shelter as the person who gets things done.

As the game progresses, particularly into and past the third week, an ethical economy begins to emerge. The easily acquired resources are starting to dry up and encounters with other characters are beginning to occur more frequently, under more ambiguous circumstances. While I had intended of playing experimentally as a group of ethical heroes (i.e no stealing, no killing and always assisting when asked) it became increasingly difficult to stay committed to the task. Small transgressions to those ethical maxims began to occur, always justified against a greater goal, so while the stakes for me as a player were quite low (a few hours of spare time) and the idea of survival was transient (I could always just restart) the game managed to draw my ethical deliberations past the fiction.

When the good times roll with plentiful supplies and a reasonably safe environment, remaining committed to ethical maxims has low cost but as the situation becomes increasingly dire – as survival became increasingly doubtful – the costs grow. So far, they haven’t reached a point to where I’ve had to murder, but that time isn’t far off. It is this ethical economy that is for me the greatest strength of This War of Mine and in some way it was the game. By offering less in terms of explicit ethical choices (eg the Paragon vs Renegade, Light vs Dark side) and allowing the gap to be filled not with the designers ethical imagination (what is the right/wrong thing to do in a given situation) but with the player’s the game makes the ethical choices not only more open but more heavy, immediate and ultimately more meaningful to the player.

While I am starting to find some of the gameplay tiresome and repetitive (which, I imagine, is part of the fatigue of the reality of these kinds of situations) – a problem across the entire genre – I am nonetheless compelled to keep going because of the ever approaching singularity that I see approaching. That ethical singularity – where the rules no longer provide rational solutions – has plagued moral philosophy forever. Not even philosophical heavy weights like Kant could deal with it adequately. The bare choice – you or me – is irreconcilable and This War of Mine makes the player confront the possibility of that at some point.

The “pleasure” – for want of a better word – of the game is the exploration of ethical rather than geographic terrain.

This War of Mine

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Great Giana Sisters vs Super Mario Bros vs Gendered Narratives [Oct. 10th, 2013|11:35 am]
Kristian Stupidness
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The_Great_Giana_Sisters_Coverart Super-Mario-Bros.

(In which Great is determined to be more notable than Super)

Anita Sarkessian of Feminist Frequency recently posted part three of “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” video, which deals with the “Damsel in Distress” tropes. It is a classic trope (warning: Tvtropes.com see you in 6 hours) that Sarkessian (author/presenter of Feminist Frequency) demonstrates is as prevalent in gaming as it is elsewhere in culture.

One of the games Sarkessian discusses is Super Mario Bros (SMB). The brothers Mario and Luigi are two of the most identifiable video game characters in the world. The original game is a simple platformer. Indeed, it is probably the platformer of all time, perhaps not the best, but almost certainly the most iconic. It spawned a huge franchise including numerous sequels, racing and fighting games and a movie. [What is a platformer?]. Great Giana Sisters [GGS] is a little more obscure, but has seen some recent and unexpected franchise releases.

So, why are these two games significant? Well, they show how easily tropes against women (i.e by situating female characters as passive objects of male action/intervention… that is, damsels) can be easily without compromising on gameplay. There is barely anything between the two in terms of how they actually function as games. In fact, they are so close that Nintendo (publisher of SMB) forced Rainbow Arts (publisher of GGS) to withdraw the game from sale. The screenshots below show Mario on the left and Giana on the right.


Full Disclosure: I Fucking Hate Super Mario Bros. And pretty much every platformer. Except for Great Giana Sisters and most notably Bubble Bobble – I mean, for god’s sake Listen to the music, how can you not like it! And I fucking hate the Super fucking Nintendo Entertainment System. And regular Nintendo Entertainment System. The Wii was okay.This is likely because at the time kids were playing Mario Bros on the S/NES, I was playing The Great Giana Sisters on the C64 and later the Amiga. Like, actual computers.

SMB is implicated in the Damsel in Distress trope because the “storyline” of the game is that the brothers have to rescue Princess Peach (aka Princess Toadstool) from a castle. The connection to the actual gameplay is tenuous at best, but merely by its presence the narrative becomes significant (especially for the future of the franchise). GGS subverts this trope, not by simply changing the gender of the protagonists (though that is a start) but by replacing the trope with a narrative that makes the female protagonists agents of their own emancipation.

The sisters in GGS find themselves trapped in a dreamworld (given the similarity to SMB, I would say a nightmare) from which they must escape. Making their way through the dangerous landscapes they must find for themselves a special crystal which will wake them up. In this way the female characters move away from being a static object-prize and become self-liberating actors. The change in narrative, which marks the most significant point of distinction between the two games, is clearly an easy one to make. The simplicity of the change then leads to the question of why can’t this happen more often? And more particularly, why did SMB fall into the troupe to begin with?

These questions give some ideas about how gender works in cultural production. It isn’t something which is necessarily a conscious decision to choose men over women or to cast women in particular (static, inactive, object-prize) roles, though in some cases it can be this (or indeed deliberately not doing this). Instead gender, and the politics of gender, often works by making itself invisible. Common-sense becomes the means by which gender differences are explained (away). In discussions of the work Sarkessian is doing for example, critics will often take a multitude of approaches to ensure that the problem she identifies is seen to not exist. These range from arguments about making simple narratives to arguments about what gaming audiences identify with to arguments about since it doesn’t matter whether we have the Giana Sisters or the Mario Bros, then why not just leave it as the Mario Bros (also known as “it is just a computer game!” argument. Other arguments are of the gendered nature of gaming & technology (there are no girls on the internet!) to anti-feminist “what about the mens” complaints (there are tropes of men too!).

The simple narrative argument runs into trouble because there are limitless numbers of simple narratives to choose from, yet they are rarely used. This argument amounts to claiming that game developers are simply lazy. Yet supposes that the “struck in a dream” narrative is significantly more creative than the damsel-in-distress trope. Even if creative laziness was behind the defaulting to male-gendered protagonist, this reveals that gender does matter – defaulting to a male confirms the claim of sexism. If the idea of laziness was extrapolated across the entire industry (or indeed, across all cultural production), then the question would be how could so much effort be placed into creative narrative (in books, cinema, games etc) only to have it fail spectacularly on gender. This criticism is particularly pertinent to the fantasy and science fiction genres (of which so many games fit into) which despite their magic, silicon-based aliens, underworld monsters, intergalactic space-time bending devices, non-human intelligences and so on, manage to repeatedly replicate modern Western gender values.

The question of audience identification reveals a disjunction between how we think we behave (and how developers think audiences behave) and how audiences actually do behave. The research into the constitutive processes and cultural complexities of audience identification with characters shows that far from a simple one-to-one relationship between audience and character, the way the audience members represent their own identity and how relationships are formed with characters is complex and trans(gender/sexual/class/race).  Clover argues in Men, Women and Chainsaws that within the horror/slasher genre, for example, the female figure of the “final girl” – the last remaining victim who (usually) manages to escape, is a character that upsets one-to-one gender identification. While young males may at first identify with the (usually) male villain, it is the “final girl” that they ultimately come to root for as she out smarts, out maneuvers and often dispatches her antagonist. Similarly, Shively’s empirical work on audiences of Westerns suggests that different ethno-racial groups don’t necessarily relate to their representations in narratives. Shively’s research shows that male Native American audiences identified with the (white) “cowboys” more than with the “Indians” in Hollywood Westerns. Likewise, the success of the Tomb Raider series (featuring Lara Croft) shows that gaming is not excluded from the complexity of audience identification, as does the cross-gender play found in games where player characters can be customised by the player, including gender selection (e.g the Fallout, Elder Scrolls and Saints Row series).

I think the notion that there is an essential relationship between technology and gender is an area that deserves some particularly historic research (or if it already exists, I’d like to read it). The development of geek subcultures, including gaming cultures, has a long history, one that begins I think long before computing technology appeared. My (largely unfounded) sense is that the material conditions for the development of these subcultures stretches back so far that it is impossible to draw a connection between the technology and gender except in the most stupidly evo-psych ways. What I mean by this is that geek subcultures (coding, hacking, phreaking, gaming etc) developed out of very specific historic and geographic locations and to be present in those locations depended on access and capital (cultural, financial, etc) that was at the time available almost exclusively to men. The lineage of work in tech development was decidedly patriarchal – men would pass knowledge, practice and culture on to other men. This wasn’t because women were not interested, but I think a combination of explicit exclusion (from workplaces, places of research etc) and lack of cultural contact that resulted from this exclusion. So, not only were women not able to access the technical competencies, they were not able to access the cultural and social networks that both required and reinforced the technical competencies. Excluded from these places women could never develop the historical and cultural sensibilities, habitus and narratives that would ultimately develop into contemporary geek cultures. To give a made up example; a young woman graduating from high-school in the 1950’s and 60’s isn’t going to have had the same experience and opportunities to be involved in say, a class about basic electronics. This would be the result of the “natural” expectation that she wasn’t interested, so by coerchsion (social pressure, explicit exclusion) she didn’t build social networks in electronics class, didn’t build technical competencies etc that would carry her into say the phone phreaking communities of the 1970’s and 1980’s. There is also another aspect to this [Warning: Flagrant Conjecture Ahead]. The masculinity of geek cultures (in that they were cultures of hetero-sexual men) tended to ignore their counterparts in feminised cultures. By this I mean our sense of what hacking, for example, is (in the sense of lifehacking, rather than say network [in]security exploitation of Lulsec, Anonymous etc) one that privileges the masculine history of hacking to the detriment of a [possible] women’s history of hacking. This would include both technology (computing, electronics etc) and non-technology hacking (lifehacking, workhacking, getting around systems which inhibit you etc).

The narrative of the Great Giana Sisters is pertinent here. What is that crystal they were looking for? Contrary to the Mario Bros, which was an exercise in the maintenance of the status quo (made doubly so by the revelation that Our Princess is in Another Castle) the Giana Sisters are looking to upset the boundaries of the system they are stuck in. Whatever the intended nature of the crystal is, it is a McGuffin that represents a moment/event where the sisters beat the system. The acquisition of the crystal (the vote, access to education, financial independence etc) brings the sisters into a implicitly freer reality – the nightmares of bricks and tubes, the linearity of the side-scroll are over. Directions become multiple. It is a simplistic, lazy narrative, but one of emancipation of the subject rather than imprisonment of an object.

With gender being the only significant difference between SMB and GGS there is opportunity for a kind of “twins experiment”. What happens when gender changes? For those that think gender doesn’t matter, then they ought to be willing to accept the transformative narrative of GGS with as much regard as they do the conservative narrative of SMB. That this doesn’t often happen suggests that gender does matter, but perhaps not in the way they expect. The bind that those who make these arguments find themselves is that on one hand they want to claim that gender doesn’t matter (there is no sexism) and on the other they want to claim that gender doesn’t matter (it is okay for characters to always be men), this disjunction leads them to make an ethical claim on the status quo – that it ought to remain as it is. We should neither question it nor entertain the notion that there is anything to question.

The ongoing abuse and threats towards Sarkessian for the series she is making demonstrates the very thing those making the attacks seek to deny – that gender matters.

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Melburn-Roobaix 2013 [Jul. 11th, 2013|11:44 am]
Kristian Stupidness
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The Melburn-Roobaix is Australia’s answer to the equally prestigious and ridiculous Paris-Roubaix, a one day road(ish) bike race in France. What makes the race notable is that the sealed road sections are separated by sections of cobblestones, which riders must race just as fast across. You can see the transition from one of the sections in 2010 here.

The Australian version is a little less… a lot less serious… than the French version. In 2013 one of the “winners” was a vision impaired person dressed as a horse on a tandem. The official winner is randomly selected from everyone who finishes the ride.

I knew at a theoretical level that Melbourne had great cycling infrastructure, but it wasn’t until I had spent a day riding through it’s suburbs that I really figured out how enormously superior it is to Sydney.

Our trip to Melbourne was itself fraught, my flight was cancelled the night before and I was on the tail end of a flu, B had his 15mm bike spanner confiscated as a security risk, meaning he couldn’t put it back together when he arrived, M was a late scratching and MvM was a late cancellation followed by an even later cancellation reversal. L&W had their flight delayed on the way home. Everyone was at some time inconvenienced, but, the weekend was spectacularly good fun. Since the flight was cancelled, I decided not to take my own bike, which is both good and bad. It feels like a close friend didn’t get to experience the vent, on the other hand, that very same friend was a pain in the arse to bring and may have failed where the hire bike triumphed…ish.

One day two of the trip (arrived Friday, ride Sunday, leave Monday) I took a short ride around the Melbourne CBD to test myself and my hire bike. I hadn’t ridden for a fortnight or so at that stage and still felt a little out of sorts. But the brilliant cold of Melbourne winter afternoon and the overall sense of feeling welcomed on the city road, or at least if not welcomed, not hated, made for an easy test run.

Fullscreen capture 30062013 94639 PM.bmp

In contrast to Sydney, Melbourne made space. The local councils of Sydney use a nasty trick. They paint bicycle figures on the shoulders of roads and then claim they have miles of cycling infrastructure. Mainly what they have given us is less than a metre of space between parked cars and traffic. As I so often experience, if I have to quickly move out of the way of a parked vehicle (when the door opens, or it decides to pull out of the space) I don’t have much room to avoid going into traffic, and motorists sure as hell aren’t going to give me the room if I need it. By contrast, Melbourne seems to build or plan actual space for cyclists. Sure, there are shared spaces, but they aren’t shared between parked cars, cyclists and traffic. The main street in the CBD accommodates cars, trams, pedestrians and cyclists – each having their own space.

With my legs and lungs assured that all good measures were in place, the next morning we set off towards the start of the Roobaix. This took me along another great stretch of Melbourne cycling infrastructure. The path along the Yarra was enjoyable, but the really impressive part was when the cycleway hooked itself under a freeway. Elevated above a city-riverbed and under the freeway, the section didn’t have any kind of footprint as such, but it provided a safe and fun means to follow the main traffic of the city. I love elevated shit like this!

Fullscreen capture 30062013 94636 PM.bmp


The latest starting time was 11am and we got there only just before, so we handily avoided the queue for registration. In fact, after registering what was about 2,000 cyclists, the officials had given up and just told us to go ride and have fun! The ride took us in a big arch from the eastern suburbs to the northern suburbs, through places I didn’t imagine even existed in Melbourne.

Fullscreen capture 30062013 94646 PM.bmp

There are three general types of people who seem to ride the Roobaix. The Lycra club. The gifted amateurs/hipsters. And the lunatics. The Lycra club are as one would imagine, expensive bikes and branded, padded lycra. That is definitely not me. The second group is just the people who like to cycle for fun, and that is my group. And then there are the lunatics, who may or may not also be members of the first two groups, but a defined by the desire to dress up and cycle.


An example of lunatics dressing up for Mario Kart. Other examples; a menagerie of superheroes, vikings, the aforementioned horse, vintage riders and Abba or Village People… people.

Young W, the sensible fellow he is, attributed to himself for sensible fashions.

The worst of the route, which you only discover upon arrival when you receive the map, is at the beginning. On the subject of the map, one of the joys of the day is that the route is not expressly mapped out for you. There are marked segments of cobblestones which you must (should)(maybe) complete, but the means between each is entirely up to yourself and or your co-cyclists.

The first thing you do is go up a hill. And then up a bigger hill. On a cold morning, the hill looks much worse than it feels and we all made it up without any difficulty.

But from then, the glorious largely flat lands of Melbourne are yours. The weather of the day, and entire weekend, was perfect. As clear as an azure sky of deepest winter. Melbourne suburbs though, beautiful yes, are all a little samey. This isn’t so much a complaint but a… well… I mean they are nice and all. But sometimes when everything is nice, it is less nice.

But maybe the problem is we didn’t go to Frankston.

The cobbles sections are fun, if not slightly unnerving for the first few hundred meters, particularly in the seemingly perceptual dampness of some of the tight alleyways. Particularly going down hill. Particularly when foolishly attempting to film video with one hand and ride with the other. I didn’t fall, but damn, hilarity nearly ensued.

At the end of second cobblestones we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Melbourne skyline, which hadn’t ever really seemed that impressive to me until now.

In the first 15kms the group was largely bunched up, so there were a few traffic jams at choke points, usually the cobble sections, but also in this bushland area. Excellent opportunity to sign a song with a young woman dressed as a nun, so thought W.

The day progressed in a rather swimmingly fashion. The weather held. My legs felt amazing. Our bikes did not fail us.

This was not in the brochure!

A late lunch in Kensington.

The final destination, Brunswick Velodrome. A quick lap or two around to celebrate the achievement and then a tram back into town. We dropped our bikes off with 5 minutes to spare! Heroes all round.

And of course, Crazy Christian Cyclists!

And the team walked into the night, never to be heard of again.

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Zombie Solidarity! [Jul. 8th, 2013|01:06 pm]
Kristian Stupidness

Zombies in the Academy book cover

zombies fucking zombies

Finally, finally! Publishing takes a long, long time. But it is here, Zombies in the Academy, featuring a chapter on Zombie Solidarity by Trollunteer and ana_au_

Also included are some excellent chapters ranging from the undead of neo-liberal universities to the mathematics of zombie vs humans (with a case study of Night of the Living Dead) to the zombie effects of university intranets and software (mal)administration, a topic dear to my heart as a “champion” of the intranet in my own faculty.

The book is a bargain at $30 and can be found at bookdepository, Amazon and all kinds of other online bookstores and your local reputable bookseller.

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Ethics and Emancipation in Postfeminist Hollywood [May. 29th, 2013|01:14 pm]
Kristian Stupidness

My Master of Arts (Research) thesis in the field of Cultural Studies, completed at the University of Sydney in 2012.

Thesis: Ethics and Emancipation in postfeminist Hollywood
Thesis Data: Gendered divisions of creative labour in Hollywood.

The thesis develops new methods to critique postfeminist film by combining research into production cultures with an analysis of representations of women's ethical subjectivity. Drawing on the work of Tania Modleski, Angela McRobbie and Yvonne Tasker, the thesis argues that critiques of postfeminism centered on evaluations of “positive” and “negative” representations has resulted in a discursive stalemate. This stalemate signals the need to consider new ways of thinking about postfeminist film.

The first half of the thesis reports on original research of 700 films from 1980 to 2009. This research, supplemented with data from Martha Lauzen and Stacy Smith, demonstrates that men are overwhelmingly over-represented in key creative roles while women's participation rates have stagnated or are in decline. The data also reveals how traditional expectations of women's labour are repeated within creative industries and in particular Hollywood.

The second half of the thesis concerns the concept of ethical subjectivity. Starting with an overview of the philosophical category of the ethical, the concept is developed into a broad analytic framework with reference to specific feminist demands. A number of popular and high-grossing Hollywood films that are historically subject to feminist analysis are reconsidered using this new framework. This second look reveals the ambiguity that operates as a means to hide the regulation of women's ethical subjectivity in postfeminist film.

The synthesis of these two approaches demonstrates how postfeminism acts as a proxy for patriarchy in the management of the meaning and scale of feminism and women's emancipation in Hollywood. This result shows the potential value in considering labour and production as part of cultural analysis of postfeminism and indeed cultural studies more broadly.

It got a High Distinction, if you can believe that.
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(no subject) [Apr. 7th, 2013|08:25 pm]
Kristian Stupidness

It was Shakespeare who once said "To drive betwixt Sydney and Canberra to go geteth underwear is folly". How right he was. Or was he? Many scholars now claim that many works previously attributed to Shakespeare were in fact written by a second, perhaps even a third author. Likely acquired by Shakespeare and published under his own name during his brutal reign as the "Bastard Bard of Berwick". [Word of advice, don't google imagesearch for Bastard Bard]

If that is not enough to throw his account into the valley of ill-regard, allow me to climb myself to the Peaks of Personal Anecdote. For unlike many others, I have drived betwixt Sydney and Canberra and goteth underwear. I've long had a fascination with the area east of the Great Dividing Range and before the plains and grazing lands of Central West New South Wales. Something strikes me as universally dull but also irrepressibly romantic about the area. Unfortunately, but predictably, since this is the way of major highways, the fastest route from Sydney to Canberra is the Hume Highway. A diabolically dull drive once you cross the southern highlands and one which simply gets more diabolically dull the further south you follow it, until marvelously you appear on Melbourne. So, to avoid this problem, we took only backroads from our starting position in Emu Plains. Heading south from Emu Plains we went along the eastern edge of the Sydney basin. The kind of odd interface of the rural and the suburban. Patches of land marked out for sale as beautiful new housing estates. Come live in the peaceful rural flowing rolling hills of Picton they cry out to you. You might get a good four months of that view of a rusty nail infested dam before it is turned into the community centre of Greenvillage Park Hills Estates and surrounded by three thousand homes open for viewing.

Which was nice.

Then suddenly! Highlands! Taking this route actually is a bit of alright. The elevation doesn't grab you as sharply which means eventually you get to do that most wonderful of things - touch the window to feel the temperature outside. Feels cold, you say. Colder. Whatever it feels it is better than the humidity and heat of Sydney. So you are rollicking alongside an old abandoned railway line, passing through little villages called Balmoral and Hill Top. Villages that once lived because of the rail line and now... I don't know. They live on! Much like this concrete monument which is by the side of this back road without any kind of identification of purpose.

The internet, which you are likely to be on right now, says this is a "Monument to Human Achievement". In recognition of the hard labour (including deaths) of those who built the now disused railway. It is a kind of tragic self-assessment. We honour your now absolute achievements. This was the thinking behind my recent invention for feeling shit about life etc. You open a new document. You set strikethrough on. You set font colour to red. You start typing. Now everything you type is instantly erased without any kind of review or discussion. Enjoy that, that is life!

It is things like these that you miss when you're on a highway, no matter what highway it is, an Interstate in the USA or an A road in the UK. My single line advice to everyone doing a roadtrip is "GET OFF THE INTERSTATE (or your local equivalent)".

We stopped for lunch at Mittagong, one of the four or five cute little towns in the Southern Highlands. The coffee was reasonably good and suffered none of the failings of what I like to call "Coffee from Western New South Wales" or what Americans like to call Coffee. That is actually a little unfair. American coffee is generally marginally worse. Scrambled Eggs with Haloumi and hash browns (something America does so well and Australia so poorly!) at a bargain price was welcome. Where else can you get a haloumi side for $2! From Mittagong we went through Bowral and then eventually across the Hume on the road to Canyonleigh. Which turned out to be a beautiful rich red earth road.

Lined with ghost gums and the green of rolling valleys and a vast blue sky, it was a beautiful road that followed first the ridge line and then the creek and valley below. Fortunately we were not in a rental car so we weren't breaking any rental agreement by taking the car off sealed roads. Also I didn't tell my mum.

Along the way we stopped to entertain some donkeys. I think these were donkeys and not mules, or humlots or bigbigs.

The road to Canyonleigh eventually dumped us on the Hume Highway, having never quite being sure whether we'd passed through Canyonleigh or not, fortunately, across the Hume was another back road, taking us to Wingello. Then it was south through forests of gum trees and brown grassed farmland before hooking west towards Canberra. Just outside of Tarago and on the eastern side of Lake George we found a herd of cows and a windfarm. I had only minutes before imagined a fine photograph of a cow and a windfarm, so I pulled over immediately. When I stepped out of the car the cows began mooing insistently and then as I crossed the road they ran away, about fifty of them, off and over the hill. This is the only photo I managed to take that hand cows in it. Moments before this the scene was wall to wall cows.

In the USA, F perfected the art of sitting on the edge of car and peeing from the passenger seat with the two doors open to provide privacy. This didn't work under pregnancy conditions. I made her then take a photo of us holding hands in the sunset because romance. Before heading into Canberra we went up to Lake George, which had water in it. Lake George is a large flat plain just to the north of Canberra. It is oddly spectacular for what is really just a big, flat paddock that very occasionally fills up with water. In the distance wind turbines send power to the capital city to power the communist workers.

We stayed at the prestigious Ibis Budget hotel, which is the same hotel we stayed at when we were in Canberra in 2004. But it was called the Formula 1 hotel back then. Not much had changed, though last time we visited there was a plague of beetles which covered the entire city in a most repulsive and crunchy way. The ground was literally a black seething mass of beetle. We didn't have any particular reason for coming to Canberra other than to not be in Sydney for Easter. We had dinner in the suburb of Dixon. It was astonishingly good, perfect vegetarian South East Asian food, mock beef Rendang and mock chicken & duck pho. The mock beef had a better taste and consistency than any slow-cooked beef I have had in my life. We'd go the whole way to Canberra just for that meal again. Canberra is the closet thing Australia has or will ever have to a communist era Eastern European city. It stark, measured, open and entirely planned. All wrapped in a kind of concrete brutalism and nationalistic triumphalism. F explained to me that it is easy to find shops in Canberra because each suburb has a signposted area called "Shops". So, "Dixon Shops" literally meant where all the shops were planned to be. "Bank Shops" pointed to the tiny corner of shops in Bank. I had never noticed this before, it seems convenient and completely lifeless. We slept in the spacestation like pod of a room. Perfect white walls with a single long fluorescent tube lighting the room. A toilet and shower capsule stuck in the corner. It was tiny, clean and expensive. Another thing Australia lacks. Roadtrip infrastructure. Oh, we have roads. We have truckstops. We don't have several thousand small family run hotels at $29.99 a night (incl. tax if you don't immediately agree to the price) lining each highway. In Australia it is conceivable that wind up without accommodation. In America, if there is no motel in the town you're in. There'll be one at the highway interchange. Or three. And a Waffle House and a Denny's. But always go Denny's.

Unsure with what to do with ourselves we went shopping for underwear. $57 later we were suited up with singlets, socks and underpants and tights followed by breakfast in Kingston (Columbian Style Scrambled Eggs, delicious but with a weird smell). We also went to a bookstore called "Rows of Books No One Wanted" aka "Academic Remainders". After these brief encounters with Canberra's cosmopolitan shopping experience we headed out of town via a scenic drive to the west. I had wanted to cross up into the Brindabella Ranges, but time was against us. It was either fork out for ridiculously expensive accommodation or drive home and have dinner with mum and dad. The choice was obvious. But not before taking a scenic drive up to Cotter Dam. Which I found was not available for viewing. On the other hand, they were building a bigger dam for viewing, and this satisfied my desire to view a dam.

I also learnt about the history of the Cotter Dam. Including the fact that it was a controversial dam. Not, as you might presume, for the impact on the environment, or anything like that. No, but because it was considered to be a few feet too tall. Not, a thousand feet too tall. Or only a few feet tall. Both which would perhaps be reasonable groups for a Royal Fucking Commission. No because it was a little bit taller than they wanted. I don't think I need to point out the irony within my situation here. But I will. The irony is that as I stood reading about the Royal Commission finding that the dam was too tall, I was observing an even taller dam being built because the dam that was declared by Royal Commission to be too big was in fact now too small. Back in the olden days it seems they'd have a royal commission about just about anything. What did the Royal Commission into Is the Dam to Big hope to achieve? The answer, either yes it is too big or no it is not too big had no impact on anything since the dam had already been built. No one was seriously considering making the dam smaller as the result of finding it was too big. And really, what is the worst possible consequence of having a slightly too big dam? You have slightly more water stored? Thankfully, the whole situation was resolved when the Government simply rescaled all of reality except for the original dam so proportions were again as required.

From Cotter Dam, it was round the backside of Black Mountain and the back north via Lake George. And the obligatory and inevitable stop off at the Big Merino in Goulburn followed by a terrible stale pastry from the bakehouse across the road which despite the signs saying it is the best bakehouse it is in fact the worst. The worst bakehouse that there is and we found this out last time and we found this out again and my god we'll find it out next time too for fucks sake.
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Birch and Bauxite [Mar. 15th, 2013|12:28 pm]
Kristian Stupidness
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Harrington Birch was born in England in January of 1800 under the Beck Hole Road bridge, while snow drifted down on the moors. His father, Harrington Birch Senior was a well to do gentlemen with a top hat and ivory cane. Harrington Birch Senior was a man who loved minerals, and it was this love that took him to Bauxite County, California. Harrington Birch Senior loved bauxite. He loved the smell of bauxite. He loved the taste of bauxite. Most of all, he liked to hold onto bauxite while making love to his wife, a great hunk of the beautiful mineral held in each hand as he heaved his petite figure around her sprawling elastic flesh.

Harrington Birch then, was raised surrounded by bauxite. Unlike his father Harrington Birch despised the substance and spent much of his early life musing schemes for the eradication of bauxite. He spent several unsuccessful years as an alchemist, and two decades running an ill fated bauxite disposal company.

In 1882 Harrington Birch made a deal with the devil. If Harrington Birch could defeat the devil in a round of golf, then the devil would grant Harrington Birch a single wish, the delivery of a petition to God requesting the disintegration of bauxite. If Harrington Birch lost, then the devil would take his immortal soul.

The Devil, filthy sneak that he is, chose the course. The Devils Golf Course, Death Valley, California. With the summer of 1882 burning hard shadows across the mottled ground, Harrington swung deep into the uneven surface, repeatedly, in futility until he collapsed having not reached the first hole. At two hundred shots above par Harrington Birch was dead. His heart cooked inside the cavity of his chest, his brain warm soup in his skull.


Harrington Birch was left to dry out under the sun like so many before him. His soul tortured forever  in damnation and bauxite.
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Let’s play! X-Com: Enemy Unknown Part 5 [Mar. 10th, 2013|06:40 pm]
Kristian Stupidness
The British were pretty pissed that a neutron bomb was set off at a major metropolitan railway station. I don't know exactly what a neutron bomb does, other than it is supposedly a kill-not-destroy weapon, but I'm sure that as with most bombs they are less than favourable devices upon detonation.

Such a horrific act of terrorism won't get the best of the XCOM team. We're too busy attending to a situation at the local petrol station and burger joint. A group of sectoids have decided to abduct some burger hungry motorists for some probing. The first thing I do is choose the stupidest possible place to deploy. Rather than move to the safer approach through the parking lot, I decide, for reasons unknown, to approach through the petrol pumps. These can explode on being hit, as can the cars, which can cause a chain reaction, fucking shit up good.

The plan is to approach from the left side of the building and sweep in through the back entrance and over the roof. Mike Smith, Shotgun Guy, approaches the front of the building and sets up next to the vending machine. From here he can cover the front doors of the buildings, allowing everyone else to come up and position behind him.

Sure enough, soon after taking position, Mike lines up Sectoids as they come out to investigate the teams arrival.

He takes out the first one with his shotgun before switching to pistol, which is more accurate at the longer range required for the second intruder.
Meanwhile the rest of the team begin moving up to support Mike, making their way through the volatile refueling area. One wrong shot could set these bad boys off.


With the front of the building now covered by Shotgun Guy and a Sniper, the rest of the team begin to swing to the back of the building. Unfortunately, I've missed that a car has been set on fire. In the shot below you can see Mike at the vending machine, a fourth Sectoid has appeared in front of him and is about to cop a face full of leads, two dead sectoids just outside the front door, an behind Mike a car on fire and a member of the team behind that car. The car explodes at the start of the next turn, and I have to pull the team back to give first aid to two injured members.

2013-01-10_00025With the injured team members patched up, the operation recommences. Mike proceeds to the rear door while Patterson takes up position where he was. The sectoids, their brains swollen with stupidity, keep pouring out the front door as the team hops around the back. From her position Patterson gets an easy shot at them as they move into the open.

2013-01-10_00031Judging by the excessive display of drama here, this sectoid was also a member of the galactic football federation.


With Patterson now covering a pile of grey corpses and green goo, the rest of the team stacks up at the rear door. At this point in time I expect that the remaining sectoids are holed up in the adjacent burger point and not in the convenience store section of the complex, so I don't take too many precautions when I breach the rear door.


Which is a bad idea because there are a couple still lurking inside. Since sectoids usually appear in groups of three, I should have known that if there are four bodies outside, then there are likely to be two walking enemies inside. Fortunately, Mike Smith dodges this close encounter, but the Mountain Dew takes a load of plasma!


The offending alien pays for the sloppy shot and takes the full force of a blast from the shotgun.


With the convenience store cleared (the yellow section) the team moves into the burger joint, and encounters another trio of sectoids, who flee out of the building. After waiting a few turns without any activity, I send Patterson onto the roof to try and find where they've gone.


While Patterson checks the permiter from above, one of the sectoids appears through the backdoor of the convenience store and is promptly dispatched by the team. This gives me an idea where the other two may be. Mike Smith opens the back door, revealing the position of the remaining enemies. While Patterson can't see the sectoids directly, she can still lob a grenade to the enemy position based on Smith's line of sight. The grenade explodes between the last two bad guys, tearing them to tiny green and grey pieces. Victory!


When the team gets back to XCOM HQ everyone is called into the monthly report meeting with the Council. We're doing okay, but not great, and panic is beginning to spread unchecked in three continents. Without any satellite coverage it is going to be very difficult to reign it back in.

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Let's Play: XCom Enemy Unknown Part 4 [Feb. 4th, 2013|10:20 pm]
Kristian Stupidness
Though I lost a hero in the last mission, I found a new one in Agooda, so spirits where still high back at X-Com HQ.

Missions aren't the only thing to take care of in X-Com. You have to run your entire subterranean base of operations. This means managing a budget, assigning staff, choosing research and engineering projects to undertake and juggling the expectations of your clients: the nations of Earth. There a couple of competing currencies in X-Com. The obvious one is money, which you use to undertake projects, buy equipment and so on and the second is panic. National governments fund the X-Com project with money and expect results in return - measured by the panic level of their nation. If the alien invasion is left unchecked, missions are failed and so on, panic increases and eventually you risk losing financial support from governments. When you lose the support of 8 of the 16 governments, X-Com is shut down. Game over. There is also a blackmarket in alien artifacts and bodies which can be used to raise cash, though these items are also needed to undertake research and build certain technologies.

This is what your base looks like. You can expand it horizontally and vertically, filling the spaces with new facilities, factories, laboratories, training rooms and so on. There is a nice piece of details here where you can zoom into each facility and watch your staff go about their business; soldiers relax at the bar or exercise, scientists monitor equipment. It doesn't add anything to gameplay but is a nice immersive touch.


Research is perhaps the most critical non-combat task that you'll need to manage. With research comes better weapons, tactics and armour, all of which will count just as much as good tactical decision making when out on a mission. This is especially apparent in Ironman mode where soldiers are often killed with a single shot if they're not equipped with appropriate protection.


While the good doctor is dissecting some corpses the X-Com team are alerted to an alien bomb that has been planted in a London railway station. The team kits up and heads out to defuse it. This is a new kind of mission and seems to be triggered as a particular milestone is reached. Operation Enduring Vanguard is underway.


The team is dropped off at the entrance to the station. It is good to be back in an urban environment. I've found so far that shooting up a gas station, office block or railway station is far more interesting than storming a downed UFO in a forest. The greater familiarity of the urban space makes the alien presence feel a little more threatening, especially when you're blowing shit up.


Now, hyper-intelligent intergalatic spacefarers they may be, but sensible bomb makers they are not. For reasons unknown the alien bomb maker has designed a device which has a built in "easy to defuse" mechanism. The bomb receives external power from these green glowly things which when individually disarmed adds time to the countdown. If the power levels reach over 9000 it will explode! It gives a great sense of urgency, but I would have thought a global counter would do the same job without the making no sense part? Anyway, the mission gets off to a good start. With my heavy gunner moving down the left side of the train while the other three move down the more open right side, getting an early jump on some Thin Men (Men in Black).


And also some Sectoids. These are quickly taken care of, with the troops outflanking the enemy easily. On the left hand side of the train the heavy gunner takes out two more sectoids with a rocket. At this point in time the mission is looking to be in good shape.


All soldiers are intact when I reach the bomb. I figure there will be a second wave of enemies so set up the troops in defensive positions. Once the bomb is deactivated Thin Men drop out of the ceiling all over the place. Although I was expected a rush of enemies, I didn't think they'd be randomly dropping out of the god damn walls. In the shot below Agooda, who defused the bomb, finds her cover compromised (her cover shield is now yellow, which means "yellow about to get fucked!".


Fortunately, Agooda gets a shot off first and takes out the first Thin Man. And that is about where the operation went from booyeah to fubar in about two turns. While Agooda was knocking off this chap, the rest of the Thin Men started covering the team in delicious juicy balls of skin melting plasma.


With two of the team flanked and vunerable, I send my sniper, who had been providing overwatch down the middle of the station across to give support to Agooda and Ignatyev. I was hoping that by moving my sniper into a flanking position the remaining Thin Men would choose to reposition before taking shots at my team. This didn't work. The sniper was ambushed just as she made cover. The Heavy Gunner tried to move into the train and give covering fire to Agooda and co, but he was taken by surprise and hit the cold steel of the train floor.


Although the bomb would be re-armed if the mission was aborted, with two of the four person team down I make the decision to withdraw. Either everyone dies and the bomb goes off, or half the team comes back to fight another day, and the bomb goes off. Agooda makes a break for it back to the dropshop (in the distance ont he left).



She makes it to the location her fallen comrade had tried to take cover at. Not only does cover have multiple levels of protection, it has multiple levels of resistance. That is, a garden bed might offer half the protection of a thin wall, but the wall is more likely to be destroyed. The sniper went down behind a garden and though the lockers in the above shot would have afforded more immediate protection, a single hit would have likely destroyed them, leaving her out in the open. The tragedy of it all is that she got whacked anyway, and they died together only moments apart.


It was my first mission failure, and an alien bomb going off in central London didn't do the confidence of the British or European governments. Panic rose not only on the islands, but across the continent. To make it even worse, everyone died, so any experience gained in previous missions is also lost. Ironman hits you hard this way. It is back to rookies for the next mission, but hopefully by then they might have some decent body armour.
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