Artistic Prelude to What I’ve been working on…

I remember very clearly, one of the first times I played Wizards Unite. The highly-anticipated (at least highly anticipated for Potter fans) Harry Potter mobile phone game to be released by Niantic, a videogame design firm I knew from Pokemon Go (which I have never played) and Ingress (which I have.) Part of Niantic’s claim-to-fame is their ability to produce games that overlay gameplay onto google maps: to engage with the “game world,” you literally walk to locations in the “real world” and interact with game elements that are geo-tagged to be located there.


A few days into playing the game, I visited the National Gallery of Art for an exhibit on renaissance paintings. As I wandered into a different wing of photorealistic oil paintings, my attention had waned, and so I turned on the game to see if any Harry Potter creatures were geo-tagged to the museum. Several were.

I then began to surreptitiously play the game while in the sparsely populated area. I would look at a painting of the seaside while the game loaded, then battle an Erkling (a spindly, thin goblin creature.) Erkling defeated and map reloading, I turned my attention to a still life with water shimmering through a translucent glass vase, and then looked at my phone to rescue a Mooncalf (a short, stubby, blue-furred, llama-like creature with overly large eyes) from its shackled chain. I glanced up to see to portrait woman lounged on a settee with a book. I could almost smell the light dust of forgotten past and the pine oil pressed into the glowing wood of the table where her book rested. A howler harassed two goblins. I wandered by an oversized landscape painting, which was taller than me and yet so finely detailed. I could hear the ducks as they cause small splashes as they skitted across the distant lake. I could hear to munching and soft grunting of the moose in the foreground as they grazed on the forest greens.
Alternating between the flat yet layered experience of the game with its limited pixels and yet fluid movement, and the static but deeply rich and real oil paintings caused my brain to kick into a higher gear. While one would think that playing a game would distract me from the paintings, playing the game immersed me in them more. By stimulating my brain’s flow and triggering my imagination, the game opened my mind to receive and mentally create more stimuli than were present in reality.
If playing the game increased my brain activity to such an extent that static, artistic depictions felt, sounded, and even smelled more real, then what exactly is being communicated by that game, and what augmented realities are finding their way into my mind without my being aware of it?

In the coming days, I’ll publish “Wizards Dis-United: How the Harry Potter Mobile Game Augments Reality to Strengthen White Supremacy.” A colleague, Michelle Ledder, and I are premiering it as a presentation at the Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Academic Conference this Friday, October 16, 2020.

Choirlogue: The Pursuit of  Freedom in Beethoven’s Prisoner Chorus

O Welche Lust, in freier Luft…nur heir ist Leben!

Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit with my dear niece and nephews in Texas. My niece, to whom I as a woman can more easily relate, is sixteen years old and thinking about what she wants to do after high school and what sort of career she would like.

At sixteen, she has a black belt in karate and walks her own path, showing her individuality with brightly colored pants decorated by outlandish patterns.

As we sat on a settee in her softly colored bedroom, she told me that she wanted to be a counselor to clergy and missionaries and their families.

My silent, knee-jerk reaction was “Oh thank god.”

This is a young woman who has surprised her parents at every turn by giving up ballet and starting to collect knives. Who is demure in public speaking but impassioned when with small groups or partners. She is strong with a fiercely caring personality, and I am ever so thankful that she is not tempted to go into any field related to videogames.

She could, very easily I believe, enter into such a vocation and would stand strongly, back straight against the adversity. She can take of herself quite well. But I would never wish a calling in the videogame industry on any woman.

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the emergence of a new complex artform: videogames combine playwriting, acting, music, and visual art in one performance medium. Videogames have become spaces in which people can feel free to live alternate lives, to experience new liberty by being granted superpowers and assigned epic missions, to find peace in achievement and predictable productivity through efforts which always make a real difference (in the game). Not only do videogames affect our culture, but the industry provides the most enticement and seductive position for a person to go into the technology field–that being the coveted, successful videogame design career.

While technology plays more and more salient roles in our lives, videogames offer a relaxing way to process the stresses we encounter. Everyone is interested in videogames, but the videogame establishment isn’t interested in everyone. In fact, there are structural and organizational reactionary stances towards the inclusion of 51% of the US population– women.

Women videogame designers face endless hate mail and well-organized smear campaigns against their products. Women videogame journalists face the threat of murder and mass shooting at their public speaking engagements. Everyday female gamers face persecution and oppression ranging from the micro-level (devaluation of their talents and contributions as players and exclusion from the gaming community via online harassment) to the macro-level–objectification in videogames themselves as well as organized campaigns to flag their social media and other online accounts, dox, or swat them. Wir sind belauscht mit Ohr und Blick. Women on all levels of videogaming are watched, monitored, and targeted.

Under these circumstances, the pressure to not make any waves as a woman, to not speak up about any microaggressions for fear of larger repercussions and retaliatory action has become the norm. Spricht leise! Haltet euch zuruck. Speak softly. We must hold ourselves back.

And yet the hope of a day in the sun and free air continues. Where women can play (and design, and talk about) games and simply just be playing games. O welche Lust in freier Luft…nur hier, nur hier ist Leben. Only here, only here, is Life, when freedom is guaranteed for all.

 

“When a good man is hurt, all who would be called good must suffer with him.”

Euripides