THE WEEKLY GEEKOUT

The Weekly Geekout: the Day[9] Daily

Some people watch football or hockey. I like watching e-sports.

More precisely, I enjoy watching the Day[9] Daily, in which Sean Plott, a 12-year veteran and top player of StarCraft, analyses strategies relating to this game.

Do I play StarCraft frequently? No. Do I play the multiplayer mode? No. Do I excel at the game? Not really. 

So why do I watch the Day[9] Daily, you ask?

Do you play all the sports you watch on television? Probably not, but I am certain you enjoy watching them nonetheless.

I only occasionally play StarCraft, but I enjoy it regardless. During the last holiday season, I spent 14 hours straight playing the campaign of StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. The first version of the game was a favorite of mine when I was in high school: back then I used cheat codes and usually disregarded the purpose of the game, attempting instead to deplete resources and create fully upgraded troops. While this type of gameplay was a lot of fun, I missed out on the challenge of developing the necessary skills and strategy to excel at the game. Watching the Day[9] Daily motivates me to do just that, and provides me with a better understanding of StarCraft mechanics. The show has drastically changed my perception of the game and my gameplay experience.

Sean Plott, alias Day[9]. Wallpaper from hqwide.

Sean Plott, alias Day[9]. Wallpaper from hqwide.

Whether one plays StarCraft or not, the Day[9] Daily is a fun show to watch. Sean Plott is hilarious, and he frequently digreses from his StarCraft analysis to discuss other topics.  He interacts with his fans, the DayKnights, who actively participate in the chat room during the show, and recommends good music. Of course, enjoying the daily does requires a minimum amount of knowledge about StarCraft: would you enjoy watching a chess tournament if you didn’t know the rules? It would probably confuse and bore you.

However, the Day[9] dailies are accessible, funny and entertaining for everyone. Let’s take Funday Monday for instance. Every week, Plott proposes a funny rule for players to follow while playing the game. They in turn submit replays of their games to him, which he analyses during the show. Weekly rules include never attacking, telling your oponent everything you are doing, the best nuclear wars, or the stupidest games ever. The show is highly popular and is the subject of a fan-made song.

On Friday, Plott presents Day[9]‘s Day off in which he plays various video games of his choice. I enjoy watching this show to discover new video games to play. A recent episode featured Dishonored and convinced me to pick up this game. Of course, the show contains major spoilers, so I usually watch it when it concerns games I don’t intend to play, such as the ones featuring zombies (way to scary and stressful).

Another hilarious show is Mostly Walking, presented by Plott and two of his friends, Bill Graner and Sean Bouchard, in which they play and analyse vintage adventure games. The trio previously presented Metadating, a show about video games relating to dating and love. If you are looking for laughs, Plott’s playthroughs of scary games like Amnesia are the cherry on the sunday. Don’t set your volume too high: screams will be loud and occasional swearing will occur.

If you wish to learn more about Sean Plott, I have written about Plott’s involvement in the StarCraft community before. I sincerely hope you enjoy watching the Day[9]  Daily!

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The Life Well Played – Spot Check 23

Spot Check returns!

In this episode I talk about the role of conventions in gaming culture, the role of play in gamers’ lives (and deaths), and how Gary Con fits in to that.

Bored- (1)

The Weekly Geekout: Banned Books Week

“Some books leave us free and some books make us free.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

             Banned Books Week is upon us again, now on its 30th anniversary. This week, September 21-27, the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the Freedom to Read Foundation, PEN American Center, and countless other literary organizations, libraries, schools, journalists, publications, book clubs and local institutions band together to raise awareness about books that have been banned, blacklisted and removed from schools and libraries across the country. According to the website, “Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 307 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013, and many more go unreported” (2014). As a life long book geek, I cherish my freedom to read and have often taken for granted the level of access I have to books across genres, from authors around the world. Banned Books Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about the freedom to read and the importance of sharing ideas and stories, even if those narratives make you uncomfortable.

Many of the books that are commonly banned deal with controversial issues, and are subsequently deemed unsuitable, insulting or inflammatory to readers. Readers may be surprised to learn that some of the most commonly banned books are the very works of literature that have shaped American culture and catalyzed positive social, economic, and political change. Some commonly banned books include Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and The Witches by Roald Dahl, to name a few. These books have been deemed “deviant,” “troubling,” “filthy,” “anti-Christian,” “blasphemous” and “troubling.” In 1996, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was labeled “racially offensive” and subsequently banned from several schools, a decision that seemed to completely overlook the critique of racism, classism and discrimination Twain weaves throughout the narrative.

This year, Banned Books week is also celebrating graphic novels and comic books. Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee, stated, “This year we spotlight graphic novels because, despite their serious literary merit and popularity as a genre, they are often subject to censorship” (Perez 2014). Commonly banned graphic novels include Watchmen by Alan Moore, The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, and Bone by Jeff Smith. As critical readers and comic book geeks, this week is especially important. Being exposed to alternative cultural and life worlds at a young age—ones that challenge your notions of normalcy and force you to think about things from a wholly different perspective—shape your social outlook, sense of morality and notions of humanity, perspectives that follow you into your adult life. Many of the books that are commonly banned do important cognitive and cultural work. This week is a prescient time to reflect on the books that are important to you, and consider how these books have shaped who you are or how you orient yourself as a person. It’s also an opportunity to support your local library or bookstore, cultural institutions that are also struggling to remain relevant in the digital age. The Banned Books Week website provides press kit materials and a schedule of events occurring throughout the week.

Let’s start a conversation. What are your favorite banned books and why do you think they’re important to read?

 

Works Cited

Alexie, Sherman (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Hachette Book Group USA.

Atwood, Margaret (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books.

Banned Books Week (2014). http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/about  

“Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read” (2014). ALA. http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek

Dahl, Melissa (2014). “Can Harry Potter Teach Kids Empathy?” NY Mag. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/07/can-harry-potter-teach-kids-empathy.html

Dahl, Roald (1983). The Witches. England: Jonathan Cape.

Gaiman, Neil (1989-1996). The Sandman. New York: DC Comics.

Heller, Chris (2014). “Why Libraries Matter.” The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/371084/why-libraries-matter/

Huxley, Aldous (1932). Brave New World. New York: Harper Collins.

Lee, Harper (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Lowry, Lois (1993). The Giver. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Moore, Alan (1986). Watchmen. New York: DC Comics.

Perez, Nanette (2014). “Banned Books Week 2014 Celebrates Graphic Novels.” Banned Books Week. http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/node/2076

Pullman, Philip (1995). The Golden Compass. New York: Borzoi Books, Alfred Knopf.

Rowling, J.K. (1997-2007). Harry Potter. New York: Scholastic Inc.

Smith, Jeff (1991-2004). Bone. Columbus, Ohio: Cartoon Books.

Tiki-Toki (2014). “Banned Books Week: Celebrating 30 Years of Liberating Literature.” http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/51787/Banned-Books-Week-Celebrating-30-Years-of-Liberating-Literature/#vars!date=1994-12-27_12:43:45!

Twain, Mark (1884).  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Dover Publications Inc.

Vonnegut, Kurt (1969). Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell Publishing.

 

Anthropology in Outerspace

Conclusion: will this research be a 5 year mission?

This series is only the first step in our Anthropology in Outerspace project. Indeed, when we started writing it, we asked ourselves: ”what are the representations of anthropologists and anthropology in science-fiction?”. And as is often the case with research, having explored this question, we are left with additional interrogations.

In this conclusion to our series, we look back on what we have learned over the course of the last few weeks and discuss where are we headed next with our research. To do so, let us first introduce the new questions which arose from our conversation.

 

More questions!

Does anthropology enjoy the same amount of visibility in scifi as other sciences do?

When looking for examples of anthropologists in our favorite scifi TV shows, movies or books, we found the results of our research were slim at best. While there are numerous examples of historians, physicists, engineers, medical doctors and military personnel in science-fiction, anthropologists are a rare occurrence.

We also wonder if there are more or less representations of sociology than there are of anthropology in this genre. This perhaps begs more investigation: after all, while sociology is generally perceived as being distinct from anthropology in North American and British traditions, these disciplines are more commonly thought of as closely related in French tradition. Additionally, in several universities sociology and anthropology are grouped in the same department.

Why do characters and scenarios often remind us of anthropology while the connection is not explicit?

We found it interesting that several of the characters who reminded us of anthropologists were not described as such. Dr. Grace Augustine (Avatar) is one such character, and so is captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek TNG). In some cases, the scenarios we analysed seemed to be inspired by the experiences of anthropologists in the field, while it was not always possible to verify is that was the case.

Could the similarities between scifi scenarios and accounts of anthropological research be attributed to the close similarity between anthropology and science-fiction?

Cultural anthropology, particularly, was founded on the study of otherness (that is of cultures other than Western). Science-fiction examines, among other things, how contact and communication might occur between humans and aliens, and how aliens might be different from humans. The relations between anthropology and science-fiction are examined in some fascinating anthropological studies, which we hope to introduce to TGA readers in coming months, and which will be discussed at the Strangers in Strange Lands: Mapping the Relationship between Anthropology and Science-Fiction conference which will be held at the University of Kent next November.

Another interesting avenue of investigation is the investment of anthropologists in the study of ufology and extraterrestrial anthropology. Anthropologists are helping NASA reflect on ways to communicate with aliens, should humanity eventually make first contact with them (it seems the Star Trek: First Contact movie doesn’t offer a clear enough how-to guide). Anthropologist Ben Finney also worked with NASA to examine the interactions of astronauts in space capsules. We shall further investigate this collision of anthropology, space exploration and science-fiction in coming months, by looking, for instance, at anthropologists who are positioning themselves to be the first point of contact during extraterrestrial communication.

Why are the representations of anthropology and its practitioners so cliché?

Interestingly, as Marie-Pierre indicates in her response to Emma’s Piece, it seems that science-fiction authors may be inspired by ancient events in the field of anthropology rather than by recent ones. This, as she expresses, ”begs the question: are science-fiction writers completely disconnected from current developments in our discipline ?”. Moreover, if that is the case, then why?

Addressing these questions brings us closer to the project of public anthropology, that is making anthropology better known to a non-academic public. Indeed, the general population has little awareness of what our discipline is actually about. Most students of anthropology have experienced having to explain to friends and family what they study:

  • No, it’s not the same as paleontology;
  • No, it’s not entomology;
  • Yes, archeology is part of it but not all anthropologists practice it;
  • Etc., etc.

Anthropologists enjoy less visibility, and perhaps express themselves publicly in a lesser measure than other scientists. How, then, could science-fiction writers rely on anything else than clichés about anthropology, unless they kept close tabs on anthropological publications or academic conferences?

Where do these clichés come from?

If clichés are indeed what science-fictions authors are inspired by, we think these

are most likely provided by anthropologists who are well-known in the United States of America. Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mean and Alfred L. Kroeber are four well-known figures in the USA. We think that these anthropologists have profoundly influenced the collective imagination about anthropology and continue to do so regardless of new developments in this discipline.

 

What we did and what to do next

This series is the result of our first exploration of the representations of anthropology and anthropologists in science-fiction: it was written as a conversation and with the purpose of serving a stepping stone towards additional investigation. We have already listed some new questions we will examine in our work. Let us now discuss the limits of our current research and how we seek to improve it.

We focused our attention on science-fiction TV series, movies, novels and short stories we were already familiar with. As a result, we analysed mainly works produced in English in the United States of America (and Canada in the Case of Stargate).

We knew this was limiting, so in order to map relevant representations we could analyse to pursue our research, we asked TGA readers to provide suggestions on the Anthropology in Outerspace page. As a result, we now have a long list of works to read, watch or play through, in the case of video games. We invite you to contribute to the list! Dont’ be shy! We will also choose works written in different languages and by people from various areas of the world to expand our analysis.

While we have examined representations of anthropology and anthropologists in science-fiction, we believe it equally necessary to pay attention to the representations of what they study: otherness, often presented as exotic, so-called primitive peoples. These peoples are often inspired, most obviously in the Stargate franchise, by indigenous peoples found on Earth, currently or in the past. While Marie-Pierre has discussed representations of indigenous peoples in science-fiction briefly in the past, more attention must be paid to this topic. After all, you may want to know how Klingons were in part inspired by Native Americans, and how such representations impact the latter.

Equally interesting is looking at science-fiction written in different languages and by people from various areas of the world to expand our analysis, particularly by non-Westerners. The representation of anthropology would indeed vary if we were to examine scifi written by Native Americans (USA) and Inuit, Métis and First Nations peoples (Canada).

In other words, we have our work cut out for us. This project will take a while! Great: it’s one more reason to keep watching and reading scifi!

We are grateful to James Moar who proof-read this series and provided corrections. Finally, we wish to thank all our readers who provided feedback on this series! Your participation was very helpful!

Emma, Rayna and Marie-Pierre

Anthropology in Outerspace

The Cool, the Nerdy and the Geeky: Rayna’s Response

This post is part of the series Anthropology in Outerspace which examines representations of anthropology in science-fiction. To read previous installments in this series, consult the related contents section at the end of this post or select the series in the ”Our Series” menu in the right sidebar. 

Marie-Pierre offers some great examples of how personalities of anthropological characters are portrayed. I wanted to add that Doctor Who’s River Song not only portrays a strong, independent female character, but one who is central to the main storyline. While most anthropologist roles are incorporated only in self-contained episodes, River Song is one of the few characters to play an active role over many seasons.

Dr. Temperance Brennan “Bones”

Emma’s commentary also mentions an important point: people who are uncomfortable with social situations typically would not become anthropologists. Even those who work with material culture (i.e. skeletons) like Dr. Brennan on Bones, would still need to have an understanding of human interaction to put what they are finding into context. Yet, there is still diversity within anthropology and there are some socially awkward anthropologists. In Stargate SG-1, Dr. Robert Rothman, quotes the following in the episode “The First Ones” (S4E8), “…give me a million year old fossil and I’ll tell you what it had for breakfast, but I…I’m not good at people…they’re too recent.” This quote sums up how he is portrayed as an archaeologist without social skills.

What were some of the inspirations for these anthropological portrayals? Perhaps some of the examples Marie-Pierre mentions stem from the early days of the discipline of anthropology. One of the most famous anthropologists of all time is Bronislaw Malinowski. He conducted fieldwork with the Trobriand Islanders in the early 1900’s for many years and became quite the influential figure in several disciplines (Murdock 1943). Malinowski was a white man who wore glasses and the neutral coloured clothing of the time, which may have had an influence in how pop culture gleaned an anthropological aesthetic.

King Tutankhamun Excavation 1922

 

Another possible influence is Howard Carter and his famous Egyptian excavation in 1922. Carter and his team found the famous pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb. This find garnered a plethora of media attention, but an unfortunate consequence followed. Several men who worked on the site died shortly after the tomb was excavated. Imaginations ran wild and led to a belief in a “mummy’s curse.” Alas, research by Mark Nelson (2002) concluded that there was no existence of a mummy’s curse. Contemporary movies like The Mummy (1932), The Mummy (1999), The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb (2006) and also the Doctor Who episode “Pyramids of Mars” (S8, E1-4) all may have been inspired by the 1922 excavation curse.

Science fiction producers take interesting and exotic ideas that will sell to the general public. Personalities, fashion, and research all have a part to play in how pop culture depicts anthropologists. Whenever there are generalizations of anthropologists within media (or any discipline) it can give inaccurate depictions of who anthropologists are and what they do. Fortunately, blogs like The Geek Anthropologist are here to provide different perspectives and critiques when science fiction goes astray.

 

References

Murdock, George Peter

1943 Bronislaw Malinowski. American Anthropologist 45:441-451.

 

Nelson, Mark R.

2002 The Mummy’s Curse: Historical Cohort Study. British Medical Journal.

325(7378): 1482–1484.