Guest Blogger V. Obarski: Gender and gaming

A (admittedly late – sorry!) recap of last summer’s Gen Con from guest blogger V. Obarski. Thanks!

Like many women who attend gaming convention Gen Con, I was introduced to gaming through my husband. But I’ve also attended for more than 10 years, which I believe gives me some solid street cred among the geek set. Or if anything, it’s given me a perspective of how the conventions changed through the years.

A few years ago, when Gen Con moved to Indianapolis, I was interviewed for the Indianapolis Star. Apparently I was so interesting, the reporter started with one of my ancedotes about playing, “Count the people of color game,” in which my friend and I counted minorities attending the convention in Milwaukee. It took us a couple of hours to get up to double digits.

But that was six years ago and it’s funny seeing how much the convention has changed over time. I don’t know if it’s because geekdom is becoming more chic, but there’s definite spots of color at the gaming tables now – it’s not just a sea of white. Even more heartening (as an Asian-American woman), I’m seeing more women of color take up the reins of running games.

Another thing that brought me glee this year was seeing a very out and proud gay gamer contingent. I started seeing them last year. You couldn’t miss the “GAY-MER. +5 TO FABULOUSNESS” shirts. I also had a out and proud GM one night, who ran the game like every other game. In the gaming world, it’s shouldn’t be about what color/gender/sexuality you are. It’s about how you run and play the damn game.

What also amused me is seeing how many families with young children were at the tables. Parents pushed strollers up and down the aisles (although aisle-clogging SUV-sized strollers are not fun to maneuver around). Gen Con obviously recognizes this, judging by all the family-friendly activities they had planned for the weekend and all the games that marketed themselves as family-friendly.

Why do these changes make me cheer? Because for a long time, it has felt like gaming is a “boys-only” club, where any sense of otherness is greeted with suspicion or ham-handedness attempts at political-correctness that degenerate into unintentional hilarity.

Now it feels like I can head to the table, break out my dice and character sheet and get my game on without worrying about someone telling me what to do, talking to my husband instead of me for strategy or saying just something completely boneheaded and stupid, or at worse, flirting with me (not that I would honestly notice — my hsuband noticed the flirting and leering before I ever did. Which shows you how oblivious I am.).

It’s also proof that as a parent, you don’t give up everything and become a “serious” grown-up. You can keep some things like gaming (be it video games, tabletop or something else). There is juggling, but you still can have fun.

I know that someday, we’re going to take my daughter to Gen Con and that it’ll become a family vacation for us (my husband is already speculating as to how soon we can bring our daughter to Gen Con and she’ll have a good time). What’s a comfort is knowing that we can go as a family and even if one of us is on “parent” duty, there’s still fun to be had.

Commercial versus Non Commercial use?

Creative Commons licenced work by dbking

Creative Commons licenced work by dbking

Due to the difficult line determining what is commercial and non-commercial use of copyrighted materials, Creative Commons has recently completed a study regarding this issue — with surveys of both content creators and users (PDF full report here). This study has lots of interesting  information for the fan-creative-remix community.

The study’s findings include that

Many group participants noted that there are promotional and thus potentially economic or commercial advantages to creators in connection with releasing content freely for noncommercial use. For these creators, “credit” for permitting noncommercial use is very important, and the question of attribution is something that gets factored into their consideration of when a use is acceptable. … As a practical matter, many seem to consider noncommercial use as having minimal or indirect commercial impact, rather than absolutely no commercial impact.

What about users?

As do creators, users often approach the question of noncommercial use on a case-by-case basis. Paralleling many creators’ approach to deciding when to allow or license a noncommercial use, many users also explained they use content guided by their own principles or personal rules of thumb, or in accord with practices followed by other users, which they hope creators are more likely to accept, on a “safety in numbers” theory. Verbatim examples of how some users articulate their understanding of when a use is noncommercial include:
· “if it’s for education or personal use”
· “if it does not compete – noncommercial is really non-compete”
· “if the creator is getting promotional value”

Jessica Litman in Lawful Personal Use suggests that personal uses of copyright works arguably *is* outside of copyright protection.

So how does the study respond? It alows for leaning towards that direction:

users are much more likely than creators to rate personal or private uses as noncommercial, and there is strong consensus among users on this point. Thus this particular use scenario, at least as rated by users, stands out from all the others as being the most ‘definitively’ noncommercial …. Creators also agree that personal or private uses are the least commercial of all scenarios measured, but it is striking to have this one instance in which users believe the use is even less commercial than creators.

I read some books: Copyright Blues

This was supposed to be a book review of William Patry’s new book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. However, while reading this book, I kept thinking back to Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism. Patry looks over the history of copyright and how we got to the place we are at — where many ignore copyright, yet punitive measures are used; Helprin looks to an idealized past, where life was slower, and copyright bandits are ruining his nap (and his grandchildren’s earnings).

In some ways, these books are telling the same story — something is very wrong with copyright and unless something is done, the situation will become untenable.

Ed with Betamax On Cowboy Bebop

Ed with Betamax On Cowboy Bebop

However, they approach the situation very differently.  Patry’s book is a seamless academic analysis of why our present copyright situation is based on panic. One of the most interesting sections in the book analyzes Jack Valenti (head of the RIAA)’s race-baiting analysis of the evils of the VCR. And about the dangers of extended copyright terms — assuming U.S. law or Japanese law applies, the Betamax tape at issue in this episode of Cowboy Bebop is still copyright-protected. In 2071.

On the other hand, Helprin writes about how the moral fibre of our country is tied into traditional ways of living, and copyright — and puts an often nasty and personalized spin on “kids these days with their newfangled ways and their [rock and/or hip-hop music]!”

Patry: Highly recommended for academics and those who can’t get enough of copyright. For more from Patry — and likely in a format more palatable for the non-academic, check out Patry’s book blog.

Helprin: Perhaps his fiction is better, if you like to learn more about the lives of men from the past (seriously, just read the opening “man of leisure”/ George Jetson salvo). And for an analysis of his errors, read Lawrence Lessig!