I recently created an autobiographical photo essay about my walk to work, and I’ve also written a more probing piece to put that set of observations and reflections into the context of local environmental politics.
Another dimension to this story not fully explored in those pieces centers around the centrality (blech, whatever, live with it) of the symbolic value of the Enderman in my daughter’s life.
She is, right now, heavy into Minecraft. Her first few forays involved creating a rabbit “sanctuary” (if “sanctuary” may be defined as “spawning as many rabbits as possible, as rapidly as possible, over a 20 minute period, in water, on floating islands in the sky, in snow-capped envrions, in caves, in villages, and anywhere else upon the 8 bit Earth”); loosely cooperating with me on a yet-still-in-nascent-stages scale model of pre-colonial Stanley Park, including Deadman’s Island (the section for which she’s insists on exclusive control); and various failed co-housing treehouse projects that we’ve gotten into, which have all ended up indeterminate/unfinished, or have turned into full scale mutual griefing of each other’s creations, usually with pots of lava dumped all over everything. Occasionally I have hidden various creatures in mysterious cobblestone cabins while she is sleeping, to provide her with amusement the next day, and she returns the favour by spawning zombies or skeletons in hidden places, or putting up nether portals without my knowledge. We’ve bought books, researched how to set traps and build complex machines online, and had a lot of fun exploring this together over the past month.
So last week, when some dipshit boy in her class, upon seeing my daughter carrying a Minecraft book, told her “Minecraft is for boys”, I not only became enraged (and turned that rage *not* into finding out who the kid is and griefing his parents’ house with toilet paper, but into politely asking her teacher to address -collectively – sexism in the class, which she’s been doing), I became curious about exploring the built in gender programming in Minecraft.
There is, of course, much lively and problematic dialogue going on about gender and gaming culture, and specifically, the rampant sexism in the industry and texts of games (I don’t need to link to this, do I? Just search “Zoe Quinn” and “Anita Sarkeesian”). Patriarchy and sexism are in plenty supply in Minecraft, as with other gaming environments. I don’t have the space and time right now to explore with you all of the issues yet (I’m not even aware of what they all might be), but for starters, there’s the default male avatar (“Steve”, who reminds me a bit of the Mario Brothers), which can only be changed by uploading a gif, by either creating one yourself, or by going to a third party site to do so. Once on one of these third party sites, there are numerous popular coded-as-female avatars that have been created by players, including “hot girl”, “cute girl”, “daisy girl” (etc…these ones were found here). While there are some coded-as-female avatars that are a bit more butch or gender-neutral, the avatars that bear the branding marks of the male gaze seem to be the most obvious, prominent, and popular choices for girls.
That said, I’m not claiming to have authoritative knowledge about this – all of this is anecdotal observation. There do seem to be feminist enclaves of crafters. A great writeup on gender and Minecraft is here.
So one of the primary messages I’m gathering from the article I just linked to is that: while Minecraft is meant to be post-gender, it has attracted audiences that are not. Worth looking into further…
Said writeup doesn’t mention the Enderman, which was my entry point into all of this. I think the Enderman is curiously provocative in this space of thought. Endermen can teleport (gender fluidity?), are harmed by water (Wicked Witch of the West?), and do mysterious, non-instrumental things with blocks that are, normatively, meant to build shelters on the Minecraft frontier (feminist repurposing of technology?).
I have significant sidebar issues with the rewards obtained via animal exploitation and consumption in Minecraft. We play primarily in “creative” (not “survival”) mode (as if those things can be analytically distinguished, like, ever), so we’re currently under no such pressures to kill animals to turn them into resources, or put them to work in machines (as some players do).
Can Endermen teleport to a Minecraft scenario where the constraints are different? Have the Endermen seen the future? If so, can an ecofeminist Minecraft be far behind? I’m not saying this in jest. I simply want a new compelling narrative – with interesting, posthuman, poststructural characters like the Enderman – to lead us to more ethical pixels.
She gets the Enderman stuffy from Santa (who also teleports) this evening.