It’s been a few years since the “are video games art” question has been raised and pretty much resolved. Yes, video games are art. But with that question out of the way, we’re left with “what’s next?” To that end, I believe we are lucky that many outlets (such as our own) are more than willing to discuss games as an art form, in a similar vein to the way we discuss books or movies. For this week’s web crush, I want to highlight Vice’s gaming division: Waypoint.
Now that this semester of grad school has ended, I finally have time to write a post! It just so happens to be our last post before our holiday break, too, which tells you a bit about the craziness of my schedule…. You see, I’m a PhD student studying Learning Sciences, which is all about researching how people learn and how we can use those findings to reform the educational system. Trying to balance my online fandom life with my grad school life has been an ongoing struggle, but surprisingly, one of the things I’ve learned in my program is that many researchers in and around this field study the educational implications of fandom. Well, now I’m here to cross over between my offline and online life by sharing some of that work with you, as well as some findings from my own research!
It may come as no surprise to you that fans learn a great deal from engaging in fandom, whether they’re writing fanfics, composing meta, creating fanart, making cosplays, or heck, even writing essays from a critical lens like on this blog! But fandom still tends to be viewed dismissively by mainstream culture, and even we fans sometimes devalue our engagement as a mere “hobby”. Modern learning theorists now acknowledge the importance of learning outside of school, and are calling for in-school learning to be more like the interest- and peer-driven realm of outside-of-school learning, including hobbies like fandom. There are so many ways that fan engagement is related to the kinds of subjects people learn in school and to skills that are generally useful in life. And better yet, it’s in a context that people really care about, rather than the decontextualized content conventionally presented in schools, which can seem random and unconnected to students’ lives.
So, this fandom thing you’re doing right now? It’s totally legitimate, important, and socially responsible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
I’m not sure where I first stumbled upon the Are They Gay? web series, but I’m sure glad I did. This series provides a funny, inclusive, and informative analysis of various slash ships that starts and ends with asking the titular question: are these two people gay? It features a wide variety of pairings including mlm and wlw slash ships, and is a great primer to the history and background of certain ships in addition to ultimately offering an answer to that pressing question.
Click below for the interview!
As much as I enjoyed watching it, it’s honestly no surprise that Free! ended up being queerbait—this appears to be true with most modern sports anime, as the internet is only too glad to convince me. Honestly, in watching the Iwatobi swim team go through their struggles to be seen as legitimate, it’s all too easy to forget that Iwatobi High is actually a co-ed school. Free!’s main conflict comes from the miscommunication between two of the male leads; however, this leads into a staggering case of gender disparity among the cast; a problem many anime—especially sports anime—has. Sports anime tends to hyperfocus on a group of teammates and their rivals, bringing attention to every little piece of their past, every small piece of drama within the group, and every lingering gaze they may give each other. The few classmates of theirs who are girls are typically relegated to roles of “unnamed, unobtainable crush”, “childhood best friend”, or “team manager”. These characters are sometimes somewhat fleshed out, but typically only in a way that serves to emphasize how close the boys are. This leads to a majority of ships in these fandoms being M/M (since they get a majority of the characterization), and the ladies getting further swept under the rug, sometimes with great, undeserved hatred behind it.
Wading around in the otome game fandom, and just the anime fandom in general, there’s a very real sense of hate and misogyny lingering in the background of almost every series. Especially in the otome game fandom, where it’s typically one female character planted between a bunch of dudes, the heroine is almost always criticized for being too passive, too bitchy, too emotional, too stupid, or just too annoying. Legitimately the list could go on forever. More than that, though, there always seems to be a part of these fandoms that resents the heroine for existing in the first place—for getting in the way of their gay ships (which, really, why are you playing an otome game then?). Following this logic, for a show seemingly exclusively created for a female audience, it would seem only appropriate that the Free! fandom would show this same vitriol for the show’s most prominent female character, Kou Matsuoka. Yet this wasn’t the case. In fact, Kou was one of the most beloved characters on the show, but I wouldn’t say this was due specifically to her being a good character. Rather, I’d fathom it was because she was a self-insert character for a niche audience: the fujoshi.
As a note, I’m speaking only from the core anime; I haven’t read or watched any material outside that.
It’s no secret at this point that I enjoy the kinkier side of things. BDSM has always been something that has interested me because there is something especially enjoyable about the power dynamics. And I enjoy seeing those dynamics in the fanfiction that I read, even when the fanfiction itself isn’t strictly BDSM.
There can be issues with power dynamics, of course; for example, most romance novels have some kind of power dynamics between the couple. Usually, the male holds a good portion of the power. This doesn’t necessarily mean the female love interest is docile in any way, although it is often the case in some novels. It’s been my experience that fandom likes when the less physically and/or socially powerful person is strong willed and intelligent and doesn’t take any crap from their more powerful counterpart. However, they usually still ultimately need their more powerful love interest. Even classics like Pride and Prejudice share this dynamic. Elizabeth doesn’t take Darcy’s shit, but ultimately he has more power in society than her, and it’s only with his help that Elizabeth’s family is able to escape a scandal that would have ruined them forever. The problem with these dynamics is that in mainstream pop culture, we largely see women in the less powerful role. And even in fanfiction, which usually focuses on queer relationships, the power dynamics still come off as heteronormative at times.
I suppose that one of the things that drew me to BDSM is that those power dynamics are out in the open and negotiated before the relationship begins. Rather than deal with societal understandings of who should be the dominant partner (men) and who should be the submissive (women), BDSM allows people to discuss what frankly all couples, whether kinky or vanilla, should be doing anyway. Since BDSM isn’t considered a quote-unquote “normal” part of society, there are fewer preconceived notions of how a relationship should be. But what if BDSM was the norm? Fanfiction often has a lot of alternate universes that I enjoy, but none moreso than AUs where BDSM is the norm. However, they bring with them a lot of interesting and problematic issues.
Saika: It’s been about a month now, and it’s still hard for me to believe that Homestuck is over. I came to the fandom in 2013, when the story was already deep in the throes of Act 6 and its multiple sub- and sub-sub-acts, but it feels like I’ve been part of this wacky and oft-maligned group for longer than that. However, the fact stands that Homestuck has ended, so Syng and I have teamed up to hit you with our thoughts on said ending.
Syng: In this retrospective, we’re going to look back on both of our journeys with Homestuck, as well as reflect on the end of the story and what it means for us as fans moving forward. Spoilers for all of Homestuck (since we now have all of it; this is so weird) below!