What’s in a name?

I suppose you’ll have noticed by now the quote in the header. I confess this quote was a conveniently apropos quote that I found through a google books search when launching this blog, but has no relation to the process of creating the name by which I identify myself on the internet.

No, that’s a different tale altogether, and I am not simply indulging in narcissistic nostalgia by telling (some of) it. Names have power, especially when they’re names we choose ourselves. Listen, dear reader, and you shall hear.

It should be no surprise (I mean, really, “morbid” is half of this name) that I’m a bit of a baby goth. The colorful clothes throw it off for some people, but when it comes down to it I’m definitely sullen and I’d say emo except emo developed when I was just older than its inhabitants. Back in 2003, when I was barely a teenager and starting a blog, I wrote a poem about myself that included the line “morbid flying in warped dreams.” (Protip: don’t try to google it, it won’t really work.) When I had to think of a username that wasn’t an obvious one, I took the first two words and smashed them together to get morbidflight. It worked, and I’m eternally grateful to my creativity.

So that name, “morbidflight,” comes out of a fairly dark period of my life and more embarrassingly than that, a fairly juvenile one. I don’t claim to have matured significantly in the intervening eleven years (although I hope I have). I’m still morbid(ly) flying through warped dreams. I’m still very much morbidflight. The old blog might not exist where it used to, but it definitely exists on the web. I need a record of my past as much as I need a record of my present.

But the story is never that simple. I’ve believed for a long time that the only reason we believe in consistency of character, of personality, is that we keep the same name. And as a member of the generation that grew up with relatively easy internet access, I understand the value of pseudonymous identities. Yes, plural, identities. I have a name that I use in meatspace with few misgivings, and I’m rather attached to it. I have morbidflight for the internet, and I’m rather attached to that as well. But I’m also someone in a position of developing a professional identity in meatspace that is tightly intertwined with what I do on the interwebs. And therein lies the rub.

What is my name? What does it matter that this group of people defined only by their real-world location calls me by one moniker, while this group of people defined only by their lack of real-world location calls me by another. Why do I care so much about keeping these names, and these identities, separate? These thoughts have been going through my head for several years now, but I think the decision to write these down is in part spurred by a friend’s recent name change (yay, friend). To throw out a spate of offhand metaphors, names are records, names are identifiers, names are choices that we make and choices made for us.

I prefer to make the choice myself, controlling the relationship between my meatspace name and my cyberspace name as best I can. This is why you might see me request to delete something that has my name in it, or fail to see me claim ownership of a thing that has my name in it. I definitely don’t do this as well as I should, or as well as others would expect, but I do it in a way that works for me. It’s not an easy distinction between professional and personal identities; in my case it really feels more like a distinction between meatspace and cyberspace. But I’m professional and personal in both of those spaces—ask anyone who’s ever been at a conference with me, or anyone who I visited after getting to know online. And to complicate this further, I go by different pronunciations of my name depending on the country in which I am located and the language I am speaking. In the past year or two, I’ve even started responding to a name used only by a small group of people.

I guess it’s safe to say that I go by many names, all of which correspond to me. Even if it feels a little weird to let people call me “morbid” and leave off the “flight,” that’s a nickname. People say “morbidflight” out loud when they want my attention. Maybe it started out as a name I chose for myself, but now it’s a name that others use for me. I am accountable because I use this name consistently, and accountable because this name corresponds to a story, a telling of my life.

And that’s about what it means to be a name.

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On Minecraft and positive reinforcement

In which your author decides to try Minecraft.

I’ve had Don’t Starve and enjoyed it for some time now (I think I first tried it in June 2013), and I’ve always heard that it’s basically a Minecraft clone with fancier graphics and a different set of problems. Not that different, but different enough. So I downloaded the demo for Minecraft several months ago (onto my old computer), and didn’t have much fun with it.

Today, however, was the end of a stressful week, and I wanted to do something that was fun and cooperative (we’ll get to that part later I think) and without win-conditions. I don’t feel like playing a game that put pressure on me to perform. So I booted up the demo, started a new world with “Peaceful” selected, and actually put some effort into trying to learn the controls. So far, I’m enjoying it, and if I like the demo I think I’ll actually buy the game so I can play with people. I’m going to be the boring person who just wanders around and makes stuff…but I think I’m okay with that. Maybe I should try Farmville instead (no).

I think this is known as self-care, and I’ll let you know how it works (and if I end up deciding to buy the game).

Also, if you’re curious, I highly recommend Don’t Starve if you’re looking for an enjoyable but intense single-player game. The spiders are adorable. But don’t go near them.

In which your author revises her opinion of Suchman

Technologies can be understood as materials whose stability relies upon the continuous reproduction of their meaning and usefulness in practice.

– Suchman (1993), “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use.”

I’ve had similar thoughts and read similar thoughts strewn over papers before but this is a perfect crystallization of the nature of technology. I think this has to go on my mythical quote board, to pull out whenever someone questions why I care about smashing up materiality and practice and context and performance into a great big ball of “research material.” It’s why, although I focus on games, I also look at literature and scanlation (lol yeah really) and “new media” in general.

But I’ll be honest, this works just as well to explain myths, or methods, or anything used by people to make meaning. Which makes me wonder: what if technologies are tools for meaning-making? As in, understand technology as anything that a person uses in order to add meaning? I know this is sloppy, but I feel like it kind of has to be in order to capture the human elements of this. I’m suggesting we look at myths and methods (just to be consistent here) as technologies in the production of meaning.

tl;dr: Suchman got this one right on the nose, and I’m grateful for it.

THATCamp RTP

I was in North Carolina for the weekend and I found out about a THATCamp being held in the Triangle (THATCampRTP: Digital Knowledge), so I figured I might as well go. It was on Friday, March 28, and lasted all day. I personally had a great time, but I like this sort of event where talking and meeting people and learning skills is involved (I think that’s why I like school, and why I like it better when it’s less formal).

I don’t have much to say from it, so I’m going to try something experimental: a list of things that I know now that I didn’t before attending, in no particular order  (I lied, it’ll be vaguely chronological).

  • I can play around with hardware and circuits and software just by plugging something into my computer
  • I miss working with breadboards and circuits and I should pick up a kit and try stuff on my own
  • It annoys me when people assume I don’t understand basic things and explain those to me, rather than actually listening to my question.
  • Lunch with friends is always good and sometimes it’s easy to forget that academics are people too (as an academic, no less).
  • I hate when people dominate discussions, and I hope I don’t do it. There’s a fine line between making your point and refusing to let others make theirs.
  • Preaching to the choir is fun but usually not very productive, but sometimes it is!
  • On that note, I really need to look into more legal issues/scholarship: I’m talking about games in culture, and law is part of culture.
  • Safe spaces are important to me, and I will do whatever is in my power to help make them so for other people. And I will expect the same in return.
  • That said, I understand that there is a lot of work to be done and that not everyone has the energy/spoons/desire/whatever to do it, and that’s OKAY.
  • There’s a lot of effort that goes into constructing a document to which multiple people can agree and that reflects the competing goals and desires of many. I commend anyone who takes this on.

I’m lucky, here at this blog. I’m the only one whose goals and desires inform it, because this is my space and my writing. And that reminds me of the last thing I learned:

  • I need to write, learn, communicate, and teach. I wouldn’t be me without doing all that. Yes, I need to slack off and take time off and isolate myself sometimes, but when it comes down to it, the production of knowledge is what I want to help with.

New journal of Porn Studies

Thanks to some people who I follow on Twitter, I found out that the first issue of Porn Studies is out now. This is a free, open-access, peer-reviewed journal devoted to porn studies, and just glancing at the titles, it seems like a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to porn (online, manga, whatever your fancy). There’s a roundtable discussion with contemporary porn actors including Stoya (who is fast-becoming my favorite porn star) and Courtney Trouble. There’s some book reviews, including one of the Feminist Porn Book, which I believe is related to the founding of this journal and to the feminist porn conference. Which leads me to a small, but important point: one of the articles includes a term that I would consider questionable in the title, and makes me slightly uncomfortable with recommending this issue outright.

The article in question (link here: title includes defamatory terms for trans* individuals) is an overview of trends in contemporary US adult film production, distribution, and consumption. Naturally, there are some trends that are highly exploitative, and rely on exploitative terminology to identify themselves. The author of this article, Tibbals, includes a footnote explaining her use of terminology, but I don’t think this is really enough to justify the use of slurs in the title, even if it is contextualized within the article. I get that there’s a fine line between using a term that may have been reclaimed by a community, and using a slur, and I commend the thought that clearly went into this decision, but I think it was a misplay to have a defamatory term in the title.

I also recognize that I am speaking from a position of privilege about this, and also a position of trust in the editorial staff for this issue. I’m assuming good faith here. You may decide that you don’t want to, and that’s totally fine.

Moving on: there are a few articles that feed into that thing I was talking about – the online porn and intimacy post from a few days ago. I think within the next few days I’ll read those articles and the book review (and maybe even have a look at the book in question) and try to contextualize those vis-a-vis that post. Maybe I’ll even feel inspired to draw up some design briefs! (Lol. Unlikely.)

Text as interface

While reading Lucy Suchman’s Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions (2007), I had a moment of analogizing texts to machines. Suchman’s argument takes machines as non-human actors (with limited agency) in a network, where ties are created through sensing and communication. There’s a spectrum of engagement with respect to this network, and in Suchman’s view, the designer is present in the network.

So here I am, reading this, and I realize that the span of engagement actually captures what we’ve agreed to disagree about with respect to literary analysis. The gamut from New Criticism to symptomatic readings to Reader Response theory to authorial intent: this is what Suchman captures, except swapping out key terms. Instead of “author,” we have “designer;” instead of “reader,” we have “user.” And instead of “text,” we have “machine.” Or do we?

Figure 8.2: The analytical framework. From Suchman (2007).

Figure 8.2: The analytical framework. From Suchman (2007).

On page 123 of this edition, Suchman includes “Figure 8.2: The analytic framework.” This figure depicts a four-column framework breaking down the interaction between user and machine into the following: 1) actions not available to the machine, 2) actions available to the machine, 3) effects available to the user, 4) design rationale. 1 and 2 comprise the user, and 3 and 4 comprise the machine. This framework drives Suchman’s (conversation) analysis in the meat of her original dissertation: Chapter 9 in this volume. This is the center of my analogy, because I argue that this framework also captures how people and texts interact. I’m going to include a picture of my notes; please indulge me. I’ll also try to recreate it in text below.

My own analogy of textual interpretation to Suchman's User/Machine assemblage.

My own analogy of textual interpretation to Suchman’s User/Machine assemblage. Also, you can see my jawbreaker nails.

So the way I see it is that in Suchman’s analysis, the issue confronting human-machine interaction was the problem of communication and sensing: the machine only has access to so much, and the user only has access to so much. With reader-text interaction, it’s a very similar issue. The reader only has so much knowledge of the author’s brain to go off, and the author only has so much access to the reader’s brain. This is a general issue with all communication, I suppose, and it gets back to what I was talking about with the contextual theory of communication. But using Suchman’s framework as a model, we can begin to see the text as the surface on which the (implied) author and the (implied) reader have access to one another.

The text is the interface.

On Anzaldúa; or, writing is hard but I do it anyway

I’ve always had mixed feelings about writing. That much should be obvious to anyone who’s glanced at this blog: writing is essential to my life (this blog exists), but writing is hard (this blog hasn’t been updated in oh no nearly two months now). The fact that I’m a massive procrastinator and I put off things that I don’t have to do certainly doesn’t help. But it is only in putting thoughts into words that they become worth anything, and so I write. I keep trying, because a few words every few months is still progress. I know from the outside I look lazy, complacent. But complacency is my sworn enemy.

Which is why I had such a reaction to reading Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.

It’s a book that would have changed my life had I read it in high school (or maybe early college). So much of what Anzaldúa talks about makes sense in the context of my life, such as when she talks about growing up in the borderlands between two cultures. Even though my personal experience is less physical border and more psychosocial border, I know what it’s like to exist with two homes, neither of which can fully hold you. Like Anzaldúa says, “I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back” (43). And when she talks about languages and how you ever decide which to use in a given context, I understand, because I live that life. There are people I’ve known since before birth, that cause me to stop and wonder what language I should use to speak to them (as discussed in the section on “Linguistic Terrorism,” 80-81).

More than this shared experience, however, Anzaldúa’s text resonates with something deeper: a shared worldview. Anzaldúa voices that which I dare not say: writing is the struggle of life, and it’s fucking hard.