On Gaming and Cultural Literacy



If you are a parent or you plan to be one, you’re gonna need a gaming console unless you absolutely can’t afford it. Sooner than you think.

Gaming has been a pervasive part of the culture for so long, it’s not unheard-of to meet a 50-something gamer. Half of hardcore gamers or former gamers are women. So there’s a good chance that once your kid starts school, he or she will have at least one friend who’s not only REALLY into gaming, but has a parent or grandparent who actively encourages the interest and is willing to share tricks.

The old stereotype of the gamer as a disaffected white teenage boy using the games as an escape from society hasn’t held for at least 15 years, if there was ever any truth to it at all.

Lots of successful, well-adjusted people of all backgrounds are gamers. It’s a legitimate, mainstream social activity.

I’m a longtime gamer and I remember the early days. Video games have sucked away untold hours of my life. I have an elementary-age grandson who is a social butterfly and a great problem-solver. We’ve been gaming together for a couple of years now. As I’ve watched him grow and learn to express his own preferences, my attitude about children and gaming has evolved.

When he was a toddler, my view was that gaming should start around eight or nine, and I did my best to delay the introduction to the X-Box for as long as possible. This is partly because I think that level of maturity is good for teaching responsible gaming. It’s partly selfish.

I’d been out of gaming for years before I started back up with the kid. I knew I would need to supervise him closely once he started, and that supervising would entail carving out playing time for myself. I can’t stand to just sit and watch when someone else is playing a cool game. I want my turn, too!

By the time he was done with preschool, though, his friends were already talking about video games. He started asking for a console and for specific games. When he stayed over at friends’ houses, he always came back talking about how he’d played some cool game or other.

By the time he was halfway through kindergarten, my opinion on the appropriate age to start a kid gaming had changed. I’d begun to realize that if he didn’t know enough about games to understand what his friends were talking about, he’d be excluded from a lot of conversations. And if he didn’t learn some skills soon, he would end up being the kid in the crowd who sucked at every game. No one wants to be that kid.

At this point, I view console controller skills to be every bit as important as keyboarding, but in a different way. Where the keyboard paves the way to a lot of professional opportunities and social media empowerment, the controller opens the door to a whole spectrum of in-person and online social interaction ranging from  multiplayer gaming to water cooler conversations.

I also think it’s important for kids to start learning to consume media critically before they are even old enough to comprehend the basic concepts of media and criticism. Gaming is a good teaching tool for that, which makes it an important component of media awareness and cultural literacy.

So we started gaming together with a few specific rules.

  1. The online profile is only for streaming services and product registration. Signing into the online profile without permission and supervision makes the XBox go away for a month.
  2. Gaming time is limited, and severely limited on school nights.
  3. Grownups decide what’s appropriate to play and how often.
  4. Any time a game begins to inform our non-gaming behavior too much, we have to stop playing that game and play others for a week, or a month, or whatever length of time is appropriate.

That last item is critical. Although there is no causal connection between video game violence and real-world violence, even many of the most cartoonish rated-E games involve some form of combat. Since the younger kids are, the more malleable they are, gaming has to be closely supervised. It’s also important to emphasize, over and over, that video games are no more real than movies, and violence is never o.k. except in a couple of very specific circumstances.

So I game with my grandson often. We started out playing Kinect sports and racing games, then graduated to more complex activities. We rarely play competitively. We’ll run street races or jump into the Disney Infinity Toybox and smack one another around with lightsabers now and then, but for the most part, if we’re playing together we’re cooperating.

He started asking for first-person combat games almost from the minute he got the X-Box. Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed are definitely out. He drools and pleads when he sees advertisements for those franchises, but they aren’t age-appropriate, and I am not sure when they will be. Which brings me to Halo.

I’m not sure where Halo ranks on the list of all-time most popular franchises, but it’s pervasive. Even as early as first grade, many of his classmates and a lot of his friends knew all about Halo and had played some version of it with older siblings. Until Halo 5, which is rated for Teens, these games are all rated M.

Now, I love a good first-person shooter, but I was clear I didn’t want a FPS in the house until I said it was ok. I didn’t claim the sole right to make that call because I’m the head of the household or the “man.” I claimed it because I’m the only adult gamer in the house and that makes me the most qualified judge of what content is acceptable for a seven-year-old and what’s not. And I stuck to my guns right up to the day Halo: Reach slipped into the house under my radar.

It happened during a period where we were checking out games at the library as a way of sampling different things without spending money. The local library doesn’t have a very good selection, and most rated E games get a “meh” from the kid because he reads the marketing images as babyish. Add in the fact that he’d been feeling deprived for months because we were keeping him away from the combat games, and a meltdown with an adult who doesn’t know gaming very well was sure to occur eventually.

If you don’t know Halo, it’s a series of military science fiction games which play like first-person shooters and have linear storylines. The franchise is known for realistic physics, vivid characterization, and exquisite cut-scenes. It has an engaged, sometimes rabid fanbase. It’s made a ton of money and spawned numerous spinoffs in other media over the last 15 years.


Comment: Maybe in the near future, conlanging won’t be seen as geeky either.



Even you, even you, my dear reader, will have to admit that existence is crammed with misfortune – and even you will have to acknowledge that this misery only increases as we get older. Things only get worse as time goes on. An obvious, observable design.

I have a suspicion that this plan continues after death, and that only constant torment awaits us in the realm beyond. This same pattern of torment persists throughout life – and afterlife. If there is a hereafter, then it is going to be horrific. When it is all said and done, eternal anguish is what humanity truly deserves.

Consider it as theistic pessimism. Only a malevolent entity could devise something as horrendous as existence – and I think that there is a horrible shock awaiting everyone after death. Surely this much agony cannot be the result of mere random chance. No ache is an accident. This much unhappiness has got be the result of a deliberate plot against you – there just isn’t any other explanation.

Your last breath is not going to end the pain, but only make things worse. I am not convinced that death is the cessation of suffering – as much as its continuance in a different form. I am certain that some evil being designed the world, and he has saved the greatest tortures for all eternity. You may not believe in an afterlife – but the Lord has got a little surprise awaiting you. Think of it as the ultimate practical joke.

There is never any end to suffering – in this world or the next. No comforter, no savior, no redeemer. You’ll see.

Comment: Just like john Zande, he is beginning to see Truth. Hell is eternal, hell is eternal, hell is eternal…

Do Constructed Languages have Linguistic Value?






So I unleashed a giant can of worms today on Reddit, asking if there were any graduate programs centered around or dabbling in constructed languages. The second response I received was from a user who insisted that constructed languages weren’t real languages (with the inevitable example of…(with the inevitable example of Klingon).

And then there was confusion over what actually constitutes a constructed language and why there is an academic stigma against even mentioningthem. Is ASL a “conlang”? What about Modern Hebrew? Or Wampanoag? What about pidgins?

So my question to Tumblr is: What linguistic value is there to studying existing constructed languages?

Perhaps there is no practical value to studying conlangs but for budding linguists, they provide a wealth of opportunity to explore and practice analysing.

Even more than that, they can reveal something about the how the human mind interacts with language and allows for an outlet of brilliant creativity.

Its been proved over and over that learning another language helps brain functions, I doubt it matters whether the language is constructed or not.

Besides, most languages are constructed or manipulated in some way to serve the political or social needs of the time. At the end of the day, even ‘natural’ languages are only a product of the human interactions with it.

I agree with all of the above (with some caveats with the last paragraph…), and I’d like to add some thoughts. ConLangs clearly *do* have some kind of stigma attached to them among “professional linguists”. Even those of us who are interested in them can’t do “real research” on them (in the US especially, though there does seem to be some professional interest in AuxLangs over in Europe). There hasn’t always been this stigma— Edward Sapir was a supporter of the idea of an international AuxLang and many of his contemporaries were as well (not to mention Tolkien!). So what’s happened? What changed? And why?

Why does it offend people— not just strike them as silly and banal, but outright offend— when I tell them I teach a class on ConLangs?

It can’t be because they’re “useless” or lack “practical value”. If that were the argument, then we could say the same thing for Tucano, which has fewer speakers than Esperanto, Arapaho, which has fewer speakers than Klingon, or even Wolof, which has quite a few speakers, but is not exactly a “practical” language to learn for most people. Indeed, in terms of “practicality” let’s all learn English, Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic and chuck the rest, yeah?

CLEARLY, THAT IS A RIDICULOUS STATEMENT that no respectable linguist (really, no respectable person) would consider. So the anti-ConLang sentiment can’t rest on ground of “practicality”.

Well, what of the issue of time/resource management— the idea that learning Klingon takes away from learning Michif? While this is at least a better argument, it’s still not a very solid one; it falls back on a notion of utilitarianism that always falls apart. Why waste time on Novial when you could learn Kawaiisu? Well, why waste time reading Willa Cather when you could be reading Shakespeare? Or why waste time on Language when you could learn Programming? In a humanities-based endeavor especially, there’s always a danger in this “why waste time” argument because the utilitarian value of things isn’t always immediately recognized— nor is it even always clear. If learning Loglan gets you interested in language, there’s already value, I feel. And if it doesn’t? So what?

So the anti-ConLang sentiment really can’t rest on a utilitarian argument, either.

So what’s left? Honestly, I’ve thought about this for a long while now and I just don’t know. Is it a kind of Frankenstein revulsion at “playing god” with language? Is it the fear that “normal linguists” will be tainted by association with “those dorks who speak Dothraki”? Is it some hold-over connection that people make between the AuxLang movement of the 19th Century and the kind of Romantic Notion of The Folk that justified racism and eventually leads to Hitler? Is it, like most things in modern linguistics, Chomsky’s fault?

I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know. Every single other field has a notion of what I call the “artefactual approach”— a practice-by-doing, toy-model-testing, break-it-to-see-how-it-works way of investigating their objects of study. Clearly, natural science and engineering take this “artefactual approach” with At Home Chemistry Sets, Build A Clock From A Potato, Make Your Own Sundial, etc etc etc. But even most of the humanities teach artefactually as well— Anthropology has us to “study” our family home, archaeologize our own trash cans; Math gives us calculator games and blocks for comparing powers of ten; History tells us to look into our family trees (which is as far removed from ‘Professional History’ as anything); Computer Programming, Art, and Music are *literally* a learn-by-making approach to knowledge; Economics and Psychology have almost nothing but toy models we’re encourage to play with, even if they aren’t physical artefacts. Even English wouldn’t expect us to develop an appreciation of the written word without DOING SOME WRITING, right?


So, if we want to make a case for the value of Linguistics— for the value of LANGUAGES— we can’t afford to keep ignoring ConLangs. We can’t even afford to treat them as polite oddities that “those people” do. We have to welcome them into the fold, develop the respect for them they deserve, and we have to start using them as teaching tools. Basically, if linguistics wants to survive the next century, it has to start making language into an thing to be played with, not a thing to revere.

I’ve gone back and forth on ConLangs, but I agree with the points here now. And one of the Ling Space team is big into them, too, so I’ve heard about them more, too.

Back in the day, my main complaint about them was trying to use ConLangs to prove things that they weren’t really constructed to do. Or, to put it differently, trying to make points about natural language syntax or phonology or such. Often, I thought that the people doing this were being oversimplistic and not taking into account factors that could come to bear on the thrust of whatever argument they were trying to make. And so the experiments they were doing were then of dubious value.

But there’s a lot to be done with them and playing around with them and all that for helping draw people in and having fun with language and understanding how languages can work. It’s accessible and can help draw people into thinking about language in general. And if you’re careful, you can build experiments around them that could tell us about language in general, for sure. It’s not off limits.

And really, they’re fun, on top of the rest of it. If you like analyzing real languages and working out how they tick and cultural and historical influences, why not have fun with thinking about it from your own world? I always really appreciate it when someone’s clearly done the work to make a language really work like a language in a fantasy world. It makes the world feel more real.

So yeah. Making languages can be just as valid as studying ones that are around already. You just need to know what your goal is for doing it. ^_^

I was making up languages back when I was a big nerd writing Epic Fantasy in high school, and it would be a flat-out lie to say that doesn’t strongly tie in with the fact that I eventually went on to study linguistics. I think interest in ConLangs goes hand in hand with interest in capital-L Language, that weird thing we do with our hands and faces that makes us understand each other, that’s built communities, that’s started wars. I can’t agree more with dsbigham‘s idea that linguists should embrace ConLang as the hands-on lab for its science, just like home chemistry kits or Meccano sets or whatever. I’ve sort of been pushing for thelingspace to eventually do an episode about ConLangs, actually, because yeah, even though they’re not usually umbrellaed under Linguistics proper, they definitely are super neat and interest a lot of people.

I’m thinking, could it be that the generalized disdain for ConLangs in the academic linguistic community might spring from a fear of not being taken seriously? After all, even as it is, we sort of have to struggle to be considered a science sometimes (you just have to look at my degree to see that). This being in spite of, you know, systematic methodology, testable predictions with reproducible results, practical and theoretical applications, heck, I even used electrode caps in my thesis research. I don’t especially take issue with having gotten an arts degree for a neuroimaging study myself, but I know stuff like that doesn’t sit well with some people; maybe those are the same people who shun ConLangs as somehow not being “real” linguistics?

One more point. The whole deal behind (a major part of) linguistics is that language is a thing that just sort of happens, through no individual or social effort – people might spend a lot of time thinking and teaching and working with and debating language, but fundamentally, it’s a magical wonderful miracle sprung from the brain of every typically functioning infant in the history of the species. This idea, itself, has not been without contention (maybe babies are just really reallygood at learning from behavioural patterns, etc), so maybe there is a tendency among generative linguists to discredit ConLangs as fake and offensive because they obviously aren’t sprung from the literal mouths of babes. If people start thinking that ConLangs are linguistically valid, WELL. So long, Universal Grammar. It’ll be an uphill battle to fight all over again.

I dunno. Some of the coolest, smartest people I know have made languages up. But I definitely remember the red hot shame of being a Ling undergrad and being ridiculed for my interest in ConLangs. Complicated issue.

Reproductive Justice

The ProChoice
Movement Has a White Supremacy Problem – And AntiChoice
Advocates Are Using It to Their Advantage — Everyday Feminism

Like many other outcast teenaged white girls of the
90s, my initial identity as a feminist was super
influenced by the Riot Grrrl movement.
I came out as a dyke, joined a punk band, and began
building community with other radical, like-minded
grrrls and womyn. We ran zine libraries, organized
political actions, toured the country playing music,
and had endless conversations about SmashingThePatriarchy.
The more I learned about misogyny, the angrier I got. The angrier I got, the more important
it felt to integrate feminist activism into my daily life.
So aside from growing out my armpit hair, listening to Bikini Kill, and obsessively memorizing
bell hooks passages, I also got involved with the reproductive rights movement.
I have now been a medical assistant and clinical abortion advocate for almost ten years, but
when I first started doing this work, I felt as though it was my feminist duty to align myself
with the pro-choice movement as an “ally” of sorts.
In my early twenties, I was under the staunch and arrogant belief that I, myself, would never be
in need of an abortion. After all, I didn’t even have sex with people who could even get me

I was a capital “L” Lesbian — a naive and self-righteous baby-dyke who still associated
gender with anatomy and had yet to understand the complexities of her own queer desires.
I think it’s fair to say that I initially became involved with the pro-choice movement from a “charity-based” mindset as opposed to a “solidarity-based” one.
I saw myself as a responsible, civic-minded Lesbian selflessly investing her time and energy helping “poor straight women” escape the unfortunate consequences of their sex lives.
This all changed when, at the age of 25, I accidentally got pregnant.
Once I realized that anatomy and gender had nothing to do with each other — or with my
sexual orientation — it was open season! I learned that some of my dates did have the potential to get me pregnant because – lightbulb! – some women have penises and produce sperm!
Identifying as a Queer instead of a Lesbian finally began to make much more sense to me.
It suddenly dawned on me that, though I’d chosen to ignore it, there had always been a myriad
of ways I could have accidentally become pregnant before this — that as someone living in a patriarchal society with the kind of reproductive anatomy I have, I was just as vulnerable to the possibility of accruing an unwanted pregnancy as the patients I supported every day.
Finally I understood that that the fight to keep abortion safe and legal wasn’t only relevant to cisgender, heterosexual women – it was necessary the entire well-being of—well—humanity.
There were queer women in my community who are in the sex industry and occasionally came in for abortions because they’d been with some asshole john who’d poked holes in their condoms out of spite.
There were queer couples who planned to have children together, inseminated, and then
broken up, leaving one partner to choose between abortion and single parenthood.
Furthermore, due to the obscenely high incidents of rape in our culture some of us become
pregnant without ever having consented to having sex in the first place. As a survivor of sexual assault, how could I have ever overlooked this fact?
Once this “Us verses Them” mentality was finally dismantled, my heart was reinvested in
the reproductive justice movement in more genuine and holistic way.
Over the years I’ve continued to gain a more nuanced understanding of what it means to not only be a queer woman working in this realm of healthcare, but also what it means to be a feminist, able-bodied, cisgended white woman in the world and doing this sort of work.
But more about that later…
Infamous Anti-Choice Terror Tactics
Working at various clinics across California over the years has made me a witness to the ways in which US reproductive rights debates play out at the literal sites of confrontation.
In earlier days, I remember dealing with protesters whose tactics were of an aggressive,
sometimes violent nature.
These folks would form impenetrable picket lines to block patients from being able enter the clinic. They would schedule fake appointments in order to gain access into the building, and then stage theatrical, shame-inducing sermons in the waiting rooms. They’d take over the clinic parking lot and vandalize staff cars with blood-red, acrylic paint.
It was even common for protesters to stand on the sidewalk dressed in Grim Reaper costumes disemboweling toy dolls and chucking little plastic limbs at patients as they approached the clinic.
They’d call in bomb threats, hold up banners with graphic images of stillborn infants on them (WTF?), and pass out pamphlets filled with misinformation meant to traumatize people out of having abortion procedures.
On a national level, affiliates of Operation Rescue and other anti-choice spin-off groups were known for stalking and murdering abortion providers, as well as for firebombing reproductive health clinics all over the country.
As volatile as that generation of anti-abortion activists were, they did a pretty good job of
making themselves look like nothing more than a crew of malicious hecklers.
Average members of society who stood on the opposing side of the pro-choice debate often hesitated to call themselves “pro-life” for fear of being associated with these extremest groups or the harmful, violent tactics they implored.
What Has Changed? While there are still clinic bombers and doctor hunters out there, there have been major shiftsin the tactics used by the mainstream pro-life movement.
They have radically transformed their public persona, approaching the abortion debate with thoughtful, compelling arguments meant to engage members of various disenfranchised communities – communities we all know the right wing has never been invested in serving prior to this.
Instead of using shock and shame tactics, anti-choice activists have reframed the “pro-life” debate around issues of a failing system, gendered oppression, and both historical and contemporary forms of institutionalized racism.
They have taken advantage of the pro-choice movement’s general failure to address or
confront the violence waged against people of color, folks with disabilities, and working
class/poor folks throughout history.
The right wing is successfully exploiting the fact that mainstream feminists often focus on
single-issue struggles instead of addressing the overarching and intersecting forms of
oppression (like race, class, gender, and ability) that are constantly at play.
As much as it pains me to admit, the protesters outside our clinic doors today are actually
distributing some pretty accurate historical information about the racist, ableist motives that the reproductive rights movement was founded upon – legacies that, for the most part, the mainstream pro-choice movement likes to sweep under the rug.
Quick Feminist History Lesson: The Pro-Choice Movement’s Epic
In the early 1900s, Margaret Sanger (reproductive rights activist and founder of the first
contraceptive health clinics in the US), publicly aligned herself with the eugenics movement. The eugenics movement sought to cultivate a nation of “genetically superior” citizens by advocating that folks of color, folks with physical and mental disabilities, folks in low income brackets, and many others, be eradicated from the gene pool by way of compulsory sterilization, forced abortions, euthanasia, and the government sanctioned use birth control.
Sound familiar?
Let’s flip through our rolodex of international genocide campaigns for some similar examples, shall we?
What was that pesky World War II era campaign in Germany? Oh yes, the Third Reich.
Eugenicist ideologies were at the center of Hitler’s Nazi crusade – its national goal being to
exterminate “all lives [Hitler deemed] unworthy of life” in order to the cultivate (what Hitler deemed) a “supreme master race.”
Margaret Sanger herself argued that birth control and abortion should be legalized in the
US not only because women should have the right to determine their own reproductive
destinies, but also because she believed that “birth control would lead ultimately to a
cleaner race.”
She went on record saying things like “We mean to exterminate the black race” and “More
children from the fit, less from the unfit – that is the chief issue in birth control.”
Practitioners went on to implement her suggestions in a variety of ways, including the widely accepted practice of sterilizing low income women who came into hospitals to give birth if they had already had two or more children, to incentive-based coercion for women on welfare to use Norplant (taken off the market in 2002 due to its dangerous side effects) – a doctorcontrolled contraceptive method implanted in the arm that couldn’t be removed without a surgical procedure.
The pro-choice movement has never officially acknowledged its historical affiliation with the eugenics movement, nor has it held itself accountable for the racist medical practices it condoned.
Instead, the reproductive rights movement has upheld Margaret Sanger as an early feminist hero who fought for women’s access to safe, legal contraception. Period.
So here’s the thing:
When patients enter a clinic with pamphlets full of racist Margaret Sanger quotes given to them by the protesters outside, and there is literally a giant homage portrait of her affixed to the lobby wall meant to valorize and celebrate her work, it makes perfect sense that people would lose trust, feel angry, or even feel downright unsafe.
When patients come into a waiting room and see information packets about doctor-controlled birth control methods (IUDs, implants, the Depo Injection, tubal ligation, and vasectomies) only available in Spanish, while patient-controlled methods (the pill, the patch, the ring, barrier methods, and so on) are in English with attractive, responsible-looking white women on the covers, these racist legacies are being reproduced right before our eyes.
Who’s Dropping the Truth Bombs?
Though contemporary anti-choice propaganda is clearly a sham in its pretense to care about social justice, in the absence of feminist action or accountability, their arguments have become
particularly effective.

One of the main groups distributing this kind of information outside our modern day clinics, is the Radiance Foundation – a group that associates abortion clinics that provide services to communities of color with state-sponsored genocide.
Another group of anti-choice protesters called Feminists for Life deliver compelling critiques of the US social welfare system and its classist, sexist deprioritization of motherhood (and women in general). They argue that the activism that needs to be done is not only rooted in saving the lives of unborn fetuses, but also in “envisioning a better world in which no woman is driven by desperation to abortion.”
And lets be honest: Both groups are right on a lot of levels.
We do live in a white supremacist culture that values certain lives over others and that
perpetuates racist ideologies in not only the realm of medicine, but in most of its
Due to the fact that our society has not prioritized building an infrastructure that supports low income parenthood, many women don’t actually get to make a “choice” when it comes to deciding whether or not to continue a pregnancy.
What’s important to keep in mind though, is that neither of these facts negates a person’s right to exercise control over their own reproductive destiny, whether that means preventing pregnancy, ending a pregnancy, or choosing to give birth — which is what the right wing is ultimately fighting against.
In the face of these tactics, we need to stay clear about the fact that the goals of the antichoice movement are not to eradicate white supremacy or increase family planning options for low income folks – it is to reinstate governmental control over the bodies and lives of women.
What’s Next?
The pro-choice movement will continue to lose credibility and strength unless white feminists start recognizing the legacies of unaddressed racism that still exist in the mainstream feminist movement.
White feminists need to remember that we come to the reproductive rights debate with
dozens of valid reasons for our motives to be untrusted.
The contemporary pro-choice movement not only needs to be accountable and transparent about its history, it needs to assess the ways in which eugenics-based ideologies have likely been transmitted into our current medical and cultural practices.
We need to stop centering reproductive rights discussions around the sole issue of keeping
abortion legal, and instead, fight for reproductive justice.
Reproductive Justice means having broader conversations about white supremacy,
heteropatriarchy, ableism, and capitalism. Fighting for reproductive justice means confronting medical establishments and pharmaceutical companies about the targeting of populations with contraceptive advertisements based on race, class, age, and ability demographics.
It means recognizing the ways in which systems of oppression are inherently linked to one
It means leaving nobody out of the struggle.

Annah Anti-Palindrome is a bay-area based writer, musician and queer/femme antagonist who hails from the working-class craters at the base of the Sierra Foothills. For more info on her work, see annahantipalindrome.com. To contact, message her via her facebook fan page!