(sub)culture is ordinary?

roleplay, RPGs, cyberspace, and queer transmasculinity


user: articulation_cyberspace

march 08, 2021

I struggled with what kind of form I wanted to relay my probe with. Obviously, it would have probably been easier to just make a Word doc. This probe ultimately reads a little bit like a personal essay, partially because this map of articulations I've generated is in large part about subject-creation and subjectivation, and how my own experiences with this technology/this apparatus generated the large bulk of my thoughts.

I started this project in Twine, realized that it didn't make sense to make it in Twine (nobody roleplays in twine), and scrapped it. My aim for this Neocities page is for it to sort of replicate a series of forum posts, all of which relate to a sort of map of articulations (I hesitate to call it an assemblage, because it's sort of all over the place), while simultaneously trying to think about Raymond Williams's notions of Ordinary Culture, which I found to be interesting and resonant, but also difficult for me to square in terms of how it would be used within a framework of a subculture, which is typically what I end up writing about rather than capital "C" Culture.

You can view an image of my map here.

This network, despite its just... massive amount of articulations, is by no means complete.

I'll also be attaching a .pdf version of the map via Moodle, which may make reading it easier, since you can highlight text. I just figured it would be nice to have the link available here, too. I've marked in pink the queer relations, or places of "low" tendential force one can work through in order to realign or reassess the machine of articulations which make up roleplay -- in a way, this subculture begets subcultures.

sidenote: this map was made through "mindmup" -- which was a pain to wrangle all of these points with, but was the best of the mind-map applications I was able to find for free. While I was reading Slack and Wise's chapter on Articulation and Assemblage, I immediately thought of articulation as a visual structure like this. I don't know how correct it is, but I wanted to make something that sprung from my first impulse with the work and go from there.

>what do we do about subcultures?

user: articulation_cyberspace

march 08, 2021

I think something that I kept on asking myself throughout this semester is, "What do we do with subculture?" -- I think ultimately, the answer is actually pretty obvious: you treat a subculture and the power relations within and without your subculture and go from there. I think that's generally a solid logical conclusion. What I struggled with this week is the concept of articulation and assemblage as a sort of "correcting" or "solutions-driven" exercise. Maybe it's wrong for me to think of the provided text like that, but I can't help but think that's what this tool is going for when S+W move into "Rearticulation" and provide suggestions of moving or shifting articulations where their connections are not as strengthened by tendential force. In S+W's case, the solution framed by them is simple: if surveillance technologies and the apparatus surrounding them is objectionable because it relies upon a whole slew of terrible articulations (racism, invasions of privacy, and so on), then "solving" surveillance technologies means shifting the articulations which have less tendential force (eg appealing to the rights to privacy afforded in the bill of rights, renegotiating the public's understanding of community to include the people who, within this apparatus, are marginalized and targets of suspicion) rather than trying to change the items with a lot of tendential force (ie our current "love affair" with shiny and new tech).

For a subculture like queer (especially trans) expressions via cyberspace or online roleplay specifically, what is there to solve? The power structures that make existing as a trans person online dangerous, surely. The technological mechanics which unconsciously exclude trans players (ie models in games which are labeled "male" and "female"), sure. But a lot of the rhetoric around queer subcultures circle back to notions of acceptibility, of assimilation. Hegemonically, you get gay people with a lot of social capital telling "weird" queers to shut up and sit down and stop ruining it for "us good ones." I guess all this listing I've done serves to show what the structure looks like; my concern is where I personally want to slot into this, and what my angle of approach is.

In that way, I suppose there's a lot to be said in the value of Raymond Williams's framing of "ordinary culture." Assimilationist gays are the people in the tea houses. In this framework, we can't stop them from being annoying, but we can certainly ignore them. We can build our own culture without them. On the other hand, I want to avoid literally taking this train of thought and transplanting it onto my own interests without consideration.

The other thing is that reaching a synthesis between Slack and Wise's notions of technological culture, which exist together, and Raymond Williams's notions of Culture (which aren't necessarily technological, but are informed by practices or modes of production, or that its technology can be "changed" -- see the ways in which Williams writes about how "dirty" industry can be changed). Culutre in Williams's frame of reference is class-based and political. Slack and Wise describe assemblages as non-political (something I'm still trying to wrap my head around, considering articulations are political). If I were to track some of the lines in common, perhaps I would start with how both Ordinary Culture and Articulations/Assemblages work to reframe current structures of power in order to understand where we can go from there. They're not so much "utopia machines" as they are modes of reframing.

>interlude: RP

user: rex_badalone

march 08, 2021

Perhaps it would be appropriate to explain, briefly, what roleplaying is. At its most basic form, RP is a sort of collaborative mode of storytelling. What this looks like varies from play group to play group, but essentially there are some rules that are universal: RP is the act of "playing" a single character and forming character-driven narratives with one or many other people. RP "posts" can be made in real time (in World of Warcraft, this is most often the case, as you're typing in-game and manipulating your player model in order to "act out" your side of the narrative) or through long-form posts. There may also be dice rolling as decision-making mechanics, similar to tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, but this is not necessary. One rule which also tends to be universal is that one cannot "God Mod"—meaning, one cannot "play" another character or otherwise choose the actions or reaction of another person's character without prior permission.

I have been a role player on and off for over a decade. I started on forums, before all of the internet was contained to like, three websites. Now, I mostly RP through World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, because it's convenient (I play the games anyway) and because there's a dearth of people I can roleplay with (these structures are almost too big to fail). I have my roster of characters.

I think I am intrinsically unable to separate my attachment to the subculture of roleplaying to my identity as a trans gay guy.

At 14, I didn't know I was trans, but I knew I wanted to roleplay as men. At 14, I didn't know any gay or trans people in real life, but the community I was in was welcoming and open-minded, and my best friend and go-to RP partner was a fellow gender-bender. In the early days of the Internet, anonymous identity was important: I told everyone I was a gay guy, gave them a fake name -- ostensibly because I was a 14 year old surrounded by writers older than me, but also because I could. When Williams talks about identity that's shaped by a man's committed personal and social experience, this is what I picture. My identity as "a guy being a dude" on forums was informed by both cyber security, a desire to "be someone else," and "practicing" or "embodying" an identity I otherwise would not have been able to access or "play" with. This extended even to the characters I played on the forum: all men, all gay, all desperate for attachment and affection. How does text, or how can cyberspace, create or simulate intimacy? How, specifically, does the practice of RP, articulated through my experiences and my wants as a transmasculine gay guy, generate a subject (through which I can express my desire for or my desire to be)?

I took a long break from RP, partially because I had disengaged from fan spaces, mostly because the forum RP I had been involved with had collapsed overnight, when my GM announced that she no longer had the time nor the energy to be able to lead our playgroup. RP as an affect became rearticulated as something that was "immature" or "embarassing." I was on the outside, looking in.

I'm back to being inside, of course. But I'm different, and my engagement and practices are different: the medium is different, my own understanding of my self is different, the people I RP with are different...

>ritual, affect, practice

user: articulation_cyberspace

march 08, 2021

I think for me, the most productive tool I pulled from Articulation was localizing affect or practice as a fundamental building block or connection to technology. Like last week's readings, I was particularly struck by the ability to think about embodiment (the hand which farms, but also strokes a lover) and the place in which these affective structures or these practices exert or inform our reception of a particular technology.

If we were to understand MMO Roleplay as, say, a troll, then our reactions to other elements like "a queer person who has put 'LGBT+ Friendly' in their search terms" would be hostile. This degenerate is cringe. I would be based, and a chad, if I repeatedly harassed this person until they left. Structurally, World of Warcraft doesn't regularly punish actors who harass people "in character", both on the company level (ie admins and mods) and on the player level (ie people who think "IC (in-character) interactions" must be separate from "OOC (out of character) interactions"). This means that a troll can regularly "practice" trolling and harassment without being banned or punished. Because the currently outlined structures of power allow for these kinds of practices, WoW becomes a safe haven for bigots and fascists. Tangentially, this also allows for roleplay with a focus on fascist "practices" and "affects" to be permissable: thinking of war as defending a fatherland, belief in the elimination of the "other," an imagined past "good" that must be reclaimed by any means possible.

And then, of course, all of these factors make something like queer existence or expression on an RP server which is largely unmoderated difficult at best and unsustainable at worst. It is not directly the technology's fault, but neither is it directly the culture's fault: all of these systems (WoW as a setting, Blizzard as mods, the community) act together to create a series of articulations that have tendential force.

On a personal note, I had to quit WoW for some time because there were literal fascists advertising their guilds and I couldn't handle it anymore. Now, I mute trade chat and anyone else who annoys me even a little bit. This too, is a practice (and evokes Williams's desire to just ignore those who call themselves arbiters of culture).

Moreover, how do these structures and formations change according to the peripheral avenues of communication? Playing WoW 15 years ago when all that you had available to you were the main forums and maybe a couple of decentralized fansites is a radically different experience to playing WoW now and engaging with other people in-game, on the forums, through multiple Discord channels, or on Twitter. I think it's impossible to think about fan spaces without also thinking about the new avenues of communication which have supplanted our old ones. This is why I think making this neocities site is aesthetically interesting: sites like these either no longer exist at all, or are holding on to dear life.

>all the other stuff.

user: rex_badalone

march 08, 2021

It's also been helpful for me to think about all of the other things that go into subject-creation or articulation: roleplay cannot be understood without also thinking of all of these other practices, which either exist concurrently to RP or have existed before. The same can be said of queer practices inside or outside cyberspace. Like understanding how ATMs inform the surveillance apparatus, all of these other factors I've listed in my map are integral to understanding how Queer RP as a subculture operates. I would have done more connecting from one "half" of my map to the other, but I think all of those lines would have dramatically reduced the (already fragile) readability of the document.

Moreover, I think it's impossible to think about Roleplay as a form without having to think about multiple technologies roleplayers interface with in order to "play" -- and additionally, impossible to think about queer roleplayers without balancing the operations of power of both "the roleplay community" and "the queer community."

I'm still not sure whether I did this correctly. I'm like, ridiculously afraid that I did all of this work and fundamentally misunderstood the practices at hand.

At least I learned how to make a neocities site.

>considering avenues

user: rex_badalone

march 08, 2021

This is just a list of a bunch of articles/texts I'm currently thinking about or thinking through, for those who are interested in that process. Yes, I know this isn't in alphabetical order. Sorry!

  • Alexander, Jonathan. ""A Real Effect on the Gameplay": Computer Gaming, Sexuality, and Literacy". Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century. 2007.
  • Kendall, Lori. Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online. 2002.
  • Sherlock, Lee. "What Happens in Goldshire Stays in Goldshire: Rhetorics of Queer Sexualities, Role-Playing, and Fandom in World of Warcraft." Rhetoric/Composition/Play Through Video Games
  • A bunch of Adrienne Shaw articles: "Putting the Gay in Games," "Talking to Gaymers," "Where is the Queerness in Games?"
  • Stone, Allucquere Rosanne. The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age. 1995.
  • Grosz, Elizabeth. Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space. 2001.
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. 1940 (maybe???? thinking about "play," don't think Homo Ludens is as generative)
  • Butler, Judith. Excitable Speech. A Politics of the performance. 1997.
  • Literally anything by Foucault??
  • Something by Walter Benjamin?

>closing questions/concerns

user: rex_badalone

march 08, 2021

  • Is it even fair to consider a subculture of a subcultre as some observable collective rather than just anecdotal or personal experience?
  • What other power structures have I ignored? What other articulations have I sidelined?
  • What does "Ordinary" even mean? Does this tie into an understanding of the "natural"?
  • Is World of Warcraft even necessary to talk about? Can I focus on something like "forums" or "cyberspace" as a technology instead? Am I being blinded by my own personal interest?
  • What makes this approach or object of study important or generative to me?