Author: Niamh Timmons

The course instructor

Imagining Board Game Studies

Recently, I have been getting really into board games. I’ve liked them in some capacity since I was a kid, but it seems like there is a golden age of board games right now. Developers are trying new things and making some really interested (and also ridiculously complicated games). The current flood of board games began around 15 years ago in Germany and Western Europe. This is where games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride came from. In the time since, board games caught on in the United States. I’ve often heard that the key distinctions between European and American board games (beyond geographies of production) is the differences in emphasis in game design and presentation. European games are supposed to be more abstract and less with a defined ‘genre.’ For example, building a city for points in Carcassone, or settling an island in Catan. On the other hand, American games are rife in themes or ‘genres.’ Space, horror, westerns, etc. are common forms of American board games. Several even tap into licensed franchises (Fantasy Flight Games has several games based on IPs).

For European games to create a ‘genre-less’ board game they largely turn to history as their means of presentation and justifications for game design elements. While this can turn out to typical Hellenistic, Roman, or focused on the European Renaissance, there is an uncomfortable emphasis on European colonization. Rio Grande Game’s Puerto Rico is easily one of the most uncomfortable in this genre. The back of the box reads:

In 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered the eastern-most island of the Great Antilles. About 50 years later–Puerto Rico really began to blossom – through you! Which role would you play? Prospector, captain, mayor, trader, settler, craftsman, or builder? Which roles will you play in the new world? Will you own the most prosperous plantations? Will you build the most valuable buildings? You have but one goal: achieve the greatest prosperity and highest respect! This is shown by the player who earns the most victory points. He will win the game!

What is uncomfortable about Puerto Rico is not only its theme of setting a game in the aftermath of the colonial violence of the Columbus expeditions, but importantly that you, as a player in the game, actively participate in this colonial nostalgia. Games like Puerto Rico are less an exception, but rather incredibly common in the board game market. Themes of race, colonialism, orientalism, and gendering are rife in the current board game market. As someone who both enjoys playing board games and as an academic I’ve wanted to try and make sense of these games.

As an academic trained in Cultural Studies, a field where popular culture is taken seriously I began to wonder how board games could be studies. Certainly there is the dynamic of how representations work in board games, as well as the prompts. But how do you account for the experience of playing the game itself? What kind of meanings are inscribed into the board games by their designers and distributors? What meanings are then produced by players when playing the game? As a scholar, what kinds of methods are available here? How does a study of board games differ from video games (or any other medium for that matter)?

I wanted to make this post, partially for myself, but to put my thoughts out there regarding the value and strategies for scholarship on board games?

P.S. If you know of any projects related to board games leave them in the comments!

Can we Decolonize St. Patrick’s Day?

My FaceBook news feed has two large trends going on right now. First, there is the usual excitement about St. Patrick’s Day (including jokes about Irish-ness, drunken-ness, and everything green). The second, is the stream of people who recognize that the way the holiday is celebrated in the U.S is a construction that deviates from Irish (in Ireland) celebrations of the holiday, the life of St. Patrick, and the experiences of Irish Americans. While the latter camp is certainly correct, I do not think it adaquetly understands the positioning of Irish Americans today. One particular post sparks my disgruntled-ness with the holiday and the positionings of both sides on St. Patrick’s Day. While I love the Zinn Education Project and some of the messages of this post, I am incredibly dubious about the emphasis on correcting the textbooks and curriculum in public schools regarding this matter. I see this as a matter of correcting some cracks in the foundations of understanding how to be White in the U.S.

The amazing Hari Kondablou made his obligatory St. Patrick’s Day post that hints at this matter:

Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day? Does that mean I’m white today? I’M GOING TO TELL A COP TO GO TO HELL & THAT I’M A TAXPAYER!

Much to the enjoyment of those who love drinking on March 17th (and to the annoyance of St. Patrick Day purists), it is a holiday that allows for people to engage with some sort of perceived Irish identity. Kondabolu’s second mention that ‘being Irish makes one White’ points to the history of Irish Americans pursuit of becoming White. Through this ‘achievement’ of Whiteness, Irish Americans joined the American racial and colonizing project by working to distinguish themselves from People of Color (primarily Blacks on the East Coast) and to join the settler colonial project in the Western U.S. (bitterly ironic if one considers Irish history). My point here is that celebrating Irish-ness in the United States is one of simultaneously celebrating Whiteness. This does not necessarily happen in Ireland (though one should consider the discomfort the modern Irish State has with dealing with non-Irish, specifically non-European, immigrants). At the same time, a critique of those pursuing the image of an Irish St. Patrick Day in the U.S. is needed to confront their own choice to disjoint their vision of the holiday in terms of race. It is not that one version of the holiday is less problematic in terms of race, but both that are equally problematic in their conceptualizations in regards to race relations.

In opposing the historical and cultural insensitivity of contemporary St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S., we must seriously consider the issue of Whiteness that is surrounded by the holiday. It is more than likely that a project that works to contend with the racism done against and by Irish Americans seemingly estranges those from their homeland, rather I believe it addresses the particulars about the nature of diaspora. For those of us who are of Irish descent, we must the face the historical and discursive consequences of out ancestors and try to move forward with a challenge the dismantle the monster they joined.

What do we do with ‘Killer Cops’?

This post is not to lay out a solution to a problem, but considering opening up space in dealing with this problem. Ever since Michael Brown’s murder by Darren Wilson (of the Ferguson Police Department) the discussion on how to handle the incident has revolved around fairly traditional forms of justice. That is Wilson, as well as Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who murdered Eric Garner, should be indicted in a court of law. While this legal process certainly privileges police officers, it should be noted that this a similar process of law that works to incarcerate the same bodies that these officers were responsible for murdering (not the same singular body, but the racialized body of Black men). For me, I can’t divorce this process of indictment with the racialization of the Prison Industrial Complex. In turn, this poses several questions regarding any sort of ‘justice’ that can be done.

  • In what ways would the incarceration of ‘killer cops’ affect the Prison Industrial Complex?
  • Is Restorative Justice an option for the police?
  • Can Restorative Justice address the institutional oppression of racialized bodies?
  • Considering the possibility of a “post-police” and/or “post-carceral” world, as well cops not indicted–What does reconciliation look like?

These are my starting points in thinking about the situation of ‘killer cops’. In no way, do I have a clear sense of which direction this discussion should move given these questions. However, I am certain that a discussion that is considering the relationship between law enforcement and the Prison Industrial Complex helps move the conversation beyond indictment. It helps us consider the further possiblities beyong police oppression and the Prison Industrial Complex.

Exploring WSU’s History with Race–Pullman’s Minstrel Shows

I was recently watching Ken Burns’ Jazz for some odd reason. The first half of the episode (that’s as far as I’ve got) provided a really interesting genealogy, albeit brief, of black musical history in the 19th century. I was particularly struck by the statement in regards to minstrel shows, the deliberate musical and comedy stage show that involved predominantly white actors putting on black make-up and playing as Blacks, that they happened everywhere in the United States. This began my own curiosity of exploring my new city and university’s history regarding race. I do so not to demonize Pullman or Washington State University (WSU), but to understand the historical complexities and importance that such places have in the kinds of academic work I do. Additionally, Pullman and WSU are not exception to these kind of racial histories, but rather have their own nuanced narratives that intersect with other local, regional, and national issues. So, did Pullman/WSU have minstrel shows? Yes.

In doing some cursory research, I found two different newspaper clippings regarding minstrel shows, their performance in Pullman, and WSU student involvement. In November 1909, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on a touring minstrel show coming to Pullman. The show involved the student orchestra, as well as students trying out for the school’s glee club. What is particularly notable is the monetary benefit that the WSU orchestra received from the performance of minstrel show.

The other clipping comes from November 1918. Like the clipping from 1909, WSU’s Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C) were centrally involved in the performance of the minstrel shows. S.A.T.C’s genealogical off-shoot, the WSU ROTC can be seen throughout campus, as well as ads on local radio stations. It is also evident from this clipping that Pullman’s minstrel performers also performed regionally.

State history. World War. Army. S. A. T. C. (Students Army Training Corps). 1918-11-25

Pullman/WSU’s history of minstrel performances, via these two newspaper clippings, is significant given the racial make-up of Pullman and, historically, WSU. Today, Pullman is predominantly White in its racial make-up, likewise, WSU in 1909 and 1918 would have also been primarily made up of White students. These were White students taking up the roles as overtly racist charactures of Blacks–and they were proud of it. Both articles give space to note the quality of the Blackface performers and their level of talent. ‘Playing Black’ was part of building skills for WSU’s music students in the early 20th century. These performances additionally served to financially benefit the school’s programs and extracurricular organizations.

This history of minstrelsy in Pullman is notable for its rural location, in contrast to other larger cities and their history of minstrel performances. It is also a crucial piece in understanding the racial baggage of my current university, as well as the participation of national cultural politics at the regional level.

If you have any further details regarding minstrel performances in Pullman, WSU, or the Palouse area, leave details in the comments.

Links to original archives and/or links:

S.A.T.C Minstrels Score: http://kaga.wsulibs.wsu.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/clipping_II&CISOPTR=46692&CISOBOX=1&REC=5

Spokane Daily Chronicle: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1338&dat=19091106&id=qL5XAAAAIBAJ&sjid=EfQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6786,603458

Gender and Media: ‘Mulan’s’ Songs

I’ve been interested in Mulan for years. Not because of the narrative content strictly, but the themes of gender and Asian-ness as presented in the film. As I’m starting videos up again, I decided to start here. This video and the following video will discuss this themes present in Mulan.

The most obvious message in terms of gender is present in this song. I mean it’s literally in the chorus. I really don’t have much to say about this song as I believe it really speaks for itself. What is truly dynamic about this song is the visual display of coordinated masculinity. It conveys traditional masculine trope of strength, but also very coordinated uniform display of said strength. Like, “Bring Us Honor” gender is taken to be a normative value. Any deviations from this are ridiculed and made to be suppressed through military training.

When I was starting to write this up, I forgot about A Girl Worth Fighting For. The song works with I’ll Make a Man Out of You in that represents masculinity in contrast to feminity. It also parallels Bring Honor to Us All, in that the position of women is as support for men. They are allowed to serve the men in different ways, but only as support. It’s also interesting to note that we learn more about male desire than we do about the actual men themselves. If the prior song has proved anything, identity is suppressed in place of a homogenous masculinity.

The most interesting of the songs from the film is easily “Reflection.” While the prior 2 songs reflected strict gender expectations. The song highlights Mulan’s personal struggle to understand herself. The imagery captures this positioning between the expectations of her social position and her own desires. I believe this highlights her desire to escape normative gender expectations. At the same time, she wants to find new meaning in her gender identity, she struggles with the incapacity of others to respect and understand that.

A big question you might have after hearing talk about these songs is “So What?” And I hear you. I mean, the emphasis of gender difference in the film was wholly embraced in the film’s marketing. So, why then am I bringing this up? Well, I think it does. What I think Mulan and its songs allow us to see is how strongly gender is an act of performance. I don’t mean this as a staged thing, but in a way I do. As Judith Butler points out, gender is something we do.

The songs of Mulan provide a space where gender is constructed through its songs. We understand the tension of the story and Mulan’s relationship between both masculinity and feminity throughout.

Also, Jackie Chan’s contribution is great:

Shame and Customer Service (a reposting from tumblr)

Frustrations:

As an off and on customer service worker in the past 7 years, I’ve struggled with the emotional roller coaster that is inherent in this type of labor. I wanted to take the time to unpack some of these emotions in a time where I’m leaving the field of “customer service.” In particular, I want to address the most poignant of these emotions—shame.

Shame is a manifestation of several emotions that occur simultaneously; depression, anger, trauma, apathy, etc. Shame is an extraordinarily powerful emotion that can pin us down when it has latched itself onto us. As such, it’s important to understand it and the way it manifests itself. In this series of posts, I hope to unravel some of the relationship between customer service and shame.

Here, I take customer service to include retail, food service, and the formal ‘customer service’ (I delve into this more in the next post). I am drawing primarily on experiences and thoughts rather than concrete data. I will add some statistics later, but this is more of a manifesto. In this first part I go into the frustration of customer service that brews up shame in workers.

As a customer service worker, the world is made up of those who are working (potential allies) and customers. While there are certainly customers who are pleasant who make the job pleasant or at least bearable. On the other hand, there are those who just don’t understand me. They can’t recognize me as another human. To them, I might as well have been programmed to serve their needs even if it exceeds my capacities. Failure looms heavy upon me.

I always feel tired. I get a doctor’s recommended amount of sleep each night (I think…). I go to sleep tired. Wake up tired. Work tired. If I just sleep, I miss work. I don’t want it—yet—I need it. When I get home I want to do nothing. Recuperate from the damages. Maybe I can recharge. But to others I seem lazy. Can I ever do anything right?

My friend gets a promotion to a better paying position that doesn’t work with customers each day. I’m a bit jealous of their wage difference. But mostly of their splendid isolation. I’m left behind. Happy in their advance, despaired on my stagnation. Only moving up means anything.

I didn’t want to be here. It was a last resort. I had dreams of a better career. I fantasize of my escape. It sustains me. It’s the the little I can have to keep me going.

These are a sample of some of the emotions I’ve had while working customer service. Such emotions are usually not recognized as legitimate by those around us-be it family, friends, and certainly not our employers. Even though we might share the same feelings we hardly allow the opportunity to understand and reconcile these frustrations with one another. Thus, often producing a stigma or shame with customer service work.

Obviously, there’s some reasoning to this failure to reconcile. Of which I will detail in the next post.

If you have anything you want to include to this—Please do! Only together can we possibly change the world.

Systems:

This is the second part of my writing about customer service work. In the first part, I talked about frustrations and emotions in relation to being a customer service worker. That helped serve as a foundation for this discussion. In this part, I discuss the structural set-up that helps facilitate a sense of shame that becomes inherent in customer service work.

In my prior post, I didn’t give a specific definition of what customer service is. It is here that I wanted to tease out that. So—what is customer service? A literal explanation is those whose labor facilitates a service or support for customer needs. Such jobs often typically include call centers or help desks. Based on this, it can be assumed that customer service is a field of workers who work FOR customers. The notion of labor for customers poses a big question for workers in general—Aren’t we all customer service workers then?

Every type of labor is designed to support the needs of a potential consumer. A white collar worker, in advertising, health care, administration, etc., all work to produce ideas, designs, and directions for a potential consumer. Blue collar workers work to build and labor for products and places that will be used by someone else. Teachers teach for students. The list goes on and on. Even a farmer or another laborer who claims at self-sufficiency is destined to become a customer of some sort of product. As such, there really shouldn’t be a distinction of a customer service worker. What really exists are workers who interact more with a potential customer.

On that note, just as we use our labor to produce for a customer, so are always a customer-to-be. Everyone needs to buy or trade something they need to live or they desire. As customer service workers, we should be aware of this shifting of roles. Our hats of producer and consumer are both shifting and simultaneous.

Finally, why is customer service work seemed so bad? Especially considering the production of labor and the shifting of roles. Customer service work exists in this odd space where we we’re not white or blue collar. Workers that are meant to be temporary on a ladder to white collar-dom. Those who can’t escape this temporality are deemed failures and their distinction from less invisible productions of labor. We’re standing targets for the failure to recognize the labor productions and the mutual exchange of labor needs.

The leverage of customer service between laborers works to erase the similarities between workers of all types. The shame of the customer service worker works to create dis junctures between the relationships between labor and consumption.

To address the shame of the customer service worker is also to address the way we live our daily lives.

Alternatives:

It’s been a while since I’ve written on this subject. Since then, I have left my customer service job and joined the Academy…only to face new labor issues. This time respect comes less from those I educate to those I educate with and the expectations of my labor. Because of this new drama, I wanted to return to thinking about Shame and Customer Service once more. Mainly how to address the shame and move past it.

Instead of doing a more narrative description, I want to focus on some quick points and ideas. It is my hope that those reading this can also brainstorm with me and create more alternatives. Here we go!

  • Respect service workers. This requires empathizing with people who might’ve gone through the same situation as you. Maybe they’re also a peer. Or, maybe you’ve never done service work—even still—appreciate them as humans. It means so much.
  • Understand the working conditions. Often times, the conditions of doing service work suck in one way or another. Tell people about them. Try and spread the word. Make a change.
  • Blog/Write/Do Something. Share the experience of doing service work in some capacity. This will allow you to start unpacking your emotions. This also (potentially) allows for a space to build solidarity.
  • Change the System. Oppression and the creation of shame in service work is systematic. In order to solve it, the system must be dismantled. Critique it.

I understand that several of these points are risky to service workers. Some employers may even try to bring action against those who resist or question. Do what you can that is safe for you. It is important and vital that we build healthy and supportive working conditions. Know your limits and of others. Support and respect is key!