Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Cultural Vertigo

A few weeks back, someone challenged me on Twitter to come up with a New Year's Resolution and I came back with 'Open some of the doors I've got my toe in at the moment'. That's a worthy, if slightly trite, answer, but since then I've come up with a better one.

I'll get back to that at the end of this post, by which time I think it will be obvious what I've chosen. I've had a year, particularly this final third of it, of learning a lot. There are personal and professional elements to that, but where I've learnt most, where I've been most challenged, has been from the Twitter timelines of people I've followed because gamergate targeted them.

Gamergate has been and remains terrible, but in listening to those fighting it, I've received a whirlwind tour of critical gender and race theories on a par with the experience I had a couple of years ago as an amanuensis on a university-level Special Educational Needs/Disability Studies course. It's forced me to reexamine a lot of my preconceptions about games, about feminism and civil rights, about myself as a progressive and a liberal, and about my species as a whole.

And I'm starting to realise that there's a characteristic emotional state that accompanies the best of this learning. It's not a pleasant one. It often hits when least expected - this piece challenging the player-centrism of established gaming, for example, challenged me much more than any number of pieces about how reprehensible gamergaters are (because its critique applies to games I love just as much as, say, Hatred). It involves a slight feeling of nausea, and a stronger feeling of panic, of being overwhelmed by how much change might be needed to accept the argument.

I think of it as cultural vertigo. It's one thing to say 'I support diverse perspectives in art!', and another entirely to actually look down from the cultural pedestal (or out from the cultural bubble) of being straight, white and male and catch sight of those perspectives for the first time. It has nothing, of course, on the terror and hurt that straight white men inflict on others worldwide, but those are terrors that I am unlikely ever to experience the like of.

Cultural vertigo isn't comfortable, but it can be inspiring, and it has been a pretty consistent sign of opportunities to make myself a better person. Since there's a lot of work to do on that front, my New Year's Resolution for 2015 is to seek out cultural vertigo as much as I can stand to.

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