Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 11:08 on 16-01-2014, Daniel F
The strong focus of nerd culture on being persecuted, and particularly on being bullied at school is something that’s both really fascinating and really alien to me, because I never had that experience at all. Surely I qualify as a nerd or geek in most other respects – I’m writing this message on this site, for a start – but I never had that sense of being an outsider just because I spent every lunch break on the stairs reading fantasy novels. But I read about people being systematically bullied for playing D&D at school in the 80s or whatever, and it explains a lot about why nerd culture is so defensive today.

Er, where ‘nerd culture’ means people who play RPGs or are obsessed with video games or read lots of genre fiction or what have you. The more I go on in life the more it seems to me like these are just normal hobbies, and I can’t see why, say, LARPing is nerdy whereas being in a bikie gang is not. Still, some hobbies are still perceived as nerdy, and I wonder how much of that label has to do with this shared experience of ostracism.

Or if not a shared experience, at least a shared mythology of ostracism. I can easily imagine that there’s something very appealing about claiming the benefits of victimhood. Just, you know, without having to undergo any genuine victimisation.

(Disclaimer: I’ve never seen so much as a trailer or an ad for The Big Bang Theory, so I’m not jumping into that.)
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at 08:27 on 16-01-2014, Arthur B
Actually, I think the tendency of geek culture to dwell on being teased at school is sort of revealing. People are bullied for all sorts of reasons in school - often, indeed, for reasons which don't make a lick of sense - and more or less any form of prejudice which is common in the wider world is present in school bullying. There's a lot that's been done and a lot still to do to counteract racist and homophobic bullying in schools, which is of course a huge problem, but equally I don't see discussions of racism and homophobia going to the "bullying in school" well nearly as consistently as discussions of prejudice against nerds do, mostly because people dealing with racism or homophobia can cite much more recent examples whereas for nerds "It Gets Better" kicks in more or less as soon as you leave school.

Indeed, in my experience if people were actually committed to bullying you they'd escalate to racism or homophobia fairly quickly rather than harping on your hobbies. Nerds at my school tended to be hit with "You're perceived as being good at academic subjects, therefore you are totally gay and therefore fair game for bullying", an attitude which is really more homophobic than it is nerd-hating. A popular enough kid at my school could get away with unfashionable hobbies, but I honestly don't think they'd have gotten away with being openly gay.

And yet nerds like to claim they were at the bottom of the school pecking order anyway.
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at 01:38 on 16-01-2014, James D
I think to some extent nerds can also be sensitive to ridicule as a result of being bullied in school for being nerds - getting even the faintest whiff of bullying as an adult probably dredges up all sorts of unpleasant memories. Bullying is definitely a real problem in school, but at the same time, I haven't really seen or heard of nerd bullying carrying over into the adult world to any significant degree, and I've certainly never heard of, say, a landlord not wanting to rent a nerd an apartment because their name or voice sounds "too nerdy".
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at 01:13 on 16-01-2014, Arthur B
Yeah, I think it's important to decouple "being offended" from "being oppressed". You don't automatically get to join the latter category just because you happened to slip into the first one, and something could very, very deeply offend you but at the same time either not constitute a long-standing pattern of oppression against you and people like you, or not represent remotely the same magnitude of oppression that other people have suffered/are suffering.

That's the offensive part of the nerdface thing: it implies that having your hobbies and their participants laughed at is remotely on the same magnitude as minstrel shows and Jim Crow laws.
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at 00:35 on 16-01-2014, James D
Sure, there's nothing wrong with not liking TBBT for the reasons you outlined. I don't like it either. What bothers me is when people start making sweeping generalizations about how oppressed nerds are using TBBT as "evidence". Huge swaths of mainstream media still cater specifically to male nerds, probably now more than ever.
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at 23:39 on 15-01-2014, Dan H
@James D

I'm in kind of two minds about this, because I think it is one of those situations where it's easy to condemn the wrong thing.

It is wrong to try to claim that your oppression, whatever it is, gives you standing to talk about other people's oppression as if it happened to you, or to claim that you have a special insight into other people's oppression, or to belittle or dismiss that oppression. Certainly the kind of crap you get from a lot of people - about how it is *only* heterosexual white men who are *really* oppressed any more - is offensive silencing bullshit.

*But* that doesn't mean that it is wrong to be upset about something that upsets you. Obviously calling TBBT "nerdface" is a tacky choice of analogy which is very likely to leave a lot of people feeling justifiably offended. But there is nothing wrong with a nerd saying that the reason that they don't like The Big Bang Theory is that they feel that it perpetuates offensive stereotypes about them. Hell, *I* don't like the Big Bang Theory for exactly that reason.

Being asked to laugh at somebody like you, specifically *because* they are like you, is offensive and hurtful, and there is nothing wrong with *saying* that it is offensive and hurtful. It only becomes problematic if you assume that because you find something offensive and hurtful, this absolves you of all responsibility to avoid being offensive and hurtful to others.
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at 11:22 on 15-01-2014, James D
While I fit fairly comfortably into the "nerd" category in many respects, I really, really hate it when other nerds talk about us like we're some sort of marginalized ethnic or religious group. It's like they want to blame their own social awkwardness on nerd prejudice or something.
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at 10:57 on 15-01-2014, Andy G
Yeah, it's a lazy and unimaginative portrayal for a very general audience, which is why I only watch it when I feel like something really undemanding, but it's other features of the show which occasionally make it actually uncomfortable to watch.
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at 09:48 on 15-01-2014, Dan H
Oh dear. A friend of a friend on Facebook actually said today: "An apt comparison I've seen for the Big Bang Theory is that it's a lot like a minstrel show. Except instead of blackface, the actors are wearing nerdface."


Oh dear.

The annoying thing is I *do* really dislike BBT and I *do* find its portrayal of nerd culture stereotypical and annoying. To be hyper-hyper charitable to your friend-of-a-friend the analogy makes sense in the very literalistic (and ironically, very nerdviewy) sense that it is people who are not members of [GROUP X] portraying an exaggerated stereotype of [GROUP X], primarily for the entertainment of people who are not part of [GROUP X]. It's just also an appropriative and distasteful comparison.
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at 09:38 on 15-01-2014, Adrienne
For any interested parties: Foz Meadows just posted a REALLY FANTASTIC post about gender in gaming spaces.
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at 08:07 on 15-01-2014, Arthur B
Guys, maybe you don't get it because of your mundane privilege, but society is so biased against geeks, nerds and gamers. It's a problem almost on the same scale as misandry - in fact, it's a type of misandry because as we all know "real" geek girls don't exist - and we have to fight it the best way we know how: posting weepy diatribes about our dating failures and ignorant rants about how stupid religious people are to Reddit whilst wearing fedoras.

For serious though, shoot all people who use "nerdface" like it's some equivalent to blackface into the Sun (they'll consent if you tell them it's for science).
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at 04:01 on 15-01-2014, Melanie
Eugh. It's only "apt" if you think hobbies/interests are like race in some fashion.
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at 01:44 on 15-01-2014, Michal
I fucking hate that comparison and I hear it constantly.
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at 23:48 on 14-01-2014, Andy G
Oh dear. A friend of a friend on Facebook actually said today: "An apt comparison I've seen for the Big Bang Theory is that it's a lot like a minstrel show. Except instead of blackface, the actors are wearing nerdface." During a discussion of this article. Which I think has mostly got the problem with the show the whole wrong way round: the show is far more malicious towards Penny (the "dumb blonde" stereotype) than the main characters, and constantly invites us to root for them and identify them even when (or especially when) they're being creepy Nice Guys.
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at 15:24 on 14-01-2014, Arthur B
I am fascinated to see how they make this work. Do you buy sight-unseen a pack of tickets which get you access to specific scenes from the movie, and you need to trade or buy packs until you get access to the complete film?
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at 17:02 on 13-01-2014, Arthur B
EA, months after everyone had written off the latest Sim City as a horrible wreck, has finally decided to let people play it offline.

Comment sections are usually terrible but this time I am heartened to note the chorus of people pointing out that EA had previously said that providing an offline mode would be impossible. Unfortunately, making larger cities will still be impossible due to the heavy graphical load, thanks to EA designing the game with the assumption that what the audience for a laid-back city management simulation game really wants is flashy, cutting-edge graphics and a multiplayer mode.
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at 22:39 on 10-01-2014, Alice
@Alice: Except what could possibly be worth the sort of publicity that convinces the entire world you're an arrogant, juvenile fuckwit?

Oh, if only I knew... Possibly he's heard "no such thing as bad publicity" a few too many times. Though then again he's never struck me as the sharpest tool in the box, which doesn't exactly lend credence to the notion that there's a method to his madness.

I think it's my touchingly naïve faith in human nature that makes me want to believe that he's not being a tool without some underlying reason or plan, but I suspect I will become rapidly disabused of this notion. ;-)
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at 21:31 on 10-01-2014, Arthur B
Similarly, while I can see how you *could* make an IP infringement case on the basis of copying story elements, I think it would probably be quite hard to make stick. Look at the trouble White Wolf had when they tried to sue the makers of /Underworld/.

Bad example, given that White Wolf basically won that exchange. (Well, at any rate there was a confidential settlement which avoided the need to take the matter to trial. Generally confidential settlements like that usually involve the complainant getting at least part of what they wanted - because if they didn't, the complainants wouldn't settle - and in my books if you're able to meet some of your goals and avoid the expense of going to trial you've come out ahead.)

You will note that White Wolf lawyers' game plan included compiling a massive document listing loads and loads of story parallels between the White Wolf novel that Underworld supposedly ripped off, which ties in to precisely what I was saying earlier about the key thing not being examining each one atomistically and saying "well, that isn't close enough, and that isn't close enough, and that isn't close enough", it's about looking at the whole assembly and saying "is it really coincidence that these two stories have this many story elements in common?".

I can't see any situation in which you could meaningfully plagiarise a premise.

Sure, but I've not argued that copying a premise by itself amounts to plagiarism, and I don't think that's what Straub is saying either when he notes that you've got the premise in conjunction with the dialogue and the story beats and so on. His actual note isn't that clear on it, but then again I don't expect high legal precision from an off-hand comment on a webcomic news post.
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at 21:07 on 10-01-2014, Dan H
@Dan: Typically online discussion of intellectual property is entirely orthogonal to the truth, so you can't just assume the opposite and end up correct - you just end up equally wrong but in a different way. ;)


Fair point. I think it's partially that my understanding of plagiarism is very academically focused, and as far as I can tell in academia (at least up to undergraduate level) it really is mostly about words rather than anything else. After all, if 2000 A-level students write an essay about the causes of the First World War, they're likely to be very similar in premise and structure, what matters is that they're written in the student's own words - there's no requirement to contribute anything new to scholarship.

Similarly, while I can see how you *could* make an IP infringement case on the basis of copying story elements, I think it would probably be quite hard to make stick. Look at the trouble White Wolf had when they tried to sue the makers of /Underworld/. And I can't see any situation in which you could meaningfully plagiarise a premise. It's not like every novel in which a teenage girl arrives at a new school and finds herself attracted to a boy who turns out to be something mysterious and supernatural is plagiarising /Twilight/.
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at 17:25 on 10-01-2014, Arthur B
@Alice: Except what could possibly be worth the sort of publicity that convinces the entire world you're an arrogant, juvenile fuckwit?

@Dan: Typically online discussion of intellectual property is entirely orthogonal to the truth, so you can't just assume the opposite and end up correct - you just end up equally wrong but in a different way. ;)
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at 17:23 on 10-01-2014, Dan H
tl;dr: You can't infringe an individual premise or a story beat, any more than you can infringe an individual word. But just as words become infringing when you string enough of the right ones together to form someone else's prose, equally if you combine enough story beats and premises and other features of someone else's work you end up with, erm, someone else's work. Which is the very definition of plagiarism and copyright infringement.


Fair enough. I'm probably just oversensitive because you see a *huge* amount of people on the intarwebs crying "plagiarism" whenever two books have a vaguely similar plot (I seem to recall that a lot of people insisted that JK Rowling "plagiarised" the Worst Witch).
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at 17:19 on 10-01-2014, Alice
Huh. You have to wonder how long his retirement is going to last, and/or whether this is some sort of attempt at a Joaquin Phoenix-style hoax/publicity stunt, largely because it's so incredibly stupid. I mean, even aside from the initial appropriation of Daniel Clowes's work.

I can just about write off the "Sending Lars von Trier pictures of his penis to get a role in Nymphomaniac" (because, hello, it's Lars von Trier, and the film's called Nymphomaniac) and "not washing while playing the part of a frontline soldier" (how method), but copying his apologies off Yahoo!Answers? Skywriting "I Am Sorry Daniel Clowes" over LA? (Daniel Clowes apparently lives in the Bay Area.) That just seems extravagantly silly, to the point that I feel like it almost has to be on purpose.
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at 17:04 on 10-01-2014, Arthur B
As far as I know, the only one of those things which is remotely protected by copyright is dialogue. I can't believe for a second that you can actually "plagiarise" a "premise" or a "story beat".

"Plagiarism" is not a legal concept and is orthogonal to copyright.

Either way, a "premise" or a "story beat" is probably not enough to show copyright infringement. On the other hand, if you could show that someone had changed up all the dialogue but kept its essential meaning and retained the structural features of a story (so for instance, an argument between two characters consisted of exactly the same points raised in exactly the same order, reaching the same conclusion and with the same events preceding and succeeding), then you could make an argument that this is taking an undue advantage of the work the earlier author had put into the original.

It'd be difficult; for a start, you'd essentially have to show that the structural differences were so pervasive that the alleged infringer pretty much had to have been transcribing the original work and just tweaking the dialogue as they went, and then you'd have to argue that just as the exact wording of a story is protected by copyright as an expression of the ideas presented therein, the structure of the story is itself an expression of an idea (rather than an idea in itself) which is protectable by copyright.

It's an area of law which to my knowledge hasn't been very thoroughly tested except in Ravenscroft vs. Herbert (which isn't quite the same because as well as nabbing the structure in that case there were also a range of textual passages lifted in that case) and the Da Vinci Code/The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail debacle, which isn't interesting from a theoretical perspective because the Holy Blood guys submitted such a bad and incoherent case that the principles of law were never thoroughly tested. Equally, though, it seems to me that if the structure were ripped off then, provided you were dealing with a specific enough structure, then that's as clear an example of plagiarism and copyright infringement as ripping off the dialogue. And you do have to take a holistic view with these cases: by copying the dialogue you're already sailing into infringement, but if you life the dialogue and the premise and sufficient story beats that you end up with a very similar story structure, then you have heaps of infringement.

tl;dr: You can't infringe an individual premise or a story beat, any more than you can infringe an individual word. But just as words become infringing when you string enough of the right ones together to form someone else's prose, equally if you combine enough story beats and premises and other features of someone else's work you end up with, erm, someone else's work. Which is the very definition of plagiarism and copyright infringement.
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at 16:42 on 10-01-2014, Dan H
I confess to never having heard of Shia LaBoeuf before this incident.

Although I'd note that at least some of the commentary online shows the usual total lack of understanding about what "plagiarism" means. Chris Straub of Chainsawsuit fame, for example, summarises the incident as: "shia laboeuf ... made a short film which completely ripped off the premise and story beats and even dialogue from cartoonist daniel clowes".

As far as I know, the only one of those things which is remotely protected by copyright is dialogue. I can't believe for a second that you can actually "plagiarise" a "premise" or a "story beat".
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