Another cross-post from my Gamasutra blog – so again it’s about games, and assumes a certain baseline level of interest in/awareness of games. In response to Brian Moriarty’s apology for Ebert (also referenced in my previous post), Jason VandenBerghe makes a good point here that the art of games is present in the gameplay. The problem is he suggests that it’s ONLY in the gameplay, and not in the creation of the thing played. This was my response in his comments, posted here and on my personal blog so that people can respond separately at greater length if they choose.

What about music?

The performance is art.

The instrument is art.

The composition (the music-as-written) is art.

Even the sheet music might be art, especially if it’s handwritten and illuminated.

I agree with [VandenBerghe] that gameplay, especially where exceptional skill and or insight are freely at work, can be art. (And thank you for reinstating it as also expressive.) But that doesn’t mean nothing else in the equation is.

We don’t have the language to describe the poetry of system yet, and we’re not conscious enough of it as a form of poetry. [Poetry here is used in the way justice can be “poetic”; it comes from from the Ancient Greek for “making” and means anything artfully made.] It’s a chicken-and-egg situation; until we start talking about it in these terms (to see what makes sense as much as anything else) we can’t think about it in these terms, and vice versa.

But let’s be clear. If a movie is a more or less artistic arrangement of more or less meaningful images and sounds (and optionally but usually plot, character, narrative) – a game is a more or less artistic arrangement of more or less meaningful judgments and decisions and tests-of-skill and random inputs and consequences of all the above, possibly with one person playing it, and possibly as a meeting ground for more than one.

The point is:

although the elements being arranged are different, experienced differently, and appreciated fully only over a longer timescale and possibly in the context of multiple plays of the game,

the basic act is the creative act of arranging meaningful elements to produce an experience or sensation, and/or to express an emotion or idea,

and the basic act is therefore is fundamentally the same in designing and playing games as it is in composing or playing music, or any other artform.

Gameplay can be artful, and whether intended that way can certainly always be judged on that spectrum. Game design – or should we call it game composition? – is always artful. It may be crass art that deals with its subject matter only in the most superficial terms, and I would argue a great many games are; but so is a lot of music and a lot of cinema, and that doesn’t disqualify them from being art. They’re not great art, or what Moriarty calls capital-A “Art”; but they’re still art in exactly the same way movies are, and Ebert’s lack of systems literacy (while hardly blameworthy given the wider cultural context) doesn’t change that at all.

And therefore I’m with Moriarty:

games are art, but really, pretty much anything can be, so who cares about this?;

and games CAN be Art, and not enough are;

and (my corollary) we need to get better at talking about the unique forms of poetry offered by our medium as such, so we can get to the games that are truly, life-changingly great – and maybe even some that tell truths only games can.

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This started as a comment responding to Brian Moriarty’s articulate apologium for Ebert, and to a trend in the responses to argue that “whatever anyone says is art is art” – as though Moriarty (and Ebert) were not talking specifically about “great art”, or “Art”, art that epitomises and exemplifies the best of its kind.

It got too long. So I’m posting it as its own blog entry, here and on my Gamasutra blog.

There’s a certain irony in that Moriarty and his populist counterlocutors (e.g. this comment), who are superficially arguing against each other, both ultimately seem to be using popularity as an index of whether or not something is art.

In Moriarty’s case, he’s talking about “great art”, or “Art”, as opposed to the broader category of “art” (which is what his critics are talking about, and can certainly include the commerical, non-challenging “kitsch” Moriarty is explicitly removing from consideration). A lot of commenters seem to miss this crucial distinction – Moriarty will happily admit many games to the category of kitsch. But ultimately even Moriarty’s argument seems to come down to a question of quantity as much as quality – art is about instilling a sense of discovery or rediscovery, but the only way you can tell it’s really good is if it has that effect on enough people.

That’s fair enough, but the problem with this is that, especially in new media, it can be very difficult to get the kind of exposure you need for your work to pass whatever the threshold is of “great art”. So part of the reason games have not yet produced capital-A-Art is simply that they’ve only recently reached mass audiences, and even now they are still not universally experienced the way every other form has been by the time its “great” works were created.

I would propose the following tests for the status of art, good art, and great (or capital-A) art:

Art is whatever is held to be such. It must involve some act of creation, but the simple act of bringing a natural phenomenon to someone’s attention is enough to qualify as creation for these purposes: directing people’s attention is after all a key component of any artform.

Good (or effective) art is art which elicits a reaction from a substantial portion, preferably a majority, of its audience – whatever the size of that audience. Exceptional art elicits a strong reaction from its audience and can potentially change minds or even lives. It may never be seen outside a small group – ephemeral art left unrecorded in a natural setting, a transformative roleplaying session, an unrepeatably expressive performance of Chekhov or Mozart – but for those who experience it, it is unforgettable, a sublime encounter with truth or beauty.

Obviously, as an audience increases in size (and therefore, almost inevitably, in diversity), the range of possible reactions increases, possibly exponentially. What is good or even exceptional art to a given, small audience may have no effect whatever on the wider audience.

So great Art is art which can consistently evoke strong reactions across a wide audience, or art that a wide audience agrees across all its internal divisions to be good or even exceptional. (By Moriarty’s definition, these reactions must be not simply reaffirmations of known emotional cliches, but something more complex; whether or not we agree with this addendum, my general point can stand, I think. It treats the idea of “greatness” as essentially one of scale, not effect – as with great wars, fires, events in history, etc.)

(Side point: does this mean that a single work of art which is only experienced by one person, but which has such a profound effect on them that it inspires them to affect the lives of millions, could also be described as “great art”? On first consideration, I’d say yes. And I like this because it allows art to be “great” purely by dint of its effect without reference to popularity… But I’m interested in your comments.)

The problem is that this necessarily tends to favour:

  • for breadth of dissemination and scope of potential audience: reproducible forms, then static forms, then scripted live performance forms, and least of all ephemeral forms;
  • for consistency of experience (Ebert’s key point), “declarative”, artist-to-audience media forms rather than interactive forms;
  • for longevity (i.e. time in which to reach an audience), media which are self-contained rather than dependent on technological or linguistic platforms which may become obsolete;
  • for ability to connect with a wide range of people, “lowest-common-denominator” themes and content (i.e. content that tends towards what Moriarty calls “kitsch”).

…to say nothing of the culture within which the work is attempting to achieve recognition.

Electronic games suffer on the second and third points – and I’d argue don’t make enough effort to escape from the trap of the fourth. Non-electronic games suffer on the second point, and often the first (as they are not always easily reproduced)

This in turn tends to instil certain presuppositions (simply by dint of long association) about what can and can’t be “art”, let alone “Art”.

Ebert’s logic that player interaction with the game nullifies the possibility of the experience constituting art is one such fallacy. Nate Logan’s point about sculpture (and Glenn Storm’s addendum about architecture) are key to understanding why; Michelangelo’s David cannot truly be appreciated from a single angle, and nor can the Taj Mahal. (Though unlike most games, you actually have to work hard to find any part of the experience which is not extraordinary.)

Similarly, the rules of a game can constitute what I call “the poetry of system” – the choices that you make as you play giving you a personal, even emotional experience of the assumptions, assertions and underlying logic of the game. Nobody who has played Z-Man Games’s board game Pandemic could argue that it’s in any way a realistic simulation of combating contagious disease, but as an evocation of the deeper tensions between spending resources on dealing with immediate threats or on working towards the longer-term endgame it’s both a compelling experience and genuinely expressive of a real truth. Playing gives you one or more experiences of the possible outcomes, but it’s the underlying balances and systems which are revealed through play that are where the art lies.

In other words: a given playthrough may vary, but it’s the systems that generate that experience which constitute the art, and possibly Art, of games – in exactly the same way that a play (coincidence?) may be performed or adapted ad infinitum from a fixed script, and the sheet music of a sonata may be played (also coincidence?) by a beginner or a maestro, but the quality of art (and possibly Art) still inheres in the script and the music themselves, regardless of the experience of the audience at any given realisation of the same.

I’d also allow – in fact argue strongly for – the particular “cosmetic” choices in which the game creator chooses to dress their system as being a crucial part of this, even though they are not part of the “system” per se – Pandemic‘s “flavouring”, or central metaphor, being the work of the CDC is clearly relevant, and Brenda Brathwaite’s work is exploring this boundary extremely fruitfully, and along the way making some deeply important statements about choices, the context in which they are made, those choosing, and the complex interrelations of the three.

One final point. The very fact that games allow for a multiplicity of endings – or rather conclusions – by its nature allows them to make more ambiguous points about their subject matter than traditional media can. At the same time, it allows for very definite statements about the causes of certain outcomes to be made, as multiple playthroughs reveal the different contributions made by each decision to the various conclusions. To me, that hardly argues that they cannot make sublime statements. It just means you need to grok the intricacies of a system (and its fictional and/or real context) of decisions and consequences, rather than a system of other, more traditionally-understood symbols. Making that step not only allows us to expand the definition of art, but fosters what you might call “systems literacy” – the ability to think through decisions-in-contexts (with part of those context being the interests, goals and decisions of others) to likely outcomes, both intermediate and final.

These are things we need badly to foster at this moment in history, and if games can engender that literacy, I say: Let’s Play.

Racism, sexism, agism, classism, et cetera – they suck, right?

I would like to propose a law that says that people in a position of privilege have a legal obligation to speak out on behalf of the less-privileged in the same category, or pay a penalty.

So men always have to speak up against misogyny, Caucasians against racism, the middle-class against classism and so on.

I’m particularly looking to get my fellow youngish straight cis white normally-abled middle-class men on side. Whaddaya say, fellas? Every time you hear someone being misogynist, racist, classist, agist, homophobic or otherwise bigoted, you have to speak up or lose a chunk of change?

No? Sounds exhausting? A bit excessive? Why the hell should you have to choose between speaking up or paying up?

Welcome to being on the receiving end. Every time something misogynistic gets said, a woman has to make the choice: fight or lose out. And she might be losing something worse than money. Every racist joke costs its target time and energy, or something else, whether a little peace of mind or self-confidence, a job, their personal safety… And so on; you get the idea. Every time someone is put down for some irrelevant attribute, there’s a choice: fight it or pay.

And if they aren’t around to hear, they don’t even get the choice to fight. They just have to pay, later, when the latent bigotry that’s been instilled and/or reinforced comes into play.

It’s one of the key ways in which the -isms suck. And if you’re at all fair-minded, you have to admit: it shouldn’t be up to the people who are already copping it to have to pay every time. So if you truly believe the -isms are wrong… guess we’ll be hearing from you.

** Trigger warning: discussion of sexual violence, jokes about rape and death by overdose.

DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting this in any way, shape or form. The idea below is raised purely for rhetorical purposes.

[Some context for the non-geeky reader:

In August, the gamer webcomic Penny Arcade (probably the most influential geek/gamer lifestyle icons in the world) posted this comic about the mercenary elements of “heroism” in online games. They received some pretty reasonably-expressed critiques (representative sample linked) about the use of rape for comic effect, and possibly some others.

They posted this follow-up, whose third panel features some of the most blatant straw-manning I’ve ever seen. And yes, I get that it’s meant as a joke, and an aggressive reaffirmation of the fact that they do go to extremes and exaggerate. I’m not dumb. But there’s more to it than they’re admitting… and they were duly called on it.

To which they have responded verbally (bottom post) with the old “there’s worse out there, why make a fuss about this” line (as though they weren’t fuelling the fuss themselves with intentionally inflammatory responses), but also by producing a T-shirt which makes the mythical rape-beasts of the original strip the mascots for a team playing an unspecified sport.]

Setting aside the fact that we know there actually do exist groups of young men who do treat rape as a team sport (and a joke), here’s why making “Dickwolves” sports tops is an appallingly toxic thing to do.

Mike Krahulik (“Gabe”) has spoken openly about the pain and trauma of having a beloved family member die of an overdose of drugs and how deeply it has affected him.

How would he feel if he were to walk into PAX to see large numbers of people in a sports top with the logo of a fictional rival team to the Dickwolves – the “Dead Junkies”? Perhaps a stylised corpse head with a syringe in its eyeball?

Clearly, anyone who did that would be not only a smartarse but a scumbag. After all, it is not fair to push those kinds of buttons simply to make a point – or rather, a gesture – in a different argument (about gender equality and rape culture).

So my question is, how is that different from what Krahulik and Holkins have done to survivors of rape – who are more numerous, and who continue to be vulnerable to repetitions of the trauma? (This would be analogous to mocking dead overdose victims in the presence of a family who have not only already lost one child, but have another whose future is uncertain.)

They have put a term which is now inextricably associated with rape-as-joke on a mass-produced T-shirt – and worse, one which will be widely worn at PAX events (supposedly “welcoming”, “inclusive” geek community events).

True, they have another point they want to make (about their initial remark being dependent for its meaning on rape being an awful thing, and how that context appears to have been lost; and the wider propensity for the internet to miss the point; and also, dicks are funny hee hee hee). Their point is fundamentally flawed: they don’t get to define the lives and contexts of their millions of readers; and they are more than a little arrogant to assert that they shouldn’t have to take into account the undeniable fact that a great many of those people are rape or sexual assault survivors. (We’re really not talking a niche group here; and given the gravity of the trauma, I don’t think it’d matter if we were. There are more rape survivors than war veterans, or families of lynching victims, or relatives of OD deaths, and we wouldn’t treat any of those groups with this kind of casual contempt.)

But even if their point was valid, that still doesn’t justify pressing the trauma button (or the “rape-is-amusing” button) on the thousands if not millions of people who will see these garments during their lifespan. Any more than parading a Team Dead Junkies T-shirt in front of Krahulik and his family would be educational, or worth the yuks.

The irony? You’d find the people objecting to Team Dickwolves (and being dismissed by the PA guys, and abused by their fanbois) up front in the Krahuliks’ defence if you tried anything of the sort.

Trauma isn’t funny. Kind of by definition. Being indifferent to the knowledge that your actions may trigger PTSD in large numbers of people – members of a community you actively build in other ways, and for whom you are both lodestone and touchstone – for the sake of a fleeting kick is a shameful thing to do. (Not to mention creating widespread postive reinforcement for the one-in-sixteen men who will admit to raping as long as you only describe the actions themselves, and don’t actually use the R-word, because hey, it’s all in fun, and everybody’s a little bit shonky when they’re trying to get some, and if you don’t actually get dragged into court it can’t have been THAT bad, right?)

The most disappointing thing for me is that these two guys are perfectly capable of sophisticated nuance and real humanitarianism. They are smart. They know the size of their audience, and they must have some inkling of the percentages of those people who are survivors of this sort of violence. But they can’t do the basic maths to think about the number of survivors whose mood, or day, or mental health they assault; or the numbers of scumbags who will take everything they’ve done – even the first two panels of that second comic – as all part of the joke rapists play on the people they rape: the “we pretend this is bad, but I can do this and get away with it and not even care how you feel, ha ha” joke, with the sports top as the punchline.

You’d really think there’d be a little more distaste for that sort of bullying from the geek crowd.

Or at least a little more intelligence.

We deserve better from two such major icons of geek culture; and if we don’t get it, we need to find better icons.

jokes

[Whoops! Hiatus. Life in the way AGAIN. I’ll be finishing the WorldCon thing off… but other stuff will be interspersed.]

Very much the kind of panel one pays to see: smart people with very different views (and starting points) having informed, entertaining conversation.

Interesting tidbits:

  • Doctorow said Disney’s copyright in Steamboat Willie, and therefore Mickey Mouse (who is the reason copyright periods keep getting extended – basically whenever he looks like going public domain money swirls around and when it settles copyright lasts another 10-20 years), is apparently technically invalid because something was done incorrectly at the time! To make matters even more infuriating/interesting, the exact same loophole was exploited by Disney in order to rip off the estate of the guy who created Bambi – a typical example of large corporations using the law both ways.
  • Someone (can’t remember who, sorry) rebutted the standard-license-fee-no-permissions-required model of licensing (a la sheet music) by talking about how the greater ease of access meant that there was effectively little to no practical need to get licensing permission ahead of time, and people conflate something being accessible without a license and not needing to pay for one at all. But this was always the case – a trained muso would know how to transcribe a tune.
  • Doctorow discussed the resistance felt by some recording artists to the shift back to a more performance-based income stream in historical terms – as he has elsewhere – talking about how when recording first came in, musicians (who were live performers at the time) complained that they would be reduced to bureaucratic functionaries playing in a room somewhere. Now some artists are complaining that they are not spectacles and shouldn’t have to caper on demand for pay. There’s a meme hack here, however: Even in the studio, artists still have to perform to make their music, and so they simply sell “tickets” not to a live gig but to their next recording, or studio session, or whatever. I know that there’s a fundamental difference between playing a crowd and recording, but the basic economic fact is the same: you need a certain number of subscribers to make a performance worthwhile, whether it’s a couple of hours with bright lights or months in a room. It removes the speculative element of being able to make a recording and sell the finished work – which means the first works are free until you get enough supporters – but that’s almost always the case anyway.
  • French copyright law apparently gives artists perpetual, inalienable rights in a work – including some say over how it is displayed – apparently to the point that when a statue was removed from a foyer because the owners didn’t like it there, the artist sued them to make them put it back – and won! Interesting to me because the moral rights of the artist have always been the ones I’ve intuitively supported most – though never to that sort of mad extreme.

Not a lot to say about this – most of it was rehashing all the myriad ways that privacy is almost a matter now of hoping people choose not to look too hard, especially as regards any interactions with the network. (And also the dangers of getting mixed up with other people who share your markers – name, address etc.)

The key issue, which was skirted around but never squarely addressed, was that privacy is heavily linked with questions of power differentials. The discussion of how modern privacy was a bit of a joke when you had servants around all the time (though you didn’t, in fact; but certainly the more general point stood, that you just had to assume that there were people who knew stuff about you and trust them not to share it) hinged on this point: the only way to enforce aristocratic privacy was the terrible power the upper class had over their inferiors. But it didn’t actually go there, nor to the critical point that any imbalance of power is exacerbated by differences in knowledge about each other. This is true both as a simple, passive translation of knowledge to power, with oppressors having the apparatus and disposable attention-hours to apply close observation and analysis that the oppressed usually cannot afford – something already seen in East Germany’s Stasi and the accompanying informant network – but more insidiously as an active incentive for corrupt people, those seeking power over their fellows, to find their way into the apparatus of surveillance. This isn’t limited solely to surveillance of course – but because surveillance is not directly harmful in and of itself (though it becomes so merely by being known, let alone by being applied) it is easier to rationalise.

Hope this is clear – doing the last-minute rush before sleep again!

Key points:

  • Simply reducing emissions is not enough; “if you’ve dug yourself into a hole, you don’t just stop digging, you need a ladder”. I.e. we need to reduce greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere and/or reduce global temperature.
  • Waiting for the biosphere to reabsorb the carbon liberated over the past centuries is a matter of further centuries. We need to take counteraction to break the positive feedback loop we are already seeing.
  • Two proposed fixes: dumping crop waste to the ocean floor rather than letting it biodegrade and release carbon back into the stratosphere; and releasing aerosolised sulfur into the atmosphere, initially above the Arctic for testing purposes, in order to reflect solar energy back into space.

Greg Benford is a very smart guy, and I was impressed by his presentation and the ingenuity and efficiency of the two key ameliorative techniques he presented. Many of my reservations were addressed. (Doesn’t dumping crop waste sequester elements other than carbon? Turns out that the particular waste types he’s proposing dumping, particularly corn stalks, don’t have much else in their composition. Doesn’t transporting the waste create more emissions? Not if you use river transport, which efficiently lets gravity do most of the work. Won’t there be effects on seabed biospheres? They’re studying it but it looks like there is little long-term harm. Doesn’t pumping sulfur into the atmosphere increase the risk of toxic/acid rain? Yes, and over decades the pH of the ocean will change, but there are other measures to counteract that… and the breathing space we get will enable us to concentrate on finding other tech to fix the core problem.)

However there are still a hell of a lot of questions there was no time to ask. How much will stratospheric sulfur precipitate, and what effect will that have on ice melt rates? (Is it like salt, which accelerates melting? That would be my assumption.) Are the metal frames which held the bales of sequestered crop waste in the study necessary every time? If not, does their absence change anything?

He was also far, far too acquiescent in the existing economic models that are precisely to blame for the problem. He kept talking about what is “affordable”; one of the key jobs for scientists, in my view, is to debunk the economic models that hold that minerals in the ground and – particularly – trees in a forest have no economic value until they are ripped out and injected into the human production chain. It’s the same mentality that makes a heart attack a hundred-thousand dollar boost to the economy – all that surgery, medication and equipment, isn’t it awesome how much money has to be found! The way to get the infrastructure we need to fix the problem is to ensure that the costs of inaction are accurately included. It isn’t that long ago that economists were seriously, unironically writing that they couldn’t see how a global temperature rise of even several degrees would have any major effect on industry, other than maybe increasing aircon bills in factories a bit, and agriculture would just have to shift specialities to the new climatic realities for their regions, but that wasn’t a big deal, people change crops all the time. Trying to muster resources to deal with the new realities in such a twisted framework is unnecessarily hard work, if it’s possible at all.

I’m also sick of the internal jockeying for who gets to be the heroes in this. Yes, engineering solutions will be indispensible to dealing with the problem. So will political and economic reform to reduce energy waste and excess emissions; there is no way around that either. As I think I mentioned in a post yesterday, greenies are usually pretty OK with technology having some part in dealing with the problem, though they do exhibit a certain wariness about further large-scale interventions. But given the history of humanity’s dealings with the environment, that’s kind of understandable, and unless confronted with absolute intransigence, I regard that as proper scientific scepticism. I’ve yet to see the equivalent of the claims I’ve seen here, that it’s “an engineering problem” (with overtones of that being the only significant part of the problem). I’m not saying that kind of crap never happens – I’m not exactly a central figure in these debates so I’m sure I’ve missed that sort of stuff – but either way it’s not like we can afford to be neglecting any avenue of attack on a problem of this scale and complexity. That means we need mutual encouragement and support, and joint action against the human systems that caused and sustain the problem, not territorial pissing contests. (Excuse the fused metaphor but I think the blend is not inappropriate… aside from the urinary element.)

Full title: Fortress of solitude or our last best hope? The role of libraries in fostering YA spec fic

An interesting discussion, particularly for SF fans – it was reported that young adults are requesting exclusively speculative fiction in a place like Sunshine, and in some cases are using it to upgrade their reading level by some years. My grave doubts about the quality of YA speculative reading were not exactly allayed by the news that science fiction was only a fraction of the market and fantasy & particularly paranormal romance (Twilight) were the bulk of the reading, though; what does it say about the state of manhood in the West that the dominant metaphor for male-female relationships is features men who are lifeless, monstrous parasites with violent appetites?

The big takeaway was finding the balance between the shift to a more communal quality to library spaces generally, and the opportunities that creates to facilitate the socialisation of the quiet reading-focused kids with each other and into their wider peer groups, and protecting the possibility of just sitting and reading, of the private and solitary time that fosters reflection and individual growth.

My own question, which I didn’t get the chance to ask, was how games integrate into this; to my mind, a good game (especially a good co-operative game) is a chance to combine thoughtful engagement with social interplay. If you’ll pardon the pun. There will be more on this, but I need to get the stuff from the Con out of my head quickly and get to sleep for tomorrow.

OK, got to get to bed for tomorrow’s sessions, but the thing that struck me from this session was that there are a lot of false divisions that need to be overcome.

There was one bloke – didn’t catch his name, but he was coming from the science end, and talked about the influence of science fiction on encouraging people into careers in the sciences – who basically slagged off “greenies” and accused them of being incredibly selfish people who thought hugging trees would make everything OK and who ignored science. I have never once met someone who seriously advocated hugging a tree, and I know rather a lot of greenies, all of whom got interested in the topic precisely because of the science. I know there are people out there who match the stereotype, but it’s completely irrelevant and kind of destructive. I suspect it comes from the opposition to things like genetic engineering of food crops; but everyone I know who opposes it does so on historically-informed scientific grounds, by which I mean that they are conscious of how radical human intervention in complex systems can completely derail them – has done so in the past, for instance the ways the Green Revolution of the 70s has directly contributed to degradation of crop soil – and so they are not gung-ho optimistic about how right it’ll all be.

Another example was the tension between human rights and the pressing need for sweeping changes in human systems; reconciling the need to re-engineer our lifestyles with people’s freedoms is a toughie. But in fact the tension isn’t an opposition; human rights violations will only increase as environmental change takes place and competition over resources grows, while ignoring human rights while creating change will only lead to conflict that will slow change at best and (if it grows violent) lead to tremendous destruction.

Another union of contrasts is the solution: science and literature. As pointed out in the session, both require imagination, exploration and publication; and they offer a chance to show how the world might work in sustainable ways. I actually think we need to go beyond that, to try to imagine new forms of heroism and new kinds of solution. Too often heroism is defined as the quality of a particular individual or small group of individuals, whereas what we require here is co-operation on a truly epic scale, of the kind that won World Wars. And the solution here is not only new technologies, but the wisdom to accept voluntary austerities and restraints before they become scarcity and constraint; in other words, not the single stroke that saves the world, but the steadfast, ongoing will to hold ourselves within limits set by reason rather than blindly bloating out to the boundaries of a capacity we know extends well into self-destruction.

It’s possible. It just needs to be imagined loudly enough.

An interesting session, despite being a shambles, with one of the panellists recruited as she was walking in to be an audience member – apparently the original panellist’s flight had been delayed. But they all rallied to the cause, giving some good reading recommendations for those interested and doing some useful analysis of why mothering and mothers are portrayed so ambivalently when they are portrayed at all in SF.

One thing occurred to me, which is that mothering (or parenting) is a slow, nurturing job, one that unfolds over many moments whose connection is not always immediately obvious – the example or explanation you give a child one day may resurface in quite startling fashion, sometimes quite transformed, months or years down the track, and only that close, deep attention to another person for their own sake can equip you to understand or even notice their epigenetic and epicultural (epimemetic?) transformation of the influences upon them. Not the stuff of traditional SF – or traditional anything really. But if done right, utterly fascinating; and maybe some of the forms SF seems to suit well, the longer narratives like novel series and episodic TV, are better suited to that kind of slow-motion bloom. Don’s daughter Sally in Mad Men is one example of this kind of literal character development, come to think of it, and Betty’s relationship to her motherhood has been consistently fascinating; having only seen up to the end of Season Three, I’m suddenly very anxious to see how more we get to see of of this in Season Four.

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