Taylor, Haraway, Cyborgs

Donna Haraway’s manifesto illustrates the cyborg as a vehicle for expressing a new way of thinking about science, technology, and socialist feminism in the late 20th century. Haraway tells us that in science fiction, the cyborg is a manifest icon of who or what humanity idolizes and wants to become: an augmented organism.

When we see augmentations of the human form in real life, we are not just seeing the latest new technological trend or fad—the manifest technology speaks to a real desire for human adaptation beyond our genetic capability. Many augmentations are communicative in nature, while others relate to the perception of our individuated existence and ability to act in certain ways or accomplish specific tasks. As T.L. Taylor explores in her books, augmentation is inherent to online/digital game play, as well.

This week I’ve been negotiating some connections between Taylor and Haraway’s research; the most obvious being the identification of collapsed barriers; in her cyborg manifesto, Haraway defined 3 boundary breakdowns at play in contemporary society: the boundary between human and animal (p119); the distinction between animal-human/organism and machine (p120); and, the boundary between physical and non-physical (p120). We see the collapse of these boundaries play out in Taylor’s ethnographic research as documented in Play Between Worlds (2006) and Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming (2012).

In PBW Taylor begins her analysis of the game world by describing the breach of the non-physical and physical worlds at an IRL, corporate-sponsored gathering for the MMOG EverQuest. Taylor describes her entrance to the convention center:

“I slip on my own badge declaring my game character name, my server, and my (by then defunct) guild. Now identified as ‘Iona, Bailerbents, Hidden Lore,’ I quickly feel the silent shift from outsider to fellow gamer…This event, a ‘Fan Faire,’ presents some unique experiences in blurring the boundaries between game and nongame space, off- and online lives, avatars and ‘real’ identities and bodies.” (PBW, p1)

Later, she again emphasizes:

“…[the game] weaves together the offline and online, the real and the virtual, as well as muddying the formal boundaries of ‘game’ and ‘not game.’” (PBW, p9)

We can see this blending of the corporal self in other game spaces as well:

Robbie Cooper, a photographer, published a book in 2007 of comparison profile shots of players and their avatars. He traveled the world to interview his subjects; profiles are available at here: http://gawno.com/2009/11/alter-ego-online-gamers-revealed/

This past year, EverQuest developers augmented the game so that player’s IRL facial expressions could be reflected by their avatars. Article: http://www.geekosystem.com/soemote-everquest-ii/

The “blurring” of the physical boundary in videogames, however, is limited. Besides social stigmas that gamers endure for investing themselves in virtual worlds, the crossing of activity between worlds is not always backwards compatible.

In Raising the Stakes, Taylor analyzes the world of “professional gaming”—communities of gamers who are paid to play—and negotiates the authenticity and legitimacy that traditional athletes dispute as absent in e-gaming. In this struggle, the distinction between animal-human/organism and machine is paramount; is the augmented athlete—a kind of player more commonly thought of as a cheater—performing a sport? If sport is reducible to performances of masculinity (/domination, which is inherent within masculinity), how does society define legitimate displays? Who gets to define dude behavior?

From here, I perceive 2 noteworthy discussion points at play. 

Discussion 1: Within the discussion of legitimacy and e-sports is, inherently, the negotiation between valid/powerful/traditional masculinities over other perceived notions of masculine behavior. Is the hyper-masculine culture in and around videogames a response to perceived illegitimacy? Or, perhaps, is sexism simply as sexism does?

Discussion 2: In thinking about the far future of videogames—objects that could allow for an imagined cyborg existence—how does sexism and hyper-masculine behavior  inhibit videogame culture from embracing Haraway’s cyborg reality? Put another way: if the cyborg is a creature that humans strive to become, is sexism the single sociological structure that undermines our society’s entrance into a post-gender world? I think the answer is yes; sexism is the ultimate barrier.

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One Response to Taylor, Haraway, Cyborgs

  1. I like the idea of the augmented athlete, particularly since it underscores how artificial the categories of athlete and sport actually are. I’m kind of hard-pressed to think of a sport that’s totally “authentic,” or uninfluenced by technology.

    I’d like to see you unpack your questions a bit more. What’s the difference, for example, “between valid/powerful/traditional masculinities over other perceived notions of masculine behavior”? To what “other perceived notions of masculine behavior” are you referring? An example or two might help ground this. And what do you mean by “Or, perhaps, is sexism simply as sexism does?”

    As for the obstacles standing in the way of a post-gender world, I think that Haraway would argue that racism and capitalism are as powerful obstacles as sexism.

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