Cybertypes, identity tourism, cosmetic multiculturalism… for someone who’s suspicious of academic kludges, Lisa Nakamura sure is full of ‘em. But the thing is: they work for me – they make sense immediately, the way good theory should do. It’s one of the many things I like about Nakamura.
Because there are so many things, I’m just going to focus on one: nostalgia.
I love what Nakamura says about nostalgia vis-à-vis new media and race. Here’s a passage I used in my paper on racism in WoW:
As machine-induced speed enters our lives – the speed of transmission of images and texts, of proliferating information, of dizzying arrays of decision trees and menus – all of these symptoms of modernity create a sense of unease that is remedied by comforting and familiar images of a “history” and a “native” that seems frozen in a “different time and a different place. (7)
Re-reading Chapter 1 this time, a later passage also stuck out:
As Susan Stewart defines nostalgia, it is a “sadness without an object.” Nostalgia is “always ideological: the past it seeks has never existed except as narrative, and hence, always absent, that past continually threatens to reproduce itself as a felt lack” (23). … Cybertyping keeps race “real” using the discourse of the virtual. The object of digital nostalgia is precisely the idea of race itself. As Renato Rosaldo defines it, nostalgia is “often found under imperialism, where people mourn the passing of what they themselves have transformed,” and is “a process of yearning for what one has destroyed that is a form of mystification (quoted in hooks 25). Cybertyping works to rescue the vision of the authentic raced “native” that, first, never existed except as part of an imperialist set of narratives, and second, is already gone, or “destroyed” by technologies such as the Internet. (26)
Nostalgia, in this sense, is the dominant feeling of the fantasy genre. For you non-geeks out there, the fantasy genre is that spic-and-span Medieval Europe that’s populated by swords and sorcerers and so forth. Tolkien is its great granddaddy, though in games, its direct ancestor is Dungeons and Dragons. As you’ll soon discover, it’s the setting of World of Warcraft. It’s also the setting of 94% of MMOGs. So fantasy’s popularity in games makes it interesting enough to me, but what Nakamura made me realize is that it taps into a nasty set of Western ideologies – ideologies about imperialism and racism.
[Amusing note: MS Word put the Fuzzy Red Line of Misspelling under “cybertype,” but not under “kludge.” The politics of the program(mers) revealing themselves?]