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Unlocking the Clubhouse II: adolescence - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2003-11-23 00:56
Unlocking the Clubhouse II: adolescence
Public
I'm getting sleeeepy ...I'm getting sleeeepy ...
computers, deconstruction, feminism, politics
More from the book ...

In late junior high and high school, the computer lab becomes a place where boys who are often socially marginalized can prove their masculinity. These boys and sometimes even their teachers will ostracize or openly mock girls and minorities in computer science classes. Computer science teachers often give sports-related or mechanics-related examples or projects, rather than examples to which girls could relate. (In the book they have some particularly odious examples.) Computer science books will focus on technical detail rather than real-world metaphors or applications. Thus, many high-school girls see computer science as a "math elective," "supersmart and unemotional," and "a place for nerds" and not as a powerful field which affects many others.

Computer games are one of the primary ways these computer geek cliques "prove masculinity," explaining the prevalence of gory, destructive games. Boys also like fantasy or adventure games to prove their independence from parents and other authority. These games provide a safe, predictable, controllable surrogate for social interaction, which can be unpredictable and lead to intimacy and opportunities to be hurt or seen as weak. Many girls are bored or disgusted with gory games, games with a lousy plot, or games without connection to the real world, and they thus turn away from the junior-high and high-school computer culture. The people designing games are mostly male, and don't make games that cater to girls' interests. (At the same time, "Barbie games" that are "based on the crudest stereotype of what girls like" are also not enough!)

Teachers watch for and give special privileges to the classic "boy geeks," typically obsessed with the mechanics of computers, but don't watch for "girl geeks" who often have interests in computers that are not as mechanics-driven. Teacher influence makes a big difference: many of the girls who applied for CMU's computer science program out of high school had teachers encourage them to take computer science classes, usually in high school.
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janviere
2003-11-23 01:31 (UTC)
(no subject)
Reminds me of this in the Engineering News the other day. I don't particularly like the idea of "Designing Technology for Girls and Women", I guess because it calls up images of Barbie or the Home Shopping Network far too easily.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-23 12:59 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yeah - maybe they should say "designing technology that's not for boys and men." :~)
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Olego
olego
2003-11-23 03:57 (UTC)
(no subject)
My CS teacher in high school was great--he was equally mean to those who slacked off (and mostly guys did), and his examples were pure CS (illustrating a for loop, for example, by describing and not by analogies). Furthermore, he disallowed everyone to play any games. So it was a rather equal opportunity classroom.

If I ever become a teacher, I'll be sure to encourage everyone equally.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-23 13:05 (UTC)
(no subject)
How many girls were in your class?

The "pure CS" examples can be a mixed bag - they can be pretty good, but they can be just as much of a turn-off as sports examples. It depends a lot on the teacher (e.g. Hilfinger's pure CS examples may be overly-technical and scare some away, but Harvey's in 61a were usually very good).

I was very amused by a section in my compilers book comparing bottom-up parsing to knitting. :~) And there's the analogy of pipelining as washing clothes in C.O.D., too.
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pr0lix
2003-11-23 14:48 (UTC)
(no subject)
I loved the washing clothes analogy, because it worked whenever I had to explain my CS152 project to anyone in my family. I've never heard the knitting analogy.
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Kris
anemone
2003-11-23 08:12 (UTC)
Maria Klawe
Did you go to Maria Klawe's talk when she was here (Last year, I think? Maybe the year before?) She's dealt with the issue, and worked on a group that designed a girl-centered game. It had an AI in it, so you could ask questions and it'd send you back answers (like "What is the weather?") and a well-developed plot and story, and so on.

The apparently couldn't ever get the game marketed because it wasn't educational enough to be an "educational" game, and it wasn't exciting enough to be a normal game.

She's now dean of engineering at Princeton.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-23 13:06 (UTC)
Re: Maria Klawe
Yes, I did see her talk - it was so cool that it made me want to do game design for about a month afterward. :~) (Then I realized that I probably wouldn't like game design very much ...) Thanks for reminding me! :~)
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pr0lix
2003-11-23 15:05 (UTC)
(no subject)
I don't know about fantasy/adventure games being a surrogate for social interaction. My first RPG was the original Dragon Warrior. It certainly wasn't social. If anything, it was a puzzle -- you had limited vision inside dungeons, so you had to map your way through mazes with limited knowledge. Person-to-person interaction was only slightly more complicated than 'wizard needs food badly'.

I think once you start having something resembling real social interaction in adventure games, players stop viewing the main character as a projection of themselves, and start viewing them as a separate entity -- the main character in a story. The exception to this would be dating-sims, where the game structure is very similar to an adventure game, but the main character is supposed to represent the player. Then you get to see all the stereotypes, the simplifications, and the silliest surrogate for social interaction: the drop-down menu.
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jacobiwan
2003-11-24 11:31 (UTC)
(no subject)
Let's not forget that not all boys and men are heterosexual sports crazed mechanical engineers! I hated the sports metaphors and projects used in my early computer science courses. Despite this, I had a rather odd experience with my professor. She was a closeted lesbian who was married to a doctor (wonder why?) who absolutely hated men. To top this off, she hated me even more because I was 14 and knew more about computers than her (she was a chemist by training). Let's just say she gave me my only B prior to Berkeley. *sigh*
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-24 12:27 (UTC)
(no subject)
This was a professor for a computer science class?
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jacobiwan
2003-11-25 09:59 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yes indeed, CS I and II... ugh!
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