Hurtful Language: A Retrospective

Hey y'all... he says, as though anybody is going to actually read this.

So I don't know how deep or how crazy the discussion about the various language slip-ups on live streams from ages ago because, to be frank, the Internet is the last place I want to turn to see people argue. I don't like arguments even when they're appropriate, like debates or whatnot, so Internet arguments are... just the worst, man. Why I am writing this post is because after thinking about that kind of language for a long time, and learning some stuff in psychology courses, I finally realized why my hot-blooded, young-man perspective on it was so wrong (at least, the way I see it now). So, if you are anything like I was, maybe this particular set of statements will help you understand why there's a such thing as "hurtful language." But to see how I got to my current standpoint on the issue, it would help to know where I started.

My Original Viewpoint on Using Certain "Offensive" Words:

Back in the day (read: up until a few weeks ago) I used to tell people this: "If you let vibrations in the air created by somebody's mouth change your mood, you are giving that person SUPERPOWERS." The general idea there makes sense, right? I mean, if you can sit there and say/write something that changes my mood, you've effectively got the power to control my emotions, like a toned-down version of the Mule from Asimov's second "Foundation" novel. So I used to tell people to nut the fuck up, and stop being such goddamn wimps about all this shit. Words are words; they're either variations in sound wave pressure or they're lines on a surface. Either way, you're a human with the ability to reason, and you should be able to process that shit for what it is before you get all upset about it, you fucking stupid animal. I know DOGS who have a better ability to deal with strong language than you. But all that was just a viewpoint created by myself, in my own head, upon thinking about it.

Important Things I Learned:

This could be a massive list if I was speaking generally, but let's narrow it down to the soft science known as "psychology." Now I'm a microbiologist doing neuroscience research and applying to medical school; in other words, I laugh in good-natured derision at my friends majoring in psychology. I say "good-natured" because I was originally going to do a minor in psychology before I got the research position; I want to go into neurology at some point, so having some psychology background seemed like a reasonably good idea. Alas, I was accepted to do some awesome shit in a neuroscience lab, and so I am just doing those psychology courses as electives.

Amidst all the unfounded nonsense created by the likes of Freud, and all the weird theories for which the so-called "evidence" would be scoffed at by a real-ass scientist, I found the idea of "Affect-Stable vs. Affect-Intense." Basically, it's just another way to classify personalities; most people will lie somewhere on a continuum between the two personality types. As for the definitions: "affect-stable" describes people who don't feel their emotions very strongly, and "affect-intense" describes people who do. I reckon you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who is COMPLETELY to one side or the other. An example of a fully affect-stable personality would be the "Neutrals" from that Futurama episode; you couldn't get a rise out of those folks no matter what. Affect-stable individuals are those who act pretty much the same at a totally crazy concert as they do at their dad's funeral. An example of a fully affect-intense personality could be River Tam from "Firefly," whose amygdala was stripped, and as such she felt every emotion to its fullest extent, lacking the ability to push them to the back of her mind (no info on whether that's actually what would happen if you cut out somebody's amygdala). Affect-intense individuals would be going NUTS at the aforementioned concert, and totally inconsolable at the aforementioned funeral.

I'll be the first guy to say "yeah fuckin' right, psychologist" to theories such as the "Affect-Stable vs. Affect-Intense" one. But in terms of personalities most people have encountered, you probably know people who lie near one end or the other of the spectrum, and quite a few somewhere in between. Reliable evidence or not, it's a way of looking at people that made sense to pretty much everybody in that psych class, my friends who don't do any psychology (damn few... we're rotten with soft-science hippies over here), and even my parents (psychology probably wasn't even a thing back in their schooling days in India). It's not the ONLY spectrum on which to evaluate somebody's personality traits, but rather one of the many I've learned about so far, and certainly one that I think explains people's varying opinions on the use of potentially offensive language.

What it Means for the Type of Language you Choose to use:

If you're like me, you've had enough horrible language hurled at you that you've learned to deal with it. When I was an RA in my second year of university, I had some seriously hateful, racist insults yelled at me by drunk first years, and hell, I began to revel in it; I'd join in on the joke - usually about sexual intercourse with my mom, or my "Hindu girlfriend," or something about terrorism - and take it to the Nth degree, to the point where they were just astonished that I wasn't trying to murder them. One might say that, ever since I grew out of my extremely short temper, I'm about 90% affect-stable (pulled that number out of nowhere. Psychology!). So when somebody says some offensive word that reminds of some real awful stuff that's happened in my life - and it does happen, to most people, I think - I'm not fazed by it. That's not bragging, to be clear; there are just different types of people in the world, and I happen to be one who is very hard to upset. That has its ups and downs; one downside is that my calm demeanor often makes bosses/professors/lab supervisors think I'm not taking anything seriously, which REALLY sucks because I am pretty serious about what I do academically.

On the other hand, there are people who may have had some terrible shit happen to them, and when some strong language reminds them of that experience, it can ignite a whole lot of negative emotions in that person. To me, that was really enough of an argument against using words like - and please forgive me for using them here, but they tie in to a later point - the homophobic f-word, the n-word, and c-word, among many others. I mean, I've got my ass kicked by a group of guys for being brown. They called me a "sand n****r" and a "camel jockey" because... I don't know, were those used in some movie or something? We were pretty young, I wouldn't doubt they got the idea from TV. [Side note: I always felt like "sand n****r" was a lazy epithet, since you're just tagging a quick geography description onto an existing hateful word, but that's besides the point.] Anyway, I'm just saying that I understand how those memories can be brought to the forefront of your thoughts when one of those powerful trigger words is used; to me, the following thought is "huh, yeah that did happen, didn't it? Heh, that sucked. Glad I didn't get a permanent Owen Wilson nose or anything," and then I usually proceed to tell the above story. To a gay person who got their ass whooped while being called the f-word or a woman whose abusive former husband used to use the c-word, the reaction to the use of such words - in any context, even a joke - could be the same as my reaction to "sand n****r" (if they're really affect-stable), or it could be to break down into tears (affect-intense). Both are perfectly normal - and hopefully now, a bit more understandable - human reactions to painful memories.

So by now, you must know what I'm getting at, right? I mean, I'm sure some affect-intense people can develop coping mechanisms and get better at not reacting to their memories, and I encourage folks to do so if such reactions are interfering with their everyday functioning. But I think that as much as I like to cuss like a sailor, and flaunt my foul, horrible mouth - and trust me, I do - the least I can do is limit that kind of language use to when I'm around people I know very well, and not within earshot of those I don't. Unless I'm around somebody who I know really doesn't like the use of a certain word(s), in which case I tailor my language to suit that situation.

I don't think that's "cheating," because as I see it, the issue with using potentially "offensive" language is, well, that you'll offend somebody. That's not a huge leap of logic, is it? The idea behind cutting those words out of the vast majority of my life is to make sure I don't hurt anybody's feelings by bringing up painful memories. Some people can't help but feel bad if such memories arise, and using strong language is a pretty reliable way to get those memories to show up at somebody's brain-door, waiting to ruin their day. I wouldn't dare change effect somebody's emotions negatively, especially if it's just for a spot of fun with blue language.

Of course, this can be taken to a ridiculous degree, ex. "I found out my grandma died while I was playing Halo, could you please never talk about Halo ever again," or "I was brutally beaten by a guy wearing a shirt that said 'CHINA DON'T CARE' on it, could we please never talk about China ever again?" I mean, sure, there may be people who can never look at a pink shirt ever again without having a full nervous breakdown. But the real "Bad Words" mentioned above are categorized as such because they can elicit those emotions in a WHOLE BUNCH of people. I mean, check out the stats for the percentage of girls/women who were sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, for example. Spoiler alert: it's disgustingly high. I mean, even ONE sexual assault is a disgustingly high number of sexual assaults, but now just imagine the number of people who could have those terrible memories resurface if somebody walking by on the street was talking about "that c*** that turned me down at the club last night."

And THAT, dear friends, is why I changed my way of thinking about "offensive language."

TL;DR

Some words can trigger bad memories - and, possibly, correspondingly bad emotions - in a lot of people. If you must use these words, be careful who you use them around, as you never know who was beaten, molested, etc. and will have their day (or more, or less) ruined by your use of these words. The context means nothing, as often just the sound of the word just has a hard mental connection with a memory. Ask me, I've felt it work in my own head; I just don't care. But I DO care about not hurting people's feelings for fun, so I barely ever use these words (that I once loved to use) today.

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"Gettin' Spaced" Part 2: Blowin' Up, But Not in the Hip-Hop Sense

EVE University has all these rules, man. "Wartime Standard Operating Procedures" mean there are hoops I have to jump through even if all I want to do is fly between various solar systems to buy stuff. Yes, people declare war on the university. Fuck those people. Not to say I'm going to leave EVE U before extracting as much knowledge-juice as I can, though. I'ma keep my mouth to the information spout until I suck it (and this increasingly horrendous metaphor) totally dry. Well, I just grossed myself out, so how would you like to read my ballad...

"The Cat's List," I Hardly Knew Ye

I don't even know where that reference is from. And I'm not entirely sure what a ballad is. But I'm almost sure that the "hardly knew ye" thing isn't a ballad. I'm a Microbiology major, remember? You wanna hear about Listeria monocytogenes, give me a call; ballads, I'm not so hot on. But anyways, I had a destroyer-class ship that I got from the tutorial missions called "The Cat's List," because the ship's model name is "Catalyst" and I'm a fucking grade-A, world-class wordsmith that exudes raw creativity so hard that arts majors have orgasms if they walk too close to me.

I will never understand ship class designations, both in EVE and the real world (which, I should note, have not started to run into one another... yet). I mean, something called a "destroyer" sounds like the ship you'd see drop out of hyperspace to turn the tide of an enormous, raging space-battle. As it stands, it's a super-asymmetrical, slow, relatively unwieldy chunk of metal that I only used because it could fit like 8 guns on it. And it's insured (yes, there's fucking spaceship insurance). The lowest class I've flown is a "frigate." Aw, little frigates, all they can do is slow down other ships and prevent them from warping away from battle (a tactic called "tackling" which is left to "tackle frigates"). Know what else was a frigate? The motherfucking Normandy. That wonderful, notoriously phallic piece of metal saved the entire galaxy no less than [insert your number here] times!

Back to "The Cat's List," though. I flew that thing for most of my missions, until I hit this level 2 security mission that pitted my punk ass against something like 20 pirates. I could have taken them if I killed 1 or 2, then warped out and repaired myself. I took out about 5 of them that way, but my mistake was lingering around to kill that third guy one time; as my ship was getting ready to warp, somebody got in the kill shot. "The Cat's List" exploded, and my pod warped to safety. Though NPCs never kill your pod anyway, so I would've been just as safe orbiting the deadliest pirate ship there.

Luckily, the GiantBomb channel came to the rescue. "Xercodo" formed a fleet with my stupid little pod and then proceeded to fuck those pirates up with a ship that cost about 100 times as much as "The Cat's List", and that's WITHOUT factoring in the guns/drones/etc. he had fitted onto there. Then he left the loot to me! EVE Online players continue to be incredibly nice to new folks.

Livin' the Life

To ensure you (and me) that I'm not losing my mind, I'll tell you this great story from my real life:

Last Saturday, I was hanging out with a couple of friends from university. After the intake of various substances, my friend excitedly told me that his girlfriend has a roommate that he thinks I'd really like. The great part is his pitch on this girl:

"She's really pretty, she's got an A average, and she loves drugs!"

Fuckin' Dr. Hitch over here. It sounds like he found my goddamn soulmate. Well at least a crack addict will be pretty low-maintenance, as long as there's a steady crack supply, right? But seriously, folks, I think he meant pharmacology... I think. Oh god, I hope it's pharmacology, or this weekend - our projected first introduction - may be way more eventful than I hope it will be.

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Gettin' Spaced: My Journey Into EVE Online

So about a month ago, somebody made an account on GiantBomb and made a forum post about free 21-day trials. He's a nice guy, and has helped me greatly, but we're not getting into that yet. Right now, I'm just going to tell you that my 21-day trial ended yesterday, and I've paid for 3 more months of EVE Online. A 10-goddamn-year-old game.

I think blogging about it may be interesting for others to read because I'm not really your average EVE player, I think. You be the judge. Anyways, here's some...

Background

I'm not like your normal Internet-guy "gamer" because I don't really get passionate about stuff. I'm a science fella, and stress hormones/overly emotional states tend to lower one's ability to reason effectively. What's more, they're just videogames, y'all. Not worth getting all worked up over. Life's too short to get into arguments about fake things that happen in fake worlds, unless they're things that, I dunno, propagate racial stereotypes, or whatever. And even then, fuck arguing, just vote against it with your wallet! People won't make insensitive games if you don't buy them... but a lot of people don't have that level of willpower, which is a bummer. Either way, that argument time is time you could spend going for a jog, which would be healthier for all involved. Then again, that's just my opinion (the healthiness thing is scientific fact, however).

Beyond my brain's natural Valium gland, that just produces chill-pill-juice 24/7, the main points about me are as follows: I've finished my 3rd year of a microbiology degree, I'm a medical school hopeful, and on the rare occasions that I get free time, I play video games; one such time is this summer. I've got a relatively active social life, I've held a job as an RA and another as a lifeguard, I'm currently writing a review paper on alpha-blockers as hypertension medications, I've gone out and got drunk, made out with girls who weigh more than I do (150 lbs., for anyone wondering), and overall done a lot of stupid things, some of which I'm not proud of, but most of which I am VERY proud of.

So as you may have gathered, I'm not your average EVE guy, or probably even the average video game player. That's not to sound pompous or to place myself above any of you, it's just to provide context for how my experience and viewpoint on things in general informs my viewpoint on video games. Please let me know if it came off as me telling you how great I am, because it's just meant to tell you how I am. And "how I am" is one cool motherfucker.

The Early Days of My EVE Experience

Due to many people on EVE telling me the best starting point is the tutorial missions, I did those first. I'd say 9 out of 10 people I've met on EVE so far have been eager to help, and really nice about my stupid questions. But come on, how the hell was I supposed to know "BS" means "battleship?" The tutorial missions really give you the basics for getting around, buying/selling stuff, space-fights, how missions work, etc. The story blurbs written for the missions could easily be ignored, but I'm a story fiend most of the time, so I read them. They're mostly generic sci-fi stuff, but with the occasional funny line or two in there to keep me reading. One said something about a group of space-folks who drink blood, and prefer clone-blood because it's the freshest (all players in EVE are "capsuleers," which means their conscience can be loaded into their clones, effectively making them immortal). I've always liked the sense of humor that the Scandinavians tend to bring to the table, but DAMN. They knocked it out of the Weirdness Park with that blood thing.

After finishing the tutorial missions, I applied to the corporation "EVE University," which is meant to help new players learn the ins and outs of the EVE experience via classes and shit. It gets deep and crazy, and since I just got accepted - yes, there's a bit of an application process, folks - I'm not fully aware of how to make the most of it. The cool part is that the university will provide you with a lot of free stuff, so practicing and getting better is less of a financial worry to new players. That's good because at these early stages, you're probably not rolling in the level of sweet, sweet ISK that the veterans are. Completing the tutorial missions will leave you with around 5 million ISK, which isn't much at all. Right now I'm sitting at about 15 million, but that's only because 2 fellas - one in the "GiantBomb" chat channel (word to Tomiko Kawase) - gave me 5 million ISK cash infusions. Like I said, most of the people I've run into are total sweethearts. For comparison, one guy in the GiantBomb channel is raking in like a hundred million per day or something, with no titanic effort on his part. Apparently it's pretty easy to become a baller once your ISK-stackin' infrastructure is in place.

The craziest thing to me, so far, is skill training. To get the skills to do stuff - fly certain ships, use certain equipment, gain bonuses to various things - you have to buy the skill book for it, make sure you have the prerequisite skills trained, then train that skill. Each skill goes to level 5, and while the lower levels can take like 8 minutes, the level 5 of the same skill can be four goddamn days. Luckily, those continue training even when you're logged off. But the crazy part is figuring out a skill plan for what you want to learn or do with your time in EVE. The game has a certificate system built in to give you some guidelines, but past the "core competency" certificates, they get mixed reviews from players. EVE University also has some skill plans. By and large, though, people have told me to just train for whatever I want to do.

The Future's Future

What I want to do in EVE is cook space-drugs. I'm a huge neuropharmacology/psychopharmacology nerd in real life, so it only fits that "boosters" (drugs in EVE) were the one of the most interesting aspects of the game to me. Boosters improve things like your target tracking or shield regeneration while having an increasing probability of side effects (decreased speed, etc.) with increasing strength. If you'll believe it, some people on the forums want to make that shit MORE complicated by incorporating addiction mechanics into the gameplay itself. There are corporations in place that sell the stuff; maybe I'll join one, or maybe I'll make a corporation called "GiantBomb Heavy Industries" that is on that booster tip 24/7. Seems like it would require too much time to run a corporation, though, so maybe I'll stick to missions and stuff for now.

All in all, I've learned a lot, and lasted much longer than most new players. However, I have a shit-ton left to learn, as well. Now, I COULD spend the EVE time using MIT online courses to learn programming or something, but I don't think that would be as entertaining. Maybe close, given the amount of numbers I'm comparing to each other, but not quite. But I'm trying to get into medical school; I've got enough stuff to learn, man. I just wanna shoot things in space, with bigger and better spaceships... and possibly while jacked up on space-drugs.

Conclusion

This game is nuts. This game is FULLY. NUTS. But in the way that somebody like me can get into. I'm "Midnight Browning" on EVE, look for me if you's a playa. "Midnight Brown" was taken, so fuck whoever that is. But you have fantastic name-choosing skills, so you're forgiven.

Also, I'm very interested in how DUST 514 is going to turn out. I hope it's that radical shift in shooters that the staff talked about on the Bombcast whenever. It's hard to keep track of whether it was this week or back in 2010, since I listen to the backlog on bus rides. Feels like a time warp sometimes.

Anyway, thanks for reading! Who am I kidding, nobody made it this far. I may as well post my credit card information here for safe keeping, since nobody's going to see it. I'll maybe update periodically when new things happen, but if you'd rather I don't do that, just say so.

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