Friday, May 30, 2008

Truth & consequences in the stories we tell.

[Or, a meandering collection of links to stuff about stories, sandboxes, and power.]

Quick, what's the one thing everyone knows about Grand Theft Auto? Keep hold of the answer - we'll be back for it in a moment.

I was never sure how to order this post, or what exactly to include in it. So it's been festering in Dashboard for weeks now. Partly it was sparked off by reading criticisms of Iron Man, which blurred between entirely valid digs at the film's racism and sexism, and a less definable discomfort with the entire genre it's part of. See WOCPhD's brilliant post, where she seems to have lost sight of the fact that she's reviewing an adaptation of a 1963 pulp comic book.

That's pulp, where what is right and just comes way second to what's considered entertaining. That's 1963, the past, where a lot of our current media franchises come from - whether it's those comic book adaptations, or Narnia, or James Bond. Not that the newer franchises are a lot better, but (as I said when it came up on Punkass) characters like Pepper make way more sense in that context. The whole wonderboy-hero, powerful enough to do everything we wish to do, except for those boring things his ever-capable sidekick(s) do(es), makes more sense in that vein of pulp than in the current one. This hero-character is always at the top of the world. Why do we identify with him, when he's got nothing in common with reality at all?

Because we want to. Because we're wishing for his absolute power, and we are vividly interested in what the consequences that power might bring. We play sandbox games for similar reasons - a wish for the absolute ability to choose - and that raises discomforts of its own.

(It's always 'he'. Unless the red one is writing it, it's always 'he'.)

There is something Aishwarya said in the Iron Man thread at Daisy's place; "I really, really wish I could just watch movies where things blow up (because movies where things blow up are excellent) without being constantly alienated by this sort of thing. :("

That alienation is one of the major sources of the criticism of Iron Man; that when we leave ourselves behind and go to places where we have infinite power, and can blow up whatever we like, we're almost always asked to identify with white, heterosexual upper-class men. We want to be Bruce Wayne or James Bond. We wish for their momentum, possessions, power, and their challenges. Why do they all have to look the same?

An aside; Cleolinda is talking about a whole other sort of wishing, in a post about a book series that's aimed at teenage girls. I liked this:

Wish fulfillment: I really cannot stress how important this element is, because I think it's also the reason that Harry Potter grabbed the cultural imagination. You're not a neglected orphan sleeping in a cupboard! You're a wizard! You're the bestest wizard of all and you're also great at sports and you had rich, wizardly parents who loved you so much they died for you (but you've still got their money) and also, we brought you birthday cake! And then you, through Harry, are plunged into this fantastically detailed wizard world. I mean, shit, I'm sold. And I think most things that really grab people are going to tap that "I want to be that person and live in that world" vein. I want to be Elizabeth Swann, I want to be Lyra Belacqua, I want to be the Pevensie kids.

She's talking about the same instinct that makes us love those boys who can do anything they want...and yet everything she says about this sort of wish fulfilment turns me off. I don't much like any of the books and films she's referring to. Some of these are in a middle ground - but I seem to be banging my head against the fact that the wishes I like are usually aimed at (we might even say assumed at) a male audience, and Cleolinda is talking about teenage girls, and women who remember being a teenage girl.

A while ago, Trinity wrote about our discomfort with power and excess in an unrelated context - kink!:

Think about standard criticisms of the rich and opulent. Whether they're criticisms of the nobility, of the bourgeoisie, or other criticisms of the rich and powerful. The idea that these people are decadent, that they wallow in excess, drown themselves in pleasure.

That kind of excess is actually a big turn on for me. The idea of going further and doing more, overflowing with energy, desire, and intensity. It's something I began to have a very hard time with when I got into feminist circles that were also socialist or influenced by socialism.

Because the central idea of that kind of political movement is that some people have too much and some people don't have enough. If that's the material situation of people in the world, and I seek to be committed to some kind of distributive justice that least makes the first step to equalizing some of that, how can I get into bed and touch myself while imagining, sometimes literally, that I'm lord over other people?

While not primarily sexual, wish fulfilment stories seem to hit a similar wall in the liberal press; you can't be fantasising about that, that's too much, too violent, too greedy, too unfair. So onto Cate's GTA article at Shameless:

But the object of the game is still to shoot people and win gang wars, right? I find it hard to fathom why so many intelligent people insist on defending this game, whose major appeal I once heard summarized as, “you can sleep with a prostitute and then shoot her so you don’t have to pay.”

Creative, indeed.

What, is Shameless not so shameless after all? :O Certainly Cate is saying that a virtual world's functionality should contain hard-coded moral limits, rather than simple moral consequences. It is not enough that nothing real can be harmed or lost in the space, or that your virtual self suffers virtual consequences for performing proscribed actions; instead she asks that a line be drawn, and certain evils be rendered impossible. (Something like this exists in Sims 2 - you can't kill a baby or a toddler, can only have sex with adults and elders, and character's genital areas are obscured by pixels. These restrictions have been ripped up by a legion of fanmodders, which demonstrates how practical that approach is, though when choosing nominal imaginary limits, practicality is hardly the point. Worth remembering that it was modders who caused GTA3's Hot Coffee debacle. Ultimately neither lawmakers nor creators can censor the use of game software - it's the users who determine how it is played).

Our species of cyborgs has been wrestling with this problem, of defining our virtual limits, since A Rape In Cyberspace or before.

Dibbell's story touched on one point that has been gaining ground recently; should virtual crimes be subject to real-world consequences? The answer he watched arise from LambdaMOO was a no - those who commit virtual crimes should face justice within the intimacy of the wronged community. Then as now, the internet usually gives its wrongdoers a sentence of exile.

Regina Lynn, writing about a more recent virtual rape, also thinks not. Meanwhile, DailyBits has a list of unexpected real-world spillovers from virtual events; MMO addict deaths and in-game funerals, virtual thefts and real arrests, and a story about a Gunbound player from Brazil that I can barely get my head around.

Last week I read a Cif Arts piece in defence of James Bond that talked about how uncomfortably realistic violence is part of the thrill, when it comes to boy-heroes...and added a few words about consumption and luxury:

Thanks to the cartoon violence of the films it's also easy to forget just how effective the sadism in the novels can be. Fleming's books are creepy and chilling and this graphic cruelty, combined with painstakingly accurate descriptions of high-living, fine eating and the pleasures of quality consumer goods must make Bond a direct ancestor to characters like Patrick Bateman and the unnamed protagonist of Fight Club as much as the promiscuous father of so many lesser pulp-thriller spies. It certainly merits him a place in the canon.

So violence is an intrinsic part of this wishing-ground. Graphic violence, ultimate consumption, extreme adventures - and as the article hints, unlimited access to sex. Sometimes the hero is simply a tireless playboy, but many of these stories include legions of imaginary sex workers.

To my shame, it was only a week ago - and thanks to Chris - that I read the mighty OH JOHN RINGO NO review, which charts an odyssey of violent and misogynistic wish fulfilment. From Hradzka's description, every woman in the series is a sex worker, or described as a potential sex worker; within the fantasy space, all women are perceived as being available for sexual purchase.

Hradzka also mentions a whole aspect to this wish fulfilment thing that I'd never much thought of before:

Once you get past GHOST's initial spleen-venting, the PALADIN OF SHADOWS series falls into a much-maligned, much-loved genre which, for lack of a better name, I call "Man Builds Stuff and Gets Lots of Pussy." This is, quite frankly, what got me reading the series: I am not much for stories of a guy just killing terrorists and getting laid a lot; but let him start building a small kingdom while killing terrorists and getting laid a lot, and I am there. I confess that have a soft spot for these kinds of stories. I suspect that *lots* of men do: even if we don't build things ourselves, we like to *read about* guys building things: castles, weapons, companies, societies. It's really very soothing; it combines the pleasures of fiction with a those of a do-it-yourself manual. The same impulses may explain why a lot of male writers aren't content to have their hero just carrying, say, a 1911 as his sidearm; they have to tell you what make, model, whether it's got an internal or external extractor, what aftermarket parts he's tuned it up with, and who he bought them from, until you know all about his Kimber's Ed Brown slide stop and Wolff springs.

(Curiously, the sex-related parts do not require details of every thrust; if the chapter fades to black with the hero hopping into bed with two nubile wenches, honor is satisfied. John Ringo, alas, often carries honor considerably farther.)

I'd never put a name to that before, but building stuff is definitely a genre I like. I enjoyed this aspect of both Iron Man and Batman Begins...not to mention Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, a game in which you have to procure yourself an entire army. (I can think of only one Woman Builds Stuff story - A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. While I enjoyed the Woman Builds Stuff part of the book, it seemed rushed and unconvincing compared to the rest of it).

On CiF, Charlie Brooker unwraps the problem, and finds a new one wrapped inside:

The one thing everyone knows about Grand Theft Auto is that you can kill prostitutes in it. That's because it's a "sandbox" game in which you can kill anyone you like. Or you can not kill them. Or you can simply drive around slowly, obeying the traffic lights. If you break the law and the in-game police spot you, they'll hunt you down and nab you. Murdering innocent people is neither a) encouraged, b) free of consequence, or c) any more realistic than a Tex Avery cartoon. other words, the problem is not that you can kill prostitutes, but that prostitutes are a singled-out class of people, neatly prepackaged as a unit by our culture in spite of their great diversity of circumstances, and the killing of this class of people IRL is common and so easy to get away with because of this - so when a game also presents sex workers as a class of people, and just happens to let you kill whoever you like, guess who people get most excited about shooting.

I should add; Brooker's point c) is under dispute. The Slate game review...which is entitled 'It's Not Just About Killing Hookers Any More'...says it's simply not true:

There's a difference this time: The violence is no longer cartoonish. Shoot an innocent bystander, and you see his face contort in agony. He'll clutch at the wound and begin to stagger away, desperately seeking safety. After just scratching the surface of the game—I played for part of a day; it could take 60 hours to complete the whole thing—I felt unnerved. What makes Grand Theft Auto IV so compelling is that, unlike so many video games, it made me reflect on all of the disturbing things I had done.

...and David Wong, in Seven Commandments All Videogames Should Obey (a followup to another wonderful article, A Gamer's Manifesto), devotes an entire page to saying it shouldn't be true:

If we shoot a zombie in the arm, we want his arm to blow off. If we shoot him in the knee, we want him to limp. And if we shoot him in the head, we want his head to explode. We want our bullets to create wounds.


Sword-fighting games like Oblivion are worse. You can slash the bad guy in the face with your blade and it does nothing. The enemy looks perfectly normal until he finally falls over dead, as if he had a heart attack from the excitement. Why give us a sword if we can't decapitate people? Don't tell us the system can't handle it, we were blowing off zombie limbs in House of the Dead a decade ago.

It's not about our blood thirst (well, not just about that), it's about making us feel like we're accomplishing something as we work our way through hordes of cookie-cutter bad guys. Oh, hey, you know what else we hate?

Filling the game with hordes of cookie-cutter bad guys.

This is another one of those problems that are exacerbated by new-gen graphics. Now that we can do photo-realistic faces, it's suddenly very weird that we're killing hundreds of identical clones.

How hard would it be to randomize facial features and skin tones? That's what we want, to feel like we're killing hundreds of different people. Not a bunch of clones or twins. We want to know, deep down, that there are hundreds of grieving mothers out there, lamenting the terror of our dreaded blade.

And I agree with him, I agree with Slate - we need the effects of our actions to look realistic, and the media queasies have repeatedly demonstrated the reason for this.

The first time I read an article about violence in videogames was almost ten years ago. It was in a library newspaper - probably the Times - and it mentioned several games, but was illustrated with one of Nomura's promotional images for Final Fantasy VII; a game that uses violence, questions it, and at one point devolves into an argument between Cait and Barrett about whether any of the violent things they've been doing are remotely justified.

That was the moment I first realised that I was never going to read anything of value about videogames in a printed newspaper, ever. Why shut up and go away when you can challenge and explore instead?

This is why my least favourite scene in Iron Man was the one that steamrolled over #6 of David Wong's Ultimate War Sim demand list:

Speaking of innocents, I want a war sim where native townsfolk stand shoulder-to-shoulder on every inch of the map and not a single bomb can be dropped without blowing 200 of them into chunks. Forget about the abandoned building wallpaper in games like the Red Alert series. I want to have to choose between sending marines door-to-door to be killed in the streets or leveling the block from afar, Nuns and all. I want to have to choose between 40 dead troops or 400 dead children, and be damned to hell by chubby pundits from the safety of their studios regardless of which way I go.

See, Wong is a gamer kid with a good grip on reality. There exist other gamer kids who think reality is like Iron Man, where magical white people who waltz into other people's countries have the magical power to distinguish between nice, innocent brown people and evil brown people (there are no other kinds, just innocent or evil), remove the latter with pinpoint precision, and go home after a day well saved. These other gamer kids are called the US government.

It's the people who don't want their imaginary violence to be realistic that I worry about. The people who want the details glossed over, who want to make out that it's not as bad as it really is, who want to conceal the fact that it's the least powerful who always suffer first and most.

One last link: Catherine Bennett on GTA. Oh dear god, you must read this:

With a violent and nasty movie, or corrupting literature, the thing is simple. You merely have to buy a ticket for, say, No Country for Old Men, or There Will be Blood, and watch it, with a keen eye for anything that might be violent or nasty. With books, you simply open, then read a copy of The Catcher in the Rye or, to go back a bit, Lady Chatterley's Lover or a bit further, one of those 18th-century courtship novels whose potential to enervate young virgins was discernible, apparently, within just a few minutes of scholarly inspection.

How different for the mature student of Grand Theft Auto IV, who discovers that acquisition of the game, an Xbox 360 and a working television will not be nearly enough to expose the sickening extent of its moral bankruptcy. For that, you need time, skill, dedication and, I suspect, youth. In fact, it would probably be cheaper, and easier, for any averagely underqualified adult who craves the excitement of casual violence in a context of social indifference to make your way to somewhere like Borough Market and snarl: 'Out of the way, bitch' at every double buggy.


In fact, if a new book on gaming, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games, is to be believed, there may exist hardly anyone in sound mind who might not, from time to stressful time, benefit from an hour or two of moderately violent gaming. The authors, two Harvard psychiatrists, Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K Olson, were told by many young players that they played violent games to 'relax' or to 'get my anger out'. Should we not, as a matter of urgency, implore Gordon Brown to escape into GTA IV over the bank holiday? Or would the experience make an already vulnerable and solitary Prime Minister more likely to aim his car, à la Niko, at cyclists such as David Cameron?


Anonymous said...

"when we leave ourselves behind and go to places where we have infinite power, and can blow up whatever we like, we're almost always asked to identify with white, heterosexual upper-class men."

*is more happy than ever before that her place involving application of infinite power to blow up of everything in sight requires identification with a mixed-race-but-broadly-South-Asian, polyamorous, bisexual woman. Even if the class thing is a bit so-so.*

~the red one.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, mostly. But there's a rant incoming. I can feel it.

What would it be like to write a story where Woman Builds Shit? Alas, I'm not certain. I don't, in general, read or write Man Builds Shit stories. They aren't my thing. I don't understand them. I prefer Person Explores Philosophical Themes Through Nigh-Infinite Cosmic Power and Probably Destroys a Lot of Shit Cathartically Along the Way stories.

So I turned to Ting and asked "hey, what would the female equivalent of OH JOHN RINGO NO be?" And she glibly runs off two separate responses, which I will paraphrase and summarize:

1. Woman kicks ass with a harem of competent, smart, and fit men at her beck and call. She is Queen of all, so intelligent that she runs circles around her lessers, and takes over multiple kingdoms with political savvy and the powers of WURDS. REGARDLESS of this, she can still destroy kingdoms with a twitch of her hand if necessary, and will probably have to do so at some point. See Black Jewels trilogy.

2. Woman is the pet of multiple hypermasculine alpha males, everyone loves her, and nobody who isn't TEH EVIL hates her. She subtly controls everyone and everything through sexual wiles and affection. See nearly all of the terrible female-oriented romance/erotica fluff novels (which constitute a huge market sector, by the bye).

Ting insisted on bringing up feminine dream #2 because it's a common theme in a lot of the books she reads for her second job. Ting's second job involves reading fluff novels (I think most of them are TERRIBLE) and then giving them at least moderately good reviews in order to aid their sale. A majority of these books are written by female authors for female readers, and while I cannot stand them, they in many ways represent the bleeding edge of what's becoming common in wish-fulfillment literature.

I don't think it's fair that women get two ideals to choose from while men get only one, nor am I buying into the bullshit new age philosophies which state that women are so much more complex than men that more text is required to describe them than men, so that leads me to the following question:

Is #1 a non-inherent female dream created through the the militant feminist phallacy of trying to imitate male dreams since they are TEH ONLY WAY for women to rise above their subservient role, or...

is #2 the fallacy, since it requires us to accept as a prerequisite the patently absurd idea that most women want simultaneously to be superior and not-superior to their mates, to be in control and yet not have to deal with being the spot man? Is #2, perhaps, just a continuation of the cultural subservience into which women have been pushed for thousands of years?

It would be nice to say that both #1 and #2 are false (both being fully social constructs) and that, to the same degree, the Paladin of Shadows series represents a "false" male dream being pushed on us by society, but I think that is, to a certain degree, bad thinking.

First, it seems pretty clear - from observing male humans, male members of other mammalian species, and the clinical effects of the testosterone hormone- that there are some built-in male drives, including, but not limited to:

1. leading groups of pack animals
2. fucking things
3. killing threats

Thus, even though Paladin of Shadows does not represent my dream, and does not even represent a happy life story for most men (no matter how awesomely it may read to lots of men, very few would actually be happy DOING such terrible things, I think), its position as a template representing built-in drives is hard to deny. Therefore, it should be logically possible to construct a female equivalent to Paladin of Shadows.

The problem is that female psychology doesn't get the same attention that male psychology does, and never has. The men who make proclamations on female psychology are often being stupid and fulfilling their own wishes with their proclamations or making proclamations about women which are too derivative of their own drives. The women who make proclamations on female psychology are too often doing the same, sometimes further complicated by the social expectations set in place by various brands of feminism.

I think that the closest thing I've seen to the truth is The Black Jewels Trilogy. The main female protagonist can FUCK SHIT UP... but mostly, she doesn't. There are such long passages dedicated to playing in the snow or reading romance novels that you could almost believe that she's a normal girl... JUST LIKE YOU. Her boyfriend can kill just about anyone. He's primal, vicious, untameable man who's nonetheless been used as a sex slave for hundreds of years (YES, PEOPLE IN THESE BOOKS LIVE FOR FUCKING EVER.) because they put a RING on his COCK that causes him genital pain whenever he disobeys! He's also more magically powerful than just about anyone else in existence... except for her, of course. And he loves her primally and unbearably because he's attracted to what she is. It's beyond rationale or argument. He's essentially in love with her just because her fucking magical smell puts him in heat... or at least he would be, if she weren't loveable apart from that, because she's just so perfect. But it's nice to know that even if she were a total bitch, she'd still be loved! Wouldn't you like that kind of security in YOUR life?

Oh, and get this (MAJOR SPOILERS)... after she saves the world and loses her world-destroying powers, she still surives, is still loved by the man (who's now much more powerful than her and must TAEKS TEH CAER OV HER), and she regains her powers in a much weaker but still COMPLETELY UNIQUE form, which makes her very happy. She never wanted all that power, you see. She had so much power that she couldn't use her powers in normal ways that the other girls did. When she tried to pick up an object with her mind early in the series, she almost picked up a house. She couldn't fit in because of how SPESHUL she was. Now she fits in! And her boy, who is still in love with her astral scent, is now stronger than her, so he can take care of her and love her and she can live her normal domestic life the way she was intended, despite having saved the world, despite the fact that the world itself literally loves her because of this. Yay!!!11

That's pretty close to a template for the female version of Paladin of Shadows, I feel. It makes for an enjoyable read, but I had a lot of trouble with it because of how blatant the wish fulfillment was, and how little it appeals to what I would want from life. Whether an actual female version of Paladin of Shadows would involve more mates or more explosions or whatever is open for debate: a debate which I have little part in, being male and a humanophile.

But unless the Gender Mindfuck Revolution takes place, and we all become Perfectly Uncorruptible Bisexual Androgynes (PUBAs!), I tend to believe that most media will continue to portray this kind of story using the same "heterosexual men dominate while striding around shouting with their dicks out" and "heterosexual women dominate while basking on a luxurious couch nude" archetypes that we are always seeing flawed versions of everywhere. Oh well. At least they're funny archetypes that I could easily write a hundred pages complaining about.


thene said...

-I think A Town Like Alice is a decent template for a Woman Builds Stuff story; it just failed at being convincing. The Woman in question tootled around fulfilling our fantasies about survival and romance. She then realises the romance part isn't working out because Australia's Northern Territory sucks. So she sets out, with a few dead crocodiles and a big pile of money, to make it not suck. (It's funny how much of her Building Stuff project has the underlying goal of preserving male sexual access to women - including herself - who'd otherwise be walking away, but I guess I can regard that as a non-intrinsic feature of the whole thing. It was written, by a man, 50 years ago).

-#2 is a fallacy. I also feel sorry for any chick who falls for it. It would have ruined MGS3, if it weren't for that blessed motorbike.

-I hate all the girly wish-fulfilling stuff Cleolinda was talking about, and I hatehatehate your #2. Either I am not a woman, or the infinite-power shit I get off on is not just a male fantasy. You pick.

-that said, it's hardly my favourite story/character template. But is it ever fun!

-I honestly think that if women had the same social rein as men, some of them would be writing like John Ringo. Speaking of, I love presenting the GW Anonymous Kink Meme as evidence of how very perverse and particular a bunch of women are when they think they can ask for exactly what they want and get it. (And I've heard the Bleach anonmeme is even pervier). Why would women be less perverse about power, if it was theirs to aspire to?

-(no matter how awesomely it may read to lots of men, very few would actually be happy DOING such terrible things, I think): key point, that. This is why videogames & virtual worlds are awesome, especially ones with realistic consequences.

-The problem is that female psychology doesn't get the same attention that male psychology does, and never has. Yes. Yes. The same goes for every other field of study where there's a difference (anatomy & medicine, history, arts, whatever). That said, anything notable about 'female psychology' is obscured by gender-specific socialisation, which according to some studies dug up on Punkass lately, begins, in our culture, on the day we're born.

With both genders, there's always more difference within the group than between the two groups in any case. Maybe I am some kind of weird outlier. Maybe all the people who do kink memes are too. Maybe there are tons of outliers on the other side of the fence, keeping their heads down and avoiding John Ringo like the plague. I don't think you can write off the outliers, though - we're all outlying in one sense or another.

EKSwitaj said...

"when we leave ourselves behind and go to places where we have infinite power, and can blow up whatever we like, we're almost always asked to identify with white, heterosexual upper-class men."

Well, of course. Giving that kind of power to someone who doesn't usually have power would be a revolution.

kyrias said...

I think I'm actually going to do a full post on this entire thing -- so I'm not going to rant on here. Suffice to say there's a reason why I said what I did. Secondly -- I don't know how much of my thesis you read -- there's certain elements in what you wrote that seem distinctly familiar -- but, in short, there are also psychological studies that show that catharsis doesn't actually happen in many cases and also that people who often immerse themselves in violence do not necessarily become violent in action, but they become more violent in attitude.

thene said...

I still haven't read much of it >< I should do that today, in fact.

thene said...

I should add - though the authors of Grand Theft Childhood see gaming as cathartic and think that is a good thing (they even found that teenagers who don't game are more likely to commit crimes - doubtless both of those things are the result of poverty), it was not me who said that, and I'm not so attached to the point anyway. Catharsis is a pretty simplistic concept, which I assume has about as much RL basis as the rest of Freud's thinking - I find emotional chemistry isn't nearly that simple. But mostly, I think catharsis is irrelevant.

I think videogame violence carries the potential for moral good, with or without 'catharsis' (whatever that means in practice). I find value in that moment in MGS where Liquid Snake turns to you and accuses you of beating the game because you enjoy killing people who are just like you. I think videogames can provide powerful insights into the violence that we do.

More to the point, if our goal is to avoid rousing violence in media audiences, please tell me what the fuck all those TV adverts begging people to join the US military are for. See, I don't think videogames glorify or encourage violence. I think politicians who think it's cool to go kill a half-million people and goad their young and impoverished into going off to kill a few more people are glorifying and encouraging violence.

(btw, I think 'more violent in attitude' is a pretty interesting phrase in itself, and I'd love to see how that correlates with aggressive/assertive feelings and actions in people who are not usually aggressive or assertive. Living without any aggression at all is hardly a good thing - that's why women are told to do it).

Quin said...

EKSwitaj said...

"when we leave ourselves behind and go to places where we have infinite power, and can blow up whatever we like, we're almost always asked to identify with white, heterosexual upper-class men."

Well, of course. Giving that kind of power to someone who doesn't usually have power would be a revolution.

Or more likely, if the normally-lower-class person unfathomably only uses their new powers to support the interests of white, heterosexual upper-class men, you've got a "Magical Negro" story or its ilk.

Thene, really interesting stuff at your place. I'm glad I came by.