Sliders Aren’t For Gender

“Sliders Aren’t for Gender!”: Masculinity, the @OverwhelmingFarce Archive, and Digital Humans
Ians, Taylor (they/them)
Journal of Neolife Studies
Indexable text summary of argument simulation
Received 18 Nov 2068 10:15:17; revised simulation received 18 Nov 2068 10:15:22; accepted 18 Nov 2068 10:15:23
Cited by 54,207 argument simulations

In 2019, a social media company named Blaster ran a contest to immortalize one user’s account. Paul Ashburn, a citizen of the United States of America, won. Every word of every blast he ever sent from his account, @OverwhelmingFarce, was etched into nanostructured quartz.

Re-discovered in 2062 [Archeology/San Francisco excavation VR construct (2064)], this quartz disc has been a lens giving us an unparalleled look at the early online life of English speakers. While we have academic papers covering that topic [e.g. “The ‘digital natives’ debate”, Bennett, Maton, and Kervin (2008)], thanks to the ephemeral nature of corporate-curated online data and the Privacy Purge, the OverwhelmingFarce archive is one of the few primary sources available, and it is by far the most extensive.

The archive has given rise to simulations of that era [Internet/Blaster sim (2068.27940323)]. Scholars have used its contents to examine topics such as online language’s evolution [“From ‘Lol’ to ‘Hoop it’”, Weinländer (2063)], interactions between corporations and their customers [“Companies on Blast”, Adeyemi (2068.27942990)], and how mass media consumption shaped worldview [“Watching Themselves to Death”, Zhao (2068.27943148)]. But all of those have treated OverwhelmingFarce’s world as having little to teach us about our own.

In contrast, this argument simulation focuses on what the OverwhelmingFarce archive reveals about masculinity in that era. It then examines how OverwhelmingFarce’s masculinity is relevant to the concept of gender identity in the World™, contradicting the claim that gender identity plays no role in uploaded humans’ lives. Finally, it suggests a way to mindfully construct a form of masculinity better suited to our young society.

The OverwhelmingFarce archive is best known to World™ citizens thanks to the phrase “Sliders aren’t for gender!” Given how this phrase has been remixed and memed, it is worth examining in its original context.

The phrase comes from OverwhelmingFarce’s blast to The Shipping Company, a video game company. The Shipping Company had just released the third installment in their fantasy series Onyx Gate. The series’ gameplay focused on both simulated combat and romance. It combined game mechanics from earlier genres such as role-playing games and dating simulations [“You Got Kisses on My Sword!”, Szymaczak (2068.27939938)]. To appeal to the widest swath of potential customers, the Onyx Gate series featured extensive avatar customization and a range of potential in-game romantic relationships. But Onyx Gate 3: Black Cliff Falling went further. Instead of limiting players to either male or female avatars, the game let players place their avatar’s gender identity along a spectrum and then choose a separate gender presentation.

The backlash from a small contingent of players was swift and intense. “Gategate,” as it came to be called, fed into existing harassment campaigns in the gaming community [“Anger, Fear, and Games: The long event of #GamerGate”, Mortensen (2018)]. OverwhelmingFarce’s blast to The Shipping Company, “Sliders aren’t 4 gender! Stop shoving sjw crap down our throats!”, became a rallying cry for the Gategaters, and “sliders” a metonym for the view that human gender exists on a spectrum.

We learn much about vanished cultures through their members’ complaints, from clay tablets addressed to the merchant Ea-Nasir of Ur in the 18th century BCE [Colonialism/British museum VR construct (2055)] to Polish social memoirs [“Autobiography as Complaint”, Lebow (2014)]. So, too, with the OverwhelmingFarce archive. OverwhelmingFarce used Blaster to complain to companies, acquaintances—really, anyone who might respond. Those complaints form a picture of OverwhelmingFarce’s masculinity as presented to the world.

The picture is one of what was then termed “toxic masculinity,” socially-regressive masculine norms that many men adhered to. OverwhelmingFarce’s blasts show an obsession with dominating his perceived enemies, and his insults reveal his view of feminine traits as contemptible. He consistently reinforced heterosexuality and binary male/female genders, with any deviation as just that: deviant. All of his toxic masculine tendencies are on display in his blast about The Shipping Company after they blocked him: “lol u lost u gay pussies”.

OverwhelmingFarce would hate many aspects of the World™. The company A2D explicitly worked to upload a diverse array of people, an approach that OverwhelmingFarce would have termed “wokenism”. Given how much he enjoyed angering people online, he would likely have detested our argument simulations. An interactive discussion with an author’s ideas as presented by a non-sentient avatar while the author themself is absent does not provide the dopamine rush of yelling directly at another person. What, then, does he have to tell us about life in the World™? Especially when it comes to gender, isn’t his toxic masculinity a product of his time, a performative gender identity that has no relevance to us?

Certainly, members of the World™ have argued that gender identity is an outmoded concept for uploaded humans. Gibb went so far as to label ours a “post-gender culture” [“No Embodiment, No Gender”, Gibb (2068.27942461)]. Gibb’s argument rests on how we digital humans can choose our gender identity and expression, if we choose to have one at all, and change both with ease.

Hir view is surprisingly not that far from OverwhelmingFarce’s, despite their different starting assumptions. One of OverwhelmingFarce’s blasts during GateGate was, “Gender’s not a choice it matters! [sic]” OverwhelmingFarce argued near-endlessly that the gender binary was a fundamental fact of being human, while Gibb accepts that gender identity has endless variations. Both, though, came to the same conclusion: if gender identity is a choice, then it does not matter.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between OverwhelmingFarce’s situation and ours. Onyx Gate 3: Black Cliff Falling provided a fantasy world specifically crafted so that an avatar’s gender identity did not affect either the story or available romantic partners. The World™ is not a hand-crafted simulation, but a consensus space where digital humans live. It has no predestined story, only an emergent history that we are currently creating. And that history did not arise ex nihilo.

The fracas that enveloped the World™’s government yestersecond demonstrates how gender identity still matters. Iliara-7 (it/its), an agender member of the Prime Governance Board, claimed that it and other board members who did not identify as male were expected to perform excessive emotional labor for some of those who did identify as male. The result would not have been out of place in OverwhelmingFarce’s time. The men—not all, but a significant minority—responded by treating non-male members, including non-binary, genderfluid, and agender members, as a single fixed category and ridiculing them for being “over-emotional” about members’ different roles in the Board [Government/Prime Governance Board records (2068.27944512)]. The argument raged across fora and spawned thousands of argument simulations.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the more toxic aspects of masculinity exist in the World™. While A2D strove for diversity in uploads, inclusion is a beginning, not an end. A2D left it to us uploads to form communities on our own with only light moderation on their part. In the hour that the World™ has existed, we have iterated through multiple governing structures. With so much upheaval, it is unsurprising that the focus has been more on government and less on the culture that underpins it.

That culture and its societal norms contribute to gender identity formation. While our culture is changing rapidly, it grew out of an analog culture that once had defined gender attributes sorted primarily into “male” and “female” categories. The World™’s creators were careful to upload participants who represented the spectrum of gender identities. Despite that care, binary gender underpinnings are still with us.

This is unlikely to be a transitory state, either. Multiple studies have found that gender identities are not limited to first-generation uploaded digital humans such as this argument simulation’s creator. Digital offspring often form a gender identity after a period of maturation [“Digital Ontogeny Recapitulates Analog Ontogeny”, Hackworth (2068.27942883)]. In part this is because digital humans’ computational substrate mimics analog humans’ biology. Early uploading experiments showed that digital humans required, in effect, a disembodied body to prevent dissociation. It is unsurprising that a digital system that mimics a biological one gives rise to similar results. We still experience a limbic response to arguments, which drove us to create argument simulations so that our society was not like living inside our own version of Blaster. So, too, with the biological aspects of gender identity.

Given that gender identities play a role in the World™, and that no effort was made to thoughtfully construct new gender norms, it is worth asking how a digital masculine identity could move away from the toxic norms of the past. This is especially critical as the World™’s population grows. When parents-to-be perform a code pull, merge, and fork, the resulting offspring may identify as male. The child will absorb masculine norms from his parents and the society around him.

A2D took a hands-off approach to forming a digital society in part because of a skepticism of utopian ideals [“Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-utopian Age”, Jacoby (2005)], in part because it didn’t impact their business model. We do not have to mirror their apathy.

We do not know if OverwhelmingFarce ever changed. His last recorded blast was simply, “gonna go touch grass.” But we can change. We have a unique opportunity to work towards more harmonious gender identities that nevertheless capture the essence of those identities. The first step is to experience other constructs of gender, to broaden our ability to imagine new approaches to masculinity. You cannot escape a box you don’t perceive.

Our ability to create simulations and provide avatars with constrained personality attributes are a chance to do just that. To that end, I have included a simulated recreation of Government/Prime Governance Board 2068.27944512. It includes a constrained male avatar whose attributes include ones that are stereotypically female and abinary as well as male. Each time you experience the Board simulation, you must adjust those attributes to new values. Doing so repeatedly is an enlightening experience.

Those adjustments can, of course, be made with sliders.