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Game challenges ideals of beauty

“Objectif” was created by third-year Design | Media Arts student Aliah Magdalena Darke to challenge preconceived notions of attractiveness.

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Feb. 15, 2013 12:05 a.m.

The card game “Objectif” is less about entertainment and more about creating a space to discuss racial biases, conceptions of beauty and objectification.

“Objectif” was created by third-year Design | Media Arts student Aliah Magdalena Darke during spring quarter of last year as part of her class, Design | Media Arts 157A: Game Design Lab, which required students to create a card game with a message. The game was recently featured in the UV/UG Design | Media Arts Undergraduate Exhibition.

Darke’s card game is a reaction to an article published on Psychology Today’s website in May 2011 titled, “Why are Black Women less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” The article, which concluded that black women are objectively less attractive, was later taken down from the site after much public backlash, and an explanation was issued by the magazine apologizing for the article’s inflammatory and offensive material.

Mikhail Lyubansky, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who regularly writes for Psychology Today, commented on the article in his column, “Between the Lines.”

“There is no single ‘objective’ standard of beauty,” Lyubansky said. “The point is that there are also group differences, not in attractiveness, but in cultural messages about what is and is not attractive.”

Darke also said it is false to claim that beauty is objective and measurable.

“The concept was ridiculous that someone with a straight face could just assert that yes, I know what attractiveness is and here’s my scientific proof,” Darke said. “That was so (absurd) to me that I wanted to make a game just to make it obvious that no, you’re wrong.”

Darke said the name “Objectif” was inspired by the premise of the article: that beauty is objective. It is also short for the word objectify.

“Objectif” is played with three players. Each round, two of the players are dealt three cards. Each card depicts a portrait of a woman’s face hand-drawn and painted by Darke. However, the faces include a large range of skin, hair and eye colors, as well as different facial structures and hairstyles.

The players choose the card they think is most attractive and the third player acts as judge. The judge chooses which portrait he or she believes is most attractive and must explain why. Darke said the game is meant to make the players aware that people can judge their personality based on their explanation of attractiveness. She said this will hopefully help the players connect to how women are judged by their appearance as well as demonstrate that attractiveness is subjective.

To create “Objectif” Darke said she embraced personal experiences in her life.

“I think I’ve always been kind of insecure about being black or being a woman in certain contexts. It’s something I’ve worked through, but in this game, there was no hiding. I’m confronting an issue that I was impacted by,” Darke said. “I’m a black woman talking about an article that disparaged black women.”

Darke said when she first came to a university, she did not want to call attention to her race because she did not want to point out that she was different. Darke also said the Internet culture she participated in as a teenager discouraged her from calling attention to her gender.

For example, Darke said on one site she frequented people would often make rape jokes intended to alienate women. But if someone spoke out against those jokes, they were often pelted with insults. So Darke tolerated the offensive behavior so she would not be ostracized.

“I grew up in a corner of Internet culture that was very anti-feminism,” Darke said. “Being a girl in an environment where there weren’t a lot of girls, there was sort of a pressure to conform and join a boys’ club.”

Instead of being judged by their appearance, the player is put in the position of being judged by their character in “Objectif.” Darke said that feeling of being judged is a perfect way of relating the experience of being evaluated based on appearance. Darke also said she hopes people who have not experienced those situations in real life will be able to empathise with those who have through playing the game.

“I’m trying to take things that are personal and maybe more fringe in their content and make them accessible to anyone,” Darke said.

Design | Media Arts professor Eddo Stern, who teaches Design | Media Arts 157A, said he thinks Darke’s inclusion of her personal experience in “Objectif” elevates the game from entertainment to art.

“I like that her game is not only polemical, but personal and expressionistic,” Stern said. “Basically it’s a good piece of art, which is exciting to see in a game.”

Some players expressed discomfort playing “Objectif.” Alex Rickett, a third-year computer science graduate student and UCLA Game Lab member, said while playing the game he felt exposed.

“I felt pretty uncomfortable. This sort of judging people and preferences is a very private thing. I was forced by the game to act publicly in a way I would not in any other circumstance,” Rickett said.

While Darke said she does not necessarily want her players to feel uneasy, she said the discomfort with “Objectif” can breed healthy self-reflection and discussion.

“This game is created to facilitate a discussion. It’s created to make you aware, if not of your own biases, (then) that of your friends, the people you know. It’s about exposing yourself in a way,” Darke said.

Rickett said “Objectif’s” ability to encourage conversations about serious subject matter goes against the trend of most games to simply be fun.

“(Darke’s) game elicits a response that makes people think about real complicated issues and leads to a meaningful dialogue. I think that’s really incredible,” Rickett said. “Not all games need to have a message or convey some personal experience, but I think there’s a lot of mostly unexplored potential to do that.”

Email Napolitano at [email protected]

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