But Have You Tried It?: A Meditation on Ethnography


Black History Month 2018 has been wonderful, per usual. You all know I don’t have any particular one source of inspiration. I said I was going to fix this but I lied. I like the organic feel it gives my posts. These 28 days (aka my favorite time of year. Sorry, Christmas!) have been full of new things to expand my horizons and inspire me with content for this post.

I went to the High Museum to look at African art and a photo retrospective of the Civil Rights Movement. I at proper ramen. I started signing emails with “cheers!” and going to a book club. I even put on an African-esque outfit to see Black Panther (which is possibly the RICHEST text to digest AND had the same African art exhibit I saw at the High so #Culture). Each of these new things were great. They enriched me as a young African American woman. I’m better for it. However, what struck me with the elusive “write mood” was attending a fight game tournament.

Black History Month 10, 2018, I went with my friend Brandon to a moderate size gathering in a vacant mall store of people who really enjoy video game fighting and it was one of the most fascinating things I have ever witnessed (and I’ve seen a dog walk on it’s hindlegs plenty of times).

"What does this have to do with Ethnography, Avery? I’m here for discourse on qualitative study methods not your adventures,” you say exasperated and debating clicking away. Well a lot actually. 'Twere'nt for the opportunity to viscerally experience this thing which had come to pass, I never would have learned a very valuable lesson and become the better for it.

The formal definition of ethnography is “the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.” Blah blah science and theory, very right.

I’ve always been drawn to this type of research because it helps you get to the root of the why. Qualitative research is all about finding out why people behave how they do. Getting an up close real life experience of a phenomenon and talking to people in it, gives a whole ‘nother dimension.

To be very honest, prior to attending a fight game tournament, I couldn't imagine why it was a thing a human would do with their time. "There are so many other hobbies. Do those,” I pretty arrogantly thought. I asked Brandon to explain it all because I could not wrap my head around it. He gave me a great, insightful answer but still I was like “ok still don’t get it but ok.” I had resigned to just accept it and move on. When he asked if I wanted to go to one I said yes because:1. I’m not a terrible person who is closed off to other ways of life. 2. I'm all about #doingit #forthememoir. 3. I believe in doing the things people you like ask you, within reason of course, to do.

I didn’t plan on learning anything. I was on vacation (or “Avecation” as I like to call it because I'm Avery… on vacation…ANYWAY). I was going to see what there was to see and enjoy it for what is was.

It was the Georgia Aquarium all over again. Just like with the marine majesty, as time went on I considered it foolish to not truly digest everything going on because wow. This was rich content.

Here before me on a drizzly Saturday afternoon was a display of human abilities I had never before seen. First of all, “button pushing” and “playing video games” are gross understatements of what was happening here. The mechanics of button pushing were almost musical; rhythmic in a way that varied from person to person. Amidst the general ambient noise of game play, one could almost literally hear the players’ mental wheels whirring as they were figuring out their opponent and calculating their next move. The hand eye coordination in this space my goodness! I would make a sizable bet a large percentage of these individuals' WPMs are astronomical. All of this was underscored by a very obvious spirit of camaraderie and sportsmanship that made it an overall positive environment. Truly remarkable

After I'd connected what I had been told and had witnessed, I had a revelation: the fight game community and the things they do are absolutely no different than any other group of enthusiasts doing a thing in a group.

I know.

Simple as this revelation may read, it really shifted my understanding of a lot of things. I couldn’t fully ~get~ Brandon’s explanation because it’s nearly impossibly to explain exactly why something brings you joy. If I had to express why I spend roughly 40 minutes a day watching wig tutorials and plus-size try on hauls on Youtube, or why I get excited for Chopped and Facebook recipe videos, I’m sure whoever listening would walk away like “uhh ok.” Some things have to be experienced.

Let’s be real: "Ethnography" is a fancy way of saying "experience." You want to know how or why people do something? Go see for yourself. Live it. Experience is an enemy of ignorance. It helps dispel that whole “members of out-groups are generally distrustful of in-group members” situation. There are many contributing factors to that but lack of knowledge is a large one. It’s probably an evolutionary thing.

However it is Two Thousand Eighteen in the Common Era. Barbara Streisand has TWO cloned dogs. This is the future. Human kind needs to break down that antiquated paradigm because we are missing out on some very high quality life moments.

So THAT is what all this has to do with ethnography, people. Now I probably won’t be playing any video games outside of Two Dots or Covet Fashion, but I have a new appreciation for those that do. I admit this post was somewhat a reach. I wanted to keep my industry-relevant content style but sometimes things just touch you and you have to share. The write mood struck and tbh there's no ignoring it.

#experience #ethnography #meditation

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