What Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Sponsor Could Have Done for Him [time.com]

the_twelve_stepsAs part of Twelve-Step programs, they act as support, friend, mentor, and advisor—but they’re also former addicts and shouldn’t be treated as experts.

By  @maiasz / time.com

A haunting writeup in The New York Times Thursday detailed how actor Philip Seymour Hoffman spent his last days after relapsing back into heroin addiction and leaving the home he shared with his partner, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children.

Though he was surrounded by people as the end drew near, the Times piece describes how Hoffman was ultimately “a man who died alone”—which is sadly not uncommon for addicted people. Notably included was a quote from a member of the Twelve-Step program Narcotics Anonymous (NA) regarding what the actor said at a December meeting. Though speaking about what was said by a specific person meeting is an unusual breach of protocol, the incident has got people thinking about what goes on in NA meetings and the idea of members “sponsoring” each other to support recovery.

As a former heroin and cocaine addict who has covered addiction and recovery for over a quarter century, I’d like to stress that I am writing here as someone with knowledge of the field and not as a member of any program. There are many routes to recovery and Twelve-Step programs are just one.

Although touted as an essential element of Twelve-Step recovery, the guidance given to sponsors is extremely vague. There is no requirement for having a certain amount of time drug-free, although at least 90 days is typically required and, most commonly, at least one year. Moreover, there are no specific guidelines related to the amount of contact people should have with their sponsors and the type of advice that should be given at any particular time. An NA pamphlet puts it this way:

Sponsors share their experience, strength, and hope with their sponsees. Some describe their sponsor as loving and compassionate, someone they can count on to listen and support them no matter what. Others value the objectivity and detachment a sponsor can offer, relying on their direct and honest input even when it may be difficult to accept. Still others turn to a sponsor mainly for guidance through the Twelve Steps.

From the outside, the idea that a more experienced member should sponsor someone who is new or has recently relapsed looks like a way to help the newcomer. But, in fact, Twelve-Step literature explicitly says that this is not the purpose, although it is obviously a welcome result. The sponsor-sponsee relationship is predicated on the assumption that “‘the heart of NA beats when two addicts share their recovery,’” and “sponsorship is simply one addict helping another. The two-way street of sponsorship is a loving, spiritual, and compassionate relationship that helps both the sponsor and sponsee.”

In practice, of course, this means that sponsors do give advice and support to newcomers—and anyone who has spent time around people in recovery knows that they will often go to enormous lengths and spend much of their time to try to help.

Read more: Philip Seymour Hoffman: Twelve Step Programs and the Role of a Sponsor | TIME.com

Playing for Change – A Great Way to Ring in the New Year

Video

Alone During the Holidays? Make No Major Decisions

by Helen Hill MFT

The holidays can be a very lonely time of year for anyone who, because of their uniqueness, finds himself or herself without family, and sometimes, friends.  Sharing the time with others can be a salve for those who are tolerated or accepted.  But for those of us who are unique, different, eclectic, marching to a different drummer, or suffering from some physical malady, and we find ourselves alone, it can be a challenge to just get through the holidays.

Families are defined by blood.  Often, that is a mistake.  Sometimes there are those relatives (by blood) whose views and outlooks would be offensive and cruel to any outsider — to any kind and compassionate soul.  The challenge is to surround ourselves with a family we choose, who love us and accept us for who we are, rather than for what we are not.

If family during the holidays is defined by accepting only those people like themselves, then we have learned nothing about tolerance, acceptance, and compassion.  Let us not make the same mistakes as those poor souls who live in fear of what they do not understand, and the resulting cruelty that manifests itself in the name of “family.”

What I would emphasize to all is that the holidays are NO TIME to be making major decisions about one’s life, one’s circumstances, one’s issues, or one’s family. Suicide is never good any time. But the holidays have a way of making us, what I like to call, “temporarily isolated” or “temporarily inconsolable.” The emphasis, though, should be on the word TEMPORARY.

During this tough economic time, many are suffering. And even in good economic times, during the holidays, there are so many people who find themselves spending the holiday alone.  And then there are those who do spend the holidays with their relatives and come back even more depressed and/or vulnerable than before they left.

Family and holidays can be very difficult even in the best of times. No matter what, whether spending holidays with friends and family, or spending them alone, I would recommend that no one make major life changing, irreversible decisions.

For those who find themselves depressed or alone during the holidays, the secret to success is to just get through them!

Survival is success!

The sun will come out tomorrow. There will be a chance for a new day and new beginnings. And hope does not take a raincheck during holidays. It is still there, even if it seems harder to grasp.

As you have doubtless heard many times before, even if you don’t feel like doing something, DO SOMETHING! A walk, a movie, reading a good book, or an activity. Invite another friend over for tea, or meet for a lunch or dinner. Some online support forums can be quite helpful during these times as well.

Solution Focused Therapy provides three very simple, yet effective, suggestions:

  1. If it is not broken, don’t fix it
  2. It it is working, do more of it
  3. If it is NOT working, change it

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is not a character flaw or a weakness to ask for help. On the contrary, it is one of the healthiest things a person can learn to do – knowing when to ask for help. This link http://helenhill.wordpress.com/emergency-resources/ lists a number of resources that can be helpful during difficult times.

Make the time less about the holiday, and more about self-care.

But most of all, never use a temporary situation to make a permanent, unalterable decision. Never.

Hope and peace are always in season.

lonelysnowman_pe2

The Accidental Activist [vanityfair.com]

She appeared to be the perfect plaintiff in a case that changed America’s political landscape: Roe v. Wade, decided by the Supreme Court 40 years ago this month. But Norma McCorvey, now 65, was never what she seemed: neither as the pregnant Texas woman who won fame as abortion-rights icon “Jane Roe,” nor as the pro-life activist she would become.

by Joshua Prager / vanityfair.com

It is a spring night in rural Texas, and crickets sing as a woman in her 60s with broad shoulders and short brown hair stops a pregnant young woman on an empty sidewalk. The older woman has heard that the younger woman, her neighbor Lucy Mae, may be seeking an abortion. “You don’t have to do this,” she says, her brown eyes and long loose cheeks filling with emotion. “Children are a miracle—a gift from God!”

The women are performing a scene in Doonby, a movie about a drifter who awakens a sleepy Texas town to its spiritual possibilities. The movie, tentatively set to be released this year, is directed by Peter Mackenzie, a Catholic filmmaker from Britain. It stars John Schneider, best known for The Dukes of Hazzard, who is a born-again Christian.

The older woman is born-again, too. Her name is Norma McCorvey. She is not a professional actress. But back when Nixon was president, McCorvey landed the role of a lifetime: that of “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in what would become one of the most divisive legal actions in American history.

Forty years ago, on January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wadethat women had the right to an abortion “free of interference by the State,” as Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote in the Court’s majority opinion. The decision greatly expanded the legal boundaries for abortion in the United States, allowing women to terminate a pregnancy at any point during the first 24 weeks—that is, through the first and second trimesters. (Roe did, however, permit states to impose regulations in the second trimester, including who could perform abortions and where. It also gave states the right to ban most abortions in the third trimester.)

McCorvey, under the pseudonym Jane Roe, had brought the precipitating lawsuit in 1970, when she was pregnant for a third time and living in Texas, where abortion was prohibited unless the life of the pregnant woman was threatened. (The Wade in Roe v. Wade was Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade, the named defendant.) Roe v. Wade was a watershed legal ruling. But it also helped to turn abortion into the great foe of American consensus. Subsequent cases have made it clear that the Supreme Court majority in favor of abortion rights has been eroding, from 7 to 2 in Roe to 5 to 4 in cases decided in more recent years (with the majority deciding against abortion rights in a number of cases). Roe is undoubtedly the most familiar legal ruling in the minds of most Americans—not for nothing did Katie Couric ask Sarah Palin in a 2008 interview to cite any Supreme Court case except that one. But few people know much about the woman who prompted the ruling in the first place.

Norma McCorvey, now 65, has presented a version of her life in two autobiographies, I Am Roe(with Andy Meisler, 1994) and Won by Love (with Gary Thomas, 1997). In McCorvey’s telling, the story is a morality tale with a simple arc: An unwanted pregnancy. A lawsuit. Pro-choice. Born-again. Pro-life. Peace. The truth is sadder and less tidy. And with the help of a cache of documents retrieved two years ago from the clutter of a Texas home she had abandoned, as well as interviews with people once close to her, the story can be more accurately told.

Click to read the rest of the article…

President Obama’s Inauguration Speech (Jan 21, 2013)

TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH… [bold highlighting added by helen]

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

For more than two hundred years, we have.

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.

They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope.

You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.

You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.

This Is What’s in President Obama’s Gun Control Package [gawker.com]

By Robert Kessler / gawker.com

A few minutes ago, President Obama announced a $500 million package, synthesized from suggestions put forth by Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun control, aimed at curbing gun violence in the U.S. in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. The President called on Congress to take action in a number of ways, including:

  • Establishing universal background checks for anyone looking to buy a gun
  • Banning military-style assault weapons, as well as a 10-round cap on gun magazines
  • Confirming Todd Jones as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (Jones is currently acting director, as Congress has not confirmed a director in six years)

Immediately following the announcement, Obama also signed 23 executive actions, which do not require congressional approval. They are the following:

  1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
  2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
  3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
  4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
  5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
  6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
  7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
  8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety
    Commission).
  9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns
    recovered in criminal investigations.
  10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it
    widely available to law enforcement.
  11. Nominate an ATF director.
  12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper
    training for active shooter situations.
  13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
  14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to
    research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
  15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective
    use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop
    innovative technologies.
  16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients
    about guns in their homes.
  17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits
    them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
  18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
  19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
  20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
  21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
  22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
  23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental
    health.

During his announcement, Obama stated that in the month since the massacre in Newtown, more than 900 Americans have been killed by guns. Obama, who at parts of the speech was both emotional and forceful, urged several times he will do everything he can to curb gun violence in America.

http://gawker.com/5976447/this-is-whats-in-president-obamas-gun-control-package

Talking to Children About Death

Weapon of Mass Destruction

“In America, healthcare is a privilege, and owning a gun is a right. Does more need to be said? Clearly the priorities need to be reestablished. “

WMD

Image

Gender Identity Issues Can Harm Kids’ Mental Health: Study [health.com]

By Lisa Esposito / HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) — New studies show that children struggling with their gender identity also face higher risks for abuse and mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Children with gender identity disorder show a strong, persistent discomfort with their biological sex. They identify with and display behaviors usually seen in the opposite sex.

One study, from Children’s Hospital Boston, looked at the emotional and behavioral problems of children and teens referred to its specialty clinic for evaluation and possible medical treatment.

“The study only focuses on kids who experience profound distress or [sadness] with their changing bodies, so the psychiatric manifestations of that distress include much higher risks for self-injurious behavior, depression, suicide attempts and anxiety,” said Dr. Scott Leibowitz, a pediatric psychiatrist affiliated with the hospital’s Gender Management Service.

Ninety-seven patients younger than 21 were included, 43 born as males and 54 as females. Forty-three patients already had psychiatric symptoms, 20 reported self-mutilation and nine had attempted suicide.

The studies appear online and in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Walter Meyer III, author of an accompanying journal editorial, said many problems arise from the reactions these children face at home and in school.

“These kids are really normal — they just want to be the other gender,” said Meyer, a psychiatrist who works with transgender patients at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston. “The ones who are well-adjusted and well-accepted by their families and at school don’t have the psychiatric issues.”

The other study, from the Harvard School of Public Health, looked at long-term data on nearly 10,000 young adults, average age 23. Those who rated high for childhood gender nonconformity were more likely to report physical, psychological and sexual abuse as children. They were almost twice as likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder as young adults.

“Gender conformity” relates to how children express themselves — through their clothes, their interests, their mannerisms — and how these behaviors mesh with what’s typical for their biological sex.

One expert said the study is “important,” and that it helps tease out why these kids have trouble coping.

It “tests one of the key proposed factors — childhood abuse,” said Stephen Russell, a professor of family studies at the University of Arizona. “There has been concern that parents may react to gender nonconformity in harsh ways. This is perhaps the first study to show evidence of that and of the lasting implications for health.”

Fear of the unknown is part of the problem.

“We’ve seen in studies of gender nonconforming LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] youth that what most people think of as abuse comes from a place of concern and fear on the part of parents — that is, they think they can help their kid by ‘toughening them up’ or teaching them to ‘fit in,’ ” Russell said. “Many parents literally have no framework for understanding gender nonconformity in children.”

Meyer, meanwhile, said he sees signs of growing awareness and acceptance, spurred by the media. Once parents are onboard, treatment can begin, sometimes quite early, he said.

“At age 5 or 6, treatment is mainly psychotherapy and working with family to help them [kids] adjust,” Meyer said. “Sometimes that means reassuring them and letting them dress up at home. Some might start school taking on a new gender.”

Pent-up need for treatment appears to exist.

Since Children’s Hospital Boston established a Gender Management Service in 2007, the population of gender nonconformists seeking treatment quadrupled.

“By having clinical services that are specialized and interdisciplinary, you’re providing an avenue for parents to come and present for treatment,” Leibowitz said. “That brings a lot of people out of their closets, so to speak, and shows this is a less stigmatized issue, so that people can get the appropriate assessments and treatments that they deserve.”

Some children receive treatment to delay puberty and buy them time while deciding whether to proceed with a gender change.

Puberty blockers, which are not covered by insurance, are expensive. “Injections can cost upwards of $1,000 a month.” Leibowitz said. Newer implants cost about $3,400 for two years.

Blocking irreversible changes of puberty has advantages for those who eventually opt for full gender transition, through cross-sex hormones or sexual reassignment surgery, Leibowitz said. “In their bodies and appearance, they will be perceived by society as the gender they affirm and thus have healthier outcomes,” he explained.

“We as individuals who do not experience an incongruence between our minds and bodies take for granted how easy life is,” Leibowitz added. “You just need to meet one child and one family to see how this impacts their lives.”

http://news.health.com/2012/02/20/gender-identity-issues-can-harm-kids-mental-health-study/

A Salute To Dani Bunten, A Transgender Video Gaming Pioneer [kotaku.com]

Note from Helen Hill MFT: The views in this article (and any article on my blog) do not necessarily reflect my own views, but I feel they should be voiced and discussed because of their profound importance in whether one transitions, has surgery, or explores other options of gender expression.

by Luke Plunkett / kotaku.com

There are plenty of legends in the world of video games whose names will fly off the tongues of casual fans. Nolan Bushnell. Trip Hawkins. Shigeru Miyamoto. Will Wright. Sid Meier.
It’s a shame, then, that so few can name another of the all-time greats, Danielle Bunten Berry.

Or, as she was known before 1992, Dan Bunten.

The designer born as Daniel Paul Bunten in 1949 is important to video games for any number of reasons, some trivial, some vital to the progression of the entire medium.

Her first game, 1978′s Wheeler Dealers, was the first ever PC game to be sold in a printed box instead of a sleeve or plastic bag, a necessity born of the game’s inclusion of a custom controller.

In 1983, Bunten’s Ozark Softscape released one of the first games for Electronic Arts, and also one of the greatest cult hits in the history of the PC, MULE. A multiplayer… economic strategy… thing, MULE wasn’t a big seller, but it was very influential amongst developers, and retains a fanbase and community site even to this day.

In 1984, Bunten released the amazing open-world title The Seven Cities of Gold, a game she only made when she wasn’t allowed to make something very similar to what would become Sid Meier’s Civilization. Which wasn’t released until 1990.

In 1988 she designed Modem Wars, the world’s first PC game that could be played across multiple computers in an online environment.

In 1992, Bunten designed Global Conquest, the world’s first PC game from a major publisher that could be played across four computers online.

Then, sadly, things went a little off the rails. In the same year, Bunten’s third marriage fell apart, and in November 1992 she did something she’d been contemplating for a while: she underwent sex reassignment surgery.

Now known as Danielle (or simply Dani) Bunten Berry, she would never maintain as high a profile as she had enjoyed while a male. While continuing in games development, and continuing to work on pioneering the online interactivity of players, she quickly grew to resent her decision to undergo surgery.

“Being my ‘real self’ could have included having a penis and including more femininity in whatever forms made sense”, she would later write. “I didn’t know that until too late and now I have to make the best of the life I’ve stumbled into. I just wish I would have tried more options before I jumped off the precipice.”

In 1997, while working on a new, improved version of MULE for the internet age, Dani was diagnosed with lung cancer, and passed away a year later at the of 49.

Her work never made much money, with only Cities of Gold selling enough to be called a “hit”. Wheeler Dealers sold 50 copies. MULE, as important as it was, only sold 30,000.

But Bunten’s legacy hasn’t been determined by sales. It can be measured in her influence on the industry and the developers who followed in her footsteps.

Nearly every game Bunten designed or worked on turned out to be well ahead of its time, especially when it came to the possibilities for bringing multiple people together in the same game. That kind of vision made her a star to other developers.

“That was something kind of visionary of his: that he kind of saw the day when games wouldn’t just be for hardcore gamers,” says Civilization creator Sid Meier, a friend of Bunten through thick and thin. “People would play more casual games – people playing together, people playing on networks, people cooperating instead of being competitive. He kind of saw this evolution of gaming that was still pretty far off in the future.”

In 1998, just before she passed away, she was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Computer Game Developers Association. In 2007, she was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

And perhaps most touching, when completing the blockbuster The Sims, designer Will Wright dedicated the game to Bunten.

Dani Bunten is survived by her three children (from previous marriages as Daniel Bunten), who now operate a company which trades under the name Ozark Softscape (Bunten’s old development studio), and which “manages their father’s intellectual property and digital legacy”.

If you’d like to read more on Bunten, this recent Arkansas Times piece gives a great insight into not just her legacy, but her personal life as well.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/02/a-salute-to-dani-bunten-a-transgender-video-gaming-pioneer/

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers