Monday, August 31, 2015

Super Powers, Super Mom: Raising Dion Now Online

Description: A young black boy faces the camera, giggling. He closes his
eyes, then disappears with a puff of black smoke. He reappears on the other
side of the room, suddenly reappearing in front of his mother, who drops the
bag of groceries she was holding in surprise.
Many young children dream of having super powers. Many people compare parents to super heroes. So what do you do when you have to raise a child who has all the normal evergy and curiosity and fears of any other... but also a bevy of barely-controlled super powers? These issues and more are being tackled in xxxx xxxxx 's new comic book series, Raising Dion.

Raising Dion offers a novel way to look at so many issues and ideas: super humans in society, superpowers and how they affect relationships, the challenges of parenting, and race in American society.

In particular, Dion's mother tells him not to use not use any of his super powers in public addresses how society implicitly judges his as a black child and explicitly how he is judged as a super human in a comic book world. It also echoes "The Talk" that parents of color have to have with thier kids about encounters with the police. As Raising Dion's artist Jason Piperberg says in an interview at Fusion.net:
“Traditionally in comics and really most stories, the protagonist is the one with the powers,” said Piperberg. “You see the world through the eyes of the character with all the abilities usually because they are immediately the most exciting and/or interesting person in the story.” 
... “I think a lot of people still don’t get that The Talk is a real thing that black families have to have,” said Piperberg. He admitted that initially the parallels weren’t all that clear to him either. “I think it’s really important to step out of my bubble of privilege to see what’s really going on. To discover and look at injustices that have been swept under the rug, or worse, accepted as the norm by society.”
The first issue of Raising Dion is available online to read for free.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What You Know About The Death of Point & Click Games Is Wrong

The popular narrative about the history of point and click adventure games goes a little something like this: they were invented in the mid-80s with the rise of VGA graphics and mouse-based navigation and GUIs. Seirra On-Line pioneered the genre. LucasArts was responsible for the genre's golden age, starting with Maniac Mansion and ending with the released of Grim Fandango. then the genre lay dormant for a decade and a half until Telltale games single-handedly revived and rescued the genre,bringing it back from the dead and introducing a new generation to the joys of point and click, puzzle solving and managing inventory systems.

The problem with that notion? It's completely wrong. It ignores reality? Why? Penguin King Games' David J Prokopetz points out that some of it is tied to sexism in the video game press:
The fact of the matter is that point-and-click adventure games never died.
The chronology just doesn’t add up. To pose a few obvious examples:

  • The Nancy Drew series, a point-and-click adventure franchise as old-school as they come, put out over a dozen titles during the early 00s. 
  • Funcom’s Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was enormously successful, both critically and commercially, during a period when the gaming press would have us believe the genre was almost wholly moribund. 
  • Likewise, the Dream Chronicles series managed three sequels during a period when point-and-click adventure games allegedly weren’t a thing... 
When FPSes began to dominate the young male gaming audience in the mid 90s, point-and-click adventure games saw the writing on the wall, and shifted their target audience en masse to young girls. And it worked fantastically - but as far as the gaming press was concerned, that was high treason.

Newly Discovered Pics: Victorian Women of Color

Description: Black and white photo of an unidenti-
fied black woman in Victorian era fancy dress sitting
for a photo portrait.
The website Dangerous Minds reports on some recently discovered and unearthed pictures of photographic portraits of some very elegant women of color from the Victorian era. Sadly, information on just who these women were are thin on the ground. Hopefully some historians or genealogists might be able to shed some light on the identity of these unknown and dashing people.

As Dangerous Minds reports:
Here are some photographs of Victorian women of color that date from 1860 to 1901. Unfortunately, a lot of these photographs have no names attached to the women posed in the photographs.
I’d love to know the stories behind each photo. What each woman’s life was like. Sadly, we’ll probably never know... Photos of Women of Color from this era are hard to come by, especially “family” photographs.A [few] of these photos were taken when there was still slavery in the United States.
These photos being shared online are very striking. These photographs could also give plenty of inspiration for steampunk and steamfunk fans, creators and writers. You can check out the full set of pictures here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Star Trek, Philosophy & the Kobayashi Maru

Description: Technical detail readout of  the Star Trek series'
starship & titular scenario, the Kobayashi Maru. 
In the Star Trek series, the Kobayashi Maru is both the name of a starship and a training simulation for Starfleet cadets. The scenario goes like this: trainees encounter a civilian ship calling for help, but to help the ship, you would have to choose to venture into a demilitarized zone and violate a wartime treaty. If the trainees choose to honor the treaty, the ship is at the mercy of the warlike Klingons. If you try to meet it halfway, your ship is attacked and boarded. In the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the legendary James T. Kirk was the only cadet in Starfleet history to ever beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario... and he did so by reprogramming the simulation so that is was possible to win. Forbes-- yes, the vaunted business magazine & website-- looks at how this scenario informs and reflects the philosophy of both the science fiction series as a how, and popular philosophy in general.
Is the Kobayashi Maru a good test of leadership, and of the ethical decision-making that’s a part of it? And what should we make of the fact that Kirk seems to have “beat” the test by cheating? It’s good to question whether features of a situation that we take for granted really are fixed, rather than changeable. When faced with two bad choices, it’s good to try to find a third, or fourth, or fifth possible choice that is less obvious but that might be better all around. 
I think the optimism embodied in Kirk’s rejection of no-win scenarios is the sort of thing that can motivate creative thinking about how to do a better job sharing a universe (which, really, is what ethics is about). But I don’t think that’s what the Kobayashi Maru was intended to test.

You can read the rest of the article here. What do you think, readers? Are the larger ideas about grace under pressure, no-win scenarios and the like a useful intellectual exercise, or is it a few torpedoes shy of a spread?

The Father of the Roguelike: Hack-ing the System

Gamasutura recently posted a chapter from David L. Craddick's book, "Dungeon Hacks" and it offers a tantalizing glimpse into the history, culture and the beginnings of one man's idea for a game that ended up inspiring a genre that live on to this day-- the roguelike. An excerpt:
Drawing on the eight or so hours he had spent playing Rogue at UCB, Fenlason laid groundwork in San Francisco. His intention, more or less, was to recreate Rogue as he remembered it: the dungeon layouts, the monsters, and the items. Fenlason dubbed his clone Hack for two reasons: "One definition was 'a quick [computer] hack because I don't have access to Rogue'. The other was 'hack-n-slash', a reference to one of the styles of playing Dungeons and Dragons." 
Thus the roguelike, a game clearly inspired by Rogue rather than coincidentally exhibiting similar game systems and features, was born. 
Fenlason composed a wish list of features he felt Rogue lacked, as well as those which Rogue could have implemented better. Level design, for instance, had been too simplistic; it would be more fun if players could explore dungeons that spanned more than a single screen. Monsters posed another shortcoming. There were only twenty-six, one per capital letter—far fewer than the text symbols available. More egregious was that they all attacked in the same way, making a beeline for the player instead of, say, maneuvering around for a sneak attack or standing in place—perhaps blocking a doorway—and forcing the "@" avatar to venture closer.
The entire sneak  peek is available here, and is well worth your time to read.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Group Helps Black Girls Code & Grow Right Now

Technology companies in the heart of Silicon Valley are the movers and shakers of the US technical industry. Where there have been rumblings over the past few years trying to spearhead efforts to get companies to diversify the workforce, most tech companies have been pretty tight-lipped about real data. What data they have released shows that less than 13 percent of computer engineers in the Valley are female and even less are women of color. We don't know how many there are for sure because, again, companies aren't giving out hard numbers.

National Public Radio recently released a story about the non-profit group "Black Girls CODE", and some of the activities they do to help foster a passion for technology and a love of learning:

Black Girls CODE's Summer of Code included project-based camps in the Bay Area as well as Washington, New York City and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. The group says camps offer a place where "girls of color can learn computer science and coding principles in the company of other girls like themselves and with mentorship from women they can see themselves becoming." About half of the girls participating received a scholarship to attend.
You can listen to the audio report and read more about Black Girls CODE and other non-profit groups here.

The Real Winners & Losers of the 2015 Hugo Awards

Description: The official Hugo Award logo: a black &
gray stylized shape reminiscent of a rocket ship.
The Hugo Awards, nominated and voted on by science fiction fans have a tradition going back over 60 years. Winners are a who's-who of science fiction autnors, Ellison, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke. Heinlein. Over the years, the sci-fi genre has expanded to include more of it passionate fans who become writers and storytellers-- women, people of color, gay and lesbian writers, and on and on-- which means the Hugos have changed, too.  Of course, this year has seen plenty of controversy as right wing and neo nazi hate groups have attempted to game the system under the Rabid Puppies (and companion group Sad Puppies)-- this blog has written about it here, here, here and here.

This weekend, at WorldCon, the 2015 Hugo Award winners were announced, and both who did win, and who didn't win are equally as important. Sad and Rabid Puppies slate pushers were able to steamroll a number of their favorites onto the ballot... but none of the Puppies-endorsed faves won any awards (which were chosen by the popular vote) with one exception-- "Guardians of the Galaxy"  won for best Long Form Drama. Considering that "Guardians of the Galaxy" was a mainstream blockbuster sucess and had no overt political agenda, it looks like the Puppies' crusade was a wash. In fact, it was less than a wash, it was a gap.

See, in 5 different categories, the overwhelming majority of voters actually chose "No Award" rather than award something to a category that had nothing but Sad/Rabid Puppy nominees. The most damning "No Award"award was when the Sad/Rabid Puppies slate put author and bipedal garbage can John C. Wright on the ballot for 3 different novellas at the same time and he still couldn't get a win.

Here are some standout winners:

  • Cixin Liu's Chinese bestseller The Three Body Problem won in the Best Novel category
  • Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt won Best Novelette for The Day The World Turned Upside Down
  • Ms. Marvel, a comic series I've covered previously here and here, won for its first collection,  "Vol. 1: No Normal" won the Best Graphic Story award
  • Orphan Black won for Best Short-Form Dramatic Presentation, unseating perennial favorite Doctor Who
As I pointed out, the Sad and Rabid Puppies may have lost this orund, and they could try and do this again next year. But for now, it looks like this year's results are a pretty solid rebuke of the Puppies' agenda.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Angry White Guys Hacked The Hugos... And Could Do It Again

Description: Close up of of an angry white man telling at the viewer, mouth wide
open & revealing teeth, face contorted into a scowl.
I've previously written about the efforts by the Sad & Rabid Puppies to hijack the Hugo Awards here and here, and Ria Bridges of bibliotropic wrote an epic guest post taking down the Puppy slate and its goals here. Even Game of Thrones series author George R. R. Martin took to his blog to denounce the Puppies, the ideology, the complaints and their goals.

Having successfully gotten the awards slate loaded with their mediocre reactionary choices, these supporters are harassing authors at Worldcon and taking about how they plan to do this all over again next year. But can they? How did this all happen in the first place?

Writing for Yes Magazine,  Mike Schneiderman quotes an author as saying "The Hugo Award process has always been hackable, There was just never anyone narcissistic enough to hack it." and they seem on the money.

Charlie Jane Anders from Gawker's IO9 suggests the Puppies success in stuffing the nomination ballot this year in fact disproves their very basis for existing:
"The [Puppies strategy] only succeeds if all the other nominations are scattered and disorganized. And that kind of disorganization is exactly what we saw in most nominations. It appears that everybody except Beale’s crew simply nominated whatever stories they happened to enjoy in 2014. Had there been a secret left-wing bloc nominating its own stories in lockstep, then Beale’s strategy would have failed."
Could this happen again? Sadly, the answer appears to be yes-- for at least one more year. Commenter eriko on MetaFilter explains:

...unless the SP/RP faction gets bored this year, it'll all happen next year, because there can't be any changes to the nominating process. There are a number of proposals being mooted this year, but regardless of which (if any) pass, none of them will take effect next year because they'll require ratification by the next Worldcon. So, the Hugos will use the same nomination process next year.
What will almost certainly happen, though, is a lot more people will pay attention to nominations next year, for good or ill. 
It's always been known that you could stuff the nominations and easily get a work on the ballot, and with a little effort, take over the ballot. The primary control of this wasn't regulatory, it was social. You just didn't do that --- and for decades, that worked just fine. The social contract that one did not logroll for the Hugo was strong enough that there were fans who were against authors even posting a single "these are my eligible works this year" posts online. I am not one of them, but the moment you post two? You're logrolling and you've broken the contract, and I would not only not nominate you, I'd campaign against you. 
That broke down when the SP/RP came along. They didn't care about the social contract, they easily got enough nomination to take over the ballot, and they did. It did help that, for too long, too many people who claimed to care about the Hugos and who were eligible to nominate didn't. The favorite excuse was "I didn't read a lot" and I kept saying "Doesn't matter. If you read something that you thought was Hugo Worthy, nominate it. If you read more than 5 things in a category that were Hugo Worthy, then you have to choose. Otherwise, nominate just the things you read that you think are worthy. If enough people agree with you, it'll make the short list. If not, it won't -- the 5% rule will make sure of that."They didn't, so between not enough nominations and the SP/RPs, this happened. The nice thing about the old system was it was simple, open, and transparent. The systems being mooted range from minimally effective, like 4/6, to OMG complex -- so much so that it's basically impossible to know if they'll actually fix the problem, but they'll certainly make it fun to figure out the nominations. It's all very....fannish. 
So, again, next year will only be different in the sense that maybe a lot more people will nominate -- for good or for ill. You will be eligible to nominate if you are a member (supporting or attending) of this year's Worldcon, or next year's Worldcon (in KC) or the Worldcon after that (which we find out out where tonight) if you join before the end of this year (basically, if you join this year, this being the year they'd be awarding.) Only members of next years Worldcon (KC) will be able to vote on the final shortlist, but the nomination pool is much larger.
So, what is the Hugo awards committee to do? What about WorldCon attendees?

Play This Short Free Text Game Right Now

Laura Ellyn, who previously made a guest comic here about ghosts in video games, has just released a free interactive text based adventure on the twine platform. It's called "The Sparkly Child" and it's a game about a young woman who was born sparkly and shiny, and who has to learn to deal with the fact that sometimes her light exposes things people would prefer to stay in the dark.

It's really engaging, and you should give it a try.

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