Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mythbusting Ideas About Women In The Game Industry

Brianna Wu has an excellent article on polygon today on women in the gaming industry and harassment. She outlines the stories of a number of women in the gaming industry and the harassment they have received.

Not only that, but each particular case study takes a myth surrounding online harassment of women in the games industry and shows how it's false, using that woman's direct, lived experience.

An excerpt from the introduction:
My name is Brianna Wu. I lead a development studio that makes games. Sometimes, I write about issues in the games industry that relate to the equality of women. My reward is that I regularly have men threatening to rape and commit acts of violence against me. 
If you are a woman working in the games industry, especially in a public way, you’re going to experience harassment. I imagine telling my 12-year-old self that fulfilling my dream of making games would lead to constant threats. Would she still do it? Would any woman? The problem with sharing these stories in broad terms is that people think men and women receive the same harassment online. They do not. I’m not writing this piece to evoke your sympathy. I’m writing to share with you what prominent, successful women in the industry experience, in their own words.
The entire article is a must-read.

She also created a companion video:

The harassment of women in the games industry is an epidemic, and it's also a reflection of the crap that women have to go through in society in general. It's easy to lay the blame at the feet of anonymous internet cesspools like 4chan and misogynistic pockets of Reddit but those are really just enablers. The internet doesn't exist in a vacuum. It’s part of the culture that we, as a society, have allowed to mushroom because we haven’t done much as a society to stop it.

I talked about a few things men can do to help stop this both online and in general in my blog post "The Status Is Not Quo: Being A Geeky Woman Online & What Men Need To Do".

Castlevania Symphony of the Night As Trans Narrative: Your Asshole Dad's Castle Is Back

Writer Eva Problems contributes a moving, funny, profound and profane take on the events of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in her latest short story for the Medium, "YOUR ASSHOLE DAD'S CASTLE IS BACK AGAIN".  Your name is Elvira and you'll be damned if your asshole dad will try and threaten the world again OR saddle you with his own name, only backwards.

From the story:
"you thought there was a system. there were supposed to be contingencies in place, there were people with unhealthy fixations and large weapons available for this specific scenario, to ensure that you would never have to even think about him again. but, well, here you are. looking at the gate to your asshole dad’s castle... 
so those contingencies pretty fucking obviously failed you, and no one’s about to tell you why. so you have to go in, and you do. and what a surprise! it’s your asshole dad’s asshole friend, taking all your best shit. it wouldn't be the first time someone in this castle took away the things you cared about because they thought it wasn’t right for you. but it’s not like you’ll want for swords, at least. your dad always buys every shitty mall katana he can get his claws on and just leaves them around all over."
 It's a really great read, and you can read the whole story here.

Dungeons & Dragons Has Influenced A Generation of Writers & How It Helps Kids Today

Artwork courtesy of James Howe.
From a recent New York Times article:
For a new generation of writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. Dungeons and Dragons helped jump-start their creative lives. 
When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.
When you think about it, it's not really too surprising. Speaking personally, while D&D offered an escape from an abusive home life, coming up with character back-stories that fit within an adventuring party was my first taste of collaborative storytelling. There are a lot of skills you can learning playing D&D-  collaborative problem solving, team building, working in groups, spatial awareness, multiplication, plus all of the creative things involved with running or taking part in a campaign, like character and world building.

And the current generation of D&D players are finding ways to use D&D to not just instill a love of the game in kids, but also teach children development skills. One author has even come up with a version for pre-preschoolers!

Laura Petelle has released a free game called Monster Dice Fight, a proto-D&D game for preschoolers that also teaches Early Learning Standards skills. As she describes it:
My husband was eager for our sons to get big enough to play D&D with him, and I suggested they were big enough now -- if we adjusted the game. I had recently been in early learning standard presentations, so that was on my mind as well... Parents can adjust the game in a variety of ways to help their children with specific developmental tasks, and can at the same time create appropriate challenges within the game for children of different ages.
If the kids are a little older and you want to introduce them to D&D, collaborative storytelling and some of the game mechanics, artist Jason Howe has you covered with "D&D For 8 Year Olds". As he explains it:
For my son's 8th birthday party he convinced me to run Dungeons and Dragons for four 2nd graders... I decided to take actual characters made in the DND Insider and simplify them us that the boys could have fun without much of a learning curve. Here are the six characters I made from scratch for the game. I am happy to report it was a huge success, each boy had a fantastic time... and so did I. I would happily do it again.
Howe didn't leave girls out, either, and created a number of boy and girl character sheets in full color, all ready to print out and personalize, which you can check out here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Free Browser Game Spotlight: Scaling the Sky

Scaling the Sky is a game about ascension by William Felkner, Chelsea Howe, and Michael Molinari.
Play Online
Why Try It: A kind of platformer with a very playful sense of movement and few obstacles or stressors.
Author’s Notes: "We decided to close out 2013 by posting all our lingering games - here’s Scaling the Sky, a surreal little experience created for the SF Indie Game Jam."
From the forest ambassador: If you find yourself getting stuck, experiment with the different ways your character moves in clouds and water and remember that your goal is to keep moving upwards.

Scaling the Sky is a game about ascending by William Felkner, Chelsea Howe, and Michael Molinari. It's a fun little free-form platformer with a very playful sense of movement and few obstacles.

Author’s Notes: "We decided to close out 2013 by posting all our lingering games - here’s Scaling the Sky, a surreal little experience created for the SF Indie Game Jam."

Play Scaling the Sky here.

Game Developer Works With Alaska Native Community to Create Awesome Video Game

Never Alone - Game Trailer from Never Alone on Vimeo.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is an atmospheric puzzle platformer currently in development at Upper One Games in partnership with E-Line Media and members of the Alaska Native community.

Leigh Alexander sat down with Sean Vesce to talk more in depth about the game for a recent article on Gamasutra. An excerpt:
"Sean Vesce left Crystal Dynamics after 20 years in commercial games, with a few goals not uncommon to veterans of the triple-A machine: He wanted to collaborate with small, focused teams, aimed to create social impact, and wanted to create games he could play with his young daughters. Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) seems to fit the bill: Its trailer presents a dreamlike, beautiful and playful experience, starring a young Alaska Native girl, Nuna, and her arctic fox friend as they solve puzzles together. First shown during E3, the $15 PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game favorably caught the attention of all the big consumer sites, and received an Editor's Choice award from Polygon."

When asked what his greatest hope for the game was Vesce answered, "Our hope is that as players play, they begin to develop an appreciation for some of the core values of Inupiat culture - including interdependence (mutual reliance on each other), resiliency (the ability to persevere through seemingly insurmountable challenge), and respect for wisdom and knowledge that is passed from one generation to another.

It's a really great article, so I urge you to read the whole thing.

Why are video games' brightest stars abandoning AAA games?

Image courtesy of Crave Online
Jeffrey Grubb tackles this question for VentureBeat's Game Beat section in an article entitled "Why triple-A devs are going indie (and why indies aren’t going triple-A)":
"Joe and Anthony Russo had a pretty good summer. The brothers directed and released Marvel’s summer blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The pair got that opportunity after working with smaller budgets in the independent-film scene and on television, and they worked their way up to making one of the biggest movies in the world.  That’s a story we don’t really have in gaming.   
Independent and triple-A gaming development is experiencing the opposite, really. The big names from top developers are leaving their jobs directing huge projects to start their own, smaller development studios. Meanwhile, the hottest talent responsible for beloved, best-selling indie games aren’t moving up to direct larger projects for major publishers with enormous budgets. They’re sticking to their roots or focusing their efforts on expanding the games that made them popular in the first place.   
The question is why is “upward mobility” in gaming broken?"
While the article goes into a lot more depth on the reasons why, with a host of great quotes from developers and other industry professionals, I'm also pretty sure that over-specialization on dev teams, the grueling hours expected of workers on AA titles and the relatively low pay probably don't help matters either.

Inspiration Fan Art: Fuzzface

Fuzz Face from Double Dragon Neon

I know you can wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!
Fuzz Face from Double Dragon Neon: "I know you can wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!"

Today's inspirational fan art comes from tumblr user chilicheesechupacabra, who gave the world the only inspirational FuzzFace fan art. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure this is the only FuzzFace fan art, period. Anyhow, there's a lot more art available at her Deviantart, and you can also wear other art via her RedBubble store.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Free Game Spotlight: Trans Life Simulator

RC released "A Passing Glance" for the QUILTBAG Jam this week. It's a quick and simple text based game where you play as a young trans person trying to buy some underwear. It was made with the intention of showing cis people what it’s like to be trans. You can play as a trans girl, trans boy, or a nonbinary person.

It’s short, so you can play it multiple times for different paths. There are several paths, some better, some worse; if you’re easily triggered by dysphoria or transphobia, you may want to avoid this game. Some paths are safer than others, depending on how well you pass. Trigger warning for homophobic/transphobic slurs, transphobia/transmisogyny, slurs, misgendering, and possible violence.

Panel Spotlight: Dad With Visual Disabilty Hosting Panel @ Bronycon

Matthew Palumbo was born with a degenerative eye condition. As the years have gone on, his vision has continued to deteriorate, robbing him of the use of one eye. This has left him unable to pursue many tasks that he previously enjoyed. He bonds with his seven-year-old son, Ethan, through watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic together, the bright colors of which are still traceable to his good eye.

Palumbo wants to spend the last BronyCon he may attend with good vision setting up a panel to educate and spread awareness of disabilities and how My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the fan community can and has helped.

To that end, he is running a panel titled "Coping With Disabilities Through Pony" this year at the largest Brony convention in the United States, BronyCon. They are currently holding a fundraiser so that the panel can be a success. The mission of the panel is “…to share how the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its fans have helped to improve the lives of individuals with special needs.”

The panel will also feature such guests as Meredith Sims, writer of Silly Filly Studios’ acclaimed short fan film “Snowdrop” (as well as voice for the titular character), Rachel Merryfield, a software developer working on Braillemon (a fan-developed version of the original Pokémon Red and Blue video game, re-worked for visually impaired players), his son Ethan and more. Here's the official panel description from the Bronycon website:
MLP: FiM helps kids & grown-ups be better people. Did you know it also helps people with disabilities and special needs? Come find out how as we share inspirational stories from bronies & speak with: the writer and voice talent of fan film "Snowdrop"; ,a father and his supportive young son; a video game developer who aspires to make technology accessible to all; and an educator of tomorrow who has first hand experience with how powerful MLP has been in giving individuals with disabilities & special needs a way to cope & bond with the world in which we all live in. We'll explore how My Little Pony and its fans have used the show to bond with others and cope with all sorts of disabilities and special needs through the power of Ponies!
Location: Moon Hall
Track: Community
Start Time: 8/2/2014 1:45 pm
End Time: 8/2/2014 2:45 pm
You can also get more information on the panel, its panelists, and plans for a free e-book and audiobook at http://copingwithpony.weebly.com

The Status Is Not Quo: Being A Geeky Woman Online & What Men Need To Do

It's a bitter irony that for the many self-identified male geeks, nerds, gamers (both of the video and tabletop kind), comic books fans, sci-fi enthusiasts &etc that talk about growing up feeling unwelcome or ostracized in wider society, many women wanting to contribute to, or participate in, those same communities end up feeling that same isolation, hostility and othering just for being a woman online. Whether it's having their "credentials" challenged as being nothing more than a "fake geek girl" or being made to question their own legitimacy at an even just because they are attending an event with their significant other.

Online platforms like Twitter and Youtube have enabled women to work to curate and create spaces on their own terms. Women have flocked to these services to create their own networks of support, activism, and discussion as well as reclaim online space to talk about shared interests, media fandom, geek culture, video games and more from a feminist perspective. However, as Samantha Allen points out, for all the resources and community the Internet has offered, it has made it...

"...much easier for men to manipulate, harass, abuse, stalk, and, yes, physically harm women.This past weekend, I was on a panel with some members of Nostalgia Chick, a set of veteran media critics who often include feminist perspectives in their videos. They told me that the Internet, in many ways, has become a less hospitable place for them to do their work over the years. 

And I believe it. Between 4Chan, Men’s Rights Activist groups, theReddit Red Pill community, pick-up artist (PUA) groups, and anti-PUA groups like the one that Elliot Rodger clung to so dearly, the Internet has allowed men to band together more efficiently than ever before to threaten and antagonize women. Every woman with an online presence has a story to share about unwanted contact, sexual harassment, and predatory behavior."

Anita Sarkeesian, the writer and producer of the Feminist Frequency web video series, started the "Tropes vs. Women In Video Games" series that looks at video game tropes and culture through a feminist lens, has been the target of years of harassment, and recently shared a small sampling of the harassing emails she gets on a regular basis:
I get so many emails like this I could publish a coffee table book full of them.
It’s especially amusing that this misogyny laced email is unironically signed “See you soon m’lady. *tips fedora*”
Sadly, this is a widespread problem for women creators on YouTube, and was addressed at this year's VidCon, the world's largest conference for online video content creators. As Rae Votta outlines in "What It's Really Like For Women On Youtube":

In March, abuses of power by men in the YouTube space over their younger, female fans came to light after several women spoke out on Tumblr and other platforms about their experiences, causing community-wide outrage and task forces like YouCoalition, which was formed to “combat sexual abuse, emotional manipulation and other forms of violence in the YouTube community,” according to the website. Saturday’s Women on YouTube panel broached this still-raw topic, emphasizing the opinion that, while the start of the conversation about abuse had a lot of flaws, the important thing is that the community doesn't treat the situation like it’s finished, and still gives the issue the attention that it deserves.

Rojas, who was one of the women who spoke out against inappropriate behavior, chimed in, “We've shown a lot of people that they won’t get away with it.”
“We are not a community that welcomes abusers,” emphasized Lex Croucher. “The most important thing is to encourage people affected by this to come forward and [to be] supportive of those who do come forward.”
Lots of people try to frame harassment and abuse online as "just the Internet", but the emotional toll and physical danger is important, and a very real threat, and carry very real consequences. Recently, Samanta Allen was harassed off Twitter after she was buried under an avalanche of harassing tweets when she talked about how she liked the staff of Giant Bomb but was disappointed that for all the site's talk of valuing diversity, the site's first public hires in years were another two white men. Women's hurt and fear for safety and the emotional toll for being harassed online have real, chilling impact on discourse.

This is unacceptable. And the burden of speaking out shouldn't continually fall to the women being harassed. So what can we do? Guys, we have to loudly speak out against this behavior. We have to support women in our creative and media spaces. We need to let other men know that this behavior is not okay, and we need to make it socially unacceptable. We need to listen to women's experiences-- really listen, and not just wait for our chance to say "not all men". We need to realize that online harassment isn't something that just happens-- it's a choice that is made, it is a crime that is done.

As Andy Kouri says in "Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment":
It is wholly and rightfully and crucially up to men in this society and especially in this subculture to speak out and watch out. To end the cycle of bullying, harassment and violence. To recognize the grotesque irony of degrading women over matters of heroic fictions whose lessons about fairness and decency we’ve supposedly been studying since we were just little boys, and to start putting those ideas into practice as grown-ass men. 

Readers, what say you? Sound off in the comments below.