Thursday, January 28, 2016

Are Hardcore Gamers The New Right Wing Conservatives?

Description: Stephen Colbert, dressed in a business suit &
seated at a desk, raising a pitchfork. the caption reads "Unleash
Nerd Fury!"
 In the mid-to-late 90s up to the the early 2000s, there was a lot of sound and fury and fear about censoring video games, worries about the resultant effect on free speech and the possibility of strangling video games as an art-form before it even left the cradle. There were Congressional hearings on video game violence, pundits bloviating in newspapers, magazines and online, and reactionary conservatives seemingly pinning blame for video games on everything from the Columbine massacre to the collapse of the nuclear family. But for all the sturm und drang, all the worries about legislators attempting to legislate morality... nothing really came of it. As the Houston Chronicle's Jeff Rouner outlines in "Have Gamers Become The New Religious Right?":
However, though there was a lot of talk about official censorship there was never really any serious chance it would happen in America. Video games were declared free speech by the Supreme Court in 2005 in a 7 – 2 decision, and Nintendo had given up their dream of completely family-friendly entertainment by 1994. Mature content became a badge of honor to the gamer community. It was proof that the medium couldn’t be stopped by moralistic thugs determined to protect us from ourselves.
So what happened?
Journalists like Leigh Alexander and Mattie Bryce as well as YouTubers like Anita Sarkeesian began looking at game content, both narrative and mechanical, and examining what that content said about us. It was not, as a lot of gamers like to claim, a call to censor or ban that content. It was just looking at it in a more thoughtful and nuanced way. With games now protected by all the power of the First Amendment, you would think that discussion over them could flourish more freely since they were in no danger of being taken away. 
That’s not what happened, though. Organized retaliation against the concept of conversation and dialogue in the form of 4chan ops and GamerGate happened instead. Sarkeesian’s videos were constantly flagged on YouTube in an attempt to take them down and online campaigns to have various journalists discredited or fired became a new way of life for anyone who dared deconstructing games from a social justice perspective... Criticism of the status quo, no matter how mild, is felt like an attack on a person’s morality. Religious people in the ‘80s who were comfortable with traditional gender roles took the idea of someone else rejecting those roles as a judgment. Likewise, players who are perfectly happy with a white, male-centric, violent, heteronormative status quo in gaming feel judged for that happiness when marginalized people and their allies speak up about how it affects them.
How bad has it gotten? A couple worked together for a year on a game called "That Dragon, Cancer" as a way to help process and explore their grief as well as the boundaries of games as an interactive medium. And hardcore gamers howled with outrage. Over a game a couple made born from their experiences of watching their infant son wrestle with cancer.
Unfortunately, Feminist Frequency gave the game a good review, and so of course the horde has descended on Steam to flood the forums with cries of “feels-marketing” and saying the Greens immoral for not donating profits to cancer research. Bear in mind, none of these people have actually played That Dragon, Cancer. They just hate it because a bunch of other people they normally pick on all got together and said it made them feel something.
So readers, I ask you: what are moderate gamers to do? Sound off in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bitcoin Developer: 'Bitcoin Has Failed'

Description: A screenshot from the cartoon South Park showing a white man in
a gray business suit with a blue and white tie sitting at a desk with the caption:
"We have put all your money in Bitcoin. And it's gone."
Nike Hearn, a Bitcoin software developer for over 5 years wrote about the success- or lack thereof- with the virtual crypto-currency Bitcoin in an essay last week:
I’ve spent more than 5 years being a Bitcoin developer. The software I’ve written has been used by millions of users, hundreds of developers, and the talks I’ve given have led directly to the creation of several startups. ...From the start, I’ve always said the same thing: Bitcoin is an experiment and like all experiments, it can fail.
But despite knowing that Bitcoin could fail all along, the now inescapable conclusion that it has failed still saddens me greatly. The fundamentals are broken and whatever happens to the price in the short term, the long term trend should probably be downwards. I will no longer be taking part in Bitcoin development and have sold all my coins.
Heard then goes into just why Bitcoin was a good idea that flopped, and flopped hard:

It has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system. Think about it. If you had never heard about Bitcoin before, would you care about a payments network that: Couldn’t move your existing money, had wildly unpredictable fees that were high and rising fast, allowed buyers to take back payments they’d made after walking out of shops, by simply pressing a button, is suffering large backlogs and flaky payments, and in which the companies and people building it were in open civil war?

Heard goes into each of the failure points in more depth in his essay. One of the more interesting things was seeing the Bitcoin project itself slowly being eroded by the same petty disagreements and flame wars that tank tiny, obscure open-source projects.

What do you think, readers?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Video: Diversity Makes Cooler Games For Everyone

Youtuber MrBtoungue took a break from his usual fare to expound upon the biggest complaint had had about gaming in 2015: it wasn't diverse enough. How did that affect him, a dude who described himself as "a comfortable cis white male with a lump of coal where my heart should be"?

Part of the reason is that two of his favorite games of the year, the Witcher 3 and Bloodbourne, could only have happened as unique products of their respective developer's times and culture. As he puts it, diversity is an asset:
I see something like an undiscovered country's worth of talent. Right here, within our own borders, a country full of people who want to make and play games-- and would be making and playing games in greater numbers if we didn't keep throwing obstacles in their path. I always wonder over the years how many From-Soft's-worth of talent we've driven off by us constantly asking to see their tits. How many projects' worth of creativity have we driven off with behavior that's racist or homophobic and transphobic or just generally abusive?
The cost of unequal representation and games is not only unfairness but wastedpotential.
You can watch the entire video below:


Monday, January 25, 2016

Make The Web Better In Under 5 Minutes

Description: Close of of a computer keyboard. Just above the
"alt" key is a blue rectangular key with rounded corners labeled
"Accessibility", with the International Symbol For Access next to it.
Folks, I'm gonna put on my web develop hat for a moment here. One of the biggest barriers to making the web accessible for everyone are lack of accessibility features. People with disabilities deserve to access the web as much as anyone else. Features that can make websites accessible for people with disabilities are often simple and involve minimal labor or cost. These features typically have either no impact on the web experience of non-disabled people at all, or else improve the experience for everyone using the web. Right now, the law requires businesses to make their websites accessible. But most businesses ignore this obligation, in part because the U.S. Department of Justice has delayed the release of regulations that spell out exactly what accessibility features websites must have.


"But Shawn, I don't have a disability, why should I care?" some might ask. Well, if empathy won't convince you, how about self interest? In the disability activism community some people use the term "temporarily able-bodied" (TAB for short) to refer to people that don't have a disability. Why? Well, odds are that as you age, you will experience declines in vision, movement, motor function or cognitive functions. You may be able-bodies NOW, but you won't always be. So consider web accessibility as a way to "future-proof" the web and its vast resources, if nothing else.

Meow The Force Be With You: Star Wars & Cats

Chances are if you use the Internet or consume popular culture, that there are two things you can't get enough of: Star Wars and pictures of cats. Illustrators Griz and Norm Lemay have now combined those two things to bring you a series of illustrations depicting Star Wars heroines and droids with cats.

The series sort of works with the idea that owners and their pets seem to eventually resemble one another. For example, at left is an illustration of Star Wars-era Princess Leia with an adorable white Maine Coon kitten. Also featured in the series are Rey, R2-D2, Queen Amidala, and BB-8.

Also, since I have mentioned Star Wars and cats in a single post, I am pretty sure this means I am required by law to also post the following video: Cats Fighting (With Lightsabers Added In). Enjoy!


Friday, January 22, 2016

Make Cool & Weird Game Stuff With No Prior Experience


So you have been inspired to want to make your own video game, You saw something artistic or cool or weird, or maybe you want to try a new way to make art... but you're feeling intimidated. Or maybe you've been making art but want to incorporate that into a game with no idea how.

Well, today is your lucky day. Bronson Zgeb and G.P. Lackey of the artist-run gaming studio KO-OP have created a step by step guide with easy to follow and understand instructions. As they explain in the introduction:
This tutorial is about empowering people who feel constrained by their lack of experience. For example, programmers who feel like they need artists to make cool things, or artists who think they need programmers to make cool things, or even people who are neither of those who want to make cool things. 
The tutorial is written for folks who have no experience with Unity or 3D modelling.
So what are you waiting for? Go check it out! Maybe make something cool, or weird, or meaningful!

Jonathan Blow (Maybe) Peed In A Jug To Make A Point?


(or: Jon Blow, You Know Nothing)

(or: Jonathan Blow? MORE LIKE JONATHAN PEE AM I RIGHT GUYS)

So, noted indie game developer Jonathan Blow (whom you may know from the game Braid, from the movie about indie games ) took to twitter today and posted a picture that thanks to Blogger's Terms of Serivces I can't re-post but I can describe. With the tweet "Here is another thing I helped make, to help finish The Witness" he attached a picture of a clear jug with a tube attached at the top that was either his actual pee, or something faked to look like he'd peed in a jug. Twitter collectively reeled in shock.

Why would he do this? Was it making a point about how dedicated he was to finishing The Witness (even though he's just a consultant)? No, apparently it was to make a point that we are all shocked when a grown professional adult posts a picture of maybe-a-jug-of-his-own-urine instead of being shocked at the plight of indie game studios.

No, really.


Description: screenshot of a series of tweets. The first two, from Jonathan Blow, read: "Wow this tweet seemed to upset people. I meant it as a joke, but...it is also kinda true, you know? If y'all were as interested in new indie games as yo seem to in that picture I just posted, more indie developers would survive!" The 3rd post, re-tweeted by Blow from the user bombsfall reads "But once you recognize the secret reason for the pee bottle, you will be ashamed for your words and deeds".
Now bombsfall was referencing another tweet by a famous developer responding to criticism: Hideo Kojima responding to criticism of sniper the Quiet's male-gazey design. All kidding aside, does Mssr. Blow maybe have a point?

No, not really.

Friend of the blog Daphny (full disclosure: she's also linked on my sidebar, contributes to my patreon, sent me homemade muffins and is my friend) addressed this in a great blog entry titled
"IF JON BLOW WAS INTERESTED IN HELPING PEOPLE SURVIVE WE WOULDNT HAVE TO JOKE ABOUT HIS PISS" and while I'm tempted to let that mic drop and call it a day, you should really read the whole thing. Some choice excerpts:
[Jonathan Blow has] said on twitter if you dont have 100 dollars to spend on greenlight your game isnt worth being on greenlight, and in an interview with kotaku australia said that its *~*~HARD FOR HIM TO THINK*~*~* ABOUT SOMEONE HAVING A HARD TIME COMING UP WITH 100 DOLLARS which displays his lack of awareness of what its like to not have 100 dollars to INVEST because all of your money is going to IMMEDIATE survival needs (food, shelter, bills)...
his indie fund is such an insular money making scheme, indie fund pours TONS OF MONEY into huge boring investments instead of paying smaller projects for actual ambitious and unique creative work. of course this isnt ALWAYS TRUE but they gauge what they fund on GUARANTEED SUCCESS not ARTISTIC POTENTIAL. its not a fund for people who are breaking out, its a fund for those who want to GET RICH. thats a fine goal to have, but the lack of transparency with indie fund should really set off any outsiders red flags
AAA indie indeed. but GOTTA SUPPORT THE ‘COMMUNITY
Seriously, go read the entire thing. It's short, devastating, hilarious, and has two Vines.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Libraries Have Reference Books, So Where's The D&D?

In theory, Dungeons & Dragons and local libraries are a perfect fit. Both libraries and D&D attract people who love reading, imagining new vistas, poring through books, reading and creating stories, and looking up lore. In fact, the earliest D&D game books directed readers to libraries for research and recommended reading. Many libraries even have extensive graphic novel sections, comic book clubs, or provide meeting space for tabletop gaming groups. In practice, finding D&D rulebooks-- or any sort of tabletop gaming resource is well-nigh impossible, even though Dungeons and Dragons have influenced an entire generation of today's writers. Why is that?

Edward Schneider is a professor who studies how media and information is used and how it's organized. Brian Hutchison is not only a lifelong Dungeons & Dragons player, but also an librarian and information specialist. They were fascinated by the disconnect between the potential fit between D&D in libraries and how thin on the ground the availability was, and decided to conduct a study tracking role playing gamebooks in libraries around the country. The study, entitled "Referencing the Imaginary: An Analysis of Library Collection of Role-Playing Game Materials" was recently published in the journal The Reference Librarian and Schneider explained a little bit about the study in an article for Gizmodo:
The most commonly held book was the 2008 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, with 327 copies worldwide — almost 50 fewer copies than the sequel to Snooki’s opus! If you like irony, there are 70 copies of the world’s most depressing cookbook,Microwave Cooking for One, on library shelves, and 21 copies of Heroes of Horror.Heroes of Horror is the Dungeons & Dragons book that allows you to play as an Archivist — a magical librarian. 
...There is no sign that popular interest in fantasy and science fiction is subsiding. Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, HP Lovecraft, and Star Wars all have direct links to the role playing game genre. An increasing number of universities offer video game design and development programs, and Dungeons & Dragons has been extremely influential in the history of video games, especially in Japanese RPG’s. D&D games are natural tools for libraries to use in community building in public libraries, but they also belong in academic libraries; the academic study of games has steadily increased.

We heard many different reasons why libraries might not stock these materials widely, but none of them made much sense.
The materials were not more prone to theft, not more or less checked out or circulated then comparable volumes, and had plenty of positive reviews from a variety of sources. So why the scarcity? The author theorized anti-D&D hysteria from the 80s and 90s, as a possible idea that has taken hold. What does this mean for the future of these resources and local libraries, though? Schneider is hopeful, concluding that there was
...a huge opportunity for librarians to connect with a different part of their community. Librarians seek to serve their patron communities, and it is time they considered adding more from the RPG genre to collections... I encourage genre fans to talk to their local librarians. A few vocal patrons can make a big difference, give your local library an excuse to collect and display these materials. Give them some friendly guidance, and make sure to speak up for your favorite publishers!

Where's Rey? Dark Side of Marketing Forces Heroine Out

Left: Screenshot of Rey from Star Wars the Force Awakens. Right, a letter from 8 year old Annie Rose that reads "Dear Hasbro, How could you leave out Rey!? She belongs in Star Wars Monopoly and all the other Star Wars games! Without her, THERE IS NO FORCE AWAKENS! It awakens in her. And without her, the bad guys would have won! Besides, boys and gorls need to see women ca be as strong as men. Boys or girls, who cares? We are equal, all of us!" letter courtesy of Carrie M Goldman.
Star Wars: The Force Awakes looks to shatter box office records. It's brought in an estimated 1.5 billion dollars in box office sales so far. Rey is the heroine of the story, which is why it's been downright weird to see her missing from so much of the official merchandise Hasbro has been releasing. For example, on Hasbro's Star Wars Monopoly set, there were two characters from the main Star Wars series as game peices: Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. There were two characters from The Force Awakens: Kylo Ren and Finn. So, representing the classic and modern Star Wars? All men.

The “Battle Action Millennium Falcon” playset tie-in to The Force Awakens has Finn, Chewbacca, and BB-8-- but not Rey even though in the film she is the actual ship's pilot! And while Hasbro released a statement apologizing for leaving her out of the board game release and promising to include her in future releases, most official merchandise for Rey is still exceedingly difficult to find, and what does exist is rather thin on the ground. This has lead to the hashtag #wheresrey as fans and parents have taken to social media to talk about this representation.

According to an insider source with Lucasfilm marketing, Rey's lack of visibility in merchandise was not just some sort of accidental oversight. In an article on pop-culture blog Sweatpants and Coffee, this marketing insider said this was done deliberately:
In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm’s Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.
The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.
“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”
It sounds like a bit of a self-fulfilling, doesn't it? Marketing decision-makers say female characters don't sell, so they exclude them from merchandise. They then use this as evidence that female characters don't sell, and use it to justify excluding them from merchandise in the future. Not only did marketing execs seem to be caught completely by surprise, but according to the article, they seem stymied by the fact that real life wasn't adhering to the narrative they'd created:
“I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” Marcotte went on to say. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of. Now they’re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”
How about your thoughts, readers? Is this sort of aggressively gendered marketing something that's going to fall by the wayside, or will marketers dig in their heels even more?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Historical Fiction, Cultural Revolution

Photo credit Joan Marcus
Let me tell you what I wish I’d knownWhen I was young and dreamed of gloryYou have no control:Who livesWho diesWho tells your story?
--"Who Tells Your Story", Hamilton

My interest in historical biographies, the meta-ideas behind historically-based fiction, and whose voices and contributions are remembered or ignored was sparked over the summer and fall by the hottest musical on Broadway: Hamilton. I fell in love with the soundtrack, and then had the mind-blowing opportunity to actual see it in person this past fall. So much of the musical as it is written and cast is relevetory: a story about the Founding Fathers in general and Hamilton in specific. It stars a cast that is predominantly people of color, drawing from African-American pioneered and influenced styles from Dixieland jazz to hip-hop. As Disha Jani writes in “Who Tells Your Story?”: Historical Fiction as Resistance" for The Toast, there is an important difference in historical fiction. She believes it has the power to change not just historical narratives but cultural ones as well.
...historical fiction can be a form of resistance to a homogenizing view of our world and our past. There are certainly more immediate and material ways to resist oppression — legislating, organizing, protesting, boycotting, and mobilizing are very powerful ways — but sometimes, just existing and living your life, having your story told, can have an impact. 
...People have always found ways to live and find meaning and challenge oppression, and part of our job is to seek them out and tell their stories. They existed, and it’s our job to find some way to understand… 
When these same narrative and imaginative tools are used by historians, it can help deliver a blow to the insidious assertion made in nearly every grade-school classroom – that we’re supposed to relate exclusively to dead rich white men because they created everything of value. Sometimes we do relate to them, because our experiences meet somewhere in the space between the living and the dead. At other times, we yearn for someone to relate to who is a little bit more like us, whatever that may mean. To find them, we may have to first find an interlocutor – an historian, or filmmaker, or composer – who has decided to reveal this someone to us. If the interlocutor cannot find the kinds of records that are left behind by the lettered, important few, they rely on other sources.
The entire article is brilliant. Read the whole thing!

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