Monday, September 7, 2015

Fake Geek Girls, Real Fans And Your Brain

Description: the caption "this is a gamer" is displayed over a
cartoon drawing of a woman with tied-back long hair, wearing a Triforce
T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Next to her is a woman with loose long hair
wearing a tank top, mini-skirt and heels, captioned "This is also a gamer."
Below it reads "How you dress does not define how much of a real gamer you
are. A gamer plays video games. The concept is not that difficult, you bunch
of territorial turbo-nerds."
Writing at the Fandom MetaReader, blogger teaberryblue brings up an excellent point  that is often overlooked in think pieces about territorial men, nerd gatekeepers and so-called "fake geek girls". Some of the common defenses offered are:

  • cosplay is just as real as any other
  • women have been playing or reading or participating just aslong as men
  • women can be real, passionate fans of things men like
... etc, etc etc. And while these and many other reasons are all correct, and all true, teaberry blue points out that they leave out some very important truths, too. They write:

 "...there are women and poc and queer people who are fans and collectors and have an incredible wealth of knowledge and shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens in fandom.
But it’s not because of that knowledge.
 
It’s because no one deserves to be treated badly or like they aren’t good enough just because they don’t meet your standards. 
It’s because there are no standards for being a fan. There are no real fans or fake fans. 
And even if you’re "not really" a fan?  If you really do just like the tee shirt design or thought a costume was cool and decided to wear it? There’s actually no rule against that.  You are not less of a human being for not knowing a lot about a character you dressed up as.  You are not less of a human being for not knowing the secret identity of the superhero on the keychain you bought because she kind of looked like you.

I think that's something that we need to remember. Fans shouldn't ultimately focus on rewrint a definition of "real fans" in order to accept that there are people out there we don’t think of as real fans who might actually be. We need to accept and embrace the idea that the "real fan" isn't a real thing.

Black Storm Troopers, White Washing & Spec Fiction

Description: In a still from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
a young black man in scuffed white storm trooper armor looks
off screen in disbelief.
Wendell Bernard Britt Jr. writes for medium.com just what John Boyega's casting in the much-anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens means not just to him personally as a fan of color, but the impact representation has on speculative fiction in particular:
I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories was watching a drive-in double feature showing of Disney’s The Lion King and Star Wars: A New Hope. My ideas of right and wrong, heroism, self-sacrifice and discipline all come from these movies... 
The first character in the trailer is a harried and exhausted looking John Boyega decked out in a Stormtrooper outfit, and I did all I could do to contain my glee. When I had heard that Boyega was cast to be in the movie, I had assumed it would be in a supporting role, much like Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian before him. Disney had just dropped 4.4 billion dollars on the franchise, and they only had 1:33 seconds to wow their entire fan-base. To waste those precious seconds on a bit character would be completely irresponsible. Then my brain caught up with what I was seeing. Was it possible that a black character is going to be the protagonist of Star Wars?
This leads him to wonder-- when black people make up 12 percent of the US population, and black people account for 13 percent of  all ticket sales nationwide, why are are there so few characters of color? What effect does that have on who's seen as a hero? What's the response? He goes on to explain that:
Occasionally an enterprising white writer will include black people in fantastical genres. When this happened white audiences tend to have explicitly negative reactions to them. Much like the general public’s reaction to a black person being cast as a Stormtrooper, Hunger Games fans took to Twitter outcrying the casting of Amandla Stenberg (black) as Rue (a character from the predominantly black 8th district from the books). 
For some Americans, understanding, empathizing with and even imagining a little black girl in a fantastical land was beyond possible. Not only did readers fail to register Rue’s blackness, they became upset when they were confronted with it on screen.
The entire article is an illuminating musing, both personal and professional, on what this split means to him, and is well worth a read.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Your Help: Need & Appreciated

I'm a prolific freelance writer on geek culture in general, and video games in particular, and have been since 2006. My writing has been published on 1up.com, featured on the front page of Yahoo.com, and in the magazine PC Gamer. I was also a weekly columnist for 411 Mania Games, a Featured Video Games Contributor for Associated Content (now Yahoo! Voices), and co-hosted the Geekly Weekly podcast for a year. I have also worked as social media consultant to small businesses, and my digital design work spans everything from role-playing game supplements to logo, t-shirt and poster design for professional wrestlers.

I just moved to a new apartment. I'm going to school part time and working two part-time jobs AND updating this blog.

I also like to help people! Some other things I do:
  • I co-host bi-annual charity fundraisers with The Baron Von Munchausen Society at Wicked Faire & The Steampunk World’s Fair
  • Advocate for strong anti-harassment policies and safe spaces at conventions that I attend
  • Organize public relations, media outreach, recorded an audio book & designed the website for a disabled dad’s disability non-profit initiative that is growing even more succeful
  • Assisted artists like macncheesecabra set up and sell artwork & t-shirts online
  • Consult with small businesses on SEO optimization
  • Wrote personal essays on being a male survivor of abuse
  • Created business cards for everyone from indie games designers to computer engineers
  • Ghost-written over 200 articles for Textbroker clients
And of course, there's The Code which I use to focus on marginalized voices and advocates more more inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures.
I want to keep doing this work, and working with & helping people and also be compensated for my time and effort. My ultimate dream is to be able to offer a bi-monthly podcast along with a blog updated every day of the week. I know times are rough for a lot of people, so I’ve set this campaign to pay monthly– no matter how much I do or produce, you’ll only be spending the amount you chose once and only once per month. Every dollar helps.

Click here to find out how you can become a Patron for as little as a dollar a month.

If you don't want a monthly commitment, you can send any amount you choose one time only by going through PayPal here, and you don't even need a paypal account.

Supporter Thanks For August 2015

Supporter Thanks For August 2015

Every month I say thanks to loyal patrons of The Code that are awesome enough to either  support The Code via Patreon (which you can do for as little as a dollar a month) or send any one-time amount via paypal.

Here are the awesome people I'm thanking this month:
  • Cargo, who had nothing to link to, but is a great dude! Thanks, Cargo.
  • Daphny Drucilla Delight David! Her Patreon is here and her blog pdoggyballs is on the blogroll!
  • Fluffy! Check out their stuff at beesbuzz.biz!

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.

Video Games Still Have Growing Up To Do

Description: Cartoonish doodles of video game box art for fictional titles
"Night Vision Mode 4", "Lord of Armor","Tank Driver" & "Sword Thong"
Jeremy Parish recently wrote in US Gamer about how he was initially excited to get a promotional email about an upcoming import game. It hit all his interest buttons: It was

  • a rougelike dungeon-crawler RPG
  • for the Playstation Vita
  • by a developer that's released a number of well-made and critically well-received games for portable systems before
...but as he read on, he became a lot less enthused. Why, well as he read on, he saw that this new game was also labeled as...
"a breast-expanding RPG." Maybe that doesn't mean what I think it means, I thought to myself as I read through the email. But no: It means exactly what it sounds like. Omega Labyrinth features a team of female warriors who go venturing into random dungeons in search of treasure, and as they grow in skill and power, their breasts increase in size, eventually straining against and even tearing through their costumes. In proper roguelike style, the heroines lose their gear when defeated; I can only assume they lose their enhanced cup sizes as well. 
Omega Labyrinth also includes an unspeakably demeaning item appraisal system. As in most roguelikes, the heroines will encounter all sorts of unknown equipment in the course of their adventures, which must be identified before you can safely use them. Other roguelikes offer various mechanisms for accomplishing this: Paying a shopkeeper, using a special scroll or spell, or the classic desperation move of use-identification. Omega Labyrinth, however, allows you to identify items by... rubbing them between your heroines' breasts. So we have Matrix, a talented studio, creating a legitimate roguelike for Vita: All good things. Then, they've drenched it with a thoroughly repellant coating. What a waste. 
Parish doesn't have a problem with the existence of games like this per se-- free market and all that. But he points out Omega Labrynth and games of its ilk are emblematic of a wider problem with the medium:
They're all a symptom of a creative medium trapped in a state of stunted maturity. The fact that video gaming's most visible treatment of sexuality boils down to cartoon games revolving primarily around strategically torn clothing and overly enthusiastic jiggle physics speaks volumes about just how arrested gaming's development has become. If games would mature — if they were allowed to mature — games like Omega Labyrinth would undoubtedly still exist, but they'd be a single facet of how the medium treats sexuality rather than being very nearly the entirety of it. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

SJW: Social Justice Witcher

Lawrence Richards, writing for gaming site The Leveller, recently took on a special challenge playing through The Witcher 3 (which we've previously discussed here):
I wanted to see if instead I could play a character whose interests were a bit less tedious than being some empty, unquestionable Nietzschean superman. I wanted to test the so-called freedom of what is clearly the most groundbreaking open world game of our generation, to see if I could reject the usual triple-A heroism and play a character who is sensitive, humble, committed to social justice rather than self-aggrandisement. 
I wanted to play a male character who could be an actual ally to the empowerment of his female co-stars, a-la the new Mad Max, rather than just the tough guy who saves them. I wanted to immerse myself in this world committed to freeing its inhabitants from their miserable feudal bondage, rather than just saving the day and making sure that the system can survive. I wanted to play a hero that Gamergate couldn’t wank over.
Giving some of the series' reputation for cringeworthy misogyny, The Witcher 3 may seem like an odd choice for Richards to try to play the character in this way. However, the developers have played up the nuanced choices available, and there are supposedly 32 different ending depending on how you play the game. Many reviews have called The Witcher 3 out as a good example of an expansive sandbox action game. With this in mind, he decided to play the game as an anarcho-feminist. Was he sucessful? Kind of.

There's also a neat little side-diversion on game economics and NPCS:

I tried to keep those ideas of money and exchange and autonomy in mind as I freed numerous entrepreneurs through the world. But ultimately it was all done in good faith, as well as a sense of resignation that there was no way for me to guarantee helping cottage industries was going to help the workers. There were very rarely apprentices, which made each smithy and merchant’s shop a kind of Ayn Rand utopia in which the only visible labour is that of the brilliant entrepreneur, the source of all value and creativity. This, though subtle, was for me one of the blandest features of the game, because it is an accidental trope rather than a philosophical decision.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments!

The Road To Silkpunk

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably heard of steampunk. I've also covered steamfunk. Author Ken Liu talks about his latest novel, and just what Silkpunk means:

Like steampunk, silkpunk is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. But while steampunk takes as its inspiration the chrome-brass-glass technology aesthetic of the Victorian era, silkpunk draws inspiration from classical East Asian antiquity. My novel is filled with technologies like soaring battle kites that lift duelists into the air, bamboo-and-silk airships propelled by giant feathered oars, underwater boats that swim like whales driven by primitive steam engines, and tunnel-digging machines enhanced with herbal lore, as well as fantasy elements like gods who bicker and manipulate, magical books that tell us what is in our hearts, giant water beasts that bring storms and guide sailors safely to shores, and illusionists who manipulate smoke to peer into opponents’ minds. 
The silkpunk technology vocabulary is based on organic materials historically important to East Asia (bamboo, paper, silk) and seafaring cultures of the Pacific (coconut, feathers, coral), and the technology grammar follows biomechanical principles like the inventions in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The overall aesthetic is one of suppleness and flexibility, expressive of the cultures that inhabit the islands. 
A lot of my ideas about this alternate technology aesthetic were inspired by W. Brian Arthur’s theories about technology, especially the notion of treating engineering as a creative art that solves problems by recombining existing machines into a new machine that achieves a new purpose — in a sense, engineering is very much like poetry.
Liu's novel, The Grace of Kings, was released to critical acclaim. I've started reading it myself, and whole-heartedly recommend it.

True Tales From The Video Game Writers' Bullpen!

from left: Clank, Ratchet. Not pictured: boxing glove.
As the adage goes, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard" and while that was coined to describe the challenge of comedy on the big screen, it's especially true when writing for the small screen, including video games. As TJ Fixon, a writer on Ratchet and Clank details to Gamasutra:
“I wrote this joke, where Ratchet and Clank are in a ship together and the designers wanted them to fall asleep so they could wake up in a new environment,“ he explained. "So this gas comes out, Ratchet goes, ‘ah cryosleep gas, I’m not gonna fall asleep!’ And of course he falls asleep. And Clank says 'oh it’s good that gas doesn’t work on robots!’ and a boxing glove pops out and knocks him out.” 
“They just started peppering me with, 'Why is this funny? What Is the joke? Where does this fall in the hero’s journey? Is this the save the cat moment?’ I’m wide-eyed and going ‘I thought, I thought it was funny I’m so sorry.’ That’s what I realized, as a game writer, you think you have this freedom, but you don’t. There are so many constraints and so many moving pieces, and from then on out I was hyper-aware that any time you write anything in a script, that changes the game for 20 different departments.” 
What dialogue do the writers interviewed say they dreaded having to write the most? Believe it or not, it was ambient dialogue:
Druckmann, seeing Krawczyk’s putting a finger gun to her head at the mention of ambient dialogue, asked all three to share the most difficult part of their writing process, and for all three, the biggest nightmare was bark dialogue, (ambient dialogue enemies shout to alert players to gameplay clues), and expository directives (characters muttering to themselves something like “I need to go through that door!”)
The entire article is an entertaining and illuminating read, so I encourage you to check it out!

Harry Potter and the Invisible People of Color

Description: From left to right are screenshot of the character of Lavender Brown from the Harry
Potter movie series In the first two pictures, she is played by a black girl. In the 3rd picture, the character
is portrayed by a white girl. A comment sarcastically asks "Did she get a haircut".
The Harry Potter film series has been a worldwide blockbuster, spanning 8 films and a cornucopia of related merchandising tie-ins. The entire series has many allegories for hatred, genocide and racism. Which, as the Every Word Spoken project points out, is really weird considering that there are so few characters of color in the movie series, and the characters of color that are in the movie barely have any speaking lines. They released a video supercut tallying up how much screen and speaking time people of color got across the entire 19 hours & 39 minutes of the films. POC speaking time, in comparison, was just a little over 5 minutes and 40 seconds. Here's the video:



The tally:
  • Total POC talk time: 5 minutes and 40 seconds
  • Total run time of all films: 1,207 minutes
  • That comes out to 0.47% of screen time in which POCs speak throughout the entire series. This is split among 12 characters and 13 actors (Parvati Patil was played by two actors, Sitara Shah & Shefali Chowdhury)
  • Of these 12 characters, 2 were CGI bodies voiced by POC actors (Firenze & Shrunken Head)
  • On average, each POC character speaks for 28.33 seconds. 
The books aren't that much better, sadly. Looking at the 200 most mentioned characters in the series, here’s what you’ll find:

  • Number of POC characters: 9 (4.5%): Cho Chang, Dean Thomas, Angelina Johnson, Parvati Patil, Lee Jordan, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Blaise Zabini, Padma Patil, Hassan Mostafa 
  • Number of POC characters in the top 50: 2 (#44 Cho Chang, #45 Dean Thomas)
  • Number of non-human characters in the top 200: 26 (13%)
  • (4 more characters are described as being part giant or part veela, but are white-appearing.)
As they point out this means that even in the books, there is better representation of centaurs, house-elves, giants, and goblins in this series than there are of human characters of color. Dobby and Kreacher in particular get way more page time and deeper character development than any of the POC characters. And unlike the series you can't fixit by waving a wand, but maybe we can address it better by pointing it out so the next fantasy series has plenty of different kids from all sorts of backgrounds, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What Designers Really Need To Learn From Metroid

Metroid for the NES and Super Metroid for the Super NES are two of the most influential video games ever made.

The games' non-linear progression, solo exploration and action based gameplay have, along with Konami's Castlevania series, influenced so many action-platformer games that therm term "Metroidvania" was coined in video game reviews to describe the genre. The Internet is chock-a-block with all sorts of indie game plaftformers that display their Metroid influence proudly. But, as Maddy Meyers explain, just because you can count Metroid as an influence doesn't mean your game is automatically as good:

Take Shadow Complex, for example, a “metroidvania” that is obsessively similar to Super Metroid in terms of play-style—except that it’s 2.5D instead of 2D, so the world feels a bit more layered and packed out with compelling new surfaces to scale. That said, for a game that supposedly takes its influence from Metroid, Shadow Complex falls wildly short in terms of aesthetics, narrative and nuance. The plot follows Jason, a bland-as-a-plain-bagel man whose girlfriend gets kidnapped right out of the gate by shadowy soldiers. The game’s artists gave Jason a far more boring existence than Samus Aran’s, overall. Instead of beautifully designed, vibrant, unique armor and towering, glorious alien architecture, Jason gets black-and-gray suits and bland warehouse crates and hallways. (He doesn’t even strip down to a bright red swimsuit at the end of the game, either.)

So what makes Metroid stand out? Why is it so important as a game?
The reason why Metroid and Super Metroid work, at least in part, is because they evoke a fearful feeling of exploring and surviving, as well as a sensation of not-belonging, of being lost, and of rebuilding oneself piece by piece. Samus fights a cyclical, endless war on familiar battlegrounds; she goes on unglamorous, personal quests, often with little institutional support (in contrast to heroes like Master Chief or Marcus Fenix, who spend their campaigns being loudly lauded and supported.) Metroid is dark, and not in a cheesy way—in a mournful, slow, deliberate way. 
The fact that Samus is a woman matters, and it has always mattered, but that’s not the only element missing from contemporary Metroid imitators. The other missing pieces are even sadder: the lack of emotional nuance and depth, the shying away from the grit of loneliness, the dark existential depth of outer space, and the murky waters of motherhood (incidentally, videogames already do dads plenty—but only Metroid and Portal have even come close to tackling “mommy issues”.)
Meyers also goes into a very insightful breakdown of the movies Alien, Aliens, and Terminator 2 and how Metroid is the video game that comes closest to capturing the sci-fi feel of these movies.

Have you played a game that lives up to the Metroid legacy? Is it even possible? Sound off below.

YA Books & The John Green Problem

Fiction for young adults is seemingly booming. YA lit sections in chain bookstores seem to keep increasing in size, the number of eager readers grow yearly, and YA writer John Green's novel The Fault In Our Stars was adapted into a box-office success in a movie adaption of the same name. As the Daily Dot pointed out earlier this year though, he's endemic of a larger genre-wide problem:
On Twitter, Green has 2 million followers. Compared to the rest of the leaders in Young Adult fiction, that number is staggering. To approach even half the Twitter influence of John Green all by himself, you need an entire army of YA women. AndersonBlume,DessenVeronica Roth, Cassandra ClareRichelle MeadMargaret StohlKami Garcia,Rainbow RowellMaureen JohnsonMalinda LoHolly BlackLJ SmithEllen Hopkins,Shannon HaleLauren MyracleLibba BrayMelissa Marr, and Leigh Bardugo: As a group these women only have about 1.2 million followers on Twitter. That’s the voice of one man outweighing several decades of women who have had major successes, critical acclaim, and cultural influence. 
The problem of the cultural influence his books have created is not Green’s fault, but it’s created a frustrating situation for female writers and readers. Book blogger Rhiannon K. Thomas issued a sweeping takedown of the way the NYT bestseller list is stacked against female authors, many of whom write series, which are automatically moved to the “Children’s Series” list, out of the YA category altogether. She also pointed out that when men like Green aren’t writing YA, the media perception of it suddenly changes. Instead of being high literature, it suddenly becomes a shallow, frivolous genre that only silly teenagers and unfulfilled housewives participate in—just like the romance genre sans Sparks.
While John green himself has also done loads of things that are actually harmful to the audience he's writing for-- like reducing the death of Anne Frank to a mere prop, or taking a teenage girl's post discussing how the author's online presence makes her feel uncomfortable to mean he was accused of being a pedophile-- I think it's part of a larger systematic inequality. 

Whether you look at books, comic books, film or television, women are under-represented and outmatched. This is especially troubling because it leads to the FALSE idea that not only are there no women writers, creators or taste-makers, but that half the planet can just be ignored or dismissed and wouldn't want to see themselves represented anyhow.

DIY Steampunk Mouse Project

Description: A computer mouse with a light wood finish &
2 wooden buttons, with a cord trailing out of frame.
I've wanted to do something like this for years, ever since I saw hobbyists do complicated and expensive things like make brass typewriter-style keyboards and oak wood PC case mods.... figure out how to make a working wooden computer mouse. Thanks to this Maker guide, now you too can like your dream of making a wooden-case mouse like some sort of techno-druid, rustic log cabin hacker, or Steampunk enthusiast.

And it's all pretty simple and straightforward-- all you need is a cheapo USB mouse (for the electronics), a small block of wood, two tiny buttons and optionally, 2 wooden dowels. Read on to see how you can end up with a mouse like the above picture.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Are MMORPG Players Dying So Suddenly?

The Guardian presents an in-depth article on the curious case of Chen Rong-yu, a League of Legends layer who spent nearly a full day at a Taiwanese internet cafe, playing nearly non-stop before he slumped over at his keyboard, dead of an apparent heart attack. Chen's unfortunate demise seems to be part of a marked uptick in many hardcore players of MMO games quite literally playing a game until they drop. And the causes leading to this alarming increase in player deaths have many different causes and complications all intermingling together. As The Guardian writes in its feature article:
It’s not a crime that can be easily pinned on any one person or thing. There’s Taiwan’s local economy and infrastructure, which promote the extended use of internet cafes. There are the natural conditions of the country’s humid climate. There’s the lack of regulation with regard to how long people can use these cafes and, of course, there are the video games themselves, which promote prolonged engagement through their elegant, compelling design. 
But there is another, more pressing, more interesting question that arches over all of these, one that is, perhaps, more relevant to the billions of people around the world who play video games and don’t wind up dead from doing so: why? 
What is it about this medium that encourages some people to play games to the extremes of their physical wellbeing and beyond? Why do video games inspire such monumental acts of obsession? Is it something within the game’s reality that proves so appealing or is it external circumstances that push certain people to take refuge in a cosy unreality? 
The entire article is a well researched peice, and offers an intriguing, if also perplexing and disturbing look at the darker side of risk-reward centered game design along with MMOs and isolation.

Abandoned Virtual College Campuses In Second Life

Description: In the middle of a virtual beach is docked a cartoonishly
rendered pirate ship, complete with a large skull and crossbones flag.
Close to a decade ago, everyone from web forums to the Wall Street Journal were going gaga over the apparent possibilities available in the virtual MMO sandbox environment Second Life. Amongst the clamor from people interested in joining a virtual gold rush, living out vampire roleplay idea, cybering with a robot or griefing newbies, a number of colleges snapped up ownership of virtual land to set up virtual campuses. Writing for Fusion, Patrick Hogan decided to see if any of these virtual campuses were still standing... and if so, what sort of things he'd find in these abandoned virtual campuses? The findings were equal parts mundane and bizarre (like the pirate ship pictured at left that held a rather plain looking conference lounge). As Hogan writes:

I actually like how most of these islands represent an attempt by education institutions to embrace the weirdness of the web. The current crop of education startups seem bland and antiseptic in comparison to these virtual worlds. I can’t take a Coursera class on a pirate ship, or attend office hours in front of an edX campfire. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing. But it makes the web slightly less interesting.
Interestingly enough, the impending release of the Occulus Rift to the commercial market might breathe some new life into Second Life.

Devil Dinosaur Returns With New Friend, Series

Description: Illustration of a young black girl leaning forward to kiss the
snout of a red dinosaur several times larger than she is, the dino's sharp teeth
prominently visible in frame.
In the late 1970s, legendary comic artist Jack Kirby created a short-lived comic series for Marvel- Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur. Decades later, Devil Dinosaur returns in a new series: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. While the original series took place in an alternate Earth where Neanderthal-like cave people lived side by side with dinosaurs, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur places the titular dino in modern-day New York City, where he befriends Lunelle Lafayette, aka Moon Girl.

So what was the inspiration to revive a decades-old, somewhat obscure Marvel comic book series? Why bring a dinosaur to NYC? As Assistant Editor Emily Shaw explains in an interview with Entertainment Weekly's Andrea Towers, there was something she and the series writer noticed when looking at Marvel's current line-up:

“Mark and I were talking about how whenever people come in with young kids, or even just for Mark’s own kids, we don’t have that many publications that we can give to people that have that broad reach,” Shaw explained to EW. “Generally, we’re skewing a little bit older with a lot of our titles and we wanted to create something that adults and kids could really love, like a Pixar feel. That’s where the tone jumped off for us.”

And the artist Natcha Busto adds that she sees the introduction of Lunelle Lafayette as someone that she wished she could have seen growing up as an artist and comic fan herself:
“For decades now, we have seen more independent publishers taking a gamble on diversification, but always within the underground scene,” she explained. “It’s really important that the mainstream throws up new references like these and it’s an honor to be a part of that change that Marvel is bringing to the comic book creative landscape. A greater number of readers are looking for characters they can identify with, and above all, with the aim that any reader, whatever their background or lifestyle, is capable of transcending their own identities to see themselves in a mirror of entertainment for 20 or 30 minutes without any difference.”
With a talented roster, an interesting concept, and plenty of excitement surrounding the title, this is one comic series I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye out for.

Whoops! My bad, everyone.

Description: A cartoon drawing of a puppy that has pulled a power cord
from a wall socket. The title card reads "Technical difficulties. Please stand by."
Hey everyone. There weren't any posts on the ol' blog-stead last week, and it was due to a mistake on my part. I wrote up a bunch of entries and queued them all to post during the week... I meant for them to post last week. They were set to post THIS week.

But that means a rare treat for you, dear readers. Today will have 3 posts and the rest of the week will have 4 posts a day to catch up.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why "I Don't See An Author's Race" Is BS

DescriptionL A young white man and a young black woman are facing one another, with the white man covering the black woman's eyes and the black woman covering the white man's eyes, preventing them from seeing each other.

Tumblr user theawesomersace (whom you might also know as part of The Awesome Sauce on BookRiot) discovered something interesting recently after two similar tweets were responded to in very different ways. The first tweet simply asked their followers to name their favorite science fiction or fantasy author of color. Later in the afternoon, they asked twitter to name their favorite white science fiction and fantasy authors, and the responses she got this time were altogether different and unexpected:
Some people thought I was being sarcastic. Others said that is was a terrible way to label an author. "I hope I’m never labeled that way"... “I don’t see color," "I just read good books," "I don’t know what color my favorite authors are," "What does an author’s race have to do with anything?...  people either didn’t like me labeling white authors as white or they thought race was unimportant when discussing authors or they didn’t like having to admit that they had a favorite white author.
I remember a bunch of similar responses a few years ago, when during the usual pre-game banter in my gaming group, I mentioned I noticed I hadn't been reading any authors of color without even realizing it, so I went looking for some and found some really great fantasy and sci-fi! Before I could even begin to talk about books themselves, others in my group (all white) had pretty much the same reaction. I see it all too often in discussing race in creative works, and I used to believe it too: "Oh, I just read stuff. I don't notice race. I'm colorblind."

They put forth the idea that this ideal that isn't really ideal is present in society at large which is why it "... so heavily influences our current publishing climate, is the belief that by default an author is white unless otherwise specified [and] why authors of color are shunted off to imprints and shelves marked "Certain Marginalized Group" Literature and why discussions of “quality” and “taste” center around a white, masculine narrative.  This is the key to why representation within publishing is so dismal: there are (white) authors and then there are all of the other special categories. And when we’ve checked a box in one of those other special categories, we’re done.

To be colorblind at this moment means that you aren’t willing to take any of that background into account when choosing something to read... White is not the default. And we all need to work better to make sure that is reflected in the media we consume. "

So, readers, what are your thoughts? What are you doing in your nedia and reading habits to change things, even if just for yourselves?

NK Jemisin On Fantasy Worlds & Status Quo

Cover for the collection "The Inheritance
Trilogy" by N.K. Jemisin
There was a great interview in The Guardian last week with one of my favorite fantasy writers-- N. K. Jemisin. I first heard of her during the whole racefail 09 debacle. But she didn't just rest on her laurels. She's not just been continuing to write novels and novellas, but also working with other POC to confront racism and sexism in the industry head on.

In part of the interview she talks about how so much of epic fantasy and science fiction seems to end up reinforce a lot of industry and genre status quo in particular as well as the status quo for viewpoints and stories told in general. She puts forth the idea that not only is that contrary to the nature of fantasy, it is contrary to who she is as an author, and person, and why she seeks to challenge and change with her writing:
 “As a black woman, I have no particular interest in maintaining the status quo. Why would I? The status quo is harmful, the status quo is significantly racist and sexist and a whole bunch of other things that I think need to change. With epic fantasy there is a tendency for it to be quintessentially conservative, in that its job is to restore what is perceived to be out of whack... I hear all the excuses: things were just like that back then. There really were 90% men in medieval Europe and they were all white and somehow they magically got silk from East Asia and we don’t know how that happened... But that makes no sense to me. I don’t really understand why so many fantasy writers choose to focus on worlds that just seem strangely denuded. But to them I guess it doesn’t seem strange. And I guess that’s their privilege. It isn’t mine.” 
For some concrete examples, of Nemisin's work, the collection pictured aboce, is an amazing series of stories, with action and intrigue, alliances and betrayals set in a far-future fantasy Egypt-like kingdom. It was nominated for, and won a pile of awards, and rightly so!  If you'd like to get a good idea of what her writing style is like for free, you can read her story "Non-Zero Probability" here. It;s available in both text and audio versions.

Monday, August 3, 2015

How (And Why) You Can Help!



I have over 13 years of experience in graphic design and web design & have been a prolific freelance writer on geek culture in general, and video games in particular, since 2006. My writing was published on 1up.com, featured on the front page of Yahoo.com, and in the magazine PC Gamer. I was also a weekly columnist for 411 Mania Games, a Featured Video Games Contributor for Associated Content (now Yahoo! Voices), and co-hosted the Geekly Weekly podcast for a year with James Neives, Staff Editor for the New York Times Photo Desk.
I have also worked as social media consultant to small businesses, and my digital design work spans everything from role-playing game supplements to logo, t-shirt and poster design for professional wrestlers.

I also like to help people! Some other things I do
  • I co-host bi-annual charity fundraisers with The Baron Von Munchausen Society at Wicked Faire & The Steampunk World’s Fair
  • Advocate for strong anti-harassment policies and safe spaces at conventions that I attend
  • Helped organize public relations, media outreach, recorded an audio book & designed the website for a disabled dad’s disability non-profit initiative. It was so successful he's been invited back this year and is teaming up on future .
  • Assisted artists like macncheesecabra set up and sell artwork & t-shirts online
  • Consult with small businesses on SEO optimization
  • Wrote personal essays on being a male survivor of abuse
  • Created business cards for everyone from indie games designers to computer engineers
  • Ghost-written over 200 articles for Textbroker clients
And of course, there's The Code which I use to focus on marginalized voices and advocates more more inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures.
I want to keep doing this work, and working with & helping people and also be compensated for my time and effort. My ultimate dream is to be able to offer a bi-monthly podcast along with a blog updated every day of the week. I know times are rough for a lot of people, so I’ve set this campaign to pay monthly– no matter how much I do or produce, you’ll only be spending the amount you chose once per month.

Click here to find out how you can become a Patron for as little as a dollar a month.

I have just moved to a new place, and am looking for work while dropping to part-time in college. If you want to help out but don't want the monthly commitment, you can also make a one-time donation of any amount by clicking the donate button in the sidebar. Thanks!

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