Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Admin Note: Light posting for the next week

Hey all. This week is going to be centered on me moving and getting set up in some new digs and then next week from July 2-5th I'm gonna be running a number of events at Dexcon 18 in Morristown, NJ. There may be a post or two queued up between now and then but otherwise I'll be back tothe regular schedule afterwards. I'll still make sure to thank my Patrons, so if you wanted to get in on that Patreon action, now's the time to do it before the new month!

In the meantime, please check out the sites and writers linked from the blogroll on the right-hand side. They're all super neato and have the official The Code Seal of Approval.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Space Weird Thing: Charming Take On David Bowie's "Space Oddity"

Randall Munroe draws funny pictures. He also writes books. One book he wrote is named "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words" and is all about explaining large ideas using only the ten hundred most used words. On YouTube, one group of people who like music and the funny pictures with words he drew called "Up Goer Five" made "Space Weird Thing", a do it yourself moving picture with music to take on a David Bowie song. It is very well done and I wanted to share it with all of you, too!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Discworld Series Will End This Fall

Terry Pratchett in 2011. Photograph: Tom Pilston
Courtesy of The Independent/REX
The last book in the Discworld series completed by the late Terry Pratchett last summer, "The Shepard's Crown", will be released September 10th of this year in the United Kingdom. According to Rhianna Pratchett, Terry's daughter and custodian of her father's works, it will also be the last Discworld novel ever, out of respect to her father's legacy, as she explained in a series:

There were rumors that a follow-up to "Raising Steam", which Mr. Pratchett announced he was working on last year but did not complete before his death, would be finished by a co-writer like Stephen Baxter, his co-writer on the "Long Earth" series. Pratchett did finish his contributions to the latest "Long Earth" series, entitled "The Long Utopia", which will be published in the UK tomorrow, with a US release date planned soon after.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Guest Post: Puppies Crying Bitter Tears

Description: Screenshot of tweets with hashtag "New Hugo
Categories" from Foz &Arthur Chu: "Best UNcritical Use of
1950s Gender Roles In Story Set 2000 Years In Future", "Best
Non-White Protagonist Portrayed By White Model On Cover" &
"The Dan Simmons Award For Best Time Traveller From
Future Telling You All Your Political Opinions Are Right".
Friend of the blog Ria, of Bibliotropic, had a lot to say about the spate of what the Puppies rhetoric has meant for them  personally as well as the field of writing in general recently. The Code is proud to present the following guest post from Ria. I also stand by everything they say here. Warning: contans swears.

"I dislike the both Puppy litter ideologies. I talked a bit about why last year, long before this current Puppy debacle began, with a post about Correia's comments on diversity in SFF. For those who don't want to read a long post about it, in a nutshell, someone who is now very strongly identified with the Puppies said, a while back, that including nonbinary characters and other forms of diversity in SFF would make for bad fiction, because doing so would come across solely as message fiction and remove any entertainment value. I objected to that, since what that amounts to in a practical sense is to erase people like me from having representation in fiction. The insinuation is that people such as myself aren't of any real value to have our stories, nor does anyone want to actually read about us or have us around. It's insulting, and it's dehumanizing.

So when this round of Puppy problems started, I admit I was already pretty inclined to dislike them, given that my experience of one of their figureheads was that he thinks people like me shouldn't play a central role in his beloved genre. And the more I read about what they stood for, the more my hackles rose. Accusations that women, people of colour, QUILTBAG folk were only getting nominations for awards due to affirmative action are galling, since what they essentially say is that these people getting nominations aren't actually as good as that straight white male over there and are only getting nominated because of quotas that need filling. If it wasn't for those quotas, that nomination would rightfully go to a dude. Comments that because certain of their books or series were popular with a certain crowd and sold well, they should totally be eligible for more award nominations. (Because quantity equals quality, I guess.)

There may be no AWARD for such well-selling books, but there is a REWARD. It's called a paycheque. A paycheque you get for doing a thing you love, which is something many people don't get to experience in their lives. That isn't to say that people with well-selling books don't deserve more than a simple paycheque. It's awesome to have fans, fan experiences, interaction, the knowledge that you're doing something people enjoy. Maybe there ought to be an award for the SFF book that sells the most copies in a year, I dunno. (Then, I suspect, there'd be a cry-out about how books released toward the end of a year just didn't have a chance, and look how many they sold the next year, so they should totally have won that award after all. Nobody gets everything.)

The problem I see with most of the Puppy stuff is that their message seems very unclear. First it appeared to be, "The Hugos are a stupid award full of politics I disagree with and all given to books I don't want to write or read. ...So how come I never win one?" Then it started to be about affirmative action accusations, about women and non-white and non-straight people swooping in and stealing awards that should go to more deserving folk. Then the hypocrisies really started coming to light, where Puppies would insult authors they disagreed with, very personally, but as soon as there was any retaliation against even their politics they'd cry defamation and abuse. At the end of it all, what I can see is that the Puppies stand for only the Puppies, and to hell with anything else. And by "to hell with," I mean largely that they'll insult and threaten people who don't toe the Puppy party line. it's fine and dandy for someone to come in and defend the Puppies and say, "Look, all they're saying is that they think their works should be judged as being just as valid as anyone else's, and that people are free to do as they please so long as he can do the same."

Sounds good on paper. And utterly out of context.

Because major Puppy authors are being allowed to write and publish the books they do. They're not being blocked from selling them. They may not qualify for awards, but hell, so do the vast majority of books published in a year. Big damn deal. The idea that everyone should have an award is a very liberal thing, and given that the Puppies seem to have a beef with politically liberal things, you'd think they'd be a bit more on board with a meritocracy. Nobody is imposing their ideals on the Puppies. The world can, amazingly, have multiple things in it, some of which by default disagree with other things. But the accusations made by them are harmful. Painful. Dismissive. And are largely focused on gender issues, sexuality, race, and a whole load of other things that make people say yes, there's some godsdamn bigotry happening here.

People love to say that so-and-so can't possibly be racist because they have black friends. Okay, so, by that logic, no heterosexual man can be sexist if they're married to a woman. Oh, wait, LOGIC DOES NOT COMPUTE! Someone can have black friends and still be racist. And since what a person writes and what a person believes aren't always walking along hand-in-hand, a person can also write about a black woman being just as kick-ass as a white man, but when they throw out n-word jokes at parties, sorry, that's still being racist.

I think some of the major Puppy supporters miss what a lot of people miss about prejudice. They hear the word sexism and assume that sexism comes in only one form: overt. You're only really sexist if you state that women are inferior to men and they shouldn't be allowed to do man things and should stay at home and quietly raise the kids. If you don't believe that, then you're totes not sexist. Except that sexism can also come in the form of believing that a woman only got an award nomination because she's a woman, which has the unspoken opinion that she didn't get it because she did something worthwhile. And since gender is brought into it, what's also unspoken is that she didn't do something as well as a man. Which means the award should rightfully go to men.

Sometimes bigotry is about what you don't say. It's about what you don't even think consciously. Sometimes this shit is so ingrained in you, thanks to a hundred and one different factors, that you don't even realise you're denigrating someone. Likewise, with racism and thinking you're only a racist if you want to bring back lynchings and banning black people from being around white people. There's no other way to be racist. Except that there is, and many of the Puppy opinions about race are very damn racist.

Surely there's going to be someone who wants to jump in and say, "Oh, fine, so you think all straight white men are worthless and wrong all the time, then." And no, I don't. And it's just a little bit ridiculous to say so. It's a bizarre extrapolation from my arguments. The fact that some straight white men have done some shitty-ass things doesn't make them wrong about everything. Just in the same way that I'm transgender doesn't make me right about everything. Including things involving gender politics.

Changing the subject a little, another thing that weirds me out about Puppy stuff? The way they seem to think that the Hugos have this liberal bias toward books that only talk about what liberals want talked about, and how nobody's actually reading these books. And how the voters at Worldcon are some elite subgroup of liberals who earned their voting privileges by, I dunno, helping an elderly Asian woman across the street to get to her ACA-funded doctor's appointment or something. That stuff straight-up ignores facts that are easily corrected. 30 seconds on Google will net you dozens of reviews for these books, showing that yes, people are reading them. Got the money to go to Worldcon? Great, here are your rights to vote on the Hugos and make your voice heard. It's not like you have to pass a liberal test or something in order to get these things. You pay money. And you read books. So the idea that books are winning a prestigious award when nobody's reading them because they suck so bad is just a touch ridiculous.

People have pointed this out before. I'm not the first. But this info seems to slide off people on the Puppy side of the fence because it doesn't mesh with what they see. It's not a flawless system. No system is. But some accusations are very easily refutable, and I'm not even sure where they came from beyond, "I'm not winning this award, so it must be a conspiracy against my politics." At the end of all this, I want the whole damn thing to be over. I want people to stop insulting each other for daring to like a different subset of SFF than they do. There's room for a lot of opinions here. A lot.

And that includes both conservative "men doing manly things" fiction AND fiction involving nonbinary people in stories that look like they can right out of a liberal buzzword dictionary. Doesn't make either of them good or bad by default. That's the trick for the author to manage. You can make a terrible idea into a good story, and a great idea into a terrible story. So yeah, I dislike the Puppies on both a personal and political level, because they're largely insulting, ignorant, and seem like they'd be a lot happier if people like me shut our mouths and let them get on with doing what they do unopposed, but damn, am I ever eager for this bullshit to stop!"

Ria is an agender ex-pat Brit currently living on the east coast of Canada, along with 5 cats and a glorified budgie named Albert. When not reading and reviewing books on bibliotropic.net, Ria can often be found obsessively playing video games, being an amateur photographer, or experimenting with various fibre arts.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road In 60 Seconds

Hey all, I've been a little under the weather this weekend I'll be a bit busy the next day or so assisting my Roommate To Be in getting up the new apartment,so posting might be a little light. In the meantime,please enjoy this excellent fan video which gives a succinct summation of Mad Max: Fury Road in just under a minute:

That's it. That's the movie, folks!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Tor Books Threw Its Women Employees Under The Bus

Description: Drawing of a hand with index finger raised
and other fingers clenched in a fist. Text beneath it reads "That
finger's wagging at you.
Irene Gallo is the creative director of  science-fiction publisher Tor Books, as well the associate publisher of its sister website Tor.com. Tor.com has been praised for its diversity and its depth of authors featured and its breadth of stories,articles and other material, and a lot of that can be attributed to her at the helm. I have alluded to another science fiction group:the self-described "Sad Puppies" and the "Rabid Puppies".

Those were two groups (one of them led by a hack white surpremicist) that felt that "social justice warriors" were flooding Hugo Award nominations with nominations and crowding out deserving writers, so the groups' counter-action was... to abuse nomination rules to push a slate of nominations and crowd out deserving writers, up to and including recruiting GamerGaters.

Irene Gallo made a statement on her personal Facebook page when asked for her take on the Puppies: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

So the Rabid and Sad Puppies supporters flooded her boss, the publisher of Tor, Tom Doherty. So he felt the need to address the remarks made on her personal Facebook page by... throwing her under the bus and apologizing to the spurned Puppies. Don't read the comments unless you like wading through crap.

There are two paragraphs in his official statement as publisher of Tor that stand out:
“In short, we seek out and publish a diverse and wide ranging group of books. We are in the business of finding great stories and promoting literature and are not about promoting a political agenda... Tor employees, including Ms. Gallo, have been reminded that they are required to clarify when they are speaking for Tor and when they are speaking for themselves. We apologize for any confusion Ms. Gallo’s comments may have caused. 
Let me reiterate: the views expressed by Ms. Gallo are not those of Tor as an organization and are not my own views. Rest assured, Tor remains committed to bringing readers the finest in science fiction – on a broad range of topics, from a broad range of authors.”
What's odd is that Editor at Tor Books Patrick Neilsen Hayden called the Sad Puppies evil. Best aelling author John Scalzi-- yes the same John Scalzi that signed a 10 year deal with Tor Books for 3.4 million-- has publicly feuded with Vox Day (the white supremacist behind the Rabid Puppies slate) and called him a bigot. Neither of these high profile men had these actions or statements repudiated in public statements from Tom Doherty.

In fact,Tom Doherty's been quiet about a lot of things done by men at Tor. It’s also worth noting that Jim Frenkel, who sexually harassed and assaulted multiple women - including authors, fans, SF community members and editors got to keep his job, even though high-level people at Tor knew about his harassment. In fact, it took Elise Matthesen going public with her account of being harassed by Frenkel at WisCon, for Tor do anything...and that "anything" was allowing Frenkel to resign instead of being fired.Tom Doherty never released any statements on the matter.

Author K. Tempest Bradford weighs in on the matter, also pointing out that:
One thing I forgot and Mary Kowal reminded me of this morning: a Tor employee in the contracts department attacked and harassed her online over SFWA stuff a year or so ago. He backed off after what was assumed a talk from the Tor legal department, but that was only assumed. Did Tom Doherty issue a blog post about how Tor employees are supposed to act and how they need to make it clear that they are not speaking for Tor at that point? No, he did not. Even though the employee in question mentioned that he worked at Tor in contracts and had to grit his teeth or something every time he had to deal with hers. Because Mary is a goddamned Tor author... How is this supposed to make Tor authors feel? What kind of workplace/professional atmosphere is Doherty creating with this nonsense?
It seems to me that he wants women working for Tor to be seen and not heard.

Austin Walker On Video Game Critics & Influence

Description: The word JUDGE looms over a stick figure drawing
of a person frowning at a computer monitor, hands steepled.
Austin Walker has been a hot new hire for video game website Giant Bomb,and with his latest essay for the site, it's not hard to see why. In his latest editorial in the "Why We Write Series", he tackles the importance of critique, the reasons behind it and the influence of games criticism and games as entertainment.

First of all, he wants to dispel the notion of critics trying to "force changes" on unwary developers:
So, what if instead of thinking about all of this in terms of a binary relationship (either a critic forces someone to do something or they don’t), we thought about this on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is absolute disconnect from influence: A writer pens long form essays about how developers should always do whatever they want. On the other end of the spectrum is critical work demanding that devs actually be “forced” to do things. But most critique exists in between those two extremes. 
He also puts the boots to two other ideas behind pulling punches when it comes to criticism of games-- targeting and timing:

When we note that a game is filled with slurs and offensive caricatures, we’re told that we should be less offended because, hey, it's just satire. When we point out how a game leverages a history of racialized, coded imagery to elicit fear, people link us to wiki articles and explain the deep lore as justification. When a game made me spend a half hour of my real time every day just to keep my skin color on point, I was told that, no no, of course games have a problem with race, but why did I have to go after Animal Crossing...
Yes, writing about diversity and The Witcher 3 is especially complicated because of the perspectives involved. Polish history is filled with outsider groups minimizing, controlling, ignoring, and erasing the nation's unique ethnic and cultural character. At the same time, people of color in white-dominant spaces have struggled to develop the vocabularies of critical race studies and post-colonialism only to then be told to mind their tone. These things mix here in an especially volatile way. But this doesn't mean that we should shy away from addressing it, afraid of stepping on toes, afraid of what we don't know. It means we step forward in good faith, with sympathy for the other perspective, and with a willingness to incorporate the complexities of someone else's view.

He also covers ideas of American standards, media influencers, and the emotional core that drives him to write. A great read.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sherlock, Watson & Chainmail Bikinis

Description: A red-haired woman warrior locked in combat
with a lizard monster taller than she is. She holds a shield
to defend against attacks, sword ready to strike.  The armor
she is wearing is a chain mail bikini, leaving much of her body
exposed to attack.
There are two terms in literary criticism that have been used in the wider world of media fandom and fiction critiques: Watsonian and Doylian. Watsonian means looking at something from an in-universe perspective. For example: "Sherlock Holmes died in that story because he fell off a cliff," would be a Watsonian explanation. "Sherlock Holmes died because the author was sick of writing stories about the detective and wanted to start something new," would be a Doylian perspective, named after the author of the Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first used on a Bujold-Master fan discussion list and spread from there. It's basically making a difference between talking about something a character says or does and how it fits with the character's fictional world, and why or how the writer's choices fit into our real life life culture, society and circumstances.

There can be a bit of a problem in discussions of fiction when a Watsonian (in-universe) perspective is used to dismiss a Doylian (real world) criticism, and nowhere is that more apparent in both tabletop and gaming circles than the trope of the Warrior Woman Who Fights In A Chainmail Bikini.

The chainmail bikini has been a staple of pulp fantasy art since the 1930s, and has appeared in one form or another in the art and character designs of fantasy novels,tabletop games and video games ever since. Take the cover art for Runequest up there. An in-universe explanation for why the character chooses to wear a chainmail bikini because she feels powerful, almost invincible in battle, and doesn't think she really needs to wear practical armor, so what's the big deal? That would be a Watsonian view.

Description: Video game renders of characters in
armor.On the left,a woman wears armor that covers
armor covering her hands, feet, legs& shoulders while
barely covering her crotch and breasts & exposed
midriff. At right, a male character in armor leaving
nothing exposed but his head.
But the artist or character designer choosing to draw her or portray her that way isn't a value-neutral choice when you look at it in a Doylist (real world) sense. Sure, in the fictional world the story takes place she's Druscilla the Invincible and her bikini symbolizes her fearlessness. But the character also exists as part of a whole trope of chainmail bikini women in fantasy battlefields that have the men warriors decked out in armor from head to toe. And THAT exists among a tradition and media landscape showing women dressed like that merely acting as decoration for men who look like the traditional badass power fantasy. In-universe, the chainmail bikini could represent the character's choice to show fearlessness. In the real world, it is the artist who is choosing to create this look for a character, and those depictions mean something else entirely.

So yes, you can totally appreciate and acknowledge just how awesome Druscilla is in her story
setting. You can't, however, make the context for her portrayal and her appearance vanish or ignore it just because you happen to like her story or her character. So if someone points out how that portrayal in the wider world is sexist, and you counter with "This armor has a practical advantage and it's the character herself choosing to wear it!" you are trying to counter a Doylian crtique with a Watsonian explanation, and that doesn't quite work. Someone pointing out the inherent sexism in chainmail bikini art and representation is also about everything else in fiction in specific and society in general that that bikini can represent. If you're bombarded with those images and these portrayals amongst the constant sea of objectification of women, and you're a woman, you can't just not exists in the world you're living in and you can't just un-see it.

When someone points out issues with sexism in a game, it doesn't make the people who play it bad people. It doesn't make the artists or writers bad people either (though it might show them to be making lazy decisions). Critiquing elements of a game isn't an attack on the game or an attack on people playing it. Criticism of something you like isn't an attack on you. And this isn't just limited to video games.As recently as 2013, the The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's (SFWA) magazine The Bulletin generated controversy with its cheesecake cover of a woman in a chainmail bikini...on the heels of editorials and columns written talking about "lady editors" and rating women solely on attractiveness and how Barbie should be a role model to women in sci-fi and fantasy because she was "dignified".

Most people protesting what they see as gratuitous elements don't want to see things banned and certainly aren't trying to censor anybody (besides, censorship is something only a government body can do)-- they'd just like it to not be the default. It would be cool to have the default be something other that just skimpy or revealing attire. It'd be nice to get a break from the constant objectification. And these critiques can open up the door to considering other things we take for granted. Why not a lithe man calling himself Dru the Invincible wading into battle in naught but a thong? Does that seem silly to you, but not so much if it were Drucilla in her chainmail bikini? Why not?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Gaming Design With Kids In Mind: A How To

To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, play is the the "work" of children. And whether you are a game designer, a child psychologist, a user experience researcher, or are conducting playtesting, knowing how to approach this sort of gaming study is important. As researcher, user experience designer and author Antonia writes...
Gaming means a lot to me, not only was it my introduction to the digital world, it gave me a sense of belonging as a teenager. So any opportunity I get to work with game creation, I tend to throw myself into it, and so with research as well. This post is about some of the important tips, observations and experience I’ve had while running a research piece with kids. 
In this study, the research was to explore the usability of hand-held consoles vs tablets/smartphones with kids between the ages of 2 and 10. I had a sample size of 6. The research method was ethnography which I think is the best method when working with children. You want to learn and cocreate with them in a natural environment free of fear and stress.
Even if you don't think you'll ever be in a line of work involving playtesting or kids, the entire piece is a fascinating look at just what goes into feedback and game design, so I'd recommend you read the whole thing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Now You're Printing With Power: 3D Printer Retro Portable

Friend of the blog Drew of Drew's Robots has done some pretty awesome things with his custom designed and built 3-D printer-- a TARDIS that transforms into Optimus Prime, remote controlled walker robots, and his latest upload to Thingaverse: a little retro portable handheld console he calls the PiSP, for PiStation Portable.
My main design goal was to have good ergonomics. This design fits nicely with my large hands, with an analog joystick that I find more comfortable than a D-pad, and large illuminated buttons with nice mechanical action instead of small membrane buttons. 
The mechanical assembly is fairly simple, only two printed pieces, with nearly all the electrical parts attached to the front half. It has an internal battery charger, and can be played while charging - although you will discharge faster than you charge, so you still need to shut down to recharge fully. The second USB port on the PI is accessible, so you can plug in a USB drive to transfer roms, or an external keyboard for configuration or emulating systems needing a keyboard.
If you want to make this for yourself, you can download the files and print them out for free by visiting his Thingaverse page.

Inaugural Video Game Hall Of Fame Inductees Announced

The Nation Museum of Play announced the formal formation of the World Video Game Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY last year. This week, they announced the first inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and the games chosen for the very first inductees are certainly trail-blazers each in their own way.

At left are the games chosen: Pong, Pac-Man, Tetris, Super Mario Bros., DOOM, and World of Warcraft. These games beat out others in a finalists' field of 15 video games.

I think the Museum picked a great series of games to start out with. All of these had a significant impact on the industry, and were all game-changers (pardon the pun). However, I really feel like they should have allowed more than 6 for the inaugural session-- if for no other reason than help shore up the displays in the hall a little, and then fall back to six for every year after that. The pulled froma lot of history, especially for an inaugural year. I think that of the other announced finalists-- Angry Birds, FIFA, The Legend of Zelda, Minecraft, The Oregon Trail, Pokémon, The Sims, Sonic the Hedgehog and Space Invaders-- will be future inductees to the Hall of Fame.

What do you think, readers?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Second Quest-ions: New Comic Examines Game Culture

In 2013, the FPS BioShock Infinite was released to widespread accolades and high reviews at nearly every major gaming website and publication. Many of the reviews talked about how Bioshock Infinite not just met, but exceeded expectations for a sequel... without really asking questions about what shaped those expectation in the first place. Tevi Thompson published a piece called "On Videogame Reviews" where he used the accolades and acclaim the game was given in reviews to function as a jumping off point for a critique of gaming culture, video game narratives, and the culture in society in general and gaming in particular and the narratives they present at large. Near the midpoint, he observes that:
“The straight white male gamers so untroubled by BioShock Infinite, whose ideology and privilege are in fact perfectly reflected in it, are just not up to the task of reviewing on their own. Their subjectivities betray complicity. It’s a dead end, the good old boys speaking to their bros, and only by diversifying in every way possible can the review community thrive... This means more women, more people of color, more queer and transgender folks, more reviewers from diverse social, economic, and cultural backgrounds that don’t neatly fit the lifelong gamer mold. Not simply because we need reviewers to match the shifting demographics of those playing games, but because diversity is of clear and obvious value to any community and any discourse.”
These are obviously questions and observations that stuck with Thompson, and it's evident in his comic Second Quest, which combines Thompson's writing with the art of video game Braid and the webcomic "A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible" David Hellman. It's a love letter to the Legend of Zelda mythos, with lush visuals and writing that makes some sharp insights, too. The narrative arc of the comic tells a story that also asks us to reflect on What is the how being told that the hero is a guy rescuing a girl, how the hero is always just, how systems perpetuate themselves even as they try and follow a world narrative. As they put it, Second Quest aims to be a "...tale of enchanting surfaces and not-so-secret darkness, one that questions the common legends we tell about our kingdoms, our people, ourselves".

It was crowdfunded successfully and released recently and between the engaging story and the evocative art, is definitely a recommended read-- whether you're into video games, Zelda, sociological narratives or even just really well-drawn comic art. You can read samples, find out more about the comic, and buy it here.

What do you think, readers?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

WisCon: Your Microaggresions Aren't Welcome Here

photo via BuzzFeed
WisCon, first started in 1977, a sci-fiction and fantasy convention that bills itself as the leading feminist science-fiction convention in the world. The convention as a whole, and it attendee and convention committee members in particular, have been paying special consideration in recent years towards creating a safer convention space more inclusive of people of color, marginalized identities, those with disabilities, even as the convention itself has some ups and downs.

Author, tech writer and blogger K. Tempest Bradford, (who's also been the organizer for the safer space for people of color at the convention and is also a committee member) recently posted about how microagressions are everywhere (inappropriate comments, touching of hair, questioning of disabilities, accommodation, etc) and how she wasn't sure what she could do:
Thee most obvious one for me is to be that person that calls folks out when I witness such situations and encourage others to do so as well. That’s only workable so long as there are people willing and around. You can’t be everywhere. And while that could eventually grow and grow into awareness for everyone, that could take time. And while that’s happening some people still won’t feel welcome at the con. 
What didn’t occur to me is that WisCon the organization could do something to address this behavior. As of this year, we are. The Safety chairs made it clear that con goers should, if they felt comfortable doing so, report such behavior (labeled microaggressions) to Safety, and that the on duty staff as well as appropriate department or con chairs would take steps to address the problem with the involved parties. That could mean having a discussion with someone about their inappropriate words/behavior and giving them guidelines around further contact with the person who filed the complaint (such as: do not approach them again), as happened this year. 
That’s not the only recourse. The idea is to make WisCon a safer space for everyone, not just some certain kinds of people. To make WisCon the type of con where you are not required to let things roll off your back and ignore or laugh off microaggressions and othering so you don’t disrupt everyone else’s good time
The outline of what WisCon is doing in particular ends with a powerful exhortation to fandom to make this something that becomes part of fandom and community at large:
As a community, can we make it clear that othering is not okay? That microagressions are not appropriate? Can we make it our problem to address as a community and not only a burden individuals have to deal with? Can we agree that allowing this crap to drive people away (and it does) is untenable?

Angry White Gamers vs Social Constructs: We Can Do Better

angry white male gamerRust is an indie survival horror game currently in alpha testing on Steam. In a thematic twist that's sort of a cross between Minecraft and Resident Evil, you start the game buck naked and have to craft everything you need to survive, from shelter to the clothes on your back, and try and survive as long as possible. It's a multiplayer game, so if the monsters don't get you, another player might!
 Last week, the developers of Rust issued an update to their game. It has some of the usual features one would expect: bug fixes and the like. It also added a new cosmetic feature: randomized skin tones.

As the developers explain on the official blog:
Everyone now has a pseudo unique skin tone and face. Just like in real life, you are who you are – you can’t change your skin colour or your face. It’s actually tied to your steamid... There’s a lot of skin colours in the world, and it’s really easy to appear racially insensitive when doing this. This is compounded by the fact that everyone is really used to seeing this guy as a white guy, so when you see him as a black guy it feels like he’s just “blacked up“. So we’re spending a lot of time trying to lessen that effect.
So what happened? Players lost their ever-lovin' minds! As Megan Condis writes:
The reactions to Rust’s unprecedented experiment were swift. Many gamers were aggrieved by the skin tone automatically assigned them. Others felt drafted into racial discourses that they preferred to ignore, and lamented the entrance of social justice activism into what they saw as a blissfully post-racial online world. But the backlash only underscored a disturbing reality: By insisting that race doesn’t or shouldn’t exist online, such attitudes ensure an online status quo in which people of color remain marginalized and invisible.
Yes, in addition to the sad but predictable racist reactions, there were also plenty of white gamers who insisted that they didn't have a problem per se with playing a black character, but thought that the randomized possibility of your in game avatar having black skin was forcing racial diversity or taking them out of the game experience by making them play someone that they couldn't identify with. This is a bit of a head-scratcher for me, because if that's how they felt about possibly getting a default character who's black... why wasn't there a similar outcry when the game's avatar was only a default white guy? What about a woman player who must play video games as a male hero? What about a gay or bi gamer playing though a game with romance options that can't romance characters of the same sex?

As Condis puts it, it's due to most white people just sort of unconsciously accepting "white" as "default" because that's also what society does:
The reactions reflect a failure on the part of some gamers to recognize that whiteness is a race at all. These players appear to think of whiteness as a neutral type of embodiment, the universal category of humanity against which all those who do “have” a race (anyone who is not white) are compared.
I agree. Default choices are choices. As a white guy, living in a culture that prioritizes white men, there are lots of things I don't actively have to think of or worry about because I see a lot of people who look like me as the default. I don't have to consider other ways of living in my day to day life-- what it's like to live as a black man, or a gay woman, for example. It's like the fish that lives in the ocean, surrounded by water, not realize what surrounds it. It's this sort of thing that leads to marginalized and minority groups not only being dismissed, but often just flat-out not even being thought of in the first place. As Tauriq Moosa writes in Polygon about the lack of people of color in current AAA title hit The Witcher 3:

Let’s look at a few uncomfortable facts. Almost every Witcher 3 review I came across was written by a white man — excellent writers and all of whom I respect. But games media itself is, like the tech world, a very white-male dominated area. This is why we got a hundred articles confronting the Witcher 3 devs about less pretty grass physics, but not a single article asking them about no people of color. As a person obsessed with graphics... downgrade questions concern me, too. But I’d hope more folk would be asking questions about entire races not existing in a game world and why. But the lack of persons of colour, and the lack of questions about our absence, comes from ignorance rather than animosity. It probably just wasn’t even considered. That is itself the major issue. It’s not just that people of color weren’t in the game, it’s that so few people in the gaming press noticed.
So how and why does representation-- making sure people of color can seem themselves in games matter so much? Why does leaving them out, even it's it's "just an oversight" become so harmful? As Moosa explains:
By creating digital representations of people who aren’t white, it indicates a culture and industry who view us as people. It counters the status quo that dehumanizes us by erasing us or casting us as a non-human. We want to be seen as people, too. There’s little more to it, for me. But seeing angry responses to this simple request speaks volumes about the kind of culture we’re creating by not diversifying races, genders and so on. Consider: In Witcher 3, all humans are white and every other being is non-human. That’s not exactly friendly or inclusive of people of color. A game can include diverse number of monsters, but not a diverse number of skin colours or races for humans? And then we see panic and anger when white gamers may be asked to play as people of color in Rust. The double standard is rarely addressed. Being white is apolitical, being a person of color, even simply by existing, is threatening to some players.
Many geeks and gamers want to uphold the idea of gaming as a welcoming and inclusive hobby. But when when can have a AAA title released with humans and dragons but not a single person of color, or when gamers act like they feel threatened for even having a character avatar whose skin might be a little brown... we're obviously a long ways away.

Fellow white folks: listen to gamers of color. Work to include them. We may not be able to change a bigot's mind, but we can certainly do what we can to make gamers of color amd other marginalized people considered, listened to and welcome so that just existing in this gamer space isn't considered some sort of radical act.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Watch This Amazing Free NASA Doc: History of the Spacewalk

Just released this week, this new documentary, "Suit Up: 50 Years of Spacewalks" features interviews with NASA Administrator and astronaut, Charles Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator and spacesuit designer, Dava Newman, as well as other astronauts, engineers, technicians, managers and other big names of spacewalk history, from the early spacewalking experiences, to spacesuit manufacturing, to modern day spacewalks aboard the International Space Station as well as what the future holds for humans working on a tether in space.

Win a FREE copy of Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition

Friend of the blog, Tiny Girl, Tiny Games, has a cool contest and an even cooler prize! A free download code for the new Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition for the 3DS. Here's the entry for full details, and it has an entry method after my own heart: talking about your favorite dragon (because seriously, you guys, dragons are so cool).

So what are you waiting for? Check out the contest!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Social Justice Warriors In Lit: Not Really A Thing

Picture via twitter user @chiparoo
Author & poet Alexandra Erin, who's been skewering the self-proclaimed "Sad/Rabid Puppies" nominees-- a successful slate of this year's nominees made to the Hugo awards by a voting bloc convinced that nefarious political agendas are at work and wanted to counteract it by making sure authors with an agenda that matched their own were nominated-- expanded on a comment she made on the chief sci-fi writer behind the "puppies" movement, Brad R. Torgerson. She explains that while some people use the term "social justice warrior" (also shortened to "SJW") as some sort of pejorative, it's a label that is pretty much only ever made up by its detractors and actually isn't even really a serious thing:
That’s not a thing people called themselves. It’s a pejorative made up to dismiss people, a la calling someone “PC patrol” or “feminazi” or “thought police”. Some people have taken it as an ironic badge of honor or made geeky riffs on it (like “Social Justice Paladin” or “Social Justice Bard”), but by and large, you’re chiding people for not living up to the standards of a label that was foisted upon them in the first place. Which is actually part of the function of the label. Most of the people I have seen getting slapped with the “SJW” label not only don’t describe themselves as social justice warriors, they don’t describe themselves as activists. They’re just people, living their lives, dealing with their own problems, and acting their consciences.
In fact, as she points out, both the "SJW"s and their detractors would seem to agree on base ideas!
We all have different life experiences, which means different things will ring hollow to us... Now imagine a book full of things that are all just “off” by that same amount. Well, you probably don’t have to. You’ve probably read books that are like that, in their treatment of men, or Christians, or the military. And it didn’t just strike you as insulting, but also as bad writing. Right? Your ability to enjoy the story suffered, because while disagreeing with a writer’s politics is one thing, seeing yourself replaced by caricatures page after page is another.
So then, at its heart, when the Puppy-gaters are talking about "removing politics from writing" what they're really advocating for is to not be engaged, not to critically think about things, and to ignore something that affects you-- which sounds like the antithesis of what an engaged reader should do. Read the whole post here.

Act Now & Win This Rare & Adorable Large Pikachu Plush

From the fine people at Pokezine.com, we have this awesome free contest for you where you can enter to win an adorably rare plush of Pikachu dressed up in a Charizard costume! All you need to do is enter your email and answer a dead-simple trivia question, and you're in. Good luck. Here are further details from the contest page:
Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo 2015 Grand Opening Pikachu ”Pikazard” large size plush toy. It was sold at the Japan Pokemon Centers April, 2015, for a very limited time and in very limited quantity. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

360 to No-Hander to Newton: The Physics of Extreme Stunts

To The Power of X has a neat round-up of all the neat physics-related reasons that Josh Sheehan's triple-flip on a dirt bike is not just an impressive looking bit of stunt work but also has some impressive physical forces at work (and also working against it that Sheehan to overcome).

One of the questions TTPX links to is the question "what is the uper limit of flips you can safely do in FMX competition?". Part of the calculation for the answer is at right. The short answer is "probably four".

If you ever wondered just how physics and extreme sports interected-- or even if you didn't, but now do, then check out Jen W.'s blog entry on this, where she collects a number of interesting links and discussions on the underpinings of sick tricks and getting some sweet air.

Super Hair-io: How Hair Defines Video Game Characters

Photo illustration via The AV Club
There's a lot that goes into character design, from artist's concept sketches to emulation of hardware limitations.  The Onion's sister site, The A.V. Club, has an occasional feature that analyzes various ideas behind representations of the body in video games. The latest entry in this series takes a look at an essential aspect of character design that you might not have even noticed before: hair!
Without hair, Mario’s nose and ear completely disappear, congealing his entire face into a beat-up wad of Silly Putty. His appearance becomes harsh and unappealing. Perhaps some minor indications of his mouth would have been added, but the beautiful thing about that mustache was that he didn’t need a mouth; we just knew it was there. Without the sideburns and mustache, this is just a chubby guy—no charm, no flare. Add the mustache, and you can practically hear his cartoonish Italian accent ordering a pizza pie. Mario’s hair didn’t just soften him, it made him affable.
The article also examines how hair affects the character design of the Final Fantasy series, Mega Man and Bayonetta. Give it a read!

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