Friday, December 9, 2016

Guest Post: Undertale, Emotion, Pain & Love

Nicole Johnson, my sister from another mister, was also a contributor to an Undertale fanzine I solicited for last year. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control, the project folded, but the comic and personal essay to be included were too good to miss out on. So I've been granted permission to reprint them here and share them with you all, gentle readers.



UNDERTALE SPOILERS FOLLOW AFTER THIS LINE

Long story short, I am glad I decided to do this. I am fairly certain that I would -not- have wanted to play out the rest of the game. For one thing, there are some really hard-looking battles. And there’s so much more of it than I expected. Seriously, we were there watching for like 5 hours.
My feelings on Undertale overall now… are that it’s a magnificent work of art. But an experience I can’t really enjoy because the depth of my investment… kind of makes being challenged by what is maybe the most meta, psychological (in an emotional rather than analytical sense) game I’ve ever seen into a harrowing event. I am certain that several spots in the game’s remainder would have elicited similar reactions in me as the fight with Undyne.
There are things I -adore- all throughout the game. There is so much I love. Characters, moments, dialog, sprites, backgrounds, music. Relationships. It is all rich and bountiful and brilliant.
But I still find it ultimately too sad to feel “good” about. It’s great art, but it leaves me in pain. Some great art does that. I don’t regret getting into this game. But it is very sad. It touches me deeply, I relate to so many elements of it so intimately, it cuts right to the bone. And it is rich in sadness.
I wish more people would have emphasized that to me. What people emphasized to me at first was the wonderment of “the game where you don’t have to hurt anyone”. That… sounded so healing, and wonderful. I was in a vulnerable place emotionally, and it sounded like the RPG I’d been waiting for my whole life. The Gentle RPG. Undertale is not gentle.
The other thing people emphasized to me was that the ending was magnificently redeeming and heartwarming. And they were partially right, and partially wrong, about how they thought I’d find it.
The Ending (the True Peaceful Ending, the Full Mega Deluxe Genuine Microsoft Advantage version) was …..it was very wonderful in some ways. 
I was given so much that I wanted. 
I got the ONE THING I wanted the most from the very beginning. I got to stay with Goat Mom. 
Sheesh, that is all I wanted. 
I seriously tried to see if I could, er, ‘end’ the game at the beginning. I never disobeyed Toriel. Which made the beginning….. kinda long. Well, I never disobeyed her without first trying to comply. As you all know, some of those times you have to do otherwise just to advance. My point is, I didn’t -want- to. The second she showed me my bedroom and touched my hair, I was SOLD. I wanted that life. I wanted the game to end right there. I wanted a mother who loved me.
Despite the wonderfulness of the ending… I am left aching by the tragic underpinnings of the story. The six dead souls. The suffering of the monsters and the war. Asriel. And Asriel once more, for good measure. I am left wounded by the emotional tumult one endures directing one’s fate through this world. So much emotional tumult. That’s practically one of the things the game’s “about”. The difficulty, ambiguity, and struggle that goes with trying to be a good person and fix things and help people/monsters. And care about things. How painful it is to care.
And I guess that…. circuit of mine is ‘hot’. Anything that touches my insecurities concerning those things shorts me out and I go haywire.
I think I am able to appreciate all the things I love about the game (Temmie), but I … do not have the relationship to it of an unambiguous fan. I mean, I am a fan in the sense that I generally promote it and think it’s a great game and should be played. But it was a rough experience. And it… left me with some freshly opened old wounds. And when I tell people about the game, I will tell them: It is magnificent, but if you get emotionally invested in character-driven stories, it is going to cut you. Maybe only a little bit, maybe a lot. But it is not Gentle. Shit, the pacifist route makes Mario RPG look like a playful romp with friends, a diversion by comparison.
It is a game rich with joyous playfulness, humor, redemption, and tender love. But it is also rich with tragedy, and struggle, and pain. I feel this needs to be said more than it was said to me beforehand.
As Dana put it, “Seeing you embark on this game with a full heart, opening yourself to it, and then just getting destroyed by it, was really hard to watch.”
So now I know how it all ends. (and ends. And ends. And then ends for Real. And then for REALLY real.) 
I am not the child who finishes the game out. I never finished the game. I dropped out, and watched the path of another hero for the benefit of knowledge. As an observer. My path was cut short. I know how it all goes down, but…. it feels like an adventure I set out on that ultimately bested me. A Game Over. I am not the child whose destiny unites the worlds, I’m someone who didn’t make it to the end. At least not in the shape I arrived there in.
So now I’m free. I can move on. Hopefully remain able to cherish the things about Undertale that I loved, hopefully, without… stewing and despairing over the things that hurt me emotionally. I feel freed from the responsibility I felt I had to myself, to know the full story. But the story doesn’t feel like ‘mine’. The other options were to try to grind through it myself and probably fuck myself up emotionally, or to not play OR watch and slowly find out all about it from the people around me. I thought this seemed preferable. And I’m really, really glad I got to do it with @cascadiarch right there, holding my hand.

Nicole Johnson is a cartoonist, musician, and costumer whose fondest wish is to publish stories that help weird little kids like she was once. She is definitely not a child masquerading as a voting-age citizen. She lives in California with her bossy big sister, a very helpful seabird, and two stupid cats.

Disclosure: I am a supporter of Johnson's Patreon.

Retro Video: Classic DOS-era Art Step By Step

For your morning retro-game pleasure, I humbly present to you the following: A video from the wonderful channel "DOS Nostalgia"containing time-lapses of all of the background art from a Sierra On-Line classic "The Colonel's Bequest". Until the widespread adoption of VGA color modes in computer monitors, the designers at Sierra stored background art for their games in a special vector format.

One especially neat thing about this format (at least if you're a behind the scenes graphic design nerd like I am) is that the background screen art can be displayed and drawn in a sort of step by step fashion-- essentially letting you see just how it was imagined, laid out and created by the game's artists. All in all, it's a fascinating peek at the artistic process in an otherwise long-lost game format.

Please enjoy this gorgeous, dark, and detailed art set to the beautiful MT-32 music from the game below.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Helluva Composer: Behind The Music of DOOM and more

PC Gamer has a great interview (and over-view) of the work of Mick Gordon, who most recently won praise for the bone-crunchingly, demon-slayingly hard rocking soundtrack to the recent DOOM reboot. As they introduce him:
“Back when Bethesda and id Software were making announcements about the recently rebooted Doom... [it was announced that] Mick Gordon was onboard to compose the soundtrack  His work on Wolfenstein: The New Order and Killer Instinct is cherished among those games’ playerbases, and the intensity of both owe a lot to his anarchic (but still impressively subtle, when it needs to be) approach to getting visuals and music swinging to the same beat. Based in Australia, Gordon’s been around for a while. He’s worked on two Need For Speed games, as well as Shift 2 Unleashed and ShootMania Storm, to name a few examples. Currently he’s working with Arkane Studios on its Prey reboot, which—as he relates below—will mark a departure from his recent, foot-to-the-floor audio rampages.” 
I'm not kidding about the DOOM soundtrack being awesome. One of the few complaints about the handling of the game's release was "why wasn't the soundtrack released on day one with the game?"-- though that was eventually rectified with the release of an official soundtrack. Gordon himself released an in-depth look at his process behind the music in a two part video series on his official youtube channel, available below:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

[VIDEO] Holy Crap! Atari 2600 Emulator Runs In Minecraft

Description: Screenshot of aerial view of  a grass field in Minecraft
with grooves carved out to spell "Holy Crap!!!"
We interrupt your whatever you are doing to bring you this amazing video from user SethBling showing all of the work that went into getting the popular sandbox-construction Minecraft to run an Atari 2600 emulator INSIDE the game using nothing but the existing tools and blocks available in Minecraft itself. Seriously, like, he has a memory cache built out of blocks of dirt and stone.

Anyhow, the video below shows the emulator in action as well as goes into the fascinating technical explanations of how he worked to pull it off. It also doubles as a clear technical explanation of how early cartridge based systems and consoles worked.

Knit 1, Pwn 2: Learning Programming Via Knitting Games

Description: Illustration of a knitting work in progress of a heart
pattern using a knitting guide. Illustration courtesy Idea Studios.
Writing for Vice.com's Waypoint section, Nicole Carpenter muses on how knitting has connected her with two things very important to her: her grandmother, and computer programming. It's not as unlikely a connection as one might think, As she explains:

Knitting is an exercise of binary code: knit or purl. One or zero. Knitting patterns—and patterns for other yarn crafts—can be considered some of the first programming languages. 
"Computers ultimately started off partially inspired by weaving and the Jacquard loom," electrical engineering professor Karen Shoop of Queen Mary University in London told Mind/Shift in 2013. "Arguably, some of the earliest programmers were the people making paper punch hole patterns for weaving patterns."
While yarn and its aesthetics have been a part of video games over the years, present in titles like Yoshi's Woolly World or the more recent Unraveled, Carpenter explores designer April Grow's work  on two games that center on yarncrafting as actual game mechanics: Pattern and Threadsteading.

Both games use craft in its literal sense—the act of making something—as well as as a storytelling theme, in a more abstract way. They bridge the perceived gap between technology and craft, a perception that Shoop discusses, too: "I loved the fact that there is a perception—usually wrong—that there's a world of computer (soulless, technical, 'geeky') and a completely different domain such as knitting (traditional, 'female', craft)—yet there is a clear overlap." 
Pattern is knitting as binary made literal, using crochet as the craft of choice. Like knitting, crochet uses patterns. Grow's game intends to teach players to decipher a pattern's programming-like expressions; she wanted to highlight the math, systems, and equations she saw in crochet—the ones and the zeroes.
The entire article is an interesting exploration of the way knitting as a mechanic bridges the gap between technology, craft, code and personal memories. Read the whole article here.
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Monday, December 5, 2016

Bringing Arrival To The Big Screen: Screenwriter Speaks

Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life" stuck with screenwriter Eric Heiserer long after he put it down. Heiserer had written a number of successful horror screenplays, but said the the impact the story had on him made him want to pursue it as a movie. In a behind the scenes article for The Talkhouse, Heiserer talks about how he went from turning "The Story of Your Life" into the hit film Arrival. An excerpt:
I pleaded with the author to let me write the script on spec, which meant optioning the rights for an extended period of time. I pitched him my take, which felt akin to saying, “I’m borrowing your car. It may come back with some aftermarket stuff and a new paint job. Please, trust me.”
He did, and I spent the next year learning why science fiction is so difficult to get right. Here are some of the many lessons this script taught me.
 
1. Sometimes the plain truth is more interesting than the beautiful lie. 
At some point, you embrace what kind of story your movie is, and lean into it. If it’s a martial arts action bonanza, your character and story moments happen in the framework of fight sequences. If it’s a musical, your subtext plays in song. This movie was about process — the process of cracking a new language and teaching our own.
Heiserer goes into 4 more important writing lessons his work on Arrival taught him ,as well as the elaborate technical hacks he had to pull off with his screenwriting software to make the script happen and explain the films ideas.

Empowering Roles With Dice Rolls: D&D, Women & Feminism

Rat Queens fan art. Illustration courtesy of nebezial at nebezial.deviantart.com
The notion of women finding empowerment through media and entertainment isn’t new, but the way a new generation of women are finding it through D&D has been.

As Canadian author and movie critic Tina Hassannia started playing Dungeons & Dragons and was surprised to find it an extremely empowering experience. She wrote in a National Post article that “Nerd culture, of which I count myself a member, has long been dominated by men, but playing D&D left me feeling empowered in a way that watching Beyoncé videos never has. Instead of looking up to a role model, the game prompted me to discover the badass warrior within.”

Jen Luneau, writing for The Mary Sue, talks about how being in an all-women D&D group has been fun and empowering for her because she gets to decide what it means for her: "Because we’re surrounded by other women, we’re OK. Because we’re taking a traditionally male-dominated thing and making it whatever the hell we want it to be, we’re OK. And because the six of us have created a safe environment where we can be ourselves, I can’t wait until our next meeting."

One great ongoing look at women exploring D&D and other tabletop systems is She's A Geek. The latest episode goes over The Witch Is Dead and regularly covers campaigns, post-mortems and all sorts of great gaming discussion. Check it out!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

December Patreon Thanks & How You Can Get Free Stuff!

Here's this month's Thank Yous:
  • 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 is on the blogroll! 
  • Fluffy! Check out their stuff at beesbuzz.biz
  • Hillary Gross
  • Gabriel Gentile

The Code is helped by the patrons I just thanked. In addition to geek ephemera and the esoterically nerdy, I use this blog to focus on marginalized voices and perspectives and advocates for more inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures.

I also create experimental electronic music and art prints & apparel under the name lowercase t and perform improvisational readings with the Overly Dramatic Readers.

I also help people! 

  • I co-host several charity fundraisers with The Munchausen Society every year
  • Advocate for strong anti-harassment policies and safe spaces at conventions
  • Organize public relations, media outreach, recorded an audio book & designed the website for a disabled dad's panel on disability for Bronycon; it was so successful he was invited back 2 more times!
  • And More!

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 charged the amount you chose once per month.

I have rewards for every single support level I offer, too!


$1 a month:
TIP JAR 

You'll get: 

  • My thanks & gratitude
  • Your name listed in a special "Thank You" post on The Code every month
  • Access to Patron-only posts and updates
  • One free Patron only exclusive download each month


$3 a month
CUP OF COFFEE


You'll get:

  • Your name listed in a special Thank You post on The Code
  • Access to Patron-only updates
  • Free Patron only exclusive download every month
  • Monthly link/plug to whatever you want-- your website, aproject, your YouTube channel-- you name it!


$5 a month
LUNCH TIME


You'll get:

  • All rewards for previous tiers (thank you post, Patron-only update access, free monthly Patron only download, free plug on The Code)
  • a free music download of a track of your choice from lowercase t every month!




$10 a month
SURPRISE MYSTERY CARE PACKAGE


You'll get:

  • All rewards for previous tiers 
  • A special Mystery Surprise Care Package made just for you mailed to you EVERY MONTH. It'll be a CARE package stuffed to the brim with fun stuff like novelties, toys, magazines, surprises and a hand-made postcard from my pal at Blue Boi Studios.



$20 a month
PIZZA TIME


 You'll get:

  • All previous tier rewards (including the Monthly Mystery Surprise Package)
  • Every month you can request a post on The Code on a topic of your choosing or get a free music track made just for you based on a title you make up!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Anime Fandom Needs A Wake-Up Call

Anime fandom in the US has come a long way since the early 1980s when you'd be hard-pressed to find much available commercially outside of episode of Voltron or re-runs of Speed Racer and Astro Boy. From the anime boom of the 1990s to the mainstream success of the anime genre leading to over 2 billion dollars in US sales over the past decade, anime has sparked a cornucopia of fan activity along with it. Fan art, fan fiction, fan conventions.

 Many anime fans have been keen to point the rich tapestry of expression and artistry that goes into anime they like, which makes it really peculiar that anime fandom as a whole is so resistant to critique. Other forms of artistic media and media fandom have long had strenuous elements of critque, but when writers and critics attempt to look at anime with the same tool-set that has been successfully applied to books, music, and film for decades, the nerd rage is palpable. Anime Feminist which bills itself as a hub for "reviews, interviews and discussion on anime and manga through a feminist lens, run by a team of writers from academia, the industry and grassroots fandom" was online for five days before it received its first death threat.

It's not like the articles on that site rehash tired old debates like "subs vs dubs" either. The writing published is quality work from fans that know their stuff-- both media and academic-wise. For example, the site has a great interview with manga artist Minami Sakai as well as an essay by Peter Fobian that examines the difference in treatment of Black Lagoon's Revy and Gurren Lagann's Yoko:
Where Revy’s presentation sells a complex and volatile character, the choice of camera angles, exaggerated postures, and repeated compromising scenarios makes Yoko come off as a source of inappropriate humor at best or a pure source of visual titillation directed at the male audience at worst. Revy’s background and her relationship with Rock are able to be respectfully explored because she is presented as a serious character. Conversely, Yoko’s later development is undermined by her presentation as something less than a character, an ornament not to be taken seriously.
Anime Feminist's co-founder, Amanda Cook, gave an interview on Kotaku that touched on why she feels this matters, and how a stubborn refusal to examine anime can lead to shrinking of an art form AND its audience:
There are many, many women, queer people, non-binary people, people of color who can tell you quite clearly why it matters to them personally, and I think everyone should listen to their stories. If empathy isn’t enough to convince you, more objective reasons why sexualized or infantilized representation of women is a problem include the fact that it’s poor storytelling... [it's] common in anime and we accept it as the price of admission. Not everyone will care about storytelling quality in anime, or any media they consume, but high profile critics do, and most won’t waste their time reviewing—in other words, promoting—anything that they don’t expect to meet their basic standards for quality... I have a lot of friends who used to watch anime but don’t anymore, partly because, like me, it became too hard to seek out anime that treated women well. There are also lots of people who are enthusiastic about other geek properties but won’t touch anime because of its reputation of infantilizing women and sexualizing children. It makes it hard to recommend anime to people who aren’t already fans
This pervasive background radiation of out of place fan service and explosion of jacked-up sexualization has some collateral damage, too: other anime fans, especially cosplayers. In the article "How ‘Locker Room Talk’ And Casual Misogyny Are Making Conventions Intolerable For Cosplayers" Alyssa Fiske details how these attitudes can make conventions into an uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous experience. 
Done well, cosplay can be one of the most joyous expressions of fandom, and a huge part of fandom is feeling like something special belongs to you, that a specific part of pop culture spoke to you so deeply that you wanted to wrap yourself up in it, mentally and physically. It’s a harmless bit of escapism, one that can inspire creative, emotional, and physical expression that many can take part in and enjoy. But it’s not without that dark side that Krose experienced at Dragon-Con, one that prompts those in the vicinity of cosplayers to gain a boldness that can make those in costume uncomfortable or unsafe. Oftentimes people forget that there is a human being beneath the costume, leading to inappropriate situations that add an unfortunate, even frightening, element to the convention experience.
In 2014, Bitch Media did a study on the percentages of people in the industry who had experienced verbal and physical harassment, and the numbers were staggering: 59% said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in comics, and 25% said they had been sexually harassed in the industry. As far as convention attendees themselves, 13% reported verbal harassment, while 8% had been physically assaulted, groped, or raped. In a society that still blames women for their own assaults or denies that they even happen, there is no guarantee that your distress will even be acknowledged. While it is great that the community takes care of its own, there are still steps that could be taken to ensure harassment numbers go down.
The US industry of anime and manga does some amazing things; it's possible to get official same-day release of subtitled episodes, digital releases of manga alongside print counterparts, more use of the visual novel style of games. But anime fandom's general insistence that its direction or demands or troubling attitudes and culture are sacrosanct-- especially when so much of it can be troubling and anti-women makes me sad. It also makes it super difficult for anime to reach a wider audience, because uncritical attitudes mean that anyone who just wants to dip their toe into the anime pool doesn't have good enough guidance to help them wade through a river of crap.

Monday, November 21, 2016

New Multimedia Short Story: Afrofuturist 419

Award-winning Author Nnedi Okafor and science fiction magazine Clarkesworld have teamed up to bring you "Afrofuturist 419". It's a story told in email forwards, a news report and a wonderfully voice-acted series of audio logs.

Afrofuturist refers to the Afrofuture movement that combined Afrocentrism, science fiction, magical realism, surrealism, black history and more into an artistic movement across sculpture, fiction, photography and music. The number "419" comes from Nigerian criminal law and refers to the number of an anti-fraud statute dealing with the advance fee scam emails that everyone with an email account EVER has gotten, and it is a similar email that starts off the story:
I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crewmembers returned to Earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.
As it turns out, all of these themes are specifically addressed in the story by the main character in audio logs. As for how it develops, well... you should really experience the whole thing for yourself.

Social Anxiety Guide To Calling Gov't Representatives

In the wake of the recent United States elections, calling your state and local representatives as a means of taking direct action and affecting change have become even more vital than ever. For those that struggle with chronic mental illness or anxiety, taking this sort of action can be even more difficult than it would be for a neurotypical person.  The artist Cordellia of echothroughthefog recently made a comic about how they pushed against anxiety, made those calls, and how you can do that, too! A transcript of the comic and more resources follow.





“How to call your reps when you have social anxiety”

There’s a LOT going on in the U.S. right now. Many people’s rights and safety are at risk. You’ve probably heard that one of the most effective ways to advocate for issues you care about, or stand up against dangerous policies and appointments, is to call your local representatives.
If you want to help but have social anxiety and find phone calls very intimidating, you may be thinking, “How do I do this?!” (An oversized telephone handset hovers ominously over the narrator with its cord spiraling around her body. She looks up at it with great concern.)
Here’s a step-by-step:
  1. Block off time on your calendar. Each call only takes a minute or so, but you might want to block off more time for your first call, so you can prepare your words & nerves. Don’t rush yourself! Scheduling is super important, otherwise you will perpetually delay calling.
  2. At the scheduled time, go sit somewhere quiet.
  3. Find out who represents you. Some places to look: House (http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/) and Senate (http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/).
  4. Write out exactly what you plan to say. It only needs to be a few lines, and there are lots of templates online that you can use. e.g. “Hello! I am constituent from city (zip code) and I am calling to urge Some Name to publicly…” If they have already released a statement, don’t use that as an excuse to avoid calling. I know it’s hard, but call anyway. Thank them and ask them to keep pushing.
  5. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
  6. Do this: dial. (This is the hardest part.)
  7. Read from your script. At this point, you’ll likely be sent to voicemail or to an actual person. The person will most likely be friendly and probably won’t have much time to talk, so you shouldn’t have to deviate much from your script. It’s a quick conversation.
  8. That’s it! Say “Thank you” and hang up.
You did it! If you’re thinking “Hey, that wasn’t so bad…”, call more people! And follow up with them next week, or even tomorrow, to make sure they keep these issues top of mind.
It is okay if your voice shakes. It is okay if you feel awkward.They get a lot of calls, so they don’t have time to judge you by how well you delivered your message.
Is is also okay if you can’t call.
This week, my best friend told me, “Do something that is uncomfortable but not harmful to your mental health.” For me, calling was enough outside my comfort zone to be stressful & scary, but not so far away as to use up all my energy. That might not be the case for you, and that’s okay. Do not beat yourself up about it. There are lots of ways to take action without picking up a phone:

  • Write to government officials
  • Create art that challenges and art that inspires
  • Donate, if you’re financially able, to organizations that fight injustice
  • Listen to immigrants, people of color, women, trans and non-binary people, people of all faiths and orientations, and people with disabilities. Support their work. Amplify their voices.
  • Keep it up.
And here are some resources:
  • Emily Ellsworth explains why calling is the most effective way to reach your congressperson.
  • Sharon Wong posted a great series of tweets that helped me manage my phone anxiety and make some calls.
  • Kelsey is tweeting pretty much daily with advice and reminders about calling representatives. I found this tweet an especially great reminder that calls aren’t nearly as big a deal as anxiety makes them out to be.
Informational resources:
There are a lot of these, as well! These three are good places to start:

    Saturday, November 19, 2016

    Lost 17th Century Music Lives Again With Musician & Historian Team



    This is so cool!

    Musical Passages is a collaborative endeavor by Laurent Dubois, David Garner, and Mary Caton Lingold to document, explain, and recreate examples of Jamaican music as it was played in the 1600s. As they explain:
    Enslaved Africans and their descendants revolutionized global music, but historical records tell us far too little about their earliest practices. In this site we offer a careful interpretation of a single rare artifact, from Hans Sloane’s 1707 Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica. Tucked away in this centuries-old book, are several pieces of music that make it possible to hear echoes of performances long past.

    The website functions as a minature interactive exhibit where you are invited to listen in on a musical gathering that took place in Jamaica in 1688. These three songs, 'Angola', 'Papa' and 'Koromanti', performed at a festival by enslaved African musicians and copied in musical notation by a Mr Baptiste, are the first transcription of African music in the Caribbean. Thanks to the preservation of this amazing work, the entire world can now listen to traces of music performed long ago and maybe even begin to imagine what it meant for the people who created it.

    Friday, November 18, 2016

    WLW Ask: Where Are Queer Butch Women In Video Games?

    In the media landscape of video games, there has been a noticeable rise in the amount of visible queer characters in everything from indie games to AAA big-budget titles. Queer men have a number of different types and portrayals, from Grand Theft Auto's Gay Tony and Dragon Age's Iron Bull, to Mortal Kombat's Kung Jin and Dremfall Chapter's Kian Alvane.

    But when it comes to queer women, Femme Hype's Aria argues that there is much less diversity of representation, and that that women who love women are the poorer for it. As Aria explains:

    As much as gamers should applaud the industry as a whole making those steady strides to create women who are not sexualized for men, one of the hard points of women that have yet to be presented in games at all is ardent female masculinity, especially within the context of butchness as a trait in women... we have very few characters in the gaming industry who would fit a description of “butch.”  
    Though their butch-ish coding may be recognizable to many players, these women are not in games that explore their characters’ stories or personalities, much less their sexualities, leaving any possible hope of butchness up to speculation and easily written off due to their environments and not their specific expression of their sexuality. Indeed, in may of the games in the FPS genre where some of these more “masculine” women exist, players can only speculate about the romantic and sexual modalities of these women—if their lives are explored at all—as the main men usually have their romantic lives explored.
    Some would argue (though it's an argument I've only seen put forward by men-- well-meaning or otherwise-- that explicitly coding a woman character as butch could be reinforcing stereotypes. As Aria points out, however, this argument is rather lacking:

    The absence of these types of women is not a testament to the gaming industry being uncharacteristically sensitive to queer stereotypes, it’s a testament to how female masculinity is rarely presented at all—and that, in fact, it must be overcompensated through clear heterosexuality. Not only does this prevent diverse representations of women, it upholds standards of women made for consumption by men. Having more butch bisexual or lesbian characters would subvert those standards and create a wider landscape of women for everyone to enjoy and admire.

    SO I turn this over to you, dear readers. DO you have any game recommendations, indie, AAA or in-between, that feature butch heroes?

    Leading Pinball Maker Still Crafts Cabinets By Hand

    Description: A row of pre-assembled pinball board for Stern Pinball's Ghostbusters cabinet await assembly. Photo courtesy of Brian Crecente & Polygon.
    Earlier this year, Stern Pinball celebrated its 30th anniversary of making pinball machines, and Brian Crecente of Polygon was given a rare, detailed behind the scenes look on all of the delicate assembly and intricate craft work that goes into making a pinball table. The most important ingredient for assembling a pinball machine, as it turns out-- is hand-crafted, human touch.

    Dankberg, Stern's director of marketing and licensing, comes by to walk me through the assembly process. [We] marvel at the process of turning reels of fine wires into the wiring harnesses that bring pinball machines to life.
    "We can't really automate this stuff," he said. "It has to be done by people.
    “Steve Ritchie is the king of flow,” Dankberg said. “He’s there with a ruler measuring angles, making sure everything fits. Some people like to build it out and see how it plays first.”
    The initial board designs are build on a white-wood, or an unpainted wood play field. We’ll cut a table, make some prototype parts,” Dankberg said. “Then they’ll test it. The white-wood stage could be really short or really iterative. If they hit a homer un at first, how great is that? But a lot of times they like to change things. It’s like a first draft.”

    The rest of the article features tons of behind the scenes assembly pictures and offers a fascinating look at how pinball machines are crafted by hand in 2016.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2016

    Patreon Stuff: Thanks, Sneak Peeks & Getting In On The Action

    See the picture to the left? That's going to a patron this month who is supporting my work at the "Surprise Mystery Care Package" level. I make a custom surprise care package every month and send it out.

    Speaking of patrons, here's this month's Thank Yous:

    • 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 is on the blogroll! 
    • Fluffy! Check out their stuff at beesbuzz.biz
    • Hillary Gross
    •  Gabriel Gentile

    The Code is helped by the patrons I just thanked. In addition to geek ephemera and the esoterically nerdy, I use this blog to focus on marginalized voices and perspectives and advocates for more inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures.

    I also create experimental electronic music and art prints & apparel under the name lowercase t and perform improvisational readings with the Overly Dramatic Readers.

    I also help people! 

    • I co-host several charity fundraisers with The Munchausen Society every year
    • Advocate for strong anti-harassment policies and safe spaces at conventions
    • Organize public relations, media outreach, recorded an audio book & designed the website for a disabled dad's panel on disability for Bronycon; it was so successful he was invited back 2 more times!
    • And More!

    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 charged the amount you chose once per month.

    I have rewards for every single support level I offer, too!


    $1 a month:
    TIP JAR 

    You'll get: 
    • My thanks & gratitude
    • Your name listed in a special "Thank You" post on The Code every month
    • Access to Patron-only posts and updates
    • One free Patron only exclusive download each month



    $3 a month
    CUP OF COFFEE


    You'll get:
    • Your name listed in a special Thank You post on The Code
    • Access to Patron-only updates
    • Free Patron only exclusive download every month
    • Monthly link/plug to whatever you want-- your website, aproject, your YouTube channel-- you name it!


    $5 a month
    LUNCH TIME


    You'll get:
    • All rewards for previous tiers (thank you post, Patron-only update access, free monthly Patron only download, free plug on The Code)
    • a free music download of a track of your choice from lowercase t every month!




    $10 a month
    SURPRISE MYSTERY CARE PACKAGE


    You'll get:
    • All rewards for previous tiers 
    • A special Mystery Surprise Care Package made just for you mailed to you EVERY MONTH. It'll be a CARE package stuffed to the brim with fun stuff like novelties, toys, magazines, surprises and a hand-made postcard from my pal at Blue Boi Studios.



    $20 a month
    PIZZA TIME


     You'll get:
    • All previous tier rewards (including the Monthly Mystery Surprise Package)
    • Every month you can request a post on The Code on a topic of your choosing or get a free music track made just for you based on a title you make up!

    Facebook Employees Meeting In Secret In Hopes of Busting FB B.S.

    Description: A hand making a thumbs-down gesture next to the word hoax as a
    parody of Facebook's thumbs-up next to the word Like icon. 
    Facebook is used by over 150 million Americans. According to a Pew Research Center for Journalism & Media report, two thirds of Facebook's users get their news via that platform. Unfortunately it's been plagued with a flood of flat out hoax news articles. While late last year, Facebook announced it was rolling out new tools for users to report hoax news sites and articles, it's been unclear how effective it's been in action-- and management isn't releasing any details.

    Earlier this year amid accusations of Facebook's Trending Topics team in charge of the way the Facebook News Feed worked having a bias towards liberal sites, the entire trending topics team was fired and replaced with an algorithm. The trending topics news feed was then immediately flooded with hoaxes, parody articles presented as fact and puff-piece press releases.

    In the wake of an increasingly loud debate across the country over fake news online in general, and on social media in particular, top management have dismissed the idea of having any culpability in leading to the recent election of Donal Trump-- CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling the notion a "crazy idea". Not surprisingly, a number of outlets disagree with him-- including his own employees. Buzz feed reports that they have learned of a group of Facebook employees that are meeting in secret to try and figure out ways to combat the flood of fake news plaguing the social media platform:

    “One employee said “more than dozens” of employees were involved, and that they had met twice in the last six days. At the moment, they are meeting in secret, to allow members of the group to speak freely and without fear of condemnation from senior management... Another Facebook employee said while the task force remained small, “hundreds” of Facebook employees had expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s stance on fake news in private online chats, and wanted to support efforts to challenge that position...
    'If someone is right-wing, and all their friends are right-wing, and that is the news they share on Facebook, then that is the bubble they have created for themselves and that is their right,' said the longtime Facebook engineer. 'But to highlight fake news articles in the [news] feed, to promote them so they get millions of shares by people who think they are real, that’s not something we should allow to happen. Facebook is getting played by people using us to spread their bullshit.'”
    Those sentiments have been echoed by former Facebook designer Booby Goodlatte, who said in a November 8th post:
    "News Feed optimizes for engagement. As we've learned in this election, bullshit is highly engaging. These outlets, and Donald Trump, have no concern for the truth, and really only care for engagement. A bias towards truth isn't an impossible goal. Wikipedia, for instance, still bends towards the truth despite a massive audience. But it's now clear that democracy suffers if our news environment incentivizes bullshit."

    Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    Soylent Bars: Literal Toxic Masculinity

    Description: Cartoon of a white man with eyeglasses wearing a green sweater,
    contemplating a glass of liquid.He declares, "Removing my taste buds has
    increased drinking efficiency by 4%!" Illustration by Brad Jonas.
    Soylent, the much touted "meal replacement" drink substance has gone from mixable pastes to coffee-flavored drinks to its latest offering: a Soylent bar. Soylent's consistency (in both the ingredient sense and in the promise of never having to worry about cooking, preparing or eating something different sense) has been presented by the company and it fans as a feature and key selling point.

    Something that's also been consistent has been Soylent being unsafe to eat . In 2013, a documentary by Vice showed rats scurrying around the factory where Soylent was made. Despite repeated claims of commitment to food safety, browsing the subreddit devoted to Soylent shows reports of every few batches released this year have come with an extra ingredient-- mold. And while the recently released breakfast bars haven't had mold, there have been enough consumers of the bar that have reported becoming violently ill, in one case leading to a trip to the ER.

    A community manager on the official Soylent forum responded to one users concerns about transparency thusly:

    I do tell you info. I generally tell you more info. But i'd rather have all the info before I speak. In this case we are testing bars. We've eaten bars sent to us ourselves. Myself included. All our evidence leans towards people having an ingridient[sic] intolerance.

    Okay, so the community manager actually trotted out the "I ate some and I'm perfectly fine defense" but they're just a person on a message board. Surely the actual company in charge of making Soylent wouldn't use the same--

    Description: A screenshot of Rosa Labs' statement to the press that reads: "After these reports, we have retrieved remaining bars from our consumers and have personally consumed many of the remaining bars without adverse effects. We have also sent them for further microbiological testing and all tests have come back negative. Based on this we remain very confident in the safety of the bars. A certain subpopulation of individuals may have an allergy, intolerance or sensitivity to ingredients such as soy and / or sucralose, or certain vitamin and mineral sources and should consult with their doctor before continuing to consume these products."
    Okay, so the actual makers of the Soylent bar did resort to the "we ate it and we're fine" defense too. And instead of contacting everyone who bought the tainted batches to initiate a recall, they're just telling people to send them in after they get sick. According to the FDA's online database, the current factory where Soylent is made hasn't been inspected since 2014. Then again, the tech-bro founder behind Soylent (which takes its name from the sci-fi movie "Soylent Green" where the titular food was made from human corpses) had this to say about shopping for groceries:
    I have not set [foot] in a grocery store. Nevermore will I bumble through endless confusing aisles like a pack-donkey searching for feed while the smell of rotting flesh fills my nostrils and fluorescent lights sear my eyeballs and sappy love songs torture my ears.
    Hey was also fined and charged by the city of Los Angeles earlier this year for his "experiment in sustainable living" that was really just an abandoned shipping container and port-a-potty covered in graffiti and trash.

    Remember how in Harry Potter they had magic jellybeans that could taste like any flavor, from cheesecake to human earwax? If a melange of misguided libertarian, bro-grammer culture, start-up philosophy, engineer's curse, and insecure masculinity would have a flavor, it would be Soylent.

    Monday, October 10, 2016

    Quick Shots: Fact-Checking RPS, Arcade Treasure & LoL Pro Pwns Self



    Hey all. Feeling pretty awful today, so here's a few quick newsbits instead of something long.

    1) J. Walker of "Rock, Paper, Shotgun" didn't just screw up, he lied by omission and follow some twisted logic on top of it for his Review In Progress of Mafia 3. Of  the game's title card, of which he calls "strange... paranoid... odd," he says:

    Description: Partial opening card from Mafia 3 that reads "Mafia III takes place in a fictionalized version of the American South in 1968. We sought to create an authentic and immersive experience that captures this very turbulent time and place, including depictions of racism. We find the racist beliefs, language, and behaviors of some characters in the game abhorrent, but believe it is vital to include these depictions in order to tell Lincoln Clay’s story.”
    “We find the racist beliefs, language, and behaviors of some of the characters in the game abhorrent, but believe it is vital to include these depictions in order to tell Lincoln Clay’s story.” Which is, well, a pretty odd way of putting it.“It’s vital to include these depictions in order to tell the story of this era of this nation’s history,” would have been equally unnecessary and paranoid, but at least made a lick of sense. Lincoln Clay isn’t real, the city is fictional, and his is not a story that was going untold until some people in a room invented it. 

    Aside from ignoring that fiction doesn't take place n a vacuum (and leaving out his bizzarre "I watched Luke Cage on Netflix" tangent), he also left off the full text. Below is a screenshot of the FULL opening card, including the final paragraph he left off, emphasis mine:

    cypheroftyr:
“ “ “Mafia III takes place in a fictionalized version of the American South in 1968.
We sought to create an authentic and immersive experience that captures this very turbulent time and place, including depictions of racism.
We find the...
    Description: The full opening card to Mafia 3 including the text that J. Walker cut off in his review, which reads: "“Most importantly, we felt that to not include this very real and shameful part of our history would have been offensive to the millions who faced - and still face - bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and racism in all its forms.” Screenshot courtesy of Nikki Kendall.
    C'mon, Walker, get it together.

    2) Tim Nichols recently launched a treasure trove of a reference site. If you're trying to fix or restore an old arcade machine, or you're just interested in some classic arcade history, he has over 2,400 arcade cabinet manuals available for free download now online at arcadertfm.com.  Check out this cover for OutRun:



    And finally, pro League of Legends gamer Road of team I May has been suspended and fined for harassment and racially charged remarks. Kotaku has the full details.

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