Friday, June 23, 2017

Listen Up: Black Nerd Power

Black Nerd Power is a weekly podcast hosted by Markus Seaberry, Malaika Salaam and Richard Douglas Jones. They discuss the worlds of comics, pop culture, current events, sci fi & fantasy from a black nerd point of view. They are all incisive, witty and laugh out loud hilarious. They were voted Memphis' best podcast last year. Just give an episode a listen and you'll hear why-- the rapport is breezy and chill while also being friendly even when there's some verbal sparring going on. Nerds have never sounded this cool, but Black Nerd Power makes it effortless.

You can listen along via the OAM Network's Black Nerd Power page, or via iOS on iTunes.

Harry Potter and the Tax On The Blind

Image description: tweet by Titanium Cranium (@FelicityTC)
including three screenshots of a Harry potter book in three different formats
on Amazon. Text: “Harry Potter on Amazon - Print: $6.39 Audio: $44.99
Braille: $100.00 #CripTax”
Tumblr user actuallyblind debunks the idea that charging 8 to 10 times more for audio and Braille version of books is just covering the cost of production:
But those defenders of higher prices are reversing the argument to justify fleecing disabled readers.
What do I mean by that? 
Braille is not magic. It is done by taking plain text and feeding it through fairly affordable translation software, creating a document that can easily be printed in braille. All that time and effort and special software? IS NOT FOR THE BRAILLE... 
Printing in braille is cheap; reverse engineering a finished text to print it in braille IS NOT. Same with those audio books. After a book is completed and, often, after it has already been published, the publisher arranges to have the book recorded by a professional voice actor/reader, which usually also involves a recording producer... However: that cost? IS RARELY FACTORED INTO THE BUDGET OF PRINTING A BOOK. 
[The claim that Braille and audio] formats are more expensive to produce so they have to be priced higher is only true if you completely throw out the premise that publishers have an obligation to account for disabled readers when they are actually budgeting for and publishing the book."
In my experience as a designer, I've noticed that the high cost of creating accessible features-- whether it's on a website or a building-- is not due to the features costing anything exorbitant. The actual high cost comes in when there is a lack of considering accessibility issues from the very start and you have to retro-fit those features in. Whenever this approach is a project's primary approach to accessibility, then accessibility seems expensive. The true is expense is a failure to plan.

Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to blame disabled people for wanting accessibility to the same resources as everyone else instead of blaming the designers or publishers or the people responsible for hiring and directing them.

If you're about to say something like "Oh, no one has to read entertainment books, I'm sure it's taken care of in schools, tumblr user inlustris weighs in:
My mom is a textbook braillest. She has the software, fixes the formatting, takes the textbook and makes it translatable into braille. Most of her work ends up becoming rush jobs, because schools always forget about their blind students and the materials that they need. They start semesters without the right textbooks, are provided the materials late, can’t take the tests at the same times, because schools and teachers usually lack the foresight to provide the materials in advance. 
What we need is for more designers, publishers and project design leads to learn about the principles of universal design.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Listen Up: Headshots

Hosted by Josué Cardona and Kelli Dunlap, Headshots is one of the most fascinating video game podcasts I've listened to in a while. Dunlap & Cardona are both mental health professionals and avid, passionate gamers. It's from that perspective that they approach their podcast on the psychology of video games, technology, geeky stuff and pop culture.

You can listen to the podcast at the Headshots website, via iOS on iTunes or via Google Play.

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Listen Up: Not Your Mama's Gamer

Not Your Mama's Gamer has always been a bold, insightful and fun take on video gaming from a diverse, inclusive and feminist perspective. The companion podcast is no exception. Samantha Blackmon and the rest of the NYMG staff hold court each week on the latest industry news, perspectives on favorite games, what they're playing or reading... and drinking.

You can listen along via the Not Your Mamas Gamer website, via  iOS on iTunes, or via stitcher .

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

The Other Kind of DM: Potential & Pitfalls of Eroticism In Gaming

As Katherine Cross writes for Bitch Media, while gaming may use sex to sell, the presence of anything revolving around actual sexuality is thin on the ground in tabletop & online RPGs  :
Most pen-and-paper roleplaying games have hundreds or thousands of pages worth of rules, ideas, story content, and other kinds of errata, but very few devote any of that space to content that addresses issues like consent, sexual diversity or orientation, or the sexual culture of the world one is playing in. In-game, then, one is often subject to depressingly familiar forms of sexual harassment—men having their avatars walk up to yours and awkwardly propositioning you, for instance, or refusing to take “no” for an answer if one rebuffs their entreaties—in or out of character. 
Online roleplaying gaming simply follows the paths of sexuality laid out in the physical world.
In spite of this, sexuality is endemic to the world of RPG and part of its visual culture. Commercials and box art for games are rife with heaving bosoms while pornographic proportions are common background decoration, seen by gamers and non-gamers alike.

Cross' essay goes into how sexual activity and fantasies have been handled in both tabletop roleplaying games and their online counterparts, including how sub-cultures within subcultures have sprung up around it. Speaking personally, I know quite a large number of people that have discovered more about their own sexualities, gender identities and more through online roleplaying everywhere from dedicated serves to IRC chatrooms.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Listen Up: The Co-Op

The Koalition in an indie video game website that has featured the voices of people of color united by a love of hip-hop and video games. They have a companion podcast called The Co-Op that features the Koalition staff talking about recent news and announcements in video games, in-depth reviews and some hip-hop crossover discussion.

You can  check 'em out via The Co-op Podcast section of The Koalition or via iOS on iTunes.

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

2017 Game Devs of Color Expo in NYC This Week

After a successful inaugural event last year, the Games Devs of Color Expo returns to New York City this year on June 24th. Createdby developer and industry vet Catt Small, the Game Devs of Color Expo lets people of color in the games industry network with each other, present their work in a professional space, and get feedback directly from consumers. The GDoCExpo will take place at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a historic venue that can hold up to 700 people. To keep the expo accessible, student and low-income attendee tickets are $5 while general tickets are $20.

In addition to game demos and exhibitions, GDoC Expo is hosting five educational talks about game development and four panels about various parts of the game development process. In a win for accessibility, all talks and panels will be live-captioned, and the entire event event is wheelchair-accessible. There are 31 free to play games and game demos at the Expo, as well as several "micro talk" 10 minute presentations, industry development panels, and an evening after party at Babycastles gallery.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Thank Yous For May '17

Here's this month's Patron 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
  • Hillary Gross
  • Gabriel Gentile, on twitter at GabrielCGentile
This month's free Patron-exclusive download: free high quality versions of my Undertale remixes!

What's The Patreon Stuff About, Anyhow?

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 to advocates for inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures and boost diverse creators.

I also create experimental electronic music and art prints & apparel under the name lowercase t, 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 what, 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:

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

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, a project, your YouTube channel-- you name it!

$5 a month

You'll get:

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

$10 a month

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 doodle from me.

$20 a month

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!
Click here to find out how you can become a Patron for as little as a dollar a month-- that's 3 cents a day.

If you don't want a monthly commitment but would still like to help out, you can send any amount you choose one time only by going through PayPal here, and you don't even need a paypal account.
Not a fan of PayPal? You can buy me a coffee via Ko-Fi

Listen Up: Fresh Out of Tokens

Fresh Out of Tokens is a bi-weekly podcast that recently celebrated its 2 year anniversary. Hosted by David & Tanya, the podcast focuses on addressing issues of diversity, inclusion, intersectionality and feminism in video games. Tanya and David are lifelong video game enthusiasts, and this podcast is obviously a labor of love. They bring their combined experience and insight to a podcast that has already featured some intense discussions and amazing guest interviews. They're not afraid to ask difficult questions of interview subject or do deep dives into the culture surrounding video game development and video game fandom and culture.

You can follow along via the Fresh out of Tokens  simplcast site, or on iTunes via iOS

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Listen Up: MEGASheen

MEGASheen is hosted by Nick and Viktor, with a focus on queer people of color that identify as geeks or nerds. Nick is a passionate video game and 80s cartoon fan, while Viktor's wheelhouse is comics (he's a graphic novel creator himself as the creative mind between the amazing urban fantasy StrangeLore) politics and pop culture.

MEGASheen has a website, and you can follow the podcast via iTunes on iOS or via soundcloud .  They're on a 3 week hiatus right now, so this is the perfect time to catch up!

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Gotta Go Font: Fan Site Makes Sega Inpired Fonts

Japanese Sonic the Hedgehog fansite Act Select has a really cool resource that any Sega fan, Sonic The Hedgehog fan or budding graphic designer needs in their life: over 30 different fonts recreating title screen letters from everything from Sega consoles to The House of the Dead. Here's what just two of 'em look like:

You can take a look at all the offered fonts here.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Listen Up: The Black Geeks Podcast

The Black Geeks website has a companion podcast and it works in concert with the website to report on news geek culture art large from a Black perspective. The Black Geeks lend collective decades' worth of knowledge and passion for all things geeky with the mission to "uplift diverse voices and perspectives into everyday conversations".

Follow along on iOS via iTunes or on soundcloud.

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Not Finished Yet: Glacier Mixes Mortal Kombat, Pro Wrestling & Positivity

Ray Lloyd in the pro wrestling persona of Glacier. Photo

Brandon Stroud of UPROXX and its wrestling sub-site With Spandex released a multimedia essay and overview of one of the most ahead-of-his time pro wrestler: Ray Lloyd, aka WCW's Glacier. What made the character both in-the-moment and ahead of his time was the inspiration behind his character-- Mortal Kombat was tearing up arcades in the late 90s.  As Lloyd says, timing is everything:
“Wrestling usually mimics what’s popular in society, what’s out there that is making money for society. Mortal Kombat was a huge thing in the early 90s, going into the mid 90s, and that was really what happened was … Turner saw an opportunity to capitalize on something that they felt was a good risk. And, as you and I were talking earlier I mentioned to you that, [Diamond Dallas Page] has a great saying where he says, ‘Give me talent, give me luck, or give me timing. I’ll take timing every single time.’ And as I look back on it, no one knew then that the timing might’ve needed to be a little bit earlier. But then again, no one knew that nWo was gonna take off the way it did. You can’t predict something like that.”
The article and video goes into the life and times of Glacier and how he's able to use positivity to reach fans both old and new. If you read just one longform article on pro wrestling this year, make it this one. GO. Watch the video! Read the whole thing. Now!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Listen Up: Kugali

Kugali, the companion podcast to the website with the same name, is hosted by four Nigerian men that have been scattered across the globe due to circumstance but happily come together on the podcast to to showcase and discuss television shows, games, comics, animated features and movies created by both Africans and people of African descent in the diaspora as well as anime and pop culture abroad. It's been running since 2015, and the podcast have over 3 seasons so far.

You can listen in on iOS or Google Play or via the podcast section of the Kugali website.

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Black, Queer & In Love: "Bingo Love" Comic Coming Soon

Black queer romance is not a common sight in comics.  Tee Franklin, a black queer disabled comic book writer, has set to change that with her graphic novel "Bingo Love". "Bingo Love" centers on two teenage girls, Hazel and Mari, who meet when their grandmothers bring them along to a church bingo night. They become best friends in the 1960s, then fall in love, and then are forbidden to see each other by their families. Over the next couple of decades decades, the two friends reconnect and become closer as they get older.

In an interview with The Root, Franklin said that she felt this graphic novel was important because “...very rarely do we see queer people, women of color and elderly people in comics, so I knew I was taking a risk, but it’s been well worth it,People need to see that you can be LGBTQ and have a partner for life. We are all worthy of that happy ending, too.”

Some of her own life served as inspiration for the characters' struggles. Franklin explains that she was "...once married to a man and wasn’t fully out to my extended family until very recently. I definitely understand that there are black LGBTQ people out there like Hazel and Mari who feel that they have to hide their true selves from the world because of how society views them. I wanted to tell that story.”

Franklin is no stranger to boosting Black-creator comics, as she is the creator of the #BlackComicsMonth hashtag, but she was still overjoyed to see her work supported. "Bingo Love" was successfully crowd-funded via Kickstarter in March and is currently available for pre-order.

"Bingo Love" is written by Tee Franklin and drawn by Jenn St-Onge ("Jem and the Misfits", "Steven Universe", "Rick and Morty") and the art is gorgeous. Here's an a page:

To get the latest news and pre-order the graphic novel, you can visit the "Bingo Love" website.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Listen Up: Nerds of Prey

I first heard of the Nerds of Prey podcast during their guest-host stint on an episode of the Food Fight podcast. The Nerds of Prey podcast debuted earlier this year, and hosts Shannon, CG, Lauren, and Mel already have a great rapport with one another. Four Black nerd women hold court of everything in the geek galaxy- movies, comics, television and gaming. They've managed to score some impressive interviews too, like Executive Producer of Lost, Alias and Fringe Monica Owusu-Breen.

Follow along via the Nerds of Prey Podcast website, via iTunes on iOS or soundcloud.

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Glitch In The Narrative: ROM 2064 Missteps With Disability

I loved almost everything about MidBoss' cyberpunk adventure game, Read Only Memories: 2064. The soundtrack was evocative and well put together, the look of the game nailed the classic cyberpunk aesthetic, the writing was by turns affecting and humorous, and nearly all the characters from the protagonist and side NPCs were vibrantly well written. ROM: 2064 is also a game that takes unflinching looks at issues of morality, disability, gender, and mental illness in society, which is why one character's end game story turns out to be so disappointing. I've set up a jump cut to ward off accidental spoilers, so be warned: the rest of this post features spoilers for the endgame of ROM: 2064.

Monday, June 12, 2017

North America's 1st Indigenous Comic Shop Opens In NM

Native Realities, the Albuquerque-based company behind the nation’s only Indigenous Comic Con, is  also opening a storefront in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico later this week. It's called Red Planet Books & Comics and it will be the first indigenous focused and owned comic shop in North America. The store will feature comics, toys, games, children’s books and pop art from Native and indigenous artists, as well as new and used books by indigenous writers from around the world. 
While Red Planet Books & Comics isn't the only store in North America to focus on carrying Indigenous works in a book store (there's Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, Resistencia Books in Austin, Texas and Strong Nations in Nanaimo, Canada)  Red Planet is the only comic shop and will focus on not just books but Indigenous works from all of pop culture.
Here's what a recent profile on Francis and the plans for Red Planet has to say:
“What we're trying to create is a community-based space,” Francis explained, after pointing out that Native Realities requires a physical office location, so why not make that space all the more inclusive by inviting in the community that the small press serves? “It's not just the selling of objects, it's [the invitation] to come on down and play games all afternoon. To just come and nerd out, for Native folks to know there's a place like that. I say Native folks—and that is our focus—but really, anybody.” In a world where you can access literally any title you've been wanting to pick up online, it is essential that bookstores facilitate those kinds of connections—to be a rallying point for people who have a strong cross section of interests that pull them there. Red Planet will pull in people with many identities—comic nerds to Magic the Gathering nerds to bookworms and “Indiginerds” of all stripes, as Francis endearingly refers to himself and others.
“Albuquerque has one of the largest populations of Native folks, and having a specialized storefront adds to the cultural value this population brings to the city,” Lee Francis, owner and CEO of Native Realities, said in a news release. “We want to highlight the amazing work that Native and indigenous folks are doing in and around pop culture.” Lee Francis is from Laguna Pueblo and grew up in New Mexico, is the editor in chief of the Moccasin Telegraph

Listen Up: MisanthroPlay

Pop culture analysis MisanthoPop has a companion video game podcast called, appropriately enough, MisanthroPlay. Hosted by game critics Robert Fenner and Alvin Chua, each episode of MisanthroPlay features two parts. The first part focuses on a different in video games- types of genres, types of narratives, design, or even a series of games itself. In the second half, Alvin and Robert talk about whatever they've been playing that week. The recent podcast going in on the Wonder Boy remake is a delight!

You can browse an episode index here or subscribe via iTunes  here.
Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Listen Up: Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds is a website devoted to discussing, promoting and celebrating nerdiness among Black women & people of color. They have a regularly produced companion podcast hosted by blogger and writing powerhouse Jamie Broadnax and a stellar rotation of contributors and engaging and flat-out funny special guests (the recent episode with W. Kamau Bell is my personal favorite). You can listen to the podcast via Soundcloudon iTunes or via the main website here.

Listen Up is an ongoing series devoted to shining a spotlight on podcasts by diverse creators. You can check out all the podcasts previously featured here. If you have a podcast you'd like to recommend, post it in the comments or email me at shawnstruck at gmail dot com.

Fanart Friday #2: Ramon Villalobos

Ramon Villalobos is probably best know for his work for Marvel Comics, but he's also a DC fan.Inspired by the huge success of the Wonder Woman live action movie, artist Ramon Villalobos shared some of his own takes of Wonder Woman-- his "favorite Chicano warrior princess" as he likes "drawing her real strong".

He also did one of my favorite takes on Kitty Pride and Lockheed.

You can follow him on instagram, twitter and tumblr.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Listen Up: Geek Soul Brother

Henry, a self-described geek and nerd since the 60’s has a website, Geek Soul Brother, which has a companion podcast. He offers his perspective on everything from horror, sci-fi, comics and cartoons. Aside from bringing an older generation's perspective to something new, he tries to introduce a generation of younger geeks to the geek universe that was around before they were born. He doesn't just spotlight classic stuff though, he also has some really cool interviews with up and black artists and creators. You can follow his podcast on blog talk radio or on iTunes.

Writing Diverse Characters & The Fear Of Doing It Wrong

Prolific author and blogger s.e. smith recently wrote about his thoughts about white people writing diverse characters and settings (smith is white himself), and it's pretty relevant right now. There have been increasing calls for more diverse representation in media. As smith points out, though, that push comes with a fear that many white authors are reluctant to discuss: the fear of getting it wrong, and the fear of being widely criticized. Could that be attributed to a sudden influx of angry fans? Smith says those discussions aren't really anything new:
One consequence of more open discussion about diversity is that nondiverse creators are forced to see that discussion. It’s not like diverse readers and creators just now started criticising works that have huge problems. Rather, those conversations were happening, often in the open, and no one cared or paid attention. Now, there’s enough momentum that they become highly visible, that it’s no longer possible to be insulated from them. Some nondiverse creators appear to be operating under the impression that there’s an army of mean people gearing up to descend on whatever they write to shred it to pieces as soon as it hits the shelves — or before. Often, that comes from a defensive position, because it hurts to hear that you did something wrong, or that something you worked on for months or years has major problems, and the instinctive reaction is to lash out to neutralize the criticism so you can go on with your life.
Smith goes into the difference between the fear of doing it wrong, and the fear of how you'll be perceived, and offers some pretty good advice. Another excellent resource are the annual "Writing The Other" workshops and classes offered by authors Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Listen Up: Blacker Than Black Times Infinity

While listening to the Those Damn Comic Book Guys podcast, I was really taken with a request guest they'd have on to talk about anime: Prodigy. Prodigy was insightful and funny, and I was delighted to find out he's also one of the hosts of a great ensemble podcast called Blacker Than Black Times Infinity.  Hosted by Prodigy and three of his friends (Stitch, Old Ninja, and Blue Cronus), they talk about everything nerdy: video games, comic books, tv shows, streaming media, anime (they all have been anime fans since they were little kids), and superhero movies from the indie to the AAA blockbusters.

Their facebook is here, and you can listen along on their Soundcloud or via iTunes.

Dragons, Jewish Families & LGBT Romance

Author Shira Glassman recently announced a new republished collection of what she has dubbed her "Mangoverse books", a whimsical fantasy series featuring queer Jewish characters forging their own paths and forming chosen family through the bonds of adventure. Each book has new color cover art a Hebrew and Yiddish glossary, and the series as a whole gets a new tie-in with a collection of short stories called Tales from Perach. Here's some quick and witty summaries of each book:

  • The Second Mango - origin story, in which the gay Queen and hetero demi warrior woman become BFFs
  • Climbing the Date Palm - Queen helps the bi prince from next door rescue his activist boyfriend from Certain Doom
  • A Harvest of Ripe Figs - Queen solving mysteries in her capital city, chiefly the theft of a priceless violin, while raising a baby with her bi partner
  • The Olive Conspiracy - Queen saves her country from a plot to sabotage her country’s agriculture
Glassman's books are breezy and whimsical without coming off as insubstantial. Queen Shulamit carries power and agency and shows that kindness and compassion need not mean weakness or uncertainty, and is probably easily my favorite non-dragon character.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Listen Up: Mah Nameks

Welcome to the first post in a multi part series of Listen Up, where we feature podcasts created, hosted and run by people of color covering all sorts of media fandoms and subjects. Kicking things off is the excellent Mah Nameks.

NJ's own Antoine Lucas (along with rotating cast of 6 other recurring friends & co-hosts) all watch and discuss recently released anime. Of course, any good podcast review needs a good ratings theme , so as you might guess from the name, "Mah Nameks", it revolves around Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z.
  • A bad show is given the rating "Special Beam Cannon" (since it is Piccolo's signature move and also easily the worst special attack in the series)
  • An average show's rates "Needs More Training"
  • A really good show is rated "Mah Namek" 
The vibe is pretty chill and often funny as hell, like you have a bunch of friends hanging out chatting about anime while dunking on bad anime, and each other. You can listen along on Soundcloud and on iTunes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hollywood Still Way Behind LGBT & Racial Representation

Description: Screenshot from GLAAD study that reads: Transgender
representation was merely one character in "Zoolander 2". The
character, played by Bennedict Cumberbatch, was used as the punchline
to a joke.
Two years ago, GLAAD released a video titled "Hollywood Must Do Better" that  was basically a supercut of the most egregious anti-LGBT moments from major Hollywood films from the past few years. It was a companion piece to studies the group releases every year that rate major Hollywood films on a "social responsibility index" that looks at the representation of racial minorities as well as LGBT characters. "Moonlight" won an Oscar this year, so that must mean things are pretty great now, right?

Wrong. As this year's study shows, Hollywood is still way behind when it comes represention people that aren't white, straight, or male. in a study of 125 major film releases from major film studios, only 23 films included LGBT-identifying characters. That's just 18 percent.

Of those 22 films, 19 had a gay male character. Lesbian characters went from 23% in 2015 to 35% in 2016. 3 films had a bi character. Transgender representation in major Hollywood films last here clocked in at exactly one: a character played by a cis male actor as the butt of a transphobic joke.

Racial diversity in onscreen characters declined as well. From the LGBT characters of the last year, 48 of them were white (69%), nine were Black/African American (13%), four were Asian/Pacific Islander (6%) and one character was Latinx. Eight LGBT characters were identified as non-human.

The study also outlines a great thumbnail guide in looking at LGBT characters in films called the Vito Russo Test. A  film passes the Vito Russo test if:

  • The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  • That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another).
  • The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character must matter.
Similar to the Bechdel Test, it's a fairly low bar to clear. Sadly, even the above reasonable standards aren't met by most films. As the study says:

Only 8 of the 22 (36%) inclusive major studio films passed the Vito Russo Test this year, the lowest percent­age in this study’s history, compared to 11 of 20 (55%) inclusive films released in 2014, 7 of 17 (41%) in 2013, and 6 out of 14 (43%) inclusive films released in 2012. This is a significant drop from the previous year when just over half of the inclusive films passed. There is clearly much room for industry improvement. More films need to include substantial LGBT characters that pass this simple test.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Record of Fansub Wars: 90s Anime Beef That Shaped North America Fandom

Description: A cardboard box filled with home-made
copies of VHS tapes and fansubs of Dragon Ball Z.
Anime fans these days have tons of ways to get subtitled anime: buying DVDs, subscribing to the Crunchyroll streaming service, hunting through torrent sites, or poking through illegal streaming site hubs. But back in the early 90s, there was only one way for fans to get their hands on anime that hadn't yet been translated and released in North America: fansub groups distributing episodes of anime on VHS tapes.

The way most fansub groups worked was like this: First the group would watch an untranslated episode recorded from Japan, jot down translations, and using a TV-to-computer signal splitter, sync the subtitles to the feed and create a master tape. The group would then make copies of the master by using VCRs that would allow you to play one tape and copy it to a blank tape. These first generation copy owners would get requests from other distributors and end users, asking for up to three copies at a time and including both return postage and video tapes (or the price of tapes). MOst VHS tapes could fit about three or four episodes. So if there was fan demand for something like Fushigi Yuugi-- a 52 episode series-- the entire series run would require 13 VHS tapes. And if your fansub group was the only group translating a series... and you decided to just stop, well... that's were things get interesting. Writing for Vice's Motherboard section, Marc Shaw goes behind the scenes to talk about how a turf war in the '90s over fansubs would go on to shape the Ottowa anime scene:
[Ottowa's Anime Appreciation Society] which would host 20-30 person meetups in a community centre in suburban Ottawa—began watching Fushigi Yûgi, which ran from 1995 to 1996 in Japan... aimed at a teenage female audience, it was considered unlikely to succeed in North America so it wasn't initially planned for release here. 
[A] popular fansub group at the time, Tomodachi, [released] subtitles were the preferred way of watching Fushigi Yûgi because of the special care they took in their translations. 
But in early 1997, a competing group, Central Anime, allegedly made copies of Tomodachi's subs and released them under their own name. This was seen as bad form and a sort of dishonour among thieves. Tomodachi retaliated by refusing to release the show's final 20 episodes, which they had already finished subtitling, to anyone. Even though Tomodachi subs were much preferred, the club would have done anything to finish the series.

Now, I was just starting to become active in the nascent anime fandom in North America in the late 90s, and this refusal was a super big deal. Thanks to Google, we have an archive of what newsgroups of time thought of the Tomadachi debacle.

In addition to fansub demand being cited as on of the reasons Fushigi Yugi was released in North America, it was also the genesis of Ottowa's large anime enthusiast community and conventions.
The AAS put together Konan Koku- a fan gathering devoted to watching the remaining 20 episodes of Fushigi Yugi over one weekend (Konan Koku is taken from the county of the same name in FY). Along with a convention that same year in nearby Toronto, Konan Koku kickstarted the region's anime convention scene. As Shaw notes:
The Ottawa-Gatineau region now boasts its own bi-annual convention, G-Anime, the roots of which can be traced all the way back to the various anime clubs of the nineties. Anime fans of today have the scrappy warriors and fansubs of the nineties to thank.
I do want to take issue with one characterization in the article though: Central Anime was not a tape distributor. What CA was big on was sharing their translated scripts for free so that other interested fans could distribute. Tomodachi didn't want go that route, thus the argument. So Central Anime transcribed the translation, and released the script. I still think that copying Tomodachi's work thus far without permission was a jerk move, but so was Tomodachi trying to act like a de-facto distributor. Man, there's a sentence I never thought I'd being writing almost 20 years later.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Moving On: Side Scrollers, Cameras & Player Experience

Indie game designer Itay Keren recently posted a fascinating in-depth essay on his Gamasutra blog based on a talk he gave all about side-scrolling platformers, how the "camera" or game view works in a few different types of platformers, and what that means for both game design and the player experience. In addition he creates a very useful glossary for platforming and side scrollers out of whole cloth! An excerpt:
Working on my game Mushroom 11, I was faced with many different design and technology challenges. I wasn’t expecting to find references to issues like dynamically changing shapes or vertex animation, but I was quite surprised that camera work, a subject with more than 30 years of history in games, was hardly discussed. I decided to start a journey through the history of 2D gaming, documenting their challenges, approaches and how the evolution of their solutions. Also, since there’s a lack of proper terminology for the many different solutions, I started gathering and categorizing them into groups, providing my own glossary, if only for my personal reference.

For example, here's a breakdown of how the arcade game Shinobi handles tracking the player's movements:

Maybe my favorite classic game, Shinobi, has some very high jumps between multiple platforms. The designers came up with a unique camera system: vertically, due to the many platforms the character jumps between, Shinobi uses a very wide vertical camera window. As always, the window pulls the camera with it immediately. The problem with a wide (or tall) window is that after a small jump, the character could be stuck at the top of the window with very little top-view, as we’ve seen in Rastan Saga. Shinobi simply continuously aligns the camera, slowly, to the Ninja, keeping the focus on the action and in most cases keeping rapid camera motion to the minimum.

Shinobi © 1987 Sega

position-snapping (vert.) -constantly reduce window drift by focusing the camera back on the player
camera-window (vert.)
position-locking (horiz.)

He follows that up with a really neat look at how Super Mario World handles snapping focus to both the player AND the platform. As Itay shows:

One of the many features that Super Mario World introduced was platform-snapping. As with any camera-window, the camera would stay stationary until the character hits the edge. But since mario inevitably lands on a platform, as soon as he does, the camera would immediately snap to its position.

Super Mario World © 1990 Nintendo

platform-snapping* - camera snaps to the player only as it lands on a platform
camera-window* (vert.)
* Where applicable
* Threshold triggered
manual-control* (horiz.)
* Controller provides extra panning

The entire post is a fascinating read. It explains many different gaming concepts in an easy to understand way, is thoroughly documented and has TONS of classic gaming nostalgia, too. GO read the whole thing!

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