Video Games

Sexism in SFWA (and the world)

by on Feb.18, 2014, under Articles, Culture, Gaming, Video Games, Writing

You don’t have to look very far these days to see sexism but you do have to know what you are looking for. The problem is that most of us are effectively blind to it, both because it is kept behind close doors and  because it is hiding in plain sight. And when people, particularly women, call attention to it, they’re often labeled misogynist, or simply told to “laugh it off”. Even when sexism is dragged out from behind doors for all to see, it is easy to claim that it is happening to just one person, or a small group of people, hidden away, and not a systemic problem within our society.

Noted and award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal was slandered by some of her peers in the Science Fiction Writer’s Association (SFWA) the other day. Male members of the organization made comments via the organization’s public email listserv. One called her a hypocrite based upon her public views as a feminist and what clothing she chooses to wear to award ceremonies, as well as simply calling her phony and incompetent.

To her credit, Mary has offered a response which, rather than simply attacking back, called attention to this attack and focused instead on making it an example of sexism and to make note that this is not an incident she is facing alone, but that women inside and outside the SFWA suffer all the time from what is effectively verbal abuse.

In her response entitled”Me, as a useful representative example“, she says the following:

Then I replied to the messages saying, “Honestly, I’m fine. Four years in office inured me to this so mostly I’m just laughing.”

And this is the part that I feel I should draw attention to — I was “mostly” laughing. I was also having mild stress reactions. Dry sweats, elevated heart rate. I was ready to shrug them off as, “Meh, doesn’t materially affect me. I’ve seen worse.”

Until someone pointed it out that I was basically saying, “I’m inured to being abused, because I was abused for years.” See… the things those folks are saying in that public forum? When I was in office, they would email that bile directly to me and because I was an officer, I could not choose to ignore it. I had to read every single one. And I had to reply politely to them. Strangely, sometimes I had trouble doing that, but a polite response was the one that was expected. Now? Being out of office for two years, I can say whatever the fuck I want, but most beautifully, I don’t have to read the emails.

So this is why I feel weird about writing about this. My impulse is to tell you all that I’m fine and that this has no material affect on my life. And that is true. But I also know that I am a useful representative sample of the abuse that happens to other women.

Too many places, too many women, get this sort of unwelcome attention and commentary about what they were wearing but no one does anything. It’s always, “Laugh about it” or “Just shrug it off,” or “Ignore it and he’ll go away.”

You see how well that last is working?

So, I really, truly am fine. But watch what happens to me now that I’m posting. Read the comments when they happen. Note the people who say that because I’m talking about the abuse, I must be begging for attention.

Take me as a useful representative example. And know that I am not an isolated case.

It is sad that we need examples and I applaud Kowal for providing one. And we do need one. I recently was reading an online article about a video game that was in no way related to gender equality. In the middle of this author’s article, he says the following:

…this is, after all, a game where half the punchlines are “ogling women is funny” (and I say that as a staunch anti-feminist)…

It stopped me reading right in my tracks. It took me awhile to comprehend that the initial statement meant that the game wasn’t necessarily to be taken so seriously as it relied upon humor like men staring at women. Yet I couldn’t understand why he felt compelled to add the anti-feminism qualifier, to declare that he was staunchly opposed to a society where men and women are treated equally without discrimination or abuse, be it physical or emotional.

Actually it seems unlikely that the author is an active proponent of sexism. Instead he is likely ignorant of the amount of sexism that exists in our culture and the harm that it does. Instead he is reacting to the backlash that accompanies attempts to educate people regarding this harm, shielding himself from it by claiming that he is not a feminist. This backlash is what Mary Robinette Kowal wants you to look for in the coming days.

That backlash will be just some of the sexism that hides in plain sight.

Links:
Apparently, these guys don’t want women to write science fiction by Aja Romano [DailyDot.com]
Me, as a useful representative example by Mary Robinette Kowal [MaryRobinetteKowal.com]
Cheap Arts by Silvia Moreno-Garcia [Silvia Moreno-Garcia.com]
Mary Robinette Kowal Offers Herself Up as a Useful Representative Example by John Scalzi [whatever.scazli.com]
Does Bravely Default Hate Atheists? by Geoff Thew [HardCoreGamer.com]

 

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Penny Arcade, Pax, & Dickwolves

by on Sep.06, 2013, under Articles, Culture, Gaming, News, Video Games

The past is full of unfortunate events. Actions taken with little to no experience, wisdom, and certainly no hindsight to guide them can have profound effects. We can, at least, hope to learn from them however. Let me take a moment to discuss a controversy, which is still settling, called Penny Arcade’s dickwolves.

First some context, back in 2010 Penny Arcade posted a comic which mentions rape, now infamously known as the dickwolves comic. Now rape is a serious issue and our society has problems with addressing it and many other female related social issues. However when the comic began receiving criticism focusing on the mention of rape and not  the intended commentary on moral ambiguity in games, Mike Krahulik, more well known as Gabe and co-creator of Penny Arcade, responded by mocking the critics, claiming attempts to censor his work and an issue of free speech. This was the start of the actual controversy as fans and detractors angrily attacked each other vocally. The issue exploded further after merchandise referencing the comic was released. Ultimately the merchandise was removed, despite Mike Krahulik public protests, and the entire sitaution settled, until recently when Mike mentioned his regret over the merchandise being removed at a recent PAX 2013.

This issue is very complicated and I covered it in a very broad manner above. I did so because I wanted to share the following links that cover the issue from various viewpoints that hopefully will let us all learn from this. I provide the following links to inform people regarding various viewpoints of the controversy.

The first is a personal post on tumblr by someone claiming to have attended the 2013 panel. The post is effectively anonymous and can’t be verified, but that isn’t the point in sharing it. It’s the tale of a rape victim, who met her raper at PAX and despite the negative associations, continued to attend PAX, that is until she heard Mike’s comments about the dickwolves. The article is a powerful chronicle.

I Can’t Go Back Or Why I’m So Bent Out of Shape about Penny Arcade (A Dream Come True [Tumblr])

The point of linking to this article is two-fold. One to understand why the original criticisms of the dickwolves comic was raised. What effects including rape in a joke, even if the joke wasn’t about the rape, can have upon people. The topic of why it perpetuates rape culture is left for another time. The second is to understand why Mike just mentioning the comic has rekindled this controversy. Why people would consider not attending PAX any further.

Because many people are, and not just attendees but companies as well. Many people have been posting about how Mike’s and the reactions of some of Penny Arcade’s fans are wrong. One such response has been from Wired.com’s Rachel Edidin.

Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo by Rachel Edidin [Wired.com]

Rachel Edidin covers the controversy very quickly, providing commentary as to why this event is holding gaming as a culture back and why people should just leave PAX behind. Which I feel is a sad statement to have to make. PAX is well-known for claiming to be for everyone, but if what Rachel and the above blogger say, it is only giving lip service to this ideology.

So why is Mike behaving this way? One of the prominent figures of the gaming community mocking critics and inciting bully behavior in his fans?

MovieBob, creator of The Big Picture, The Game Overthinker, and other web series, provides what I feel is a very fair and gamer centric viewpoint of the entire situation, with particular insight into why Mike might be having this way. Warning this is a long article and it rambles a little, but it covers the entire situation and is well worth reading.

Dickwolf’d (GameOverThinker [Blogpost])

Ultimately what Movie Bob is trying to say is Penny Arcade was not wrong to post the comic but at the same time criticizing it for how lightly it uses rape was also not wrong. Neither side was necessarily wrong in this situation. Mike Krahulik’s response to the criticism however, was completely wrong.

Instead his mocking responses very indicative a mentality one might have had in the 80s and 90s. When comics and gaming were often attacked by people wishing to censor it for various ignorant and unfounded reasons. This may have been his reasoning for his actions, even if they still wrong. What is worse his actions inspired unconscionable attacks against critics of the comic by many fans of Penny Arcade. Some of these fans did it out of loyalty, and sadly some did it because of the still pervasive and ignorant misogyny that pervades gaming culture.

Thankfully the tale has something of a happy ending.

Some Clarification by Gabe (Mike Krahulik) [Penny Arcade]

Mike has apologized for all of his actions after the initial strip. I particularly like Mike’s comments about PAX, which I hope is enough to make people reconsider their calls for boycotting the convention.

I sort of see PAX like I see my children. Yes I helped make them and yes they have a lot of me in them but they can be better than me. They can take the good stuff I have and leave out all the bad. Like my kids, PAX makes me want to be better.

At the very least all of us can learn from this controversy. Take the time to learn the difference between criticism and censorship, of the reasons why people become offended, and what can be done to fix the problems of rape in our culture, rather than attack the symptoms.

If you’re interested in other reactions to this entire controversy, one blogger has taken it upon themselves to archive this from 2010 and beyond at the this tumblr, in two large link based posted.

 

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Not all Journalism is Responsible

by on May.20, 2013, under Articles, Culture, Gaming, News, Opinions, Video Games

Kotaku, a video game new site, ran an article by Chris Person, discussing an episode by television journalist Katie Couric. The article examines how journalism can be used to steer your perceptions of an event through techniques and words. In this case it was used to create fear that video games will some how ruin children’s lives. Sadly not all journalism is going to be as blatant as this episode of Katie was.

The only real safeguard against this type of journalism is critical thinking. Is reading, watching, or listening, then thinking about if what you’ve taken in matches what you know, what you can reason out, and even if it does or doesn’t dig a little deeper into whatever its sources might be, before you internalize it as a “truth”. This requires effort. You’re not going to succeed every time. The other way is to try to find trusted sources of news and information, but make sure they earn your trust.

We life in the Information Age now and while that gives us all sorts of awesome things, it should require us to be a responsible consumer of all that information.

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A video game I want to play

by on Apr.29, 2013, under Art, Articles, Entertainment, Gaming, Video Games

The author of Dresden Codak, inspired of the  Video Game Tropes vs Women series, decided to design a Legend of Zelda story idea with Zelda as the primary character, and it sounds awesome.

A fan made concept of a Zelda game where Zelda is actually the main character.

A fan made concept of a Zelda game where Zelda is actually the main character.

Source

Aaron, the creator of Dresden Codak, does a little bit more than just make a cover but also goes as far as to describe and draw the main characters (Zelda, Prince Link, and Ganndorf) and explain the mythology of Hyrule, and layout the items and magic that Zelda has access to.

A fan made imaging of Zelda as the main character of her own The Legend of Zelda game.

A fan made imaging of Zelda as the main character of her own The Legend of Zelda game.

And more. Please check out his post to read up about it.

I mention that this would be a game I’d love to play. It isn’t just because it is Zelda in her own game. That’s actually beside the point. It is the gameplay described in the details of the game. Weapons, magic, enemies, and the plot all sound very compelling in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional third person video game. The plot could be re-written to be a completely original set of characters for all that it matters, if the gameplay is solid.

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Video: Super Mario Busters

by on Feb.18, 2013, under Entertainment, Gaming, Video Games, Videos, Visual Media

Presented with little commentary other than “Who you going to pipe?” Okay yeah that kinda sucked but still. Awesome video.

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News: The Museum of Modern Art to showcase video games

by on Feb.04, 2013, under Art, Articles, Culture, Gaming, News, Video Games

So the MoMA, or the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, is building an exhibit that will be open in March. But what will the contents of this exhibit be? Video Games!? But Video Games Aren’t Art! Or so plenty of critics want to claim.

Except that legally, they are, according to United States Supreme Court. But some of modern culture seems to have hang-ups over the idea. Video games are not new. They’ve been around since the sixties. Yet they’re only now starting to receive mass acceptance, mostly because the adult world has grown up with them. The average age of a person who plays video games is 30 years old, according to studies done by the Entertainment Software Association.

But that isn’t the only reason. Even people under the age of thirty might question the artistic value of video games, and I’ll agree, as a whole, most video games are created with the intention of being entertainment to make the creators money. But not all. And even those video games which are created with this intention can have significant artistic merit, for which Mike Rugnetta from PBS’ Idea Channel happily provides many examples.

That is because video games are a unique type of medium. Unlike almost every type of artistic endeavor commonly accepted as art, video games have interaction. Which is what the MoMA is focusing on for their first exhibit.

Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe. The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design—a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity.

The exhibit opens on in March in New York City and will feature 12 different video games from classics like Tetris, to more modern video games like Portal and flOw, and will attempt to expand to many other types of video games.

Sources
Video Games: 14 in the collection, for starters by Paola Antonelli [Museum of Modern Art]
Video Games as art [Wikipedia]
Video games can never be art by Roger Ebert [Chicago Sun Times]
Sorry MoMA, video games are not art by  [The Guardian UK]
Top 5 Most Artful Video Games with Mike Rugnetta [YouTube PBS Idea Channel]
Industry Facts [Entertainment Software Association]

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Conan O’Brien plays Resident Evil 6

by on Oct.08, 2012, under Entertainment, Gaming, Video Games, Videos, Visual Media

Albeit with a laugh track but you’ll probably be laughing too.

Source

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Video: The Big Picture: On The Subject Of Violence

by on Aug.02, 2012, under Art, Articles, Culture, Gaming, Video Games, Videos, Visual Media

A discussion of the use of violence in media and how it may or may not contribute to violence in society but, more importantly, what we should do about it.

Source

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Gamewatch: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

by on Apr.30, 2012, under Gamewatch, Gaming, Reviews, Video Games

an I’m just kicking butt here with the game completion stuff huh?

So hot off the heels of finishing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I finish off Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. The end came actually as a bit of a surprise. I was expecting maybe two or three more hours of game play from where I picked it back up, but I managed to finish it in about an hour and a half, even though the final areas required me to die no less than three times each.

Uncharted is the video game series that proved the PS3′s graphical superiority to just about everything save some of the best computers out there and most of those don’t have software support to rival the PS3. The first Uncharted was a fun ride with impressive graphics, decent game play, and a good sense of humor. The closest thing to an action adventure film the game industry had seen in a long time. You controlled the main hero, who’s quips were often too hilarious for me, and solved puzzles via climbing, jump, and contextual buttons interspersed with cover based firearm combat. The second game upped the scale with more impressive death-defying scenes and interactive cut scenes, similar if improved combat, and even better graphics. Whether or not the story improved is up to personal opinion and whether or not you like the main character.

The third game, on the other hand, upped a few things but not by much. They worked heavily on having your character interact with the environment in a bit of a believable way. For example if your character runs into a wall, he lifts his hands to stop himself from hitting his head on it. Walking down a stairs with a railing or along a wall causes your character to reach out and touch the wall itself as you might do while you’re walking beside it. Little things like that. Combat improvements included a melee system that more or less worked on a basic strike, counter, grab that was neat during interactive cut scenes but less useful during actual gun fights.

Some of the nitpicking I have were that the graphics didn’t really seem to improve at all. If they had I didn’t really notice. The environment layouts were still interesting and breathtaking but I was still getting some uncanny valley on some of the characters. Additionally the game had no install time, which meant that loading the game, and then loading your save, took forever. Plus advertisement credits at the beginning of the game meant a total load time of at least a minute if not more, before I actually started to play the game.

Another weird area was the story. I’m not sure if I liked it better than the second game or if it is on par. I do not really remember the second game’s story other than Drake was having woman problems between his love interest in the first game and a new “edgier” woman who may or may not have betrayed in him the second game. The third game, however, focuses on Nathan’s long-term father-like figure, Sully, even having several flashbacks which help explain how they met, and how everything ties together. Where the story seems to fail for me is the characterization of all the new characters. There is an ally we’ve never met before who, while funny, seems slightly out-of-place. And the two major villains of the story never really explained what they were doing, what they wanted, or what was happening, other than they had a history with Sully and Nathan and were willing to use them to get the treasure everybody was supposedly hunting. It wouldn’t seem like a big nitpick except that all the scenes with the villains played out like Nathan had a serious vested interest in their failure, while I the player, didn’t really know or care.

On other aspect of the story that I felt was touched upon but never really brought to fruition was that we’re giving a back story of how Nathan and Sully meet, which involves pointing out that we don’t really know who Nathan Drake is, or his past, or that he really is or isn’t related to the original Sir Frances Drake. Given the title being Drake’s Deception, I was expecting more revelations regarding Nathan, not just what Sir Frances Drake did many years in the past.

So sadly the story did not meet my expectations. The game play, while fun, was more or less the same old bag. The cinematic nature of the game was upheld but not as memorable as some of the scenes from Uncharted 2. One advantage is that the game is relatively short although the story does seem to end a bit abruptly for me. Overall I liked it but I likely won’t play it again.

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Gamewatch: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

by on Apr.26, 2012, under Articles, Gamewatch, Gaming, Reviews, Video Games

Seems like forever since I did a game watch, although it was really only a month ago. For those of you who don’t remember, Gamewatch is where I report actually finishing a video game I’ve been playing. Since, in the past, I’ve had difficulty completing video games in favor of starting new ones.

That brings us to my latest conquest: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I was a big fan of Twilight Princess. Not only did you get to be a wolf, which was awesome, but the ending boss battle was one of the most memorable for in all the Zelda games, hearkening back to the old SNES and NES titles. If there was an issue with Twilight Princess, it was that it was still rather formulaic. It copied most of its game play from Ocarina of Time which was in no way a bad thing but when compared to the latest installment, Skyward Sword, makes it feel somewhat lacking.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, turns so many things about the Zelda franchise on its head, yet keeping the spirit of the game and the good aspects of the game play making the entire game very fresh and fun. I was surprised by several turn of events and not by others but I ultimately enjoyed the entire game. The most interesting change, I feel, was that there was a far more consistent plot to the game. Rather than the typical hero’s journey to save the princess, Zelda is not so much the princess as a mayor’s daughter, and while she needs assistance, she is as much apart of a the quest of destiny as you. In fact half the game is spent following her trail that she is blazing through a post-apocalyptic world. No not leather and chains just the surface of the world, which was mostly abandoned by people in order to live in the sky away from an invasion of monsters.

Some of the nitpicks I have for the game is the flying mechanic. Your character spends a lot of time flying on his bird between locations in the sky and to locations on the ground. The “skyworld” is not very large and it takes perhaps two-three minutes to fly across it without any special speed boosts but it is also very boring to fly across. Unlike horse riding in prior games, there’s no scenery to get a sense of motion. Just small floating islands getting bigger or smaller. There are some random birds with gems you can knock down, and some floating rocks have enemies that shoot at you, but they don’t provide that interesting of a distraction. Flying is fun for maybe the first hour but you spend about a quarter of the game flying places and it just gets old after a while.

One nitpick I’ve heard from others is that the game reuses areas too much. There are three main surface world areas and two major skyworld areas. Through the course of the game you open up the pieces of each surface area, which generally requires going through the initial area multiple times. I can see how people might feel a little tired being asked to run through one area a few times to get to a new area but you spend much more time in new areas than you do in old ones, and often even the most trekked areas newly accessible secrets with the gear you’ve newly acquired. The game makes heavy use of modifying the areas you’re in to be new and different, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but ultimately it worked for me.

Overall I would highly suggest this game for Zelda fans.

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