Monday, June 30, 2014

Oh Australia...Stop Being Like China

Just about a year ago, Australia finally allowed for Mature rated games to enter their country under the R18+ rating. This did require some games to remove content deemed too violent (again, the irony considering Australia's origins during settlement), but many companies complied to get their games to a new market.

According to Kotaku Australia some lawmakers want to restrict sales of those R18+ games, possibly outright ban them again. The whole country has gone corrupt with these games on the market!

But it's not about the violent content in games. Rather, it's a broader rule they want to instill on all media for sexualizing children, based on a report recommendation from the Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People. It's up to the Attorney General in Western Australia on if they want to follow through with action to limit, restrict, or outright ban sales of R18+ games, when maybe one or two would deal with the content in question.

This is the problem that I'm seeing with this clause: Anything that would be rated PG or above, T or above, in the U.S. would be edited before releasing in Australia. So any of this "content" that they are referring to doesn't exist in the games that are being sold. So...why are we making up this new law? Is it to help deter anyone from trying to slip the content in? Because I doubt that will happen. With how strict the board governing the sales of video games is, the chances of a mistake like that are virtually nonexistent. So I have to wonder if this really is about the safety of children, or just another politician trying to have the world see his way, and not stopping until it's done.

And even if the law is toned down to make it illegal to buy an 18+ game for someone under the age of 18, you still run into the same issues regarding enforcing the laws, and if the government even has the right to dictate how parents raise their kids.

The slope maintains it's slipperiness.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Weekly Link Roundup With More Boom

The best and fun on the web in today's weekly link roundup. Let's start off with splosions!

IGN reviews some of the best explosions in video games. Ever. It would make Michael Bay proud. The man does love to blow stuff up.

Did you know that over 100 Kickstarter games that were funded are available on Steam to play? Some are free downloads, others are pre-orders with beta game play up and running. Some are good and others are not so good, but hey. Crowdfunding in action! It's good to see that many of these games were fulfilled.

YouTube will soon be able to support 48 and 60fps videos, which is comparable to most of today's video games and high definition movies. For a lot of gamers, this is a huge leap forward in something that we did not expect to obtain. Most YouTube videos work on a 30fps, max. Which means games running faster then this resulted in dropped frames and unintentional appearance of "slowing down" when it isn't the case. Now this has the potential for real-time game play in real-time without the dropped frames.

We know about the PlayStation Now, Sony's new Netflix like streaming services for video games. Well they aren't content with just PlayStation owners. They want to go after those with Sony televisions as well. The service, which will release to the public on July 30th, will also be available to Sony TV's and the interesting part is you don't need a console to play. How is this possible you may ask? Well it's simple. The games are all stored on The Cloud. Nothing is downloaded to the consoles themselves, with the technology all being used at Sony server hubs. So you could feasibly play a game on your TV without having the console. But you do need a controller, and most Sony televisions today (even those made 5 years ago) come with Bluetooth and wired setups that getting a controller to work would be a cinch.

And in a fun twist to all of the morality, ethics posts I have made this week, here's a study from the University of Buffalo that trumps it all: being more violent in video games makes you more morally observant in the real world. It sounds counter-intuitive from everything we've been told regarding our subconscious, but the study is quite interesting when you pry apart the nooks and crannies of our mind.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Morality With A Side of Airbending

Let's briefly continue on the wheel of morality, Forbes has an article about the hidden morals in games. Suggestion, if you read the article, start at the very bottom. That's where the thesis is, and THEN go back to the top and read. It helps in understanding what the writer is trying to get at.

Many video games internalize and individualize the tasks provided to the gamer. If there is success or failure, it's because of you and only you. Team play doesn't garner as many rewards to the story-line or to your character. Only when you play by yourself do you see more responses. As such, assisting others in quests takes a backseat to solo activities. And frankly, I'm not that surprised that video games are like this. In many ways, kids today are taught to fight for themselves, to be the best, and not work in a team nor to help their fellow man. Who wants to be one of a group of super heroes? You want to be The Batman. You don't want to play fifth or sixth place to the rest. The Forbes article is trying to convey why game mechanics need to change by improving our morality to help others. In the same way that parents and teachers need to not focus so much on an individuals success, but on group participation and respect.

But really, this is what I wanted to fangasm about: ZOMG Legend of Korra game! Dah!

So we know that games based off of movies and TV shows tend to suck. A lot. But! There are exceptions such as The Walking Dead, which pulls from the TV show and graphic novels. South Park: The Stick of Truth has done really well in sales, even with all of the headaches of THQ's bankruptcy. It may seem trite, but there is a force pushing for better quality games based on other franchises. Platinum Games, Bayonetta, will be taking the helm and releasing the game as a download via PSN, XBoxLive, and PC.

To help out, the lead writer for Korra, Tim Hendrick, has drafted the script, which takes place between Book 2 and Book 3. It's believed that the story will focus around Korra as she learns how to harness new powers, and battling it on in the Pro-Bending tournaments that have become fan favorites. The game will be released later this year. Given the hype around Avatar (not the blue people) that still exists, I wouldn't be surprised to see this become a hit. And it's Platinum Games. They know how to deliver action. This is where I would queue a sassy Bayonetta photo, but I'm going to be classy today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Be kind. Rewind.

Here is your monthly public service announcement.

This is an older story to share, but it bears repeating. Having worked in customer oriented jobs for a good portion of my life, I have seen and heard just about everything. I can say that 3 stories on and 2 on are mine. Most of them gaming related. But even with the trials and tribulations, and people being made fully aware on the internet just how ridiculous they are acting, they still pull out that "the customer is always right!" card.

Guess what? You're probably not.

The situation replayed through the Huffington Post is not uncommon in the U.S. Sadly. I have witnessed it on multiple occasions and it has always made me wonder what in the grand universe is so fantastic about that person's life that they have to go bat-shiz-crazy about too much ketchup on their burger? Because man, if that's the only thing you have to complain about, I want your life. It's sad that these situations continue to happen daily. Sad that people don't respect each other, and feel that since you work a minimum wage job you should be treated like trash. And sad that we still ALLOW this behavior to happen.

After reading through the myriad of comments, most people are in line with the cashier. The customer was going over the line of sanity for a simple mistake. Some people defended the customer (to which we can easily point out who else is bat-shiz-crazy). Ketchup woman has had this happen multiple times! She deserves justice!

From my experience, the customers that complain the loudest are the ones who visit the store the least. "This happens all the time!" is more like "This is the first time this has happened and I should get everything free!" I use to work for a known game retailer at their corporate offices and handled all store issues. Every complaint any customer had about a store crossed my desk. I could not begin to tell you how many of those issues started with "I am a longtime customer." Now having to read every issue, it required me to research each customer, pull up their purchase history, and try to resolve the problem. I would say anywhere from 80-90% of those "longtime" customers are first timers, or maybe shop once a year over a 2-3 year period.

In the heat of the moment when someone wants a response that fits their needs, customers tend to over-exaggerate. A lot of people overlook that, but when you think about it, it happens a lot. We exaggerate and make things worse then they really are. We say things that we don't mean to say and cause more problems because of it. Think about any argument you ever had with a family member or friend? I'm sure we are all guilty of going over the top in our story-telling, and/or name calling. Imagine that being a customer yelling at you when you put too much ketchup on a hamburger. It seems silly, doesn't it?

And there could be a million reasons why that customer is upset. Maybe she didn't tell the employee in drive-through "no ketchup." Maybe she just got fired that afternoon and wanted some fast food to calm her nerves. Maybe she enjoys yelling at people (because yes, those types of individuals do exist). The same could apply to the employees at the store. Maybe they know this customer as being belligerent and rude - last time she asked for extra ketchup and it wasn't enough, so they put on extra to help avoid another incident. Maybe the employees were being lazy. Or maybe they made a mistake. Because we are human. We are going to make mistakes. No one is perfect. Ever.

Why am I showing so much concern over this article? Because some people still don't see the problem. It's not that the employee messed up the order, nor that the customer shouldn't get her order correct. But the behavior of ketchup woman is appalling and no one stepped up to tell her otherwise.

Is this the norm? Hell no. If it were, we would all be out picketing with McDonalds and Burger King employees asking for higher wages. We are not paid enough to deal with those headaches every second of every day. The crazies are once in a blue moon. Most customers are in and out. They get what they need, they don't push nor shove, and follow the rules. A few are nice, will start conversations, and say please and thank you (still rare, but more common then the rude ones). But in our human nature, we're more likely to remember the bad then the good. We'll always remember that one customer who threw grapes at customers in the produce section. Or that one guy who kicked down display cases because his urinated Wii system could not be returned.

But the good customers make our day.

I'll let you all in on a little secret: customer service, sales reps, floor associates, fast food workers, we all will treat you much better if you act polite towards us. Say please. Say thank you. And if you have a problem, don't call us dumb asses and swear. Take a deep breath, count to 10, and calmly explain the issue to the employee. You might be surprised at just how fast they will resolve your problem versus being rude.

Maybe next month I'll start regaling you all with tales of game store horror.

Dev Working Conditions

According to an IDGA survey posted this week, 22 percent of the gaming industry is now composed of women, up 11.5 percent from 2 percent responded as transgender or other. Which is great to see that strides are being made to include more people into the business.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. While everyone is focusing on the gender gap, I want to talk about the job itself. Those surveyed have worked with 4 different employers over the course of 5 years. More then half of these employees earn less then $50,000 a year. On average, a person has been in the industry for 9 years and has worked on 16 projects. And 39% of developers who leave the industry find a much better quality of life once they are out. 15% leave because they are burnt out.

Why do I care about these stats? It says a lot about the high demand, high turnaround rate of the business. Job security is difficult. Very rarely will you see the working devs, coders, artists, testers, stick with a company for more then a few months. Once their job is done, they move on, usually through force by the company. The only way to guarantee a long term, steady job, is to nab a director position for a game that 'may' last for a few spinoffs, or to build the company yourself. And that doesn't instill a lot of confidence into the work-force to want to join in game development. Having to job hunt every 6-8 months is not pleasant.

And with the high turnover rate comes the high burnout. A person can only do one task for so long before it becomes monotonous. A lot of the programming for games is write, rinse, repeat. Very little variety occurs, and it's easy to see why people want to leave not to long into their careers. Well, assuming they get into a position to have a career. Tasks are repetitive. Nothing new is being thrown in to challenge employees. There is no loyalty if you're going to be booted in less then a year after you finish your task. Even better, 53% of people believe that "crunch time" isn't a necessary element in game development. But! they do feel pressured to work longer hours without additional compensation in order to get projects done.

It's not looking very comfy to work for the gaming business. Why put forth the effort and school work if you're going to be treated like an expendable commodity?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Empaty and Violent Video Games Part 2

I will say this about the NYTimes, they're not afraid to re-post comments from their readers and open up questions for a healthy debate. This is one aspect of our freedoms that I can appreciate: freedom of speech and press that I can damn near say anything without legal consequences. Social re-precautions are an entirely different matter. Go USA.

Last week they released an article about empathy in video games and first person shooters. Many readers, including myself, responded in droves either directly to the Times or on our personal websites. Reading the follow-up today, it's unsurprising to me to see how many myths about games and real world violence are still apparent in people's minds. And depressing. I keep hoping that humanity will evolve beyond our simple cause and effect nature, but we seem to be stuck on the blame game. So let's roll through the reader's responses and comb out the myths.

“I am a clinical social worker with many years of experience and strongly believe that there is a correlation between violent video games and lack of not only empathy but lack of an emotional and cognitive distinction between fantasy and reality,” Paula Beckenstein wrote. “Of course, this is not true for the majority of game players, but it is for those individuals whose psychological boundaries are blurred.”

First off, I'm glad the commenter clarified that for the majority of people, this isn't an issue. But there is a potential in that small minority where fantasy and reality can blur. But it's still a myth because we haven't had full clarification directly from a mass murderer or 100% conclusive studies that show this. The few people who have been interviewed were very deliberate in their actions. Games may have been played, but they are completely arbitrary since they did not influence the crime. The event was going to happen in that person's mind. And in a number of cases, the perpetrator had little to no interest in gaming. The person was already in a different mental state that games wouldn't have made a difference.

"Eventually, we will look at first-person shooters like we do high-fructose corn syrup. Do we really need our kids consuming these?” a reader wrote. ”The answer is obvious. Make food healthy, make video games healthy. And adults should control this.”

 Actually, there are a lot of myths about corn syrup as well so the comparison between a sugar substitute and video games is, well, lame. High fructose corn syrup was developed as a substitute for sugar via corn. Sugar is something that we in the US have to import. Our weather patterns are not suitable for sugar cane. However, we have corn. Lots and lots of corn. And the development of this product, which has been proven to be safe and completely good to use in moderation by the FDA, has helped develop land here and created jobs. That's a good thing. And like any food anywhere, too much of it can be bad. Yes, you can have too many carrots and harm yourself. Just like with oranges, apples, and broccoli. But just having high fructose corn syrup is not bad for you, nor is it the cause for health problems. The same can be applied to video games, and it's the one comparison between the two I will make. Playing a violent video game is not going to turn you into a psychopath.

“Why is this even a question? Of course there is a connection between violent video games and violent crimes with guns. A connection, but not a cause-and-effect connection,” wrote James Hadley, a reader from Providence, R.I. “The fact is that violence is a large and colorful component of the U.S. national mythology. The cowboy, the Alamo, the minuteman, always pictured with his rifle at the ready; these are defining images.”

Ah the American West. Where men were men, with shotguns, revolvers, and having to hunt for their meals daily. The thing that always got to me about this argument is the assumption that the U.S. is the only violent society because of our history. But really, what civilization hasn't been violent? Need we remind you about Germany in WWI and WWII? Or what about the samurai class in Japan, men revered for their swords and still looked upon with honor by their ancestors today? The Age of Enlightenment, when humanity boomed in the 17th Century, was also about the time when the French Revolution happened, and a few more uprisings in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Violent history is EVERYWHERE. It is not just a U.S. trait. You can still be in awe of the shogun today without having a gun in your hand. The argument about our violent past makes us violent today is moot.

But the Times wasn't biased and provided responses from the other side of the argument:

“This is an American problem, not a video game problem,” a reader from Cleveland wrote. 


“Video games like these have been available throughout the world for years, yet do the same acts of violence and their frequency exist in these other countries or is it only in America?”  From a Canadian just a hop across the border.

This is exactly what I was writing about last week in my response piece. It's not a video game problem. It's a cultural U.S. problem. Why do mass shootings happen here and not anywhere else in the first world countries with such frequency?

As video games continue to be the top entertainment medium, these questions will linger for decades. At least until the next new popular item comes in and tries to take over. Then the debate will start over again.

Monday, June 23, 2014

League of Legends Scholarships

The internet was buzzing this weekend after Robert Morris University in Illinois announced via a press release that it would offer athletic scholarships for League of Legends gamers. It's plastered all over their home page.

eSports is becoming a big deal that some colleges now have teams. While most of these were created for fun and as a hobby, Robert Morris University will be one of the first to have school finances backing a team to compete at a national level. Students applying for the Fall 2014 semester can fill out the forms for scholarships, which can net up to 50% for tuition, room, and board. There are rules and restrictions. You need to have competed before on the national collegiate circuit (which yes, does exist for eSports) and well as a myriad of other qualifications. The myriad of rules is enough to deter most gamers. They want the hardcore League of Legends pack. But if you are such a person who also wants to be a doctor, that 50% tuition coverage can go quite a long way.

I know some people are calling bs on this scholarship. Why are they giving away college funds for gaming and not for science? In truth, scholarship money can be found in some of the oddest places and don't have to be tied in with the degree program you are following. I won a few poetry writing contests that helped cover my food bill for all of my undergrad years, and a foreign language essay that helped with my room costs, and a couple of small, local game tournaments on the side: and I went with a film degree. To me, it doesn't seem odd to have an eSports scholarships. In fact, Riot sponsors a yearly scholarship tournament where players can win up to $100,000 in scholarship funds for whatever their pursuits may be. It's just a new way to get money for college.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Female Background Decor

As mentioned earlier this week, Anita Sarkeesian has released a new episode of Tropes Vs. Women on Feminist Frequency. And I finally had enough time to sit down and watch the full episode in one sitting. I tried to view in small chunks during lunch breaks, but with the material it is difficult to digest it in small sections. You need to watch the episodes in full to get the full value of the message. Lesson learned.

This episode focused on Women as Background Decoration. What? Video games have that? Absolutely. From the earliest advertisements to Street Fighter scenery, scantily clad women litter the gaming landscape. Racing games using women in short shorts and low-cut tank tops to wave the checkered flag. Women in bikini's jumping up and down as audience members of a cage-fight while Guile and Blanka duke it out. Prostitutes and strippers in any Grand Theft Auto game. The trope is everywhere and anywhere. Sarkeesian proposes that these characters are there specifically for sexual exploitation and titillation. Because these NPC's have no backgrounds, no stories, and are designed to be objectified, sometimes required to be abused in order for players to progress forward in a game, they exist purely for sexual exploitation.

It's one of the few tropes that I can argue against, because it's incredibly true. Before the masses rise up and point out that there are male prostitutes in some Fable games, that is one product out of tens of thousands that exist with a male caller. He is also positioned to the character as more of a joke piece, with his dialogue and wardrobe, less of a visual allure like the female equivalents.

It was disturbing watching this episode to see just how frequent developers use this trope. It is almost anywhere and everywhere. You almost don't realize just how often it is used in games until it's pointed out to you. Hell, Final Fantasy 7 even does this with the Honey Bee Girls, and FF is one of the few female empowering series out there! Yes there are men too, but again like Fable, they are positioned to be characters of humor, not for arousal. But I say disturbing because I have become so complacent in seeing these characters on the screen that it does not phase me. Do I go out of my way to intentionally abuse the characters? Heck no. But I also don't bat an eyelash when I happen to run over a prostitute in GTA5 while on a game mission. There are little to no consequences for those actions, and most disappear within a few minutes and allow you to continue playing the game.

The behavior is one that we wouldn't condone in the real world, but it is glorified in games, television, and movies, and reinforced by the news media. Myths about sexual violence "she was asking for it" are further insinuated because it is used commonly in games. It's rather shocking to see it become this common of a feature...we really do have a long way to go in our culture before women are looked at as equals and not a different gender.

Now, I'm curious to see part 2 of this segment of episodes. 6 months from now.

Note, it's okay to enjoy these games. I'm a huge fan of the GTA series. But it's also important to take a critical eye and examine why we play what we play, as well as what messages the product is trying to tell us.

Also, STEAM SALE! The annual Steam Summer Sale is up with deals running through June 30th, including their flash sales that rotate every few hours. Grab them while you can.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

We Still Need More Diversity In Games

So if you have been avoiding all E3 news possible, Ubisoft got the brunt of the blow for lacking female characters in it's video game demonstrations this year. Notably for Assassin's Creed and FarCry, games that have had female avatars in the past for players to choose from. Their reasoning, that it would take too much time to create a female avatar, is pretty lame and met with a lot of "...seriously?" reactions. Metal Gear Solid 5 is utilizing some of the same technology as AssCreed and they're giving us real-time horse poop. All arguments about "lack of time and power" are invalid.

The real issue is that this conversation is redundant when it shouldn't be. We have been drudging up this same conversation over and over again. We have the numbers that prove that nearly half of the game playing audience is female. So why can't we have more women represented as heroines in games?

Changes are being made, slowly but surely. We're seeing more independent developers grabbing foot holds in the business that is dominated by the EA and Ubisoft Titans of the world. When games like Journey and The Walking Dead sweep up developer awards, people begin to pay attention. More non-white male, not straight individuals are getting into the business. They're not as dominate of a force, but they have some ability to make changes. But the system is still so engrained in how things were in the 1980's when everything started. Video Games are still viewed as a stereotypical male domain. Girls are not allowed, and have always been seen as accessories. And it hasn't really improved since then. Women, people of color, different sexual preferences, religion, etc. these features are still not welcomed in games. Developers still feel they are catering to a dominate white, heterosexual male audience.

And should would be surprised? It's the same way in movies, television, books, and theater. We are only just now seeing defined women on the screen. I, for one, am happy to have The Hunger Games be as popular as it is because we FINALLY have a strong female lead who isn't focused on romance. Her concern is staying alive and keeping her mother and sister safe. The romance is completely arbitrary and done as a means of ensuring survival. Spoiler alert, but the "love" aspect of the entire story doesn't fully develop until the very end of the series. Everything up to that point is a ploy for cameras and audiences to ensure survival. Katniss also makes it blatantly clear from the beginning of the first book that she has 0 interest in bearing children. It would be cruel to subject them to the Hunger Games; not even the children of winners are immune. She is perfectly happy living a life without the implied ideal that having a family with kids will make one happy. Surprise, surprise. There are a number of women who couldn't agree more. Myself included. What makes Katniss stand out by comparison to the female video game characters we're use to seeing is that she doesn't fit in to one stereotype. She's not an atypical damsel in distress (you could argue this on a mental level, but that's beyond what a majority of video games will focus on), nor a background ornament for viewing pleasure only. She is a strong, determined, fierce young woman with emotional and physical insecurities just like us.

Why can't we have more of that in video games? Probably because it's still under a male dominated point of view that "this is how it's been done, and it worked, so why change it?"

My fear is that over time, if things do not progress and change, the industry will be stagnant. We won't see the originality that is needed to survive. We'll get multiple copies and repeats of the same product over and over again (I'm looking at you Call of Duty), and cause another game crash like the 1980's. The market will be over saturated by the same products and no one will buy. It's happening now. I can't remember the last time I bought a new, unique game from a store. All I see are rows and rows of the same war simulator, the same FPS, the same RPG. There is so new and unique on the horizon that it's hurting the business. Without change, without embracing female leads, Black leads, Muslim leads, homosexual leads, the industry will falter once more. It's not a question of if but when.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So, Who Wants To Invest In Capcom With Me?

Capcom has decided to stop in it's defensive buyout plan, which now leaves nearly 51% of the company's shares open for purchase. In 2008, they began this attempt to stop any other companies from potentially buying them out and shutting down the business. The most I can assume is that some of the current stockholders are tired of digging their feet in the ground and are looking for a new direction.

The game developer's sales have not been strong over the past few years. Sporting a 90.4% fall in profits in one quarter of 2010, and then their interesting use of terminology to some of their fans, Capcom has not captured the attention of gamers for a few years. So is it a surprise that investors are okay with selling off a few shares?

Yes and no. Yes I could see why Capcom would want to bring in more stock sales. No in that it's 51%. If any one company or one person is able to afford the price tag, they own the majority of the company. They can influence the direction of business, and out-vote everyone else. Capcom did release a press statement that they will review all offers carefully and ensure that whomever purchases the stock will do it with the best interest of the company at heart, and they want to increase the value of their stock.

It's not a good month for Capcom. On Monday, long-time Street Fighter executive producer Yoshinori Ono, handed in his resignation from Capcom Vancouver to focus on other projects within the company.

So, who's with me? Care to invest a few million dollars? We can make better Resident Evil games, a new Megaman, and finally translate all of the Ace Attorney games for English releases.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Largest Game collection Sold!

First things first, Anita Sarkeesian FINALLY posted another Tropes vs. Women video. I'll try to watch it during lunch today. That was a long waiting time...

Capitalizing on his internet fame with owning the largest video game collection in the world, Michael Thomasson has sold his Guinness Book record collection for $750,250 via GameGavel (a website that auctions video games, duh). That is an insane amount of cash. 1/4 of the games are still factory sealed, and it took nearly 3 decades to accumulate the stash. While there weren't many bids (it's a lot of flippin' games after all), Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey even got in on the bidding war.

The winner of the auction will also receive a lifetime subscription to Retro Magazine.

I wonder how the website verifies that the bids are legitimate, and if they offer a payment plan. That seems like an incredibly large lump sum that someone would not be willing to part with so quickly.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Empathy Reduction Due to First Person Shooters?

While the NY Times attempts to tackle another claim about violent video games, this one focusing on it desensitizing youth instead of promoting violent behavior, they skirted over a very important point made by Almir Listo, manager at Starbreeze Studios of PayDay fame. The fact that these same games are played around the world (Listo mentioned specifically his home in Sweden) and yet violence world wide is at an all time low. Here in the United States, we're hearing about shootings at public places on a weekly basis.

It's not a video game problem. It's a societal problem.

We can argue for years about video games' effects on children. It may or may not desensitize them to real world violence in the same way movies have been plagued by it for a century (the Hayes code was a horrible attempt at trying to remove sex and violence from movies). Comic books, music, television, theater, they all have been blamed at one point in their existence for causing corruption to our youth. Video games is the latest iteration until a future form of entertainment comes in and replaces it. I'm not saying that I haven't been influenced by games, movies, or television to react a certain way when it comes to a violent event, but I still hold sorrow, sadness, and concern when a death happens. Kids do as well. They know the difference between reality and fantasy. We can discern when it's fake and can laugh at our follies in a video games, and know when it's real and feel the pain of our peers.

Most first world countries have access to the same content as consumers in the U.S. And yet, we are still the one country that has the highest random shooting/death rate by comparison. Kids in Japan play the same video games. Kids in England watch the same movies. Kids in France listen to the same music. Hell the nudity clause that we're so stuck up about here is completely out the window in France, and it's one of the safest countries to live in with "good moral standing." But there is something fundamentally wrong within the United States that keeps prompting these outbreaks of violence, and pointless discussions that result in no change. For as up in arms people were about Sandy Hook, there has been no progress in improving the laws for gun ownership, nor has that study about violent games managed to get past stage 1.

At this point, we need more action, less talking. We haven't resolved a thing and the situation is getting worse. We should not expect mass shootings or random acts of violence as the norm. Not when our cultural neighbors have peaceful, stable societies. We need to look at what they are doing and copy them. It's as simple as that, and yet incredibly challenging. I know it will be. It'll require people to stop blaming and to start taking personal responsibility. That's always a challenge. Will we have to give up some freedoms? More then likely. But we'd still be able to achieve some of our basic rights the founding fathers wanted for us: the freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The life part is pretty important.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Post-Convention Photo Finding Challenge!

On the A-Kon Facebook Group, someone had made a comment that they were unable to find any photos of their cosplay group and wanted some insight. While it wasn't a direct request for me, I felt prompted to give an honest response. And thus! we have the article that I'm posting now.

Part of the fun of dressing up in costume is to have your photo taken by random convention-goers. It's fun to stop and pose, and yes we want the attention. It's why we dress up. And it's great to see the smiles on those who ask for your picture. But now it's after the con, and we are at the hard part: finding those photos. Everyone goes through this hunt at the end of every convention. Sometimes it's to look back at the memories, but for the majority of us, it is to find pictures of us in our costumes!

And it can be a challenge. Even if you had 1,000 photos of you taken in a day, you may only find 1% of them online. It is complete luck of the draw and up the photographer's discretion as to whether or not they wish to upload the photos. But 1,000 pictures is a lot. Why can't you find at least one of them of you in cosplay? Well there are a few reasons:

- Photographers are well within their right to choose whether or not to post photos online. In many cases, those pictures stay on memory cards and cell phones for years simply for the photographer's enjoyment. And that's fine. There is no rule that states that they are required to post pictures from a convention. While a number of us are in a frenzy to post photos as soon as the con is over, some may take years to do this. No really. Years. This happened with a photo someone took of me as Bayonetta. I randomly stumbled upon it on Flickr and found it was uploaded 2 years after I originally wore it.

- Photos may be uploaded to private or personal pages. Selfies in particular may only be seen on that individual's Facebook page. If they do not tag anyone, use hash-tags, or have a private account, you'll never see the image.

- Not everyone is involved with a convention's forum, fan pages, or groups. This can limit the reach for those who do post their photos.

- Lack of key words, or improper key words. I can not count the number of times I have seen a photo of a Cloud Strife cosplayer with the keyword "cronocross." Seriously. That's the key word. How do you expect to find anything if they can't label your character with the right anime/manga/movie/game? While most people will know your character if they stop you for a photo, sometimes, you just look cool and they want your picture. As such, wrong tags will get applied. There are also a number of people who do not tag with the convention name. This results in a lot of images being lost to the internet.

- Images posted to older, unknown websites. Photobucket use to be king, but people rarely use it now. Myspace too. People will upload their images to whatever site they utilize the most, and it may not be where you, personally, would search for images.

Here are a few tips that I have learned over the years to help make your hunt a little easier:

- Hire a professional photographer. Yes this will most likely cost you money. But it is a 100% guarantee that you will get a nice photo of you in your costume, versus a flash mirror photo. A number of cosplay photographers have reasonable rates, some are free! Take the time to research the photographers before a convention, learn how they work, and their shooting style.

- Make and pass out business cards after every photo. This won't always net you photos, but people are more likely to tag you or post them to your Facebook page if they know who you are. You can buy business cards through multiple outlets,, VistaPrint, even FedEx and Office Depot provide these services. Minimum orders are usually 250 cards, and they will last you through several conventions.

- Use generic search terms. Don't search with your character name, managa, anime, etc. You are less likely to yield hits because most people will not keyword every photo. They'll do a generic group tagging of keywords. I personally do this because I uploaded hundreds of pictures for each convention. I don't have time to tag each one appropriately. Yes, you will have to filter through more images, but you are more likely to stumble upon your own versus strenuous search restrictions. "Otakon Cosplay 2014" will do better then "Fuu Samurai Champloo Otakon Saturday 2014 Cosplay Contest."

- Utilize the photo threads! More conventions are now devoting sections of their websites to host photo galleries or will link directly to them. Again, it is a lot of photo searching, but half your fight of locating an album has been handled. Convention forums will also sometimes post a "Have you seen me?" thread where you can post what you were wearing and the days, and people will generally link photos to you through this method.

- Patience. This seems obvious, but a lot of people will give up after roaming 2 albums. Keep in mind that not everyone posts photos the day after a con. Some will take months, or years, until you see a picture of you in your cosplay surface online. Check off and on for a few weeks in your free time. Run through 2-3 albums and then take a break. Come back a few days later and look through new galleries. It will take time. Pace yourself and you will find the strength to make it through the galleries.

- Get involved on the convention forums and Facebook group. You might find a photo gallery not posted anywhere else!

- Give lesser known photo sights a shot. Some people still use Photobucket for photo uploads. It does not hurt to try and search.

This is a process that every cosplayer undergoes. Even the infamous ones in our community will still spend nights searching through galleries, trying to find pictures of themselves. You are not alone. We are all in the hunt together. The best advice that I can give is to plan for next year. Make an appointment with a photographer, create business cards, and take photos with a friend or family member using a camera. These are the best ways to ensure you get a photo (and a good one at that) of you in your costume.  (Photos taken at A-Kon 25.)

Boys Lost To Video Games?

Rounding out the week of E3 news, another writer wants to take a crack at the children that have been "left behind." The ones that play video games to look towards triumph and wins in their lives, versus the academic prowess of the classrooms, courtesy of The Week. And while the article starts out as a bash against all higher-education institutes that are not Harvard and Yale (thank you to Damon Linker for turning that around really fast-not everyone wants to go to a top 10 school, and not everyone wants to be famous-a lot of people want to live day by day and be happy, and there is nothing wrong with that), the focus quickly shifts in the social development of boys. Specifically that by not excelling at school, boys are withdrawing into virtual worlds where accolades are a bit easier to achieve, and social interaction is stunted (so the writer claims).

We are at a point in technology where we depend on it to survive. Without it, most of us wouldn't know how to till soil to grow fruits and vegetables. We have to Google it, or there's an App for that somewhere. We have become so dependent that our socialization rules are starting to change. I'd argue that some of those changes are just a natural part of progression for our culture, but The Week article does not agree.

Linker makes a good stance that video games are more "reward" focused. Complete an action, get a gold coin, or an achievement. He compares them to slot machines that have a higher "win" rate, raising the payouts to higher levels after more difficult tasks are completed while still allowing the player to win on a regular basis. Unlike going out and playing basketball where there is an obvious winner and loser.

What Linker seems to have overlooked is how much our society has changed within the past decade. It's particularly common now in the U.S. that when a child attends an event, everyone wins an award. There are no losers, only winners. This isn't in video games, but track meets, soccer matches, spelling bee's, and math tests. Aspects of life that Linker feels would be more beneficial to children are the areas that started with the "everyone gets a trophy." With video games you can still "lose" when playing online with other gamers. I.E. team matches in Halo. You have obvious winners and losers. Ties are rare, and you don't receive as many points in a tie. You have to win. By comparison to a children's soccer game, everyone gets a trophy! So is it really only video games that harm the social development of a child?

I'd also argue that by "losing" a match, whether in a game or through a football match (the World Cup is here), you can still learn. When you lose, you come to understand those feelings and find ways to push you to try harder next game. You figure out where you did poorly and work to improve yourself, whether if be with your kicking, or your ball handling skills. It's the same way with a video game. I lost this match because I didn't utilize the cover ability. Or, more commonly, you lost because you didn't communicate with your teammates. Aspects that can be easily transferred into the real world. This is where out of the box thinking comes into play, not something you generally see in school curriculums these days, Linker. Say you are playing Call of Duty online, and you are the team leader. You have to communicate effectively to your squad the plan of attack, the rules of engagement, who will handle what tasks, etc. In many ways, a manager or supervisor for a company has to do the same thing every day. They need to delegate tasks to their employees, ensure people stay on target for the report to be submitted on time (think of the timer in a game-you only have so long before the mission fails and you can fail a mission by being late with that damn TPS report). It's very easy to show how playing a "violent" video game can indeed transfer into real world skills. And that's the obvious one!

If it's social concerns Linker has, I would be more focused on WHAT boys and men are saying in these chat rooms while playing video games. Team building can happen, yes. But many boys are being introduced into socializing with others through racial slurs, sexism, and degrading behavior. It's okay in video games to call a woman slut, bitch, or a whore, but not anywhere else in face to face society where there are consequences. And they are taught it's okay by everyone. It's okay to make fun of gays, or someone who is a different ethnicity or religion from your own, because "it's just a game." This should be Linker's concern. Not that boys are playing video games, but how they are talking to others within the game. It's not an aspect that news stations cover. They are more focused on the "violence" in games. I bet Fox News, the entire network, would have a heart attack if they heard a fraction of the things people say while playing games online. Or not. It's Fox News. They don't like women or gays. Maybe CNN?

So it's another article that fails to take in the information from all perspectives, and slaps assumptions onto gamers. Linker seems more focused on the past, the good ol' days, and not on how we are changing now as a society and socializing online is the norm. This is how I'm wrapping up E3 week. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rumble Vest

Over the years we have seen our fair share of new technology to make video games more immersive, but the projects have floundered or never really moved beyond the development phase. KOR-FX, a vibrating vest that you wear while you play a game, is hoping to be different. It was showcased at E3 this year, and while it looks bulky and cumbersome, the creators of the clothing from the company Immerz, say it's not like other rumble packs.

Other systems typical focus on the volume of the action itself. The louder the sound, the more vibration. KOR-FX uses a filtering algorithm to guesstimate which frequencies should produce more rumble. If you hear a sound that thumps in your chest, that will have more power over a high-pitched squeal that might only jar the ears.

The article from Time hits a key issue that many of these "clothing" systems have yet to fix: you know you are wearing the damn vest. You know that you are wearing a glove, or a suit, or a helmet. It does not feel like other pieces of clothing one would usually wear. That in itself takes away the immersive aspects of playing the game. While yes, holding a controller is still not natural (you could argue that it is now with how prevalent gaming is in society today), but it doesn't have the heft, bulk, and weight of a vest with dozens of points of tech. Sitting in a chair or on a couch with a light controller in your hands is reasonable by comparison.

Funding for the project, as well as pre-orders, are now available on Kickstarter for a minimum $150 price tag. Maybe over time these type of immersive clothing systems will become common-place. Until then, companies need to figure out how to make the clothes feel natural. It shouldn't be a hassle to play a game and load yourself with 20 pounds of equipment. It needs to be as easy as picking up the controller and sitting down.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Amiibo: Nintendo's New Future

We were already aware that Nintendo had developed a product to enter into the figurine market ala Skylanders and Disney Infinity. But more details about the new interface were revealed yesterday during their E3 online video presentation (once again opting against the big flashy show that they were once known for).

The line of figures has been dubbed "amiibo." As already known, the figure pad is the Wii-U game pad, character's virtual histories will be stored on the figurine itself. Some new stuff did emerge from the voice of Reggie, such as the figures having the ability to move seamlessly between Wii-U systems and GamePads. You don't have to spend 10 minutes reconfiguring a new consoles if your previous one dies, or you can take your figures to a friends and play with little to no downtime. And the figures are going to be compatible with...wait for it, the new Super Smash Bros. game. Let the spazzing commence. But! they also plan to make they work for preexisting content such as the recently released Mario Kart 8. More spazzing may commence. Nintendo is also working on an additional peripheral so that the figures can work for Nintendo 3DS systems, with an anticipated release of early next year.

Classic characters should be expected for the initial release, such as Mario, Link, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Samus. The chances of adding such a feature to a future Pokemon game...damn. Think of the money. Business gold!

Pricing and a release date for the first set of figures have not been announced yet, but expect it to be soon, or at least by this winter holiday that you see them on store shelves. Nintendo may have found a new niche to dive into.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A-Kon 25: The Review!

Convention review, as required by law! Or my law.

I spent the weekend at Project: A-Kon 25 and it was full of ups and downs. Most of it not to do with the convention itself, but rather personal health reasons. Huzzah for that. -_- But it was a good convention, A-Kon is continuing to grow and expand it's grasp, and I have plenty of things to cover in the name of CosPod so let's get to it!

Day 0 of conventions is becoming a more common occurrence. Thursday evening we arrived to do badge pick-up for press and panels and were amazed to see the number of people already out in costume. That evening there was the reemergence of the masquerade, going for a more formal feel and requiring a mask to get in, and the Artists Alley opened a day early! Crazy. But it was good to see convention-goers get into the experience as early as Day 0. More and more conventions are getting on board with this offering evening parties, events, and panels. I'd like to see A-Kon continue this tradition, and with the turn-out for the masquerade, I wouldn't be surprised to see it expand next year.

Day 1 was a typical send-off. The morning was about as quiet as Sunday afternoons. People were there, some costumes, but mostly getting accustomed to the layout changes and looking over the schedule. I took this as a good time to take photos of cosplayers that I could stop and pull aside from the walkway, and get personal photo shoots in myself. Thursday/Friday morning, Sunday night are the best times for private shoots. So few people make it easier to get around and into the nooks and crannies of the con without much hassle. Friday was also our big panel day. In the morning I helped co-host the How to Convention Like A Pro, which focused more on cosplay, but gave some great tips on how to prep for a con, hotels, and check out day even when you're not a cosplayer. We didn't get video of the panel, but I hope it was informative for those who attended. And the rest of the day went about in a similar manner. We photographed. We recorded panels. And I had another presentation that evening for Mythos and Mythology of Final Fantasy. I'll have a link to the video, the panel outline, and PowerPoint up as soon as possible.

Saturday fits into the "worse day ever" category. Woke up with digestive issues, something I had been dealing with all week, but they went into full blown mode by that point and I was choking down medicine to keep on my feet. My podcast partner and I were running back and forth a lot for the cosplay contest as competitors, so there was little down time to relax and take photos. Most of my photos for the day were from the Final Fantasy gathering...which dissipated in less then 15 minutes. Something I'm still ticked off at myself about for letting it fall apart. But lots of lessons learned on Saturday:

- Don't let A-Kon press push to have things their way. It was OUR photo gathering, not theirs. They can work with our schedule, or move to another group.

- No more cosplay contests that require dedication for my entire Saturday. If it's going to take up more then 3 hours of my time, it's not worth it. I want to ENJOY my convention, and spending 7 hours (yes, it really was 7 hours-1 hour for pre-judging lines, and 6 hours backstage) is not worth it. I was still a paying attendee. I bought a badge out of courtesy though I didn't really need to. So no more of that. Lots of cons at 3 times A-Kon's attendance can do it. I don't know why they still can't.

- F the world if I'm feeling stick. I need to stop being stubborn and lie down if I feel that sick again while I'm at a con. If I didn't have a partner for the contest, I would have left. But she was depending on me, so I stayed. It's not her fault, but my stubbornness sure is.

- 1pm is always a bad time to hold a photo gathering. We're moving back to AM next year.

On the plus, the green room was fun this year. I like being able to talk to fellow cosplayers during the contest. You meet new people, hang out with friends, and learn so many new things that I would love to have more conventions do this. Next year, if we are press again for CosPod, I will do both the stage photography and work the green room. I got a few fun photos from that and loved every minute of it. :D

Sunday was the other quiet day because everyone was checking out! Took photos when I could, had a panel to host, and then we interviewed the illustrious Yaya Han, who really is friendly. I promise. I'll link to the interview as soon as it's posted. As well as my Acting Out panel.

As a whole, A-Kon did improve this year over the past. They are still working out the kinks with the new location, and helped with their congestion. More people attended then usual, and over 8,000 badges were handed out Thursday night, about 1/3 of A-Kon's attendance rate. Some staff members were rude and weapons patrol were being inconsistent, per usual. Confusing and flustering convention goers, but as a whole, it was a good con. I know some people are walking away next year because it's getting bigger and crowded. The cosplay contest, at the rate it is growing and the level of craftsmanship, NEEDS to add better prizes and more awards. There are too many great costumes being entered and leaving with nothing, which is crazy. And Dealer's Room leftovers is not worth the 400 hours spent making a costume. I'd much rather have stayed outside, taken photos, and been able to get more video work into the mix.

And while some people complained again about parking and food options, the hotel is in the Design District of Dallas. It's not known for "food" but for artist galleries and furniture warehouses. There are a number of hotels, and not so many parking slots. Lots are going to be enforced, and you should plan ahead. I was getting a bit annoyed to see so many people complain about the lack of free parking. My response is: "Since when has A-Kon ever had free parking?" It's Dallas. Parking is NEVER free here. And if you find it for free, you are risking it because there is a good chance you will be towed. $20 a day parking seems much cheaper when you consider a $500 towing fee. And while A-Kon at the Sheraton did have more parking options available, there were still long walks from cheaper lots. The hotel was still tiny and could not contain 25,000 people. The move was needed and welcomed. Embrace it people. Over time the change with the convention will settle and we will find a good balance between what the con needs and what attendees want. And food options were still plentiful. There are 2 restaurants on site, a couple within walking distance, a snack shop, and they block off an area for made-to-order. In the evening, food trucks were out to take care of late night dinners, which I actually preferred. Last year, there was nothing open after 9pm which made getting food incredibly difficult after evening panels and the cosplay contest. Having at least SOMETHING to eat so late at night was fantastic.

As I said, the con itself was good, but personal issues made it difficult to enjoy. I'd like a re-do on the least for Saturday. Friday and Sunday were great! A-Kon has turned into a hang-out time again...I miss that.

And as always, a thank you to everyone who allowed me to take their photo this weekend. Our gallery can be found on FaceBook or Flickr.

Heavy Hitters of E3 Already Rolling

Just returned from a convention this weekend and we are already into E3 mode. Is it me or does it seem to start earlier and earlier in the week every year?

Well Sony, Microsoft, and EA have already showcased their panels, offering a bevy of new content for the next gen consoles. EA is already getting flack for not providing BioWare enough stage time for Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect (#4, that's not really #4).

Sony showed off a lot of games and SonyTV which is a version of the PlaystationVita. Who needs a Vita? Not us, because no one is buying it. Kotaku AU's round-up of the events are quite accurate to my response from seeing the video. LittleBigPlanet3 and SackDog (the timing on a new game is perfect-we need a new LBP for the PS4), GrimFandago reboot, Space Dinosaurs, GTA5, and Indie Games!

Microsoft ended it's time slot with a quiet bang. It will be relaunching the XBox One with a competitive price, minus the Kinect hardware. The system has been retooled to make it "for gamers" as Phil Spencer emphasized throughout the talk. And gamers did not like the higher price or the mandatory Kinect add-on when most features do not require it (unless you want to play those Wii sports rip-offs). It'll put the system on a competitive level with the PS4, a system that has been outselling the XBox and many of us could argue that the $100+ price difference is a big factor. There were of course games to talk about, the biggest "news" being that the next Call of Duty release will have DLC that comes FIRST to the XBox One. Given the millions of gamers who still support CoD, that could be a huge factor in their decision on what console to buy next. But other then that, you have some new stuff from Platinum Games, Halo 5 beta, and the usual. Nothing to be too wowed about, other then Microsoft is at least trying to listen to what their customers want. We still don't think of the game consoles as these "all-in-one entertainment units." They play our games. Let's keep it simple.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Final Fantasy Panel Time!

Hey Geek Spot fans. I'll be out and away over the next few days at a convention, so posts will be light.

When I return, I'll be posting up a mini-overview of one of the topics I'm presenting over the weekend: The Mythos and Mythology of Final Fantasy. Not because I'm a Final Fantasy fangirl (and am I ever!), but I really enjoy discussing video games and anime on academic levels. And with the newest track offered by the convention, I finally feel like there is a place where I can present these panels without raised eyebrows.

This particular panel started as a simple concept: what has Final Fantasy done to influence other games outside of it's genre. And it grew from there. I also wanted to create a panel that had general appeal - something that the name would draw people in but be non-threatening. When I host or teach a panel, I don't like to throw around fancy words. I want the material to be accessible to everyone of any background. Elevating the dialogue doesn't mean that we have to elevate the language and make people feel inferior (when they are not).

I'll have the panel up after I return, and hopefully video coverage as well. Enjoy the rest of your week!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

2.4 Billion Hours of Gaming

People! We have watched over 2.4 billion hours of others playing video games via the internet. Watching is a relative term though. I like it for the background noise while I craft. Others may feel the same way, but it still didn't stop us from using all that bandwidth to get into the gaming action.

And it's only getting started.

It's predicted that we'll reach just about 4 billion viewing hours this year, potentially up to 7 billion by 2018 to account for 90% of online viewing. eSports is a big business and early advertisers were smart to get in on the ground floor while they could.

The joy of watching someone play a video game is in it's simplicity. We want to be a part of the action even when we're miles away. And there's no better way to unwind after a long day then to go online and watch a couple of "Let's Play" videos of people doing stupid things in video games. I'm still enjoying RoosterTeeth and their myriad of shenanigans with GTAV.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Slender Man Murder Afoot

Are we sure there isn't something wrong in the U.S.? 2 kids attempting to kill another to prove that Slender Man is real?

Can't swear. Can't show topless women or sex. But violence and guns? Okay!

I don't know where to go with this...there is something seriously off about our society when our neighbors (Canada) experience none of this.

Monday, June 02, 2014

EA Paying Out NCAA

The case between Electronic Arts and former football and basketball players in the NCAA is drawing to an end. A $40 million settlement has been reached between the two parties, and EA will be paying up. Now that money will be used to pay for the NCAA's legal fees and the remaining split amongst 100,000 potential former college athletes. So really...the payout is pretty crappy.

Doing the math, even if the lead attorney for NCAA only took a 5% fee (attorneys are actually taking 33%), 100,000 players may get $200. Not 200 thousand, $200.00. Three athletes who were the primary fire starters named in the case will get $15,000, while others named and joined in later will receive anywhere from $2,500-$5,000. Good 10 years on a case well spent!

But it did bring up some very important issues that EA was skirting around for decades, regarding the likeness of a person being used in a product without their knowledge or compensation. It did cause developers to be more aware of the content they use. Which is good. And NCAA is shopping around for a new publisher for it's games, causing another ding in the money car that is EA.