Friday, February 27, 2015

May He Always Prosper ~



It's with a heavy and sad heart that I post this. The incomparable Leonard Nimoy has passed. He was 83. The cause of death was due to the end-stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It was a disease Nimoy announced that he had last year, and believes it was due to his years of smoking at a younger age. Many of us know Nimoy as Mister Spock from Star Trek, but he was also an accomplished writer, musician, and photographer. He has a slew of accolades to his credit, and he has a legacy that his family will always be proud of. He brought joy to the world through his acting, but also gave us a chance to think and expand our minds with his intellectual wit.

I don't have a real-world connection to Nimoy. I have always wanted to meet the man, out of all of the Star Trek cast members. Not because he was Spock (McCoy was always my favorite...sorry!) but because of this work post Star Trek. Because of the man he became and how he loved his fans so much that when other actors on the series rejected the notion of conventions in the initial years, he dove head first. 

Star Trek for me was the show that spawned my creative pursuits. To think that, that type of world could exist outside of the confines of a book...wow! What else can people do with movies and tv? I adored it. Still do. My profound love for Star Wars will always be there, but Star Trek is where everything began for me. I have an immense amount of respect for everyone who has ever been involved in a Star Trek episode, movie, or event. Nimoy was a cut above the rest.

He will be missed.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." ~ Spock, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

A Different POV On Sarkeesian University Speech

Remember when I went to the Anita Sarkeesian talk at UTD a few weeks back? She held the same speech at NYU this week, and Stephen Totilo from Kotaku was at the helm reporting on it. It's the same presentation that I outlined, but Totilo's point of view comes from a Sarkeesian supporter and not someone who critiques her work. So it's a new perspective on how Sarkeesian approaches the topic of changing video games to be more inclusive of women. I'm apart of that "on the fence" crowd she referred to at the NYU speech.

She states 8 points on how developers can update their games and still make them unique forms of story-telling. It can be verbose so if you want the short-hand list, Totilo summed it up nicely in a comment. While our experiences with the presentation were different, one thing we shared was the security concerns. NYU had metal detectors and visible police presence at all times. I didn't have to go through extra security, but it was very obvious that police were out and about at UTD. No one wanted to take chances. And we all remarked on how silly it was that we need police because a woman is talking about video games. Of all the things! Directors such as Martin Scorsese visit NYU all the time to speak to students and they don't receive a fraction of the protection that Sarkeesian needs - but again they haven't been threatened with the level of violence that she has. All because she talks about video games...that's sad. People really suck sometimes.

An alternate point of view from a follower. Enjoy! I wonder what the #GamerGate-r would have to say...anyone care to comment so we can have all sides review Ms. Sarkeesian's speech?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Google's AI Platform Producing Results

As Google continues to assert it's digital dominance, it has unleashed a new product onto the world: an artificial intelligence that plays video games. Bloomberg likened it to a teenager, because that's all they do right? Play video games all day? Haha. Stereotypes are funny.

But in all seriousness, this is kind of nifty. Google acquired DeepMind Technologies last year and dived into their project, which exposed computers running general AI software to the Atari 2600. The AI's were given no directions on how to utilize the games. They were given free reign to figure it out on their own. And so they did...

When the computer completed a challenge or passed a level, they were given a reward. How you give an AI reward I'm not entirely sure. The press release didn't go into details on that. The AI's did manage to beat human players, experts on the games, in 29 fields, and defeated mathematical/algorithmic games in 43 instances against software designed to win the game. Games like Tetris would fall into those categories. Pac-Man not so much because there isn't one formula to beat the levels.

The experiment was not designed as a means of cheating at video games by using a super awesome computer. The system is meant to look to alternatives for problem solving in the real world. At it's core, the concept is to let people and computers think about the world around them, and then create a plan of action. One day Google's self-driving cars will be able to drive based on experience, not on it's digital equations on what is and is not a road.  The next step in the experiment is to move to more three-dimensional games now that they have figured out what works on flat pixels.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

West Making Another Game Based On Song

Kanye West, gay fish, wants to make another video game. His last game with musician Future for their song I Won spawned a flash game where you can throw expensive items at women as they walk across a beach, and "collect" them as trophy wives. As if that wasn't sexist enough...but maybe I'm being too harsh on Mister West, gay fish. Let's see what he wants to develop this time.

In an interview with Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club, West, gay fish, went over his concept: guiding his mother through the gates of heaven, and your goal is to get her to the highest tier/gate.

Well. Crap. Now I feel just a tiny bit guilty for the gay fish references. Only a bit. Not so much as to stop using them entirely, but I will for the rest of this article. That's pretty damn heartfelt West, what brought this on?

The idea spawned from one of his recent singles Only One, which is a hypothetical chat between West's mother and his daughter, North. His mother passed away in 2007.

As far as other details of the game, whether it's a flash game, an rpg, console, phone, whatever it may be, well that's all under wraps. We don't know details beyond the general concept. It's still an endearing thought. A boy who loves his mama that much that he wants to immortalize her in a video game about her journey through heaven.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Will PAX Ever Learn?

Safety concerns continue to mount with female developers at public events. Brianna Wu, who has been a target of #GamerGate and threats to her life over the past year has recently pulled her company, Giant Spacekat, off the PAX East expo floor. Given her high profile status as of late, even if you don't know the company or the games she's made, her issue is well known in the media after a series of death threats late last year forced her to leave her home in Boston. Why? Because she's a women who likes video games and wants to make changes to the industry to be more accepting of different people and cultures. (Sorry #GamerGate. You can't convince me that the whole scenario is about 'journalistic integrity.' Not when you threaten people.)

Wu originally reached out to the organizers of PAX, Reed Expo, and asked that security be visible at her booth to ensure the safety of her staff members. In a blog post on her website, she goes into detail about her concerns and how Reed Expo wouldn't respond to her request, which seems fairly light-handed. Make security visible? That shouldn't be a problem, right? Reed has not responded to comments regarding the situation, but have pointed to the policies on the PAX websites that safety is the #1 priority.

Though Giant Spacekat won't be on the show floor, Wu will be appearing at several panels throughout the weekend with her own security measures at hand. She isn't stopping her staff from attending as fans (the badges have been paid for, after all) but because Reed can't provide visible security, she doesn't want to risk her employees safety. It's not a double standard: she's trying to be responsible for her staff.

Unfortunately this isn't the first time we have seen issues like this occur with PAX. The Dickwolves shirts, for example, spawned from a Penny Arcade comic strip, caused a foul stir for some fans, while others praised it - mostly male gamers. When questioned about the shirts being pulled from their storefront, Mike said it was a mistake, to a roar of applause from the crowd.

Having attended a few PAX events, it's an odd dichotomy. On the show floor, in the panel rooms, talking to developers you don't feel singled out as a female or as a minority. You're a gamer just like everyone else. These instances of sexual and racial discrimination haven't happened before my eyes. In 2013 a camera crew went around harassing female cosplayers at PAX East. I never saw it. But the PAX staff dealt with it upon notification by banning the team from that event and all future PAX events. Apologies have been made. Things have changed in the rules to protect attendees and exhibitors alike. But instances like Wu's story still happen. Why? I thought PAX was better than this...but maybe they're not? Maybe I'm caught up in the cloud of gamer greatness that I'm overlooking these moments? Because I don't see this happening. I'm always treated with respect by attendees, devs, and fans. They don't talk down to me because I'm a woman as I have at other conventions. I'm one of them. You like Metal Gear Solid? Cool. So do I. Here's the demo.

Maybe I need to open up my eyes a bit wider? Whatever happens with Wu's situation, I hope she's able to attend for the panels she's promised to sit on and co-host. I'm curious to hear the outcome.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Weird Polls...

Apparently it's not cool to be good at playing video games, according to a poll in Japan by BuzzPlus. But to be fair, they only posed the question to 200 Japanese women. No  men. So, it might be a bit biased, and there are stereotypes in Japan about gamers just as there are here in the U.S.

59% of women don't think being a good gamer is cool.
33.5% think they are cool.
And 7.5% think it's creepy.

So there you go. 15 out of 200 women think being a gamer is creepy. If you live in Japan.

One day these polls will grow and be informative and not silly.

If you want a more thoughtful piece, check out Kotaku's piece by Luke Plunkett on why he's moving to board games.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A True Game Hall of Fame?

The Strong National Museum of Play, home of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, is opening up a World Video Games Hall of Fame this summer. Located in Rochester, NY, the facility is one of the largest in the world that is devoted to the art of "play." What makes The Strong stand out, by comparison to other gaming museums, is that it has academic funds and research backing it up. Many of their curators have had their works featured in scholastic journals ranging from child behavioral science to journalism and media consumption. They have also been involved in the D.I.C.E. awards. It's a nice way of saying "we're legit."

Which is why my eyes twinkled just a tad when I read about their Hall of Fame. They are taking a serious look at video games, from a playful perspective. The Strong is accepting online suggestions for what should be in their Hall of Fame through March 31st.

Their criteria is easy to decipher, but a challenge to deliver. They are looking for games with iconic statuses, longevity, geographical reach, and influence. I'd expect to see Mario, Legend of Zelda, and the likes of early influences in that selection. The final picks will be decided by their internal committee along with final approval from a gallery of international journalists, scholars, and those familiar with the history of video games.

So don't put in the latest Call of Duty. They won't look at it. Stick to the classics. CoD1 would count.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Work Lessons From Smash Bros.

Earlier this month I informed you all that I had a new job. Given that we're nearly 3 weeks into it, it's no longer new. But part of the amusing perks of the gig is being signed up for all of these PR, SEO, Marketing newsletters. They litter my work e-mail, and one caught my attention. I have to share it.

'3 PR Lessons from 'Super Smash Bros.'

Alternate take on how to look at the world of public relations. This should be interesting.

The article was written by Beth Adan, a publicist for Three Girls Media, Inc. The original story was featured on their blog, and it's chock-full of key words that it would make one's eyes bulge. She "recently" picked up her old N64 (did you have to call it old, Miss Adan?) and started playing, and it got her to think about how Smash could apply to the real world. You know, once you ignore the concept of Pokemon, apes throwing barrels, and fireballs shooting from the palm of your hand.

As a PR person, the points provided do hold importance. Focus on your strengths, collaborate, and use your time well. Easy, right?

But this is Smash. Just when you think you understand the logic of the game, you get side-swiped by an 8 year old playing as Jigglypuff and wonder what went wrong in your life for this to happen. If you're a non-gamer, then Adan's 3 point approach is comprehensive enough to not overwhelm the audience. If you're a gamer, then it's difficult to swallow.

Smash Bros. is a game that asks you to be versatile.While you can have a favorite character to play as, their strengths don't always work against your opponent. Samus and Olimar are not very good against Pikachu, of all things. You have to learn everyone's moves to optimize your strategy. It's not something that is feasible for every gamer, or every person in the real world, as a matter of fact. You can focus on your strengths, and you can thrive from them, but you also can't force your strengths as the framework if it doesn't fit into your career. Loud, boisterous, talkative is your trait, you probably won't fit at a desk or in an IT office.

As far as collaboration, well team work is important. Sure. Not in a Smash game or in a tournament. The game play is almost always 1 versus 1. It's you against the world, not a team against another team. And if you don't have a second player handy? There are digital recreations ready for an ass whooping. I don't think we have digital co-workers available for this function...not yet anyway.

Time management is one aspect I can agree with in regards to PR work and Smash, to an extent. When you have a timed fight, you only have X amount of seconds to knock out your opponent. You have to strategize how to effectively utilize your precious seconds. And then Mario throws a curve ball by whacking you with a hammer, and now your scrambling as Snake to make quick decisions to win the match. Managing your day is important. It's one thing I'll preach. But with Smash it's not about having a set schedule, but how to adjust to last minute meetings and decisions that interrupt your day. Your best laid plans can be thrown aside once Fox ground-pounds your avatar's face to the ground.

I'm all for the gaming analogies to tie them into our work-place, but would it hurt to ask a gamer if the points are feasible within the game universe?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Is It A Game If You Can't Play It?

That's the question I'd like to propose over the new title Alarm Playing Game: Dreeps, for iPhone. And honestly I don't know what to make of it. The concept is an RPG for those who don't have time to sit down and really hunker into an RPG because of life: work, adult responsibilities, you know the drill. You set the alarm on your phone to go off a few times throughout the day, maybe during your break or your lunch hour, and the game comes to life while you sit back and relax.

The game plays in the background, which drains a lot of battery life so keep that phone charger handy, and only wakes up when your alarm goes off. The story follows an android boy as he ventures through his digital world, slaying enemies. Sometimes when your phone wakes up, it'll just be him walking across the screen. Other times he may be in the middle of slaying an enemy, or talking to an NPC. But there's virtually no text in the game, so don't worry about missing key points. You basically create the story in your head. Why is this android boy walking around slaying creatures? Who is he talking to? What's his quest? Does he have a mission? Is he going to the grocery store to buy some milk?

That's up to you to decide.

It's an interesting concept, but a game where you don't actually play it sounds more like a really long miniseries you can watch on television. You're not actively engaged in the content. You can miss a couple of episodes but you still have a general idea of what's going on that you don't need to binge watch on Netflix to catch up.

I don't quite know what to make of it. Part of what makes games so unique compared to other entertainment mediums is people being involved in the content. You move the hero across the screen. You choose which dialogue tree to follow. You craft your avatar your way. Dreeps takes that control out of your hands and gives you a story without dialogue. It's prompting you to be a gamer in a different way: instead of creating your path, you have to create the story the follows the android boy's actions.

So maybe it is a video games, a new type that could open up a different field of content. It's interesting, I'll give it that, but a game where you don't actually play seems counter-intuitive. If I'm picking up a game I want to be involved in it. I don't want the game to be Game of Thrones where I'm a passive viewer. What do you all think?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thanks For The Digital Memories, Joystiq.

I wanted to post this on Friday, but it didn't quite fit the mood. With today's gloomy weather, it feels appropriate.

For those who don't know, or haven't been following their news feed, Joystiq is no more. After 10 years, their parent company closed the doors and is merging the online gaming magazine with EnGadget. I think what makes it more depressing then anything is that the team first found out about the change from the internet, not their employers. Ouch. The net knew before them. How meta.

The Joystiq archives will remain. At this time EnGadget is going to keep the domain and all stories will stay where they are. They won't migrate to a new server nor will they be deleted. Which is nice because Joystiq did have some great articles to use as reference materials. But the staff have been sent away and are not migrating over to the EnGadget offices.

Another gaming magazine has bit the dust. Good luck to the writers in seeking new jobs. The Editor in Chief, Ludwig Kietzmann seemed genuinely distraught in his message to the staff, giving each of them a personal sendoff.

As the industry slowly begins to change, so will our news outlets for gaming information.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How One Protestor Transformed A Man's Gaming Mission

The good vibes keep rolling.

Zach Wigal felt his calling in life in high school, when he attempted to host a video game tournament at the Saline High School cafeteria, in Michigan. Over 300 people signed up for the Halo tourney, and it took one police office protesting it to shut down the entire event. The reason, the officer cited, was that video games were harmful to kids and did not promote positive behavior.

Wigal took that as a challenge to prove him wrong.

He started the non-profit Gamers Outreach Foundation. Their goal is simple: using games to help people. They have 3 projects under their umbrella. Project GO Karts are portable gaming devices to provide entertainment to children in hospitals. Fun For Our Troops supplies video game care packages to those serving in the military overseas. And Gaming4Others, a community outreach program where GOF helps coordinate tournaments and fundraisers for smaller communities.

Since 2007 the foundation has helped over 26,000 children, putting smiles on their faces during one of the roughest times of their lives by handing over a controller. The Project GO Karts is quite a unique read. Wigal and his friends initially volunteered at a hospital and found that the small rooms limited children's access to games. While the hospital was on board, they were concerned about how children would be monitored with the content, and they couldn't afford to invest in portable consoles such as the PSP or Nintendo DS. Wigal contacted a medical supply company about redesigning an approved, hospital regulated cart to fit their purposes - sticking a console on it and pushing it from room to room, to bring games to the hospital beds. The concept has been so successful that the Karts are even available at the Dallas, TX VA Medical Center.

It's remarkable what a little bit of ingenuity can do. The group's next big gaming tournament is at the end of February, and they expect more then 1,000 people to show up, with a $25,000 donation goal.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I Went. I Saw. I Respond. The Tropes vs. Women Lecture by Anita Sarkeesian

First off, you all are funny readers. Yesterday's last minute blog posting that I was sitting in on a lecture with Anita Sarkeesian got more views then all of my posts for the week. Two sentences and you were hooked!

Last night Sarkeesian visited the campus of the University of Texas at Dallas for the Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology 2015 lecture series. The focus this year is on the issues of gender, society and their interaction with science and technology. Her topic focused on the portrayal of women in video games and how developers can start changing the culture surrounding them to create content that holds more meaning.

As you know, oh faithful readers, my response to Sarkeesian's theories and critiques don't always match her zest. There are some points that I can agree on, and others I feel she misses the mark. That's not to say that her points are invalid, that she isn't doing a good job researching and reviewing, nor that she isn't doing something meaningful. I just don't agree with Point A. And that's okay. That's part of the process. You can disagree with things. Just don't be a dick about it.

So I went into this lecture with an open mind. I was curious to see how Sarkeesian spoke to a live crowd versus the produced YouTube videos or interviews on news segments.

Initial impression: Sarkeesian should give herself more credit. She's meant to be a speaker. As easy to digest as the Feminist Frequency videos are, she is more personable, engaging even, when you speak to her in person. My impression of her has changed after this speaking engagement. While some of her content is still iffy on my mind, she won me over in this discussion.

It would have been very easy for her to focus solely on the online harassment she has received for talking about video games. That has been the bulk of the news surrounding her. I'm glad that she didn't. We were treated to a real lecture, something I rarely get to see. Typically these scenarios are held by PhD aficionados, who tend to sputter about their latest book in hopes to add to their bank account.

Sarkeesian began by talking about her work, her goals with Feminist Frequency, and why she didn't associate herself as a "gamer" for the longest time. Note: It's not because she did not play video games. She did. Her library is extensive and she's a Nintendo fan. It's because she didn't play Halo, Call of Duty, or the "hard-core games" people associate "gamers" with at an extreme level. She fell into that trap as well, like so many of us-we're not gamers because we don't play those games. There was also a picture of her as a kid playing a Nintendo in floral pants. We all did it in the 80's and early 90's, so don't try to hide it. The discussion then turned to #GamerGate, which she says is not dying out like many believe. It'll come back in other forms. She also described GamerGate as a movement to stop change. It's a group of people with a strong, hive-mind opinion, that games should be this way, and only this way, and it's meant for men. It's not about journalist integrity, as some claim.

This only took up about 10 minutes of the talk. The rest of it focused on things developers can do to make women realistic in video games. It was a lecture filled with thoughtful insight, critical theory, and humor. We're talking about video games. If you can't inject some form of lightheartedness, you're not doing it right. What Sarkeesian did well was to take top tier theories that can be difficult to comprehend and made them more digestible to a wider audience in the form of video games. She's challenging the notion that academic discussion is only for those with degrees. And just as with movies, television, theater, books, when we start to take these entertainment mediums seriously and discuss them in a critical manner, they can evolve into something greater. By critical I don't mean that we bash it on the internet. To critique is to analyze or assess something. The word has transformed over the decades to mean negative comments, but that's not the case. It means reviewing and providing a response, positive, negative, and everything in between.

I enjoyed the lecture because it gave me a new side of Sarkeesian I haven't seen before. A personable side. I could easily imagine this being a discussion a group of friends would have over dinner, and she spoke in a manner that showed research beyond her years. She probably spends quite a bit of time playing video games, again despite when people believe. Now that I know the story on why she doesn't consider herself a gamer, it makes sense on how easily her words can be taken out of context.

The Q and A section afterwords was a bit tame. I was hoping for it to be more of an open forum. We were asked to write our questions on note cards, and they were handed to a staff member, who dwindled it down for the moderator to review. So of course my question never would have made it past the first round. Not that it was a bad question or would have stirred trouble. It was quite tame, actually. I wanted to know what Sarkeesian hope the future of video games would be, and what her greatest fear was with the medium.

But it did allow me to digest further what Sarkeesian's focus is in the future. Feminist Frequency isn't just about women in video games. It's about feminism in the media; all media. There won't be an end to it, because content will always exist when it comes to entertainment (tv, movies, etc.). She chose video games because they married her interest in female tropes and gaming's overuse of the content. She plays video games and likes them, but feels that today's content doesn't live up to the standards we, as consumers, should expect. "Today's games suck." And she's not wrong.

I do have a couple of light criticisms about the presentation. The one that twitched me the most was that she spent quite a bit of time reading from her notes. As much of a note-taker as I am, when it comes to speaking, I want to give the audience my undivided attention by looked out at them. I want to see their faces, connect with them, and keep them engaged - which is difficult to do when one looks at a note pad. To play both sides of the coin, she did mention that the lights were really bright when she looked up and she couldn't see out into the audience. And given how much vile hate she has received online, she probably has to be very careful with her words in case one said individual happened to attend the lecture. So I get it...but I'm all about eye contact.

I would have liked for her to go more in-depth with her content. The YouTube videos are meant to be accessible to a wider audience. The setting last night focused on scholastic discussion, but I felt some concepts were still too broad. I would really have liked to hear more about feminist and social theory regarding non-white female characters in games, and how stereotypes continue to play out in multiple forms of media. Another example: the sex noises. An uncomfortable 30 seconds of hilarity. It didn't flow as well as the rest of the presentation. It felt like an after-thought and wasn't discussed at a level that it should have been by comparison to the rest of the lecture. Why are women reduced to sexy fighting noises? How can we combat that image in other forms of media? Can we say it's objectifying women when even the female heroes of the game, who are not designed to be sexy, undergo the same treatment?

I'm glad I made the trip to the lecture. I was curious to see how she was as a speaker, and was pleasantly surprised. To Ms. Sarkeesian: I may not always agree with your point of view, and I do feel that sometimes you gloss over topics and pick content to fit the narrative framework you are trying to convey.

At the same time I respect the fact that you are trying to get gamers to think critically about their medium of choice. That you are prompting discussion into uncharted territory, and people are listening. I admire the fact that you are carving this path for video games to allow it to evolve into something more. As fans, people, gamers, whatever you wish to call yourself, we deserve better content, and you are helping push us into the right direction.

I'll continue to wait and watch for the latest Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, with my fingers poised at the keyboard, ready to debate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Feminist Frequency in Dallas

Anita Sarkeesian has a surprise lecture at UTD tonight. Im there and ready to listen. More to come!

Speed Running For Charity

AGDQ has to be one of the worse acronyms. But Awesome Games Done Quick deserves nothing but praise after their latest charity run. After 160 hours with some of the best speed runners in the world, they raised $1.58 million dollars for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

Wow.

Starting up 5 years ago, the growth of the event has been exponential, as seen in the graph they developed based off their Twitch numbers. It was a lot of gaming for January with fantastic results. Some of the silly content included blindfolding a gamer as he successfully completed Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Or how about Awful Games Done Quick such as Super Pitfall and The Town With No Name.

AGDQ is holding a summer event this year, so keep an eye out for details if you are a speed runner, or you are a fan of watching the speeding. Videos of the 2014 marathon are currently being uploaded to YouTube.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Character Creator Mode: Active

I'm pretty sure I have spent more time in the character creator then actually playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Which is saying a lot because I have racked up 45 hours of game time. That OCD is making it difficult to progress with the primary story-line. But! I've locked in my romance with Cullen, so all is right in the digital world.


But even now the character creation is my menu-mode of choice. I don't actually play as the characters that I have created. Maybe after my first run through Inquisition I'll load a file, but until my first game is completed, these are mini-games. Something to explore and see just how detailed BioWare made their creator system. Can I alter one's jaw to look like an overbite? Or can I twist it to give an extra dimple to the middle of their chin? Maybe if I push the cheekbones back we can get an Angelina Jolie, Rosario Dawson hybrid face on the Qun female...that would be an interesting challenge. Let's do it!

And that's how I spend my time in Dragon Age these days - not fighting demons and closing green portals, but making a bunch of digital characters to see how far I can go before the game stops me.

Character creator systems are becoming more advanced every year. I remember when The Sims first released under Maxis. It's not as polished as it looks now, but in the year 2000 it was glorious. As gamers we were use to starting up the console and going right into the action. So when The Sims provided us with a different approach and allowed us to make our characters, it was a unique experience.You could change their height, their clothing, their hair color, the game gave you control on how you want your Sim and your Sim family to appear. My biggest complaint with The Sims 3 was the removal of so many of the customization features. By the second game you could adjust your Sim's voice, their eyes, cheekbones, where their brows sit on their face, how their nose tilts, and mods were encouraged!

And then Star Wars: Galaxies came out. I was in character creator heaven. On online game with a seemingly endless list of customization was unheard of. I made hundreds of characters that never made it past character creation. I wanted to see how crazy I could make a Wookie or a Twi'lek before it got to be too silly for my tastes. While many scoffed at the lower graphics of backgrounds and some cities to make up for the higher volume of unique characters, it felt like a true Star Wars experience. The movies never showcased aliens looking exactly the same. Everyone was different, even those of the same race. And that translated well into the online world. It made for a unique experience upon every login.

It may sound like vanity, and to some extent with my subconscious it probably is. But my  interest in the character creations are not to make the prettiest elves in all the land. I want to see what I can create. I love being able to take the image of a human and transforming it into a witch, an ogre, a unicorn, whatever the system will allow me to do. It doesn't matter if it's realistic or what might be considered "beautiful," it's about the process and trying to find new ways to mess with the system. My intent is not to break the game or to mod it, but to make unique characters based on the parameters I've been given. It's a virtual playground by making unique faces and body-types.

Why do I do this? I'm not really certain. You could say that a part of myself is trying to find my own identity within the video games, but I have yet to make a digital character that looks like me. In fact, when given the option to play as another race, I go for it. I'm never the Human in Final Fantasy XI or XIV (which I began playing last week). I was a Human once on World of Warcraft and disliked it. Started over with a Blood Elf and an Undead. In Galaxies I went Twi'lek and Wookie. Old Republic it was Human only because I really, really, really wanted to play as an Imperial Agent and the best story-line options are only available to the Human race. As soon as I hit 50, I unlocked the ability to choose any race for that job and made a Twi'lek and Cathar, two dominate races on the Republic side.

Or maybe it's an extension of my playful side. I do cosplay, after all, and enjoy dressing up as a different character every time. I don't know, really. My degrees are in film, not psychology.

I just know that I love to make new characters that I never play. I love the customization and would rather spend all day tweaking and twirling digital images then running through the forest, slaying dragons.

Monday, February 09, 2015

...Why?

We are doubling on the stories that may make you hit your head against your desk.

- According to sources via The Wallstreet Journal, Netflix is looking to produce The Legend of Zelda into a live-action series. Yep. Zelda. On TV. Again. Let's not forget how horrible of an experience that was last time. As we all know well, taking a video game and transforming it into different medias can be difficult, and does not produce the best results. Netflix is looking to make Zelda a Game of Thrones for families. I hope they mean in popularity, because GoT is not kid friendly. Right now this is all rumor. Neither Nintendo nor Netflix's PR reps will comment on the story.

If there is anything that you have learned from The Geek Spot over the years, it's that some games are never meant to be movies or tv shows. They work best in their video game medium because that's how they were developed. RPG's, action-adventures, FPS, these type of games don't fit in other realms of entertainment without completely re-tooling the original content. And at that point, why bother using the game as source material at all?

In all fairness, Netflix has been quite successful at bringing new programming to the masses. It's very likely they can make Legend of Zelda work. History with game movies and TV shows say otherwise, but you never know...

- #GamerGate is the featured topic on the next Law and Order: SVU. The show is known for pulling content from media headlines, and given it's production schedule, it would have coincided when Gamergate was initially blowing up. The episode entitled "Intimidation Game" and focuses on a woman being attacked at a game convention, and the detectives uncovering the "seedy underbelly" of the gaming world. Hardcore. The woman in the story replicates Anita Sarkeesian and other female gaming personalities, wanting to stand up against the threats against her, and throwing in a jab at Sony's expense. While the show, supposedly, doesn't call out Gamergate directly...that's pretty much what the episode is about. If you're interested, it''ll air Wednesday night on NBC. Otherwise, come sit with me in the corner as we continue to head desk.

Well, at least someone is talking about the violence and threats against women. We need action, but it's better then nothing, I guess?

Friday, February 06, 2015

Nintendo Restrictions on YouTube

Nintendo has begun it's YouTube adShare program submissions, much to the chagrin of many, and now boasts a 72 hour turn-around time with the massive pile of requests sent their way. The new program allows for users to be paid when using Nintendo products on their YouTube streams for promoting the content in a positive light.

But it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Several games have been excluded from the profit share such as:

Any and All Smash Brothers games.
3rd Party content: Bayonetta, Pokemon.

Given the popularity of all three titles at this time (Bayonetta 2, the newest Smash, and Pokemon because it's Pokemon), that's a huge chunk of content not available to those looking for ad sharing revenue. It also means Nintendo can save money by not having to pay out for all of those Smash videos.

And that 3rd Party content clause also means that your videos have to be completely clear of non-Nintendo characters. So I can see why Smash would not be allowed if you have the versions that include Snake and Sonic. But if you edit a Mario Kart Wii video to include a silly picture of Banjo-Kazooie, you are not eligible to receive revenue.

It's a delicate situation. Nintendo wants to start taking control over content being published on YouTube that involves their brand, while maintaining freedom to the users to play as they see fit. They reward the "good behavior" and ignore the people throwing in customer characters, mods, or saying something negative about the games. While most developers have a hands-off approach to YouTube and ad revenues, Nintendo is making a statement and if it works, I wouldn't be surprised if more followed their example.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Weekly Link Roundup

We have a lot of links today for your reading pleasure. Enjoy as I sit here, on the phone, trying to figure out if I can get in to a video game discussion at a college campus next week without being a student. :D

Kristian Segerstral talked at the DICE summit in Las Vegas, Nevada about 10 things he learned to be a successful video game executive. If the name doesn't sound familiar, he co-founded mobile game company Glu, Playfish (now under EA's domain) and funded Clash of Clans, one of the top grossing mobile games out right now. The best note I see is to compound market immaturity with slow growth. Because if you're a gamer and you're interested in technology, you're immature. Funny.

The LEGO Jurassic World Video Game trailer is out. I didn't know they were making such a thing. So many LEGO games...

TheScore, a Canadian sports application that reports on events around Canada, and the largest app in their country, will now include eSports. Globally, gaming is a big deal, and this addition to their mobile app will make it one of the first large-scale sports networks to provide coverage.

The Daily News reviews Akiba: Undead and Undressed. If the game title doesn't capture your attention, I don't know what else to tell you. Just go read the zanyness.

Garena eSports, which runs large gaming events in Southeast Asia, is backpedaling after making comments about gay and transgendered women. There was "concern" that gay, transgender, or lesbians would have an unfair advantage with playing video games. Somehow they have "super powers" that make them better gamers. So the company enforced a new policy on teams, and the internet raged back. Since then Garena has removed the rules completely and everyone is allowed to compete no matter which gender they associate themselves with. But really...gay men and women have magical gaming powers? "Who told?! Now the secret is out!"

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Online Gaming Culture and n00b Shaming

I warned you that some of the postings will be light. Here's one for today!

In a 'Talk Amongst Yourselves' article, Kotaku is asking if online video games are making us sociopaths? Online participation is part of the video game culture. The stats Kotaku posted regarding the increase of users going online to game is quite staggering given that just a decade ago we could barely deal with a 56k connection. With the number of people online, there are always a few that destroy the fun. These are the potential "sociopaths" the article is referring to. And based on the dictionary definition (someone who behaves in a violent or dangerous way but does not feel guilty about their actions) could easily describe some gamers.

Now this isn't to say ALL online gamers are sociopaths. Just the handful who feel it's necessary to tell us to "go die" or digitally hump our avatar's corpse in retaliation.

It's okay to be frustrated or a little bit upset if you lost a match. They are normal feelings. Your reaction is the key component that this article is focusing on. Do you remind yourself that "it's just a game" or do you go out of your way to make the other player/team's gaming lives a living hell?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Millennial Gamer...My Age Is Showing

By now many of you know about the flurry of content, arguments, debates, and shaming of women in video games (both digitally and in the real world). I've discussed it enough times on this blog that you all should be fully aware of my interest in the subjects. And we are at a point where most of the content has already been said. We know there's a problem. It's not just women that are underrepresented and stereotyped as background characters, but any and all non-white, non-straight men. We are at the point where action is needed - developers stepping up and listening to the majority and seeing where games can go in the future.

Today's net piece on the topic is pretty much what you expect. Time posted an online article from Northwestern University student Lauren Janik. She's a life-long gamer and has felt the sting of the "boys only club" motto since middle school. She didn't jump into online gaming because she knew early on from internet forums that she was going to be singled out as a female, and targeted. Most of her friends were boys, but that didn't limit the teasing or taunting for being a girl in gaming. And as she got older, saw the harassment of high profile gamers such as Anita Sarkeesian, she could relate to their experiences.

What caught my attention was the very end of the Janik's article and I wish she would have expanded upon it from the beginning to give a new perspective on the discussion:

"I’ve played video games for more than 16 years. Does that make me a feminist insurgent? No. It makes me a millennial."

As much as I dislike to admit it, I'm considered a "Millennial." It's a word I don't associate myself with because it has a heavily negative connotation regarding the work-ethic and personality of my age group. We're considered lazy, narcissists, attention-mongers, and those needing constant praise for every little thing that we do. And at the same time, we're the tech gurus. Your businesses wouldn't be running at optimal efficiency if you didn't have a few of us in the back room working on your servers. We are a generation that is loathed for our ethics but needed for the world to keep spinning. There's even a few quizzes on how much of  a Millennial you are. Apparently I'm 83% Millennial according to Pew Research. Because of this general gloss for my generation I typically don't associate myself with the group - most of us are pretty well rounded people who care about civil service and looking for ways to make the world a better place.

But being a Millennial I am a part of that gaming crowd. My earliest of childhood memories was holding the Atari 2600 joystick. Gaming was never a gender, race, nor religious issue to me. It was something we all did in our free time. There were more boys then girls that played but it didn't bother me until we started to be separated by our genders into different groups at school and work.

For Millennials, gaming is a normal activity. It's a stress release. It's productive. It's a new area of art and theory. We know our games can be better because we grew up with them. We've seen their rise, their fall, and rise again. They have the potential to be beacons of [insert your concept here]. Entertainment, scholastic, diversity, whatever you want gaming to represent. We know they can be better - we just need to make it happen.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Sonic Series Continues to Age With Some Grace

Time to feel old.

Today. 21 years ago. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was released.

Twenty. One. Years.

It's legal enough to drink and buy cigarettes.

We celebrate the aging Sonic series with the release of a classic: where Knuckles was introduced, a sad attempted at 2-player mode with Tails (who was helpful until you flew off the screen), and a 3 dimensional, top-down puzzle mini-game that was very unique for it's time. 

I remember this game fondly as a kid. My brother and I would play it constantly, swapping off the controller at each level because neither of us wanted to be Tails for longer the necessary. And Blockbuster would abuse this game for tournaments for years to come because they always felt it was "faster" then the previous Sonic games.

Today. We feel old.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

New Year. New Job.

Hello Geeks!

I wanted to apologize in advance. My posting schedule is going to be weird for the next few days. I'm starting a new job tomorrow, and it'll coincide with my usual post times. I'll find a way to make it work and will get whatever gaming content I can to you all. Thanks for your patience!