Sep 272014
 
HFS

“…if not now, then when?”, asked Emma Watson, in a speech she gave at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City last Saturday. Surely, the quote is one that many of us have heard in our lives, one that is meant to foster courage in the face of fear and uncertainty, to prompt a feeling of personal responsibility when presented with an imposing task. Watson, the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, introduced the quote near the end of her speech, when she admitted that she had been quite nervous prior to her speech.

And why shouldn’t she be nervous? As a graduate of an International Relations program, the prospect of giving a speech at the UN is simultaneously exciting and incredibly intimidating one. But, in such a situation, my nervousness would stem only from the pressure I placed on myself, whereas Watson was likely nervous for additional, more serious reasons. She was introducing a UN campaign called HeForShe - “A Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality,” and if you have already read Mystie’s and/or Cassi’s posts on TLo42, or, really, if you have been following the news at all for the past few weeks, then you know that it is a frightening time for women. Hackers recently stole and released personal, nude photos of several prominent female celebrities; Anita Sarkeesian was forced from her home after receiving death threats for, well, doing nothing wrong at all (I refuse to craft a sentence that even begins to describe a “rationale” for these threats); several of Sarkeesian’s supporters have been similarly targeted. And, of course, this does not even include the sexual abuse and discrimination women continue to experience on a daily basis. Plain and simple, women are, at the very least, not afforded the same opportunities as men anywhere in the world. At worst, they are explicitly denied basic human rights. Sadly, as Watson noted in her speech, “No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender equality.” Indeed, Watson’s deeds did not go unpunished. She, too, was threatened with a leak of personal nude photos (and, no, the fact that the stunt may have been fake does not diminish the meaning of the underlying threat).

This reality is why another quote Emma Watson used in her speech is so important to me: “Statesman Edmund Burke said all that is need for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.” All I have to do to allow the denial of human rights to women to continue is to do nothing. Combined with her questions of “If not me, then who?” and “If not now, then when?”, the quote has provided an incredibly strong motivator for myself and men around the world to take this opportunity to speak out, stand up, and offer our support in the fight to secure an equal future for men and women alike.

There can no longer be any question as to who this issue affects or involves, either. Watson extended what she called a formal invitation to men to participate in the conversation, explaining that “men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.” And while I’m not personally inclined to complain about the male sex lacking in equality in the face of recent events, I’d be flat-out lying if I said that I hadn’t taken notice of the cultural norms affecting men, as well: we are supposed to be strong – even aggressive – and keep our emotions in check, to mention only a small subset of the cultural pressures men face. And as Watson so rightfully said, this has an immediate consequence of shaping the norms that affect women.

In the past, I struggled with identifying the best way to get involved and show my support for women’s rights, other than to continually try to participate in conversations that make me consider the topic on a regular basis; thanks to my wife and the wonderful friends we have that make up TLo42, these conversations usually crop up often enough to meet that requirement. But I recently realized that the current climate in gaming and the world in general, as caustic as it may be, demands only the simplest action as a first step – and I’ll leave it to Slate writer Phil Plait to put it in words (emphasis mine):

This isn’t about [loathsome knuckle-dragging Men’s Rights Advocates and their ilk]. It’s about women, and men supporting them. It’s about all of us. And doing this isn’t white-knighting, it isn’t mansplaining, and it isn’t weak, or unmanly. It is, quite simply, doing what’s right and standing up for others.

I have no claim to solutions for these problems; I cannot hope to know how to stop the hatred and violence and oppression and othering of women on the Internet and in the world.

But I know how to stand up for my friends. I know how to write, and how to make myself heard. And I can hope that other men will do this as well, because while I don’t know the whole solution, I know a part of it, a significant part of it, is just showing that we are listening, that we care, and we want to help.

And that’s why I stand with Emma Watson.

I, too, intend to do what’s right. I, too, am going to stand up for others. I, too, stand with Emma Watson. And Anita Sarkeesian. And women everywhere. And I stand with the 148, 137 other men who have already visited heforshe.org (at the time of my commitment) and resolved to support them. That’s one of the most beautiful things about HeForShe: it’s so simple. So, my fellow men and boys, make yourself heard, be counted as a HeForShe, as I have:

HeForShe

 

The fight will go on, probably, sadly, for years to come. But this is where we make our initial stand. Click the picture above to head over to heforshe.org. Because, if not you, then who? If not now, then when?

Sep 262014
 

When news first broke of the massive amounts of celebrity nude photos leaked, a friend made an interesting point to me:

If this had happened even just a few years ago, all that would have happened is everyone would have brushed it off. Some would have snached up tabloids in line at the grocery store and really no one would have thought twice about it. Now we’re discussing violation of privacy and women’s rights.

What’s changed?

Recently, video games had a really, really tough week. Anita Sarkeesian – creator of the blog Feminist Frequency and a video series called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, released a video discussing the use of of woman–and violence against women–as backgrounds or plot drivers in video games. For this she was was abused online, threatened and forced out of her home by said threats. Along the same lines, many video game developers, writers and various people in the industry were and are facing similar treatment.

But why are we talking about this now?

Haven’t video games have always been like this? Isn’t this what makes media what it is? Why should we change something that has worked for years?

The short answer, of course, is because I think we can do better than that.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Sarkeesian and others were right or wrong in their arguments, whether sexsism in video games or media exists, whether this abuse is a real issue, is being overblown, or worse – threats against these women are being faked. (update, in this case I don’t mean threats like releasing nude photos are faked, because apparently in that case they were, but people expletive twitter attacks were faked or photoshopped.)

Yet the positive side to all this and what’s important and what’s different from those few years ago is that we’re talking about this. People are standing up and saying we can do better than this.

Not only do I feel this is important for the progression of woman in the field of video games or the media, but for the actual mediums as well. It’s easy to make the argument that we get video games that uses classic tropes that are just fine using classic video game tropes. But by thinking outside the box and challenging the status quo, maybe we can get a better video game.

But change is difficult, and to make this change, we’re going to have to go through a lot more push back and a lot more trolls. In an article regarding this topic, in an opinion article by polygon, writer Chris Plante points out:

“One side [of this argument] has folded its arms, slumped its shoulders while pouting like an obstinate child that has learned they are getting a little brother or sister but wants to remain the singular focus of their parents’ affection.”

There will probably always be the argument that this isn’t really an issue. That without these women tropes in video games the storylines wouldn’t be the same (who will the hero save if not the damsel in distress?). That women should just deal with it, because that’s life.

But why not do better? We can say forget that and make a better story line. We can find a better way to promote our case than through the the promise of naked women.

All of this will be better if nothing else because it challenges us to not be lazy. To think outside the box instead of falling back on these tropes because they’ve been done before, because they’re easy.

Whether or not you agree with Anita, Emma Watson or others trying to change things and their opinions, you should be supporting the idea of trying to raise the bar.

In the case of Sarkeesian, it should be important to note that her video isn’t asking much of video games. She’s not saying video games shouldn’t touch these themes or they should stay away from them. She simply asks them to just take a step back and try to look at things a little more critically.

“Now–to be clear–I’m certainly not saying stories seriously examining the issues surrounding domestic or sexual violence are off limits for interactive media. However, if game makers do attempt to address these themes, they need to approach the topic with the subtly, gravity and respect that the subject deserves.”

So join us, let’s give this subject the respect it deserves.

Let’s raise the bar.

Let’s change the conversation.

Sep 222014
 

I was checking all my social media during my lunch today, ’cause that is what you do in 2014 and I came across this in my News Feed.

why would we even be surprised anymore?

why would we even be surprised anymore?

And I got mad. Not just irritated, or slightly perturbed, but enraged. Just yesterday I was sharing the beginning of this story: Emma Watson speaks out at the UN that feminism isn’t a dirty word and it’s for everyone. She has started a campaign entitled “HeForShe” encouraging men to take part of the fight. [It’s getting pretty heavy holding it up by ourselves over here.] I was impressed and proud that Emma had taken and put a very public face on an issue that we have been fighting over here in the Nerd World for way way too long.

And guess what happened. She got the same treatment (albeit fairly mild compared to some) that anyone speaking up against misogyny in gaming has gotten. They couldn’t attack her argument because their logic sounds a little like “Women shouldn’t talk. Just let us covet and hate women as much as we damn well please. Oh, and give us sex when we are nice to you/want it.” So, they attack her personally. For Emma Watson this first threat is to expose her (literally) in a way that makes anyone feel vulnerable. For Anita Sarkeesian (www.feministfrequency.com) it was exposing her in the way of ruining her anonymity on the web by threatening her home and the people she cares about.

And I’m fucking tired of it. I’m taking a stand. The League of 42 is taking a stand. This is no longer an issue that we can sit on the sidelines and let other people fight for us. This is getting to be a “You are with us or against us” issue because sitting around letting anyone attack Emma or Anita is letting them attack us. Letting them beat down the people who are fighting this fight for us.

According to “The Science of Happiness”, it takes 5 positive things to erase 1 negative one in your dealings with people. So, Anita, Emma, here’s hoping that the 5 of us standing with you silences 1 of the trolls you are fighting.

Sep 022014
 

Well, this is embarrassing…  it turns out that I and the majority of the web pegging YouTube/Google as the probable buyer of Twitch.tv were perhaps a tad premature. Instead, a surprise offer from Amazon came from out of the blue, and they have been officially confirmed by Emmet Shear, CEO of Twitch, as having purchased the company for a cool $970 million . Surprise!

twitchretro2

This is the most recent and most obvious sign of what most feel Amazon is gearing up to do, which is take on Google and Netflix as a global information/content behemoth. Twitch, which didn’t even exist four years ago, has blown up into what has become a lucrative business streaming content from video games and the gaming scene in general. Amazon’s opportunity seemed to come about after Google hesitated on their deal out of fear of antitrust lawsuits (as YouTube fulfills a relatively similar service, albeit recorded).

So now the question will be what this means for Twitch. This is far and away Amazon’s largest purchase to date, which means they regard it as a very important part of their strategy moving forward. The fear with Google being the buyer would be they aggressively shut down anything remotely approaching copyright infringement. As with the last article, Twitch is very borderline as is with this. Streamers make a living posting live video of themselves playing games, which so far most game companies have embraced, even if it could technically be pursued in court, as it also brings great publicity (League of Legends). Furthermore, up until recently, many streamers would play music from their collection or from a separate streaming service while they played. This has more or less been shut-down with recent moves by Twitch. Whether or not this was in order to help facilitate sale is unknown, but as long as the game content remains untouched, this is a reasonable and very prudent move.

twitch-bandwidth-01

Overall, I have to think this will be better for Twitch than if Google had purchased it. Most signs seem to point to Amazon not wanting to limit Twitch in any way, and more or less keep business as usual. However, I think in the next year we will start to see a much wider array of video content available in Twitch, especially with recorded video (as YouTube, now a direct competitor, has been the major place to store these recordings). Amazon most definitely wants to compete with Google to be the end-all be-all of content providers, and Twitch is one of the first and most important foundations to that strategy, so they will be taking extra care to continue providing the same quality of service. Google may not have had quite the same need to do so, as they already control a huge sector of the market.

So just like everyone else, we are waiting to see how this turns out, but I myself have a better feeling about the Amazon purchase than I would have with Google, and it sure seems to set up an interesting clash between two of the biggest names on the web.

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
Jun 062014
 

Youtube-twitch

Has YouTube (and by extension, Google) done what so many rumors flying around the internet are reporting? Are they, as we speak, hashing out the details to a hefty $1 billion deal to purchase Twitch? At this point, all signs seem to point to yes, with the delay likely due to ongoing negotiations over just how independent Twitch will remain. What does this mean for the suddenly booming business of online game streaming?

Honestly, there is a large potential upside to this deal. Most seem to feel that Twitch was growing so fast that a sale was inevitable, as Twitch’s user base now numbers in the millions, across PC and next-gen consoles, as current hardware and internet speeds have made it easier than ever to stream content. YouTube has long been the behemoth of user-generated content, and with Google’s massive wallet backing them, it could open the door to streaming becoming a truly mainstream hobby.

Furthermore, rumors have also stated that there were several other interested parties, including Microsoft, before the supposed victor emerged. Google is far and away a better option, if a deal had to be made, to ensure impartiality among systems. Had Microsoft bought Twitch, Sony would have likely dropped Twitch to form their own service, splintering the community. Microsoft may have also attempted to drive use more towards the Xbox and away from the PC, as their general strategy has been to move away from gaming in the PC marketplace. So if a deal was truly inevitable, why not Google?

However, there are a lot of potential problems on the horizon, should Google/YouTube complete this purchase. First of all is the highly unpopular requirement of Google Plus forced upon YouTube users, and Twitch could very easily follow suit. Social media is, at the very best, a polarizing topic with many, especially amongst Twitch’s main users, and could cause some to drift away, frustrated by such requirements. Forcing additional services such as Google Plus in order to participate in Twitch is a huge pitfall to be avoided, and it is to be hoped Twitch is negotiating away from such a requirement.

Finally, what could be the biggest problem facing Twitch in the event of a Google purchase is YouTube and Google’s strict enforcement of copyright infringement. Video game streaming walks a fine line with videos that heavily feature in-game footage and often music. This sort of content has, rather famously, been relentlessly shut down at every angle on YouTube. Now, many video game companies will happily allow streaming in order to increase visibility and interest (League of Legends most famously), but it could become an extremely difficult area to navigate, depending on developer and publisher action. This is a very difficult problem, with no clear answer, and it is central to Twitch’s business model. How will YouTube and Google choose to navigate it? And could it bring about a drastic drop in interest, right as video game streaming seems to be taking off?

Many in the video game community, especially those whose livelihoods now depend on services like Twitch, await further news of a deal with bated breath. There are many areas which could cause a stumble and a setback, but there is also potential for improvement. It will all come down to how Twitch negotiates this potential deal, and how much Google and YouTube plan to interfere with an already successful model. In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, head over to twitch.tv and find out exactly what video game streaming is all about, and just how easy it is to get involved.  

 

 Posted by at 9:27 am
Apr 102014
 

This is your only warning that there be spoilers ahead!

GOT1

It’s that time of year that we can all finally go back to fearfully wondering which of our favorite characters are about to be killed off, yet again. Well, except for those of us who have read the books that is, we already know who is about to die (can you sense the smug? Mwah ha ha). Except for where we don’t… because HBO likes to mess with our heads and occasionally kill some other character, because damnit, G.R.R.M. just didn’t take it far enough! A frequent criticism of his I’ve heard.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right! The fourth season of Game of Thrones has officially kicked off, breaking the viewership record for the show in the process. This introductory episode changed the tone somewhat from some of the prior seasons, as we are starting to get to the part of the series that has slowed down and focuses more on exposition. Not a bad thing at all, but definitely a different direction than the first three seasons, and we get a bit of a taste of that here. Definitely a very solid episode, but nothing yet that really sets the bar for the season.

gots4d

The majority of the episode took place in King’s Landing, where Jaime has returned to his family, albeit missing a wee bit of his hand. The scene where Tywin melted down and re-forged Eddard’s sword to create two new ones, one of which went to Jaime, was a very cool scene that was definitely overflowing with symbolism. Followed by Tywin demanding that Jaime give up his spot in the Kingsguard in order to rule at Casterly Rock. Jaime flatly refuses this and leaves (and of course then suffers the spite of both Cersei and his-probable son Joffrey). Jaime has quickly become one of my favorite characters, and even considering his pretty evil deeds in the past, it’s hard to not feel compassion for the guy, misguided though he may still be. Oberyn Martell also made his triumphant entrance, demanding satisfaction for the brutal killing of his sister and her children at the hands of the Lannisters. He is going to become one of the more intriguing storylines in this season, looking forward to that!

I thought the bits with Daenerys and Jon were the flattest of the episode. The scene with the dragons was pretty badass, sure, but it’s hard to disguise the fact that she is pretty much just wandering around in the desert, not taking back her throne like I want her to. I do like the new Daario, but we didn’t really get much of a chance to meet him, so looking forward to seeing him in future episodes. Jon had to deal with some of the repercussions following his little escapade beyond the wall, but nothing really has come of this yet.

gots4k

My favorite parts of this episode was the scenes with the Hound and Arya. Arya has long been one of my very favorite characters, in book and show, and her relationship with the Hound is a pretty interesting one. The Hound himself has become a bit of a fan favorite, which I think is mostly due to Rory McCann’s excellent portrayal, but he and Arya form quite the effective team. This culminates in an excellent fight in an inn with some Lannister men, where Arya is able to retrieve her sword and kill Polliver, the man who murdered her traveling companion Lommy in the last season. Arya is out for revenge, and this was a big move from her character, as her method was quite deliberate and cold-blooded. She is out for vengeance, and Polliver wasn’t even on her list! I can’t wait to see what this odd duo gets into in the next few episodes.

 

 Posted by at 9:56 pm
Mar 222014
 

Episode two of Cosmos aired last Sunday, and built upon the successes from the first episode and delivered an excellent and very important message. This show is really coming into its own, with Tyson excelling as a replacement to his predecessor, and really tailoring the themes to some of the modern issues that have become major conflicts.

This weeks episode focused mostly on evolution, and the various mechanisms by which it is carried out. Evolution has become an incredibly touchy subject in parts of the world, which seems to be a common theme with new ideas and changes. This issue was just recently highlighted with the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, which really seemed to just further entrench each side.

I believe that Tyson is much more effective than Nye was (and a lot of this is the format) at delivering this message and explaining the simplicities and brilliance of the theory of evolution. His segment on the evolution of the eye is especially interesting, as this has become one of the major bastions for those who believe evolution to be a falsehood, and Tyson quite simply and eloquently breaks down how it is that natural selection could bring about something as complicated as the eye (like many things with evolution, the concept itself is actually quite simple, which is what is so brilliant about it).

It is hard to say whether this will make much of a difference, as it remains to be seen whether the majority of viewers have already been convinced, or even if those who haven’t been will allow themselves to be. The key is the facts are being presented, in a rational and thought-provoking way. Tyson is proving to be a masterful host, breaking down what may seem to be unbelievably complex ideas into their most basic concepts. As he points out at the end of the program, there is no shame in not knowing everything. The real shame is not knowing everything, but pretending that you have all of the answers anyway. I cannot wait to see where the next episode goes, and if you haven’t started watching yet, get to it!

 

You can watch the latest episode of Cosmos here.

 Posted by at 4:04 pm
Mar 172014
 

When you’re an adult and a nerd, sometimes you find your nerdiness leaking out into things adults care about – like house design. So if you have a house, and in some cases maybe an incredible amount of wealth lying around, consider these epic home upgrades:

1. A Lego Basement and Bar. When you need to enjoy a good beer and build some shit!

 

2. An Arcade Basement. Because, obviously.

 

3. A Star Wars Themed theatre, when you’re feeling like chilling with Boba Fett and C-3PO

Modern Media Room by Beverly Hills

Home Media Design & InstallationModern Home Theatre

 

4. Or if the Final Frontier is more your style, try this on for size.

 

5. If you happen to have a cave that came with your home (it really helps regulate the electricity
bill) consider a bat cave.

 

6. If epic lighting is more your style, try this on for size

 

7. If you are super-adult and enjoy wine, but want to keep your nerd cred – try making it Indiana
Jones themed. It’s better than Disneyland.

 

8. If you’re concerned that there are no options about where to sleep yet, maybe a Jedi Starfighter
is your style.

 

9. And if a big problem when gaming is that there isn’t enough TV space, well…

Industrial Media Room by Calgary Home Media Design &

InstallationK&W Audio

 

10. Bonus: If you’re not an eccentric millionaire and these options seem a little out of your price range, just try a circuit board table.

circuittable-sg

 Posted by at 8:56 pm
Mar 162014
 

101-008-cosmos-standing-up-in-the-milky-way-large-photo-960x540

Cosmos has returned to television, this time presented by astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson (taking over from the late Carl Sagan). The show is being produced by Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow. After an extensive marketing campaign, and very high expectations to match the success of the previous program, the first episode has aired, and while not perfect, it is a wonderful continuation of the original Cosmos.

First of all, Neil deGrasse Tyson is every bit the perfect host that Carl Sagan was. He is personable, charming, and has the experience as a scientific educator to really step into the role. Perhaps a bit of Sagan’s ability to convey wonder has been lost, but as this is only the first episode I really expect Tyson to grow into his role as presenter and have some truly fantastic moments. His tribute to Sagan toward the end of the program was touching and inspiring, you can absolutely see how much it means to Tyson that he has been chosen to continue that legacy, and it’s an amazing thing to see.

This first episode focuses on our location in the universe, examining the solar system in light detail as well as it’s place in our galaxy, followed by it’s place in the greater universe. As often as I have heard it, I am still blown away at the scope, and just how small humanity really is, both in time and space. The segment condensing all of history from the big bang to the present into one calendar year, was especially an eye-opener (I’m a sucker for any space scale demonstrations).

There were also a few pointed references to some current-day issues as well. The dire warning of Venus, and the hell it has become from rampant greenhouse effects, should serve as a poignant reminder of the dangers we face from the same effect. A major segment of the show also focused on Giordano Bruno, who was outcast and excommunicated from the church, and finally killed, for speaking of a greater and more expansive universe. This has some modern day parallels, but I honestly could have seen this segment shortened considerably.

Overall, I absolutely consider this first episode of the re-imagined Cosmos as a huge success. They had some large shoes to fill, but I think they have really managed to capture the spirit and tone of the original. A lot of that has to do with Tyson and his ability to give us something new while also having reverence for Sagan’s work. I heartily recommend giving this show a chance, to anyone, regardless of your prior knowledge and experience. It’s been a lot of fun already and looking forward to seeing what they do with the remaining episodes.

You can watch the first episode here.

 Posted by at 1:54 pm
Feb 122014
 

694px-Star_Wars_Logo.svg

With the Star Wars franchise changing ownership, and rumors of a massive overhaul of the EU underway, the time has come to reflect on new ways the owners of the Star Wars universe can reach out to its fans-both old and new.

As the setting is in a universe with tens of thousands of planets, a population of trillions, and a clean slate on post-Endor history, Star Wars developers hold the key to a writers wet dream. In the near future, these developers will need to decide what platforms would be best to reach fans and keep the setting both prolific and profitable.

While I would argue that video games, comics, and books make for ideal platforms, the main platform I propose they consider would include the creation of a live-action Star Wars TV series. TV series are great platforms for the creation of canonical storyline and presenting them to the masses in an entertaining and (hopefully) intellectual manner (like with Star Trek series, Star Wars Clone Wars). Technology is finally at a stage to give good, cheap lightsaber scenes (like with that youtube kid jumping around in his garage), and great ship battles (such as with Battlestar Galactica, DS9, and Stargate).

A Star Wars live-action TV series could give fans what its movies cannot–a story much smaller in scope than the move story lines but one that still offers us Star Wars flavor. Like Star Trek, they could produce series in different sections (quadrants, for you trekkies) of the galaxy, with overlapping or separate timelines. Despite the Star Wars universe being a Kardashev III civilization, even a regional or planetary based show could be made to feel important to its audience. The added benefit to this would be expanding on the cast of canonical characters that could then be used in later movies. These small budget series could pave the way to large budget films the the audience will (again, hopefully) know and love the characters, like with Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity.

I certainly hope this argument is something that the powers-that-be come across and consider. I love the Star Wars universe, and I would love for my children to say the same. They need only take the setting and combine it with the best loved of sci-fi our various generations–Firefly’s dialogue, Star Trek’s intellect and diplomacy, Battlestar’s dramatic twists and finales’, and naturally, the lightsaber.

At a cross roads, Star Wars is. Choose wisely, they must.