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.

May 032014
 

Last weekend, Mystie and I had the pleasure of going to the World Championships of the Vex Robotics Competition in Anaheim, California, where two of my cousins were competing. Simply described, the Vex Robotics Competition is a fantastic way for students ranging from elementary school all the way through college to engage in hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. Students build and program robots to perform certain tasks, which they then use in competition with other robots at varying levels of Vex competition.

1

Allow me to stress again – VRC is fantastic. I had known that my cousins were involved with VRC for some time, and had even seen their robots at one point during a family visit. But it wasn’t until Mystie and I walked up to the Anaheim Convention Center that I started to get really excited. Instantly, the atmosphere was intoxicating. Thousands of students and coaches rushed to make their next match. Teams furiously retooled their robots in the pit areas and crowded around practice arenas to further hone their strategies. Vendor and sponsor tents dotted the convention center floor, and Vex officials had even unveiled a sneak preview of next year’s game. There was just so much to experience – it was easily the highest concentration of robots in one area that I have ever seen, and the energy was utterly contagious.

It was amazing to see how excited all these kids were about STEM, but there are a few specific positive facets of the event that I want to be sure to point out. First, Vex provides an engaging, encouraging, and insanely fun (as far as I can tell) community for students who might otherwise consider their STEM-related interests to be “not cool,” and therefore for students who might otherwise hesitate when weighing the opportunities presented to them in the early stages of their lives. I truly believe and have been convinced in the last few years of my life that interests once considered “nerdy” are beginning to be seen as “cool,” or perhaps that being “nerdy” is “cool” in and of itself. Probably more correctly, though, is the idea that being a “nerd” or whatever else you are labeled as doesn’t matter, as long as what you’re doing makes you happy. As Wil Wheaton so eloquently put it when he was asked by a young girl how to deal with being called a “nerd”:

When I was a boy I was called a nerd all the time — because I didn’t like sports, I loved to read, I liked math and science, I thought school was really cool — and it hurt a lot. Because it’s never ok when a person makes fun of you for something you didn’t choose. You know, we don’t choose to be nerds. We can’t help it that we like these things — and we shouldn’t apologize for liking these things.

That being said, bullying still happens on a daily basis, and, largely, STEM-related hobbies aren’t part of mainstream media or advertising. Vex might not change that trend in the near future, but it goes a long way in showing students – especially young ones – that that doesn’t matter. It also gives students the opportunity to meet and build friendships with others who share their passion for STEM, and indeed, we saw several teams exchange contact information with each other throughout the day.

3

Second, and to take the first point even further, Vex demonstrates that it’s more than okay to enjoy STEM-related hobbies, regardless of your gender. Mystie and I saw several young girls and women on the teams assembled at the Anaheim Convention Center. As a shining example, one of the high school division champion alliances had a young woman on each of its teams, and they did not appear to be singled out or treated differently in any visible way. I can only go so far as to say that there was no visible evidence of this because I am only an outside observer, and therefore I am not privy to the actual dynamics of being involved with Vex. But what Mystie and I saw last weekend shows that Vex may someday take its place next to Goldieblox among the pantheon of activities available to young girls that don’t involve dressing up a doll in pink clothes. A “someday” is necessary here too, however, simply because the demographics of the event seemed to show that there is still some work to be done in this area. I would have liked to have seen a greater number of young women involved. We did see quite a few girls at the elementary-level throughout the pit areas, but women were underrepresented at the high school and college levels. Still, we were very happy to see those that were involved with such an inspiring STEM event.

Finally, it was impressive to see how international the competition really is. There were numerous teams from non-U.S. countries present at what was appropriately called the “World Championships.” A Canadian team was set up just across from my cousins’ pit area, and the Finals featured several teams from countries like Mexico, China, and New Zealand. I am a firm believer that seeing the world from a point of view other than your own is important, but the opportunity to meet citizens of other nations can sometimes be rare, especially for younger students. Undoubtedly, the Vex World Championships give students the chance to interact with people of all ages from other parts of the globe, with robotics acting as the catalyst. I was very impressed by how seamlessly groups of students from different countries worked together during their matches, and I think that is a testament to both the elegant simplicity of Vex’s games, as well as the fun you can have while competing.

2

But don’t take my word for it – check out the Vex websites at www.vexrobotics.com and www.robotevents.com. On those websites, you can find information on how the competition works, watch videos of previous competitions, and see what next year’s game will look like. If you catch the bug, you can even register a team from your own school or sign up to volunteer at a future competition!

Apr 272014
 

HalbertAndTempleKnight

With the recent PC release of Dark Souls II, I thought I would take some time to talk about the series, why I think it’s so damn good, and why you should be giving it a try (or maybe a second try… or third). Once you get past your initial learning stages, and accept the fact that you are absolutely going to die, and die often, you can start to appreciate just what an impressive achievement they are.

Dark Souls, like Demon Souls was before it, is an unbelievable experience. Every bit as difficult as you may have heard, it brings the difficulty level back to the levels seen in early generations of video games (before accessibility became all-important). While those games often could be unfair in their difficulty, Dark Souls rarely is (unfair). Controls are precise, and most enemies are quite fair, if absolutely brutal. Death is a learning experience, one you will go through quite often, as every mistake can cost you your life. But for those who persevere and accept this for what it is, an absolutely beautiful game series awaits.

Wyvern

I’ll be honest, it took me several tries to really get into these games. I have had Demon Souls forever, and bought Dark Souls during some random Steam sale (of course). I had a hard time even getting through the first areas, and finally decided that I did not have the time to get good enough to really enjoy and appreciate what the game offered.

Once Dark Souls II was announced, I figured the time had come to give it another shot. I decided this time to spend a bit of time with a beginners guide, picking up some tactics and tips to ease up a bit on the initial learning curve. And honestly, if you have any issues getting into the game, I absolutely recommend doing this. The secret really lies in taking things slow, being deliberate with your attack timings, and above all… KEEP THAT SHIELD UP! Once I had started to get a taste of the world, and defeated a couple bosses, I was sold. I still died a whole ton, but I knew why I had died, and I was determined to fix that weakness. Which probably just revealed a second weakness… but after a few tries I would inevitably get the hang of things. Once you finally beat that boss, I don’t think there is a game out there that can match the feeling of total accomplishment.

main

Beyond that feeling of accomplishment, these games are beautifully designed. Often this means the settings themselves, with each often having several jaw-dropping moments as you move to a new area (Anor Londo, I’m looking at you). But even more often, especially in Dark Souls, it’s how the world itself is designed. The layouts are amazing, and each area has tons of hidden items and locations that all seem perfectly natural. It’s fantastic just exploring (until you run into a new baddie).

Are they difficult games? Absolutely. If you do not think you have the time to really learn the system and how to play, then that very well may be true and they won’t be the game for you. But don’t let that stop you from at least giving it a try. Combat is fantastic, each weapon is well balanced and feels real, and every death can be explained by a lack of skill. This of course means that your skill will constantly grow as you play, which is a pretty rare occurrence anymore. If you are looking for an immersive and challenging action-rpg, I absolutely recommend picking one of these up and giving it a try.

 

 

Feb 042014
 
GB

When I was an engineering student at the University of Southern California, one of my favorite activities was Girl Scout Badge Day. As a part of the Society of Women Engineers chapter, we would bring young girls to campus and teach them about science through the use of non-Newtonian fluids (cornstarch and water), static electricity (balloons), and rockets (using string and another balloon as a propellant). There was not one girl among them who didn’t jump in with both feet at every station. The volunteers, the parents and especially the girls would end the day covered in cornstarch with tons of clean-up to do, but it was always worth it. For the students, seeing the faces and hearing the laughter of the girl scouts gave us the amazing feeling that we had passed our love of science and engineering on to the next generation.

Despite this program and ones like it, the number of women graduating with science and technology degrees is still significantly lower than the number of men. It begs the question “At what point are those little girls internalizing the messages that we keep sending them, that ‘boys are better at science and math’ and ‘boys won’t like you if you are smarter than them’”?.  At what point are we going to stop sending them those messages?

I recently read She’s Such a Geek and couldn’t believe how much I identified with most of the stories despite the fact that my journey was happening years AFTER theirs. For the majority of women, when faced with a male-dominated field you either embrace your femininity or hide it. I embraced it. Maybe not outwardly, as I wore baggy sweatshirts and kept my long hair in a bun for most of the time while I was at college, but I joined the Society of Women Engineers and the Women’s Student Assembly (SWE’s parent organization at USC) and I kept up *part* of a social life. I liked telling people that I was an engineer because I got satisfaction when they were surprised (but hated it when they questioned it). There were times I thought about how much easier my life would be if I dropped engineering, but it was never something I considered for more than a half-second during those 12-hour homework Saturdays. I was much too stubborn for that.

In a way, I think I was very lucky. I was always pushed by my parents to go into “something stable” and there was never any doubt that I was going to go to college. I never faced any sort of gender discrimination at home, so I was better equipped the few times I faced it out in the “real” world. Sure, I played with Barbies, but I was also taught how to change my own oil, and I was never told I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl. However, I was still very aware of the stereotypes about men being better at science. I couldn’t tell you where I learned it – I just knew. If that knowledge was compounded with less than absolutely supportive parents, I can see why girls wouldn’t be motivated to fight their way through the discrimination and difficulty.

While I was watching the Super Bowl ads, I was pleasantly surprised by GoldieBlox. I was very disappointed in most of the commercials that I watched; if women were represented, it was poorly and none of the messages were ones I would want my (future) daughters receiving. But, in the GoldieBlox ad, the girls were using their “pink aisle” toys to build a rocket. It is reminding us that we need to watch the messages that we are sending to our children- both the girls and the boys. What are we telling the little boys about women if they are only allowed to play with pink dollhouses and baby carriages and play-kitchens? If you are not familiar with GoldieBlox, check out this statement from their website:

“At GoldieBlox, our goal is to get girls building. We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase. By tapping into girls’ strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things. In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math…and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered “boys’ toys”. By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way”.

As an engineer, I would have loved these toys as a kid and you can bet your ass you know what I will be buying my best friend’s little girl when she enters this world in a month. We need messages, through ALL forms of media, that young girls can do whatever the hell they want to. And GoldieBlox is on the right track.

Check out the commerical here.

Jan 012014
 

GoldieBlox

I came across GoldieBlox like any other thing on the internet, pure dicking around. I stumbled across the Kickstarter and was curious so started exploring it further. What I discovered was nothing short of something I want to be 8 again for just so I can get this for Christmas.

The concept is pretty simple (or so it seems) – the toy was dreamed up by a Stanford Engineer who wanted to help get girls at a younger age to start thinking about and being interested in Engineering. And I love the use of gold (to help break down the girls like pink stereotype. Duh). 
— Cassi