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
Aug 302014
 

Russ Frushtick, one of my favorite writers at Polygon, a gaming website, has recently announced he’s leaving. In honor of that, here is what you should be listening to today: The Besties.

The Besties is a podcast put on by the Polygon network – it stars Polygon editors Justin Mcelroy and Chris Plante, and writers Griffin Mcelroy and Russ Frushtick. They are, as they put it in every show, 4 best friends who pit their favorite games against each other in a battle royale for the best game of the week, month, or year (although the format has changed somewhat in the later episodes).

To really get into what this show is and what it’s like, it’s best to first establish what it’s not:

Who this podcast is not for:

People looking for hard-hitting game news

They don’t really talk about news in this podcast. If it’s near a expo or a con they’re attending, you might get more – however it’s mostly about the games. Even then, when they’re picking new games of the week to play – that can be a very liberal description.

People who hate banter. And Fun.

These are four guys shooting the shit. They talk about games, but very casually. They’re not getting super in-depth in most of these games, for the most part, with some exceptions, especially for the ones they’re really excited about. Some weeks they even pick games they hate. That being said, they’re here to talk about games and banter – and have you join in on the fun.

People who hate mobile games.

Listen, a lot of the new games these guys are playing are games they can’t talk about. And by trying to stick to a new game every week rule, a lot of mobile games come up.

With that out of the way, you can now be less shocked if you load up this podcast and they’re screaming at each other or talking in vampire voices. Also, we can go over…

Who this podcast IS for:

People who love banter. And Fun.

As I’ve mentioned before, these are four guys talking about video games, bantering and generally making entertaining jokes and commentary.

I love it because I feel like I’m sitting in a room of my own four friends. This is how we banter about games. The friendship rings through in some awesome chemistry. They rag on each other the way my friends and I rag on each other. And when one of them makes a semi-dumb yet charming joke you find yourself laughing along with them because, well it’s just four friends.

But there is some meat there too. In addition to all the banter, these guys have some very insightful things to say about the games they’re playing along with some fair critiques.

People who want to hear weird voices.

I mean it get’s weird in there. Who knows why they appear, who knows where they come from, who knows if they might be mildly offensive, but they’re charming and a fun element to the show. Notable mentions are world-renowned indie developer Jean Baptiste and New York Giraffe.

People looking for a new side game to pick up.

If you’re keeping up with most game news, my guess is you’re already playing the newest of the new or are keeping up with the hottest game out there.

This podcast is great go-to for me for games outside of that. Through it I hear about games I may not have heard of that have come out.

Also, If I’m just looking for a mobile game to play on the side, or want to pick up a new game for my vita – this is a great resource for it as well. I’ve discovered a lot of games I wouldn’t have picked up previously with the massive amount of work and articles keeping up with the newest games releases.

So, in short, this is a great little podcast to listen on your morning commute or during work. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s got a lot of great banter and weird characters as I’ve mentioned. It’s only 30 minutes long so it’s pretty bite sized and who knows – you might find a new game to play and a new bestie to hang out with.

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
Jun 042014
 

Following the smashing success of the first five seasons of The Guild (her webseries about a Guild of gamers who become a Guild IRL), Felicia Day created Geek & Sundry, a YouTube channel dedicated to bringing fans the sorts of shows they want to see. With the exception of The Guild Season Six, these shows have primarily been reality-based shows such as Tabletop, The Flog, Sword and Laser and Vaginal Fantasy.

Despite the success of those shows (Tabletop in particular) Felicia Day has been outspoken about her desire to create a new scripted show and has delivered in the format of a new webseries, Spooked. Spooked follows the adventures of a group of “semi-professional” ghost hunters who take on a new case in each episode, spoofing the “reality” based ghost hunter shows you can find on cable television. The first episode aired today and can be found on Hulu and the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel. Or right here.

NO SPOILERS REVIEW.

The first episode of any new television show or webseries can be full of little kinks that need to be worked out and Spooked is no exception. The interaction between the Paranormal Investigation Team (PITs) is slightly off and the motivations for each character are still 2-dimensional. This is primarily felt in this episode as each character had to be introduced, their motivation mentioned and an entire “story” had to be told in twenty minutes. However, despite that difficulty, Spooked delivers in a fun and campy manner that is grounded in the very believable love an older brother feels for his quite younger sister who is dealing with the death of their parents in a very …different way.

Spooked has set-up several questions that I am already curious to have answered and the premise is intriguing. Without cable executives breathing down their necks, I think Spooked has a very bright future in the sorts of stories it can tell. I was a huge fan of the overarching story in this first episode.

I do want to point out, I am VERY tired of people being compared to “12 year old girls” as an insult. It’s hard enough to be one without it being made out to be the worst fate in the world. 12 year old girls are AWESOME, ok?  /rant

As long as Felicia Day, and the rest of the team behind Spooked, remember that the real value of a show is in the relationships built between the characters and the stories between the characters and not just in the number of times they can make the audience laugh, they have got a hit on their hands.

Jan 272014
 

Video game music, costumes and artful cinematography? Count me in. If you haven’t heard of Lindsey Stirling, now would be a good time to learn. I only discovered her recently and have been watching everything I can on her YouTube Channel.

LindseyStirling

Stirling is a violinist, dancer and all around performance artist. Stirling started to get attention when she was a quarter finalist on season five of America’s Got Talent. Although she didn’t win she began putting videos up on her YouTube channel and is now doing musical tours.

She does do other music besides video game music (she played “hip hop violin” during America’s Got Talent and one of her top videos is Crystallize which is a Dub Step Violin Solo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHjpOzsQ9YI) the video game music is of course some of my favorite.

Speaking of my favorites feel free to start with these:

Zelda Medley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3KUyPKbR7Q
Assassin’s Creed 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOg8Cz9yfWg
Skyrim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSLPH9d-jsI

Check out her youtube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/lindseystomp

Jan 012014
 

Best Ongoing Webseries

Video Game High School

Easily taking this category, Video Game High School released an amazing second “season” this year. The continued character development in the new season is excellent, and surprisingly so in some aspects. In particular, the writers’ treatment of The Law’s exile was hilarious and unconventional, with one vomit-related scene nearly sending me to tears via laughter. Not to be outdone, the sweet romances in the show continued to blossom adorably, though again, unconventionally: many of the key scenes actually take place within video games. 
— Joe

Best New Webseries

Spellslingers

Still a relatively new offering, Spellslingers is a show about Magic: The Gathering, hosted by Sean Plott, better known on the internets as Day[9]. Sean is most famous for his show that has traditionally focused on starcraft strategy called the Day[9] daily, but is an avid MTG player, and together with the Geek and Sundry youtube channel created spellslingers, a show where Sean takes on various challengers (thus far mostly those who have been involved with other Geek and Sundry productions) in a match of MTG.

Sean’s humor, and many years of experience teaching starcraft, really shine through so far in the series. I have a passing familiarity with Magic, and feel fairly comfortable with how the game works, but even someone completely new to the game would be able to gain a great deal of knowledge just watching them play, as Sean and his guest explain each card and explain the reasoning behind each move. His guests thus far have been equally charming and fun to watch. Very easy recommendation for new web series for anyone remotely interested in Magic or other trading card games.
— Ben

Co-Optitude

It might be a bit of a stretch to call it a webseries, considering that Co-Optitude is just composed of Felicia Day and her brother Ryon playing old video games. Be that as it may, the show is hilarious, and the idea that a couple of geeks should get together, play video games, and record it seems only natural. Of course, the best episodes are those in which they play a game that I once played, but they’re all entertaining. Ryon and Felicia’s on-camera presence has become much more natural as the show has gone on, with Ryon in particular really coming out of his shell. The brother-sister camaraderie that surfaces makes for a unique and enjoyable dynamic.
— Joe

Jan 012014
 

The Nerdist

An obvious contender, The Nerdist continues to be fantastic. Chris Hardwick seems to strike gold with nearly every one of his endeavors, and I would nearly have included @Midnight, his Jeopardy-esque variety show, on this list had Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. not blown me away. Hardwick manages to develop a rapport with all of his guests that would suggest they are friends outside of the recording studio, and the incredible humor that develops provides corroborating evidence. Hardwick hasn’t forgotten the “nerd” in Nerdist, either, which makes including the podcast on this list that much easier.
— Joe