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Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One…

Game critic Anita Sarkeesian and her family were driven from their house earlier this week after she received a series of extremely violent sexual threats towards her and her parents. The week before that, game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest) had her personal life (both real and imaginary) strewn across public forums by an angry ex-boyfriend in an attempt to destroy her career.

Both of these terrorist acts–because what else do you call rape and death threats?–occurred because some gamers have decided that “…gaming and tech culture have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors.”

Or that feminists “have to corrupt every single facet of our hobby that we bought up because they aren’t being victimised”

Or possibly because feminists would like nothing more than if “someone, preferably the state, take over the Internet and make it safer for lying, feminist con artists.”***

I don’t need to go into just how ridiculous and horrifying it is to respond to disagreement (even strong disagreement) with threats of violence and mental and emotional trauma. That’s been beautifully covered by many other writers this week, including Gaming Editors Andrew Todd and Tim Colwell.

Instead, I want to address the charge that feminists want to ruin gaming. Not because it deserves a response (it doesn’t), but because it’s a question I run into every time I sit down to write a blog post or participate in a podcast. What does it mean to be a feminist gamer? What do I want?
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Game Theory According to Kim Kardashian: Or Bad Game, Good Design

So I have to make a confession to make, I tend to taunt casual gamers relentlessly. Not because their not gamers, but because it’s just fun. Especially since I go through periods where all of my gaming happens on my phone or tablet. But I have to admit that I was dumb founded by the recent success of Kim Kardashian’s freemium game, Hollywood. So I did it. I installed the game on my phone just to check it out. That was like a month ago and I have yet to uninstall it and I’m kind of addicted. Yes, I know it’s a shallow game where you play dress up, flirt with strangers, model for second rate companies, and try to make it all the way to the level of B-class celebrity. But after playing the game for a while I really started to see some interesting things in this game.

Hollywood is actually a mechanically solid game….there, I said it. The game actually acknowledge differing sexual orientation (in a cursory way) by asking you specifically if you would prefer to date men or women, but it gives and it taketh away. The way that you get people to fall in love with you is to buy them clothing and accessories and taking them out for expensive dinners and drinks. But absent this, Hollywood feels less like another time management freemium game and more like a pretty solid RPG.  Read more »

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Episode 84: Standing Around With Your %#@& In Your Hand: On Terrorism, Zoe Quinn, and Anita Sarkeesian

Episode 84: Standing Around With Your %#@& In Your Hand: On Terrorism, Zoe Quinn, and Anita Sarkeesian (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

In this episode we talk about the difference between harassment and terrorism on the Internet and the goings on of the last two weeks.

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Watch Our Live Podcast Right Now!

Check out our live podcast happening right now at https://plus.google.com/events/comaa6q49d8d3vkeans03nrn03o

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Balancing LEGO and Play

We’re all busy. And, since I entered the dissertation stage of my academic career, I feel busier than ever. Or, at least, I feel more internal pressure to be busier than ever. At the same time, I recognize that I need balance. All-dissertation-all-the-time may sound like a good idea in theory, but in practice, it just paralyzes me. So, I have been actively working to identify how I work best and how I can be most productive.

To that end, I really appreciate articles like ”One is not enough: Why Creative People Need Multiple Outlets”. In this article, the author describes how focusing on a creative outlet that doesn’t require perfection can be freeing and can help “practice inform practice.” I have read countless articles, books, and advice columns that advocate for downtime or “sharpening the saw” (as Stephen Covey put it). My recent investigations into productivity techniques have reinforced the idea that downtime or changing focus from work to play can help further broaden and enrich the “real” work.

But, it’s hard to find time in the day to incorporate these other creative or focus-changing pursuits. We are all busy, and I can only speak to my specific business, but I have a lot to balance right now: dissertation writing, article writing, blog writing, teaching, dealing with the requests and needs of others, and, yes, playing video games and working with LEGOs. Even with that list, I’m sure I left something out, but many of those activities can be quite time consuming and can lead to a sense or pressure that we must always be working.

But, the pressure to be always working doesn’t work for me, as I mentioned. I tend to get all wrapped up in the anxiety about getting things done without actually getting anything done. Lately, over the past year or so, I’ve been hearing a lot about the Pomodoro Technique, which puts you “on the clock” for 25 minutes at a time with short breaks in between. I’ve found this type of technique works well for me because it allows me to focus for short amounts of time but also get my subconscious working on whatever I need it to during the breaks.

I find that planning my day with these short bursts of work (and don’t worry, I’m putting in a lot of 25 minute Pomodoro’s) yields a lot more productivity and a lot less guilt at the end of the day. I have been practicing the technique for a couple of weeks now, and I have now allowed myself to actually schedule in time to play and work with LEGO, or video games or read a novel. I mostly focus on LEGO here because that’s currently what I’m really itching to do everyday. I have a lot of ambitious plans for LEGO builds that require a lot of background work and learning, and I want to spend a lot of time on these activities. At the same time, simply building LEGO sets is a totally zen activity for me. This focused time management has been freeing my up to be both productive and to know that I can “treat” myself later with a different type of creative activity. Some days I’m convinced that only way I will survive the PhD process is through LEGOs.

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A Quick Note on Zoe Quinn

Hey folks,

You may or may not know that last week marked my first week as a professor (yay!). This week classes have begun, and with it my stress meter is off the chart. I haven’t had time to do much gaming. Primarily I’m playing online Settlers of Catan (iPad), Hearthstone, and some Farmville 2 (iPad). I know some really crazy stuff is happening surrounding the Zoe Quinn scandal. Zoe is a video game designer who is being harassed and threatened because of unfounded accusations made by her ex-boyfriend that she exchanged sex for favors in the video game industry.

However, I haven’t had time to give the story as much depth as it deserves. You can find info here: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/zoe-quinn-depression-quest-gaming-sex-scandal/ and anywhere else, really.

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Power Hour Review: Five Nights at Freddy’s

Have you ever thought of what animatronics do after closing time? How do they preoccupy the midnight hours between the rounds of screaming children? Do they need some release after being poked, prodded, and pulled by greasy fingers?  Do the smiles of those kitschy mascots stay innocently cheesy even in the dark, or do they turn into something else, something infinitely darker?

I can’t say I really thought about those questions or even of animatronics at all really before I heard talk of the latest indie game that’s taking my gaming circles by storm. Although released only a short time ago and a recent graduate of the Steam Greenlight program, Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s is quickly scaring up a name for itself as one of the most potent horror games on the market.

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Commenting on the Conversation

It’s been a rough week.

As I started trying to compose this week’s post, I knew wanted to talk about comments. I wanted to use this story as a lead-in to my conversation: The Real Problem with Sex Workers in Video Games. I wanted to talk about women’s voices and how this article’s comments start with “Oh man, I’m getting out of here. I can’t deal with the inevitable comments here today.” and “This comment section is about to go to Hell in a handbasket.”

I should say, I read comments. A lot. I’m sort of ashamed of this because I feel I’m not “supposed” to read comments because they are harmful or whatever. But, I do read comments. I read them all the time because I want to see what the other side of the story is; I want to see the spectrum of the argument. I read the comments in the article referenced above. I read the ones that were short and snarky, and I read the ones that respectfully disagreed with the author, Yannick Lejacq, and those that respectfully disagreed with what the subject of the article, Anita Sarkeesian, had to say about tropes vs women in games (particularly, in this article, about “Sex Workers in Video Games”). I read comments all the time, and I wanted to talk about comments and what they mean to me, and how they illuminate our culture. I wanted to talk about how people should listen to women, really listen, before they comment on feminism, before they speak about what women should do or feel.

But, this week CNN turned their comments off for many articles, and I find it difficult/impossible to talk about comments without addressing why CNN made that decision.

CNN’s comment section got really ugly in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s passing. Like many, I find myself totally heartbroken by the situation in Ferguson. Like many white people, I find myself somewhat paralyzed. Articles, like “12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson” help me think about what I should be doing. But, I know I can’t do enough. I can’t do anything, really. All I can really do is listen. But, I don’t want to just listen to the media or to a biased source. I want to listen. CNN turned off the comments because, I assume, they were too inflammatory, too racist. They were too racist. I was appalled by many of the comments. But, as a confirmed comment junky, I sort of want them back. Not because I enjoy reading the horrible comments, but because I want to know. I need to know exactly what the other opinions I (we) are dealing with. I guess it says something about our culture that we can’t even talk about the situation without it turning ugly. But, what I saw, was similar to what I wrote about in a previous post: people who are so sure their worldview is the correct one that they can’t see past it.

This week, I wanted to talk about comments: the good, bad, and ugly side of comments. I wanted to talk about how quick people are to throw “other” opinions out the window. But, another teenager is dead, and the comments on one website (CNN) got so bad that they had to shut the comments down. I want comments because I want a reasoned debate where I can learn all sides of the situation. But, comments (on the internet) can get really, really ugly, as I’m sure we all know. And, this week, I’m stuck because the conversation about Ferguson is so important. And, I find myself wondering how bad comments really are. Was CNN right to turn them off? Probably, but how else to we have the conversation?

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Aren’t we all “Always Sometimes Monsters”?

Always Sometimes Monsters is an interactive narrative-style game that attempts to tackle several very serious issues through its focus on player choice and the consequences of those choices. Indeed, the game carries a content warning on its Steam page that says “Always Sometimes Monsters has content dealing with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, mental health, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse, drug abuse, and suicide”. So, pretty heavy stuff. Read more »

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Sexism and Hardware: It’s Not Just for Pink Screwdrivers Anymore

In the same way that medical research on breast cancer, uterine cancer, and heart disease (see Leslie Laurence’s book Outrageous Practice for some history of gender bias in medical research) have done a disservice to women as a whole by focusing medical studies solely on men and then attempting to apply those results wholesale to women suffering from these diseases, the games and technology industries also continue to fail women with their lack of inclusion of women in the design process. Do not misunderstand, I am not suggesting in any way that that the problems with the Kinect and the Oculus Rift are anywhere near as dangerous (or fatal) as the problems with the medical research that is mentioned before. I am more specifically suggesting that we look at a pattern of exclusion of women in the development of all kinds of technologies.

I think back to all of the jokes about the first version on Microsoft’s Kinect not recognizing Black folks and remember specifically having to seriously backlight my gaming space in order to have the Kinect recognize me, but that the damn thing saw my kid in near darkness. Design flaw or testing flaw? Having darker hued folks in on the design process from the beginning would have made this issue apparent and given the developers the chance to address the issue from the beginning. Luckily, this has not been as much of an issue with v.2 of the hardware. But this too has a history based in photography where technology has not advanced to the point of being able to adequately capture darker skin tones, leaving darker hued folks looking either like silhouettes or completely washed out by the light. (And people wonder why I hate having my picture taken.Read more »