We’ve All Got Skin in the Game

Bear with me. This is raw. But raw is the best that I can muster right now. This post is not about games…but it is. I am a writer, a gamer, and an activist in no particular order and in no particular manner. I process things through my writing so today I am writing out of turn (in a number of different ways).

I write about games because I recognize them for what they are, powerful cultural artifacts. Games can not only affect the ways that people see the world, but are also affected by the world views of the people who create them. It is why I think that I am a Social Justice Warrior of my own ilk. It is because social justice is something that not only want, but must have if we are to survive as a (human) race. Yesterday a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer who had sworn to protect and serve for the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, in Ferguson, MO. This was just one of a series of recent killings of people of color in the United States.

Trayvon Martin

Renisha McBride

Darrien Hunt

John Crawford III

Jordan Davis

Tamir Rice

I could go on and on. Everyday this list gets longer and longer and the victims get younger and younger. Tamir Rice was only 12 years old when he was killed on a playground in Cleveland this week. With last night’s announcement in Ferguson I see more and more pronouncements of the fact that it is open season on our young Black boys, but I see this as so much more. Open season extends far beyond young Black people being shot down in streets, on porches, on playgrounds, and in superstore aisles. I grieve for the parents of these children whose lives have been cut short. I grieve for the communities that are left behind to wallow in the aftermath of their deaths. I grieve for my own child who does not fit the demographic (the proverbial profile) in any obvious way, but who is still a victim of racism in that she is the White child of a Black mother. Every racist comment, snide question, police interaction, or other act of racism is an act of violence that she is forced to endure. As she gets older I become ever more vigilant in my attempts to shield her from this violence and preserve her innocence for just a moment more. The threats of violence are real both to her and to myself. Every questionable police interaction, every racist asshole in restaurants or restrooms. every parent or teacher in schools who treat her or me differently because of the color of my skin. And yet…this is not the same as having to try to shield your children from bullets that rip through their bodies and steal their lives.

So today I want to recognize that there is no fun in our lives. I recognize that this is not a tragedy that is limited to Black boys and girls, but affects all boys and girls regardless of their race and that we all have a very real material investment in this.

And for these reasons and many, many more I grieve. I mourn. I rage. I cry. While people say pray for peace. Pray for justice. I say FUCK THAT! Pray for CHANGE. Work for CHANGE.


Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.35.26 AM

The Death of Fun

Of course the last couple weeks I’ve been completely distracted by #GamerGate. It has consumed most of my free time, which was spent looking at articles and reading about new horrible things happening to women in the gaming community. Doing the research for my dissertation damn near killed me, not because it was hard to find sources or because I had an advisor who was awful, but because I had to spend 6 months wading through specific, explicit, detailed arguments and insults from the community I love against me. I love games; they’ve been one of the most important things in my life. Because of games I’ve solidified lifelong friendships, I’ve changed my thinking about myself and my life, I’ve focused nearly all my academic work on them, and I’ve found a place I belong. Strike that. The last one is what men get to say. The thing that I believe is at the heart of why most good people think they ascribe to #GamerGate. They had finally found a place they belong, and they are terrified to lose it or see it changed. I guess I never felt I belonged here even though I dedicated my personal and professional life to games.

During the worst weeks of #GamerGate I didn’t game. I dabbled a bit on Sims 4, tried out Beyond Earth, but really I didn’t want to game. I just didn’t feel that drive. I have always felt a little twinge when a new WoW expansion comes out, but this time I felt no pull from the game. Perhaps I’ve finally outgrown it. Perhaps, though, the vitriol in the community and the betrayals I’ve felt by people I admire in the gaming academic community have finally taken their toll. Folks are allowed to their own opinions, of course. But I expect more of academics, especially ones I consider to be influential. In academia, I believe we all have an obligation to think about things more deeply, consider the implications of what we say, and be allies for those marginalized by those in power. We can argue all day about the nuances of this and or who the best dead white male philosopher is to apply to this situation, but in the end, I would think we would be on the same page about basic human decency.

Read more »


Even Cute Monsters Have to Go: A Review of The Counting Kingdom (iOS)

It’s no secret that I have a real interest in games for educational purposes. And this interest extends to games that might be both fun and educational to my own 6 year old. So when I got the chance to review The Counting Kingdom by Little Worlds Interactive for iOS I jumped at it. The game has gotten rave reviews on Steam and I’m always looking for something that I can throw on the iPad or iPod to keep Pea entertained in the grocery store or in various waiting rooms.

Let me start by saying the graphics on the introductory screens in this game are beautiful and music is soothing. It looks like a well draw children’s book. It draws you in and while the graphics are not so complex during the actual gameplay, the monsters that you defend your castle from are very cute. Almost too cute to blow up…almost. And if you haven’t guessed it from the previous sentence, The Counting Kingdom is a castle defense game. The game has several parts. First you have the numbered monsters that you have to blow up before they reach your castle. You blow these monsters up by adding or subtracting the numbers to (or from) one another and choosing the proper spell page (printed with the numerical answer) from the spell book to solve the problem and destroy the monster.  Read more »


Episode 90: Girls and Their Toys: On Toys Done Right

Episode 90: Girls and Their Toys: On Toys Done Right (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

As we get closer to Christmas we hope to turn to happier things…like toys. In this episode we wanted to talk about toys and the ones that we think get it right in terms of the messages that they send to children. We do that, but we also have a digression along the way where we talk about just why this sort of thing is so important. We round it out with a discussion of the hot new Bratz, Ever After High, and Monster High lines of toys, books, and films. More on toys to come!


Power Hour Review: Never Alone (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

The Alaska carefully crafted in Upper One Games’ first creation Never Alone is as beautiful as it is haunting; as enchanting as it is perilous. In some of the most treacherous lands in the continent a young girl named Nuna, accompanied only by an arctic fox known simply as Fox, must traverse the frozen tundra, brave the arctic wind, and battle evil creatures in order to save the community and family she lost. Imbued with Inupiat culture in every part of the game, the sheer devotion to its culturally accurate storytelling makes some mundane and occasionally difficult mechanics and simplistic puzzle structures forgiveable.

For those who may be unaware, Upper One Games was formed as a collaboration between E-Line Media, an organization dedicated that uses video games to spread awareness of social issues affecting children and teens, and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, an organization representing the needs of Alaska Natives across the state. Discouraged by the inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of indigenous peoples and, more specifically, Alaskan Natives, Upper One Games seeks to empower indigenous people through positive media representation and educate others about native culture. Unsurprisingly, Never Alone accomplishes exactly that. Written and directed by Inupiat natives, every element seems to have been crafted in a way that facilitates a total absorption of the player into the educationally-driven narrative that lies before them.

Read more »


Winning (and Losing) through Cooperation

Last weekend, we got together to play table games. I don’t play a lot of table games, and I don’t know why because they are fun, but I think I sometimes get intimidated by all of the rules. Tabletop games seem to require the player to remember a lot while also trying to strategize. We played Last Night on Earth, which allowed us to cooperate and, we had to either stick together to fight the zombies or split up. We stuck together. But, this is not a story about how cooperation or sticking together saved the day. It didn’t. We were literally crushed by the zombies.

However, the cooperation aspects of the game made me think about how I play games and why I tend to stay away from cooperative play. I hardly ever play any type of game that requires cooperation. It’s not because I’m antisocial. (I don’t think.) More, it’s because the type of cooperation I’m used to playing in video games often requires playing online with strangers who sometimes (often) make game play unpleasant for me with their commentary. One time, I remember playing Dead Island with online play inadvertently turned on. This other player was ruining the game for me with his ongoing nasty commentary about how I wasn’t playing it the way he wanted. The game wouldn’t let me shift back to offline play without starting over, so eventually I just gave up and went on to play something else. Now I shy away from the whole thing.  Read more »


One more time, with feeling…

World of Warcraft‘s new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, is out, an event that always revitalizes the nearly 10 year old game (for at least a few months). If you’re at all familiar with the game, you might be wondering to yourself “why did she put a picture from an old expansion (Wrath of the Lich King, 2008) on her post about the most recent release”? The answer is, quite simply, that World of Warcraft IS the Lich King. Let me explain. Read more »

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 12.24.12 PM

What has #GamerGate done to the gaming community?

I worry about what #GamerGate has done to the games community. Don’t get me wrong, it needed to happen, it was going to happen sooner or later, and a lot of shit got said that needed to get said. However, I worry about what the long-term repercussions will be because of this, for lack of a better word, explosion in the community. I worry about who came down on what side in the aftermath of all of this hate.

I worry that gamers who are otherwise good people and who found their identity in games, likely at a time they weren’t accepted elsewhere, have become hardened to the claims of harassment by women in the gaming community. Because #GamerGate shone an unpleasant light into something so many hold near and dear, the reactions I’ve seen published—mostly in online gaming blogs—troubles me deeply. I’ve seen everything from accusations that women (Sarkeesian in particular) don’t care about games and just want their 5 minutes of fame (or victimhood) to claims that the harassment never really existed at all for any women in gaming. Because the debate has gotten so hostile so quickly, many have shut their eyes and ears to the legitimate concerns happening under all our noses.

Did it have to happen so quickly? So violently? I don’t have an answer to that. All I can say is for those who felt hurt that their community was attacked and that their games were being criticized unfairly, take one moment to think about what it would be like to game as a woman. Every time I am identified as a woman in an online game, I am harassed, accused, attacked. And that’s me as a person, not just a community I care about. For those focused on whether or not Sarkeesian cherry picked games or unfairly lobbied criticism, at least she brought these issues to light for people who didn’t have the means or ability to do so.

Read more »


Ethics in Games: Can You Ever Trust an Assassin?

I chuckle as I write this because I almost think that it will be more troll bait that will bring us more comments about feminazis and all of the awful things that should happen to them (yes, we don’t share those with you folks), but I have to write it. I’m a rhetor at heart. I feel that ethics is important. And a big ethical question directly affect gamers like us has come to the fore.

What about post-release review embargoes? At NYMG we rarely get pre-release copies of AAA titles. Sometimes, but rarely so I was as shocked by this new phenomenon as most other folks. But it kind of makes sense. In the last couple of years we have seen more and more of our favorite titles being released in what would have previously been considered a beta stage and then patched post-release to bring it up to snuff (or nearly there). This is something that honestly pisses me off to no end. If I pay 60 or 70 dollars for a game at launch I really do expect to have a fully playable experience. I want to be able to seen things without jagged edges and screen tearing, voices shouldn’t cut out, my avatar shouldn’t fall through the floor and only be releasable if I kill myself, my game shouldn’t freeze at the same point every time…none of the things that have actually happened to me in the last year or so. Which is why I have gone more with digital downloads and grabbing things at the local game store on launch day rather than my old route of Amazon pre-orders. That way I have the chance to read reviews and make my decisions and in the end save myself some cash and some heartache.  Read more »


Power Hour Review: Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley (3DS)

One of the earliest farming simulation games, the Harvest Moon series tasks you with running and growing a farm and all the various tasks that entails. In addition to growing crops and raising animals, you also can collect wild plants, fish, dig for valuable items and minerals, and the like. The gameplay of most of these titles share a simplistic and straightforward core, with variation from game to game largely being dependent on the literal environment, the characters you’re able to interact with, the bachelors/bachelorettes you’re able to woo and fall in love with, and a few additional gameplay elements here and there. More often than not the games are all very much alike, with very little change from one title to the next. While this might be seen as a negative strike against the series, I never really found myself knocking them for their similarity. Much like with Animal Crossing, I knew what I was getting myself into when I played each new iteration: a cute, quaint, simple but supremely addictive experience and another return to the ordinary but slightly magical world of Harvest Moon. So when I booted up Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley for the first time and saw the game I’d become so accustomed to completely renovated and fundamentally different, I was more than a little shocked and disappointed.

Read more »