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Racism in Gaming: Why This Matters

pewdiepie-mental-health_750x400_acf_croppedI have to say I’ve been staring at this article about PewDiePie and his use of the n-word for a few days now, trying to formulate words to express how I feel about the situation.  Then someone in one of the comments sections said something that wasn’t unlike many others, though the lengths at which this person went to not only say it was okay because he apologized – and the apology was enough – but even continued to make him out to be the victim of slander for his previous issues.  Thus, trying to make those truly victimized by the use of this word feel pity for him instead.  

Wait?  What?  Even if we remove Pewds history of behavior from this situation, this one incident speaks loudly to a huge problem in the streaming/gaming industry. With him being one of the biggest faces of that industry, he absolutely should be held accountable.

So, here are my thoughts.  For me, it is not a debate. He absolutely could have apologized better. That better way would have been to not give an excuse as to why that word would be so readily available to his lips. “Other gamers do it” is not an acceptable reason. And I would say that about any streamer.

I talk about this subject very openly when given the chance, but I felt I could not just sit by and say nothing because this should be a dialogue we all are having about how this behavior affects a population of this industry.  I encounter racism in this industry and in regular life through multiple facets.  Streaming has, however, brought forward the most concentrated amount of racism I have ever encountered in my life.  It’s given me a unique glimpse into online harassment and though I knew it was something that I would face, it never makes it normal to just expect it and live with it.

There was no real “interpreting context” with how he said it here. It was quite clear he used the word and he used it to be derogatory.  Whether or not PewDiePie has been targeted before for his intent or misconstrued words in the past, this is not one of those instances. Though he is considered a comedian, it was not even said in a way that could even remotely be considered a joke.  He said it to hurt and that is exactly what that word has been used for for decades.  

Which brings me to another defense from various people on his part.  “Why in 2017 are people getting upset over a word?”  Um, because it is a word that came hand in hand with oppression.  If you are not a POC and continue to question this, that makes you part of the problem.  You do not get to tell a minority group still fighting for equality on so many levels a word does not hold any power.  That is not how it works.  Your view point is moot if you think that because PewDiePie most certainly knew what kind of power that word had when he so easily used it on his stream.  In his apology, he does say he used it because it was “the worst word you can think of” which means he knew the words power and still he found it justifiable “in the heat of the moment” to say.

Uhh no… that is not how that works. And the only way you see that working is if you have the privilege of never being on the receiving end of that action.

We see the trend growing. Powerful people making this kind of behavior OK for the rest. There is a fundamental problem already with these kind of actions towards all minority groups in the streaming and gaming industry and him being one of the biggest faces in it means a chunk of people will not care that he apologized but that he will get away with saying it with little to no recourse and that gives them the feeling of freedom to show their hate.

He is not the only one in the industry who does this, but he has now become one of the biggest faces of the “problem.” PewDiePie’s prior issues with the media and the like have nothing to do with this instance and the impact it does have on streamers who are people of color.  Streamers like me.  

No game play or heated moment makes using racial slurs, sexist terms or a derogatory word ever acceptable and the more people that stand up against this behavior the better.  Though when I see how many are making excuses and defending him, it becomes equally disappointing as it is frustrating. I hope for the sake of so many that it does start to change. Until then, I will speak up every chance I get and so should you.    

So how can you help?  Be an ally!  Make this behavior unacceptable and shameful again.  Speak up in game voice chat, in stream chat.  Never make it seem like it is acceptable by simply being silent. Ban slurs, derogatory terms in your streams and make it a place for all your friends and peers to be comfortable in. It may seem so simple, but the battle is a long fought one and nowhere near won when it comes to those affected by this behavior. Having allies to stand behind us makes us stronger and the community better.  

Why did I cry During the Action Scenes in Wonder Woman?

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caption: Me rn all the time

Two months ago, I had the great pleasure of watching DC’s new feature film, Wonder Woman. It was a hell of a good time, combining the best aspects of Captain America, Thor, and Xena: Warrior Princess.  There has been a lot of buzz about this movie lately: feminists love it, comic book fans love it, even some Marvel fans love it.

My family is on Team Marvel.  We are deeply loyal and have even begun indoctrinating our two-year-old daughter (ask me about her Princess Spiderman birthday party).  But we still shelled out over $30 to see Wonder Woman and boy was it worth it.  The film made me proud, unstoppable, and powerful, but the reaction that will stick with me was a sense of seeing myself on screen for the first time.

You see, I’m a Gamer Girl, and I play a tank.  ‘Tank’ in this context refers to a party-role in cooperative gaming.  In order to form a successful team, a gaming group must consist of a balance of characters with differing abilities.  At minimum, a party will typically contain a healer or support character, a damage-dealer (DPS, short for damage per second), and a tank.  The ‘tank’ is a heavily armored character capable of absorbing a lot of damage.  The tank is often the first one into the fight, aggressively drawing fire from enemies to keep his (it’s almost always a ‘his’) allies safe.

If you play a lot of games, you start to see these roles appear in fiction as well.  It can be a lot of fun to categorize characters from movies or books into roles, especially if a diverse group of characters are on an adventure together.  The thing is, when you do this, you start to notice that women fall into particular roles.  The lone female member of a team is usually the healer.  I call this the ‘why’s the girl always got to play the cleric?’ trope.

This trope plays into the stereotype of women as caring and nurturing, existing only to support the men around them.  It shows up a lot in games.  Very often, female players like me, who actually want to beat up enemy pixels, are forced to chose between a character that suits their personalities and one that matches their gender (I never got into Black Desert Online for this reason).

The girl doesn’t always have to play the cleric, though.  Sometimes she gets to play DPS.  She can be a sexy sorceress like Lulu in Final Fantasy X, or a sexy rogue like Black Widow in The Avengers.  They stay on the outskirts of battle, dealing out heavy damage to opponents, avoiding being hit and looking good doing it.  This type of character can be fun to play, but when I try I always get killed because I rush in to melee a group of enemies without the hit points or armor to stay alive.  Sometimes I manage to take the mobs down with me.  Sometimes.  But deep down, I was always meant to play a tank.

There is a scene in Wonder Woman where Diana and her sidekick, Chris Pine, are in a tavern forming an adventuring party.  Pine’s character is a rogue, and they recruit a bard, and then we learn that their next group member is engaged in a bar fight.  “At least he’s good with his fists,” says Diana as she watches a large man pummel a much smaller man.  “Oh,” say her companions.  “That’s not Charlie.  That’s Charlie,” and indicate the smaller man who at this point has fallen to the ground, unconscious.

In the next scene, we learn that Charlie is an expert marksman.  Oh, I think to myself, he’s DPS. So they have DPS and support, but where’s the tank?  

And that was the moment I realized that I’d never seen myself represented on screen before.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that the party already had a tank from the start: the only woman in the group.  It hadn’t occurred to me because I had never seen it in a movie before.

So, when the warrior princess ignores the warnings of everyone around her and strides in all her glory across the no-man’s-land between WWI trenches, deflecting bullets off of her bracers and shield, I just kept thinking, ‘It’s me.’  Or, at least the me I am when I play video games.  The me I want to be all the time.

Stories tell us who we are and who we can become.  We absorb them and they help us grow.  Generations of moviegoers have been starved for a story of a woman who is brave and strong, who protects the men around her.  That starvation is finally ending.

 

Much Ado About Medocrity: The Drama Around Mass Effect

Much Ado About Medocrity: The Drama Around Mass Effect

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The Mass Effect series has been a highly regarded RPG franchise since 2007.  Even with the widely criticized ending of Mass Effect 3, the series is considered by most to be the pinnacle of story-telling RPGs.  In my opinion, it has been the game that’s kept Bioware on the map all these years when compared to other releases from the company.  It has spawned comics, film prospects, novels and more, and has over 14 million units sold before the release of the latest installment.

Now, ten years after the release of Mass Effect, Mass Effect: Andromeda is out and the reception is less than stellar.  On Metacritic, where reviewers and gamers rarely agree, the game has a critical score of about 77 out of 100 (as of this writing) and right about 4 out of 10 with gamers.  It’s being criticized for everything from bad animation, rehashing of dated mechanics, and poorly developed story.  A couple of reviewers whose opinion I trust give their initial reactions as a mediocre installment at best.

While much of the criticism is without a doubt justified, some few have gone beyond that.  You can’t really go on Twitter without seeing memes, gifs, and screencaps of the bad animations in the game.  That’s all normal for something like this.  What isn’t normal are the people going after one animator that doesn’t even seem to work for Bioware any longer.  Whether she was involved is a matter of debate, but targeting one person on a team for actual harassment isn’t acceptable at all.  Linking them here would be pointless, but if you look, you’ll find a couple of amateur trash bloggers out there with some pretty terrible pieces on the subject.

Then came the defenders to stir the pot and make it worse.  Articles coming out blaming whole swaths of gamers for the harassment, which is completely untrue.  Commentators and games media saying you should support the developer by buying the game and so on.  People defending the game out of pure righteous indignation because of the negative feedback.

All the drama boils down to this.  A lot of people dislike a mediocre game.  A few people have decided to be jerks about it.  A few other people have decided to defend it with large sums of money.  All of it over a game that doesn’t appear to be up to the standards of the franchise.  All this drama, over nothing really.  The worst part is, I can see this eventually becoming the next big marketing ploy.  Crank out a lackluster game, get some bad coverage, stage some harassment or drama, signal the defenders, cash the checks.  We all know publishers aren’t above some seriously low garbage to sell games and get good reviews.  This is well within the realm of possibility.

So, if we want better games, stop buying bad ones for stupid reasons.  Don’t harass developers because they didn’t do a good job on a game.  Stop letting the media blow things out of proportion or convince you to throw your money after bad ideas.  And for Gods’ sake, play some decent games.  I hear Neir Automata is good.

A Mortal’s Guide to Glimmerdark

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Gather, mortal children, and I will tell you of Glimmerdark, the faerie revel which, like all things fae, is filled with great wonder and beauty, but is dangerous to those who aren’t careful.  Listen closely.  If you heed these words, you just might make it out alive.

The revel takes place in Princeton, NJ, in the Hyatt Regency hotel, in the dead of winter.  Fae (and mortals) from all over the region gather at the hotel filling it with song and dance and food and mead.  The halls and common rooms fill with peddlers selling all manner of wondrous goods.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with the fae is not to take anything for free and not to enter into any bargains unless you are absolutely sure of the terms, lest you find yourself in their debt.  This is why you must not enter the hotel floor without a festival pass.  Nothing in fairie is free, not even lilting notes of music or the graceful sweep of a dancer’s hand caught out of the corner of your eye.  Your pass is your payment for these things, and your permission to enter.  If you attempt to enter the faeries’ temporary realm without permission, you may find yourself spending a year in faerieland for each night you stole.

The second thing you must do is assume that everyone you meet is fae.  Some will have obvious markers, like horns and hooves and pointed ears, but many will look just like you.  Do not be fooled.  There will be other mortals at the festival, surely, but fae glamour is strong and wiley, and most have centuries to perfect their human disguises.  The gap below the pointed ear, the band you see holding the antlers to the head, may just be illusions: clever, efficient little glamours designed to give the appearance of humanity with minimal effort.  Be careful, and don’t let down your guard.  Treat everyone as you would one of the sidhe: be courteous and respectful and don’t take anything for free.  Fae wizards have turned mortals into fish for decades for annoying them, so it’s best to take precautions.  Even the hotel staff could be fairies in disguise, so tip generously if you don’t want everything you eat to taste like toenails for seven years.

Pack carefully, so you don’t need to barter with the fairies for items you’ve forgotten.  Arrive by Friday evening.  Check in to your room and claim your badges.  There will be a table with pens and blank spaces on the badges, on which for you to supposedly write your name.  Do not do so: this is a trap.  Write a false name, a book character or gamer tag, or leave the card blank.  Revealing your true name to fairies gives them power over you and makes it easier for them to ensnare you with their contracts.  Do not give it out unless it is absolutely necessary.

When you are settled in your room, afix your false name-tag about your neck and descend to the lobby floor.  Walk under the cloud of mirrored diamonds suspended from the ceiling, past the pools of koi fish that may or may not have once been human, and make your way to the hotel bar.  There, you will find delectable food and ale and sweet honey mead.  These things aren’t free but, like much of Glimmerdark, they are worth the price.

When you’ve eaten and drunk your fill, wander the festival, seeking out the music and dancers tucked into the Hyatt Regency’s halls and conference rooms.  Browse the vendors, but be wary of trying anything on.  Clothes and jewels of faerie make are exquisite; if you try them on you may have difficulty taking them off again, and if you can’t take them off you will find yourself indebted to the peddlar.  I made the mistake of trying on a jeweled circlet topped with pheasant feathers. If you are willing to pay the price, you can make off with all sorts of beautiful artifacts.

Children are welcome at Glmmerdark and would no doubt be delighted by the sights and sounds.  Bring your children if you wish, but keep them within sight.  Nothing tempts the fae folk more than human children to steal.  To be safe, disguise your little ones as fae creatures to make them less tempting targets.

As with any festival, it is important to stay hydrated.  The wait-staff may offer you water with your meals, claiming it’s free.  Nothing in Faerie ever is, and, for the weekend, the Hyatt Regency Princeton is part of Faerie.  Be sure to offer something in return: a short song or poem or a bit of prestidigitation to delight your server.  You can avoid this entirely by bringing your own water or joining the ‘Endless Tea Party,’ which gives you access to unlimited hot tea.  This may seem too good for its price, but be reassured: the tea is mediocre and the water a bit too hot.  Fortunately, these things hardly matter at a festival in the depths of winter.  Besides, you can always supplement your tea with something from the cash bar.

If you are reading this, you must be fond of games.  You have this in common with the fae.  There is a game room off one of the corridors.  The walls are lined with games and models.  There are tubs and racks of shining dice.  And, of course, there are tables on which to play the games.  Play them with your companions, or with strangers if you dare, but wager at your own risk.

You may see signs for a ‘batfrog habitat.’  This is billed as an art installation but is, in fact, a portal to a tiny pocket of faerieland.  If chosen to enter the portal, make sure your companions know where you have gone.  Once on the other side, breathe in the sights and sounds, let them wash over and through you, but always remember who you are and where you come from.  Consider tying a rope around your waist before you enter so that your companions may pull you back, in case you do not return on your own.

A few words about fae hospitality: they take it very seriously.  As long as you are a guest of Glimmerdark or the Hyatt Regency, no harm will befall you and you may not harm your hosts or another guest.  Doing so will result in expulsion from the festival…or worse.  Bringing steel weapons to the festival is considered a breach of hospitality; it is well known that fae kind are vulnerable to iron.  The rules of hospitality protect you to a degree, but not completely.  The terms of fae bargains supercede hospitality, and, furthermore, faeries can have creative definitions of what constitutes ‘harm’ (the koi in the pond, for example, are perfectly healthy).

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Soliyra at Glimmerdark 2017

Finally, the highlight of Glimmerdark, the fairie circus, is not to be missed.  This is not because missing it will cause you to be cursed in any way.  It is simply a very, very good show.  There are acrobats, dancers, and even a singer.  Just try not to react when the dances poke fun at foolish mortals.  And, since the circus goes above and beyond the rest of the festival, make sure to tip the performers.

If you follow all these rules, you will return home at the end of the festival tired but happy.  Your wallet may be thinner but you will still have your freedom, your human shape, and your first born child.  A fair bargain indeed.

(Soliyra is a mortal human who enjoys normal, human activities while not writing.  She has never even contemplated stealing a human baby. 

Glimmerdark is a Faerie convention held in Princeton, NJ every February.)

Overwatch Just Can’t Catch a Break

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It wasn’t long ago that one person managed to complain hard enough to get Tracer’s pose changed in Overwatch.  Nevermind that the new pose isn’t really that much different from the original, or that the original is just like many of the other character victory poses.  Ignore the male victory poses that have them thrusting themselves forward as if proclaiming their victory with a burst of manhood at the screen.  This one character had to be changed, and Blizzard changed it.  They didn’t change it so much though.  She still shows her backside, looking over her shoulder, flirty look; not much difference at all.

Then comes winter.  Blizzard releases a fun holiday skin for Mei and people get upset.  It’s a fun skin, perfectly matched to the season.  It fits her character theme, and her original costume design.  Again, Blizzard apologizes, for a design choice!  They wanted to create something fun, fun being an entirely subjective word, and the company says sorry.  Of course gamers have a right to voice their complaints, but when’s the last time a painter apologized for a painting, or a writer apologized for a book?  It doesn’t happen all that often does it?  The artists that create our games, however, they always seem to be apologizing.

If only that were the end.  Now comes the Lunar New Year update and people are upset about Mei again.  Now, while the profile view looks odd, and yes it could either be her clothing or a strange bug, people weren’t just complaining about that.  Take off her thick fur parka and voila, she’s still a curvy girl but sans a thick parka.  Blizzard is saying this bug will be fixed, and granted they may not change her all that much.  How can we know, at this point, whether it was a bug, a design choice, or just a mistake?  Is it Blizzard just apologizing again?  We won’t know for sure, because they’ve set a precedent.

It’s not just them though, and no this isn’t going to turn into an ‘entitled gamers’ rant.  If you don’t like a game, something about a game, or the company that makes it, say so.  Don’t buy the game, express your suggestions, and do whatever you think best.  What I have a problem with is every company bending over backwards in an attempt to please everyone.  It creates an environment where if a few of us yell loud enough we can make an artist change their creation however we want.

It’s one thing to apologize about a mistake, a large number of bugs, or delays of release.  The list of apologies for design choices is long however.  Christina Love recently apologized and censored her own game because of complaints about one sex scene.  Just this past year a handful of games were censored because of outrage, localization or fear of outrage as in the case of Uncharted 4.  Watchdogs 2, a game featuring male genitalia, had to be changed to remove one instance of female nudity that was found (not readily on display), and shared to social media.

We’re creating an atmosphere where creativity is chained by fear.  Where art has to run through a checklist of things that are allowed and aren’t, and where artists are always questioning their decisions because someone might be upset.  I’m here to tell you someone will always be upset.  I’ve seen games change things to please one group, only to piss off another, then change something else that pisses off the first group again.  I’m a writer, and I can tell you there’s nothing less creative than having to work off a checklist of things you can and can’t do, things you have to do.  Then there’s the realization that even if you check off all those boxes, and do your best to make sure it doesn’t seem like you’re just checking off boxes, someone will still be pissed.

Don’t get me wrong.  Voice your opinion and give feedback.  Let them know when a game’s broken or that you are upset at a ridiculous delay.  Report bugs and offer suggestions.  Just remember that those hard-working artists that put all those hours into the games we love are people too.  They’re creative, caring, and real people.  When criticism turns into just a mob crapping over a design choice, or getting offended by a joke, we’ll wind up with games created by automatons rather than artists.  I don’t think any of us want that.

Artists, stop apologizing so much.  If you have to change your art to please some people, then you inevitably lose others.  If some people don’t want your work because of what it involves, guess what…that’s normal.  Not every person in the world is going to read my book, like someone’s painting, or play your game.  Make the stories you want to tell.  Create the art you want to share.  Never apologize for creating what’s in your heart.  If you make an honest mistake then own up to it, but when you bring something artistic out of your mind, or your heart and soul, that’s not a mistake, a bug, or an error.

How to Fight Nazis

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Gamers love killing Nazis in games like Wolfenstein and Call of Duty, but most of us never thought we’d wind up fighting them for real.  In a recent facebook post, a friend of mine wrote: “I grew up with Nazis being two dimensional movie and video game villains, goddamn it, and that’s where we were supposed to leave them.  But 2016 wants to try and tell me we have to listen to folks who literally cite Nazi propaganda and terminology in their hateful, stupid rhetoric? No thank you.”  No thank you is right.  But what can we do about it?  How do we fight back? Punching them in the head seems to be in vogue right now, but, let’s face it,  that’s not for everyone.  The skills we honed in years of first-person shooters don’t really translate.

So what do we do? We get really active and organized on the local level to reform our electoral system. Call your state-level legislators. Take over the media. Write to editors. Self-publish articles, and propagate the work of journalists who speak the truth at a time when truth is in such short supply.  But, most importantly, we must vigorously work to create a culture in which hatred cannot take hold.   This is something everyone can do, regardless of age, ability, or nationality, and if we all work together, even the smallest actions can have a tremendous effect.

There are several ways we can go about creating a hate-free culture.  I’m going to focus on three: be visible, connect, and don’t compromise.

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Nintendo Switch is Coming and I’m Actually Excited

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So, we know what it’s going to look like, and how much it’s going to cost.  We know what some of the games will be, and what they’ll look like, and I am actually looking forward to a console for the first time in awhile.  At the time the Wii U came out, we already had a PlayStation and there just wasn’t any games coming out on it that caught my eye.  Now we have the Switch coming, and Breath of the Wild.  Of course I’ve been burned before, buying a system for one game, so I’m doing my best to keep my enthusiasm in reasonable check.

I’m intrigued by the idea of a convertible sort of console, something we can take from a portable to TV-connected unit on the fly.  I’m glad to see that the controllers don’t look like the concept that was leaked early on.  Something as flat as the original concept would be awful.  I have an NES Classic, and I forgot how much those old controllers were hell on the hands.  Especially hands now suffering from Carpal Tunnel.

I’m not huge into portable gaming devices, but that could be because I never really have the money to own a console and a handheld.  I borrowed a PSP to play Final Fantasy II (the only way to get the original now) and I actually liked being able to game while I was doing something else.  I haven’t had a use for one before, but maybe with this system I’ll find a time to use both.  I think a lot of people are like me, only enough money for one system, buy maybe having a use for both.

The pricing looks good for a console of this type of versatility.  I’m a little concerned about extras though.  I’m sure there’s a lot of money to be made on cases, extra cords, controllers and screen protectors.  I haven’t owned a Nintendo system since the Game Cube, but they were always good about including what you need and making the extras just that, extras.  Of course it’s been awhile so I’ll have to see how things turn out as we get closer to release.

There are some concerns.  Paid online features, no Ethernet, and graphics issues.  For the first two I’m not too worried.  I do my online gaming on PC and I don’t expect that to change.  The types of games I tend to play on console aren’t multiplayer anyway.  Graphics concerns about preview footage from a game still in development isn’t much of a worry for me either.  People are doing a lot of comparisons of different previews of Breath of the Wild and showing how older graphics look better than the newer.  It’s not the first time, so it’s hardly any indication of whether the console will be good or not.

So, what do you think?  Are you as excited for this  as I am?  Has it brought back the Nintendo fanboy or fangirl in you?  I’m not positive yet, but it has definitely given me reason to watch closely.