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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.

Goodnight, Sweet Princess

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2016 has been a rough year for fandom.  We have lost some of the most iconic actors and artists from some of the best that geekdom cherishes.  Of all of the losses this past year, I think I am the hardest hit by the death of Carrie Fisher.  Of course our grief isn’t nearly as profound as that of her family, especially with the passing of her mother shortly after.  Having lost my own mother this year, I can empathize with what they are going through, and I know that what we feel as fans is nowhere close.  Our grief is real, though, and, while different, it is a sign of just how much Carrie meant to all of us.

Carrie was young when she landed the role that would forever place her among the stars.  In her life, she fought substance abuse and mental illness.  She battled internally and externally to find a healthy balance in her life, and is a real inspiration for people who are suffering from the same struggles.  She was a daughter, and mother, writer, and actress.  Of all the things she’s done, what most of us will recognize her for is her role in the iconic Star Wars saga.  It’s easy to forget the real trials she went through, and focus on the screen image we have of her, but I think for many these go hand in hand.  Neither should be discounted, since each is equally as important for different reasons.

“She was my first hero,” my wife sent me in a text when we got the news.  That is a powerful thing in geekdom.  We tend to choose our heroes a little differently than most people.  We look at fantasy worlds, and the people that inhabit them, and choose characters we would most want to be like.  Carrie, as Princess Leia, was just that for a lot of people of my generation.  She was a hero, for boys, but probably for a lot more girls.  She was a leader, a rebel, and a graceful woman.  She rescued the rescuers, didn’t take any flak from anyone, and gave as good as she got.  When her lover was captured, she put herself in danger to help and when she was captured herself, she took matters into her own hands and got herself free.  Eventually she would become a symbol of hope for the future Jedi, and finally a General.

In her most iconic role, and in her life, Carrie is a symbol of strength.  When the world – or the Empire – beat her down, she got back up and kept on fighting.  When drugs -or a giant space slug – enslaved her, she took that chain in her hands and strangled them.  She had a rough life, but I’m thankful that the last images we do have of our Princess, and our General, is again one of beauty and grace.  She will continue to be an example to people who struggle.  Her writing and her work will live on for generations.  She’ll be missed, but as many popular images are going around, she may be more powerful now than she was in life.

We will miss you, Carrie.  You are our hero.

Wonder Woman Honored then Snubbed by the U.N.

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The United Nations, famous (infamous?) for having Saudi Arabia on the human rights council, recently appointing Wonder Woman as the honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.  Then, even more recently enough, people threw a fit that it was reversed.  Strangely enough of the people who complained aren’t who you think.  UN staffers, feminists, and non-fans of the character were vocal about their opposition.  Even written in the petition:

Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent warrior woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots –the epitome of a pin-up girl.

What this says about women who do look like Wonder Woman is a bit of a double standard in my opinion.  While every woman is different, there are probably a great many women who look like her and girls who will look like her.  Saying they are abnormal is just as bad as saying any other body type is abnormal.  Saying she’s a ‘white woman’ shows the ignorance of people who cannot tell the difference between the wide range of  European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern people, as much as the ignorance of people who think all Asians are the same.  And what’s wrong with pin-up girls?  It’s a job just like any other, and there are highly talented, and successful burlesque dancers, pin-up models, and dancers and if we are empowering women that means accepting whatever job it is they decide is best for them, right?  Who are we to shame any of these aspects of real women?

If a woman of Greek descent, who saves people all around the world and immigrates to America is too American, then which fictional character would work?  What other fictional female character is as well known, especially with the upcoming DC movie?  How many little girls, and even adults, cosplay as Diana every year?  What message does the UN send to these woman and girls, and even boys, when they say Wonder Woman isn’t womaning well enough to be an example for girls to look up to?

And current iteration?  Did they even google Wonder Woman before writing that?  Take a look.  Wonder Woman art is as varied as the artists who’ve drawn her.  Just in the top few results, we have her in the traditional red, white and blue, decked out in armor, wearing pants, and covered from neck to toe in an armored body suit.  She’s drawn as athletic and slender, or muscular and curvy, large chested or smaller, and everything in between.  The current iteration of this immigrant super heroine is quite diverse really, and it seems to me she shows that women can be whatever they want, and look however they want when they do it.

Thankfully fans are speaking out, with one 14 year old girl starting a petition to reinstate her.  Even Phil Jimenez shared this great tweet with art from Catherine and Sarah Satrun:

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Quite honestly, at the end of the day, if the point is to pick a woman who will fit everyone’s definition of a role-model, you’ll fail.  You’re not going to find a single fictional female, or male character, that everyone will think is a perfect example.  It’s simply not possible.  What I do know is when I see the faces of little girls dressed as Wonder Woman, they look like they’re having the time of their lives.  Do little girls really care what she’s wearing, or do they care that they feel like goddesses when they put on a costume and pretend to be Diana for a few hours?  Should we be focusing on what a woman wears (I’m told that’s really bad), or what she does?  Should our message be that a woman can do whatever she wants, and dress however she likes when she does it, or she can do it as long as she dresses in an acceptable manner?  I may just be one of those silly guys, but it seems like a damn confusing message to me.