Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Art and WoW

First the art: today I was fortunate enough to discover Kelly Kerrigan, my new favorite artist.  
Kelly, your aesthetic brilliance makes my cerebral cortex flood itself with joyful brain chemicals.  May you have a long, lucky and prosperous life.  
On both a full moon and a warm San Franciscan night.  It’s like magic.  Like the universe is screaming at me to write something in my blog, or something.  
 So okay, here I am, fresh from a week of playing the new WoW expansion, Mists of Pandaria.  Verdict: I like it.  It’s beautiful.  There are pagodas and dragons and courtyards where phalanxes of NPCs practice martial arts moves 24/7 (and there’s a quest where you get to join them and try not to be the guy who throws a kick when everyone else is doing a punch).  Somehow, sneaking around like a ninja is way more satisfying in a medieval Asian castle than in, say, a Norse-ish temple full of robot tanks and “constructs.”  And I’d complain more about the aesthetics of Cataclysm but I never actually spent much time on them, having left the game before finishing any of the raids.  My favorite thing in Cata was the underwater lands, which most other players despised, so possibly I’m out of step with other critics. 
My mage is level 90, which was an exercise in masochism considering the heavy impact the nerf bat has had on what was formerly the easiest way to top DPS charts.  Mages are particularly feeble at this point of the game.  I can currently pump out maybe 25k of DPS while watching all the death knights, pallies, hunters and feral druids bringing in twice that much, so I’ve been skulking around grinding rep and hoping not too many people see me in my floundering stage.  I’m hoping things will improve once I get more gear, and if they don’t, I have other toons. 
My priest is level 86, has given up on healing people and is now shadow (and so far isn’t suffering nearly as much nerf bat collateral damage).  The main reason for this is that they finally fixed levitate.  Instead of running in mid air like an idiot, now you glide around with your feet hanging down, like something out of the Exorcist, and as a result, I’m usually doing that.  When I’m not riding around on my shadow yak anyway.  I have a monk too, it’s level 10 so far.  Haven’t touched any of the rest, although clearly I should investigate the currently-overpowered melee characters.
The game itself has expanded laterally, with lots of things to do besides raiding and leveling.  You can play a Pokemon-like mini game with your pets, sending them to fight other pets.  And there are mini 3-person instances which can be tackled with any combination of characters.  There’s even a nod to Farmville, where you can grow your own crops to level cooking. 
How’s the socializing?  Mixed bag.  My priest’s guild is still quite functional, and reinstated me following my retirement, and gratses me when I achieve, and can provide in-depth nerdy discussion about the history of vidya games at practically any hour of the day.  They even took me into Black Temple to re-explore this “raiding” concept upon my reappearance.  I like those guys a lot. 
My mage is in a gigantic anonymous leveling guild where hardly anyone talks.  I don’t, because right after I joined, someone popped up in guild chat to say “what’s up, [n-word]?”, and someone else whispered me to advise that nobody in the guild talks because they’re all a bunch of [homophobic word]s.  So I think I found out why nobody talks in that guild.  Hopefully I’ll leave and join a better one soon.  Until now, they give me level 25 bonuses.
While instancing, I ran across loads of reasonable people plus one memorable player screaming at everyone to go faster and DPS more (this was about three days into the expansion) (we all ignored the fool).  And, for my fourth unpleasant encounter after having contact with approximately 400 other congenial and non-offensive players, I was in the noob panda zone and someone brought up the fact pandas are chubby.  This led to admissions by several players that they were also chubby (humongously obese in one case, but he seemed jolly).  Which led to a discussion of what everybody was eating for lunch.  Things were going along appetizingly until some buzzkiller piped up that he hoped there were no fat chicks around, and he even defined fat chicks as weighing in excess of 175 pounds.  If only he had said “meters.”  I could have blamed him on the Canadians and/or Brazilians.  Following this awkwardness, the conversation melted away like an ice cream sundae left in the sun.  I imagined crestfallen heavy ladies sitting at their keyboards, maybe even the significant other of the guy who claimed to be somewhere around 400 pounds of fun.
Since this was my first actual genuine example of relational aggression since returning to WoW, I thought about it for a while.  Maybe he was taunting a particular female player, given his specific weight reference.  Maybe this was his typical attempt to infiltrate some pack of perceived cool kids in real life. 
It’s very typical MMO relational aggression – define an out group (usually someone statistically unlikely to be present in significant numbers – not fat men, not female players) and insult it, and see if you can get others to join in the hate-bonding.  If pressed, I would say that kind of thinking is behind about 80% of MMO sexism and homophobia.  You’re a stranger in a world where you can’t see what anybody looks like – how do you locate the ones from the crowd where you’d probably fit?  Maybe by finding the ones who share your prejudices.  I sound pretty holier than thou, don't I?  Yet I'd join a group that excluded the type of person I'm complaining about, in a heartbeat, although with an accompanying sinking feeling that I'd never see another 25 raid again.  Such is the MMO paradox. 
I could imagine a writer with a more feminist slant taking it as an instance of invoking the patriarchy to penalize any strapping females who dared to invade male privilege space (and selling 800 words on the subject).  I could imagine a fashion writer slapping the guy on the back and offering up a picture of some postpartum lady celebrity displaying several pounds of disgusting cellulite as caught by a ninja paparazzi hanging from a tree 200 yards away (plus 200 words of typo-laden copy, for considerably more $ than the first hypothetical writer).  I could imagine someone using this incident to concoct a hand-wringing slanted piece about how we need to tax calories and force all the fat dudes and chicks to leave their computers and head to the gym.  Or maybe someone else using it to riff on eating disorders.  I can imagine many, many types of one-note writers using this anecdote as fertile soil for planting the seeds of their favorite agenda while delivering an impassioned op ed. If I was one of those writers, perhaps I'd have a three story yacht like the one I just saw on Yahoo, but alas, I am a mere game-addicted slacker.
So here's my free (and commercial free) take: I thought it was rude, but I also thought the fact that it was probably the worst relational aggression that I’ve seen in a week was probably a sign things were improving. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Guide to Video Game Aggression (Occasionally Involving Gender)

So here I am for another night of blogging because I forgot to bring the right credit card.  I blame my asshole identity thief (convicted counterfeiter Jessica Dacorro) for making me overly overvigilant.  During my long and computerless journey home, I started out thinking about how it would be cool if sharks ate her, but then my aggression got all abstract and generalized and tactical, as it tends to do (because I’m a gamer). 
And I started thinking about all the aggression situations I ran into in online gaming.  I blogged about it for years, it finally drove me away from online gaming because avoiding it took too much effort, but I never really talked about the incidents.  But a lot of these situations (including gender-related types) seemed to keep reappearing, like tarot cards, over various games and servers.  People that have an unusual and distinctive relationship with being aggressive that cast cloudiness over the game/gender intolerance issue. 
For example, consider the mythic figure That One Rude Guy.  He is the subject of countless blog articles, actual mainstream press articles (see Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon for her daily example), and many vitriolic counter-rants delivered in person, frequently to an unwilling audience.  He’s all over gamer forums, and there are many threads devoted to him.  They all seem to start:
“So I was doing something, and suddenly this guy said [something rude].”  Sometimes the author will elaborate on how this destroyed his/her faith in humanity or include the phrase “nowadays” in some kind of screed about how nobody ever said [something rude] when s/he was a kid.  Sometimes there’s a political slant about how we must all vote for some politician to prevent a world where [something rude] is frequently said from existing. Or maybe it's a trend.  (Or maybe a writer is on deadline and is pulling topics out of their ass, but I digress.)
There are so, so many flaws in this kind of thinking.  First of all, that one guy is one guy.   And yeah, I’ll be sexist and call him a guy here, because he usually is.  Don’t worry, I’ll get around to the ladies.  Second.  But anyway, on this big wide world we live on, I can guarantee you there’s one guy who thinks you’re too fat.  There’s one guy who thinks you’re not fat enough.  There’s one guy who thinks the world is flat.  There’s another guy who thinks Jesus is talking to him from his microwave.  There’s one guy who thinks your favorite politician sucks and hopes he loses.  In fact, I’ll just speculate that there’s more than one guy who thinks each of these things.  Do you spend your days worrying about this?  No.  Why? 
Well, because worrying about what each and every individual on the planet thinks about you is sort of on the crazy side of narcissistic.  We all divide the world into people whose opinions count and people who might as well be barking and meowing.  If you live in a city or work with the public, you’re probably tuning out the folks who aren’t in your group.  In the online world, everything is masked and you can’t filter, so you have to take everybody at face value.
My alliance guild has a few problems with this.  Lots of conversations about how this one doesn’t even display chat with strangers any more, and that one only does instances with people she knows in person, and ew, icky, we have to pug, I hope they don’t say anything. 
I’m not that way.  To me, the whole point of online gaming is safe and serendipitous (or aggravating) encounters with strangers.  I don’t like being insular.  At the same time, I don’t like dealing with asshats either, but it’s not like they’re special.  I can’t even remember the first online asshat I ever met.  I’ve probably encountered thousands of them in various games and on various forums. 
I have noticed that since it’s become fashionable to turn That One Rude Guy into a big symbolic moral lesson, more people have been aspiring to be him.  Most fail.  For every devastating, cutting remark, there are millions of “dumass u suk” comments floating around in the depths of obscurity. 
So I think complaining about That One Guy is sort of noobish.  You could mention him if he’s actually funny, or in some way memorable, and I’m afraid you might have to sift through a lot of rude guys before you find the anecdote-worthy ones.  It’s sort of like how reading an old hooker’s memoirs can be way more entertaining than reading some virgin going on about her first kiss. 
Now here’s one that ladies do: The Trophy Wife.  Trophy wife is frequently very pretty.  Pretty enough to marry out of her intellectual league, in the form of a gamer.  She wants to try hubby’s hobby very much, maybe because he’s a game addict and that’s the only way she gets to hang out with him. 
But there’s a problem, and that is the fact there is a forty point IQ gap between them.  Or maybe she’s smart, but she’s just one of those speaks-fifteen-languages, fails-at-math type of smart person.  Or maybe she’s a climber brain-wise too, and this is where she can be grating, as she incessantly makes wrong references, or fails to get jokes, or maybe even heads for the fatal sin of trying to denounce nerds as nerds in nerd territory.   
Sometimes she cheats, or is constantly bombarded with offers to cheat.  Maybe she hasn’t experienced a lot of enthusiastic male attention before (particularly from gamers trying to get one up on their buddy by making her a conquest). 
I did know an almost-likeable one once.  She inherited her BF’s account after they broke up and rolled herself a hunter.  She wasn’t very bright and could barely spell, but she was enthusiastic and hard working, and did a good job of flirting (keeping the egos stoked without anybody getting too involved).  So she got to be the guild’s pet, and got to come along on raids where we could carry her. 
As a nerdette, I’ve occasionally been in the position where a nerd guy immediately launches into a soulful conversation about the history of video gaming with me while spousy sits there fuming and deciding she hates me because I’m trying to steal her neckbeard away.  (Hey! I learned a new word!)
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being a Trophy Wife, and often they serve a vital function by keeping the guild warm and socially inviting while hubby nerds out with his spreadsheets. 
But whenever I hear some woman rant about how her BF was addicted to games, and she tried them for a while but they were just evil and morally and politically wrong, I always suspect we have a trophy wife who got in over her head and then became infuriated when people refused to respect her. 
The Gang of Larrys happens in the absence of a Moe (to be superior) or a Curly (to be inferior).  Larrys are not particularly talented gamers, but they don’t fail hard.  Their strength lies in group organization.  In order to do this, they try to kick out everyone who might be a Moe (and try to steal their power) or a Curly (who would ruin their standing). 
It gets particularly painful to watch when the Larrys decide a female player is a Moe or a Curly, just because she sticks out.  Suddenly she can’t do anything right, and whenever she opens her mouth, she’s a castrating bitch. 
This happened frequently in one of my progression guilds.  It was almost predictable – new guildie applies, she goes on a run, and then something happens – she does something wrong and dies, she doesn’t have a flask and needs to buy one, she has to get up and change Aunt Maude’s catheter.  All of a sudden, the taunting starts.
It often happened to male guildies too.  Frequently the ones who seemed to be possible Moes – commanding personality, awesome gear, extreme knowledge of game or … female and therefore capable of getting attention.  It was frequently a test to see whether they had too much ego to put up with it.  The guys seemed to be a lot better at letting the taunting slide.  The women, too often, would take it to heart.  Sometimes they’d actually work hard to correct the bogus flaws they were accused of.  Which is actually a fail, because it shows you had too much ego to laugh it off and segregate out the good advice from the taunting.  Often they’d just get so rattled that they’d start to fail more and more, and then their reputation was locked down.
I vaguely recall something from Baron-Cohen’s book on cognition that teenage boys go through a particularly non-empathetic stage at puberty, and sometimes I wonder if That Rotten Teenager has to do with this particular tarot card.  If this is true, then perhaps teenage boys test each other, through dead baby jokes and other offensive things, to see whether everyone in the group is also going through this no-empathy stage, in the interest of group bonding.  “Hey guys!  Let’s all go be mean to someone!”  “Oh, let’s not.”  “You’re non-manly!” 
Having studied many of them in the field, I can safely report that That Rotten Teenager is usually well past twenty, and many adolescent pleasures can last a lifetime if you handle them right (like playing video games).  I’m pretty good at guessing age and region by pop culture references and slang.  That guy hanging around the middle of town screaming about how gurls are dum is frequently a moderately-amused construction worker or accountant or lawyer, chilling after work.  Everyone assumes they’re teenagers, though, because when vulgarity and political incorrectness occurs, it’s always a teenager that gets blamed. 
Those teenagers!  They say rude things in instances, like “go faster.”  They refuse to stop and have a civil, grammatically precise argument!  They spell funny! 
There are many guilds that exclude teenagers for risk reasons.  Maybe they have a group where everyone talks dirty 24/7 and they don’t want Dateline showing up on their front door because the raid leader tried to have vidcam sex with a seventeen year old.  Usually they blame the teenagers (because they’re always acting bad due to their rottenness).
Sometimes teenagers, in an attempt to prove that yes, they really are badass, will volunteer info about the tons of porn they watch.  Back in my day, we proved our grownupness by smoking and getting drunk, so I suppose porn is a bit more civilized.  It has a bit of a harsh effect though, because nobody really wants to go near a porn-obsessed teen except maybe a pedo who is dying of a terminal illness anyway.  So the teen porn fans hang out with each other, exchanging porn and acting up at inappropriate times, such as when they hear a girl voice on vent and can’t tell it apart from the one in the video on their other screen. 
In short, just because a guy is acting like a spider monkey on crack doesn’t necessarily mean he’s an teenager. 
And speaking of spider monkeys on crack, I’m amazed nobody (except me) has yet considered the possibility of an internet paraphilia involving talking mean to women.  A fetish so new it has no name.  I shall name it myself: Sammichphilia
A sammichphile gets off on arguing with women.  An experienced arguer can always spot them – they’re the ones who are arguing for the sake of arguing, with frequent use of logical fallacies.  With a woman.  It’s their version of getting laid.
Free cybersex is abundant on the internet.  Commenting on a feminist board that they should make you a sandwich is a popular way for them to score, although it seems to have peaked.  Arguing about how rape victims aren’t really raped is another.  Remember, these people are not trying to engage in a dialogue of two opposing viewpoints in order to reach truth and thereby further their path toward illumination.  They want to get a lady to type mean things at them without paying for it.
There are ladies who say mean things to men, professionally.  I refuse to argue with a sammichphile because I’m cutting into their market.  Besides, if you give away the milk for free, you’ll never learn how to ride a cow.  Or something.  Anyway, these ladies make great big piles of money being mean to guys who are called masochists.  Sammichphiles are actually kind of small time compared to these financially solvent masochists.  They’re like bums hanging around the bus station claiming they need fifty cents for a ticket home for ten years straight. 
I think most internet sexism has to do with Sammichphilia intersecting with the illusion imparted by That One Rude Guy.  There are definitely pure aggrophiles who will troll you over anything about you they happen to notice, but this usually isn't sexual in nature.  However, if you roll a female character (particularly a “hot” one), you will definitely be approached by a few Sammichphiles.  This could lead you to believe that all men on the internet are vicious and depraved, when in fact you just walked past ninety non-sammichphiles going about their business.
And speaking of men who are vicious and depraved, let us now turn to the Sammichphile’s soulmate, the Evil Closet Queen
A lot of men who play hot female toons are not gay, oh no no no.  They’re just straight guys, who like to play a female toon – so they can stare at its ass!  Because that’s so much more heterosexual than staring at a guy’s ass! 
Ninety-eight percent of those are just fine.  Sometimes they’re even really nice guys.  Occasionally there’s a streak of “I’m going to troll some misogynist bullies and kick their ass with my graceful little girl toon, to teach them to not be misogynist (plus I love a good fight and welcome anything that might lead to one).”  Sometimes they’re transsexual or transgender, experimenting with presenting as cis, without trying to put anything over on anyone.  A lot of the time, they just like female toon art.
But two percent of them are homophobic creepy closet cases who play female toons to seduce gullible straight boys and mess with their heads while jacking off.  When they’re not doing that, they’re constantly reminding everyone they’re heterosexual, including gay bashing.
Statistics are approximate.  That’s about the ratio I’ve seen.  Probably some are indeed registered sex offenders.  It’s not like sex offenders can socialize in a lot of places.  I’d like them better if they came out of their closets and quit being evil, because I think queens are just dandy. 
A lot of these messy-headed straight boys get a lot more homophobic after their encounter with the Evil Closet Queen.  A lot of women get accused of being them.  There are definitely Evil Queens who are straight girls looking for love, cash, whatever.  Sometimes they deliver, sometimes they break hearts and empty bank accounts.  Evil Closet Queens, though, base it on deceit.  And there are enough of them to the point where it affects gay dudes and straight women who don’t happen to be evil as well as the straight dude victims.  We all collectively call foul upon this practice, because it’s unfair if the lesbians get off scot free. 
Let’s go back to picking on the ladies for a while.  The Overbearing Underachiever doesn’t raid, or level their talents, or collect things, or wear functional gear.  According to her, because you want to do these things, you are a Bad Person.  She is morally superiorly enjoying the ride while you torment yourself in those raid instances with all those mean monsters biting you, just so you can get some purple pixels that don’t mean a thing.  Regular underachievers are okay by me, but the overbearing ones want to turn it into a Zoroastrian battle between good (her) and evil (you) (indicative of Borderline Personality Disorder).
She wants to raid, though.  And she wants to be in your group.  And she lacks flasks, so she needs yours.  She also wants you to help with that really hard quest.  And if you don’t walk her through (while smiling indulgently when she wipes everyone) until she wins, it’s because the game is a mean patriarchal construct of negativity and competition and every player should win a trophy every time.  And boy, are you going to hear about it. 
A male counterpart is the Blustering Fail.  He’s got a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and usually a loud voice.  It’s hard for women to get away with playing this role as it attracts hordes of sammichphiles.  Anyway, Bluster maintains an appearance of competence through sheer visibility.  He often alt tabs out to quickly memorize websites and then castigate guildies for not knowing that.  He is quick to call out others flaws (when screwing up, to divert attention).
I was in a guild with one of these once (he had a Trophy Wife too).  It would go something like this: supposedly motivational lecture about not failing, followed by wipe, followed by lecture.  Frequently the lectures would get more and more abusive, until he was ranting about how everyone except him and Trophy Wife were idiots.  Sometimes there was even a logging-out-in-rage.
My buddies and I used to whisper to each other and pass notes while this was going on while referring to our mods that gave pages of inscrutable printout about what actually went down.  According to our nerdly figures, probably eighty percent of the initial wipes were instigated by Bluster.  Others would start to fail too, as the evening wore on.  Like a big weird psychodrama he was putting himself through, for the sheer joy of dressing up in the leadership hat nobody ever let him wear in real life. 
Speaking of psychodrama, consider the E-Bigot.  I shall share with you an anecdote about an e-bigot I once knew.  He would switch to low level alts and troll in trade chat about how much he hated Somalians.
He wasn’t really talking about Somalians.  He was talking about another ethnic group.  He, in fact, belonged to that ethnic group.  But don’t assume he was consumed with self-hatred, here’s where it gets really twisted.
Whenever he would race-troll, as he explained to me when I inadvertently discovered his dirty secret, he would  get responses from real bigots, saying stuff like “right on man, tell it like it is, I hate them damn Somalians a lot too.”
This gave him a convenient list of actual bigots on the server.  He used this information to his advantage both when PVPing and when choosing a guild. 
And he’s not the only one that has done that.  I have heard of others pulling the same trick to gauge the amount of reaction and determine whether they’ve entered a hive of scum and villainry or what.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to take all the race baiting at face value and assuming your server has become an online version of a prison riot.  That one teenage guy sure is racist. 
And yeah, there is bigotry aplenty in the gaming world.  Sometimes it’s part of that “dare you to prove how non-empathetic you are” dude subculture.  Sometimes it’s real.  The gamerverse is not limited to civilized blue state people.  I remember having a long argument with some clown in Sarah Palin’s part of Alaska over whether something he said about Asians was racist and it came out that he’d never met an Asian (and didn’t realize that 50% of the two people he said it to was Asian, since he apparently equated Asians with unicorns as far as scarcity).   Assuming everyone in the world is a rational actor who shares the values of your subculture is a trap.  In a lot of places out there, they don’t, and no law says they have to. 
Is there a point to this rant other than Darth Bunnywabbit’s pressing need for a faster computer before she goes crazy and types herself to death?
Bah, a six pager ain’t nothin’.   
Anyway, I think any kind of serious investigation into race/gender aggression in the gamerverse needs to consider that it’s not all innocent fair maidens being terrorized by lawless youths saying “Ni!”  Nor is it a bunch of strident feminists screeching about patriarchy in order to crush the dreams and kill the fun of guys who play girl toons to stare at their butts by making them wear more butt armor over their butts. 
Anyway, I offer a Concrete Suggestion to Reduce Gender-Related Misunderstandings in Games.
(Male writers are free to stick this part under their own byline and run with it in four years or so and get paid.  That’s my secret dirty fetish.  Ooh baby, make bank off my IP.)
Give the Gamers a Place to Get Sexy Online
What if there was an X-rated game server?  You’d have to age verify.  You sure as hell couldn’t release it in all countries.  But heavens to Betsy, what if all the little elves and gnomes and satyrs and dragons had nipples and naughty bits?  And what if they had a couple different erotic emotes?  Or maybe a raid boss would have a special extra line about how he was going to make the whole raid nibble on his pickle?
Every. Single. One. Of the freaks would go there. 
Leaving the rest of us to game in peace. 
There are a few “unofficial” servers where one-handed players of various persuasions have congregated for Erotic Roleplay and same sex flirting.  At first there is resistance, then the offended people move out, and more simpatico people move in.  This is partially how the players are trying to resolve the homophobia issue.  Some people are going to blend sexy time with gamer time whether the world wants them to or not.  We can be puritanical and tell them to zip it and stop harassing the nice folks, or we can point them toward a world just for them, where they can discover a whole new dimension to getting a mount achievement. 
And Employ Some Moderators
Folks need jobs, dammit.  Trickle down some.  Civilizing a savage environment is too a job, and we need someone to do it.  Without removing all the fun. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

To Arms! To Arms!

To arms! To arms!
I’m going to post the Jezebel version
of Ernest W. Adams’ call for a few good men to give the youths of the gamerverse a good tonguelashing when they start in on the bigotry.  What a nice man.  I’m glad someone is finally getting press for something like this. 
In other news, I have maged my way through all the new Twilight instances.  I even accidentally wore my green Christmas sweater to the first one, forgetting that my robe of mageyness was in my backpack, and I definitely deserved verbal abuse for that, but it’s pre-expansion and everybody’s way geared up and nobody cared, they just sighed and carried me. 
I’m on a RP server now, Earthen Ring.  One of my co-workers plays there and reports it’s civilized, so I transferred my mage.  So far I have experienced two possible instances of what may potentially be hostile atmosphere type behavior.
In the first, I got invited to join a gathering of “fellow neckbeards.”
However, I lack a bearded neck.  And the kind of guys described as “neckbeards” seem icky, although I’m on the fence there, since I’d probably be one if I was male.  Is there a female equivalent?  Legbeards?  I declined because I was afraid there would be voice chat.
And the other time I was trolling.  I made an alt called Calmemaybe and headed toward the bank, and on the way I was accosted by the kind of idiot who spams random level 2s with guild invites.  So I joined, and after a whole bunch more new recruits signed up, I entered guildchat and said “I just met you…”  Instant outraged reactions!  Demands I be guildkicked and killed with fire!  And several people referred to me using a male pronoun.  Because, you know, a girl just wouldn’t do that. 
I’m back to not playing WoW tonight due to the steel tipped editing pen of fate.  I came home to some annoying construction work on my front door, a blown circuit breaker and a dead video card.  The video card seemed sort of terminal anyway so it’s probably a coincidence.  Fortunately, with the help of my iphone, I was able to get the laptop up and running, but it’s a weaksauce one that gags on flash games.  I will have a new computer tomorrow, because that’s just the way I roll with computers.  It was getting time for an upgrade.  Also, I’ve been hearing an evil voice inside my head saying “you should get a faster computer and also you should buy a big ass 42” monitor or maybe even a 55” one so you can zone out on the couch playing pandas on expansion day.”  I’m starting to believe that voice is wise and rational.  Someone I should listen to. 
I “lost” seven days of novel though.  Twenty-five pages (approximately 8% of total novel volume).  I fortunately had the presence of mind to backup seven days ago.  It’s going pretty well, but at the moment I am faced with (a) rewrite?  Because maybe it’s the universe telling me chapter 8 sucked, and that character’s motivation came way out of left field.  (B) Enslave old hard drive to new computer I’m getting tomorrow and save the files but it’ll take a day or three to get around to it, representing SEVERAL DAYS of not writing.  Unacceptable.  (C) Get a new video card and try to yoke it to my fail dual processor that was so awesome back in the old days when I got it and then be prepared to deal with even more video card issues than I was having as well as potentially ANOTHER NIGHT of not writing.  Shyeah. 
Basically when I’m writing, the only excuse for not writing is being drunk or having a fever over 101.  That’s because those two conditions make me write much lamer than I typically write. 
But at the moment, I’ve got Schroedinger’s novel on my hands.  Rewrite?  Reconstruct?  Throw up hands and proceed directly into Chapter 10 and deal with 8 and 9 later after I finish 12?  Because there was some brilliant stuff in 8, like that bit with the song. 
How about blogging.  Blogging is sort of like writing except I can be more self indulgent. 
Oh yeah, and if anybody feels like commenting that I should back up more, I present Exhibit A: CLOUDS.BMP (filedate 5/11/98).   I have even older files -- do YOU??

Anybody who is making a period movie about Y2K hysteria is welcome to copy this antique official Windows wallpaper from last century – make sure you put it on huge cathode ray tubes with beige plastic coating!  As a matter of fact, I have lots of my old computer files from last century.  They’re sort of fascinating in retrospect. 
And here’s my stalwart jedi Easter Durni being mean to a krayt dragon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


1.  Apparently Ms. Sarkeesian spells her name that way, not the way I wrote it below.
2.  The Boing link died, so here's Kotaku and  Gameranx.
3.  Here's wiki on Sarkeesian herself.
4.  Her work looks respectable, and she clearly is fascinated by TVTropes.  I like her more than I like the dumbass who made the flash game. 
5.  I am definitely biased in favor of articulate people and against stupid rage-filled ones. 
6.  I still think it's a design issue.  Eventually, a game designer will come along and invent a game that doesn't end up with a bunch of punks hanging around outside the front gate chasing away customers, or annoy the 50%+ share of the market that comes from cute little girly pink credit cards.  There have been games with strong, solid communities (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies), and we know it's possible.  Therefore, railing at what's out there is less strategically viable than supporting the ones that get it right.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sarkissian vs. Gamers: The Latest Round

Where've I been? Facebook games, and writing again.

I MIGHT come back to WoW for the pandas. I had a little epiphany when watching the news about the bullied bus driver and thinking "gee, those lads sound like the ones in trade chat." Then I reflected on how average citizens thought that was over half a million dollars worth of disgustingness to endure, and I realized the average citizens were right. If someone will give me a half a million dollars, I'll go look at trade chat again.

Until then, I'm playing Facebook Sim City, in beta. This game rocks. Sim City meets Diplomacy. Makes me think they oughta do a FB version of Civilization. Anyway, I wrote a little piece on the Anita Sarkissian deal, and here it is.

I used to write in this blog more frequently, and it used to be about computer games and gender. When I first made the transition from standalone games to multiplayer internet games, the predominant view among feminists were that games were an evil form of entertainment which programmed innocent youth to be serial killers. And I disagreed, so wanted to mouth off about it.

This stereotype led to a prevailing view amongst gamers that feminists were angry harridans trying to ban their favorite hobby based on junk science. It also led to a lot of discomfort among gamers who are feminists, or female, as they frequently ate vitriol from both sides. My local paper’s website until recently ran a regular blog on media representations of femininity which routinely got subjected to comments every bit as angry as those received by Ms. Sarkissian.

The concept of people being programmed by media is a hot button, usually advanced by those trying to censor your favorite rock ‘n roll or movies or heavy metal albums. It leads directly to “oh yeah? you’re not the boss of me” aesthetics such as found in the Saw movies and the oevre of Marilyn Manson. And video games. I have seen flash games revolving around punching various other people, such as politicians, with very little media outcry regarding same. Which leads to a whole new can of worms regarding which public figures are fair game as far as digitally simulated violence.

And what kind of violence? Ms. Lara Croft, unique among digital heroines, was frequently praised both by female gamers (for being a good action girl role model) and male gamers (for having gravity-defying breasts the size of basketballs). She has bravely met her death on my various monitors by crushing, impalement, velociraptor mauling, shark attack and missing that stupid jump by two pixels. Nobody raised an eyebrow until the developer said she might have to suffer an attempted rape.

 My main issue with cultural critics is that they tended to place an unfair burden on the creatives; forcing them to depict only reality/ies consistent with the one(s) favored by postmodern academic types, who will nevertheless find something or other to complain about no matter how many hoops were jumped through.

And, like some have accused Ms. Sarkissian of doing, frequently cherry-picking examples of heinous misogyny to underscore their point. For example, sometimes journalists have been known to, one might cynically suggest, pump page-views to their article by overdramatizing a situation – such as was done with Grand Theft Auto, in which the entirely optional hooker-slaying part of a gigantic sandboxy game became the media hook, to the point where there are people out there who think the Main Point of the whole game was to slaughter streetwalkers.

Back when I was blogging I used to ruminate on the wisdom of game developers who willfully flip the bird to half their prospective customer base by alienating the female player and refusing to consider her needs, desires and aesthetics. Since then, many game developers have acquired a clue. Facebook games have taken off. These are very popular with women, because there is no anonymity, and if some fool requests a sandwich, you can forward the request to his mom and get him grounded. There are games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, which bypass the issue of gender entirely (cartoony and gender-irrelevant games have always dominated the market to some extent, yet for some reason *coughclickbaitcough* journalists prefer to write about games where there’s a secret hidden sex scene if you go left-right-left-left-right-right-down, and muse on what effect this will have on the children).

And yeah, there’s a pretty big demographic blorp out there who are full of hate and aren’t too bright, and delight in dishing out verbal abuse, and mainly hang out with their own kind, practicing ever-escalating attempts at verbal domination, often to the point where they’re just not capable of civil interaction. Sometimes an anonymous environment brings this out in people.  Their hate is tied to buzzwords which they have learned are reliable means of getting other people to react in a world where communication is all voice and typing. They’re using the same “shout ‘em down and shock ‘em” tactics that I wasn’t quite comfortable with even when the good guys were using it.

Some game designer will eventually get megarich for finding a way to pen the more socially impaired ones off in their own little hell while providing a fun hangout for the rest of us. Guys who discover that they’d rather interact with actual females from time to time rather than fester in a little group of angry bros will jump on board.

And journalists will no doubt focus on any sex ‘n violence related hook they can find in it, in their constant attempt to sell more clickbait. They’re playing a computer game too – one where you win actual currency by figuring out which keys to press in order to maximize page views.

I'm sorry Ms. Sarkissian, who inhabits a much more civil world, encountered all this abuse. I'm sorry the gamer world has become such a cesspool that many of us are opting out of it, all based on the actions of a comparatively few antisocial guys. I really think people are getting tired of the incivility, and since there is a whole lot of money at stake regarding finding some kind of gaming that is acceptable to everyone, I hope something will appear, eventually.

 Think about this – these macho, posturing, swaggering hatergamers are basically threatening violence regarding who’s better at typing. Typing.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

As for what I did last year, I paid some guy in Lahaina a bunch of money to draw this on my shoulder.

As for what I'm doing this year ...

I’m actually sort of taking a break from video gaming. Working on a novel, and since I got past the halfway point I’ll publicly admit I’m writing it. It’s about some people who have to keep moving from point A to point B while stuff explodes, except I keep moving the points around. Plus it has bizarre asides and secret jokes.

When I’m blocked, I go play Sims 3 Showtime. This is a great game for writers because it has many bugs that force you out to your desktop to confront your lack of productivity. It was nearly intolerable before I discovered the trick of disabling DEP – if you’re having Sims 3 performance issues, I highly recommend that. Changing that setting has resulted in a lot less of the dreaded Error Code 13 -- suddenly you can’t save anything. Playing Sims 3 takes me back to the good old days of DOS, except then I had macros to auto-save my stuff every 2 minutes.

Still, it’s the best set of virtual legos available. The new Showtime content gives you wonderful things like genies and the ability to heckle performers and karaoke machines. It appears they finally got around to axing that executive who thinks all Simmers are geriatric Indiana Jones fans (World Adventures) and replaced him with a new one who likes Katy Perry. Good job, EA.

Anyway, speaking of Indiana Jones, there’s SWTOR. Which technically isn’t about Indiana Jones … except there are way too many quests that involve finding a relic sitting in an old sith temple.

Haven’t touched it in days … weeks … I’m also not playing WoW, but I’m conspicuously not playing SWTOR, because it had that crappy-novel-effect on me, thus urging me to get back to work on writing my own.

I’ve ranted before about how cut-scene games are not for me. Those are for wine-cooler-gamers. I am an aged-single-malt-gamer. If I want to passively watch a movie, I’ll go stream one. I dutifully played through most of the Sith Inquisitor story, the Jedi Sentinel story and the Gunslinger story before diving into my current reclusive writer state. The graphics were beautiful. The gameplay was a little cumbersome but not too bad, and I liked the way the instances were done as sequential-movies rather than static zoos full of agoraphobic mobs. The player base seemed intelligent, friendly, articulate and free from the kind of trashy folk who troll trade chat in WoW. Space was fine, sort of arcade-y. Lonely, though, as SWTOR space is very postmodern – everyone has their own galaxy full of artificial opponents, and you can’t talk to anyone.

It wasn’t even the choose-your-own-adventure style gameplay. I put up with that some in Ultima, although I think Ultima had a lot to do with the fact that I prefer to play bad guys.

All of this handholding and constant choices between virtual coke and virtual pepsi and rigidly structured gameplay basically didn’t mesh with my personality. It got to the point where I was playing a boy character just because he went better with the storyline and clothes. I even created several different prototypes before I found one that “looked” like the voice. Probably the same one everyone else chose. This is a more fascistic experience than I typically enjoy while playing videogames. So I fled into Sims 3, where I can build a tract mansion based on the Taj Mahal and populate it with blue skinned genies and lawn flamingos. While dreaming of MMOs that I’d like to play. Like head-to-head-strategy-something-with-heavily-filtered-chat. Or D&D-type-something-with-a-complicated-player-matching-algorithm-and-many-vanity-pets. Or … (reverent expression) real-time-music-jamming-with-rhythm-games-and-avatars-that-you-can-dress-in-cool-clothes.

I haven’t cancelled my account yet. I haven’t cancelled WoW yet for that matter either. I’m busily trying to clear all the achievements by actually playing Sims 3 online.

I sort of miss the MMO experience, and no doubt I’ll be back. Eventually. When expansions come out or something. Or maybe if they come out with a better MMO. Or maybe once I get this book done.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Between MMOs, twitch twitch

Haven’t touched WoW in a couple weeks. Not since the patch with the raid finder and Darkmoon Fair. It seems very pointless. Maybe I’ll return to my overachiever troll someday, but not today. And SWTOR launches Tuesday (what an excellent time to burn up the rest of my vacation days).

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Heroes of Might and Magic VI. It’s kind of yes-and-no. It’s the classic game with lots of updates, some of which are very much appreciated. For instance, now, when you conquer a castle, all the mines around it automatically change ownership, so you don’t have to repetitiously go click each one. However, somehow this update resulted in extremely long games, and the way to win them is by sheer numbers. So you wind up with a lot of situations where you attack your computer-generated foe, discover he’s got 800 level 1 troops and 400 level 2s while you’ve got only 400 and 200; this means you have to spend some game weeks clicking “next day” rapidly until you close the gap some more, assuming you can produce more units per week than the enemy. Hence, some of the campaign games I’ve been playing take hours and hours to finish. Not sure how this will pan out in online play, and I note that online is “e-z mode” where you get all kinds of buffs and achievements for everything you do.

I’ve played around with Skyrim. I’m not a total Bethesda noob, having played the hell out of Daggerfall, a delightfully sandboxy game set in the same world. I’ve never gotten too far with Skyrim, though. My most accomplished character, a sullen looking little mage, basically ran around the country stealing horses and galloping around checking the scenery. I was disappointed to find no way to sail south to the warmer lands where the cat people live. Something about all that frozen northern European countryside just makes me want to get in a boat and head south (it’s a genetic thing). I may thrash Skyrim to the point where I get nicer looking clothes some day, but for now, did you know that if you jump off a cliff on a stolen horse, the horse will suck up all the damage and die, but you’ll be able to walk away and go pilfer yourself another nag?

And I play Angry Birds, Plants v. Zombies and Guitar Hero on my phone, but so far none of them interests me as much as the Kindle app, or asking Siri offensive questions.

I’ve been reading about games. Slate had an interesting series about a bunch of guys playing games I mostly haven’t touched, except for Skyrim.

I’ll comment a little bit on that whole series. One, there are a few references to whether gaming is exclusively a hobby for the rich. Personally, my wholehearted embracing of the gamer lifestyle has resulted in my savings account being healthier than it ever has, thanks to my tendency to want to play games rather than go outside and spend money.

And two, not all gamers are alike. These people who play cut-scene, first-person games, for example. Usually when you encounter games in mainstream journalism they are talking about this sort of experience. However, when I’d talk to other gamers in WoW, we spent a lot of time talking about games that are “pure” games – strategy, football, pattern recognition stuff like Angry Birds and Bejeweled. Not protagonist-identification type games with cut scenes.

I realize the people who are mainly into first person games are out there, mainly because they sell articles, probably because those articles are more accessible to non-gamers who think the entire experience is about being led through some kind of movie-like narrative, and get all confused or derisive when encountering something that tickles a different set of brain cells. One of the reviewers in the series discusses not “finishing” games, and several of them talk about the cost of constantly getting new ones. That tells me they’re approaching the issue in a linear, movie-like fashion. Finish one, on to the next. I think I approach games more like music – “I’m in an XXX mood today, so I think I’ll play a few songs by band XXXX.” It’s not like “ooh, I bought a new album but first I need to listen to that last one I bought.”

Which is how music reviewers listen to albums. Not normal people. Which leads to the question: do game reviewers play their games the same way as normal people? I think it would be interesting to have an article about several “types” of people describing how they interact with games. Not just upper middle class red-breasted robins tweeting from the trees, trying to make sure they attract flocks of likeminded red-breasted robins to peck at the bird feeders while simultaneously chasing off the bluebirds and mockingbirds and whatever all kind of birds y’all mainland people have – I’m not too clear on them, having grown up in the land of the Blue Footed Booby.

I'm throwing the mainland vs. islander slant at it because sometimes it feels similar. The main thing non-mainland people notice about mainland people is how much mainland people are convinced they are the Default Setting for All Of Life’s Experiences. You can chalk it up to imperialism or confirmation bias or whatever, and it does indeed get strong and concentrated in the Northeast and a lot more dilute toward the left edge of the map. This bleeds over into what I’m talking about. A mainlander-style gamer journalist will say something like “These are the types of games people play, and XXX is a good one, while YYY is not a good one.” Someone outside this perspective will say “This is the game that I play, and I think it rocks, but my cousin Jasper didn’t like it so much, he plays LLL, and my sister really likes MMM but her boyfriend thinks it sucks. I dunno, your mileage may vary. But anyway, we all played XXX for this article, and we all had some different opinions.” You can see a little of both in the Slate series, but occasionally there's that fit of "I live in a tiny room full of mirrors and affirmations" creeping in.

Speaking of different opinions, I found myself wallowing in the games-and-gender trenches briefly, when I read a re-direct on Jezebel to this bloggage responding to a gamer article.

A subject that refuses to die.

Here’s my current take on the whole mess. Gamers attract the intellectually competitive. I realized when I was looking through SWTOR guilds that as a whole, gamers like to toss confrontational topics and arguments around, but when I do that in certain crowds, they burst into tears and accuse me of being Satan. I’m insulated in a little bubble of confirmation bias because I work with lawyers, and one thing I’ve noticed about law firms is that they are very inhospitable environments for the kinds of people who hate to be challenged. In fact, I’ve got a standing assignment from one of the partners to try to drag one of his associates into stupid arguments because we’re trying to train him not to rise to the bait when the bad-guy lawyers try that particular tactic. (Then, while you’re distracted by the stupid argument, they waltz you around and try to get away with stuff.)

This frequently means that I fail hard when encountering the confrontation-averse. Now, lots of women are confrontation-averse. For example, if you go check out some feminist sites, you’ll see a lot of official “trigger warnings” right before gruesome rapes/murders/acts of meanness are discussed. This is a consensus cultural practice based on the theory and/or observation that sometimes, people get upset and emotional when triggers are triggered, and that it’s a good idea to aim towards not doing that.

When the very sensitive and the very confrontational interact, well, things don’t bode well for the former. The latter will waltz them around and try to get away with stuff. Because they’re mean, insensitive pigs? No, because it’s a successful tactic – especially against the kind of people who claim they’re being fair-minded before throwing down the guilt trip card. Which, admittedly, can also be a good tactic, except it works better on highly sensitive persons than it does against gamers.

The thing is, gamers are sensitive too. In fact, from the comments on the original article, a lot of guys were reacting with instant hostility towards even the merest suggestion they were being reprimanded by a feminist (i.e. rising to the bait).

In Northern Slobovia, people play loud dance pop when they’re happy and sit quietly when they’re sad. In Southern Slobovia, people listen to loud death metal when they’re angsty and when they’re in good moods, take quiet, reverent hikes while appreciating the beauty of nature. How long can these two countries get along before cultural misunderstandings work their way up to nasty ethnic stereotypes and physical violence?

Feminists come from a perspective of wanting to help make everybody equal. The cosmic nerf bat.

The last thing gamers want is equality. Maybe at the starting line, but if everybody’s at the same place when you get close to the finish line, you’re not doing it right.

And at the same time, gamers can clearly see the value in having opponents who live to fight another day. That’s why we make a point of only killing each other with pretend swords and guns (and it also benefits us if lots of people can afford the pretend swords and guns, because an unlimited flowing supply of worthy opponents is what gets gamers all hot and bothered). We can also see the value in having friendships and romantic relationships with other gamers, because teammates are for the win.

And through writing my games-n-gender blog, I started seeing that I shifted more towards a “let’s everybody have some good competition!” perspective than the “let’s all be equalized” one. In a greater, meta-political sense, I do think certain financial industries need a good hard smack with the nerfbat, because they have forced a large percentage of my potential worthy opponents to be so lacking in funds they cannot afford to play games online. And I think the knee-jerk sexists need to STFU and dial the d-baggery down because it benefits all of us gamers to have more opponents (and consider that if you’re the type of person who really hates women – or any other subset of humanity -- by not being a d-bag in public, you’d be encouraging more of them to play, and you could be stalking them in pvp right now instead of whining about your unfulfilled rage urges like some fail-hearted noob who can’t manage to find a port for his keyboard).

The competition-versus-equality thing at the essential heart of the whole discussion is what needs to be balanced, in my humble opinion. The ideal state for it is somewhere in the middle because it's hellish on either extreme. Dragging sex and gender into it is a distraction.