On Video Games (A Treatise and Plea)

So, I am a huge fan of the video game medium, in case it was apparent from past posts, and recently there has been some, shall we say, kerfuffles concerning the industry and medium. For instance, Ubisoft’s whole “no female avatars” situation in their newest Assassin’s Creed game.

No Girls Allowed in Our Expansive Tree-house!

No Girls Allowed in Our Expansive Tree-house!

Now, personally I do find it a bit odd that no one in the company thought to find it in the budget or schedule to include possible female avatars considering how it is essentially an expected default at this point. Seriously, most popular games, particularly big budget triple A titles, tend to have female avatar options, with few exceptions, at least for the multi-player. However, it really was not the lack of available female avatars that bugged people, but more so Ubisoft’s response that really caused an uproar within the community.

To be perfectly honest, I am tired of hearing these conversations and discussions coming from the video game community on all levels: from the industry, the consumers, the fans. It is not the content, itself, that frustrates me, but the fact that we still have to have these conversations in general. Frankly, we should always constantly be striving for more inclusion and diversity and not rejecting criticism and observations. Not because it is right or appropriate but because we are selfish bastards that want video games to improve.

This is Anita Sarkeesian. She gets death and rape threats because she states an opinion on video games. WTF!?

This is Anita Sarkeesian. She gets death and rape threats because she states an opinion on video games. WTF!?

Take movies, for example. At first, movies were simply a carbon copy of plays and then evolved into a more developed narrative form. For the next few decades, we would merely have stories from the same perspectives, usually that of white, middle aged males. These films were not bad, per se, and I consider some of them classics that everyone should watch, criticize, and learn from. Still, film was greatly improved from the involvement and influence of different points of view, stories, and techniques brought by including women, minorities, and non traditional tales and techniques.

The film industry is by no means perfect, but the difference and improvement in available narratives and experiences brought on by this inclusion is obvious. Now, imagine how much better video games would be if we got over our idiotic, toxic bullshit and focused on simply making video games, and the industry, better. Video games, among the various mediums, has the most potential to truly be a revolutionary and ground breaking force.

To some extent, we have already seen that in the past with the various technological advances and, more recently, with the development of tools like the Oculus Rift that holds so much promise, but what are going to be the available experiences and stories once full immersion has been achieved? Are we going to simply rely on and repeat the same power fantasies and tropes of the past? Or will there be some movement on the dial toward more diverse voices, perspectives, and experiences? Will that goal really be achieved if the community still argues and debates as to whether more women should be hired or that maybe once in awhile the protagonist of a major game does not have to be a white guy. Like, really?

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a super powered, indestructible soldier mowing down hordes and hordes of enemies, but every once in awhile I would like my avatar to have a different skin tone or maybe be a woman. Also, I sometimes don’t want to fight through masses of monsters, zombies, or people and try something different. Games that don’t focus on battle have already been made, very well, on rather small budgets. I can only imagine what the results could be if even a fraction of the resources given to the next Call of Duty was put toward an independent or non traditional title.

So, why am I, practically, ranting about this? Books, films, and music came long before me, but I grew up with video games. I was born in 1987 and Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment system in the US in 1985, pretty much reviving the video game industry. Obviously, there was a history of the medium before this, but the resurgence of what eventually became the modern video game behemoth started at this time. Thus, in my mind, video games, as we know them, are only two years older than I am.

Half the reason I even still buy a Nintendo system is to play the newest Zelda game. Fuck you, Water Temple!

Half the reason I even still buy a Nintendo system is to play the newest Zelda game. Fuck you, Water Temple!

Accordingly, I have a personal stake and relationship with the video game community and industry. Part of my personality and world view revolves around the concept of being a “gamer.” It’s not my sole defining characteristic, but it definitely is part of my personal make up. I see the potential that video games have as an industry and creative force.

As I’ve said before stories matter, and the possibilities for story telling, empathy, trading of experiences, and immersive aspects boggle the mind. Hell, we have no idea where they might evolve to in the future. I truly believe that video games will not only be the most used entertainment option, but an incorporation into culture that allows for people to actually be able to “walk in another’s shoes” and experience things that were originally thought of as impossible. The possibilities that this medium holds excites every fabric of my being, but in order to get there, we need to get over these dumb issues and problems and realize how much further we can get with the help and perspectives of others.

Progress is inevitable. People of all genders, races, religions, and backgrounds play video games. A disservice is done by not including their stories, voices, and views into the medium. Will it be uncomfortable? Sure. Will we have to reevaluate and possibly change some deep seated thoughts and manners? Of course. Will there be come casualties along the way? Probably. Will it be worth it? Abso-fucking-lutely. We can do better. We need to do better because doing so will only improve the thing we play with and love.

Advertisements

Lessons From…Alys

I know, I am writing a “Lessons” post about a book again after I swore to try to focus on other media. In my defense, it’s a pretty good book and has such an obvious nugget worthy of note and discussion that I just couldn’t help myself. Moving on, today’s lesson comes from Alys by Kiri Callaghan. The book is a retelling/re-imagining of the classic Lewis Carroll story, Alice in Wonderland. Everything from this point on could be considered a spoiler, so you know warnings and such.

alys

The entire book could provide various lessons on life like the effects of a suicide on those left behind, the importance of memory, dealing with turmoil and loss, among many others. Did I forget to mention Alys might be considered a darker version of the Carroll story? However, I am more interested in two particular passages from the book.

First, from Chapter 9 “Lost in Thought” on page 107:

“Alys pointed to some of the rotting volumes. “What are those?”

“Oh. Sad, isn’t it?” The bookworm tsked and shook her head. “Those are the lost causes; tales that will never be finished, continuously overworked until they rot and are useless to everyone–even the author.”

“Does it happen a lot?”

“Only when vanity, pride, or obsession overpower the wit of being written.”

“So…?”

“Constantly.”

Now, this section is explicitly discussing literature, but is easily applicable to just about any avenue of life. How many hobbies and interests have fallen by the wayside simply because you were not as good as you think you should be or what others might think about you? How many times has something or someone you loved turned to scorn or dismissed because of your constant vigil over it? It is difficult, but if we want to create something, whatever that may be, we need to find a way to overcome our pride, vanity, and obsession. One way is to actually put your work out into the world and put your pride and vanity on the line. No better way to lose those two than to subject yourself to the criticism of the Internet.

terra mirum

As well, from Chapter 9 “Lost in Thought” page 108:

“Every book ever written and a few that never will be,” the bookworm answered with a smile. “Some are only thoughts or concepts. Some are epic tales, others just short stories. All vastly valuable.”

The questionable legitimacy of an author stating the importance of stories is not lost on me. Still does not make it any less valid. Stories matter, even the bad ones. Obviously, science and math should be pursued and will help answer some of the greatest mysteries of the universe, but the human skill and desire to create should not be a casualty of the push for scientific discovery.

The standard argument for the arts is that science and math allow us to live and thrive while the arts gives us a reason to live. Frankly, this statement has always annoyed me and seemed a bit pedantic. The truth is that stories do more than just entertain; they educate and inspire. When speaking to the next generation of space explorers, we do not tell them about the math of the physics involved in take off or the engineering in the ships and systems. We tell them about the majesty of the stars and of the lives of great explorers that came before them without fear of the unknown and uncertain.

Stories matter because it is stories and words that have moved men and women to great and terrible things. Even those who have wielded the knowledge and power of science have been inspired by the tales and words of others. I am not saying one field or pursuit is better than the other, but instead that they are both necessary parts in the future endeavors of humanity’s path.

So to recap,  in order to create, you must overcome the defeating triumvirate of pride, vanity, and obsession, and all stories, even the bad ones, have a purpose and matter. Thus endeth today’s lesson.

One final note. I highly recommend Alys. It is well worth the investment of time and money, plus you support a promising independent author. You should also check out Kiri Callghan’s other works, like her YouTube channel and Wit&Whimsy Tumblr, if you’re interested in various creative things or just curious in general. Seriously, both entertaining and educational at the same time every once in awhile. Here’s a slight preview of her skills:

Thus ends post blog post random recommendation.

Losing My…

I used to stare into the night sky

in fear of the grand abyss of the dark

and of the bright burning balls of fire

that showed both Your beautiful majesty

and irrational terror.

 

You could send anyone of those

stars screeching straight into

this world and end everything.

It was only through

Your mercy and desire that

we somehow survived day to day.

At least that is what I was taught.

 

I was afraid of what I saw

staring into that night sky.

Until, I began to question:

Question what I had been told.

Question the stories passed down.

Question the ridiculous rules I had to live by.

Question everything.

 

Some questions led to more

some were eventually answered

and most never were but

With every question my curiosity flourished

and your magnanimity diminished.

 

My queries cost me many things:

My certainty of the future.

My relationships with family.

My identity I lived by for many years.

 

However, I no longer look at the sky

with apprehension or fear but instead

with an unquenchable desire to see

beyond what has been seen and with

hope that the knowledge from those

who came before me will lead those

who come after into the furthest reaches

of the sky, the mind, and human potential.

 

If it means losing you and everything

that I have known,

it is a worthy trade.

 

 

This is a bit darker than I originally intended and I swear I am not trying to be controversial. I am merely trying to understand my own thoughts through one of the few ways I know how. Love to read your own, even if it is just saying how much you disagree with or hate what I wrote, so please leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

On…A Recommendation (Departure from the Usual)

Normally on this day’s post I write my thoughts and opinions, along with a few questions, about a particular topic of interest. Recently, I have been wanting to write a post on one of my favorite hobbies/pastimes: video games. Unfortunately, with work and other obligations, I have not had the time to devote the appropriate attention and skill this topic deserves.

Thus, I am still working on that particular post and will have it ready for next week. Frankly, I love video games, have played them for most of my life, and want to do them justice by discussing them at my best.

However, I still wanted to leave something worth reading today, so I am recommending reading the following two articles as a precursor to my own post:

David Wong’s Video Game Annoyances (Two links here)

I highly recommend reading the previous two articles. David Wong is a pretty good writer and makes some interesting observations.

Anyhow, that is all for today, unfortunately. I swear next week will be business as usual.

Lessons From…Game of Thrones (Television Show)

I know, I know, the season four finale just happened and some of you have not had the opportunity to watch it. First off, do watch it because it concludes a couple of narratives and sets up conflicts for the upcoming fifth season beautifully. Second, I will not be discussing the recent episode as I will actually be using the ninth episode of the fourth season for this post. So, if you have not seen that one yet, you have been warned.

Season 4 Episode 9, titled “The Watchers of the Wall”, takes us away from the events of King’s Landing and Daenerys’s mission doing whatever the hell she is doing and focuses on the battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings. The last few seasons of conflict and turmoil between these two forces come to a head in one glorious episode. Of course, the Night’s Watch are horribly outmatched but remain steadfast in their duty while the Wildlings have accumulated one of the largest forces in the entirety of Westeros in the hope of leaving the impending terror of the true North.

The focus of the episode, and in many ways the battle itself, revolves around the eventual confrontation between Jon Snow and Ygritte. It makes sense.

jons

Look at my flowing locks!

After all, Jon is Ned Stark’s son (as far as we know) and as a Stark, even a bastard one, duty and honor are important to him. However, he becomes conflicted concerning his duty where Ygritte is concerned. He broke the sacred vow of celibacy of the Night’s Watch (though Sam might disagree with that interpretation) and developed actual emotions and connection for Ygritte.

I mean, can you blame him?

I mean, can you blame him?

Jon knows what he must do and that, most likely, either he or Ygritte will die at the other’s hand. He is unsure if he will be able to strike the final blow or if she will be his death. In the episode, both Jon and Ygritte are unable fight one another upon their final meeting. Jon stares at Ygritte as she has her bow drawn with an arrow pointed at his heart. He is resolute in allowing whatever will happen and Ygritte seems unwilling to release. Ultimately, Ygritte does die but by another’s hand and thus neither Jon nor Ygritte have to make the final choice of what to do. Instead, she dies in his arms knowing what the other felt.

You never let the ginger die!

You never let the ginger die!

This brings us to today’s first lesson: whatever choice you make, you must follow through. Jon chose the Night’s Watch as his home and sacred duty once he took the oath. He knew the consequences of that decision and was prepared to follow them through to the end. He found love, freedom, and possibility in the Wildlings, but he was still bound to the Night’s Watch for life. There was nothing that would make Jon betray that oath and path. It is, literally, how he was brought up.

While Jon was the focus of the episode, he was no where near the best part. Amidst the emo personality of Jon, there was also the rising of Samwell Tarly.

This is Sam getting his first kiss before going out and killing some Wildlings.

This is Sam getting his first kiss before going out and killing some Wildlings.

From his introduction, Sam has been a bit of a frumpy sidekick for the ever brooding Jon. He was the unwanted and disappointing son of a lord who sent him off to the Night’s Watch to die. Throughout the series, Sam has slowly learned to not be such a sad sack and fight back against the hands dealt to him by life. He managed to save a damsel in distress, Gilly, from a horrible fate. Though to be fair, she saved him just as much as he her. Sam also killed one of the dreaded White Walkers all by his lonesome. As well, he earned the respect of his fellow brothers of the Night’s Watch through his actions.

Even with all this, Sam still didn’t really step up to the plate and fulfill his duty until Gilly’s life was on the line. Unlike Jon, Sam needed a tangible reason to fight. He was willing to die, not for the idea of duty and honor, but to save that which he loved. Lesson two: find a reason to uphold your word and fight for. For some, this will simply be the sense of duty itself. For others, it will be a person or thing or even maybe a plain ideal. Whatever your reason is keep it close and do your best to respect, protect, and honor it.

As you may have guessed, this post is focusing on the concepts of duty and honor. Obviously, Jon and Sam have grown to be rather honorable men who know their duty. However, even they were not the most honorable members of the Night’s Watch. That title belongs to these guys:

These are among the many brothers of the Night’s Watch who barely got a mention, much less an episode, in the series. They were farmers, criminals, peasants, beggars, and second or third sons of a family with no better options. They entered the Night’s Watch with no honor, pride, or sense of purpose. What had once been the proud brotherhood had been reduced to the slimmest of pickings from the seven kingdoms.

These men were meant to go to the Wall and die away from polite society having done nothing and been nothing. Yet here they were fighting a giant and laying down their lives along with their brothers to protect the lands of Westeros from an invading army. They are scared and want nothing more than to run away, but instead they repeat their vows and fulfill them to the bitter end. These men died a hero’s death knowing that no bards would sing their adventures nor poets write their exploits. The greatest honor had already been achieved once they were worthy of saying the oath and wearing the black. The final lesson for today: no matter your station, duty and honor are conscious choices one makes to take on and must be acted on with every action made.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

 

One Step Forward; Several Leaps Back

I was, and am still, a huge scholastic nerd. By this, I mean that I enjoyed going to school and learning as much as possible. I didn’t always like certain teachers nor their methods, and, admittedly, I took to some subjects far better than others (Calculus and I did not get along). However, I loved being in class and challenged by new material that expanded my mind toward new horizons that I had never even considered.

For me, school was a means of escape and improvement. To quell any inquiries, I had a wonderful childhood and life. Besides the standard disagreements of growing up, I got along swimmingly with my family, for the most part, and I was fed, sheltered, and wanting for nothing but luxuries. Even so, I never quite felt comfortable at home and still don’t, but that is a post for another day. The real focus is that I dived wholeheartedly into academia without any hesitation or second thought.

I loved it. I was learning new and exciting things and felt like I was somehow improving and changing. Of course, I was. I mean, I was still in single digits and growing up. I was bound to change regardless of external factors, but I didn’t know any of that at age seven, so I just assumed that school was somehow the catalyst for what was going on in my head and body. Most of the change was good.

I gained an appreciation of the scientific method of inquiry to put into practice in my life. I learned of the narratives of human history and what we had managed to accomplish. I began to understand how we, as a species, were trying to explain the mysteries of the universe through the logic and order of math and science. I knew how far we had come toward that goal and how much further we had to explore. I only saw the positive that was happening without considering any possible negative. After all, how could acquiring such miraculous knowledge have any ill effects?

It would be a few months before I discovered that my devotion to academia had indeed had at least one consequence. My grandmother is a wonderfully warm woman. I remember my cousins and I going to stay with her for days over the summer playing with each other and enjoying her delicious Mexican home cooking. Seriously, I don’t care what restaurant you claim has real, authentic Mexican food; it will never compare to the dishes made by an abuelita.

I first noticed a problem when I tried to ask my grandma what she was making for lunch one day. I had done it hundreds of times before, but for some reason this time I just couldn’t quite get the words out. Eventually, my cousin, Ari, helped me find the words I was looking for. It was weird, being unable to ask a simple question I had asked before, but I didn’t think much of it.

A few days later, a similar occurrence happened. I was just trying to tell my grandma about what I had learned at school. Again, I simply could not convey what I wanted to say, at least not in a language she could understand. See, my grandmother moved to the states from Mexico later in her life, in order to improve her family’s prospects. She did a brave thing for her loved ones without hesitation. In a way her desire was met as her children and grandchildren were afforded chances we never would have had in Mexico.

However, it came at a cost. Many of her grandkids, her nietos, lost their ability to speak Spanish which means they could not speak to her. It was an unfortunate result of the public school system. We wanted to advance as much as possible and advancement required mastery of English, even at the cost of our original language. Frankly, the more Spanish we forgot, the more we seemed to improve in school.

Most of us began to regain our tongues back. Ironically, or not who knows, knowing Spanish became useful in the later years of schooling. We had to relearn something we had been encouraged to dismiss. The contradictions of life never cease to amaze me. So, conversing with my grandmother has become much easier these days, and I am truly grateful for that. Still, I will never forget the look of distress and horror that flashed across my grandmother’s face when she realized I could no longer speak in the voice she knew. I believe I will carry a twinge of guilt over that for my entire life.

On Promotion

E3 has taken over California and certain social media sites. Truth be told, I have been watching virtually every available piece of coverage from the major video game and pop culture sites. I would wreck some shit for the opportunity to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo someday. Seriously, just perform unspeakable acts for that golden ticket…

Anyhow, while I enjoy the coverage of announcements and trailers, the entire expo is, admittedly, a week long advertisement for the video game industry. It makes sense. When a company makes multi-million dollar projects, it would want a return on said investment. As much as we like to claim otherwise because of our supposedly developed selves, advertisements still work on us. So, for those that enjoy playing video games, E3 is a pretty effective method of promotion.

Of course, it would be. The companies involved, with the exception of the independent developers present, have creative marketing teams whose entire professions revolve around making video games appealing to massive audiences. The large budgets don’t hurt either. However, what about when you don’t have a separate team, immense budget, or promotional background? What about those of us that would prefer to just create something and hope that it will find an audience?

Obviously, this is not an effective method. When you are trying to create your own creative space with the eventuality of it being self sustaining, you do not really have the option of silence. Unlike large companies or established individuals, most up and coming creatives don’t have a team to do their marketing for them. As well, most creative types are not the most social individuals, so literally shouting out into the ether “Hey look at me and my stuff” tends to not be the easiest thing in the world.

How does one manage to promote their work without coming off desperate, annoying, or naive? Seriously, not a rhetorical question. Is there some special gene in certain people that they feel no shame and just go up to people without issue or concern? If so, can someone bottle that shit up and put it on sale because I will pre-order like 500 bottles. I know that in order for me to have any chance of having a career in a creative field, self promotion and marketing will play a necessary role, but how does one get comfortable wearing that particular hat?

I feel that I am just throwing questions into the miasma of the Internet without positing any type of response. Sorry about that, but I tend to use these posts to think things through and maybe get some response to my queries. Thus, I’ll leave it to you random readers: any thoughts on self-promotion? Love to hear a few…