Tag Archives: gaming

Dividing Violence and Video Games

When I had originally planned on writing this post we were a little ways into November, with Remembrance Day having just passed. Walking through the subway stations here in Toronto it was impossible not to spot a bright red poppy pinned to a stranger’s lapel that inevitably forced me to, well, remember the war that lends them their importance.

thrallflandersJust before the day on which Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth of Nations pay tribute to those who have fallen in the line of duty was Blizzcon, the annual convention put on by my favourite video game developer. With World War I on one hand and a company that holds the title of creating the highest grossing game of all time in World of WarCraft on the other the connection was clear.

Asking whether or not it’s possible to have a split between violence and one of the quickest growing forms of both entertainment and narrative device, for mainstream audiences, is a difficult enough question as it is, and I felt it all the more pressing as the longer I put off writing this post the more [extreme] acts of violence I could see reported on the news. I don’t even need to drop any news links for you to think back on an incident that occurred just this past week.

Now before I go any further I want to state plainly that this is not an indictment of violence in video games. As my co-writer Gordon related a few years back being exposed to such can actually be beneficial to the way we perceive and navigate the world. Former Culture War Reporter Stew, who assisted me in writing this, also mentioned that it can be “interesting because the interactivity of videogames presents us with a unique way to actually explore our violent tendencies, or our instinct for survival.” I don’t particularly believe that this aspect of the medium is harmful by any means. Instead what I’d like to explore is what video games could be with its absence. Continue reading

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How To Fix D&D

Normally, the dissection of nerd culture is Evan’s territory. Comic books, super-hero movies, the ins-and-outs of sci-fi flicks- really anything you could or would want to know about geekdom, Evan has covered.

Except, perhaps, for Dungeons & Dragons.

For that, you’d come to me.

Continue reading

Evan and Gordon Talk: Indie Games [And Minecraft]

EVAN: Two weeks ago our good friend Stew said:

You should write about indie game development and how it’s changing the industry.

And so, after avoiding the topic for a little while, here we are.

GORDON: For the sake of any readers who might not be familiar with what an “indie game” is, while definitions vary, the general consensus is that an “indie game” is any video game developed outside of the major/mainstream video game industry (sometimes called “Triple A”).

EVAN: A pretty good example of this would be Braid. A more well-known example that you’ve probably at least heard about [and that both Gordon and I have played a decent amount of] is Minecraft.

Continue reading

Evan and Gordon Talk: Nerd Culture

EVAN: To start this off by ignoring our readership and addressing you, this week’s topic is a weird sort of continuation of the various posts on culture you’ve written, such as “manly culture,” “science culture,” etc. And similar to these other groups of people, “nerd culture” is a pretty nebulous sort of thing to define.

GORDON: No argument there. After all, even the “nerds” insist on calling out “fake nerds”- especially in regards to women/girls. But what is a nerd anyways?

EVAN: See, now I’m torn, because we do need to define it, but you’ve also directly referenced an issue I wanted to discuss in depth this week.

GORDON: How about we abandon our previous track record, and just plunge recklessly ahead and hope the issue resolves itself?

EVAN: Well, let me throw this image out there:

And then hope that suffices for now.

GORDON: Works for me. So what was it that you wanted to address specifically?

EVAN: Well, just last month there was this guy, a comic artist, named Tony Harris. And he wrote this post on his Facebook page that was essentially a tirade against “faux nerd” women, and how they are whores, and so on.

To break it down further, these are women who dress up as superheroes and what have you without knowing about the actual characters themselves. He is upset because, to quote him:

BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SH-T ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER.

Also that they attend to essentially just tease the regular con-goers and are actually not even hot, just “con-hot.” So yeah, he said a lot.

GORDON: Ah yes, I recall reading about this. And while I think we can all agree Harris went too far, is a bit hypocritical (seeing how most comic women ain’t exactly average looking), and probably getting too emotional, I can’t help but wonder if he has, somewhere in there, a point.

I mean, imagine if all of a sudden, something that you had been stigmatized for became popular, and people started trying to co-opt your identity knowing nearly nothing about it. I’d be ticked off too.

EVAN: That’s definitely something I’ve read people write about, that this used to be an exclusive club and that it took years to build up this knowledge and become, well, a nerd, and here are these noobs and they want in and it’s not that easy.

And I can see where they’re coming from as well.

But if you really love something, shouldn’t you want others to as well? The Avengers has an enormous following on tumblr these days [because of the movie], and these are people who are actually going out and starting to buy comics. They are helping sales, aiding the industry, etc.

GORDON: That’s true, and something I’ve considered, but there’s probably also an argument to be made for the other side. That something precious to you is being watered down and diluted for profit. I don’t believe that nerds (comic book nerds, anyways) can necessarily make this argument, but the line of logic is there.

Let’s try to come up with an example of this happening somewhere else, especially in regards to persecution.

EVAN: Mmk, go ahead-

GORDON: “Black culture” (or what was passed off as black culture) might be an example. Can you state that you’re not driven nuts by wealthy, comfortable suburban kids fronting like they’re from the streets of Oakland?

EVAN: Yeah, people are upset about it, sure, but there’s not this immense outcry over it. There are comic-con enthusiasts that are genuinely incensed that all of this is happening-

I doubt that an actual thug or gangbanger or whatever these rich White kids are playing at imitating is going to start freaking out that he’s getting ripped off. He’s going to laugh or shrug it off, because it hardly matters.

GORDON: I’d argue that the reason for this has more to do with the change in venue. It’s easy for the major players of the comic book industry to voice their opinions than, say, a Wu-Tang Clan fan in the late 90s. But maybe I’m wrong.

EVAN: For the most part, I see this as a mindset that is the foundation or core of hipsterism, and that we all feel to some extent, however minor. That we found something and we love it and there is a pride in joy in being one of the original fans.

And this outpouring of others somehow cheapens things. And all of a sudden we’re trying to assert how we’re better than them in some way.

“You chose to dress up as Spider-Woman? Do you even know who her alter-ego is, or what her powers are? Etc.”

GORDON: Again, do we not sympathize? Do we not feel frustrated with people who have more or less jumped on the bandwagon now that it’s all safe and socially acceptable to do so? Heck, just imagine if someone tried listing themselves as a fan of fine cooking, having only eaten sushi once- would you be ticked?

EVAN: If I equated sushi with fine cooking I guess I would, yeah. But just because we can understand someone’s anger and frustration doesn’t make it logical.

GORDON: I wouldn’t say that there’s not a logic to it. I mean, a major part of being a nerd is, and always has been, the social pariah element. All of the sudden you have these people trying to claim to be on the fringes of society? It’s condescending and insulting.

EVAN: I think that’s the issue- They’re not trying to “claim to be on the fringes of society.”

GORDON: I disagree- I feel this is a coward’s way of feigning rebelliousness and all that.

EVAN: Sometimes people who haven’t been exposed to comics for much of their lives see a movie, or read a trade, and go to a con. Maybe they wear a costume. That doesn’t mean they’re going into this thinking, in any way, that they’re suddenly a part of this group of outcasts.

Comics are popular now. I mean, more than they’ve ever been. To say “I like comics” is no longer the sort of thing that’s going to get you shunned. People are going to raise their eyebrows and wonder why you think that’s a big deal.

GORDON: Comics yes, no one is gonna argue that. The title of “nerd” however, that’s different. And after all, “nerd” is a much larger term. It applies to gamers, to film, and so on.

EVAN: So how does one become a “fake nerd”?

GORDON: Therein lies the rub- there’s always gonna be more obsessive nerds out there. People higher up and lower down the hierarchy. But for the most part, I think we can agree that a “false” nerd is one who does not meet the criteria in that diagram you posted.

The “social ineptitude”, the “obsessiveness”- if it’s not actually there (no matter how much the person or persons might insist otherwise) then that person is a “fake” nerd.

EVAN: So am I a “fake nerd”?

GORDON: Do you call yourself a nerd?

EVAN: I don’t really call myself anything. But I’d also say that many of the girls who go to cons and find themselves attacked by Harris don’t refer to themselves as anything in particular either.

GORDON: Then no, I wouldn’t define you or them as fitting this category. Like I said- Harris went overboard.

EVAN: I just don’t think social ineptitude needs to be a requirement in this. I think you could be a nerd and still have friends, and achieve some level of popularity. The diagram above really shoehorns the definition. I mean, what if I did call myself a nerd?

I’m fairly smart, about 80% of the time I’m thinking about comics, or comics-related media. At the same time, I’m a fairly social guy. What does that mean?

GORDON: You think about comics 80% of the time?

EVAN: I think about comics a lot.

GORDON: 80% of your waking thoughts is a craaaaaazy lot, though I’d say your self-identification as a nerd is flawed. Serial-killer in the making would be more accurate. But we begin to split hairs at this point.

EVAN: I guess it’s like, does Hugh Laurie have the right to play the blues?

GORDON: Hugh Laurie can do whatever the **** he wants. As does anyone. With everything he does, can he identify himself first and foremost as a blues musician? Not really. At least, that ain’t how we’re all gonna think of him, or remember him.

EVAN: Does it matter that it’s what you identify as first and foremost? I am positive that at some level, yes, he does identify as a blues musician.

GORDON: It does matter how you identify yourself first and foremost. I’ve eaten bugs on multiple occasions- I don’t declare myself “Gordon Brown: Bug Eater.” The rest of the stuff I do outweighs it by far.

EVAN: You’re missing my point. You’ve eaten bugs, so on some level you can identify as a bug-eater.

If he identifies as a blues artist less than he does as an actor, that doesn’t negate the fact that he identifies as a blues artist, and what we’re talking about is people being able to say that they can and do relate to a culture, and that doesn’t make them fake adherents of that.

GORDON: Let me offer another example: I’ve been camping, and I occasionally read survivalist pamphlets. For me to call myself a “survivalist” would nevertheless be inaccurate and misleading. That’s the crux of the matter, I believe.

A nerd is someone who is in this for the long haul- a person who enjoys The Avengers or Nolan’s Batman trilogy isn’t. At least, not necessarily.

EVAN: I’m not saying that a person who enjoyed The Avengers equates being a nerd. That’s like, half the Earth’s population, if the box office is any indicator.

I’m saying that a person who saw The Avengers, and then heads over to their local comics store to check some out, and gets really into it, has the potential to become a “comics nerd” of sorts. And people who see them and scorn them for not being there from the beginning should be ashamed of themselves.

If we’re sticking with the example of film and comics and so-on.

GORDON: And I agree- those people should not be viewed with derision. But that’s not who we’re talking about here.

We’re talking about ****ing hipsters, about people who have just enough knowledge of a culture to give themselves the veneer or adopting it. People who wear glasses as a ****ing fashion statement. You know the kind.

It’s about motives. The noob who is just now getting into the culture isn’t a “false” nerd- just a young one. The person who call himself or herself a nerd to co-opt the social stigma (now that it’s all but gone) deserves contempt.

EVAN: I honestly don’t think that what these people are trying to co-opt is the social stigma.

GORDON: My poor choice of words. I mean the false sense of rebellion. Like people who post pro-gay Facebook statements simply to draw attention and applause to themselves. Fake-rebels. Fair-weather activists.

EVAN: That’s fine, and I agree that these people are not to be applauded.

I just think that for the most part, people are realizing that there is a lot in the “nerd culture” that they find interesting and accessible, and are gravitating towards it. Not out of some misguided attempt to be on the edge of society, but because they legitimately enjoy whatever it is they’re trying to engage with.

GORDON: I agree- I simply don’t think it’s these people most old-guard nerds are angry at.

EVAN: But how can they differentiate? That’s a huge issue. It’s this reaction of the community against anyone that’s not legit, but without any way of truly being able to tell how people feel-

A person can go to comic-con in an elaborate costume simply because they enjoy the aesthetics and design of the character. They’re not required to know everything about them, and shouldn’t be hissed and booed at when they don’t.

GORDON: That in and of itself is another issue. If I showed up to the social justice convention dressed as Che Guevara  you’d best believe I’d better know a thing or two about the guy who I’m completely dressed up as- but we’re moving off track.

EVAN: But the point of social justice conventions isn’t to dress up as your favourite revolutionary- that’s entirely besides the point. I bring it up because it’s completely cogent to our topic, because it’s exactly what Tony Harris was railing against.

GORDON: Tony Harris ran his mouth and made a fool of himself, I ain’t trying to defend a word of what he said or wrote, only the general perspective he seems to be coming from.

EVAN: What I’m saying, without negating your points is this, and I’m going to try to wrap up since we’re 15 minutes past our cut-off, is this:

I’m someone says “LOL im such a nerd” and they wear glasses with big frames and have a Green Lantern patch on their backpack, yeah, I’d say that’s not okay. But a large issue is being able to, as a community, acknowledge when “outsiders” try to access what it is that we love so dearly.

We like comic books and Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons, and if other people might as well, that’s fine. Just because others weren’t always welcoming of us in the past doesn’t mean we should do the same to others. Especially when there’s some likelihood, even a little, that they could one day be as big a fan as you [as hard as that may be to believe].

GORDON: Well put. Be sure to stop by next time for our discussion of . . .

EVAN: Of . . . uh . . . I threw out this topic last week, what’ve you got?

GORDON: Let’s address the portrayal of drugs- weed in particular- in media and popular culture.

EVAN: That’s a pretty contemporary topic too, because of the legalization in Washington and all that. Sounds good to me.

GORDON: Let it be so then. Merry Wednesday to all, and to all a good night!

Free Information Culture

The last of my installments (for now) in looking at these rising alternative cultures is “Free Information Culture,”  which shares the same problem with “science” culture in that there’s really no good name for it yet. I’ve referred to it before as “internet culture,” only the problem with that is that, like “science culture,” it isn’t so much the culture of the thing itself as the culture of the fanbase. In simpler terms, it’s the difference between Hollywood culture and movie-lover culture- it’s the end product that’s valued.
So what’s the internet’s “end product”?

Besides porn and stuff like this…

Free Information.

Whether it’s the news, or Wikipedia, or TED Talks, or Imgur, or anything else imaginable, it’s on the internet for free and public use. It’s something of a great equalizer. No matter where you’re from, what language you speak, what class you hail from- you can create or say anything and then get called gay in the comment section.

And while that last bit is sort of a joke, it does play a role in developing the “free information culture.” Granted, general anonymity can make us vicious and vile people, but it also (to some extent) strips us of our egos. When you make something online, you really don’t get much, if any, credit, but that’s alright since it isn’t the point. It’s just about creating, nothing more or less. Who drew the first rage face? Who started up Bad Luck Brian? Who edited and sourced that one Wikipedia page you used to stitch your last minute term-paper together? Who puts together those monthly fail compilation videos? I don’t know and will probably never know, but I do know that they’ll keep coming because of the simple joy of creating them. I and every other person with a half-decent internet connection.

And all of this simply isn’t understood by some people.

Recall the massive outcry against the SOPA and PIPA bills? What prompted the creation of  these acts was that some people- certain corporations in particular- couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the idea of free and unlimited access. Now maybe you agree with them, and maintain that posting copyrighted material of any kind is piracy and immoral, however, what needs to be understood is that this was viewed as an act on the very nature of the internet and everything it had come to represent.

Again excluding porn and stuff like this…

Now more and more companies are catching on to the idea that it’s wiser to try to work with the faceless and vengeful cat-worshippers of the internet than against them- just look at video game companies that are starting to work in tandem with modders. The game Minecraft in particular is a good example of this, as many of the new aspects of each update to the game coming from the fan-forums themselves. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of people out there (I’m looking at you, Music Industry) who continue to struggle (vainly) against the dissemination of what they view to be the “information wants to be free” crowd.

Again, it all boils down the core of the culture that the internet has produced, gravitating around the concepts of freedom and egalitarianism. Look at Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

If he did his work back in the early 90s, we can be pretty sure he’d be viewed overwhelmingly as a candidate for a James Bond villain. But today we (for the most part) view him as being a heroic (or at least positive) figure in a world that’s become increasingly secretive and unequal. Why this dramatic shift in perception? Again, it’s the internet and it’s affect on us. In a time of economic crisis we might not be able to go to the movies, or eat out, or drive for miles to see a friend, but we can watch something online, or browse recipes, or video-chat with the same buddies that you’d otherwise not be able to see. Any threat to your full and unrestricted access to the internet is, by proxy, a threat to some of the last pleasures you have left.

Hence the formation of a culture obsessed with the values of free speech, free access to information, and freedom from censorship. And with every development of the internet or our access to it serving as another leap in the evolution of the culture, it’s safe to say that the howl of anger that the governments of the world met when trying to create such bills as ACTA is only going to intensify.

Fame Day: Extra Credits

Video games and video game culture gets a lot of bad press- not all of it
undeserved. However, in the midst of all the pandering, casual sexism, and juvenile sensibilities, there is a radiant beacon of hope.

Penny Arcade’s (and for a while, The Escapist’s) very own Extra Credits web show!

Even if gaming isn’t your thing, you have got to respect these guys and their weekly 11-minute clips for their neutrality and maturity alone. With the sensationalist media trying to cast even the smallest flaw of video games as the worst threat to humanity since polio, and the gaming community defending even the most idiotic element of their pastime as if it were the Dead Sea scrolls, that Extra Credits manages to remain the calm voice of reason that it is ought to be applauded.

But of course, there’s more on that. These guys are the good angel on the shoulder of the gaming industry, calling for video games to be not only a source of entertainment, but also of education and even a new form of art. Whether or not you agree with that is up to you, but you’ve got to admit- it’s a bold and noble stance in a subculture that too often obsessed with doing this:

Extra Credits, here’s to you- keep doing the great work you’re doing!

P.S.: Evan, being the meany-face that he is, is forcing me to make this post longer. Set below is one of Extra Credit’s finer videos, and an easy introduction into their more jargon-heavy clips on narrative, mechanics, and other elements of video games.

Violence (Not) In Media

In the wake of the Aurora Shooting, the Sikh Temple Massacre, and a recent spate of gun violence across the country, the debate of the violence in media has once again reared its head. On one side, those who cite the saturation of film, music, and video games with violence and the glorification of violence as responsible for creating these monsters, or at the very least, pushing them over the edge. On the other side, the ranks of apologists, who declare that it’s ridiculous to blame movies and music for mass-murder.  I’m not here to analyze the claims of either point, or to make an argument for one side or the other- that’s already been done better by The Escapist’s Robert Chipman (check it out here).

No, I’m here to address the subject of violence and its possible contributing factors outside of film and music.

When I touched on a complaints I had with movies like Brideshead Revisited and I Love You Man a few weeks ago, I briefly mentioned goth-rock-star Marilyn Manson, whose music was accused by many of being responsible for having influenced the Columbine shooters in committing the massacre. Interviewed by Michael Moore in his documentary Bowling for Columbine, Manson had this to say regarding violent influences:

And therein really lies the crux of the issue- when tragedies like this happen, the scope of our outrage is usually so small that we fail to take into account all the other possible factors. We can cite GTA or rock or rap or cartoons as being responsible and maybe- just maybe- there’s something to that. But what about everything else? If violence in media causes violence, surely violence itself should be cited here!

You remember this?

That’s Marine Corps veteran Scott Olsen, moments after he was shot in the head with a gas canister from close range. Part of the brutal crackdown by police on the Occupy Oakland protests last year- back when Mayor Jean Quan decided the best way to deal with a peaceful protest was by turning her town into a war zone.

But why talk about Oakland and countless other cities being turned into war zones when we can just talk about actual war?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is the single longest war in American history. Year after year after year, it goes on, and with no end in sight. That’s got to be the single largest and publicized campaign advocating violence, yet where is the outrage against it?

And what about hunting? That’s all about guns and the glorification of killing things…

What about Civil War Reenactors?

What about the national anthem? That thing is full of references to bombs. What about the 4th of July? A day when we celebrate our victory in a war by setting off explosives!

What about the very way we talk about violence? Should the Mob Museum here in Las Vegas be shut down? Should we do away with anything related to pirates? Should we stop teaching about the war of 1812 in schools?

And so on…

You get the idea. Ours is a culture and history built on violence. It’s in everything–  not just our media. While I’ve got my own views on what does and doesn’t cause or promote violence, my purpose here isn’t to take a side. I’m simply trying to demonstrate that if you do want to try to get into the causes of violence, you don’t get to be selective about who you put on trial.You want to find out if there was something in our world beyond the killer’s diseased mind responsible for death and destruction, you have to look at everything- anything less is just a witch hunt, pure and simple.

Let’s face it, half the time, tragedies like these are the platform from which we get to lynch things we didn’t like to begin with…

…I wonder if that kind of vicious and petty mentality might contribute to violence at all…