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Roll on Blogroll, Roll on!

I’m still updating the blogroll. It is taking so long because for each link I’m adding, I’m also trying to look at the blogs they link to. Of course that means I have to look at their links and so on and so on.

Of course I’m not putting every link in the blogroll. I’m trying to be generous but I am also trying to make some (fairly arbitrary) limits on what I’ll link to. Obviously, if someone’s racist, sexist, homophobic, or something like that I’m not going to link to that person’s site. Luckily, I haven’t ran into any blogs that have content like that so far.

Other, perhaps more subtle, criteria include freshness. If someone hasn’t updated in over a year I’m not going to add that person’s blog. I think I’ve written about this before but it does sometimes hurt to cut the blog of a person who has written some really great stuff but seems to have abandoned blogging.

Another criteria: game design. I’m not really into making games so blogs that seem to be overly or exclusively devoted to designing games are proably not blogs I, personally, would enjoy reading. So I’m not linking to them.

The final major category is probably the most controversial: Nintendo. If a blog seems to be too Nintendo-centric, I’m more likely to skip it. While lots of people love Mario and Link, I’m not particularly enamored with them. I haven’t owned a Nintendo console since the NES and while I’ve got a Gameboy Advance SP somewhere, I never really played it. I don’t have anything against Nintendo, I just don’t really have much interest in reading or writing about them or their games. Which is, of course, highly ironic considering my contributions to the upcoming Encyclopedia of Video Games…!

new web host

I’ve switched to a new web host so some things may be broken. hopefully I will get things sorted in the next day or so. I know I have to get my blogroll back but it looks like I’ll have to do that manually so that might take a while.

I think the images are working but other things might be broken so be patient.

If nothing else messing with this is a good excuse to not be writing!

I’m working on updating the links and in the process trimming the blogs that sadly haven’t updated in over a year and adding new blogs I find. If there are any out there I should add, feel free to let me know.

Valve Software is a Worker’s Paradise? Maybe for the Bourgeoisie…

A few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about Valve Software’s New Employee Handbook and some other things like a blog post by Michael Abrash, a podcast with Gabe Newell, and a story on Bloomberg Business Week. All of them paint a picture of Valve as being a Worker’s Paradise where there are no bosses and everyone can do what they want and everyone rides around on magical giant puppy dogs.

Somehow I have a hard time swallowing that pill. It tastes kind of bitter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Valve games as much as anyone. I like Steam. Portal 2 is the only game I’ve paid full price for in years. The New Employee Handbook paints a picture that is awesome. I would love to work there.

Well, let me modify that statement: I would love to work there as someone involved in making games. That’s a key requirement and the reason why I don’t really believe Valve is the Worker’s Paradise everyone seems to eager to want to believe it is. Even with statements from Portal co-creator Kim Swift claiming there actually are bosses at Valve, I think there is still a lot of work that isn’t taken into account in this idealistic story.

I’m a terrible grad student and so before I went all Marxist I wanted to make sure I was correct on who were the Proletariat and who were the Bourgeoisie. When I did I found out that according to Wikipedia, Bourgeoisie is derived from the Old French word for walled city which I think makes sense since I think the creative class at Valve are living a live largely walled off from the Proletariats who make it possible for the games to be made.

Pyramid of Capitalist System
Pyramid of Capitalist System

I’m sure that the designers and people coding the games probably find the situation described in the handbook and elsewhere to be largely accurate but what about the other people who work at Valve? What about the people responsible for keeping the Valve website up? Or playtesters? Or the people responsible for keeping Steam working? Or heck, what about the janitors or the people responsible for keeping the refrigerator stocked and clean? I really doubt that those people really have the freedom to do whatever they want or can just go off on their own and start making Half-Life 3 or something. I would love to be proven wrong, though.

I don’t want to trash Valve too much here. I really do enjoy their products. I just think that when we hear about something that just sounds too good to be true, we need to step back and look at what is left unsaid and ask some questions.

In other words… Don’t Believe the Hype:

See, I told you so!

In my last post, I wrote about hoping for more work on videogame history that went beyond the now standardized canon of videogame history.

Now, a Gamasutra article explores how even that standardized canon may not be all that accurate. The article shows that when it comes to the early days of videogaming, a lot of the details are fuzzy at best. If, as the article shows, the actual North American release date of Super Mario Bros. can’t be verified, then we have some real work to do.

I wonder if someone could get a kickstarter project funded for a multiyear project to do some in depth archival research and ethnographic work in order to heavily cite some of the history of videogames?

Too Much Videogame History

I thought it would be good to try to provide a brief history of LAN parties and LAN games in the intro to my dissertation. This has turned out to be a surprisingly tough thing to do.

Although there seem to be no shortage of great books about videogame history, there still seems to be some big gaps. As useful as books like The Ultimate History of Video Games, Replay, and Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames are, I still had a lot of trouble finding the “first” game to allowed people to link together two or more personal computers together and play with one another. I’m not blaming these books at all because in all the history of videogames that is a pretty specific thing to try to find.

Moreover, finding the “first” of anything is pretty tough to do anyway if only in part because of the difficulty in defining what a “videogame” is. For example, Wikipedia has decided that “video” in “video game” traditionally refers to a raster display device if only because people who seems to be most interested in the article have chosen that definition.

I guess what I’m saying is that it would be nice if we could get some “new” history. Something that didn’t rehash the Atari-ET-Nintendo-Tetris highlights. Something that finds out something about the proto-videogames, home computing, and those other things.

February

Although it may have been a really warm winter, it is still winter. School starts again. Teaching again. Grading again. Not blog posting again!

In between trying to finish this dissertation, trying to find a job, teaching, and all that stuff I’ve neglected the blog.

In Defense of the WTF-ness of Games

A few years ago I ran across a Korean FPS called Nitro Family which at the time declared “the weirdest FPS ever” in part because part of the premise is that you play a man who is carrying around his wife on his back and when you fill up your meter you can shoot your wife into the air and she will rain down destruction on the enemies.

Well, since that time, however, I’ve played a few other games that certainly give Nitro Family a run for its money. For example there’s ZPC which uses the Marathon 2 engine and has graphics seemingly designed to cause seizures and make you ask, “WTF?”:

Then there’s You Are Empty which reminded me of Half-Life 2 but with zombie nurses. Then you get to one of the art-film-like cut scenes and once again “WTF?” comes to mind:

You Are Empty seems positively normal compared to the premise of Operation Matriarchy which looks like it uses the Quake 1 engine and has the following WTF backstory:

A planet-wide epidemic caused by an extraterrestrial virus totally changed all women of the planet of Velian. Their bodies transformed to become parts of collective intelligence, presumably controlled by some non-humanoid creatures. The Velian men proved to be resistant to the virus, but they lost their status of free intelligent beings and only existed as suppliers of biomaterial for further gene experimentation and as parts of complex biomechanical systems. The society became now a kind of matriarchal hive.
The Galactic Federation lost several dozens of transports due to enemy attacks in the second half of the 24th century. A deep analysis of the situation made it clear that the aggressor comes from the Velian star system. It is there that the Federation is sending an expeditionary corps to destroy the hostile civilization that threatens the very existence of the human race and to investigate the fate of the missing colonists.
You are a trooper of the government army sent with the expeditionary force to attack Velian. As you accomplish missions given to you at the headquarters, you get new opportunities in selection of weapons and military equipment. Each mission will also get you closer to the secret of the origin of the Velian anomaly of the human race.

The most recent game that made me exclaim, “WTF?” is Venus Hostage. Venus Hostage starts with you playing a man who meets a blind date who you promptly have R-rated sex complete with polygonal bare breasts. You get knocked out and then spend the rest of the game trying to escape from a bunch of leather clad guys who look like they were modeled after The Gimp in Pulp Fiction and solving like one of the Penumbra games.

Playing these games got me to thinking about the kinds of games that the gaming community tends to heap praise on and how these games certainly aren’t among them. They are weird, buggy, bizarre, and frequently not even that much fun. And yet they were created by people who were trying to do something different, something unique.

Especially when it comes to First-Person Shooters, we often complain about how so many games seem copying each other. With all the Modern Battle of Honor games out there it is easy to have that mentality. So when a game like Nitro Family or Operation Matriarchy comes along I think it should get a bit more attention than it deserves — the kind of attention that some of the more obviously arty games get.

The notion of “affect” is one that is gets used by a lot of academics these days. I’m not an expert in affect. I’ve had long conversations with colleagues about what exactly affect is and I’m still not entirely sure. I don’t know why I play these games. Maybe it is some kind of affect, I don’t know.

What I do know is that these games do have something that makes me say, “WTF?” and I, for one, am going to embrace that.

Mountains of Misogyny

It seems like the last month has been a great one for all the he-man-woman-haters not only in gaming but in comic books as well. (To be pedantic, not all the things I’ve seen are clear cut examples of misogyny. Some of them may more accurately be called examples of sexism against women.)

It started a few months ago with the case of powersgaming.com who was having a launch event for Battlefield 3 and on the page describing the event they wrote:

“Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts. Though we’ve done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we’ve certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event.”

This post got picked up by a lot of websites and the powersgaming people started editing and changing their website. (Missing out on saving some of the edits of their page is what was what finally convinced me to install the scrapbook firefox extension). At one point they posted a “misogyny statement” which read, in part, as follows:

This is the truth about the “misogyny” statement, why we had it on our event page, and the reason it was posted there.

We started these events back in ’99, and always allowed women to attend. Keep in mind this is a private function held on private property with no more than 25 attendees. I would say 1/4 of our attendees back then were wives or girlfriends or simply women we’ve met in the gaming biz. It was like having a bunch of friends over for a backyard BBQ; nothing more. But on one occasion we had a guy named “Joe” show up who was being a total jerk to a girl gamer named “Jane” (not real names) to the point where she complained to my daughter. We kept an eye on the situation, and yeah, Jane was right; Joe was a complete a**. Warnings to Joe went nowhere, so we tossed him out the front door and finished the event. Jane had a great time and remains a good friend of ours. Joe.. We never saw again.

Afterwards, we had to make a choice. Since we didn’t know this “Joe” guy before he signed up, how could we keep this from happening again ? Sure we could deal with it if another “Joe” showed up, but honestly we come to these events to have fun and relax, not to police morons like Joe.

So, we made a decision to invite guys only, and that “misogyny” post (below) was based on the above experience; that’s it.

Like most of their edits this too has been taken down. Luckily for me I was in the middle of revising my chapter on masculinity and these guys were perfect examples of performances of masculinity.

The thing that neither the people on the site nor any of the sites I saw criticizing them noted that aside from the obvious issue of punishing women for the actions of a man, the site is also full of casual sexism as well. The group’s message boards — and indeed the very posting that got them in trouble in the first place — has lots of examples of using pictures of women as sex objects. So even though the website has tried to erase all traces of their discrimination they still display their sexism on their sleeves…

 

 

In the comic book world, DC recently rebooted their comics (except in certain cases like Batman and Green Lantern and the Legion of Super-Heroes where they didn’t) and a couple of the characters, namely Catwoman and Starfire, were depicted as as basically vapid sex objects.

I bring up comics because the new Batman game is out and I don’t think I’ll be playing it because it seems to be “super duper sexist” (warning this link is written by someone pretending to be the Hulk and as such is written exclusively in caps which is really off-putting).

 

 

Even if the game turns out not to be so sexist, I know one site I won’t be reading about it on: Destructoid. I never really went to their site that often any way because I never liked them ever since they got their start at E3 back in the day by walking around while wearing a robot head and photobombing other people’s interviews.

 

 

So between this and reading that not only are some men who want to make videogames sexist but so are some of the people who make them, it has been a disheartening few weeks.

Is there any good news?

Internet Researchers 2011 presentation

As is my habit, here is the powerpoint slides from my presentation for the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Seattle next week:

As is always the case with conference papers this is severely cut down from the actual dissertation chapter. However, I hope that it makes the point that we need to reevaluate and redefine our assumptions regarding the concept of “third places.”

Edge vs. PC Gamer: Two Covers Enter… And then Leave…

Last week I got both my newest issue of Edge magazine (I’m in the USA so there is probably a newer issue out in the UK already) and PC Gamer in the mail on the same day. PC Gamer just eliminated their cover disk which means it wasn’t in plastic so I flipped through it first and then opened the bag Edge came in and noticed this:

They aren’t exactly the same image but they are quite similar. I think Edge is better since it is more sedate but the neon colors are a bit odd to my eye.

This isn’t the first time that two magazines have had similar cover images. In fact, once Edge and Gamepro had nearly the exact same image on their covers.