Tag Archives: games

Binary Notions of Sex and Gender

The newest version of Dungeons & Dragons launched on July 3, 2015.

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition: Basic Rules v0.1:

You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior. For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your character to leave that society and come to the surface.

You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.

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Re: Video games, art and noise

Re: Video games, art and noise

Finding a voice between pop and counter-culture.


4+ years ago, when I first launched TheStarrList.com as a Tumblr blog, I sought to explain underground and often dismissed media to the average reader. I donned the blog’s subtitle with “Making Sense of the Media Around You” and filled it with weekly album reviews, DVD to Blu-ray comparisons, and “best of” lists.

I poured my energy into a Top 100 Albums of the 2000s post filled with 100 mini album reviews; ripped and analyzed The Sound of Music Blu-ray vs. DVD, projecting the comparison to an audience more concerned with post-hardcore music and Star Wars (though, I compared that too). There were even experiments with video game reviews from Uncharted 3 to Limbo and micro-movie reviews during Oscar season.

In 2012, I switched from Tumblr to WordPress format to focus on longer-form writing with a bit more structure and professionalism. To my surprise, the blog saw incredible growth, at least by my standards. TheStarrList.com was now a much richer and dynamic experience.

Two years later, I find myself wondering what its primary theme is as it’s beginning to feel like a catch-all for my scattered thoughts.

Art and Noise

Required reading: Video games, art and noise | The Guardian

“It matters to me that on Monday morning, seven million Today listeners heard games being dismissed on the basis of a tiny minority of the annual output. It matters how consensus develops around new artistic forms.” – Keith Stuart, The Guardian

When I woke to The Gaurdian’s “Video games, art and noise” by Keith Stuart, a lightbulb switched on. Stuart’s arguments about loud yet uninformed “minority output” broadcasting to millions, discounting entire mediums and genres had my memory zipping back to my Tumblr blog.

Even with grand-scale digital publishing and hashtag/retweet filtration, there still remains a large population not savvy to the cultural trends of millennials and their collective, connected views of technology’s impression on art. Suddenly it became clear why I had written pieces on Blu-ray remasters of classic films and a defensive for Skrillex.

In my line of work, a sliver of my time is spent curating niche content and broadcasting it to a large audience. Though popular consensus informs us that heavy-hitters will continue to rise to the top, I find more validity in the little guy. Generations will always include masses discounting change and evolution (queue Patton Oswalt on home birth), unwilling to invest the time and effort to understand what makes WhatsApp a worthy investment or dismissing replay rules in professional sports. Cultural relevance is the reason I continue to educate myself on topics I don’t fully understand (and hopefully never will). I fear the day I will fail to understand my children.

“You would never debate the artistic potential of cinema by focusing solely on mainstream Hollywood films.” – Keith Stuart, The Guardian

In defense of Sarah Kent, I understand backlash when taking a hard stance on something I have either strong bias for and/or ignorance of. (See my discourse with @ryanruppe regarding Salon writer Jeff Bryant’s “Common Core propaganda fails“) Hopefully Keith’s piece sparks re-evaluation of video games as art; with outreach to millions, simply writing-off an entire medium/stance/genre is extremely damaging. Raise questions. Avoid absolutes.

My Voice

All told, when I read Keith’s piece, I found my voice. I simultaneously felt his passion for a discounted and controversial medium that is globally enjoyed by hundreds of millions (potentially billions) and understood why I feel the need to disperse nuggets of pop culture into pieces about demographically discounted art. (Queue Glenn Close’s “Devil Wears Prada” cerulean sweater monologue)

“The education system is starting to realize, we feel like we’re competing with this barrage of entertainment that’s around kids, nonstop, all the time. I think initially that was shocking to them. TV is the enemy. Heavy metal is the enemy. Video games are the enemy. They’re starting to ask, what if we could harness that instead of making it the enemy? So it’s actually a parallel maturation.” – Erin HoffmanGlassLab

It should go without saying that today’s technology is ripe to educate on topics previously left abandoned in generational gaps succinctly. However, we are shown time and time again that there is need to challenge generational qualms and societal push-back. It is these generational gaps that keep me finely tuned to the video game industry and passionate about explaining its impact and relevance in the pop culture space.

At an early age, unlike sports or academics, I learn that I could best my parents at video games. It was a participatory and wondrous medium imbued with both technology and art that empowered me to level adult vs. child, teacher vs. student playing field. With that, I sign off referencing links to my reviews and opinions on games that may have been overlooked by the larger audience yet are critical to popular culture; the solitary theme that runs through my blog.

Thanks to Keith for opening my eyes to my writing through-line.


Humanity in Hearthstone: How Blizzard is changing the diversity game.

Monument Valley – A Review: The beauty of brevity. The pleasure of paradox.

Why Game?: An ode to the impact of early console gaming.

Journey: 1 Year Later: Celebrating this generation’s most important work of art.


Originally posted on TheStarrList.com

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Mobile is burning, and free-to-play binds the hands of devs who want to help

Mobile is burning, and free-to-play binds the hands of devs who want to help

Barry Meade of Fireproof Games writing for Polygon:

In 2013 mobile games made over $10 billion globally and allegedly this is great. $10 billion sounds a lot, it is a lot, but the makers of Candy Crush alone took almost $2 billion. Throw in the top ten and there’s most of your games market gone; hoovered up by ten cute grinding games that are clones of each other. Any remaining change from that money is scraped off the table and scattered across a games industry trying to service a billion devices.

A 2 percent “engaged’ audience does not seem towering in achievement for a creative industry that looks to draw its players into new experiences. We’re living in a world where Netflix’s content inspires hysteria in grown adults, so is mobile gaming really in the same league when 98 percent of its gamers spend more on pencil sharpeners than games made by our billion-dollar leaders?

In my experience, The Room sparks the same water-cooler conversations for non-gamers that Myst did. It appears Monument Valley is doing the same, as experienced with my non-gaming colleagues. I think “the binge” has hindered the TV water-cooler conversation now that everyone is on their own schedule. Delivery of challenging and original yet “polished” and “possible” experiences can bring back the general audience gaming conversations we had on the playground.

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Humanity in Hearthstone

Humanity in Hearthstone

How Blizzard is changing the diversity game.


 It is an understatement to say that diversity in gaming has become a hot topic as of late. Themes of sexuality, racial prominence, and gender depiction are now a hotbed for passionate discussion across developer, journalist, and player communities.

From 2012 to 2013, the number of games showcased at E3 featuring a playable female protagonist rose from 2% to 6%. Reluctance to include the theme of sexuality is being countered more frequently by games such as Gone HomeThe Last of Us, and Mass Effect. This is clear evidence that players are yearning for character dynamic and identity in their games. Video games are a medium that exudes immersion more than any other, and in turn becomes the perfect platform for sympathetic and relatable storytelling.

On April 16, 2014, Blizzard Entertainment released their latest foray Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to the iPad. As a free-to-play (F2P) digital collectible card game (CCG) built by a AAA developer that prides itself on the promise of polish with a highly reputable back-catalog, it is an extremely inviting and sure to be incredibly popular download. From testing with a PC/Mac open-bata to trickling the iOS version out to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada prior to world-wide launch, Blizzard was sure this game would be a massive hit.

At the news of Hearthstone for iPad’s launch, I was extremely excited to see what the buzz was about. After rave reviews across the industry, I could not wait to invest in this new Blizzard title that seemed perfectly suited for the tablet platform. Upon launching the game, I assumed I would be given the opportunity to select/create a character and possibly build a deck. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Ultimately, Hearthstone does not include a single protagonist. From Orcs to Elves, Druids to Barbarians, players are eventually offered the chance to unlock a collection of Heroes to chose from. Many veteran CCG players will understand this at the onset. What they may not realize is that they will be forced to begin their Hearthstone experience in a tutorial as Human Mage, Jaina Proudmoore. A female.

This tutorial consists of six ‘missions,’ each introducing details about the game’s mechanics and subtleties. Each ‘mission’ sets the protagonist Jaina against an eccentric opponent, throwing out comical comments that unfold their caricature against a backdrop of the colorful and cartoony tones of the Warcraft universe. Jaina faces her six opponents in the following order:

Six males versus one female. This alone is a powerful statement that will likely slip into the unconscious if not willingly observed.

Sex aside, characters banter back and forth throughout matches. Each foe’s optimistic attitude is met with Jaina’s cautious yet powerful tone. The addition of voice-acting helps build a bond between player and protagonist. Like reading through Katniss Everdeen’s struggles in The Hunger Games, it is nearly impossible not to build a trusting connection with Jaina, rooting for her to defeat each of the tutorial’s quirky baddies.

The initial tutorial took me roughly one hour to complete. Once finished, I felt an attachment to Jaina. Not only had we defeated six opposing (male) Heroes without fail together, we had conquered the powerhouse that is Illidan Stormrage even though the game told us we couldn’t. (A comical, clever and original design choice)

While Jaina and I must spend more time together in order to unlock additional playable Heroes and decks, I am not racing to change protagonists. This tutorial has certainly bonded me to Jaina and is likely to do the same for most players: young and old, male and female.

As subtle and simple as it may appear, Blizzard has made a bold move as a AAA developer in building a tutorial showcasing a powerful female protagonist against six male rivals. Forcing hardcore veterans and casual novices to learn from, protect, and assist a female protagonist in what has the potential to become the largest cross-platform game is a great leap for the cause of diversity in gaming; however, the job is far from done.

—–

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is currently available for PC, Mac and iPad.


Originally published on TheStarrList.com

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Save developers and you will save your soul

  • 130 layoffs, Nintendo (Eurogamer, 6/6/14)
  • 37 layoffs, Harmonix (Polygon, 5/29/14)
  • 20% of staff across development and marketing, Trendy Entertainment (GamesIndustry International, 5/21/14)
  • 16 layoffs, Rare (IGN, 5/19/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, PopCap (Polygon, 3/13/14)
  • 700 layoffs, Disney Interactive (Joystiq, 3/6/14)
  • 27 layoffs, Eidos (Joystiq, 3/4/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, Sony Santa Monica (Joystiq, 2/27/14)
  • 70 layoffs, Irrational Games (Joystiq, 2/18/14)
  • 12 layoffs, Eutechnyx (Joystiq, 2/18/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, Ghost Games (Joystiq, 2/1/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, EA Salt Lake (Joystiq, 1/30/14)
  • 3423+ industry layoffs from 1/7/13 – 10/29/13 (GameJobWatch.com)

In a discussion on IGN’s Game Scoop!. the Daemon Hatfield, Greg Miller, Justin Davis, and Brian Altano discussed the Sony Santa Monica layoffs and the ongoing (and seemingly permanent) “ramp up / layoff” structure of AAA studios. During this discussion, the panel made comments around the need for the video game industry to unionize and operate in similar fashion to the film industry:

Daemon Hatfield: “I wonder if the video game industry should be more like the movie industry. You have a crew that works on a movie and when the movie is done, they go on to their next project. They are not full-time employees.”

Greg MIller: “Do you think as far as unionizing?”

DH, Justin Davis, and Brian Altano confirm and agree.

DH: “You have a director that runs a movie, he brings on his crew, they make the game…”

JD: “You assemble a “dream team” for each project. A director has certain DPs and other key positions [and] likes to collaborate with the same people over and over. Presumably all of those people that are one step down also have people they like and they bring their whole crew with them. You get the one guy and then you get his crew.”

GM: “I guess that kind of already happens right?”

BA: “Sort of.”

JD: “It happens a little bit but the issue is that it disrupts people’s insurance and things like that. If there was a union, the equivalent of a SAG card or something, you could just move from project to project. In my opinion (and I haven’t done a tremendous amount of reach on this), but on the surface it seems like something that would be healthy for this business.”

While, many devs may benefit from negotiated salaries, working conditions, hours, and insurance coverage, further research into unions does not seem to offer a terrible amount of protection from layoffs. Nor does it appear that the film industry works this way.

According to Lawyers.com, how a union benefits an employee during a layoff is largely dependent on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). In short, layoffs of union employees are usually handled on a measure of seniority. The source also goes on to mention the benefits of The Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act (WARN):

Generally, WARN requires employers with 100 or more workers to give you 60 days’ advance notice of some closings and “mass layoffs.” A closing can mean the shut-down of a plant or facility. “Mass layoff” has very specific meanings, but basically it means that a substantial number of workers are being laid off for more than six months. –Lawyers.com

Systems such as WARN would appear to be very valuable for developers in the wake of the seemingly immediate purge of Irrational and Sony Santa Monica employees.

There is a looming fear that if the industry continues at this pace, great artists, programmers, engineers, writers, and the like will be swayed away from from the games industry, potentially diminishing the quality of games released. There is no doubt in my mind that the allure of working on a video game will continue to attract skilled creatives; however, lengthy tenure is sure to wane.

Some will argue that AAA isn’t for everyone and indie development is on the rise. While I agree, many of the skills possessed by indie devs were likely gained from experience at larger studios.

I have never been a developer, part of union, or involved in the film industry. I would appreciate any and all correction of the above information from those with experience.

Should video game developers unionize? Does the film industry actually work in this manner? Does a union offer more protection from layoffs than mentioned above? What is your solution to the state of video game development? Are things fine the way they are?

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Launching Operation Supply Drop

Launching Operation Supply Drop
Polygon

What helps soldiers? Food? Toiletries? Video Games?

Machuga knows a guy, his Stryker driver in Iraq, who didn’t make the transition. He got out of the military in 2005, then spent the next five years trying to reintegrate and failing. He reenlisted, got sent to Afghanistan.

“Anybody who’s been out of the military has that point in their life where they’re kind of floating,” Machiga says. “They’re just like, they’re not happy with civilian life, because there’s nothing like the military out there. You find yourself driving past enlistment stations and thinking, ‘I should just stop by. I’m not actually going to do it. I’m just going to go inside and see what’s going on.’ And he fell into that trap.”

Machuga wanted to send his buddy something to help him pass the time, so he put together a care package of video games. With help from Activision’s Dan Amrich, he scraped together a set of Guitar Hero and DJ Hero games and shipped them out as a standard 20x20x20, under 70-pound care package, plenty to keep a soldier occupied. His driver loved it. And it got the other soldiers talking.

“Suddenly a dozen guys from his unit start going, ‘Hey, this is great, we could use some love too!’ I was like, ‘Oh shit, what have I started?'” says Machuga. “So I started packing up what was left and sent that as well. That’s what snowballed the whole thing.”

– Russ PItts, Polygon

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StarCraft 2 player receives the sport’s first US athlete visa

StarCraft 2 player receives the sport’s first US athlete visa
Polygon

Professional StarCraft 2 player from South Korea Kim “ViOLet” Dong Hwan recently became the first person from the eSport to obtain a P-1A visa from the American government, his representatives at Cyber Solutions Agency announced.

– Tracey Lien, Polygon

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If you love games, you should refuse to be called a gamer

If you love games, you should refuse to be called a gamer
NewStatesman

A delightfully provocative read about the idea of gaming as a community. I will also recommend that you swing by GamesAndLearning.org and play through Gone Home:

Video games are the most profitable medium in the entertainment industry. In the early 1990s Nintendo generated more annual profits than all of the American film studios combined. But despite its size, the medium’s audience is often referred to as a homogenous group. Players and commentators talk of the ‘gaming community’, as if the cross-cultural, socially diverse mass of humans who play video games is somehow uniform in gender, race, age and class. The idiocy of the term is only too clear when applied to other media such as literature (the ‘reading community’?), music (the ‘listening community’?) or film (the ‘observing community’?).

– Simon Parkin, NewStatesman

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Second gaming ceasefire held for Sandy Hook but skepticism remains

Second gaming ceasefire held for Sandy Hook but skepticism remains
Polygon

Shooter “ceasefire” sincerity stimulates sticky situation

The event has also drawn criticism. One of the key issues raised during last year’s event was the way in which a “ceasefire” inadvertently created a connection between violent video games and violent actions in the real world. With the media, politicians and various lobbies frequently making that connection on their own, it was seen as fuel for an already problematic image of video games.

According to technology and entertainment writer Daniel Nye Griffiths, whose work has appeared in Forbes and Wired UK, while he doesn’t doubt that the ceasefire is coming from a sincere place, such an event is tricky for multiple reasons.

– Tracey Lien, Polygon

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