Not In My Game

Hey look, Gamergate opinion.

So, last month I wrote a long screedy article about GamerGate, focusing on the appropriation of the Gamer identity. There I said a lot of things about the people doing this misogynistic crap. I called them shit-golems. I’d like to apologise for not going far enough.

Any large group of people has those who believe they are the heart, but are actually the bowels. The people who you cringe when they open their collective vocal-hole, because they’re going to say something awful, and are going to say it on behalf of you too.

But it’s the responsibility of the sane majority to denounce them. It’s the responsibility of the Christian church to denounce the Westboro Church, it’s the responsibility of feminists to denounce TERFs, it’s the responsibly of the group to denounce the lunatic fringe.

Not all of the people involved in GamerGate are the lunatic fringe. Some are asking important questions about the relationship between gaming magazines and PR departments. About well-lubricated “awards ceremonies” that reward not shaking the boat. About PR companies like Play Social, who - this week - released review copies of Shadows over Mordor only to those Youtubers/Twitchers who signed a contract that promised only to concentrate on positive aspects of the game, and the ones the company talked about. About having a game go gold in September, but not give review copies out for its launch in mid-october, to maximise the amount of time before any reviews come out. There are *absolutely* massive problems of accountability and integrity in the gaming industry.

Zoe Quinn isn’t part of it, though. The original accusation - that she slept with journalists in return for publicity for her game - doesn’t match any timelines, any existing articles, or any actual proof. It’s almost as if the reporter in question recused himself from talking about anything his current partner was involved with.

A side effect of Gaming’s original central market segment being teenage boys is that a lot of the founding tropes of the industry are built on quarter-century-old male empowerment fantasies. As the industry grows up, and out, we need to sweep out some of those cobwebs, and one of the people who is shining a light in those dark places is Anita Sarkeesian, who this week cancelled an appearance in Utah because someone promised that a “Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees”.

That’s not against corruption in gaming, that’s making people terrified enough that people don’t feel safe speaking. It’s literally terrorism. 

And those people are taking anything that is *worthy* about a discussion on the morally grey areas of the industry and smothering it with so much bullshit that nobody outside can see anything else. 

But when someone writes an article criticising this part of GamerGate - the bit that is targeting women for speaking out and sending them death threats - the comments that come back are how everyone always focuses on those people and not the real issue.

When someone in your organisation is making terrorist threats, I’m sorry but that *is* the real issue now. Anything about ethical questions in the gaming industry is overshadowed by ethical questions about standing beside, and protecting, the lunatic fringe who believes they should “Just Kill” Zoe Quinn. If you want to talk about serious issues, you need to house-clean first. 

House of Leaves

I bought a book.

It’s been about five years since I bought my first Kindle, and I’ve never really looked back. I love books, I love libraries, and I love the feeling of a book in my hands. But I love more that I have a hundred books at my fingertips, carried in my pocket, and my favourite book is a momentary thought away.

I love books, but stories are more.

So in the last five years or so I’ve hardly bought any physical books at all, and this week, I bought House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. This article will not contain any spoilers for events in the book, but does discuss they style and presentation, which spoils a surprise slightly.

The surface narrative is an unfinished academic-style critique of a documentary film called “The Navidson Record”  about a normal family whose house sprouts mysterious and inconsistent dark corridors. The critique offers a scene-by-scene analysis of the film, with copious digressions and footnotes. Some of the footnotes are by the publisher, Truant, who found the critique and provides even more copious notes and digressions on the nature of the critique and his journey though understanding it. 

The book is weird in every direction. The split levels of narrative are marked by serif/monotype font changes, with occasional sections struck from the critique and retrieved by Truant marked in struck red text, the page layout and structure varies from the strange - as the footnotes expand themselves to multi-page stories - to the barely followable. At one stage you may find yourself confronting a page like this:

image

(Photo by TheMainMane)

(There, you have main text, three continuing footnote sections, and one new footnote section. It’s not a common thing in the book, but there’s a reason it’s doing that here)

 or some sections where there are only a few words per page, evoking a sense of time and space beyond that which the words alone are conveying, and sometimes at odds with it.

In this short-attention-span world, it’s been rare for me to get lost in books. House of Leaves has captured my head for hours upon hours at a time, rendering early nights invalid, and promised appointments delayed. I’m barely halfway though, and would without question recommend it.

Here’s the thing, though. If you can, get the hardback colour edition. As much as it’s a heavy physical object, it’s an amazing full use of the medium, and perhaps one of the last.

Dracula Untold

The Dracula mythos suffers like their antagonists on a sunny day from exposure. Vampires are even more done than Zombies right now, and the idea of a brand new take on the concept is not without merit. Maybe you could put them in a high-school or something.
Before I actually dig in to the film, a point of admission: I’ve never read the original Dracula book. It’s not that I have any objection to it, it’s just I haven’t actually done it. I’ve read adaptations, seen movies, seen the references, but never actually read the book. This may be an advantage here.
The big thing that the film does with the mythos is turn Vlad into the protagonist, and the hero. I’m not going to spoil anything that’s not in the trailer (for now) but basically when Vlad needs to protect his kingdom (countdom, something) from an invading army, he takes up the dark power of Vampirism. If he can resist doing anything stupid for three days, it’ll go away and he’ll be fine, otherwise he’s fucked. Hijinks ensue.
It’s not a bad reboot. Dracula’s the most interesting part of the mythos around him, and as a sympathetic character stuck between various rocks and places, the inexorable grinding towards his own doom is interesting to watch, and Luke Evans does a decent job of Troubled Hollywood Hero, but beyond the new origin story, it really doesn’t do anything different with the tropes of vampirism. One by one, the traditional banes - Silver, Sunlight, Religion etc - are brought in without any investigation or reasoning. Late in the game the film seems to suddenly realize it forgot about stakes, and does some paddle-work to make up for this. That said, the powers and abilities are presented mostly consistently. Battle sequences are invariably one-sided, with Vlad destroying foes by the hundred, until he finally comes up against someone else who’s read the tropes page. It suffers a lot from most of the best ten-second-sequences of the film having gone into the trailer,
There’s something very kryptonitey about the film’s treatment of silver vs vampires in the latter act, but it at least provides a finally interesting fight scene. 
This isn’t a movie that is going to surprise you. The winding path of the hero downwards is telegraphed like sky-writing, and the very hollywood non-progressive casting is somewhat distressing. For a film mostly fighting turks, the shear whiteness of the cast is slightly blinding, and for a modern reboot it’s sad to see the only female named character treated very poorly. Late in the film - when Vlad’s making his own vampires - there are actual powerful female characters with fight scenes and everything. It doesn’t even come close to passing Bechmel or having an excuse not to. There are a lot of decent performances in the film. Dominic Cooper’s antagonist does as much as he can with a two dimensional character, Charles Dance chews elegant savage in the scenery as the original vampire. Art Parkinson is an affable enough muguffin as vlad’s son. 
The ending telegraphs a sequel which seems to be a far more interesting reboot of the actual Dracula story, and I hope they get that far.
So basically, if you’re looking for a decent enough fantasy action movie to spend some time on, this is one. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but I didn’t regret the time spent watching it.

Glitchhikers

If you are looking for a quiet, creepy, meditative interactive experience for your Sunday afternoon, my recommendation is “Glitchhikers”, available for pay-what-you-want on http://glitchhikers.com/ for Windows or OS X.

Errant Signal does a great piece on what it is, and how it is, but I find the deconstruction breaks a lot of the initial experience of the game, so if you’ve already played it or don’t intend to, it’s here: http://www.errantsignal.com/blog/?p=697

Damnit

redhillian:

thatukp-body:

Grabbed Terminal 3 from upstairs and now she wont start and I can’t get a screen to hook up because the motherboard has male end instead of female ¬_¬ (Took out secondary video card to check it now she’s just beeping at me when I power up)

Those beeps are error codes - take a note of them, and look them up on the interwebs under “POST” (Power On Self Test) codes for your mainboard.

Thing of the day:

Since getting an Acer for my 18th birthday, I’ve never owned a bought-box PC. I’ve cannibalised and built my own. The very first one I ever built was with my dad - we’re not a Father-And-Son-Bonding-Activity kind of family, and this kind of thing is incredibly rare for us - and was built out of bits we’d bought from Simply Computers (Now part of the Misco empire).

We spent hours diligently reading the manuals, and placing each bit like we were assembling a nuclear bomb. Anything fluffy or woolly was banned from the room we worked in - including the dog, much aggrieved - until we carefully fixed everything in place and - like the rank amateurs we were - screwed the back of the case in place.

We took out the book of POST codes, 

plugged it in,

turned it on.

It beeped.

Not a single polite “Awake now” beep, comforting and secure,

Nor a double or treble - “Huston?” beep, distressing but accounted for.

No this was the siren wail of a computer miswired, misconfigured, mismanaged, a speaker wired to the power that would not ever shut up. The off-button didn’t work, and eventually we pulled the power from the back, and it died like the wicked witch of the west, screaming as it starved of power.

It didn’t come back on again, not ever.

I’ve never really found out what we did wrong. We took the bits back (In Small-World syndrome, to a warehouse within a mile of my first house in London) and paid a replacement fee, and the next time it worked, but even until this day I feel that the book of POST requires an extra entry, right at the end:

Long, continuous, high pitched, never ending beep:

You, mate, are entirely and comprehensively fucked.

My new motherboard for Graupel doesn’t even come with a motherboard speaker, there’s a segmented digital display that displays a hexadecimal code to look up in the manual (It flickers though them as it boots, so you can see how long each stage takes if you have a fast enough camera), and for a moment when I installed it, I missed the old POST codes.

Then I remembered why I haven’t installed a motherboard speaker since 2003, and the feeling passed.

Showing gamers the gate

People and labels, right? It’s a thing. 

The fundamental rule is that a person gets to decide which labels apply to them. That it doesn’t matter if they dress black and makeup white, that they went to Slimelight, that they prefer the darkness to the day, that they’re not Goth unless they say they are. That how many different labelled people you’ve fucked, loved or lusted after doesn’t change whether you’re gay, bi, pan, straight. That one person’t ethical non-monogamy is another’s polyamory, is another’s swinging, is another’s happy-fun-other-person-time. Your life, your labels, your world.

One of my labels is Gamer.

I play games.

I play computer games, with lasers and shooting and the blam-blam-blam of exploding pixels; with tactics and strategy and getting caught in nuclear war with Ghandi; with jumping and springing and collecting coins and defeating the evil dinosaur at the end; with matching of three gems in a row to make them vanish; with questing and searching and finding the book on the case that proves the murderer.

I play board games with dice, and with cards, and I play them with friends together and as adversaries.

I play Tabletop roleplay with dragons and with spells and with the rolling d20 to see if I spotted that orc.

I play LARP with rubber swords and with Gods and with secret meetings in dark corners where we plan the murder of those who most expect it; where the battle with the orcs will change the fate of the empire; where the right philosophy, cast in the right order, might save the litch whose blood just went toxic.

I play games with people, of wordplay, of expectations, of the glitches in human psychology that can be levered to a reaction. 

I am a runner of games, a designer of games, a writer of games.

I am a player of games. I am a Gamer.

There’s quite a few of us, and it’s a big tent, and one of the problems with any kind of big tent is people wish to define it not only by who is inside, but who is allowed to be. There are those who define Gamer as those who play the games they play. Be it the D&D old guard who rail against the onslaught of video games; be it the “Hardcore” videogame Call-Of-Madden’s-Duty types who rage against those who play Candy Crush on their iPhones; or be it the Nintendo-Sony-XBox-PC Triple-A purchasing crowd of mostly american white males who desperately want to keep this one last bastion treehouse free of girls.

All of them, without question, excuse or exception, can fuck directly off.

I’m not a great spokesperson for gamers. I’m another 30s white male. I have a distressing beard that doesn’t really suit me (currently, because I’m lazy), I’m out of shape. But I try my damnedest to make the world more inclusive, not less, to speak up when speaking up is needed, and to hand over the megaphone when it’s automatically given to me. (This latter is hard, I adore my megaphones). But I can only name less than half a dozen female games designers, and a few of those are only because I remember the last rounds of “N is abused on twitter for having an opinion/game”.

I’d like these shit-golems not to not be sharing the same label I use for myself, but I’m not willing to leave it to them.  I would like the carbon they are made of to be used for more worthwhile purposes, like diamond-studded “FUCK YOU” statues. 

I want them to move into the new century, to realise that more diversity, more options, more variation will make better games. I want them to realise that not all games need to be defined and categorised by their combat mechanic, and that games where you kill nobody are still games. I want them to discover the beauty in the last half hour of Dear Esther, Gone Home, The Stanley Parable. To realise that Depression Quest is not about winning. That Every Day The Same Dream does not need a first-person-shooter remake. Not even to like them, to play them, to enjoy them; but to understand that they exist, they don’t take away from the Games they prefer (and, in fact, can add to them).

It’s a big tent, and we can make it stronger by getting more canvas, putting up more poles, and inviting everyone inside to play together, or not together, but at the same time. 

And to please stop being misogynistic shit-golems. That’d be great too.

stele3:

Ferguson Police have dogs and shotguns. The unarmed crowd is raising their hands.

For anyone not following the Mike Brown story on Twitter: a 17 year old black boy named Mike Brown, who was supposed to start college tomorrow, was shot to death in Ferguson, Missouri by police while jaywalking. He was unarmed. He was shot 9 times.

Initial media reports claimed that an 18 year old black man had been shot and killed while fleeing police after shoplifting.

People in the neighborhood, including members of Mike Brown’s family, came out of their homes and began to protest, shouting “no justice, no peace,” and keeping their hands in the air.

Media reports claimed that a violent mob quickly formed around the shooting location shouting “kill the police.”

Spread this. Tell the truth about what happened to this boy. Tell the truth about what is happening NOW. The police and the mainstream media is painting him as a criminal, and his community as a violent mob.

SPREAD THIS. Don’t let them lie.

I am in the middle of a field, in a tent.

While a man dressed as Annubis watches

While I fix a printer so that

A blessing of Nemisis can be given

To a champion of Greece who

Died fighting the forces of Persia while

King Minos watched on.

Later the Champion will arrive at my desk in another tent, after his God granted him one last day of Glory.

And over two hundred other players will never know any of this,

But will have their own stories for this ten minutes

Instead and

As well.

How to make Iced Coffee

Take a normal sized French press (I’m using a Bodum Kenya 4 Cup Coffee maker)

Put in about half a packet of coffee (I’m using Tesco’s finest strongish coffee, because while good quality coffee is good, this takes half a packet per cafetière) (By half a packet, I mean about 110-120g, precision fans)

Stir it to make all the coffee wet.

Leave it for ten hours or so.

Filter it (For this, I plunge the french press, and then strain the remainder though a coffee filter. Which is, hilariously, the first time in around two decades I’ve used coffee filters for something not involving vodka)

Fridge the resulting coffee concentrate for a few hours, or until you’re ready to drink it.

In a glass, add a couple of ice cubes (If you feel enthusiastic, you can freeze some of the coffee into ice cubes and use those to not dilute the result) and enough coffee to cover them, a splash of simple syrup (sugar won’t dissolve) and another splash of milk or milk substitute (I like it with almond milk) to taste.

Enjoy (Optional).

 

RIPR is bad

Recently on Facebook I got into a discussion on why the government having unregulated access to any data on the internet is a thing I don’t like. In an attempt to stop posting content into the locked-box of Facebook, it’s here too.

So, the issue - for me, other people may be more militant - is that right now I - as a citizen - have no protection against the police. To arrest me, they need probable cause. To search my house, they need a warrant. To get my personal data from my bank, from my ISP, from my water company they need a legal document *about me* that explains why they want it and a judge has to approve it. The measures the government are currently using, the ones that they want to keep, and the ones they have been using on the *flimsiest* of legal technicalities, allow the security services to access and record my data (which includes financial transactions, personal relationships, business proposals, and data which I am under *legal obligation* to protect to the best of my ability to be not allow access by third parties) without notification, without record, without probable cause, and without protection from abuse. That’s me as a citizen.

Second issue is that I personally own a server, which provides internet services to people I know and trust. It’s SSH access, it’s email forwarding, it’s web hosting. Am I an ISP? Am I under obligation to keep the data that goes though my server? I’m not doing it as a business, I’m a private individual. If I do, then I simply can’t do it. First, morally, but also I don’t have the disk space to keep all this data for three years, and I’m not willing to be responsible for the security of it. That’s why I only forward emails in the first place. It will force me to cease to offer *to my friends* access to a property *that I own* because the government think they have a right to look inside it. It’s not quite being legally obliged to allow an employee to live in my house and record conversations I have when my friends are around, but it’s not far off.

And last, I am a white male, 18 to 35. I do not have any traditional reason to believe the government is predisposed to assume I’m guilty, and *I* have all these problems with the concept of my data being kept without any legal process; I can’t imagine the feelings of people who have good, and historically backed, reasons to believe the government does not have their freedom of expression at heart.

Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative

There’s a book available on Steam. Well, kind of a book, an interactive story based thingy, called “Portal 2: The FInal Hours”, and because I find Valve’s development process fascinating, I own it. One of the things it says is that for a long time in development, Portal 2 was going to use a completely new mechanic, one they’ve never put in a game before. Then, for a while it was based on the Gel gun. In the full game, you don’t get to put down Gel yourself, it gets pumped out of static pipes, and you can direct it with Portals. 

One of the differences between Portals 1 & 2 is that the new game slashed out the more pixel-perfect requirements of jumping. There aren’t any points where you *need* to do a precision jump into that portal there, it’s part of the reason the Aeriel Plates exist. If you missed the pixel precision, die and repeat puzzles from Portal 1, this is very much the game for you.

The setting is straight out of Portal. Somewhere between 1 & 2 of the main series, Nigel the Personality Sphere wakes up a test subject to put them though some experimentations with a new device they’ve cooked up. In this case, a device that shoots speed gel and bounce gel. Go forth.

This is a good game. It’s 27 levels of More Portal-style game, with its own spin on the formula. The plot is lifted, along with some of the jokes, from the first two thirds of the first game. The voice acting is good and the script is funnier than most full games. The level design is a couple of notches higher in sheer bastardry than the main game, with occasional lacks in knowing exactly what you are supposed to *do* next, but it does a good job of, once you know what you should be doing next, keeping the feeling of failure to being “I missed that jump” rather than “fuck this fucking game with a rusty portal gun”. There are a few instances where I felt like I was playing against the game rather than solving puzzles. Unless I’ve missed a trick somewhere, a couple of the solutions feel more like exploiting edge-cases of the physics system than a logical use of the tools at hand. 

Steam says I spent five hours playing it, and that was from beginning to end. At least 45 minutes of that was spent on one single level (entirely skippable, by a different route, for the game *knows* that this one is a bastard), a speed run of the most aerobic moves in the game where one slip will kill you.

The biggest problem the game’s got is that it’s up right next to, and directly comparable, to Valve, a company at the top of its game. I get the feeling when playing it that this is basically an alternate universe Portal, but in the hands of a less competent developer. This is in no way a slight to Eugenio Roman and the team who made it, but a few of the raw edges just feel more jagged in the engine that brought us the polished diamond shine of Portal 2.

That said, it’s currently £3.50 - normally £5 - for around five hours of portal-style spacial puzzling, and I’d recommend you buy it.

EOTE2 - London Town

EOTE2 – London Town

I awoke from dreams of a blue plague, on a train out of the city.

I returned to London this weekend.

The letter from the doctor said I was clear, my infection wasn’t fatal, and that I was cleared to return for periods of not more than twelve hours.

Jenna also got a letter, which was harder.

The guard at the station took my letter and checked it against the registry, and let me inside. I was…

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