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Month: January 2018

The Real World of Online Harassment

When I saw that the first speaker in the Edmonton Public Library’s Forward Thinking Speaker Series was going to be Anita Sarkeesian talking about The Real World of Online Harassment I made sure to set a reminder so that I could buy tickets as soon as humanly possible. I don’t know how long it took to sell out; it may not have been necessary to jump on that six minutes after they went on sale. But I know I did not want to worry about it because a talk like this could not be more relevant to my interests. I am not going to rehash what was done to her in this space. You probably already know, and if you don’t, you don’t have to take my word for it. But she began the talk by saying that she would much rather be known for what she does, rather than what was done to her. And what she does is very important: she is not talking about misogyny within the confines of academia using language that most people don’t understand. Just as Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are bigger as communicators than they are as scientists, I think one of the most important things about her work is that it speaks to ordinary people and talks about things that are important to us like our video games. Being effective at engaging such a broad audience is something that is very difficult to do. I think she did a fine job of this on Wednesday evening, but it was inevitable that not everyone can be engaged in the same way at the same time. I have found the same thing about reading Crash Override: I find many parts of it very interesting. But then they have to take a step back to explain things to the parts of the audience that have not been closely following this subject matter for many years. It’s not exactly news to me that Twitter exists and has woefully inadequate mechanisms to protect people from harassment, or that there are men who feel way too threatened by the existence of “other” people in the gaming world, or that people say terrible things on the internet. And while my greatest fear did not come to pass (nobody tried to be disruptive), I did find that some parts of the talk were going over things that I already considered part of the historical record. I don’t have a good solution for this; whether presentations of this nature should be split into introductory and advanced versions as if they were academic courses I don’t know. But if I was pressed to find something about Wednesday’s talk that I didn’t like then I would say that it would have been more interesting if there was even more about the more recent work she is doing and a little less of the history that we can learn from watching that TED Talk I linked to and various other online sources (excluding the smear pieces, of course). I also would have been interested in hearing more about what we can do in the post Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games era to pick up the torch and continue forward.

This still hasn’t happened, despite Tropes vs. Women in Video Games having been around for five years.

This is not to say that I left empty-handed. Well, I guess I did in the literal sense because it was ideas that I took from the presentation. I didn’t leave empty-headed? Anyway, I did receive the message loud and clear that I need to read/watch lots of things that Alan G. Johnson wrote/said. I especially liked the clip that Anita played on Wednesday of Alan talking about monopoly. My only other encounter with his work is when he is referenced in Wall-E as Sociological Storytelling which no doubt inspired what I wrote about Monopoly in June in reference to what is happening in Canada. I don’t know how I managed to write that post without at least a nod to one of those sources. Though my style of blogging deliberately favours conversational tone over citation-rich academic style writing, I should still be giving credit where it is due. Anyway, what Alan says about the game certainly did resonate with my thoughts on games in general and I need to spend more time with his work and engage with systems theory as it related to gaming.

The other thing that I am taking away from this is the importance of not staying silent. It was a little bit upsetting when Anita revealed that she almost didn’t come as I really did enjoy the speech and not just because she made fun of Toronto at one point (the only way she could have played to the Edmonton audience harder would have been if she did the same thing but wore an Oilers jersey while doing it). I would have been really disappointed if I didn’t get to hear this talk. But the fact is that Anita didn’t owe us this. I am glad she did it, but if the ideas of rising against hatred instead of remaining silent about it in our gaming spaces are to stay alive and continue to grow stronger then this issue can’t be about Anita Sarkeesian, or Zoë Quinn or any other individual person. It can’t be left to a few individuals who are already carrying a wildly disproportionate amount of responsibility and expectation for counteraction of hate in the gaming world. The ideas will be stronger when they cease to be about humans who can sometimes be fallible. I don’t mindlessly agree with everything these women are saying and writing about harassment in the gaming world even when they are at their best. But the ideas, those don’t get frazzled or misspeak or have bad days that can be exploited by malicious critics. I have before and affirm again today that I will not resign to the acceptance that the internet is a dumpster fire that cannot be put out or cleaned up. My spotlight may be very small compared to others, but I still intend to use what I’ve got to detoxify my tiny area of the gaming world. If I am to be known for what I did rather than what I was, I hope that it be that my writing has contributed to a much larger force of public opinion that eventually made this sort of harassment a thing of the past. The presentation from Wednesday has renewed my enthusiasm for this. If that is not time and money well spent then I don’t know what is.


Full Steam Ahead – From Dust

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 8

Sandbox games are a blanket term used to describe games which have an open world, an optional narrative, and give the player great freedom to choose how they will pursue and achieve their objectives. Sandbox games were once something of a rarity; personal computers only recently became powerful enough to generate and maintain sandbox worlds. One must also take into account the strain on game developer resources that creating an open world must demand.

However, given that computers are more powerful than ever, game studios have more resources at their disposal than ever, and players are more demanding of immersive experiences than ever, it is unsurprising that many of the most popular games in recent years have been sandboxes.

Ironically, From Dust is not a sandbox game.

…for dust you are and to dust you will return… (Genesis 3:19)

There Is A Good Chance I May Have Committed Some Light Cheating

Cheating sounds like a bad word. In video games is a good way to get yourself instantly banned from popular online services. But what is cheating when it comes to recreational video games? When there is potentially money on the line it could be an issue of basic fairness, but in a private instance of a game where no money or fame is on the line it is merely a self-imposed standard not to spoil the game. Those who remember the video games of the 90’s and early 00’s can probably still name their favourite cheat codes. In the hands of a person who is simply playing (rather than testing, demonstrating, or reviewing) the game these are basically spoilers: you can get on with the plot, see the “victory” screen and all that without being subjected to the challenges inherent in the game. This, in itself, is not immoral. Only when one brags about having beat the game does it become so, and in that case, it’s not the dodging of the rules itself but attempting to lie to people about how you got to the end. For oneself, the only reason not to cheat is to be able to enjoy the game as it was intended and to preserve your own belief that you are progressing fair and square.

But what about a sandbox-ish game where there isn’t an “end” where the credits roll and the game is over? In Your Own Objectives I wrote about what I am doing in Terraria where there is a boss monster progression but the building and crafting game is largely up to the player to decide what their goals are. In pursuit of my goal of ridding the world of the crimson blight legitimately (that is, within the play of the game rather than simply deleting it with a third-party map editor), I hit a wall at 1% as reported by the Dryad NPC. I thoroughly excavated large areas of the world in an effort to eradicate the crimson. But, eventually, the reality that I can’t spend all of my time tracking down that one last block I missed caused me to break down and download a map viewer called TerraMap. I used that to highlight all remaining crimson tiles. It showed me where that one last block was, as seen in the screenshot below.

See the red thing? No, not the arrow. That is the cursor. Right under my character.

I went and removed that one tiny little piece of red ice. But, when I went back to the Dryad, she still reported that my world was 1% crimson. How can that possibly be?!? I went back to TerraMap. The only thing it highlighted were not terrain blocks, but the locations of various chests, and then it finally occurred to me: the reason the chests were being highlighted was that the Dryad was reporting on the crimstone blocks inside the chests. I never would have guessed this if I had dug out every last one of the approximately five million blocks in a small world if TerraMap had not given me the hint. None of the forums and wikis that I usually use as a companion to the game ever mentioned blocks inside of chests. Now, armed with that knowledge, I was able to go through and dispose of the blighted blocks that were safely ensconced in boxes but counted nevertheless. The Dryad now reports complete purity of the world.

Was that cheating more than using the wiki to look up crafting recipes instead of manually presenting materials to the Guide NPC inside the game? More than when I found this forum post that tells a person how to make horizontal tunnels through sand in apparent defiance of how sand is supposed to work in the game? Yes, in the sense that the map editor did not merely relay general knowledge but actually read data from game files and presented it in a way not possible within the game itself. If I was absolutely true to my original goal of making a tamed world without reducing it to pixel art created in a map editor then I sure did cheat. However, as far as my enjoyment of the game goes, it is infinitely greater than if I had insisted on continuing the hunt for the last block even after that angled ice block pictured above was found. And I don’t use that word lightly: if I had stuck to my goal without giving up AND stuck to an absolute standard of purity then my enjoyment of the game would have been zero. So take any number of seconds I will spend enjoying the game from this point forward, then divide by zero.

So, back to building pyramids for now. Will I load up TerraMap again? I can’t promise I won’t. But neither do I think that the ongoing project of a small world that is completely under control will be illegitimate if I need a second hint in the event that my post-hardmode world has one of those tiny angled blocks that escape the cleantaminator sweeps. There are things I am willing to do in pursuit of an in-game goal, and things I would be willing to “cheat” to avoid if it leads to less spoiling of the enjoyment of the game rather than more.

Full Steam Ahead: Bioshock

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 0 Hours

I swear I’m going to talk about Bioshock in a bit. It is a game that deserves to be talked about. But if you’d all be so kind to allow me a minor digression and retrospective, I’ll make it pay off. Cool? Cool.

November 2007. I’m hanging out with my best friend who has just bought Bioshock. The game was critically acclaimed for its setting and its stellar writing. Created by developer Ken Levine, it was considered a spiritual successor of his previous game series System Shock. The game won game of the years awards from BAFTA, IGN, and X-Play, all respected sources of video game journalism at the time.

These praises and accolades meant very little to me. I knew nothing of its setting or the System Shock series. The writing was good window-dressing, but I thought little more of it than that. At the time, I couldn’t have cared less about games criticism or analysis, because at the time, games did not mean much of anything to me.