Trouble Thinking

June 21, 2012

Gaming and Women

Okay that’s an ambitious title I can in no way back up. I can’t really speak to the whole experience of women with games. But there’s been some shit stirred recently that caught my interest and made me slightly frustrated with the way conversations about ‘geeky’ media and feminism go. So first off: the very capable media critic Anita Sarkeesian has been doing this Feminist Frequency thing for a while and it’s quite nice! It’s bite-sized explanations of a lot of shit everyone should probably have a handle on. She likes games, so she decided to do similar explanatory videos about tropes and women in games. Basically, here’s what is meant by “damsel in distress”, here’s why some people take issue with it being a cliche, maybe shape up slightly?

So, she got just craploads of death threats and rape threats and … well one guy said he’d never date her which isn’t really a “threat” per se but suffice it to say her entry into the ‘gaming community’ proper with this video series was met immediately with some pretty harsh fucking words. Now, in a nice countermove here Kickstarter asking for $6,000 got funded for $158,917. So, that’s nice. But the thing is, the fact that the reaction to seeing the word ‘feminist’ next to the word ‘videogames’ got a significant portion of the internet crazy mad is not great. There’s also the fact that a rather large number of people responded to her discussing that with ‘Well that’s just how things are you know? You have to let it roll off your back.’ Which ignores the fact that in a lot of circles being inundated with rape and murder threats is not considered the cost of doing business. And it probably shouldn’t be!

Which leads to this interesting post on the blog of one Foz Meadows: rape culture and gaming. Also, on Pandagon: Geeks, You Have a Problem. Basically, there’s a simultaneous assumption by geeks that we’re too smart to be privileged or misogynistic or racist or whatever but if you want to change a goddamn thing about anything we will cut you. After arguing at a ridiculous length about this for years, I feel like it mostly comes down to people who are nice deciding that means they cannot do a bad thing. Well, no that goes too far obviously nice people realize if they just shot a dude it’s probably bad. But I’ve met a hell of a lot of nice people who don’t find using homophobic slurs particularly bad. It just means ‘stupid’, man! Get over it! It’s different! Anyway point is I will destroy mountains before I stop saying this one word I got in the habit of saying for no reason.

Nice people are extremely stubborn when you ask them to change any behavior that cannot be directly demonstrated to harm another person the moment it happens. Because for fuck’s sake, they had a groove. Now, you’re asking them to reevaluate everything and maybe never do some of the things they’re used to doing. That seems pretty mean! So feminist complaints about gaming culture are reduced to the nagging of shrill harpies who just don’t get us. Look, if you’re made uncomfortable by the unrelenting misogyny on display at tournaments, or the trailer for Hitman and the new Lara Croft game having an attempted rape in it but I’m not it sounds like you’re just a whiner. It often gets shifted to a censorship discussion because geeks feel more comfortable in that arena. But the thing is, no one is interested in censoring a goddamn thing. Ms. Sarkessian isn’t making a series of videos about ‘what games need to be destroyed’, she’s making a series of videos about what tropes exist, why they exist, and what that means for female gamers. The exploration of the concept that things may not be perfect is seen as an attack worthy of a pretty outsized response. And of course, the nice kind good people of the geek community say well that’s just 4chan they’re crazy I would never do that but anyway it kind of sounds like you’re just being whiny I never had a problem don’t censor games I like here’s a few examples of good characters that totally disprove everything they’re just doing what sells! They’re totally on your side they can’t stand those damn commenters either but have you ever thought about how all these weak-ass arguments prove you should shut up?

Look I love Bayonetta, it is the best. But I don’t think the hair-fetish shit was really the reason I had so much fun with it. I’m amazed that in a genre of media so much more defined by mechanics than narrative there’s such push-back against the ideas presented by feminist critiques.

Also worth reading: Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat. One of the pieces I found really interesting talked about how gender-neutral games were until some pretty random events kicked them into being a male-centric thing to do.

Also: Women beat 18-34 men for tech adoption and purchasing power. In case you talk to someone trying out that “just what sells” pile.

May 16, 2012

My Brother, My Brother and Me is a Great Comedy Podcast

So I’m a comedy fan. Like comedy, like laughing. But I never really bothered finding comedy podcasts because I am lazy and it always seemed like amateur hour, you know? If the professional goddamn comedians on SNL can manage to be that dire, I wasn’t interested in seeing what the dregs of the internet were producing in their spare time. The exception to this was always The Bugle on account of John Oliver being the cutest.

I don’t remember how I found My Brother, My Brother and Me but thank you whoever showed it to me. It’s so fucking good. I need to share it with you.

Here is how it works: the three McElroy brothers, Justin, Griffin, and Travis take questions from the audience and from the venerable and insane Yahoo Answers service and provide advice. Sometimes that advice is within the realm of usefulness, many times it is either physically impossible or grossly illegal. But it’s always very goddamn funny.

They manage to keep a good pace going throughout their hour-long episodes in large part due to a semi-formal system by which real honest-to-goodness questions are interspersed with a sprinkling of Yahoo Answers questions. This means that whenever some comedy bit is flagging they can always just pull out a question like “I think I am in love with a goose?” and get both an instant laugh and a new direction to take the discussion. The fact that there are three of them also helps, as any brother speaking is giving the other two a second to think of something interesting to say as well as providing goof ideas. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re just genuinely charming guys.

When they do attempt to actually for-real help people, the fact that it’s a comedy show first and foremost actually really helps out. They get to, for instance, just straight up laugh at people for asking shit like “My girlfriend is moving away and didn’t tell me, bad sign?” I mean they don’t just make fun of the guy, but as their remit is joke-making they get to really dig into the fact that for fuck’s sake yes that is a hilariously bad sign. Just give up, man. They’re friendly, but they aren’t your friends. They’re allowed to give you some amount of shit for the stupid questions you ask. And that’s not to say they’re always mean, either. They’re usually very understanding about shitty high-school situations or troubles with long-distance relationships or other genuinely annoying shit, with the overriding message being that it’ll probably all work out so let’s laugh a bit. They may not give the most considered answer to every serious question they get, but they’re usually able to act as a sanity check for questions that maybe people don’t feel comfortable asking friends and they get some jokery out of it at the same time to help the medicine go down.

They’re really funny dudes, and I feel like you’d be well served by checking out their stuff. With over 100 hours recorded, you could get a hell of a lot of mileage out of enjoying them! Here are a couple of sample tracks to test the waters:

The Sampler:

Cake Boss:

May 10, 2012

Interesting Interview With The Guy Behind an $8 Million Kickstarter for a Goddamn Watch.

Filed under: Interesting Things, The Internet — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 12:00 am

Okay I don’t like watches, I ain’t got a need for a watch. I keep time the way a real man does, the sun and the stars and the sweat on my brow.

BUT I will admit this watch looks kind of neat. It just boggles me that people kickstarted the living fuck out of a …. it’s just a watch! It’s a cool watch, a little wrist-puter watch, it’s customizable… but goddamn.

And I cannot help but feel intense, blinding envy of this little shitheel. I mean he’s 25! What did I accomplish by 25? I’ll never tell you. For real though, I guess I am glad that ideas that apparently have a huge market behind them can get off the ground via kickstarter. God damn, those guys are just cleaning up though. They do take something like 15% off the top, so they’re rolling in it. I should make a longer post on Kickstarter, but for now:

Meet Pebble Founder Eric Migicovsky, the 25-year behind the nearly 9 million dollar Kickstarter campaign, the largest ever. According to Eric, Pebble is THE watch of the 21st century, allowing it to connect to your Iphone as well as download different apps and watch interfaces. Eric talked with Shira about how Kickstarter gave them an opportunity, making something people want and how awesome the Pebble watch is.

What made you realize that the Pebble watch would be something people want?

“At the end of the day….make something people want. Before we launched our Kickstarter, we actually emailed the product to all my friends, my parents, my relatives and they all really like what we were making, so we had a pretty good feeling.”

What advantage did going on Kickstarter give you?

“Kickstarter is really cool because basically you can chat with the community, talk directly to the customer and find out what they want, what they are thinking, and impress them.”

Seriously though, 25. Fuck you, kid. We’re all thinking it, forever. Best of luck fuck you.

September 11, 2011

You Can Ask Captain America Stuff

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 7:37 pm

Good news! You can ask the Sentinel of Liberty about just any dang thing you please!

But really, mostly you can make the same tired fucking gay jokes the internet loves to make about everything. Hahaha [fictional character] and [fictional character] getting together would be soooo cute hahaha gay people woah.

Anyways! That shouldn’t detract that the artist is amazing and the pictures tend to be pretty witty while maintaining the character fiction. Really, I’m amazed there aren’t official Marvel/DC things like this.

August 10, 2011

Prequel Adventure is a Sweet Webcomic

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 6:08 pm

In both the sense of being awesome and the sense of being just completely fucking adorable.

Prequel Adventure is loosely set in I think… Morrowind? But it could sub in any random fantasy setting. It stars a cat, Katia, who is a horrible person with worse luck. She’s got the fantasy adventure beginning down pat, arriving in town penniless and looking for work… but she’s completely unskilled. Weak in body and mind and completely unskilled, she quickly realizes that her life isn’t any better here. I like the inversion of the standard steady progress of an RPG. Katia starts off bad, and while things eventually begin to look up, it’s in no way a steady progression. She tries and fails and makes shitty mistakes that aren’t her fault but ruin things anyway. It’s got a nifty little audience participation thing built in, and the author uses it both as a wellspring for general story ideas and as a way to draw pathos out of a situation by looking at readers shout “no, no don’t do THAT” and then having Katia do it anyway.

It feels genuine, and it manages to be incredibly cruel while never disrespecting the protagonist… well, while only occasionally disrespecting her. She might be a coward and useless, but she’s still a person.

It’s also got a lovely little sketchy occasionally animated cartoon style that is really a joy to look at. It’s not the most complex story so far, but each update is a fun or an excruciating read depending on how well you deal with embarrassment humor. I recommend it heartily, start at the beginning!

June 21, 2011

Cupcakes For Breakfast: Awesome

Filed under: Interesting Things, The Internet — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 12:20 pm

I just found myself entranced by the idea of this Instructable:

Look at that. Delicious.

It’s a Breakfast Cupcake: Espresso chocolate, with a waffle and caramelized bacon topper.

If we could just manage to figure out the Lunch and Dinner cupcakes, we could start having the best days in the history of humanity. The cupcake days.

Seriously though having now tried one I can tell you they taste awesome, the bacon really goes with the cupcake. Plus, they get you a bit of a coffee buzz, which is lovely. You should make your own! You can’t have any of mine, I don’t have any extras. Get out of here! GO!

Go, and make as many as you can!

Also noticed: the Instructables site is a bit shit. I get that they need to monetize content a bit, but man do I hate “pay for this and you’ll get what you probably assumed was the basics” services. Really? I get to see all the steps on one page if I subscribe? Oh be still my fucking heart.

June 20, 2011

The Smallest Possible RPG/Awesome Old Game Cover Generator.

Filed under: Game News, Interesting Things, The Internet — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 11:42 am

So I just saw this on BoingBoing and I’m shamelessly acquiring it.

Rob Beschizza has created an old-old-school RPG called TinyHack that is played via a 9×9 pixel screen. It’s pretty simplistic, but interesting! It’s neat to see what you can do in terms of UI with only a few pixels to work with. Check it out:

Yeah, you're the dot. No, the white dot.

But more importantly, it’s also got a “Cool Old Game Cover Generator” that provides randomized generic backstory.

One of my favorites:

Halberd of the Manticore

Are you bad enough to command the Stone? The City needs you, hero!

The island kingdom of eveut is in havoc and dragons destroy all who come before them. Search for the Sword of Ouroboross in the forest of auixeu. Locate the Shield of Dreams in the tomb of aoxafe. Collect the 16 golden lights and find the key of destiny to unlock the secret of the water fortress, where the evil Loki gathers forces for the final attack.

Enter a world of pulse-pounding gameplay and fortune with Halberd of the Manticore , the most gruelling and challenging game of 1978. Remember, hero: Loki threatens to conquer the City!

June 15, 2011

June 8, 2011

Shortcut Science: Being Controversial Rather Than Replicable

So about a week and a half ago, someone named Satoshi Kanazawa published an article that was called “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men” in his blog on Psychology Today called “The Scientific Fundamentalist”. From a brief look at the blog, it’s mostly focused on various attention-grabbing BS claims like “Beautiful People Really Are More Intelligent” and basically anything that is easy to defend because it’s a “hard truth” that just happens to track perfectly with common sense and the fears and cultural baggage of the average person. I haven’t checked but “A Bigger Penis Makes You A Better Person” is probably in there. In fact, the tagline to the blog is “A Look at Hard Truths About Human Nature”.

Any time anyone tells you they’re going to give you a Hard Truth and Not Be PC they are trying as hard as they can to explain that with no bias they’ve discovered everything is exactly the way their gut intuition has always told them it was and woah woah woah don’t go there this is just what Science or Common Sense or Common Science says not them. The fact that their Not Being PC or Being Tough happens to conform precisely to the prejudiced notions they hold is a happy accident.

I’ve heard this so many times in so many different contexts and it’s always infuriating. “IQ testing is completely right, even if they don’t want me to talk about it because it will make people sad to find out that certain people [who happen to happen to be from a group that I don’t belong to] are inherently dumber!”

Not “I have spent a lot of time devising a clever and replicable experimental proof of this interesting aspect of human nature.” Just stating it’s controversial, as though people being unreasonably opposed to a potential experimental proof that you’re too lazy to actually provide is somehow an airtight case.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no there is not actually any reasonable way to interpret the data Mr. Kanazawa gathered as indicating that black women are rated as less attractive “due to testosterone” as he winds up concluding. Not that he gives any actual reasons as to why testosterone would create a less attractive person. He basically seems to just imply that black women are mannish and black men are hyper-male, and woah isn’t it weird how that just happens to reinforce long standing prejudices I dunno maybe you just can’t handle the truth!

From a Scientific American article that’s way more thorough than me, damn:

Kaufman and other bloggers also address Kanazawa’s painful contortion of factor analysis, which I agree is laughable. He looks at three measurements of the same test taken at three different time points and creates a one-factor model, with the one factor being “objective attractiveness.” This is, of course, founded on the principle that an attractiveness rating handed out by interviewers in a study on adolescent health and well-being is actually measuring something that we can agree is “objective attractiveness.”

He then says that by merging these three measurements for each interviewee into one factor, he can use factor analysis to get at that “objective attractiveness” while minimizing any error. This is just plain false. Factor analysis cannot get rid of measurement error. If it could, we’d all be using it all the time, and we’d get rid of all measurement error, and scientific studies wouldn’t need to be replicated.

Basically, the jackass claimed that through a reasonably simple statistical trick, factor analysis, he’d managed to completely eliminate any error, and therefore get “objective” attractiveness. That’s not what factor analysis is for. Factor analysis is a method of testing for the likelihood of a lot of different observed variables being explained by a single unobserved one. So like, if you notice that during the summer you sweat more, wear fewer clothes, and use more energy all of those things could be explained by different variables, or they could all be related to things being generally hotter. Usually factor analysis is used to take a bunch of random variables you’ve gathered and just poke around to see if there’s a simpler explanation for the changes in each of them.

Notice at no point does factor analysis magically transform things into objective measurements of subjective human experiences. So his basic method of working toward a conclusion is just straight up stupid from the get-go.

Then there’s the conclusion itself. It turns out that actually, black women may have lower than normal levels of testosterone on average, from the same article:

Kanazawa surmises that Black women’s lower attractiveness might be due to low estrogen and high testosterone. Yet, high estrogen levels and low testosterone is a leading cause of fibroids, which significantly impact Black women, especially Black women who are overweight. Also, Black women have been found to have higher levels of estrogen in a study on breast cancer.

Oh, and it turns out that during the 4th out of four measurement phases, in which the participants were adults, black women were not rated as less attractive. He threw that out though, because well I mean it’s an outlier! Or something.

I mean, I could go on (read the rest of that Scientific American article for even more shit about this) but the underlying factor is what’s important here. This article got a lot of press for being both exceptionally stupid and exceptionally controversial, but this whole method of not-investigation needs to be let go. If your work is controversial, it’ll be controversial. If you make replicable experiments and provide useful avenues of exploration eventually people will come around and learn something interesting no matter how insane they thought it was at first. The truth will out.

If you chase the controversy that comes with truth instead of actual understanding, you wind up like this jackass.

May 31, 2011

Why Haven’t You Read Rice Boy?

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , , , , , — Durandal @ 10:48 am

What?

No, fuck you. You don’t get to just not know about it, that’s what people say when what they mean is “I am a worse human being than I could be, but I’m also so bad and lazy that I won’t fix it bleeeeeeh”. You sound like that. “Bleeeeeh”, yeah it’s disgusting.

Rice Boy is a comic by Evan Dahm that makes comics on the internet worth keeping. It justifies all the hundreds of poorly draw retreads of ancient joke c0nstructions that are trying to be the next Penny Arcade. It’s a massive, interesting, well paced fantasy story starring a little person with no arms or legs, just a sort of well… just a sort of rice boy I guess.

Yeah I don't know how he's picking that fruit.

The art begins and for the most part remains weird and sort of developing. I mean the main character is basically a sketch, and many people are drawn with varying levels of detail. But at the same time it’s so confident that it’s difficult to tell whether certain things look odd due to inability to draw them any other way or due to a stylistic choice. The artwork quickly becomes a defining aspect of the story, helping to characterize the world and the people in it in a manner far more effective than simply attempting to be “realistic” would.

The story, briefly, is about a prophesy and the person who is supposed to fulfill it. It is almost exactly a Hero’s Journey, and plays out in a manner that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Lord of the Rings. But the unique aspects of the story come in the little details about a strange world and the people in it, and in the surprising emotional connections a skilled writer can create using characters that are incredibly foreign. I mean only a few people in the story even have the ability to display human emotions effectively.

The whole thing, about 450 pages, is available online. And that’s only the start! He’s got a bunch of short stories and another complete epic: “The Order of Tales“, as well as a new ongoing called “Vattu“, all of which are really awesome.

Plus, his new stuff has some even more interesting and sweet-looking art.

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