December 29, 2011

An Angry Letter

Dear Games for Windows Live,

I have no clue why you decide you are important in my single player game, or why you must force your update upon me when I finally have a chance to taste the awesome in Batman: Arkham Asylum with the threat of NOT BEING ABLE TO PLAY THE GAME I JUST RECEIVED.

Your DRM practices are atrocious and I'm sure millions of stolen copies of this game have been distributed around the globe.  Just like roaches, online pirateers never die.  And insulting their intelligence is only going to make them work harder at hacking your game.

You have now successfully made you games harder for legit purchasers to play for the small profit you might receive for being a jerk.  And knowing you, that profit is a pitiful amount compared to what you grossed off this game.  I mean, you still made it for consoles, right?  Then what the hell is your issue, you greedy twits?

In conclusion, Games for Windows Live, I sincerely hope you die in a fire.

With hate,

d20 Sapphire

December 25, 2011

Christmas in the Future

Merry Christmas, readers!

The only reason I'm writing on Christmas is because the rest of my family is sleeping away, including Mystic who was nice enough to join my immediate family for Christmas morning this year.  Being the first one awake means you wait until everyone else is up to open presents.

Writing my Titania Chronicles story has had me pondering in the future if there will be a Christmas?  Will it be culturally significant?  Will it fade away?

There are plenty of holidays that have remained through time and have merely evolved for the needs of the people.  Christmas is actually a good example of that.  Christmas used to be a simple holiday where you ate with friends if you were lucky enough to have the day off.  The super conservative Christians didn't even celebrate Christmas, and even tried to outlaw it in Britain.  Although the holiday had been around for a long time, it wasn't until the 19th century that it culminated into something close to what we have today.  It was molded into a day where one could spend time with family and friends with dinner and dances and games.  Gift exchange became popular at that time too.  In an era where strict rules on children seemed necessary (depending who was doing the raising, of course), it was nice to have a day where one could spoil one's family.

I think in this fashion, Christmas in the future will exist on Earth, and will probably evolve even more.  There may even come a day where there is a strict division in the kind of celebrations families have.  But I think as long as we remain on Earth, there will be some form of Christmas celebrated.

I think it's when you leave Earth, and start to colonize other planets, that the tradition of Christmas will probably fade away.  Christmas is strongly associated with the winter season, and to lose that change of season is to lose a lot of it.  Also, who will know how long it will take to establish the kind of community who can afford the gift giving on Christmas on a new planet.  It's going to take decades of investment to colonize planets, and they're not going to be ready for the kind of commercialism we have on parts of Earth right away.  On top of the fact many of the traditions are rooted in thinks unique to earth--snow, Christmas trees, holly, mistletoe, poinsettias--that recreating it all is going to be artificial, and I'm sure the first colonialists will feel that way.  Feasts won't be readily available.  Christmas, in it's entirety of the experience, will not be available.

Now I need someone from the future to tell me if my predictions are correct.

December 17, 2011

Nerd Christmas Questions

Is the star on the top of your tree a red dwarf?  White dwarf?  Is it a giant?  Bigger than the sun?

Does it have planetary bodies circling it?  A lot?  Asteroid belt?  Is there anything in the habitable zone?  Is it inhabited? Natives?  Or alien colonialization?

How far is it from earth?  How many light years away is it?

How old is it?  Just out of the nebula?  About to become a black hole?

Just something to think about as you decorate for Christmas.

December 15, 2011

A short discussion on biases in video game production

I was bad and I didn't write every day.  I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you somehow.

In the meantime, let's briefly talk about something that has been on my mind for a while. is a great source for amusing articles that make you think.  One that got me thinking was this one about prejudices that still exist in mainstream movies.  It got me thinking about video games, namely because the two are always compared to each other.  To be honest I don't think it's a fair comparison, but that's a different essay for a different day.

My first thought is that video games are better than movies when it comes to some of those stereotypes.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that video games tend to have their own problems, for different reasons.

One of the things that has been pointed out before (and of course as I write this I can't find the image I'm thinking of) is that many modern video game heroes look the same:  Well built Caucasian male with brunette hair and dashing good looks.  Unfortunately, like most of the opinions I'll be sharing, here, I'm not able to determine anything with any research.  But my assumption would be that it's because many of the people who have started in the video game industry, and many of the people who work in the cvdeo game industry, are white males.  Even if you have the marketing demographics in intense details saying that he demographic is leaning toward another audience, it's hard for someone creating something to create something that he or she would never be interested in.  And with video games, the appeal is that you are the hero.  If the "you" is a white guy, you're going to idolize what you can relate to--a  more handsome white guy.

I will say though, that a lot of good video games have been good at letting the player decide who they are idolizing.  I have never played a "white" character in any bioware game because I haven't had to play one.  I made the hero to whatever specifications I wanted.  Hell, I had Barack Obama Shepard save the universe in ME2.  This doesn't, however, mean that the developers are forward thinking.  This merely means they are willing to have their audience shape their own experience, and even then to a small extent compared to everything that they have shaped for their audience that won't change.  This isn't necessarily a sign of forward thinking.  This is however, a sign of acceptance that different people, for whatever reasons, want something different out of their gameplay experience.

Even then, sometimes games that mean well can use stereotypes and old ideas to shape the stories they tell.  Or they don't realize exactly what they're doing and what horrible history they're tapping into.  I've spoken about this a couple years ago when I was belatedly addressing the Resident Evil 5 objections.  It's not the only game to have touched upon that either.  I'm not real pleased that the evil Karma side to Cole in inFamous 2 is black swamp tribal lady Nix.  I can tell they tried to make a complex character in Nix, but the problem is that she plays to many of the stereotypes that western society has had for centuries about black people, and stereotypes that people still play to this day.  I'm not going to say these developers are inherently racist, that would seem unfair to label a whole team of people like that.  But I do think they are unaware of the societal norms they've played into, and how best to fight them for the betterment of mutual understanding among every human being.  It makes breaking stereotypes hard when they are validated over and over again in the media.

Speaking of stereotypes, lets not just pick on racial issues.  Gender is also something that video games has a hard time dealing with in a neutral way.  Again, I'm not trying to say the whole industry is (intentionally) sexist.  There is a lot of stuff that is buried in our societal norms that are going to be hard to fight.  Like the severe attraction to waify women who in reality are not strong enough to hold huge dense metal swords or traverse in caverns with arms that have no upper body strength. I have no problem with women being able to do these things.  It's just these women have arms like me, and I know I can't do that stuff.  Maybe a woman built like this could do all that stuff, but they're not idolized in these games.  We're still going for the frail frame build when women are in video games, because in video games women are sexualized 95% of the time.  The kind of sexualization process that mass media will do is making women weaker and more frail, something that you still want to protect from something.  Games do that stuff because it helps sell the game to their mostly male demographic.  In fact, you'll find in some games when they don't intentionally do that to the character, there is a fanbase who will.  Dont' believe me?  Talimancers.

Tali'Zorah vas Neema nar Rayya, now in the cannon Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, is probably one of the strongest, independent female characters in the video game industry, possibly up there with Jade and Alyx Vance with female characters who were not put in just to be sexual objects to oggle at while teen boys killed things.  Okay, maybe not that revolutionary, but she's up there.  When you meet here in Mass Effect, she is a pilgram looking for something that would help her people in fighting the geth, willing to take big risks on her own.  She's nerdy, sleeping in the engine room and able to hack AI from a mile away.  And by Mass Effect 2, you find her confidence and her duty has only grown.  You first meet her young and hopeful, then you find her again determined and steadfast.  She grows up to be an independent woman who chooses to help humanity fight the reapers merely because Shepard is a good friend.  Sure, you can romance her, but it's a mutual respect, a love that grows out of admiration that Tali and Shepard have for each other.  It's not all about allure, it's about deep feelings.  It has to be when you can't even see her friggin face!

Seriously, are you automatically attracted to a space suit?  Because you may want to speak to a professional about that.
On top of that, when her family's honor is on the line she has not problem cursing out her elders while in court.  She a tough, smart woman.

But that is not what you get when you read through some of the posts of her most "loyal" fans, the talimancers.   They talk about how they want to protect her, how she's shy, how she needs to be comforted.  Excuse me?  This girl has fought the geth off on her own and you think YOU can protect her because she occasionally stutters?  It's like they only are attracted to this intelligent woman if she's socially awkward and needs to be nurtured.  Don't worry, Bioware boys, you got you wish, just in a different universe.

No need to project on Tali, Merril will help you with your insecurities.
It's frustrating.  The archetypes of what makes a woman attractive have become so ingrained that if we can't find on that fits it in our preferred fictional universe, we project what we want on one of those characters that would seem to fit it the most. Why wouldn't the industry cater to that if it gets them money?

This is one where even the choices still don't affect the build of the character.  You can have a different look in the hair, skin tone, and face, but the body will always be the same, and it will always appeal to the male demographic, or what the developers will feel appeal to that demographic.  I know that not all men want to oggle at small waists and big boobs, and it's not a crime to like that.  I'm merely asking for some better variety and support complex characters.

Like movies, video games have their tropes that they stick to, some of them prejudiced.  However, because of the custom aspects that games have introduced, and how it's more integrated with feedback from the fanbase, it'll be easier for games to evolve past these things in some respects.  Then again, it's hard to fight industry norms, especially when you're in an industry ruled by giants (console and developer-wise).  What's really going to matter is what we, the gamers, enjoy over time and end up going back to.  If we don't like what's become the standard, we'll just have to gravitate to games that break that standard.  Video games have thrived in a capitalist structure, and we'll have to choose what we want in that structure.  

With that in mind, support all kinds of games, the big and the small.  Choose the big production games carefully, and sing praises to the indie developers who are doing something you love.  This is true for all aspects of video games, not just the prejudice issues I've just discussed.  It's the only way the industry is going to have what you want to play.

December 12, 2011

Great Life Update

I have a new job!

Still leasing, still working on weekends, but I got a great feeling about the career potential.  I start next week, and have this week to get ready.  Yay!

This week will be devoted to nerd pursuits, including this blog!  I have a few things to write, so I'm going to try to write something every week day.  I need to get back into practice of continuously writing about something, and there is a lot of stuff to write about.  In fact, this is always true, but I'm finding more to write about myself.  But I wanted to let you all know my good news first!

In other updates, I think I am going to start playing Star Trek Online with my mother.  She is the one who asked about us playing an MMO together.  My mom is awesome like that.

Tonight is light writing, so I leave you with a video from George Takei.

December 6, 2011

The Mosh Pit Rule

I totally lucked out on winning tickets to an intimate concert of Chevelle, one of the best rock band in the world  from the Chicago area.  I give thanks to 95 Will Rock for not only know being the only modern rock station in the Chicagoland Area now (R.I.P. Q101) but getting tickets to me and some other awesome people last Tuesday.

Mystic and I attended and stayed on the second level.  Mystic doesn't like big groups and even though the Subteranean is a great intimate setting, second level was a bit better if you just wished to spectate.  Which we did, and Chevelle put on a fantastic show, and we got to hear a song from their new album (and coincidentally, that album comes out today, so I guess go crazy and buy Hats Off to the Bull right now!)

There was another show we could watch--the mosh pit.  I've never been in one myself but I fully support the idea of this controlled chaos.  There are a lot of people out there who scoff at the idea of a mosh pit being one of the friendliest things you can do, but it is!  There's a little system to it, like it's own law, that everyone in the pit understands.  Well, everyone who wants to stay in the pit, that is.  I'm sure some of you out there have had different experiences but these have been mine.

There are three different positions you can have in a mosh pit.  Two of them actually involve being in the circle.  I call them the Smashers and the Statues (terms I literally just made up, so don't think this is official lingo).  Smashers are the ones who go all out, looking for people to run into.  It's hard, yes, but it's not to injure.  They'll usually use the sides of their bodies, and not do a lot of limb flailing, instead just running around like pinballs in a machine.  Then you have Statues, who are not necessary for  a mosh pit but they add a little umph.  They'll stay in the middle of the mosh pit, solid and secure, and push any Smasher that bumps into them.  The one I saw used a little bit more arm than any of the Smashers, but you can also just make it a torso thing.  Smasher want to bump into everyone.  Statues want to show how solid they are.

Finally you have the people standing around the pit, which as a collective I refer to as the Boundary.  People in the Boundary are responsible for pushing Smashers back in the circle, keeping the mosh in one singular place and making sure it doesn't spread too far.  People in the Boundary don't necessarily want to be dragged into the pit, and that usually isn't an issue.

With the position are some simple rules.  You keep the pit in the pit.  You do not drag people into or out of the pit.  If someone falls in the pit, you pick them back up.  If you get smashed into, you do not take it personally; the pit is there for the enjoyment of horseplay and you should know that going in.  No weapons in the pit.  And do your best not to be drunk in the pit, because that is a great way to forget about all the other simple rules previously established.  Like I witnessed one guy do...

I can determined if he was drunk since he was a story beneath me, but I could see he was a trouble when he decided it would be a fun idea to pull the Smashers out of the circle while he was part of the Boundry.  He was this tall guy picking fights, and decided to really mess with one Smasher.  The Smasher almost gave him a fight but other people part of the pit pulled them away from each other, giving security at the club time to keep things cool.  After that the pit was back in action for a while.  The tall disrupting guy almost came back to start another fight, this time with anyone in the pit.  Security took him aside ASAP.  Mosh pit continues, with smiles and awesome music in the background.

It's just funny how something so violent can actually be an example of spontaneous governance.