Games and the Value of Comfort Zones

Game designer Jonathan Blow is getting people riled up today with this quote:

“If every movie were a porn movie, most people wouldn’t see movies. The majority of games are basically porn—the onus is on us to make more things that are worth a reasonable person’s time.”

To give Blow’s view proper consideration, he’s not saying that “porn,” or games as they are now, shouldn’t exist– just that they shouldn’t make up such a large percentage of the gaming landscape. I can agree with that much, certainly. The idea that gaming as a medium could be offering a much wider variety of experiences than it does currently is hardly a new or radical idea; in fact, I remember the staff of Electronic Gaming Monthly writing sundry editorials about that all the way back in the ’90s.

Where I part ways with Blow is the supposition that games as they are now aren’t “worth a reasonable person’s time”– implying (or I guess, outright stating, really), that people who enjoy today’s games are unreasonable people. Putting aside the fact that that’s just begging for a George Bernard Shaw-inspired burn, as one of the so-called unreasonable people, I would like to make a case for the value of unreasonability. Continue reading Games and the Value of Comfort Zones

FREE! and Masculinity



I didn’t keep up with the second season of FREE! while it was airing; I liked the first season well enough, but the second one felt a bit dull. However, in a recent burst of “Let’s watch all my unfinished anime series because that’s a great way to avoid doing real work!” sentiment, I picked up FREE!: Eternal Summer again and watched it to the end. It’s still largely a retread of the first season, but it does pick up and get more interesting during the latter half.

One thing I couldn’t help but notice was that the series, in general, presents the exact opposite of the so-called “toxic masculinity” that many media critics complain about. The show is full of guys being empathetic, talking to each other about their most deeply-held feelings, expressing high levels of affection for each other, and relying on each other for emotional support rather than trying to go it alone. Continue reading FREE! and Masculinity

Gender in Gaming 2: How To Data


Confession Time: This installment is late because I changed gears. Originally, I wanted to do an overview of the current academic research regarding gender in video games, but it didn’t work out. Many of the papers are stuck behind academic paywalls I don’t have access to (which I should have surmised, but was in denial about), and the few papers openly available on the internet…are kind of awful? I can’t say so with authority, since I’m not any kind of an expert on social science research, but it seems like there are gaping flaws in the methodology of these studies that even a newbie can see: suspiciously small sample sizes, strongly opinionated language in the abstract that makes it seem like the conclusions were chosen before the study was even started, etc.

That said, there could be great research about gender as portrayed in video games out there, somewhere; I’m just not currently in a position to find it. However, for someone currently involved in academic research who has access to all these scholarly databases, I think this presents an intriguing area for study; look at all the papers on this topic, and see which ones pass muster as proper research, and which are fluff designed to bolster specific preconceived ideas. Once again, I can only speculate, but I would bet money that a lot of these studies will turn out to be light and inconsequential as a feather.*

So instead of delving into academic research, which I’m clearly ill-equipped to do, I’m going to try something else: talk about how we can analyze video games as though we were doing it from scratch. Before any serious data collection about gender representation can be done, I think there are some very basic questions that need to be addressed, yet are rarely mentioned.

Continue reading Gender in Gaming 2: How To Data

On Being An American Otaku

GrandpaCarl1 Recently, a relative discovered some pictures of my grandparents tucked away in an attic somewhere and mailed them to my parents. The above picture is of my Grandpa Carl (whom I’m named after), taken outside his barracks sometime during World War Two– probably 1943-ish. I never met him– he died years before I was born. But seeing pictures of him that I had never seen before got me thinking about a bunch of things…including the existence of anime and manga.

Which probably seems weird, but will hopefully make sense by the end of this. Continue reading On Being An American Otaku

Do Video Game Reviews Matter?

When I wrote my “journalist’s take” on GamerGate a month or so back, my main point was that many games writers for sites like Kotaku and Polygon are just plain bad at their jobs; I didn’t think they were necessarily unethical, no matter what many gamers were saying. Since then, lots of new information has come to light and I’ve changed my mind about that: many of these people are seriously unethical. In a way, it’s not even their fault, since they’ve apparently never been held to journalistic standards before and thus don’t really understand what they’re doing wrong, but going into that is probably best saved for another day. Continue reading Do Video Game Reviews Matter?

Gender in Gaming 1: What Do We Want to See?

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about how we need to have a discussion about gender in gaming:* how men and women are portrayed, and why that might matter. It’s a nice idea, but frankly, I haven’t been seeing much discussion; I’ve been seeing multiple opposing camps that talk past each other (when not going for each other’s throats outright). Maybe I’ve just been hanging out in all the wrong places online, but if thoughtful, meaningful discussion on this topic is taking place, I haven’t been lucky enough to run across it.**

So my plan here, with this series of posts,  is to attempt to have that discussion…or at least a small part of it. I don’t want it to be adversarial; there’s no “versus” anywhere. For what it’s worth, I’m also coming into it with an open mind, because I have to; I honestly don’t know yet the full extent of the differences between male and female portrayals in games as a whole, why those differences exist, how much they matter (and to whom), and what any of this means, if anything, the moment we turn off the game. One of my hopes in writing this is that I can puzzle out answers to some of those questions for myself. Continue reading Gender in Gaming 1: What Do We Want to See?

Why Striving for Objectivity in Journalism is Good

Yesterday, Jason Schreier of Kotaku tweeted the following:

Nobody at Kotaku has ever claimed or will ever claim to be objective. “Objectivity” is a silly thing to strive for.

I would link to the original tweet, but I can’t seem to find it; I don’t know if he deleted it, or I just fail at Twitter today. Nevertheless, the tweet sparked some discussion on the value of objectivity in journalism in general.

To be fair to Schreier, he’s right that no one can ever truly be objective; we all have our biases, no matter how we try to minimize them. However, to go so far as to claim that striving for objectivity is “silly,” well…I have some real problems with that. Continue reading Why Striving for Objectivity in Journalism is Good

GamerGate: The Zach Quest Story

I can already sense the irritation from the #GamerGate tag on Twitter. “Why are you mentioning ZQ? It’s not about ZQ! Stop bringing up ZQ!” I know, guys. I see your point, believe me I do; I wouldn’t be going down this road if I didn’t think it was important.

But if you will, indulge me in a little free-writing exercise. Let’s say that about a month ago, a scandal broke about a male game developer named Zach Quest. Continue reading GamerGate: The Zach Quest Story

On Games Journalism and “GamerGate”

Important Note: I try not to talk about this much because it’s usually irrelevant and makes me sound arrogant for even mentioning it, but I am technically an award-winning journalist. During my four years of writing for newspapers, I won two New York Press Awards and one Press Club of Long Island Award; I think I got robbed for never winning in the education reporting category, because that was where I did my best work, but that’s another story. Anyway, I mention this as a means of demonstrating that when I write about journalism, I do actually have some idea what I’m talking about.

I’ve been watching with some interest as the “GamerGate” phenomenon unfolds. I’ve blogged before about how I dislike the sanctimonious tone and often illogical demands that come out of the gaming press, so seeing a large portion of gamers declare that they, too, are sick of it all is somewhat gratifying. That’s what this is about, as far as I can tell: gamers are tired of being talked to like imbeciles by the “news” outlets that serve them. I’m pretty sure any concerns about corruption are actually secondary, even if a lot of the people using the #GamerGate tag won’t acknowledge that.

I mean, let’s face it: a call for greater journalistic integrity sounds better than “We’re tired of you guys being such smug assholes, and this is just the straw that broke that particular fucking camel’s back, okay?” Continue reading On Games Journalism and “GamerGate”

My New Cause: Classic My Little Pony Activism

Fizzy2bIt has recently come to my attention that all you have to do to become an activist is say “I’m an activist,” and that’s super-convenient. After thinking about it for an entire five seconds, I decided that if I was going to become an activist for anything, it should be the thing closest to my heart: Classic My Little Pony.

Notice I said “Classic.” My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is okay and all, but the colors are too saturated, the villains have no teeth, and Pinkie Pie is just a cheap ripoff of Surprise anyway. Yeah, I went there.

Here are the goals of my movement, although they are all subject to change; frankly, I like the idea of leading this movement rather than having it accomplish anything in particular.

Goals of Classic MLP Activism:

1. Re-educate all bronies so that they all realize that Classic MLP is infinitely superior to MLP:FiM. Notice that’s infinitely superior; acknowledging that individual aspects of Classic MLP may have been better is not sufficient. I’m talking about a complete paradigm shift here; what’s the point of activism if you don’t dream big? In any case, the funding to build the necessary re-education camps will come from a mandatory, international $5 tax imposed on anyone who ever argues about bronies on the internet; this may require the UN’s cooperation.

2. Make sure everyone in the world sees that one episode where Sweet Stuff and Gusty switch personalities, because it’s amazing.

3. Launch “One Unicorn, One Power,” campaign; no more of this ‘Twilight Sparkle can have every power because she’s a magical genius’ bullshit. Every unicorn should have one power that correlates to their symbol, as God intended. That reminds me:

4. Aim for widespread recognition that those little pictures ponies have on the side of their butts are called “symbols.” There is no such thing, I repeat, NO SUCH THING, as a “cutie mark.”

5. Campaign for a new MLP cartoon that uses the original characters and their designs. While we’re at it, let’s also campaign for a new Rainbow Brite, She-Ra, Jem and the Holograms, and even Lady Lovelylocks. Basically, we have to acknowledge that the ’80s were the only time when the United States made its own shoujo anime, and we desperately need to go back to that time. Funding for this new programming will come from a mandatory, international $5 tax on anyone who ever talks about whether The Legend of Korra “is really anime” on the internet.

New-old MLP cartoon must be written by frustrated D&D addicts just like the original cartoon, and include a terrifying, existential threat to all Ponyland at least every other episode.

6. Complete re-releases of all the original MLP toys…assuming the featured characters appeared in the cartoon or other contemporary media. I’m talking Glory, Fizzy, Masquerade, the heavy-hitters; no need to touch “Hip-Hop” or “Jazzie” and all those other bullshit ponies that Hasbro started cranking out in the late ’80s. This movement has standards.

Oh, and the re-releases have to conform to the original proportions. The Classic mini-ponies line that Barnes and Noble is currently selling is nice and all, but the proportions are totally off: not acceptable.

photo(3)Hahahah NO Firefly is not a manatee

7. People who make custom ponies using anything other than extremely common, “Custom-bait” ’80s ponies as the base should be subject to extensive fines and jail time. Conversely, custom artists can do whatever they want with post-1990 ponies, because no one gives a shit.

8. Lobby for the reprinting of MLP Colorforms, because Colorforms were the best toy and the fact that they no longer exist is basically child abuse. I’ll bet if you look into it, something in the plastic adhesive probably gave people cancer, but dammit, they were just the best toys. You could make your own MLP story right in your living room!

9. Ban all cosplay of Classic MLPs.  There is no reason, I just don’t like it. Wearing T-shirts featuring your favorite pony, however, is both allowed and encouraged.

10. Anyone who owns any Classic MLP toys or merchandise that I don’t should send it all to me for documentation, and to be displayed at the Official MLP Museum one day. Except all those old thermoses that have apple juice from thirty years ago in them, that’s gross. And coloring books where someone colored outside the lines with their Crayolas and totally messed up the art, because that’s just sad. But other than that? I want Everything. Your ponies, GIVE THEM TO ME!!I I AM THE LEADER AND YOUR TOYS WILL BE ASSIMILATED! VICTORY!!!


Well, I have my marching orders for the rest of my life. Good luck to the rest of you out there, desperately searching to add meaning to your stay here on Earth; I remember those dark times.


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