gaming

Punching Through a Crystal Wall

Remember that Doctor Who episode, where he was trapped in the nightmare loop? The way he escaped was, each time he got to the end/his death, he punched a thick glass (or rock crystal?) wall, just once, with his bare fist. Turns out that he ends up going through that time loop so many times, that he eventually punches through the thick crystal wall completely. Think of how many millions of times you’d have to punch with a bare fist, to get through a rock wall several feet thick. But he succeeds, and it sets him free.

My life lately has run up against that thick layer of crystal, or so it feels: beautiful, but holding me in a loop. I’m punching it with my bare fist, though, over and over, and will persist until it gives way. Problem is, I also have to rely on others to add their punches to mine, and so am also being forced to wait. I spent a long while musing about this last night: I’m stalled, and it’s frustrating, as I am powerless to move these other people into action. And so I wait.

But here’s the stuff I am indeed actively doing–these things may be interesting to you, lovely lurkers, so here goes:

Wisdom From Everything was a remarkable production, and my scenes of violence were carried out beautifully. This production closes on the 26th, so those of you lurkers who are local, don’t miss it.

My initial writings on the topic of Problematic Female Badasses in lit and pop culture are slowly, painfully, becoming a book. Page 23, the academic branch of Denver Comic Con, has accepted it as part of their panel presentations, and so I will be talking about this project and my 7 Tropes live in front of a roomful of geeks this June. Will I be the catalyst for Gamergate 2.0? Time will tell…

Also this summer, I’ll be trekking back to Longmont to teach the teenaged ballerinas how to fake punch each other in the face, drag each other around by their hairpinned buns, and etc. One of the highlights of that is when they learn the face slam. The initial teaching of it is slamming the face into the floor, but some tutued girl always gets the idea to slam her partner’s face into the ballet barre, which is just such a delightful thing to witness.

Sooner than that, though: Blue Dime Cabaret is having our first show at Full Cycle on April 7th. It’s a bike shop, coffee shop, and bar over on Pearl Street where Penny Lane used to be. This is going to be a really fun show: we’ve got comedians, burlesque, burlesque on roller skates, and an opera singer. I’ll be jiggling my sparkles in a 1920s Charleston inspired burlesque bit that I actually need to finish choreographing… anyway, we’ve also been picked to perform in this summer’s Boulder Fringe Fest, too, so this’ll be a fun way to see how these variety shows will turn out. If you’re local, do come see us, and tip generously. I need the money.

I’ll let you know how Goth Prom goes, too. I have a rather ’80s inspired outfit to honor my early days of gothiness. But anyway.

These are the punches I’m throwing these days. What punches are you throwing into your walls? Add them in the comments, if you’d like to share. Of course, there’s a reason I call you all “lovely lurkers…”

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Denver Comic Con is Nigh

It’s so nigh, you guys. It’s nigh enough that it should be named Bill (I’ll wait….)

And yes indeedy, I certainly am presenting my famous The Fight Is The Story spiel on a panel. This year, the academic branch of DCC (called Page 23) has added me to a panel called “Smackdowns and Superheroes: Fighting the Good Fight in Comics, TV Shows, and Video Games.” Right?! I’m on a panel that totally fits w my topic! 

So the Smackdowns panel is Saturday of Comic Con (that would be July 1st), at 5pm. I’m the fourth of four presenters, so hopefully I’ll have a nice robust audience left for my bit. I will no doubt be walking around Friday as well though, and maybe even Sunday, so beyond coming to see me talk about the importance of The Actor’s Rules in narrative, and physical storytelling, and how awesome lightsabers are, and how terrible the fight in Phantom Menace is, buy me a DCC beer and have a conversation (I believe this year’s specialty beer is called “I Am Brewt”). See you there, and soon!

Book review re-post: Chicks Dig Gaming

Another in the Reviews From The Nearly-Defunct Nerds in Babeland Site That I Wrote And Am Now Re-Posting Here series: Chicks Dig Gaming. I am inspired to re-post this one because Friend Ed is involved in a game-related fundraiser for an excellent cause right now. Visit me on Facebook to find out more and support him.

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Book Review: Chicks Dig Gaming

Review by Prof. Jenn

chicksdiggamingBooks of this nature can easily fall into the trap of redundancy. Witness my review for Queers Dig Timelords, another anthology of this ilk, and indeed in this series. Chicks Dig Gaming does not, however, fall prey to the trap. The collection of essays span from wicked satire to sweet nostalgic memoir, to a celebration of gaming in general or certain games, a recounting of a particular gaming event, to analysis of a game or game trope, a recounting of the history of video games, to the ever-important discussion of the unfair and even dangerous treatment of women in the gaming world. This collection doesn’t only cover video games, but board games, LARPing and pen-and-paper RPGs are discussed as well.

My problem with Queers…, as you recall, was that the essays all had the same tone and even the same subject matter (Doctor Who changed my life because…). This, especially read in big sections in one sitting, started to grate on the nerves, or at least became repetitive fawning. Chicks… doesn’t do this, as each essay has an author voice distinct from every other, and the topics at hand vary widely. I commend the editors for this, as it’s an entertaining as well as an informative read throughout.

Highlights of this collection include: a satirical look at the lack of boys in video gaming and what we can do about it, a parallelling of Mario to a bodhisattva and the Mario games to buddhism, how one author who didn’t like video games at all tried Portal, and a delightfully written description of how another author learned to get cutthroat in Eve Online.

Bottom Line: this collection is highly recommended for anyone who loves any games.

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Thief 4 Review Re-Post

Since Nerds In Babeland is going the way of the dodo, lovely lurkers, I wanted to re-post some of the highlights of the many reviews I did for them back when they were all active and stuff. Here’s one of my favorites, from my favorite video game franchise. This will be the first of several re-posts. Please to enjoy.


Dual Review: Thief [4] / The Art of Thief by Eidos / Titan Books

Review by Prof. Jenn

It has taken me a long time, readers, to finally sit down and compose this review, and I’ll tell you why: it’s because I don’t feel like I’ve played through enough of Thief 4 (aka Thief) to give an expert’s opinion fairly. Even when I’m sent a book to review that I can’t stand, I make it a point to read it in its entirety before writing the review for Nerds in Babeland. I feel it’s only fair to the artists involved for me to do so.

It has been so long though, readers, that I want to tell you my thoughts about the game and also the art book that Titan Books were good enough to send me to look at as an accompaniment, and I want to tell you also why I’ve decided to do so with the game unplayed completely. Let’s start with the book, The Art of Thief:

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The Book

This is not the first time I have encountered a gorgeous coffee table style art book from the folks at Titan, and they really do a good job at it (even of franchises I have no interest in–remember the visual companion to Dark Shadows?). This art book, showing the many facets of the art for Thief 4 (not for any of the earlier games in the series unfortunately), is actually what’s making me want to persevere and continue the game after I have lost interest. It includes character design and development, concept sketches of character, loot, settings and weaponry and often shows said art from beginning brainstorm through to 3D rendering. Another very cool perk included in this book is the many storyboards laid out for various scenes from the game. It’s making me want to pick the game up again, just so I can continue to play to see those cool steampunky prostitutes and Garrett’s fence, Basso. He looks so cool! Which brings me to:

The Game

Now I am a huge fan of the Thief games. Huge. The first two, beyond being revolutionary as far as gameplay (the Thief franchise is widely touted as the originator of the sub-genre of the FPS called Stealth. Many call Deus Ex the original FPStealth, but it’s really Thief. But I digress), but offers an incredibly rich world, with an interactive story so well written it actually kind of pisses me off. So I know very well how Garrett lost his eye (a visceral cutscene I’ll never forget), what it was replaced with and what that does to make his vision special. The warring factions of Hammerites (later scarier maniacal Mechanists) and their opposites the Pagans (who can forget the creepy giggle as one navigated through Constantine’s mansion), and of course the enigmatic and ultimately political Keepers. I know the world well, and love it, especially our POV protagonist, Garrett. I’ve even written fan fiction for this world. Wow, I just admitted that online…

Having said that, I am not one to immediately go all Star-Wars-Fan-on-Episode-One when I learn the franchise I love is getting a reboot. I mean, it can work very well–witness the new Star Trek movies. Even with a different studio–I mean, Thief 3 wasn’t quite the rich stellar game its predecessors were, but it was a solid Thief game, firmly rooted in that universe; Garrett was himself and there exists in Thief 3 probably the most terrifying horror level of any game ever. Yes, I include Limbo. I mean EVER. (Read about the Cradle level here.) At the end of Thief 3 we notice our intrepid protagonist acquiring a young (we assume) apprentice. So when I saw that in Thief 4 it begins with Garrett and his now young-adult-aged apprentice bickering, I thought “huzzah.”

But this reboot is a pale, watery thing compared to the scotch that was the other Thief games. Where Garrett was cynical and world-weary, here he is petulant. Where he reluctantly found his heart of gold, here he’s soft and weak. Where before we had knowing banter with real parental strife between him and the Keepers, now his apprentice Erin whines and bitches and isn’t actually well trained enough to seem to be his apprentice in the first place. And speaking of Keepers:

There are no Keepers in this new rebooted world. No Hammerites, no Pagans. The City is a lovely-dingy steampunk place to live, similar to how it was, but the old fantasy world this is not. This more like post-apocalyptic Detroit than the rich world Thief comes from. Real-world swear words have replaced the “taffer” of the old dialect, and Garrett dresses less like a member of a Lieber-esque thieves’ guild than an emo early aughts Goth.

The retrofitting of his mechanical (now magical) eye and thereby powers of special sight is a weak version of the  eye he used to wear, designed by megalomaniac Karras. Why was the eye story changed?

And without the warring factions, the religious zealotry, the Keepers, the burricks even (we get a nod to them in the name of a tavern), we are left with a bitter protagonist with no reason for his bitterness. We get whiny teenaged goths. The reboot of the world has diminished said world irreparably.

As far as gameplay goes, the designers have made a mistake in not taking a lesson from those games that have surpassed Thief on the console. The controls are not intuitive, Garrett doesn’t have all the skills he would have as a thief of his caliber (why didn’t Eidos take a hint from the Assassin’s Creed folks?) and the simplest quests are difficult to follow based on the way the game is set up as far as objectives go. This game needs to be either a) a very open ended sandbox like an AC IV or heck even a Skyrim, or b) much more streamlined and story-driven than it is. Right now it doesn’t know which it wants to be, and that, coupled with all the richness stripped out of the world, I’d just as soon be a pirate with Assassin’s Creed than a thief with my beloved Thief game. And that makes me sad.

Now remember: I have admitted I haven’t played Thief [4] very far. The reason is because of the above, mainly: Garrett is no longer a likable POV character, the world isn’t as rich and interesting as it was, and the controls are annoying. Maybe it gets brilliant later on. Maybe I’ll find out.

Maybe I won’t.

Bottom Line: if you’re a Thief fan or a steampunk enthusiast, the art book is for you. If you’re not, check out the otherworldly beauty of it anyway–you’ll probably want it on your coffee table, regardless. If only the game had more than just surface prettiness. Skip the game and play Bioshock Infinite.

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The Fight is the Story v. 3.0: panel #1 review

the big blue bear greets all the geeks


Day One of Denver Comic Con was lovely–what a good way to nerd out for a weekend. Hereby is the first of several recounts of my panel experiences at this year’s con.

Noon on Friday was the first panel I enjoyed. I enjoyed it because I was on it–the panel was called: “From Aquaman to Zatanna: using comic books in the classroom.”

Oddly, neither one of us presenters on the panel really focused on that topic. I modified what is now my 3rd annual Fight is the Story presentation to adhere more to fit under that aegis, but….yeah. Well, the small audience left by the time I presented were very into it, and we had some good conversations surrounding especially the inefficacy of the big lightsaber fight at the end of Episode 1. 

Star Wars Episode 1, you guys. You know the one I mean. The one where there’s no reason for the fight to be happening, the one where nobody is trying to do anything to anyone else? That one.

As a closing note: what is it about academia that makes for people reading their scholarly papers aloud, verbatim, instead of presenting them in an engaging manner? I know what you’re thinking: “But Jenn, not everybody is theatrically trained like you. In fact, very few are.” Yeah, that’s true, but….yeah. 

Denver Comic Con

I’m presenting both on Friday and Sunday this weekend at Denver Comic Con, lovely lurkers. If you’re local or travelling nerds, come heckle me and buy me pints of Snapericot Ale.

I’ll also give y’all a daily rundown of the shtuff I enjoy when I’m not presenting, so stay tuned. Well I mean a rundown of the daily stuff. I can’t guarantee a daily post. Yanno.

Panel #1: From Aquaman to Zatanna (I’m doing a shortened version of my presentation The Fight is the Story.)

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I’ll be talking about this fight in both my panels. The fight is the story. This one ain’t.

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Denver Comic Con 2016

You asked for it, lovely lurkers; you got it. The deets re: my presentations at this year’s Denver Comic Con, happening this weekend.

I’ll be there all weekend, for one thing. DCC is a big deal for me as a geek but is also tinged with heartbreak too because of cumulative years of personal stuff (wanna know? Buy me a pint down there and we can talk), so I plan on walking around and having no money to buy things and trying to keep it together. That’s when I’m not presenting. But this year, I’m presenting twice!

JENN’S PANELS:

1) Friday at noon I’m on a panel called From Aquaman to Zatanna, the topic of which is comics in the classroom. I’ll be talking about story structure in scenes of violence. This is a panel for the academic branch of Pop Culture Classroom, called Page 23.

2) Sunday at 11am I will be presenting SOLO!!! Yes, that’s right folks: my presentation called The Fight Is The Story was accepted by DCC proper and I’ll be talking fight scenes in stories, fights as stories themselves, and will share my Genrification system of fight style diagnosis. And if I can figure my tech out, I’ll show a bunch of clips and dissect them.

I am psyched and I am already getting nervous. Come heckle me and then buy me a Snapericot ale after and nerd-rage with me about Star Wars, yeah?

From last year’s DCC: I am holding my own as a Redshirt with Jonathan Alexandratos.

Mini-Essay Contest Winner #2: Chris

Here’s the second and last of the Mini-Essay contest winners from this semester, this one by Chris S. from the 2:30 pm ENG 121 class, on video games and violence. Please to enjoy, and good job all FRCC Comp writers!   ~Jenn

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by Christopher Snyder

On December 14th, 2012 a 20-year-old man shot 20 children and 6 adults at an elementary school before committing suicide himself.  It was a horrific and heart breaking event carried out by a deranged person, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.  The original report pegged Ryan Lanza as the shooter.  Ryan had “liked” the video game Mass Effect on his Facebook page, and the laser space shooter was immediately blamed for warping the man’s mind.  The official webpage for Mass Effect was flooded with accusations calling the creators, “murderers” and “baby-killers”.  US Senator Joe Manchin talked to the media, stating that these violent games should be banned before they do anymore damage “see what it promotes, shouldn’t that be looked into and maybe be banned?” (Matulef).

The shooter turned out to be Ryan’s younger brother, an avid fan of StarCraft and Dance Dance Revolution.  Evidence of Dance Dance Revolution’s violent gameplay is shown here.DanceDanceScreen1

Blaming video games for violent acts isn’t new, in 2013 Obama funded a 10 million-dollar witch-hunt to attempt to find a connection between video games and American violent crimes (Matulef).  The research findings are promising.  Not only do video games not increase violent tendencies, the rise in video game sales coincides with a more peaceful America and has even been proven to have viable cognitive benefits to young gamers.  So why are video games okay?

The myth has been successfully debunked, a study by psychologist Christopher Ferguson has proven that there is absolutely zero link between “violent media and behavior and also questioned the methodology of previous studies suggesting the two were related” (Independent).  A long-term study from 1996-2011 showed that the amount of violence in video games has increased dramatically, while at the same time the rates of violence among younger people have gone down.  “Youth violence dropped precipitously despite maintaining very high levels of media violence in society with the introduction of videogames” (Ferguson).  Initial studies and statements linking video games to violence have been questioned due to incorrect testing measures.  Aggression in initial testing was measured based on how many non-painful noise-bursts a player would want to inflict on another, more noise-bursts was marked as a higher amount of aggression.  These studies are controversial due to the fact that they have very little relation to how aggression or increased violence would carry over into the real world.

As it turns out, increases in video game sales actually coincide closely with large declines in youth violence.  From 1995 to 2010 video game sales have risen dramatically.  During the same time period, violent youth crimes dropped to nearly a quarter of their incidence rate over the same time period.

If violence and increased aggression are really a problem created by video games, why are there more games and less violence?  Studies have shown that the opposite can be true and that video games can actually do a lot of good for people.

Researchers are currently conducting studies to determine the theoretical positives of gaming.  Psychologists argue that games “are beneficial to social and cognitive development and psychological well-being” (Wikipedia).  Experiments with different types of games show the benefits that they can deliver.  We’ve all seen the Wii remote.  Bringing full range of motion into video games has shown that it can help children develop full range of motion.  Action games create greater hand-eye coordination.  Violent video games have been proven to reduce stress by providing an outlet for anger.  One study showed that almost 50% of young male children actively use violent games to lower their stress levels.  Other benefits noted by psychologists include education in the form of reading and learning facts, increases in entrepreneurial and problem solving skills, some games can actually be used for physical rehabilitation.  By creating a consequence-free environment in which a person can explore while fully engaging their brain and body, we can help kids with special needs to become more active members of society.

The witch hunt on video games is a huge waste of money.  The blame game and finger pointing is a knee-jerk reaction, and has cost this country valuable time and resources that could’ve been spent on solutions to poverty or increasing energy demands.  It’s been proven time and again that there isn’t a negative link between video games and violent crimes.  It’s painfully obvious that video games can actually help our youth to grow and develop.  If we keep throwing money and the right people at it, I’m sure we can find many things to vilify in modern gaming, but why not spend those resources on tracking and developing the positives that video games bring to the table?

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References:

Ferguson, Christopher J. Journal of Communication. 1st ed. Vol. 65. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcom.12129/full

“Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting.” Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://www.citationmachine.net/bibliographies/67460940?new=true

Vincent, James. “Long-term US Study Finds No Links between Violent Video Games and Youth Violence.” Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/long-term-us-study-finds-no-links-between-violent-video-games-and-youth-violence-9851613.html

Jeffrey, Matulef. “Obama spends $10 million to research link between video games and violence.” Eurogamer.net. Retrieved from http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-01-16-obama-spends-USD10-million-to-research-link-between-video-games-and-violence

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