October 19, 2015

The cyclic history of SF fandom

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I attended my first science fiction convention when I was 16, and being a science fiction fan in the mid 70s was ever so slightly more reputable than being a junkie or a drag queen in “mundane” society. Fandom was a tiny, tiny group of people compared to just about any other group of enthusiasts you could think of. At my first SF con in Toronto, there was a sharp dividing line between the “real” SF fans and the (euchhhhh!) Star Trek fans … even though the Trek fans were close to 50% of the attending fanbase. The “real” SF fans viewed the Trekkies as just barely tolerable (think of a guest bringing along a new and not-yet-housetrained puppy to your party). This was the first cycle of modern SF fandom history. On LiveJournal, wombat-socho outlines the pattern:

A short-lived show on NBC, Star Trek, generated massive fan interest in people who had never heard of science fiction fandom. The Trek fans flooded into fandom, and in the first of a sadly repetitive series of dumb mistakes, fandom turned on these newcomers and made them aware that they were most certainly Not Welcome. Fandom’s open and non-judgmental culture suddenly became harshly critical of “drobes” who ran around in Starfleet and Klingon uniforms they hadn’t even made themselves, and Trekkies who seemingly had no other interest in SF outside the series. This was horseshit, of course; perhaps predictable horseshit, given that so many SF fans (as I mentioned previously) were more than a little lacking in social skills, but horseshit all the same. Trekkies were in many cases SF fans fired up by the campaigns to bring the show back, fans writing fanfic, fans writing fanzines to publish fanfic and fanart in, fans starting conventions to which bemused actors were invited and besieged by legions of fans seeking autographs. In short, fans doing fanac, but not in the Approved Manner or on the Approved Topics. And so Trek fandom and its conventions, for the most part, went its separate way from traditional literary SF fandom.

Not too long after the hordes of unwashed Trekkies had been successfully repelled from the ghetto, a fellow named George Lucas showed up at the Kansas City Worldcon in 1976, promoting a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress featuring starships, a courageous young farmboy with hidden psychic powers, a couple of amusing robots, two ancient masters of martial arts, and a brutal Galactic Empire. He got a warm reception, and a few years later millions of people around the world were flocking to see the movie we all know now as Star Wars. They, too, started showing up at science fiction conventions, and got the same warm reception shown to their older brothers and sisters the Trekkies, and they in turn started going to what were increasingly called media conventions. The media conventions, like the Trek conventions before them, were very different from the fan-run SF conventions that preceded them. More (if not most) of them were unabashedly for-profit, charged different membership rates with different levels of access to the guests, and sometimes seemed more like combination flea markets/autograph sessions, with some panels where the guests talked about the shows. And they drew tens of thousands of people, because after Hollywood saw the huge piles of money Lucas was making, they couldn’t wait to launch a new Star Trek movie, a new Star Trek TV series, and all manner of TV shows and movies with science fiction themes. And lo, the fans of these shows and movies were likewise greeted with a cold shoulder by the Big Name Fans, Filthy Pros, and Secret Masters of Fandom.

At about the same time, role-playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller) exploded in popularity, followed not much later by collectible card games like Magic. For some reason, gamers had always fit better with traditional fandom, perhaps because so many of them were SF and fantasy fans to begin with, but after a while (perhaps around the time video games started becoming affordable and popular) they, too, started feeling less than welcome at regular SF conventions, and began going off to swell the crowds at GenCon and other conventions that were mostly about games and gaming.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Is a trend becoming apparent to you?

Fans, back before Star Trek, were an isolated low-status fringe group who banded together against the mundanes who looked down on them. Given multiple opportunities to live up to their declared open and tolerant mores, each and every time they tried to do to the newcomers (Trekkies, Star Wars fans, gamers, and so on) exactly what the mundanes had done to them. You can’t say fans aren’t human, because they certainly re-enacted the same social exclusion, belittlement, and shaming that almost every in-group in human society uses against almost every out-group. Oh, and look, the “real” SF fans did the same thing recently to the libertarian and conservative fanbase.

Having read the preceding, should the results of SP3 have been a surprise to anyone? The people running WSFS and the people running local SF conventions are the same people who for the last fifty years have been mouthing off about “openness” and “tolerance” and “not being judgmental” while doing their best to run off “fringefans” at every opportunity instead of welcoming new chums and introducing them to the wider world of science fiction and fantasy. In order to join traditional fandom, you are only allowed to come in through one door, only allowed to read certain books, only allowed to express certain opinions. Then you can be accepted as a “true fan”. Why would anyone in their right mind want to put themselves through that? It’s a good question, and one which a lot of fans have answered by ignoring traditional fandom in favor of geek culture events such as the San Diego Comic Convention, Otakon, GenCon, and Dragon*Con. Some fans have signed up for Sad Puppies 4, hoping to recruit enough friends and allies to retake the Hugo Awards from the Sadducees and Pharisees who have controlled it (and increasingly, handed it out to those favored by Tor) for going on ten years. In the long term, though, perhaps what fandom (as opposed to Fandom) needs to do is build up a fan organization that welcomes all fans of science fiction and fantasy, no matter what door they enter by.

September 27, 2015

World of Warships – The Tirpitz!

Filed under: Europe, Gaming, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Aug 2015

What’s the matter, Tommy… are ze Germans coming? Actually yes, they are and they’re in dirty great Battleships! I think we’re going to need bigger guns…

August 17, 2015

“#Gamergate summarized in one impossibly perfect tweet”

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s always awkward when you see (and publicize) something that seems to perfectly encapsulate your opponent’s position turns out to be nothing of the sort:

This afternoon multiple bomb threats were called in to a Society of Professional Journalists debate about GamerGate. I’ve been passed the remarks my fellow panellist, AEI scholar and feminist academic Christina Hoff Sommers, was planning to make.

A video game journalist from Vancouver recently took to Twitter to draw attention to a Tweet sent by a gamer: The gamer had tweeted: “I fucking swear — they get rid of Huge Boobs, I’m gone.” For this journalist those 11 words captured the essence of the gamer crusade. The hypermasculine dudebro attitude –— the crude objectification of women. It’s all there. Or so it seemed to him. As he put it: “#Gamergate summarized in one impossibly perfect tweet.”

But as is often the case with media accounts of GamerGate – the facts don’t really fit the narrative. First of all, the author was not talking about video games, but rather efforts to censor images of buxom ladies on Reddit. But more importantly — the author of the tweet is a young woman named Alison. Alison is a lesbian gamer who apparently enjoys gazing at images of busty women. For me, it is the game journalist’s tweet, not Alison’s, that is emblematic. It is an impossibly perfect illustration of a serious flaw in contemporary journalism: the narrative matters more than truth. The Rolling Stone’s apocryphal story about a gang rape at UVA is frequently cited as the classic example of narrative over-reach. But the press literature on GamerGate is strikingly similar.

According to dozens of media stories, #Gamergate is a nightmarish cabal of right wing males who will stop at nothing to keep women out of gaming. Comparisons with hate groups, lynch mobs and terrorists are not uncommon. In reality Gamergate has support from hundreds of thousands of rank and file video game enthusiasts from all over the world and across the political spectrum. Gamers identify with GamerGate for different reasons. A recurrent theme is consumerist – gamer journals are toadies for the game companies and need to be replaced by authentic critics, they say. Another — and the one that drew me into the world of gamers — is impatience with cultural scolds who evaluate games through the lens of political correctness. Are there some bullies and lunatics on the fringes of GamerGate? Yes there are. It’s the internet.

Media stories have focused on the female critics who have received hateful messages and even death threats. Those messages and threats are deplorable, but what the journalists typically fail to mention is that no one knows who sent them. Furthermore, those who defend Gamergate (males and females) have received hate mail and death threats as well. Too many in the media are addicted to a simplistic damsel in distress storyline — but inconveniently there are distressed damsels on both sides of the GamerGate controversy. The best data we have on on-line threats, a 2012 Pew Study for example, suggest that men, not women, are the primary targets.

July 12, 2015

Gaming journalism

Filed under: Business, Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I really haven’t been following the uproar over the gaming journalism narrative … so this story may be completely off-base (but it does at least match some of what I’ve heard from folks who are invested in the argument):

Video game journalists: those guys who use phrases like “high octane,” “balls-to-the-wall” and “artistic integrity“; the sadomasochists who label factions of their own community xenophobes and fascists, for daring to express an ironic sense of humor; the enlightened few, who described fans as whiny and “entitled” for voicing their displeasure over the conclusion to a beloved franchise.

These past few years have not been kind to the gaming community. To put it mildly, of late, video game journalists have not been too generous to the gaming community.

“Give us your clicks, your Facebook shares, your unfaltering loyalty,” they say, all doe-eyed and loving. “Oh, and please don’t enable AdBlock!” Video game journalists excitedly invite their readership to view their news articles, reviews and opinion pieces, only to kick them to the curb when they’ve siphoned up the ad money. If that’s not how the state of play is, that’s certainly how it feels.

It’s like a depressing, unfulfilling booty call, where, ultimately, everyone comes out a little crustier and disease-ridden. The games journalists may earn some clicks for cash, but they lose little pieces of their souls, their innocence, their Bambi-like demeanor. Meanwhile, angry gamers hop about social networks, gnashing their teeth and venting their disdain for the press. The fans’ incredulity over the behavior of these journalists, in turn, makes the journalists just as incredulous. The fans feel downtrodden and used, the journalists feel violated and misunderstood, and a toxic cycle of hate ensues.

A number of culture critics and social crusaders have helped foster an atmosphere of tension and animosity, striking a war between gamers and members of the games press. However, while these individuals struck the match of the debate, the journalists hurriedly gathered the canisters of gasoline. In fact, little did the community realize, these self-interested people had not been on “their side” for quite some time.

H/T to Perry de Havilland for the link, and the rather eye-catching GIF:


June 17, 2015

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns pre-purchase now available

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:18

Yesterday, Arenanet announced that the first Guild Wars 2 expansion, Heart of Thorns is now available for pre-purchase at http://buy.guildwars2.com. There is still no definite release date, but pre-purchasing will allow you to take part in the upcoming beta weekend events (just as they did for the original game).

GW2 Heart of Thorns prepurchase screen

May 20, 2015

Minecraft – the latest moral panic

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Techdirt, Karl Bode pours some scorn on a deserving demographic:

Like many people, video games have been an integral part of my life for about as long as I can remember. From my days visiting Wildcat! BBS systems where I’d play Trade Wars 2000 — to obsessing over the Apple IIe, IIc and IIgs — video games were not only an integral part of my childhood, they actually helped forge an adult career path. Swapping out graphics cards and building new PCs to play Quake 2 led to a job in Manhattan legal IT, which in turn resulted in a life focused on writing about technology. Aside from a few tics, I like to believe I wound up relatively normal, and video games have made my life immeasurably more rewarding.

That background usually forces me into the role of video game evangelist when surrounded by folks that, all too frequently, are engaged in hand wringing over the diabolical moral dangers games purportedly present. At a party recently, some friends expressed muted shock because a colleague’s kid was, instead of being social, playing a game in which he was “herding human beings and keeping them in a barn to eat.” I had to explain (skipping the part about how you’d need a mod to actually eat them) how this behavior wasn’t indicative of a Jeffrey Dahmer in training, he was simply engaged in normal problem solving behavior on the new frontier […]

Despite the fact that Minecraft is simply an amazing evolution of the Lego concept for the modern age, the moral panic surrounding the game never quite seems to abate. The latest case in point is over at the BBC, where the outlet implies it has heard all of the pro-Minecraft arguments before, it’s just choosing to ignore them in order to portray the game as an unpoliced virtual-reality hellscape that’s rotting the brains of children everywhere. While there are some good points embedded within, there are notably more bad ones, like the argument that kids should instead be reading, because reading engages imagination and builds character

May 9, 2015

A rather satisfying way to punish an in-game cheater

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:24

BBC News picked up the story of a Guild Wars 2 player who’d been cheating on a massive scale:

A character controlled by a hacker who used exploits to dominate online game Guild Wars 2 has been put to death in the virtual world.

The character, called DarkSide, was stripped then forced to leap to their death from a high bridge.

The death sentence was carried out after players gathered evidence about the trouble the hacker had caused.

This helped the game’s security staff find the player, take over their account and kill them off.

Over the past three weeks many players of the popular multi-player game Guild Wars 2 have been complaining about the activities of a character called DarkSide. About four million copies of the game have been sold.

Via a series of exploits the character was able to teleport, deal massive damage, survive co-ordinated attacks by other players and dominate player-versus-player combat.

To spur Guild Wars‘ creator ArenaNet to react, players gathered videos of DarkSide’s antics and posted them on YouTube.

The videos helped ArenaNet’s security head Chris Cleary identify the player behind DarkSide, he said in a forum post explaining what action it had taken. Mr Cleary took over the account to carry out the punishment.

H/T to MassivelyOP for both the original story and the BBC News link.

April 30, 2015

When Dungeons and Dragons met LEGO

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

A picture really can convey a thousand words:

Lego version of 1977 D and D box

I’ve often contend that three of the most significant influences on my adolescent years were: LEGO building, computer programming, and playing Dungeons & Dragons. With this latest mosaic project, I more or less bring all of those things together (the LEGO and D&D are obvious, while behind the scenes I have the software program I wrote to help me map out the whole mural).

For those not quite as nerdy as myself, here’s the background on this image. It is the cover to the boxed set of the 1977 version on the game Dungeons & Dragons. This was the first version of the game released as the “Basic” set. It was the first set that my brother and I owned and played with. Obviously, the countless hours I spent reading the rulebook and perusing the illustrations made a pretty big impression on me. In fact, I still run a Basic D&D campaign semi-regularly using this very set.

April 28, 2015

Fever dream meets DOOM

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ever have one of those fever dreams where you’re moving through the terrain of a video game? Want to recreate that experience for some reason? You’ll want to download Doomdream:


Ever play a video game so often that it shows up in your dreams?

That’s the idea behind Doomdream, an interactive experience created by Ian MacLarty to simulate what his own dreams look like after he’s been playing the classic 1993 shooter Doom all day.

Although there are no enemies, no combat or really any plot, it generates a labyrinth of pixelated gray tunnels and bloody stalagmites for you to wander in forever, recreating the nightmare of so many players who got lost in the purgatory of Doom‘s looping levels, searching fruitlessly for an exit sign.

H/T to BoingBoing for the image and story.

March 11, 2015

“Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background”

Filed under: Business, Gaming — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

I’d expect some legal action is pending over this little contracting embarrassment for Undead Labs:

Undead Lab’s State of Decay became a cult hit when it released back in 2013. Last year, the developer announced State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition. This updated iteration packs in previously released DLC along with a 1080p graphical overhaul. And once the visuals became clearer, developer Undead Labs realized their contracted help for the game hid an abundance of phalluses in the game.

While working on State of Decay, Undead Labs hired contractors to help build some of the backgrounds. For reasons unknown, those contractors scattered a collage of genitalia across the backgrounds. However, the original version of the game was a low enough resolution that the naughty bits flew under the testing radar.

“Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background,” says Geoffrey Card, senior designer at Undead Labs in an interview with XBLA Fans.

H/T to John Ryan for the link.

March 4, 2015

QotD: The macroeconomic insights of MMO gaming

Filed under: Economics, Gaming, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Video game communities, social economies, give us something that we never had as economists before. That’s something of an opportunity, a chance to experiment with a macroeconomy. We can experiment in economics with individuals. We can put someone behind a screen and experiment on the subject, and ask him or her to make choices and see how they behave.

That has nothing to do with macroeconomics. Macroeconomics requires a different scenario. You conduct controlled experiments with a large economy. We are not allowed to do this in the real world. But in the video game world, we economists have a smidgen of an opportunity to conduct controlled experiments on a real, functioning macroeconomy. And that may be a scientific window into economic reality that we’ve never had access to before.

Yanis Varoufakis, talking to Peter Suderman, “A Multiplayer Game Environment Is Actually a Dream Come True for an Economist”, Reason, 2014-05-30.

February 22, 2015

The forgotten history of the game of Monopoly

Filed under: Business, Economics, Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Open Culture, Dan Colman looks at how Monopoly evolved and changed before it became a fixture in children’s games, despite the intent of the original designer:

The Landlords Game board based on 1924 patent

The great capitalist game of Monopoly was first marketed by Parker Brothers back in February 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Even during hard times, Americans could still imagine amassing a fortune and securing a monopoly on the real estate market. When it comes to making money, Americans never run out of optimism and hope.

Monopoly didn’t really begin, however, in 1935. And if you trace back the origins of the game, you’ll encounter an ironic, curious tale. The story goes like this: Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie Phillips (1866–1948), a disciple of the progressive era economist Henry George, created the prototype for Monopoly in 1903. And she did so with the goal of illustrating the problems associated with concentrating land in private monopolies. As Mary Pilon, the author of the new book The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, recently explained in The New York Times, the original game — The Landlord’s Game — came with two sets of rules: “an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents.” Phillips’ approach, Pilon adds, “was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior.” In other words, the original game of Monopoly was created as a critique of monopolies — something the trust- and monopoly-busting president, Theodore Roosevelt, could relate to.

For more on the modern game, here’s the Wikipedia page.

Monopoly board

February 9, 2015

Accused “SWATter” arrested in Las Vegas

Filed under: Gaming, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:46

In the Chicago Sun-Times, LeeAnn Shelton reports on an arrest in Las Vegas for computer-related crimes and (effectively) attempted murder by falsely reporting a serious crime at another address to get the SWAT team to raid that location.

A gamer known online as “Famed God” — who made up a murder to get police to go to an unsuspecting west suburban resident’s home last year — is behind bars in Nevada awaiting extradition.

Brandon Willson, 19, was arrested Thursday after authorities searched his home in the 4600 block of El Presidente Drive in Las Vegas, a statement from the Will County state’s attorney’s office said.

Willson used a computer to contact Naperville’s 911 center on July 10, 2014, and claimed a murder had happened at a home in the city, prosecutors claim. Naperville’s Special Response Team responded but found no crime.

The practice involves someone falsely reporting a dangerous situation to send police to another person’s home. It is known as “swatting” because the hoax calls can lead to deployment of SWAT teams.

Calling it a “dangerous prank,” State’s Attorney James Glasgow plans to craft legislation that would make swatting a felony in Illinois, the statement said. The bill would also require anyone convicted of swatting to reimburse municipalities for the cost of the emergency response.

February 2, 2015

The point of diminishing interest

Filed under: Gaming, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

James Lileks on when gaming stops being fun … because of the damned controller:

My wife asked if we had an xbox 360, and I said we did. She said that someone on the neighborhood mailing list wanted one and could we sell it. I balked. I haven’t played it for some time but there were two games I wanted to get back to, some day. Why had I stopped? Because I can’t play console games. I can’t aim. I can’t figure out the buttons. Once upon a time I was an ace at Halo, but that was long ago, and now there’s just TOO MANY BUTTONS. I’m a keyboard-mouse man and so it has ever been.

I will never finish those games. The reason they were unfinished was because my characters had walked into walls and fallen off horses and the controller felt like a ceramic croissant in my hand. One of them started out interesting, but turned into a driving game as I chased a suspect. My inability to drive had no bearing on the story; even though I rammed the car into phone poles and fire hydrants and mowed down pedestrians by the dozen, all I got was a “be careful!” from my partner.

Every standard image of console gamers shows them sitting back on a sofa, right? Plinking away, trash-talking, relaxed. Every good game I’ve played on a computer has had me on the edge of my seat. Literally. Tense. It’s the difference between playing and inhabiting, between popping in a game disk like you’d put in a movie or turn on the radio, and entering a world. It’s odd, really: the computer screen feels interactive, responsive, an immediate field of action, perhaps because it’s a couple of feet from my face. When I’m sitting in front of a TV, it feels peculiar to interact with it, because it’s supposed to be doing all the work. ENTERTAIN ME! If you do nothing during a game your character stands there, and that makes the TV screen like the real world. It’s like walking away from the TV for a few hours and coming back to see the news anchor is sitting at the desk eating a sandwich.

So out it goes. It’s a relief, really. When entertainment feels like obligation it’s best to look elsewhere.

I wonder if James was playing L.A. Noire, as that was pretty much the point at which I stopped trying to play the game … and my partner said something remarkably like “Be careful!” before I put down the controller and turned off the console.

January 31, 2015

QotD: MMO economies

Filed under: Economics, Gaming, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A multiplayer game environment is a dream come true for an economist. Because here you have an economy where you don’t need statistics. And elaborate statistics is what you use when you don’t know everything, you’re not omniscient, and you need to use something in order to gain feeling as to what is happening to prices, what is happening to quantities, what’s happening to investments, and so on and so forth. But in a video game world, all the data are there. It’s like being God, who has access to everything and to what every member of the social economy is doing.

Yanis Varoufakis, talking to Peter Suderman, “A Multiplayer Game Environment Is Actually a Dream Come True for an Economist”, Reason, 2014-05-30.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress