Thursday, September 4, 2014

Videogameopolis: Fighting Imaginary Dragons

Usually when I write about video games, it's reviewing or examining specific content of games. I'm generally disconnected from the wider "gamer" culture, because I tend to avoid fan communities. Even those I'm ostensibly a part of I keep at arm's length. Fan communities tend to embrace extremism, both positive and negative, for things that are extraordinarily insignificant.

#GamerGate proves that the gaming community is no different. In fact, it seems that gamers are embracing extremism and fanaticism in a way that's a little shocking. The controversy was sparked by spurious claims against an independent games developer that lead to wider anger over fraternization between those who write about games and those who make them. Supposedly, games creators having any kind of relationship, even professional friendship, with journalists is a massive breach of objectivity and integrity.

The anger unleashed recently has been wildly destructive and misguided, mostly directed at women and those who raise issues of social equality. This has led to a campaign of harassment against indie game developers, freelance writers, and smaller games websites. Already, several writers have announced their departure from writing about games, deciding that the underpaid career is not worth the abuse.

There seem to be several major strains of anger coming together in the GamerGate campaign. The first is a small, but virulent group of misogynistic and racist individuals who are using the gaming community as their personal army of destruction. These people want to see women and people of color driven out of the video game industry. While they may not be the majority, their influence has made this event especially toxic and has helped guide it's aim.

Entwined with the former group are those individuals who believe that the gaming industry is too concerned with social justice issues, and that video games should return to just being "fun." They see the games industry opening up to new people and ideas, and fear that their preferred entertainments, such as violent shooters, will somehow go extinct. Both this and the former group are the creation of outdated ideals based on fear of change, and there isn't much to be done about them other than drown them out of the conversation.

The last strain is also the supposedly legitimate face of the GamerGate movement. These people believe that any social connections between gaming industry professionals violate journalistic integrity. The only path to true "objectivity," they claim, is to weed out the corruption by revealing every personal detail of those involved and driving out those creators that are proven corrupt. This crusade, like most, ignores the blinding reality. There is no objective journalism, and social connections are inevitable in any professional community.

Anyone expericing shock that journalists and their subjects interact socially should read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 and The Boys on the Bus. Hunter Thompson and Timothy Crouse examined political campaign writing in the 70s, and found connections between politicians and journalists just as entangled, if not more so, than those within the gaming industry. Unlike video games writing, which is relatively inconsequential, these men and women were producing the coverage that shaped how the nation viewed its presidential candidates.

As those books show, these kind of social relationships grow within any kind of professional community. If you spend the majority of your time interacting within the space of the games industry, it's natural that most of your social bonds will form in that space. GamerGate claims some kind of major conspiracy to promote "unworthy" games, but it's mostly a case of confusing the cause and effect. Journalists cover games and then build up a rapport with the creators. It's not a bad thing to disclose those relationships once they exist, but their influence is being vastly overestimated.

Even though the cries for integrity and objectivity are the front of the GamerGate movement, they are confused and misdirected. Writers have long examined actual objectivity problems within the industry, like major corporations paying for coverage by YouTube broadcasters. Major publishers have given gifts to and thrown lavish events for games journalists for years. In those cases, the games and personalities concerned are more acceptable to the typical gamer audience, so such breeches in journalistic credibility receive far less outrage. Now that the games press is giving increased coverage to smaller independent games, as well as examining social issues within more mainstream games, the gamer community looks to nepotism and corruption as the only explanation for why something they find irrelevant is getting so much press.

The rallying cry against GamerGate has been that the campaign needs to stop as long as it's continued to be used as a tool of harassment. It's status as a virtual witch hunt, primarily against women, is its most vile aspect, but it's also important to notice that the ideas at the core of the movement are fundamentally flawed, coming from a complete misunderstanding of how the professional world works. Disclosure and openness are important in writing, but expecting journalists to be social pariahs disconnected from the world they cover.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Misanthrope Visits the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

Fort Wayne, IN
One of the country's best zoos for families and people who don't want to deal with ludicrous crowds

Northern Indiana is not known for its thriving culture or thrilling attractions. One of the major reasons my wife and I left the state was because of the mind-numbing wasteland it becomes in the winter, and the summer isn't much better for those not interested in outdoor sports. There's definitely still things to see and do, but it often requires looking a little deeper or searching a little further.

While not as well-known as any attractions in Central Florida, the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo is also far better than just a hidden gem. It's one of the few genuine bright spots of the region, a moderately sized zoological park that still features a strong selection of animals and a constant drive to improve facilities. When I lived in Indiana, an annual membership was a necessity. I was determined to make a long awaited return to the zoo during my recent trip back to Indiana.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Misanthrope's Guide to Star Tours: The Adventure Continues

Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The main guide page can be found here, with links to previous posts.

While rides based on movies can be found in every Disney park, Hollywood Studios is the theme park dedicated to cinema in all its forms. Attractions themed to classic films and television shows, and in the case of the American Idol Experience, not so classic tv shows, form many of the key experiences. While Disney only recently purchased George Lucas's legacy of films, Hollywood Studios has long hosted one of the original Star Wars rides.

 Star Tours was a state of the art simulator ride when it opened in the 80s, featuring technology previously used to train fighter pilots. It remained a popular thrill ride for years, but the experience felt increasingly dated. Promised film updates never materialized, and simulators became so common that they could be found in shopping malls. Even the release of the Star Wars prequels did not inspire an attraction update, though that may have saved the world from Jar Jar Binks appearing alongside Mickey Mouse.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Videogameopolis: Chucky Mendoza and the Curse of the Pharaoh Review

Chucky Mendoza and the Curse of the Pharaoh
Developer: {ths}
Available from Itch.Io for $.99+ or Free (with optional payment) from Developer Website

Indie games tend to be labeled "retro" by people who don't appreciate the simpler, often pixel based aesthetics that those games often utilize. The reason for these art styles is usually not nostalgia, but rather a choice driven by artistic design or budget requirements. Occasionally, though, there's a game that proudly trumpets it's retro feel. Chucky Mendoza and the Curse of the Pharaoh sells itself as a nostalgic throwback to a simpler, more difficult era, one that may not be appealing to everyone.

Chucky Mendoza's feature list is a refutation of all the evolutions in game since its earliest days. It's a list of things the game doesn't feature, including "save points," "tutorials," "extras," and "achievements." Inspired primarily by 8 bit platforming games from the Commodore 64, it evokes their feel by avoiding any modern game design, except for slightly better pixel graphics.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Videogameopolis: Tone Friends Review

Tone Friends
Developer:  01010111
Available from Itch.Io for $1+

Tone Friends by developer 01010111 is advertised as a "cute collection of music and sound games for anyone to play." Comprised of five simple flash games based around the basics of music and sound, it's an interesting diversion that unintentionally pulls off a great feat. In a world comprised of exploitative business models disguised as games for kids, Tone Friends manages to be a great interactive experience for young children that can also teach a little about music, as well.

All games are entirely controlled by the arrow keys, and most are easy to comprehend with little instruction. The art style evokes some of the earliest video games, with simple pixel art work and black and white color palette. Flashes of color and some higher fidelity designs are used as accents, which stand out from the more primitive surroundings. Colors mark out success, help denote what's important in the game, or just provide extra feedback along with the sound.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Videogameopolis: Escape Goat 2 Review


Even though they encompass an incredible variety of ideas, most indie games tend to work within tried and true genres, whether to subvert them, perfect them, or use them as a tool for other purposes. Escape Goat 2 is a puzzle game that aims for perfection, minimizing most skill-based platforming while focusing on logic and timing puzzles. It also stars a purple goat and a mystical mouse, but that's not especially relevant. This game isn't a joke, unlike some other goat themed releases, and it deserves far more attention for its spectacular puzzle design.

Escape Goat 2 is the sequel to a pixel graphic puzzle platformer released in 2011. The original game received acclaim for its ingenious puzzles and intuitive learning curve, and even inspired a Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin? episode, but had to struggle through Greenlight to receive a release on Steam. The sequel has gained the honor of being the first game published by beloved developer Double Fine, but still has not received as much attention as it deserves.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Misanthrope's Guide to the 2014 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

 Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The main guide page can be found here, with links to previous posts.

Spring is a wonderful time in Florida. The weather is the perfect temperature, the summer storms have yet to arrive, and tourists only appear in sporadic bursts rather than a constant torrent. The birds are chirping, the rabbits are multiplying like rabbits, and Epcot's annual Flower and Garden Festival returns for yet another year. Like Spring itself, it's pretty much the same as last year, but it's definitely a welcome return.

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, for those who haven't read my previous articles on it, is a two month long celebration of flora and vegetation, along with the occasional sniff of industrial strength fertilizer. Traditionally, it's been the less attended of Epcot's major festivals, since staring at vibrant flowers has less general appeal than getting plastered on wine or seeing a dizzying array of international Santas. For a nature loving misanthrope, however, it's always been wonderful, as the non-Spring Break crowds were dead and the park came alive with vibrant colors.