Category Archives: Video Games

Marvelous Movie Thrones

We all have that one chair that we like to sit in. For some people that chair just so happens to be a throne, and we’re about to share some thrones from our favorite movies.

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Let’s start this one off with a bang. Conan, of the Cimmerian barbarians, certainly knows how to fill a throne.

Movie Fight Scenes

Conflict drives most things, and movies are one of those things. So tune in for a bunch of pictures spotlighting some great fights on the big screen.

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Let’s start at some of the first fighters in movies. It doesn’t matter which Three Stooges movie you see, because each fight is their best.

Robert De Niro in Movies

Robert De Niro has been amazing everyone since the 70s so we’re going through and giving you a rundown of some of his best performances and quotes. Be prepared for some salty language.

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“I fuck you right where you breath, because I don’t give two shits about you or nobody else.”

Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

We really need to talk.

I often see people posting links to articles and op-ed columns, like mine, for discussion. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with this – after all, discussion is the desired result for every single installment of this column. What IS wrong is that a certain number of you, when you disagree with what’s in it, post a copy of the article from an archive website like archive.is with the express intent of denying page views to the publisher.

And this really needs to come to an end.

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There’s no shortage of writers out there whose dedication to the marketplace of ideas disappears the minute somebody disagrees with them. By now, I hope I’ve demonstrated that I am not among them – that I not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Every seventh installment is a look at reader feedback, and one of my main requirements for selecting the reader comments opposing my stance is that it has to be the best form of the argument – it has to have enough weight that, by itself, it could make you disagree with me.

You see, that’s how ideas are tested – they must be challenged. If an idea can’t withstand the challenge of somebody disagreeing with it, then it doesn’t hold water in the first place. And the only way that we can make sure our ideas hold water is to ensure that they get challenged.

And this brings me to the archive websites.

There is a big difference between disagreeing with somebody and trying to silence them. One is okay, and the other isn’t. Deliberately denying them page views is not a form of disagreement. It’s warfare, and it’s the same sort of warfare used by a certain movement that began in August 2014 to try to silence op-ed writers who they disagreed with.

But it’s worse than that.

You see, while there are websites with a strong editorial slant, there are a lot of websites without one, or which ignore their slant when it comes to their contributors – websites that publish articles that lean to both the left and the right. And, very often, the advertiser money that comes from the page views to the article you disagree with also goes towards publishing people whose views you DO agree with. So, you’re not just punishing the writer you disagree with – you’re also punishing every other writer published by that site.

Now, there are cases where a boycott is warranted. If a website’s editorial stance is pure, unadulterated racism or misogyny, or it is calling for violence against minorities, then it falls under hate speech, and it is quite reasonable to boycott them. But I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen this be the case. Most of the time, it’s a website like Kotaku or Polygon or The Escapist, where the supposed “sin” amounts to little more than being on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the person posting the link.

One of the best statements I ever seen on the subject was from Penn Jillette, who said “The solution for bad speech is always MORE speech” (emphasis mine). I believe this wholeheartedly. The only time I have ever used an archive website for a citation or a web link is when the original source is no longer available – that is, after all, what they are for. I have never used one to attempt to silence those who stand in opposition to my ideas, and I never will.

After all, the fact of the matter is that none of us will ever know if we were right in the long run. Just as our ancestors were not like us, our descendants will not share many of our values – and it is very hard to predict which beliefs we hold will be seen as misguided a century from now. For all any of us know, the writer whose thoughts we read and disagree with may very well be the one vindicated by history.

But history does have a couple of trends that repeat, and may provide something of a preview. Those who try to deny others their rights tend to be on the wrong side of it, along with those who attempt to silence criticism rather than meet it with words of their own.

So, it’s time to stop denying websites page views because one of their writers committed the sin of disagreeing with you. It’s time to use websites like archive.is or archive.org for their intended purpose of preserving content that is no longer available, instead of punishing writers on the other side of the political spectrum and those with the temerity to publish them.

After all, diversity matters. And diversity is about [b]adding[/b] voices, not replacing or removing them. Every voice that is added enriches us, and every voice that is lost leaves us poorer…even the ones we disagree with – especially the ones we disagree with.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf’s Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is available in print and Kindle formats. He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook.

Garwulf’s Corner is made possible by the support of readers like you. If you would like to see more content like this, please visit the Patreon, and if you can, contribute.

"Gamers" Are Still Dead, Y'all

Although gaming is alive and well, the basement-dwelling Mountain Dew goblin teenager stereotype who screams at his mother for “interrupting” his boob-modded Call of Duty match to give him his pizza rolls image others have of gamers is still very troublesome. It’s an image we need to resist.

Some images are worth resisting.

I think one of the biggest things the game community struggles with communicating to the outside world is that games, and by extension those who play them, aren’t what they’re imagined to be.

Part of the struggle is one of vocabulary. Games are a relatively young medium, and their unique quirks and methods still aren’t known to everyone. Telling a lifelong player to be mindful of their sensitivity settings isn’t really a hard step for those familiar with the parlance, but has no context or frame of reference for those outside of first-person gaming. It’s also true of things like frame perfect links, expert jungling, getting mana screwed, pocket Mercy, No Mercy runs, TAS runs, and countless other expressions within gaming. For the average person more on the periphery of games, terms like these have no real glossaries, and certainly very little frame of reference outside of already knowing the basics of each game.

The other part of the struggle is the culture itself. It’s hard to push into games from the outside because there is resistance to the concept of glossaries. More pertinently, those who need them. Things that widen games to audiences formerly in the outside of the culture read as some kind of betrayal. Those who feel passionately about games seem to want to keep them close, locked into a familiar shape with familiar communities. The culture that feels those already playing belong to the in-group, and out-groups trying to join either need to fold themselves quietly, or leave. That games don’t belong to anyone but those already in.

This culture is a problem, and one that manifests itself in a lot of ways. Women have a hard time pushing into game communities without the expectation to just tolerate the sexism already present. Minorities who speak against the overwhelming lack of representation are just called racists themselves for failing to accept that whiteness is the default, and any deviation is somehow confrontationally political where overwhelming underrepresentation isn’t. Fantasization of sexual femininity and toxic masculinity is the expected normal, and any push for alternatives is seen as invasive and unwanted. Honesty about design is read as manipulation, and developers are punished for getting out of line or designing games in “wrong” ways.

The lattermost point found its way to Twitter on a thread by developer Charles Randall. The thread begins talking about the fact that developers tend to be stingy with information. “Because gamer culture is so toxic that being candid in public is dangerous. See that recent twitter thread about game design tricks to make games better — filled with gamers ‘angry’ about ‘being lied to.'” He goes on to say, “Any dev who talks candidly about the difficulty of something like that just triggers a wave of people questioning their entire resume. ‘Questioning’ here being an absurd euphemism for ‘becoming a target of an entire faction of gamers for harassment or worse.’ There are still topics I can’t touch because I was candid once and it resulted in dumb headlines, misunderstandings, and harassment.

“But here’s the rub: all the stuff you ever wanted to know about game development would be out there if not for the toxic gaming community. We *love* to talk about development, the challenges we face, the problems we solve, the shortcuts we take. But it’s almost never worth it.”

Randall continues at length to discuss how the objection to developers “being political” is a part of the same problem, how developers tend to be more forthcoming among each other, and how the problems like these lead to the gaming community (and, at times, press) being left in the dark because of the culture that would follow.

All of these things seem to stem from the same idea: What games have been for the past forty or so years must remain the only thing games are allowed to be. Any change to format, mechanics, or culture should be heavily questioned, criticized, and thrown out if too avant garde. Keep costumes skimpy, muscles big, breasts and butts bigger, characters white, status quo stable, and no matter what-if someone speaks out against any of it-mob them into silence. Games belong to “gamers,” and anyone who doesn’t toe the line clearly isn’t a Real GamerTM.

No one is saying these games are inherently bad, or there should be no games styled and developed in this way, but that we genuinely need to recognize that skimpy nuns, bikini-clad martial artists, exposed-breast ninjas, and The Witcher sex scenes create an image that the games community doesn’t resist.

The problem this creates is that, from the outside, gaming appears to be a teen dude’s clubhouse that hides copies of Playboy under the furniture, invites his friends over to objectify the girl who wears short skirts to class, believes strongly that minorities couldn’t have realistically existed in fantasy medieval times, and vehemently defends the artistic merit of combat armor designed for and worn by lingerie models. At a glance, it isn’t an image that seems wrong, either.

As genuinely great as games like Bayonetta and Lollypop Chainsaw are, we also need to accept that the criticism about the sexuality built into them is valid. No one is saying these games are inherently bad, or there should be no games styled and developed in this way, but that we genuinely need to recognize that skimpy nuns, bikini-clad martial artists, exposed-breast ninjas, and The Witcher sex scenes create an image that the games community doesn’t resist.

And when parts of the community do resist, they’re met with very public and vocal dissent about how they’re trying to “censor” games, or are accusing the community of uniformly being misogynist or racist. That’s almost never the case, and acknowledging that the culture can sometimes resemble a sex-crazed white boys’ club is exactly why the visual of an energy drink-downing troglodyte has never been entirely dispelled from what gamers are. We need to resist the apparent rule in this culture that games are above questioning sexist, racist, or adolescent design or cultural decisions.

Things like feminist and racial critique of games are a part of the spectrum of what a people who play and criticize games are, and have always been. Without letting ourselves acknowledge these things as a part of the natural discourse of games, then it will always feel a little bit juvenile. It will always seem to people that our dramatic space operas are just sex games with blue aliens. It will always appear to senators and lawyers that our violence is harmful fantasizing rather than just one of many tools in games’ storytelling belts.

Further, the longer aggressive disagreement to anything perceived as “harming games” is the culturally appropriate, level-headed response, the longer even game developers will find this community toxic. Even from within, the rhetoric of war pervades disagreement more than actual discourse does. Games culture has an aggression problem, and it’s time to own up to that.

Dispelling the toxicity does mean taking a hard look in the mirror and honestly admitting that the toxic things that happen-even with the best intentions-are damaging. That is the basis of the harmful “gamer” label. What the rest of the world has internalized over years of booth babes, anime waifu boob mousepads, underdressed heroines, white-only heroism, and violent revelry does not make our community look like the mature medium games have largely become over the years. As long as the community keeps throwing very public, very aggressive tantrums at anyone pointing this out, though, it will keep looking this way.

As Leigh Alexander has already said, “Gamers” are over. The worst aspects of the “gamer” image need to be universally examined and challenged. Those challenges need to be accepted as a part of the culture. The parts of the gaming community that encourage furious dissent aren’t being evaluated enough, and that’s keeping communities at their most angry. This culture needs to start fighting an image it’s never fully earned but still has. That image is holding gaming to an image that has been in the deathbed for years, but needs to finally by buried.

Games have already changed, and will continue to change, and holding onto an aggression-centric culture isn’t helping.

Emails from the Edge: The Final Slice (Redux)

Usually, I really look forward to these installments, but I must admit that this is the exception. Once again, it’s time to bring the column to a close – at least for now – and, as with the last time, there really is only one proper way of doing that – with your words.

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Garwulf #51, “Hype Wars,” generated a short yet interesting discussion. In a long post that very much deserves to be read in its entirety, Imperioratorex Caprae noted:

Too many game publishers/devs are[…]taking something either wildly out of context in a video and presenting it up front when it may either not actually exist in their game or if it does, ends up significantly reduced in scope, or non-existent, or even obscurely featured. What I mean is they can show you a piece of a game, which will lead you to believe said piece is common, or a major feature when it could actually end up on the cutting room floor, or cut significantly enough to be barely noticeable… or in the case of some features in No Mans Sky, lost in the vastness of a procedurally generated universe to the point where proving its existence in game may actually never happen.

[…]

…we game fans need really to scale back our own expectations for these things. Be realistic in our hype, if that is possible (or just not hype things up but rather compare what we’re promised to what we’ve found so far to be possible).

If we temper our feelings, our hype, then if someone does exceed the expectations, does manage to break through the tech barrier somehow and deliver a massive experience that shifts our view of the genre, well then that’s a wonderful thing. But we all need to temper our scopes, developers/publishers and customers alike. Else we’re doomed to disappointment, and developers/publishers are doomed to lose goodwill from those target customers. It may even get to the point that publishers won’t take chances on a game that might actually be able to deliver, simply because of previous failures from other devs due to the hype and hubris, and due to the loss of trust in the genre.

Thunderous Cacophony pointed out:

No one is ever going to be 100% transparent about their development process, if only because that is impossible to keep up with. On a similar note, if they don’t promise anything until it’s set in stone in the game, they’re going to say nothing for many years of development. Feature creep isn’t something to be avoided at all costs, it’s the inevitable result of a big project with many moving parts that ideas are proposed, loved, advance significantly towards being an integral part of the final project, then are dropped for various reasons. After all, if they’re showing off visuals of something, that means that they thought it would be in the game. They didn’t show it to you with the intention of downplaying it or leaving it on the cutting room floor, they showed it because they thought it was a cool thing you’d be excited about and would help give them momentum to continue development.

And Caitseith took issue with the terminology:

You repeat the term “ultimate space sim”, but I don’t know what it means in the first place. The term “ultimate” doesn’t tell me anything that I can actually picture in my mind. I think the Ultimate Space Sim isn’t achievable because the concept itself is too abstract to be a tangible goal (even if there were no limitations to be technically doable, chances are that what you see as ultimate isn’t the same for the developers).

Garwulf #52, “Battle Royale America,” sparked a short but interesting discussion. Mechamorph suggested the differences that might exist between an American and Japanese version of the story:

The original had a very strong undercurrent of horror to it, Japanese children have their lives revolve around their class for several years at a time. The sense of identity between classmates is usually stronger than in American culture. Giving weapons to American students and telling them to kill would end up closer to “Lord of Flies” really. The violence is more natural, more personal but it does lose some of the shock factor of the original.

And Thunderous Cacophony drew comparisons between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games:

The people in [The Hunger Games] know exactly what’s happening and why, and many of them deliberately train for and enter the competition to win fabulous rewards, a competition that is broadcast to and influenced by the population at large. BR takes an entirely normal class, tells them they are in a nightmare, and murders one of them (who the others have known for years) to prove their point. It’s much more about the personal scale and the breakdown of their society and cultural taboos, rather than the macro questions of why it’s happening and how to stop it.

Garwulf #53, “The Agency of It All,” had an unexpected result. While I had described the controversy as a storm in a teacup, it seems more likely to have been a storm in a thimble – many of the reader replies started by saying that this column was the first they had heard of it. That notwithstanding, there were, as always, some very good comments. Thaluikhain suggested that armpit hair might have been on the filmmakers radar if it had been present:

It’s very [dis]ingenuous to claim that Wonder Woman’s appearance is solely, or even mostly, Gal Gadot’s decision. Now, it’s likely that she happens to shave or wax her armpits, it’s more common than not. In which case, being “normal”, the filmmakers would have no reason to think about the issue. Presumably the normalisation, and not considering that things could be different was what the complaint was about.

Suppose that Gal Gadot choose not to shave or wax, and she was going to do the filming with noticeably hairy underarms. Certainly, that is not something the filmmakers would ignore, and almost certainly she’d be asked to remove her armpit hair. Her having hairy armpits on screen, playing an attractive female character, would be very unusual.

Hermes pointed out that it’s not just the female superheroes who are without body hair in the comics, it’s the male superheroes too, and added:

Comics and cartoons are not detailed depictions of characters, visually. Otherwise, we should be angry at Ian McKellen for not being a 60 years old body builder.

There is an issue of standards of beauty in the movie, but in comics and cartoon, it is more often about animators, inkers and artists not wanting to spend a lot of time on every single frame, or just trying to get everything to fit into their art style.

But the final word, I think, has to go to Chronologist, who provided one of the better reality checks I’ve seen on one of these issues:

Yeah, this sounds absolutely ridiculous. People seem to be drawing huge conclusions about agency and empowerment and the male gaze from something that, frankly, has nothing to do with any of those things. Some people don’t mind having armpit hair. Some people find it uncomfortable. I shave my armpits because I like them smooth, not because of society or culture or anything else. This entire discussion is pointless.

Garwulf #54, “Punishing the Innocent,” created an active discussion, but one that unfortunately did turn toxic – and this is a failure on my part. It is the job of the columnist to set the tone of the discussion and create a space where readers are free to discuss the content without feeling judged, and with Garwulf #54 this did not happen. So, my apologies to any readers who were affected.

That said, there were some very good comments. Thuluikhain argued that protests in foreign countries were indeed quite useful:

They might not change the other country, but they are a good way of telling other locals that you don’t want that sort of thing within your own borders. In my experience, though, they are also a good way of diverting attention from your own issues. No country is perfect, and if you are protesting against something somewhere you can’t do anything about, you aren’t drawing attention to issues you might feel bad about not trying to fix. A few years back, a vicious gang rape in India got worldwide attention, including from people who were quietly ignoring vicious gang rapes in their own countries at about the same time.

Pyrian took issue with the terminology:

…Forget punishment. This isn’t really about punishment at all – we’re stretching the definition from the outset. This is about reward. Do we pay the innocent, knowing that some of that pay is going to the guilty? It’s a fundamentally different question from punishing the innocent. These businesses have no moral right to your patronage in the first place. And the money you save can easily be spent in places that are, well, let’s say less morally compromised. So, you can literally choose to reward the innocent more.

Same actions. You can call it “punish the innocent” but you can more accurately call it “reward the innocent”. That’s some messed up semantics.

Garwulf #55, “Useful Donkeys,” sparked a short but interesting discussion. Jamcie Kerbizz suggested that the change the installment discussed had already happened:

It is just matter of old moguls not catching up fast enough to it. The idea of ad blocks and programme schedule is bankrupt with younger generation. Nobody in their right mind watches shows when the shows are aired. They watch things when they have time to watch them. Nobody in their right mind wastes time watching ad blocks, they fast forward through them or get services that don’t interrupt the content with ads.

J.McMillen pointed out that at least some of the networks were starting to adapt:

I know in the [Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington] area, Fox wised up first. If they were broadcasting the late game which usually finished around 6-6:30pm, they wouldn’t schedule anything other than sports wrap-up shows or possibly a rerun of one of their cartoons to fill the time till 7pm (when primetime starts in the central time zone). Apparently CBS has finally done the same and moved 60 Minutes to start at 7pm instead of whenever the late game ended.

Garwulf #56, “Dear Internet,” generated a passionate and vigorous discussion. Thunderous Cacophony noted that I had been less than clear about what I was referring to, and correctly deduced that I was referring to people using archive websites to consume and discuss content while deliberately denying page views, as opposed to a general boycott where somebody does not consume any content from that source at all (and my apologies to the many people who were confused about that point, and who – correctly – argued against the position that nobody should be allowed to perform a general boycott).

DrownedAmmet managed to boil down most of the entire installment to a single paragraph (and express it with more clarity and elegance than I did):

I don’t agree with the “more speech is always better” thing, but I do have a problem with people posting archive links of opinion pieces. You don’t have to agree with an opinion piece to respect the time it took to write it, or to realize that the platform they put it on needs money to fund more opinion pieces. The beauty of opinion pieces is that you can disagree with them and have a discussion about it. I don’t think it’s right to discuss someone’s work and go out of your way to make sure they don’t get paid for it.

And in a long post that is very worth reading (and that I wish I had the space to quote in much greater depth), Callate wrote:

I’ve never put a link into an archive site; barring a little curious browsing on The Wayback Machine, I don’t think I’ve used one, at least intentionally. But I confess that there are sites I’ve stopped visiting, not just because I disagreed with their opinions but because it began to make my stomach hurt that I was contributing, even in a small way, to their metrics; that even posting a disagreement was helping to push their traffic; that whether my curiosity was intellectual or morbid, I was implicitly lending credibility to the effectiveness of their awful tactics.

But I make my decisions for myself, and as I look at “blacklists” I can’t help but wonder who’s making the decision to act as judge, jury, and executioner for these sites.

And that’s it – the last installment of Garwulf’s Corner, at least for now. I won’t say that it’s the end forever, because I’ve been wrong on that at least twice before. But it is the end for the time being.

Back when I started the first run of this column all those years ago on Diabloii.net, the recurring element was humourous fruit references. Here on the Escapist, it’s been a pair of phrases: “To be fair,” and “To continue being fair.” I really think we need more of that across the board.

I often wonder just how we’re going to be remembered by the generations long after us on the issues so dear to our hearts. Will we be remembered as the ones who finally got it right and stopped treating transgenderism as a psychological illness, or the ones who legitimized and encouraged a body disassociative disorder? Will we be recalled as the ones who came to properly understand and accept the rights women have over their own bodies, or the ones who managed to one-up the ancient world when it came to killing unwanted children by not even waiting until they had been born? Will we go down in history as the ones who got down to properly addressing racism and sexism, or the ones who used it as an excuse to wrap ourselves up in self-indulgence while ignoring the actual problem?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Nobody does. I’d like to think that we get things right more often than we get them wrong, but only time will tell. And that’s fine – I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’m good with that. I think in cases like this uncertainty is a strength that keeps one’s mind open, while certainty can be a weakness forcing one’s mind shut. And maybe, just maybe, staying on the right side of history really does come down to being fair to others, and staying fair to them.

Either way, this column has come to a close, at least for now, and the ball is in our court – OUR court, because being fair and staying fair to others takes all of us. I’ll keep holding up my end on this, and if everybody else holds up theirs, I think we might accomplish some amazing things together.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf’s Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is available in print and Kindle formats.

He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook. You can find his current pop culture writing at Comics Gaming Magazine.