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Judging a Book by its Cover


I've largely been ignoring politics lately, so I'm not entirely up-to-date on the latest pearls of wisdom Glenn Beck has shared with the world. I know his show on Fox was canceled, which he deftly spun as an opportunity to join the cause he's been championing since Obama's inauguration. What that cause entails remains a mystery to me, but he's incredibly prolific. The book pictured above was just one of 4 books he had published in 2011.

Based on the cover image alone, it's not exactly clear what this book is about. Obviously, Glenn Beck and George Washington are involved. It's also clear that Mr. Beck is quite fond of our first president. Here we have the author himself, perfectly in focus in the foreground, clothed humbly in gray, hands unassumingly folded, smirking as humbly as humanly possible. This is a clear and effective way of reinforcing the Glenn Beck as the everyman hundreds of thousands of people adore. Well done.

But wait! What's that bust doing in the background taking up less than a quarter of the cover? My community college critical thinking training tells me that it's George Washington. The very subject of the book. Why is he in the background, blurry, and taking up half the space of the author? There appears to be some dissonance between the title of the book and what's implied by the cover. Was this Glenn's idea? One of his handlers? One of the fine people at the publishing house? Which man is really so indispensable? Perhaps he is as we've "never seen him" because he's never appeared so blurry.

The dust jacket description makes it clear that Glenn's intentions were to show us what made Washington an ideal role model. It's likely that he's intending to magnanimously include himself as a regular guy who Washington inspires. This image's composition entirely contradicts that idea, instead making Mr. Beck look like someone with some serious delusions of grandeur.

This is an even newer book about a former president, its cover makes much more sense.

Sorceresses Gone Wild: Witcher 2's insidious sexism


A quick disclaimer: I consider The Witcher 2 to be one of the finest western RPGs I've played. It's fun. Combat has this distinct sloppy rhythmic weight to it. Cities feel refreshingly alive in the wake of Skyrim and Dragon Age 2. The plot, while unspectacular, was well paced and written competently enough for me to sink enough free time into without ever feeling bogged down in errand running.  Story-shaping decisions aren't ham-fisted or too predictable. Hell, even issues of race were taken seriously. The typical high-fantasy trope of elves/dwarves replacing actual human races as the victims of bigotry is still present here, but at least racial inequality is given consideration.

The same can't be said for gender inequality. It's not even that women are ignored or secondary to male characters in terms of characterization or importance to the story.  The game doesn't tackle issues of race in a particularly nuanced or revolutionary way, but at least you can see it stands on the side of, you know, not being racist. It's  far less clear where the developers stand regarding gender.  Many of the events don't seem so harmful when taken out of context, but it's the insidiousness that was increasingly obvious. At one point, the issue is addressed, and it makes everything worse.

Triss carried off in the background as Geralt, foreground, gazes into the distance.

 Triss, a powerful sorceress love interest, needs our grizzled hero to rescue her - an overdone plot device that undermines an otherwise strong character. Prior to her disappearance, we're treated to a  sex scene where we alternate (after she uses her special sexy sorceress powers to strip bare, duh) between viewing the duo as an affectionate couple and viewing Triss's breasts, which take center screen as we see the scene from Geralt's perspective. Woman-centric nudity and sex scenes aren't out of the ordinary, though they may alienate the demographic not terribly interested in this particular brand of softcore porn.

This is not a role playing game about forming a fully fleshed-out character. He's been written, our choices, while often plot-changing, rarely have that much of an impact on Geralt's personality. They allow us to decide just how sympathetic Geralt is to the plight of the elves, how ruthless a hero he is, whether or not he enjoys clearing pests from his current place of residence, and how serious he feels about Triss.

These choices aren't always compelling, but the important ones usually are. At these moments, I'm able to play Geralt as a relatively sensitive, conscientious fellow in an incredibly indecent society -- rather than a sociopathic rogue.

Sadly, this simply isn't true with women. The key moment was a conversation with a female elf NPC named Gittan whom I happened upon one night in Old Vergen.  She's one of the very few NPCs in town that you're able to engage.  Upon greeting her, Gittan remarks how women, whose abilities are often superior to men on the battlefield, are not treated as equals off of it. This unfairly got my hopes up. Geralt is able to respond in one of three ways, I went back and reloaded my game to explore every branch of the dialogue tree.

The first option is "You think highly of your skills" We can follow this up by having Geralt lecture her about missing the opportunities available to her, encouraging her to "think less, do more." Alternatively, Geralt can challenge her to "prove it" which results in the same sort of bootstrap-pulling line, adding only that "men lead because we act" while telling her to stop idly chatting and start blazing a trail. Not really the most empathetic, socially aware choices here, but that's just one branch.

The second primary option is to tell Gittan that "we don't see eye to eye", immediately dismissing Gittan and ending the conversation.

The third option is "I don't understand" prompting Gittan to explain that regardless of abilities, women won't be able to lead. Geralt automatically responds that she's an exception, since most women don't share her dreams, to which she retorts that he'd be surprised. Now two more branches are available. We can encourage her not to give up and to try to blaze a trail. This is the closest we're going to get to a sensible response, it at least allows Geralt a bit of sensitivity even if he still doesn't show any sign of knowing what the hell she's talking about. It's personal encouragement, but it doesn't acknowledge the social issue under discussion.

Geralt's second possible response at this point opens up another subset of choices by claiming she's exaggerating. Gittan tells a brief story about a male comrade taunting her about the tactical practicality of "tits like those." Here, Geralt can use the same "don't give up" speech from earlier, or can take the male comrade's side, saying "he had a point" before awkwardly moving into the "think less, do more, godspeed" speech from before.

That's it. Not only is the best option weak, it's easily outnumbered by responses ranging from dismissive to naive to blatantly hateful. This conversation, which may have given all the straight male pandering a more subversive tone, ended up retroactively galvanizing every moment tinged by the male gaze. Now Geralt's sexual possibilities aren't just a way to show the rampant debauchery of the world  or to deepen relationships; their most important function is allowing the player to see more titty.

 When the epilogue begins we make our way through a city whose inhabitants are victims of a nation-wide purging of sorceresses, magicians, and other freaks. This was a surprisingly poignant moment. It was legitimately horrifying as I walked through what was one of several cities ravaged by the impassioned slayings of Geralt's kin by reactionary bigots. This scene leads to a strange, almost appropriately underwhelming final confrontation with the kingslayer you've spent the game pursuing. It's an awkwardly melancholic conclusion, its triviality palpable in the wake of genocide. The Witcher 2 and its developers stand against bigotry by coaxing us into standing on the side of the dehumanized and oppressed, but they don't seem to think that includes women, effectively reinforcing the negative attitudes they seemingly abhor.

It's possible that much of this is part of the story arc. Who knows what'll happen in the Witcher 3. Perhaps the coming genocide will affect Geralt enough to open his mind, or Triss will dispel his chauvinistic qualities in favor of something closer to feminism, like Yoko Ono did for John Lennon. After all the Witcher 2 is supposedly a pretty big step in the right direction after the pinup card collecting of the first, so there is reason to hope that they'll eventually get it right.

Shortly after the Gittan conversation, Geralt stumbles upon a sorceress spanking her short-shorts wearing, bare-breasted apprentice with an unmistakable resemblance to a Girls Gone Wild coed.

Horror Games - Blogs of the Round Table

 This is my entry for October's Blogs of the Round Table

this is me scared.

 I'm no expert on horror games, movies, or literature. I haven't played many of the essential horror titles like Silent Hill 2 (edit- just started it), Dead Space, or Amnesia. But I do have a bit of history with the genre and am interested in playing more.

I first started playing the Resident Evil series when I was ten. They scared me, but I pushed through primarily because my friend couldn't bear to. We were a couple of annoyingly competitive boys. The deliberateness of the original trilogy, which emphasized survival over action, lead to hour upon hour of prepubescent horror (which were, thankfully, less horrifying than the pubescent horror that followed, but now's not the time or place). There was action in these earlier installments, but I mostly wanted to avoid it - stumbling through a door after running past a horde of zombies and hearing the cozy safe room music was particularly poignant. Resident Evil 2 also marked the first time I used a strategy guide. The scares weren't quite so intense when I knew they were coming. I did not share this with my wuss-friend. I won out anyway because at least I didn't have to trade the game in due to "stomach aches." So there.

Anyway, someone somewhere (help?) once mentioned that one interesting thing about horror games is the fact that you can decide not to go through the door where something awful is bound to be, unlike the characters in slasher movies who routinely frustrate us with their boneheaded decisions. While this is mostly true, we can't really make progress without going through that door. It's like pausing or turning off the movie just before the protagonist opens the door to the creepy closet. There is a small level of control either way, but I'd argue that the little bit of extra control video games offer can help create tension.

The difference may seem arbitrary, but it's important. The game designers are, effectively, still shoving us in a certain direction, but the freedom to dig our heels in before a potentially horrific encounter allows the tension to boil. We know we have to push on, but that tiny amount of agency is significant. It gives us the illusion of ownership over the experience - it becomes our boneheaded decision. Though we really don't have much choice, we empathize more directly with the character in this situation because we're opening the door despite the death rattle behind it.

Once we go through the door, survival horror games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill use another tactic unique to video games to keep us in-tune and hyper-aware: exploration. Exploration is mandatory in these games. With resources scarce and plenty of crucial, easy-to-miss items; the player can often be found walking slowly into furniture or along walls while repeatedly mashing the X button. An admittedly rote convention, it ensures that every inch of these meticulously crafted, blood soaked worlds is experienced. We memorize the environmental layouts, making it especially disorienting when a new Big Bad is hanging out in a hallway we've been safely navigating for hours.

The innate qualities of video games - the heightened interactivity, the system of rules that define each game - make for distinctive horror experiences. These gamey properties breathe new life into the "Don't Go in There" film cliche.

What I'm interested in now is the kind of horror game experience that worms its way under my skin and weighs on my mind when I'm not playing. Something like the "body horror" of Cronenberg's Videodrome or the Charles Burns comic Black Hole - they both demand to be internalized and both make for creepy, hypnotic digestion. Dark Souls may not be horror, but it too demands attention even between play sessions. It pushed me away while begging me to return for more. It's nothing if not intimidating. Good gameplay is as catchy (addictive can be such an ugly word) as a good song. Its notes, its color and rhythm stick with us after the song's ended, after the game's  been turned off. After playing Katamari Damacy, the real world looks just a bit more like a cartoon and I wonder which cars, trees, or benches I can roll up. I look forward to playing more horror games that have a similar, less gleeful effect.

Any recommendations are most welcome. Perhaps Silent Hill 2 is exactly what I'm looking for.

Mainichi by Mattie Brice


Video game designer/ critic Anna Anthropy's book The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters was a call for people - inexperienced or otherwise - to create highly expressive, personal games. This would automatically solve one of the medium's longstanding issues - a lack of diversity within the industry. The response has been extraordinary. Experienced game designers like Anthropy are reaching out by providing newcomers with tutorials on how to get started.  There have been weekend long game jams, where people are encouraged to use one of the more popular pieces of software to create their own games, share them, and play each other's.  Critics are becoming creators.

Mainichi, an autobiographical first foray into game design by games critic Mattie Brice, is titled after the Japanese word for daily life.  In it, the player assumes control of Mattie, a transgender person of color, as she first wakes up in the morning. We see a a top-down cross-section of her home. As Mattie wakes, she reminds herself (informing the player) that she has plans for coffee with a friend soon. Shall she go back to sleep until then? This is the first of several choices the player gets to make to decide how Mattie's day goes.

Before coffee time, there are several things that can be done, as explained by Mattie's inner monologue. Besides getting extra rest, which would take up all of our free time before our rendezvous, we can play video games in the living room, head into the kitchen for leftovers, and bathe before putting on Mattie's makeup in the bathroom. However, there's not enough time do everything.

Like I have a habit of doing in videogames, I chose what came naturally to me, what I would probably do in this situation. I played video games. Then I ate some leftovers. By now it was time to leave. I walked Mattie out of her home, onto city sidewalks, only a few small blocks from the cafe. I took the most direct route to the cafe, staying on the same side of the road, crossing safely at sidewalks before making my way through a crowd of people. Here, I was met with several disparaging remarks from people in the crowd about my appearance and gender. One person even cut off my path to ridicule me before shouting, outraged, "THAT'S SOMEONE'S SON!" for all to hear.

At the cafe I was put in my place. After the cashier called me sir, the cute barista who I attempted to make conversation with greeted me with a casual "Hey, dude" that felt like a punch to the gut.

The scene in the cafe ends by dissolving back to the start of the game, Mattie rising from bed, wondering if she should get some extra rest before meeting her friend for coffee. This time, I don't bother with video games. I bathe, get made up, and head for coffee. On the street, people's reaction have improved, but I'm still the center of attention, and that asshole is still getting in my face and hollering about being someone's son. After the cafe scene, it's back to square one. This time, when I head outside. I cross to the opposite side of the street and consciously avoid coming into contact with anyone at all.

There is no right way to go, no points or rewards for choosing one route over the other. We're free to subject Mattie bigotry as many times as we can handle, to try to ignore hateful comments and not let them get the best of us, but doing so only serves to make the other side of the street seem more appealing.

There's no completion. We're just making a limited amount of simple choices in Mattie's own personal Groundhog Day, but the paths available are distressing, lonely, and gutting. There's no other way.

Perhaps most poignant was what happened on day four. After spending all of my time getting Mattie ready to leave the house, forsaking extra sleep and video games yet again, I realized exactly what I was doing. I was sitting here, a white cisgender man, playing a video game in what was left of my spare time before going to work. When I walked outside to go to work and passed by people on the sidewalk, I was greeted with an actual civilized greeting or I was blissfully ignored entirely. My daily routine suddenly felt surreal and jarring.

That was my privilege punching me in the face.

I'm reminded of my own awkward, insecure adolescence when I'd keep my head down, make little eye contact with people I'd walk right by on the sidewalk and generally tune out the world with music streaming through my headphones. It was part of growing up. Strangers weren't constantly making harsh snap-judgments about me, I was just anxious and paranoid. Any perceived personal slight was largely imagined, I knew that rationally, even if I didn't believe it quite yet.

Playing Mainichi, it's apparent that positive self-talk and well-meaning advice from friends can only go so far. The experience isn't fun. It's sobering, and I'm grateful.

Book Review: The Last Unicorn


Peter S. Beagle's novel The Last Unicorn (published 1968) is a fantasy classic. As the title suggests, the protagonist is a unicorn - the last of its kind. However, in the beginning  she's unaware of this. She goes about existing in her lovely forest, paying no mind to time or the world outside, until she overhears a couple of hunters discussing the extinction of her race.

The question raised is an important one. Are we able to leave comfort behind when confronted with reality? And are willing to seek the unknown? Like Bilbo Baggins of the Shire or Luke Skywalker of Tattooine, the unicorn leaves home.

This first step is a jolt. The forest, kept perfect and vibrant by the mere presence of its most singular inhabitant, gives way to an imperfect world with roads, cages, and greed.

On the unicorn's travels, she meets several distinct characters including a butterfly who only speaks in overheard poetry and lyrics,  a wizard named Schmendrick who's incapable of performing even the most basic of spells without an embarrassing hiccup, and Molly Grue, woman whose presence is felt more through her own struggle and resourcefulness than any goofy tics.

While the unicorn is the driving force of the plot, it's Schmendrick and Molly who are the heart of the story. Upon meeting the unicorn for the first time, Molly is distraught because she's middle-aged and has  been  waiting her entire life for the accompanying majestic relief from the harrowing toil of her everyday life. Similarly, the unicorn's journey allows the magician to leave his life of meaningless (poorly executed) parlor tricks behind for something real.

With the help of her friends, the unicorn is able to overcome peril as she seeks to shed some light on the mystery whose horns wrenched her away from an infinitely comfortable existence. The unicorn soon learns of a fabled King Haggard who may have the answers she's looking for, but no one seems entirely sure he still exists, either. Still, she and her small band of cohorts have a direction - into the abyss.

The reason The Last Unicorn works so well is that the style and substance are  inseparable. Beagle's prose - as full of wonder as the world he's created - helps illuminate the differences and similarities between the world he's created and ours, between perfection and humanity. Like a clock, every piece -  every character, every scene - serves the greater purpose; and it's fully functional. The reason the book's so remarkable, so transcendent  is how effortlessly all of this slides into place in one sweeping, resonant narrative.

Part of the power of fantasy lies in its ability to take us to other worlds while holding a mirror up to our own. The Last Unicorn shows us a world that is petty, violent, selfish, romantic, free-wheeling, altruistic, and funny, all at once. The humanity, foibles and all, reverberates poignantly like an old song. Sung by a butterfly.



It's been a while since a game has sunk its hooks in me quite like XCOM:Enemy Unknown. It reminds me of Persona in the way you make tons of important little decisions while time rolls on. You control the lone XCOM base on Earth, where you choose what to research and build in order to defend the rest of the world (all 16 countries) from genetically engineered hyper-violent aliens. Not exactly a unique narrative, I know, but this basic, dumb framework allows for some pretty interesting emergent stories when coupled with the decision making of base management and the dynamic turn-based strategy conflicts in the field.

Sooooo, I'm going to write about it over the next couple weeks or however long it keeps my interest.

Why I Quit XCOM


I'm a damned dirty liar. I made that there post down there a few weeks ago about how enraptured I was with XCOM: Enemy Unknown and how, despite its entirely uninspiring run-of-the-mill alien invasion story, it allowed for compelling personalized narratives through decision making (fuck Nigeria they only are going to contribute $50 to our cause) and well-defined rules (my sniper can move behind cover but won't be able to take a shot until next turn). Well, I haven't played it in a couple weeks, nor have I shared any of these oh-so-compelling stories. I'm a real jerk.

This often happens with me. I rarely finish a game, especially one that could take 20 hours or more. I don't have much free time and spend much of it whining about how I don't have enough of it. But I really thought I would this time! Look at that confidence in the last post. I was poised, ready to write and share and have a grand ol' time and then nothing. However, I do think it's worth exploring why. Maybe it's not entirely my fault, maybe XCOM and I just didn't jive as well as I thought we did. WHY!?

Well, I failed. My first play-through was going okay. I didn't know that it was so imperative to build as many satellites and up-links as possible to appease as many of the 16 countries as possible, which in turn would make them throw money at me, which I could throw at more satellites, research, and of course - guns. So, I eventually reached the fail state. Over 8 countries withdrew funding and I was awarded a brief cut-scene showing the vile aliens taking over the council and, by extension, the world. Boo-hoo.

Mainly though, it was what lead to that demise. I made the mistake of naming my soldiers after my friends (and Buffy Summers but I know her *so* well).

 "Oh, this is make me be more careful and make the death of these little avatars a bit more meaningful. It'll be both fun and moving!"  I said to myself

I was wrong. It was fun, sure, but it was a little too moving.

There was a terrorist attack. One of the less common missions where you have to fly to a carefully enclosed location and try to protect both your squad and 18 or so civilians from initially unseen aliens creeping out of the shadows. They're not easy. This particular one was on a bridge in some country I don't remember and I soon discovered that many of the alien enemies in this particular scenario were Chryssalids. Chryssalids are fast-moving, wall-crawling quadrupeds with two attacks: a) slicing with their sharp legs, and the much more menacing b) killing maneuver where they their helpless victim off the ground and brutally impale them, implanting them with an embryo. After a few turns, these Chryssalid victims rise as undead zombies who slowly shamble around looking to take a bite or vomit on the nearest person. After a few more turns , we witness the miracle of life. The zombie twitches, doubles over, and explodes in half as the newest widdoo baby Chryssalid is welcomed into the world.

For the first time with my experienced crew, we were overwhelmed. Civilians were dying fast and new Chryssalids were crawling out of them all over the place. I resigned to not worry about them - we were having enough trouble just moving forward on the bridge as it was. It was time to buckle down and defend ourselves, but they were too much. One by one, my friends (even the Slayer) were brutally killed in a brief cinematic cut-scene, only to rise again looking to hurt each other. It was almost relieving to see them replaced by Chryssalids, at least the things killing my remaining friends were no longer other friends - which felt too much like friend group in-fighting. The only thing worse would have been if I named them after my parents, no child likes witnessing their parents fight.

The worst part, most definitely, was when my squad ceased to be a squad, when we were reduced to a sole survivor. My badass sniper fiance. She was vastly outnumbered, with the enemy population growing every few turns and all attention now squarely on her. I seized up. It was over. We lost. I knew it. But the thought of seeing her viciously impaled was too much. So, she ran. In XCOM, you can have two actions per turn. Every turn, I used both of them to run, but it only delayed the inevitable. There were too many aliens and too little space to keep the cat and mouse game up forever. It was legitimately hard to watch. Looking back, I realize now that I might have been able to have her abort the mission. That doesn't make it any easier.

After I'd failed at protecting Earth, I restarted the game. Now I have a better understanding of what to prioritize, of how to keep council members happy and my squad alive. I chose to name them after my daughter's limitless supply of imaginary sisters, rather than actual friends. No members have dropped out, I've lost one lowly default-named soldier, and the planet is in pretty good shape. If I don't press X to scan for activity, the Earth won't spin. Time is stopped. Terrorist attacks don't happen. My friends are safe, so are yours. I like it here. This is where I want to be.

A Letter to Earl Hebner

This is my addition to Critical Distance'sBlogs of the Round Table for the month of April. On memorable experiences with Non-Player Characters.

When I think of Non-Player Characters, what immediately jumps to mind are townsfolk in RPGs. The only interaction a player has with them is usually talking. They might even give you a quest or two. Of course NPCs can be anyone, really, as long as the player never has control of them. They could be chickens in the Italy map of Counter-Strike or one of the many (13?) mysterious hooded figures with tattoos on their hands that bind them to Sephiroth. Sadly, and maybe this is just my shoddy memory, a lot of them start running together at some point. This is especially true in something like Skyrim. I'm always astonished whenever I see someone recall the names, location, and story  of multiple townsfolk. I don't think I could name a single one at this point. 

 There are, however, plenty of memorable NPCs like Alyx Vance who helps sustain the illusion that the player is a planet saving hero or any number of classic video game villains or Wheatley or whatever, the list goes on. There's one in particular who I keep coming back. Who I just can't seem to shake.

Professional wrestling referee Earl Hebner.

Earl Hebner was a referee in the WWE for over a decade. His brother Brian, too, was a referee. Earl has the distinction of being the most (only) famous referee in the company through his role in "The Montreal Screwjob." 

He was also featured in several WWE Smackdown video games. In wrestling, referees are always being manipulated. They're distracted by managers just before something illegal happens, or they'd be pushed around, or directly attacked. It's all part of the show. This was, of course, reflected in the games. 

I was not nice to Earl Hebner. 
So I've written him a letter:

Dear Mr. Hebner -

I'm sorry, Earl. I don't know what was wrong with me.

You were just always there, getting in the way. You never fought back. Hell, you never even so much as disqualified me. I suppose I made that difficult  by constantly wrestling no-disqualification matches, but even when I didn't it felt like you were hiding behind your more powerful brother. It was only a matter of time before there'd be nothing between us. You'd follow me dutifully to the parking lot, only for me to slam you on the pavement or slam your head into the hood of a car, setting off the alarms on cars belonging to no one. There was a lot of slamming.  I specifically remember running away from whoever my opponent was - probably Triple H, I never much liked that guy - just to attack you. Did it even hurt? I'd smack you over the head with a steel chair, you'd be out cold, and then get up like it was nothing. Maybe it was this lack of lasting impact combined with the endless supply of instant satisfaction that came with the way you bounced off concrete like your old skin was made of rubber.

You were just...there. Always there. Never seeking to be the center of attention, but your presence was required for the rest of us to exist. Without a referee, a wrestling match isn't sports or entertainment, it's nothing. Would I have abused you so if you'd protested or walked away? Somehow, I don't think so.
You. You. You. You're not to blame. I can't expect you to up and leave your job, even in unsafe working conditions. It was your role, you performed it with conviction despite the circumstances. It's who you are.

 Or is it? What does Earl Hebner do when he's not officiating wrestling matches? When he's not trying to keep order? The sacrifices you've made were crucial. I just wish I could have realized it then and shown you the proper appreciation.

Instead, I write this. An apology letter. I don't know if you'll care - or even remember. I can't expect forgiveness. My behavior was inexcusable. Seeking closure is selfish and probably even insulting. Let this letter, if it even reaches you, serve as an apology for that as well. I'm sorry.

I don't know if it matters to you at all, but I'm trying to figure out why I did what I did. Sure, I was young, but that's not good enough. I was a bastard. That's not good enough either. I was working through anxieties and aggression that weren't being given much of an outlet anywhere else. I needed something to control, something to push and prod and bend to my will. That was you. I thought it was harmless. You're not real! Any pain inflicted on you was inconsequential. The real world effect was unnoticeable. No one was hurt. But we both know that line of thinking is problematic. Actions have consequences, I just didn't notice them at the time.

It felt good. All this aggression surging through my hands, into hard plastic, through circuitry too elaborate for this mind of mine, to you. Earl Hebner. I was distracted from my loneliness. My intense anxiety may have passed through me, even out of me, but it didn't last. Still, that exaggerated response - the way you flipped when I threw you about and the way you lay sprawling face down on the mat afterwards - it was like you were in on it. You were playing along. You knew exactly what to do. And you kept getting back up.


- Cody

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Book Review - Anna Anthropy's Rise of the Video Game Zinesters


The author of The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters has a problem with videogames. Anna Anthropy says exactly that to start the book, but she's quick to distinguish herself from the politicians, newscasters, armchair psychologists, and religious leaders who condemn the medium for the antisocial and/or violent effect they have on people. There has never been much substance to these claims.  Instead, Anthropy's complaints are that the video game industry has become a corporate, risk-averse, profit seeking behemoth where mostly straight, white males create games for other straight, white males. 

This is the jumping off point for Anthropy's rallying cry. With technology developing so rapidly, the process of creating your own videogame is becoming much simpler. She sees the creation of digital games as a new form of diary - a very personal act of expression that we may or may not share with others. Increasing the amount of people and perspectives expressing themselves in this way naturally leads to a far richer, more varied art form. Her final chapters provide a basic guide on how to get started.  

Of course, this all assumes that the videogame is worth developing. Rise also serves as a concise defense of the medium and its merits. Anthropy broadly defines a game as "an experience created by rules." This is what makes games, digital or otherwise, unique. The interaction unique to games combined with the rules defined by their designers to guide an experience, allows for experiences different from a novel or film. 

Using the tools available, more people from different backgrounds are beginning to create more meaningful, personal videogames. Many are shared for free on the internet, while others usually involve a relatively small monetary transaction. Some people, like Anna Anthropy herself, are making enough of a profit to pay the rent all while avoiding the exclusive, corporate industry that routinely undermines courageousness and creativity. Rise of the Videogame Zinesters is a progressive, eye-opening look at the world of videogames. Anthropy convincingly argues that there is indeed value to be found here, but it shouldn't be measured in dollars.