Thursday, March 13, 2014

I'd like to thank the Academy: DICE 2014

Hello friends!

It's been quite a long time. The past two months have been insanely busy, so I apologize for my absence. February in particular was a whirlwind, as I attended the 2014 DICE Summit thanks to the amazing people at the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. I mentioned my scholarship award in a previous post, but I'll quickly sum things up for context.
My fancy badge for the event

In September, I received the Mark Beaumont Scholarship, an award started in honor of former COO of Capcom North America and Europe who passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack in 2010. To honor this industry veteran, the Academy established a scholarship aimed at students pursuing careers in the business of interactive entertainment. In addition to financial assistance for school and endless bragging rights, the Academy graciously offered DICE passes to the scholarship recipients, including the Randy Pausch Scholarship winners. As a result, I flew out to Las Vegas on February 5 for an experience that would completely change my life.

Now, the Academy didn't simply plop us into the conference without any support. The organization set up an incredibly warm welcome to help us acclimate ourselves and network with industry professionals. DICE is a very exclusive event, with only about 500 video game insiders in attendance, which is a stark contrast to an event such as GDC (Game Developers Conference). In other words, this was a huge opportunity for any student striving to work in the field. Industry legends Don Daglow and Warren Spector served as at-large mentors for the scholarship recipients, also known as "Academy Scholars." In addition to providing general guidance, Don paired each scholar with a personal mentor in line with our professional interests and future place in the industry. I'll talk about these amazing individuals in just a moment. First, I want to give a general recap of the different sessions that I was lucky enough to attend.
DICE lounge and arcade - a great place to meet people between sessions
The main feature of DICE was centered around keynote speakers. The bill was quite impressive, with industry names such as Mark Cerny, Ed Fries, Keiji Inafune, Eugene Jarvis and Ted Price (just to name a few). The 2014 theme focused on "The New Golden Age of Gaming" and each speaker seemed to take this in their own unique direction. But to be honest, I noticed a much different theme that genuinely surprised me - the personal story. These brilliant creators framed their talks in a way that really helped you understand who they were as people. In quite a few instances, this level of intimacy was powerful beyond words. I never expected to come out the presentations feeling such an emotional connection with the person on stage. Whether it was Robin Hunicke on the value of games made by people who actually care about other people, Rami Ismail on the notion that everyone should be able to make games, or Ed Fries and his father teaching us how to fly, I felt personally affected. I highly recommend watching the presentations from this year on the Academy website. I can guarantee that they will motivate, excite and inspire you.

Now DICE isn't only about guest speakers. It is also a fantastic networking event, as the close-knit nature of the conference allows for greater access. To help on this front, Don matched me with two incredibly talented women in the industry - Perrin Kaplan and Connie Booth. Perrin, who now runs Zebra Partners with fellow powerhouse lady Beth Llewelyn, worked as VP of Marketing and Corporate Affairs at Nintendo of America for nearly 16 years. Perrin was able to give me a great behind-the-scenes look at DICE, since her agency ran most of the event. She also offered invaluable career advice based on her own expertise and knowledge of the field. It can be a little overwhelming to figure out your true place in the industry, but her reassurance reinvigorated me to take the world by storm. I will always remember one important thing from Perrin - you have to follow your heart.
Connie and myself at the DICE Awards

Next, there's Connie Booth. How do I begin to describe Connie Booth? Let's start with her day job. Connie currently serves as VP of Product Development at Sony Computer Entertainment America. Her involvement with the company spans 20 years and countless major releases, including a series that defined my childhood - Crash Bandicoot. Her accomplishments are a true inspiration to any young woman looking to leave a mark on the gaming world. In fact, I hugged Don multiple times for making such a perfect match! I ended up spending a great deal of time with Connie, meeting countless interesting professionals and soaking up as much wisdom as I could. Despite her wealth of knowledge, Connie was the most humble person I have ever met. While her colleagues throughout the industry shared their positive thoughts on her work, Connie refused to take a single second to brag about herself. She always found a way to turn it back around to her team. It did not take long to learn that Connie was not only a leader in the games profession but a phenomenal human being. She taught me that to thrive in the industry, you must be gracious, you must be humble and you must be true to yourself.

She also helped shift my perspective in a very positive way. While our professional backgrounds were a little different, she shared a universal law for working in video games - you must understand the game creators. In the business world, it is easy to become secluded from the people actually making your company's product. This separation is much more dangerous when blood, sweat and tears go into the final creation. Connie taught me to consider the game industry from all sides. Shamefully, I had never really thought of it that way. By building relationships with developers and learning more about what motivates them, I'm confident that I'll be able to effectively communicate on behalf of their works of art.
The big show - 2014 DICE Awards
The final hurrah of the week was bittersweet - the DICE Awards. The award ceremony celebrates the best in gaming from indie productions to major triple A releases. I don't know what it is about reflecting on the year's leading titles, but the environment was absolutely infectious. Naughty Dog's The Last of Us, a story-driven zombie apocalypse game that I absolutely loved, swept most of the categories. I happened to be seated behind the table of "Dogs," and it was a beautiful sight each time the studio jumped to their feet in celebration. From the perspective of a fan, I felt absolutely blessed that I was able to share in this joy just by being in the same room. I actually teared up a bit in front of Don, who essentially became a father figure for me at DICE, as we looked back on the night as a whole.
Academy Scholars with Don Daglow and Warren Spector
While I'm hopeful that I'll be able to attend similar events in my professional future, I don't know that I'll ever again experience them in this particular way. As a student, I definitely looked at the week from a special lens. It became all about self discovery. I went into DICE knowing that others believed in me, but this doesn't necessarily mean I fully believed in myself. I left DICE knowing that all of my hard work had paid off. I can be successful in this industry.

To finish, I would like to sincerely thank all of the amazing people who not only helped make my DICE experience possible (particularly the brains behind the entire operation - Don Daglow) but were willing to share their infinite wisdom or simply chat with me about games! It can be intimidating to be present among such greatness, but the DICE community made me feel at home. I can't wait to go back on my own accord in the very near future.

As always, until next time!
-Girl Informer

Monday, January 6, 2014

RWBY: Hope you're ready for a revolution

Hello friends, 

Long time no see! I survived my first semester of graduate school and pulled off a perfect 4.0 across the board. I've been rewarding myself this winter break by catching up on a backlog of games, working on cosplay projects, and watching lots of anime. Aside from making costumes, I barely have to leave the couch! I'm hitting new levels of laziness and it is just wonderful.

Rooster Teeth logo
In the midst of this geekery, I finally got the chance to watch a new anime that one of my friends introduced me to earlier this fall - RWBY. The web series was created by Rooster Teeth animator Monty Oum. I wasn't very familiar with Rooster Teeth prior to learning about RWBY. The production studio specializes in various web-based content including videos, animated series and podcasts. Rooster Teeth is most widely known for Red vs. Blue, an award-winning comedic scifi series that uses the machinima technique of production with game footage from Halo.

The premise of RWBY is pretty simple. We initially follow the life of Ruby Rose, a young warrior who dreams of being a huntress. Following an interesting turn of events, Ruby gets the opportunity to attend the prestigious training school Beacon and join a team of fellow ambitious and feisty ladies. The show mainly focuses on the unique powers and abilities of Ruby, Blake, Weiss, and Yang as they prepare to protect the world of Remnant. The single biggest downside to RWBY is the episode length. Most episodes are five to ten minutes, while the premiere, middle, and finale portions usually extend to 12 or more. 

However, the writers at Rooster Teeth still manage to pull of an amazing amount of character development. It is very refreshing to see such a diverse and engaging female cast. Of course, it's not just about the main cast consisting of primarily female characters. I find it much more important that the show portrays both sexes in a positive light without being stereotypical or demeaning. Jaune Arc is a great example. He is not the traditional male hero. In fact, he is a clumsy and goofy underdog. We often find that his female team member, Pyrrha, must come to the rescue in times of need and teach a few lessons along the way. Through interactions with his team and other students at Beacon, the writers are able to create an impressive amount of growth for Jaune without resorting to a cliché archetype involving masculinity or aggression. 

Fan art via UntoldMage
I also find that RWBY presents an interesting sister relationship that you just don't see within a lot of mainstream anime. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the brother dynamic is pretty popular in the medium (case in point, Blue Exorcist, Fullmetal Alchemist, Naruto, etc) and tends to promote positive ideals of friendship and camaraderie (although it is noteworthy that some of these themes originally emerge from sibling-based conflict). As the youngest of three sisters, I love to see that Ruby and Yang genuinely encourage and support each other. While the show could easily rely on stereotypical plot lines involving competition between the two young girls, RWBY handles their relationship in a much more natural way. You can easily argue that this also extends to all members of the RWBY team.

I think we can attribute RWBY's unique approach in character diversity to the show being created and distributed by an private entity. The move toward online content allows for greater freedom in programming and production. Creative minds can call the shots when they aren't at the mercy of a larger network. I simply can't stand this whole notion of a network defining who the audience should be and dictating which individuals should enjoy and consume their content. A shocking example comes from writer and television producer Paul Dini. In an interview with Kevin Smith, Dini notes that TV executives aren't interested in female viewers, because they believe that girls and women won't buy toys associated with animated shows. 

I can't even come close to understanding this logic, especially when it comes to the money aspect. RWBY has been incredibly popular among all different types of anime fans. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the ridiculous amount of RWBY cosplay and merchandise this convention season. People will buy products associated with the shows that they love, regardless of gender. Honestly, these executives are missing out on huge financial opportunities by casting off the female demographic as irrelevant. Still, I'm hopeful that shows like RWBY will set an example for the mainstream television community. It's just going to take a little longer than many of us might want. 

Overall, RWBY is off to a fantastic start. I am confident that the show has a whole lot more to offer, and I'm pretty sure that Rooster Teeth is just getting started :) 
This will be the day we've waited for.
This will be the day we open up the door.
I don't wanna hear your absolution;
Hope your ready for a revolution.
-This Will Be The Day 
RWBY opening theme
Until next time,
-Girl Informer

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Girl Infomer in grad school

Hello there faithful friends! 

It's been far too long. I have quite a few updates that I'd like to share with you. Life has been pretty wonderful as of late, especially in terms of my progress on making my mark on the game industry. Get ready for one longggg blog post.

Comics Bulletin
When starting this blog for my undergraduate mass communication class, I never imagined that it would turn into my baby. I am incredibly proud of all of the content that I've produced, and it made me happy just to know that one person appreciated my thoughts. Last May, Nick Boisson, games section editor at Comics Bulletin, reached out to me regarding my last post on the Nintendo Play As You Are campaign. I actually mentioned Nick in my post, since he did an excellent write-up on the story. First off, I was floored that someone even noticed my blog. Second, I was beyond excited to learn that Comics Bulletin wanted me to contribute to the games section of the site. 

I accepted the opportunity and the rest is history. While I've only written a few articles for the site, it has been an amazing learning process to write for a much wider audience. My favorite article on Comics Bulletin would definitely be my coverage of Brosie. I'd prefer that you read the article for yourself, but the story basically revolves around a female employee at publisher Meteor Entertainment. The employee pulled a prank on her boss by switching out a sexist piece of video game art with an ironic male counterpart. The stunt helped illustrate that it is possible to discuss gender in an open, honest, and comical manner. 

The absolute best part of all this is that the woman who initiated the prank, and subsequently facilitated a whole lot of important dialogue on the subject, actually reached out to me on Twitter and said that she loved my analysis! I had a complete dork moment when this happened, because it is just so refreshing to know that your voice has been heard and respected. Check out my contributions to Comics Bulletin thus far: 

I'm currently on hiatus from Comics Bulletin as I orient myself to the first semester of graduate school and as the site overhauls the video game section. I'm hoping to return to some form of writing outside this blog around December, so be on the look out!

I recently moved to the greater Atlanta area to start my master's program at Kennesaw State University. It seems like some people get intimidated by the technical name of my degree, Masters of Art in Integrated Global Communication, but I'm basically expanding my communication knowledge into the international realm. I am absolutely loving it so far. My professors and surrounding faculty are experts in the field and challenge me every single day. The best part is that the program is incredibly personalized. I am constantly encouraged to pursue my specific interests by tailoring the program content to the field I plan on working in - gaming.

I am currently formulating my research questions for future semesters and my international study abroad in Japan. While research proposals can be fairly stressful, it is so exciting to see your ideas come together and find out what you are most interested in. My fellow cohort members poke fun at me, because I seem to know exactly what I want to study and where I want to study it. This isn't completely the case, though. I've actually had an epiphany on quite a few fronts. I knew that I wanted to study the portrayal of women within the games industry, but I've decided to expand this research into gender studies at large. I just don't think I'll be able to fully understand gender issues in the field if I'm only looking at it from one perspective. 

This process has also made me realize that my research interests are inherently tied to reputation management and corporate social responsibility. This terminology goes back to my public relations roots. While it might just seem like just a bunch of jargon, these areas are extremely important for video game developers and publishers. As our society becomes increasingly concerned about gender equality, this will have serious implications for the industry. In a sense, video game characters represent their parent companies. These companies are becoming much more responsible for creating characters that combat stereotypes in order to not only satisfy the bottom line but society at large. This responsibility isn't necessarily something that is going to appear overnight, but I definitely believe it is brewing. 

I will be conducting part of this independent research in Japan during my semester abroad. I find it very important to understand issues in the Japanese market as a way to understand our problems at home. Japan is essentially the birthplace of gaming, after all. Interestingly enough, part of our grade for the summer program involves blogging! I can definitely say that I've got that one in the bag ;)

AIAS Scholarship
While applying to my graduate program, I started doing research on potential video game scholarships. It can be a little difficult on my end, because I am not actually developing the games. It is rare to stumble upon an industry-related scholarship that focuses on the business and communications side of gaming. Thankfully, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences sponsors two different scholarships each year -  the Randy Pausch and Mark Beaumont Scholarship. Mark Beaumont, former COO of Capcom North America and Europe, passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack in 2010. To honor this industry veteran, the AIAS established a scholarship aimed at students pursuing careers specializing in the business of interactive entertainment. 

I was so ecstatic to find a scholarship that recognized the other side of gaming, because I think people often forget that there is a whole sector of professionals who keep the industry running. I was even more excited when I received the email informing me that I was being awarded the scholarship! To be honest, this scholarship has been a blessing for me. I've faced some financial difficulty in the last year that nearly affected my ability to attend graduate school. It is incredibly reassuring to receive not only financial, but motivational support, that let's you know you've made the right decision. 

The scholarship isn't just a big deal in connection to Mark Beaumont. The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences is also a big name in the industry. A nonprofit organization interested in the advancement of interactive arts, AIAS is best known for hosting the D.I.C.E. Summit and Interactive Achievement Awards.  As a part of my scholarship win, the academy has offered a complimentary pass to D.I.C.E. Along with three other recipients, I will be traveling to Las Vegas in February for the event. This is a huge opportunity to network with some of the industry's best and learn more about the most innovative achievements in gaming. In fan girl speak, yeeeeee I can't believe I get to go!!

I was also asked to participate in an interview with the AIAS as a part of the scholarship. I really feel like it's a good reflection of who I am and where I want to go in games, so I've included it as a page on this blog! Make sure to take a peek, and be on the lookout for my commentary on the summit once February comes along.

Cosplay & Conventions
As I've mentioned previously, my addiction to gaming and anime conventions goes far back to my father taking our family to cons at a young age. It's difficult to attend cons without becoming even a little bit interested in the world of cosplay. I've always wanted to learn how to sew, since the skill runs deep in my blood (both of my grandmothers were seamstresses). I started taking sewing classes about a year ago to develop the basics for creating costumes. It has been a great, and at times frustrating, learning experience that has helped me realize how much I love the con world. I put on a costume for the first time at Momocon last March and couldn't believe the awesome feedback. Dressed as Rukia from Bleach, it was so fulfilling to see that I was able to make other people happy with just one picture.

I've been pretty hooked ever since that moment and continue to practice the craft every chance I get. My cosplay of Yuffie from Final Fantasy VII went over pretty well at Dragon*Con in August. My absolute favorite part of her costume was constructing the shuriken from the bare minimum of parts. I'm in the process of creating many more cosplays, including Cid from Final Fantasy VII for my boyfriend and a gender bend of Rin Okamura from Blue Exorcist. I would definitely still consider myself to be an amateur, but I'm pretty confident that I'll come up with some great stuff by Momocon 2014. Keep up with my Twitter and Tumblr feeds for lots of progress on that front.

Parting Words
Well, that's all for now, friends. I apologize for being away from the blog and my likely hiatus until December. I'm determined to do my absolute best in this graduate program, which means school comes first. I will try to post some shorter entries, or at the very least, update everyone on my research progress.

As usual, until next time! 
-Girl Informer

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

With my 3DS, I'm not a gamer! Wait, what?

Hi friends!

The other day I was waiting patiently in the doctor's office for what felt like an eternity. In my boredom, I decided to flip through the Marie Claire magazine on the shelf. I found myself caught off guard as I stumbled upon a Nintendo ad featuring the Play As You Are campaign. I'm apparently a little late to the party on this one, as the campaign was released in October of last year. Give me a break though - since I don't have cable or subscribe to any sort of literature, it slipped by me.

Now, why exactly am I bringing this up anyway? What was so surprising about this ad? All you have to do is take a look at the first sentence on this image:

"I'm not a gamer"

I had quite a few conflicting emotions when I turned the page to this ad. Initially, I was pretty confused. Once these feelings subsided, I started to get defensive. It does not take a rocket scientist to guess that this ad campaign is targeted to women. It is featured in a popular women's magazine with a famous actress sealing the deal. Nintendo is telling women to play as you are but here's the catch - that doesn't actually involve being a gamer! I knew right away that I needed to go home and learn more.

The campaign actually features several celebrities, including Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas. Her commercial spot is particularly strange, because even though she's playing one of the most famous video games of all time, she is still "not a gamer."

According to Pocket Gamer, Nintendo launched this female-focused campaign in order to "illustrate 'how all kinds of women and young girls can explore their interests and express their individuality using the portable Nintendo 3DS - whether they consider themselves gamers or not'." To me, the company does not accomplish this. I would be completely fine with the campaign if it was revised to say something like, "I'm not just a gamer" or "with my 3DS, I'm an artistic, puzzle-solving gamer." Instead, Nintendo is nearly stigmatizing casual gamers. Let me explain more of what I mean.

1985 NES ad campaign
As a communications student and budding professional in the industry, I find this messaging to be so off. Nintendo is first and foremost a gaming company! It is completely counterintuitive to not label the people who use your products as gamers. At first I thought it was just idiotic marketing, but it goes much deeper than that. It is insulting to their current fan base and succeeds in talking down to their prospective consumer. I love my 3DS and so many other Nintendo products, but this campaign makes me feel like there is something wrong with being a gamer. Consequently, the gaming community begins to segregate itself even further.

I simply find this campaign to be inherently divisive. Okay, Nintendo is trying to reach a more diverse demographic, I get that. But in order to broaden your inclusiveness and diversity, you need to communicate that anyone can be a gamer! It's all connected to this casual versus hardcore gaming conversation, which I utterly despise. I hate the fact that some gamers judge each other based on the types of games that they play or the amount of free time that they have to play them.

Famous females featured in the Play As You Are campaign

Concerning the female focus of this campaign, I understand what Nintendo was trying to achieve, but I do not think it was executed correctly. As stated by GGS Gamer, "Nintendo aims to change the mistaken public perception of who/what 'gamers' are with the campaign." I certainly agree that there are an abundance of stereotypes attached to gaming, especially when it comes to gender. However, talking down to women in order recruit them is not the way to go about things. The campaign itself carries the implication that women are not capable of being a part of the boys gaming club, so you'll need to redefine yourself within the gaming world to be included.

While you'll find a variety of news sources sharing opinions of the subject, I felt that this article by Nick Boisson at Comics Bulletin really hit the nail on the head. In response to a reader's comment, Boisson states that Nintendo is essentially inviting new people into the gaming world by commenting negatively on its current world of gamers:

"That commentary devalues an entire industry and what Nintendo has been doing for nearly four decades."

So, putting all the debate aside, here's the big question. After this campaign was implemented, did Nintendo sales increase? It's a difficult question to answer. With the information that Nintendo has made public from quarterly reports, it appears that most news outlets focus on the disappointing performance of the Wii U. The 3DS is projected to continue doing well.  But to be honest, I don't look at things strictly from the sales perspective. I look at things from the communications perspective. How is Nintendo projecting itself to current and future customers? While money means just as much in the video game industry as it does in any other, I still firmly believe that image can have a direct effect on success in the long run.

I freely admit that I might be looking into this too much, but I just can't help it! As a major player in the gaming world, Nintendo has the power to unite or divide consumers. It is crucial for the company to constantly evaluate the message it is sending out to the industry. Besides, communications folk can't help but analyze and critique the world around them. It's our job after all :P 

Until next time!
-The Girl Informer

Friday, April 12, 2013

Diversity in development

Hello friends!

Wow, it's been so long. I've got some great news to share with all of you, but first, let's talk games. Specifically, game development. It was a big week for the industry last month. GDC, the Game Developers Conference, was held in San Francisco at the end of March and attracted more than 22,000 gaming professionals. The conference features lectures, panels, tutorials and round-table discussions relating to industry issues and development topics. The conference is also known for networking opportunities and award shows, including the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards.

I'm not planning on summarizing the entire conference for you, because it would take wayyy too long, and you have the rest of the internet for that. I wanted to focus in on a particular issue currently plaguing the industry. One of my Facebook friends shared an article from PC Gamer that detailed a discussion from BioWare Senior Writer David Gaider. The talk was titled "Sex in Video Games" and covered how sex and gender are portrayed in games and what role the industry has in messaging to specific groups. Whenever I go to conventions, I love attending panels like this, because they offer great insight into current events and the state of the industry.

BioWare Senior Writer David Gaider

Now, I wasn't able to find a video of his talk on the interwebs, but some gaming news sources provide a good summary of his main points. Basically, Gaider states that it is up to the industry to stop repelling women and minorities and take responsibility for sexist or homophobic gaming environments. Gaider offers a fresh perspective by criticizing some of his earlier decisions with his studio, with many of these decisions being determined by an incorrectly perceived audience. It is frustrating enough that mainstream society doesn't seem to understand that it isn't only straight, white males playing video games, but it is even more frustrating when the game companies are in denial about gamer demographics too. I did a lot of research on this for case studies in college, and the statistics are surprising. For example, 47 percent of all players are women, and women over 18 years of age are one of the industry's fastest growing demographics, according to the Entertainment Software Association. You can learn more about game player data here.

Gaider addresses the lack of diversity (gender, race, sexuality) in gaming by talking about the concept of privilege. He explains it best himself:

“Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally. If you’re part of a group that’s being catered to, you believe that’s the way it should be. It’s always been that way, why would that be a problem for anyone?"

It just so happens that some of the comments for the article provide a perfect example of this:

Mass Effect's FemShep
I can't tell you how many online arguments go this way. It is a shame that so many gamers feel threatened by the growth of gaming itself. Gaider is not stating that the industry needs to stop using male leads and replace them with female or black protagonists. This would be a silly and insincere move. It's about making a genuine effort to welcome others into the gaming sphere. Yes, this may include making those individuals a more integral part of the games themselves, but I think it goes much further than that. As Gaider says plainly, we can at least try not to repel women.

The business side of gaming and false industry standards play a large role in this phenomenon. Many claim that female protagonists simply do not sell, but if there are so few examples to compare these sales to, how are we even able to support this assumption? The gaming community as a whole - those who play the games and those who create them - need to face the reality that everyone can be a gamer. Let's start acting upon that knowledge.

The reason that this article caught my eye in particular is it's connection to my future research plans for graduate school. Please excuse my sweet brag, but I have officially been accepted to Kennesaw State University for the Master of Arts in Integrated Global Communication. My graduate applications have kept me pretty busy and away from the blog, but this article helped refuel the creative fire. In order to be accepted into my program, I needed to outline my study plans and really think about what I want to contribute to the gaming world. My ultimate goal is to hold a leadership position with a major video game developer/publisher as a communications professional. In this role, I hope to bolster the reputation of the industry and influence decisions
on how companies can portray gaming as a positive outlet for society. I do not believe that this can be accomplished unless the issues of sex and diversity are addressed.

In all honesty, I am most interested by these topics due to my personal experiences with gaming. At times, I feel accepted by my gaming peers, but on other occasions, I feel like an outsider. I want to make sure no one has to feel that way, so I plan to eventually tackle it from the top! The most difficult part of fixing this problem will be communicating that efforts toward inclusiveness are in good faith. Yes, it will make the industry look good, but it's also the right thing to do. I don't have all of the answers for you right now on how exactly to accomplish this, but I'm hoping that my graduate work will help me provide some of them soon. Stay tuned for these academic adventures!

Thanks for reading :)

-The Girl Informer

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Games are mine

Hi friends!

I've been on a documentary kick lately thanks to Netflix, and I wanted to talk about a film that I watched recently - Indie Game: The Movie. This Canadian documentary chronicles three different indie games through past, present and future development. So, some of you might be thinking - what is an indie game anyway?

According to Kill Screen Editor Chris Dahlen:
"Independent games are any game that a small team or an individual creator worked on to their own vision, something that they just felt like making and coding and finishing."
 Directed by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
Well... that's pretty simple. One huge difference between indie games and major releases, such as Call of Duty or Mass Effect, is that blockbuster titles are made with the intention that they will make tons of money and get millions of people playing. I'm certainly not saying that this is all these games are good for, but indie games are often just the direct result of one person's big idea.

The documentary provides fantastic insight into this industry for those who may be unfamiliar with it. I got a small taste of this during my college internship at Trendy Entertainment, the independent studio that created Dungeon Defenders. During my time at Trendy, I learned about press relations, digital distribution (Steam, Xbox Live, PSN) and how a team works together from all different fronts - design, programming, communications - to produce a game.

Yet, I don't think I ever really had the chance to learn the personal stories of the creative minds behind the studio. That might be my biggest regret coming out of my internship, because this documentary really opened my eyes to just how much indie developers rely on personal expression and fulfilling a vision. The people behind each game is what made the film so interesting.

It was clear from the film that all of the featured developers and designers are individuals who grew up with games, just like you and me. According to Kill Screen Founder Jamin Warren:
 "The generation that indie game developers are coming from, and I'm part of this generation also, we're the first generation that grew up with video games but not as an active purchasing choice. For anyone that grew up basically after 1975, 1980 or so we were the first generation to grow up with our parents giving us games and for us to grow up with games as a natural and relevant part of our everyday existence."
I really clicked with Warren when he referred to games as a "natural and relevant part of our everyday existence." I could not agree with him more. I find it so funny when I encounter people that are so perplexed by my gaming hobby. To me, it's all I know. Ever since my father set me up with a Playstation and Final Fantasy VII, I've been playing games. As Revision3 Host Anthony Carboni says:
"Since I was a part of that generation that grew up with it, I feel an ownership of it. Games are mine, so this is not a weird kid activity for me, this is not like some strange, nerdy past time - this has been a part of my life."
The concept of time is central to Braid
Since I found myself connecting with the developers on this level, it was easy to celebrate their triumphs and agonize over their tribulations. First, let's talk about Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid. The puzzle/platformer received immense praise and went on to be the highest critically-rated title on Xbox Live. Despite his success, Blow found that many people didn't really understand his vision. He believed that he wasn't able to create a true connection with his audience. As an artist, this must be incredibly frustrating. I wonder if he was too insular in expressing himself, and that's where he faltered. While Blow felt that he was very vulnerable in making the game, others got the impression that he was too pretentious. Probably not what he was going for.

Next up, we have Team Meat. I gotta say, these guys were just so damn likeable. In the film, we follow Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes as their platformer, Super Meat Boy, is on the verge of release. There was something about these two that just made me happy to be a gamer. They reminded me that games are meant to communicate a larger message, and we are meant to feel something for them. It was also nice to see that both designers had supporitve family members, which can be pretty refreshing in an industry that isn't always easily understood.
"My whole career has been me trying to find new ways to communicate with people, because I desperately want to communicate with people, but I don't want the messy interaction of having to make friends and talk to people, because I probably don't like them."
top: Edmund | bottom: Tommy
"It's why a writer writes I guess, it's because they can, it's the most effective way they can express themselves. A video game is the most effective way I can express myself."
Fez features gorgeous artwork and level design
Lastly, I turn to the most divisive man in the film - Phil Fish. We meet Fish as he is struggling through development hell for his first title, Fez. In 2008, Fish announced the game and turned into an indie rockstar. However, as the game took longer and longer to release, gamers got angry. Fish is personally attacked online by this "army of assholes" and vents quite a bit about it on screen. Honestly though, you've got to give the guy a break. As he says himself, major games with 1000 different collaborators took just as long as Fez. His team only has two!

I also found Fish to be incredibly relateable. In the process of making the game, his life went to shit. He suffered the loss of a loved one and his funding, was left by his girlfriend, and had a falling out with his business partner. I think it shows that the individuals who make the games we love are real human beings that deal with just as many problems as we do. While you do not get to see the release of Fez in the film, I can tell you now that it was a major success. Fish mentions in the film that Fez "...[became his] identity" and although the man is still bombarded with plenty of criticism, this "identity" has received nothing but praise.

Fish playing Cyber Vision
Looking at the group as a whole, the developers in Indie Game: The Movie had a lot in common. Each title seemed to honor or pay tribute to games of the past in some form. In a way, I think it goes back to the concept of games as ownership. When you grow up with games, you want to protect them and ensure that the industry thrives. The film helped me realize that this is why I want to work in the industry. In fact, Fish hits the nail on the head in this quote:
"I don't know, to me games are like the ultimate art form, it's just the ultimate media. I mean, it's the sum total of every expressive medium of all times, made interactive. Like, how is that not... it's awesome! I want to be part of it. I want to have a say of what becomes of video games."
If you haven't checked out the movie yet, you can catch it on Netflix. It is a great documentary that isn't just about games - it's about people. You don't even have to be a gamer to enjoy it, although you may not understand all of the references. Either way, it's a refreshing look at a new generation of artists.

Until next time :)
-The Girl Informer

Friday, December 28, 2012

What's this game doing in my anime?

Hi friends
As you may or may not know, my love for all things Japanese is not exclusive to video games. I'm also a big fan of anime and spend a lot of my spare time exploring this world. I usually discover anime by talking to friends and browsing on the interwebs. When a friend told me about a new anime that incorporated gaming into the plot, I knew I had to check it out and share some thoughts with all of you.

Last week, I watched the last episode of Sword Art Online, an anime series that began airing in July on Japanese network Tokyo MX. SAO follows a light novel series centered around players that are trapped in a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG) in the year 2022. Players access the world using advanced technology called Nerve Gear, which allows each individual to control an avatar using their mind. It's high stakes for the players, because it is said that death in game constitutes death in real life. The main character, Kirito, and his friends set out to beat the game and help all of the players escape Aincrad.

Kirito and Asuna via urusai-baka
An anime about gamers? Seriously? Sounds like a little piece of heaven to me. But as my boyfriend kindly pointed out, it isn't completely unprecedented. The series .hack//Sign did it first. I just wanted to acknowledge this fact, because a lot of hipster otakus love to rub this in the face of SAO fans. I'm not saying SAO is the greatest anime ever made. I simply chose to discuss it, since I found it incredibly entertaining and addicting. Plus, I plan on watching .hack//Sign now that I've been introduced to it's premise. Like I said, I tend to watch anime once a friend makes a recommendation!

As you can probably tell from the above paragraph, SAO seems to be a polarizing anime. Many people hype it up to be the greatest anime in years, while others claim that it is grossly overrated. The arguments run the gamut, but I felt that Kotaku had one of the most compelling and accurate reviews. I'm not going to reiterate the author's points, because that would be boring. Just know that I wholeheartedly agree with his argument regarding the faults of the second half of the series compared to the first. You can check out the first review here and the second here (be aware of spoilers, especially in the latter!)

The single thing that sold SAO for me was it's connection to the words of Jane McGonigal. If you've followed my blog for some time, you probably stumbled across a previous post titled Harness your gaming power. The post includes a link to McGonigal's TED talk, which discuss how gamers have the ability to make positive impact in the real world through the skills they use in the virtual world. You should watch the entire video, but you can jump ahead to 3:32 to understand how this relates to some of the themes present in SAO:
"We feel that we are not as good in reality as we are in games. And I don't mean just good as in successful, although that's part of it. We do achieve more in game worlds. But I also mean good as in motivated to do something that matters, inspired to collaborate and to cooperate. And when we're in game worlds I believe that many of us become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment's notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes, to get up after failure and try again. And in real life, when we face failure, when we confront obstacles, we often don't feel that way. We feel overcome, we feel overwhelmed, we feel anxious, maybe depressed, frustrated or cynical. We never have those feelings when we're playing games, they just don't exist in games."
I felt a strong connection with Kirito in regards to this quote. In the first half, he feels validated by his success in the virtual world. I couldn't help but feel envious of his position. As a gamer, I've always dreamed of what it would be like to take the place of my favorite characters in these fantastical worlds. To be honest, it's a form of escapism for me and countless others.
SAO cosplayers via multipack223

Interestingly enough, Kirito finds out he is not immortal in the second arc. It's a thought-provoking and humbling experience for the character and viewer, and it makes you contemplate perfection. As McGonigal says, we tend to like ourselves better in games, but what about the potential for failure in these virtual worlds? A major part of me fell in love with this series for the absurd notion that this story could really happen. And if so, would I be able to cope with the chance that the virtual world may have just as many problems as the real world? Talk about a psychological dilemma.

Enough of my rambling, do I recommend SAO? Of course! It's a thoroughly entertaining anime with plenty of action, colorful animation, and a wonderful romance. Most importantly, it delves fairly deep into the sociological and psychological issues of living in a virtual world. It's particularly fun to watch as a gamer, because you'll understand a lot more of the terminology and references. My top five favorite anime list is pretty competitive, but I'm pretty sure I've got room for this one :)

Signing off,
-The Girl Informer