Stuff I Want You to Know About

March 25th, 2013

After a long hiatus, welcome back to Geek Studies. Work took a bigger bite out of my blogging time than I ever expected these last several months, but I guess that’s what happens when you join the QA team of a major video game in the final stretch of its development cycle. Now that I’ve got some time to write again, I figured I’d start by drawing your attention to a few things.

BioShock Infinite: This was my first experience working on a AAA video game. It comes out tomorrow. Clearly I’m biased when I say that it’s amazing, but reviewers seem to like it too. I’m moving on to other projects now that my work with Irrational Games is done, but I’m proud to have worked with such a great team on such an excellent game.

Tropes vs. Women in Games: This is the first in a series of videos examining how women are typically portrayed in video games. If you’re already highly educated and deeply familiar with the history of games, it may seem like a refresher to you. (I learned that Donkey Kong was supposed to be a Popeye game and Star Fox Adventures wasn’t originally about Starfox, though much of the rest of this was already known to me.) Still, this is an excellent introduction to the subject for newer viewers, with some great examples of why gender issues need to be at the forefront of our discussions of games. I really wish this series had existed back when I was teaching “Images of Women in the Media” at a women’s college.

Why Geek Matters: An awfully long time ago, somebody at Forbes wrote a forgettable piece on her frustrations about “fake geek girls.” Over at her own blog, Leigh Alexander wrote a response not just tearing the piece apart, but also arguing more generally that it’s kind of pathetic how self-identified geeks react with hostility to “the normalization of geekdom.” Leigh’s on to something there, but I don’t think we need to discount the value of identifying oneself as a geek in order to recognize and work out problems in geek cultures. And that’s where Gus Mastrapa’s Pretension +1 column comes in. Yeah, this whole exchange is from a whole year ago, but I still felt like it was worth a link for explaining some things that I suspect so many are feeling: “Geekdom is a culture of knowledge and curiosity, of obsessive interest in the arcane. [...] But Leigh is right about another thing, too. We cannot live on being geeks alone. The chameleon in me learned that being well versed in many cultures is not only good for survival, but it also makes you a more well-rounded person.”

Confronting Geek Shame: Along similar lines, I want to draw your attention to Natasha Lewis Harrington’s writings on geekdom and Magic: The Gathering over at Gathering Magic. She’s been doing some great stuff over there for a while, but if you missed her piece on “Confronting Geek Shame” awhile back, it’s worth a look (and, um, not just because she cites me in it). As with Gus’s piece above, it helps illustrate the point of how we are shaped by what happens early in our lives, but we can use that to define ourselves rather than letting it define us.

Hipster, Please!: And finally, I want to give a special shout-out to Z. at Hipster, Please! on the occasion of The Living Bookend, a “better end point, temporary as it may be” for his nerd music podcast, Radio Free Hipster. If you read my dissertation, you know that Z. was instrumental in helping me navigate certain corners of the geek world. And if you know me personally, you might know that Radio Free Hipster has introduced me to music I love, geekified my Christmases, and brought me cheer on my crummiest days. I don’t eulogize projects on indefinite hiatus (said the guy who hadn’t blogged since July), but it seemed like a good time to point out that this podcast has quite the back catalog worth trawling through.

Some Stuff I’ve Been Up To

July 17th, 2012

Man, I sure wasn’t kidding about being busy in that last post. (I guess I was kidding about doing another post “soon,” given that that was two months ago. Yikes.) I hope you’ll agree, at least, that I’ve been keeping busy with interesting things lately.

Let’s Sing!: Not too long after I wrote that last post, I got to work on graphic and interactive design for an iOS game designed by Lex Friedman and Marco Tabini. It was my first foray into designing for an iOS app and doing visuals for a video game, so I was pretty excited. Also, it’s really, really fun. (Think “Draw Something, but with humming instead of drawing.”)

Five Ways Games Appeal to Players: I did a bunch of research about why people play games – quite a bit of it appearing in an earlier form on this blog – but finally decided I’d rather get it in front of game developers than just in front of academics. (Long story short: it’s a little more complex than “people play games because of challenge!” or “people play games for different reasons based on their personality!”) I’ve been a fan of Gamasutra for a while now, so I was pretty proud to get this in there.

Hate the Gamer, Not the Game: This piece at PocketNext is specifically about gamer identity rather than geek identity, but I think the sentiments will be pretty familiar to readers around here. While some people wish that terms like ‘gamer,’ ‘geek,’ and ‘nerd’ would go away entirely, normalizing the habits they describe, I think it’s problematic to deny people the right to choose their own terms of identity.

The Worst Company in America: As long as I’m going to defend my fellow nerds with one link, I might as well chastise us with another. This PocketNext piece is about EA winning the Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” poll over Bank of America, and what problems that might suggest about geeky voting blocs.

The Flip-Flop President: Look, there’s just no way to say this that doesn’t sound awkward: I made an political attack ad against President Lincoln. But it was for a good cause! FlackCheck.org is a humorous spinoff of FactCheck.org, dedicated to educating about political communication through humor. This is part of a campaign to use modern-day political advertising techniques against our nation’s most beloved president, encouraging viewers to think critically about how ads are made.

All right, I’ll try do to better than two months before getting to the next post I have in mind – some links on geekdom by others I’ve been looking forward to sharing for some time now.

Geek Studies in the News (and on European TV)

May 9th, 2012

The life of a freelancer doesn’t leave a lot of time for personal blogging, but I figured I’d post some links to stuff I’ve been involved with lately. Today I’ll start with some pieces for which I was interviewed.

La Revanche Des Geeks: I was interviewed last year for a documentary on geek culture by Franco-German TV station Arte. (You know the one.) I don’t speak French or German, but I hearing excellent things about it from people via Twitter, email, and comments around here.

Indian Geek Uprising: I was also recently interviewed by CNN Geek Out for an article on comics creators in India. My own geek studies didn’t look at the development of geek culture in other nations nearly as much as I would’ve liked to have done, so this was a really interesting perspective for me.

Batman and Superman and Spiderman, Oh My!: Rounding out this trio of publications that have interviewed me, here’s a piece from Medill Reports on a superheroes, inspired by the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. (Not quoted here: a rambling comparison between superhero fandom and sports fandom. The more I think about it, the more similar they seem, geek connections aside…)

That ought to do for now. I should have a post soon, too, with links to some pieces I’ve been writing and producing, and another post linking to stuff I didn’t write, but kind of wish I had.

Playing in the Streets

March 6th, 2012

The following is an excerpt from my doctoral dissertation, Geek Cultures: Media and Identity in the Digital Age. It has been edited for the web.

Just south of Central Park, walking north on Broadway, we were spotted. A group of 50 or so people hurled their attack at us from across the street, shouting at the top of their lungs: “Can we help you?”

We screamed our response: “We’re amazed by you!”

Both attacks flew wide. We announced, “You’re too kind,” and each team proceeded on its way.

Cruel 2 B Kind is a game of “benevolent assassination.” It’s played in normal social spaces, where you don’t necessarily know who’s in on the game and who isn’t. Like the “assassins” games that have been played on college campuses for years, the purpose is to hunt some target and avoid being hunted yourself. In this particular variant, however, there’s a twist: You “kill” enemies with a warm greeting. If you hit the right players with your compliment, you absorb them into your team. If you hit the wrong players, they inform you that “you’re too kind.” If you hit someone who’s not playing – well, it’s friendlier than traditional crossfire, at least.

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It’s About Games, Not Pockets

January 11th, 2012

After months of blog silence, I emerge from my internet hibernation to unleash upon you a flurry of articles about video games. I’ve been quiet around these parts mostly because of all the writing I’ve been doing elsewhere – and the venue I’ve poured the most into finally launched today. PocketNext presents reviews, previews, interviews, and features on free mobile games (but their new Features Editor is kind of a big nerd).

We’re launching with a bunch of reviews already up, with plenty more on the way. I’d especially like to draw your attention, however, to some of the commentaries and features I’ve been working on over the last few months, including pieces on…

I’ll have more to say soon about some of the other venues I’ve been writing for. For now, though, I’m too excited about this project finally seeing the light of day to share this space with anything else!

Somebody Else’s Thoughts on Misogyny & Popular Culture

November 3rd, 2011

Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a post titled “Six Thoughts About Misogyny and Popular Culture.” Some of my favorite bits include:

1. Just because women buy misogynistic products, or sleep with artists of misogynistic products, does not mean that those products don’t express misogyny. […]

4. Feminists are not always looking for something to be angry about. But it’s hard to overstate the sexism in American popular culture. […]

6. Liking art that is misogynist, racist, sexist, or homophobic doesn’t necessarily make you those things, and indictment of that art doesn’t have to be an indictment of you. […]

Folks need to breathe a bit. I think our conversations about culture would be a lot healthier and more interesting if we could hold two thoughts in our hands at the same time and acknowledge that we like problematic stuff. Because really, we all do.

She’s responding to recent discussions relating to rap music, but the connections to ongoing debates in geek culture struck me as so relevant that I couldn’t just link to it on Twitter and move on. I want to be able to refer back to this later, as these debates seem to end up in the same places every time.

Into Cosplay Before It Was Cool

October 31st, 2011

I came across this pre-trick-or-treating photo while rummaging around a box in my mother’s house, looking for photos for a documentary, and today seemed like a good day to share it. In case it’s not clear, this lineup includes a robot, a ninja, a pirate, and a zombie. (I’m the tall one.) All we were missing was a monkey, and we would’ve had a complete geek zodiac.

Thanks to Jarrod, Jeff, and Stephen for permission to share this one with the world, roughly 20 years after it was taken.

The Tales Dead Men Don’t Tell

September 13th, 2011

Remember Dead Island? Maybe you saw the award-winning trailer some months back. Internet audiences were captivated by its short, strangely affecting story of a family torn apart by zombies (both literally and figuratively). The reviews coming out now, of course, paint a picture of a game pretty unlike that singularly remarkable advertisement, and the comparisons aren’t really favorable. Dead Island’s ad seemed to promise something new that the game itself wasn’t prepared to deliver, something that developers still have yet to make a reality, something that gamers and even broader audiences are still hoping to see – and it isn’t just an especially emotional zombie game.

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“People Create Culture”

September 9th, 2011

I wanted to share with you an anecdote from Jerry Holkins at Penny Arcade:

I received the strangest question in an interview once: somebody wanted to talk to me about MC Frontalot, who coincidentally has a new album out. They wanted to know why rap about nerd things, or make comics about nerd things…. I scrunched my whole face up, and the region between my eyebrows shifted tectonically from plain to mountain. But he could not see this, so I was forced to express my confusion with the human words.

This was a person writing an article for a newspaper, a device which transmits culture, but he didn’t seem to understand what he was doing! Maybe he was confused because he was taught to “speak” without “voice,” that is, to communicate neutrally. Maybe he found the printing press in the woods, and operates it via dimly understood rituals. But here’s the apparently impenetrable math: people create culture. And they create it by describing the world in terms which are relevant to them. Who does he think makes all this stuff?

All that changed was the hand on the tiller.

I find myself having a similar conversation quite a bit. I try not to hold it against people who don’t understand, though. It’s not always obvious to outsiders why the whole “nerd” thing would remain relevant to us into adulthood. I guess that’s why I wrote a dissertation trying to explain it.

How (Not) to Date a Nerd

August 30th, 2011

A friend of mine sent me a link yesterday to a Gizmodo post titled “My Brief Affair with a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player.” The date goes precisely as a nerd might fear it would.

At dinner I got straight down to it. Did he still play? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “I’m preparing for a tournament this weekend.” Strike two. Who did he hang out with? “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” Strike three. I smiled and nodded and listened. […]

So what did I learn? Google the shit out of your next online date. Like, hardcore.

I’m not writing this to condemn the author of this article; a sizable portion of the internet seems to have done so quite extensively already. Nor am I writing this to speculate about what Gizmodo, a heavily nerd-trafficked blog, was thinking in running the article (though the “nerd bait” theory seems reasonable). Rather, I’m writing this because I think I might disagree with the message many of my fellow nerds take from this story.

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