Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Zoe Quinn Scandal: Nepotism and Censorship in Gaming

A firestorm has erupted in the video game community this past week, and before I get started on talking about that, let me offer this blanket warning that all the links and videos in this post may contain strong language and thus are probably NSFW.

The controversy centers on independent game developer Zoe Quinn, and it began with her submission of her game, Depression Quest, to the Steam Greenlight program that allows the Steam community to select games for distribution on that service. Since Depression Quest is a simple text-based game designed to get players to understand depression, it was widely panned by that community.

However, Quinn gained enormous sympathy from the video game industry, particularly among gaming journalists, following an incident with the image forum Wizardchan. After some uncouth posts criticizing her and her game appeared on their site, Quinn took to social media to accuse the self-described virgin adult male community at Wizardchan of harassing her both online and via telephone. Despite their assertions they had nothing to do with the attacks on Quinn, the Wizardchan guys were lambasted for being sexists and misogynists by her supporters and the gaming press, and there were accusations on both sides of people’s personal information being leaked and websites being hacked.

Ultimately, the game was green-lit over the objections of the larger gaming community, and in light of the Wizardchan incident, many suspected it was due to the influence of industry members sympathetic to Quinn’s arguments that the attacks and the criticism were just another attempt to keep a woman down.

Fast forward to a few days ago when Quinn’s ex-boyfriend put up an extremely long blogpost that lists his grievances with her and the reasons for their relationship failing. His post includes multiple screen grabs of their private conversations that demonstrate her being a serial liar who cheated on him with at least five other men, one of whom is her married boss and another of whom works for the prominent gaming journalism site Kotaku.

Now for some time gamers have been complaining about the nepotism and corruption within the industry, with gaming journalists and game developers frequently being caught in bed with each other. Since the “in bed” in this case was quite literal, all manner of Youtube videos and forum posts on the issue began to appear analyzing the post by Quinn’s ex and the positive coverage Quinn has received by sites like Kotaku.

The response to these commentaries has been a vehement attempt to censor any discussion of this issue, with moderators at gaming sites and sites like reddit.com pulling down any posts that had to do with this incident. Quinn herself directly targeted one Youtube channel called MundaneMatt with a bogus copyright claim in attempt to get his video on the subject killed. That resulted in many more angry videos, such as this excellent analysis of the entire sequence of events by a guy called InternetAristocrat.

And of course, Quinn and her allies have tried to frame the entire controversy as a bunch of angry white males out to slut shame a woman for sleeping around because gamers are misogynists etc.

This conflict has played itself out over and over again over the past few years as the social justice people have gone full court press on the video game industry, complaining that they cater to young white males and don’t highlight or hire women, gays, or minorities with enough frequency. When gamers push back on these notions, they are met with outright censorship and accusations of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and racism just like we see with conservatives and the War on Women.

If conservatives and libertarians were smart, they’d get into the gaming arena and help gamers who don't yet realize they're conservatives fight off the forces of so-called "social justice" that have invaded that arena of entertainment. Otherwise it will soon join the educational system, the news media, movies, and television shows as just another conduit for progressives to shove their ideology down people's throats.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net and http://realraw.us

Friday, August 22, 2014

Not Quite Expendable Yet

Sometimes more is better.

I miss the days of the classic action movie, where one or two manly men fought their way through a small army of goofy henchmen and sub bosses to an ultimate showdown with a charismatic villain, all the while dropping one liners dripping with gloriously awful puns. The explosions were real and if somebody so much as bumped the camera, much less shook it, they’d be lucky to keep their job.  Yep, those were the days.  So when Sylvester Stallone sought to rekindle that spirit with the action hero team-ups we always wanted and never got, you can bet I was on board with this Expendables thing.

Thus far, the Expendables movies have been fun little romps, though not without their flaws.  The first one started beautifully but unfortunately transitioned into a more modern style of filmmaking that obscured a great finale with darkness, shakycam, fast cutting, and lame CG effects.  The second one did a better job on that front, but it also had a much less coherent plot. Then again, the Chuck Norris cameo alone made that film worth the price of admission, so now we've got The Expendables 3 with even more 80s and 90s action stars filing into the ranks.

Like the first two, this one is quite a mixed bag. The action choreography is great once again, but it’s also heavily obscured by the camera work and editing. Some of the sequences look almost like they have unfinished effects in them, and as many people have noted in their complaints about the movie, it’s only PG-13 which somewhat undercuts the whole gratuitous violence thing for which these kinds of films are known.

Of course, these movies operate primarily on the nostalgia of seeing old stars back in action, and on that front it delivers quite well with a bunch of classic faces that oddly enough includes Kesley Grammer.  Fortunately though Grammer is not an action star, he’s always dependable in almost any capacity. In this case, he’s the recruiter friend of Stallone’s Barney Ross tasked with finding some new blood that’s more expendable than usual.

Given Jason Statham is the closest thing we have to a modern day Stallone/Schwarzenegger and he’s already a member of the team, it’s a foregone conclusion the newbies are a group we've all barely heard of and thus have a hard time taking seriously when compared to the star power of their elder compatriots. That has raised some hackles since most everyone came to this movie to see our favorite sexagenarian action heroes blowing stuff up and aping their old one-liners, not a bunch of 20-somethings who have yet to make a mark on the world. On the off chance you might recognize their names, that group is made up of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, and Ronda Rousey.

Personally, I thought they handled the sequence with the “kids” rather well.  The setup for it is certainly abrupt, but the recruitment and the subsequent mission not only were enjoyable, but a good way to keep from overusing the in-jokes from all the classic actors.  And frankly, at some point these old guys will, in fact, be “too old for this shit” as evidenced by the fact that the climactic showdown between Stallone and Mel Gibson is shot a mile away from both men so that you might not notice their stunt doubles.  (You’ll notice.)  So at some point somebody has to take over, and why not see if you can’t create a new crop of action stars that are not comic book characters?

The young guns portion also introduces Antonio Banderas’ character, who you will either find terribly hilarious or totally insufferable.  I fell into the former category, which made the very pointed reference in his back story to the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi all the more poignant.  It’s perhaps the only real world call out that doesn't rely on some form of self-deprecation.

Of the remaining new old faces, Wesley Snipes’ character is pretty funny too, but he fades into the background early on. Harrison Ford pops in and out randomly, and he’s clearly just there to replace Bruce Willis, who bailed over a financial dispute, so there’s very little in the way of references to his movies. As I alluded to earlier, Mel Gibson handles the head villain duties and although there isn’t much to his character, he sells it incredibly well anyway which makes his return to the big screen quite welcome.

The Governator returns for a bit more screen time this go round, now that he’s back making movies again, but poor Jet Li could've stayed home and nobody would've noticed.  Sadly, Jason Statham gets horribly short-changed by being the middle child caught between the classics and the newbs.

An early leak of the full movie online combined with some bad word of mouth crushed this film at the box office, so who knows if The Expendables 4 will make it to the screen, but I still think this idea has some gas in the tank so long as Sly can decide what kind of movie he really wants to make.  Watering it down to PG-13 and turning the old guys into obligatory cameos just won’t cut it, but an over the top classic action movie where the students become the masters? That could be worth seeing.

*This post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net/

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Comedians of the Galaxy

I'm high on believin' that you're in love with me.


Of all the trailers I've seen this year, the one for Guardians of the Galaxy was by far the most intriguing. It had an incredibly irreverent tone that’s sorely lacking around Hollywood lately and used a clever bit of self-deprecation to introduce a group of Marvel characters about which I knew very little. I couldn't help but wonder whether or not the entire movie would be as amusing as the trailer or if that was just a really great bit of marketing.

I was pleased to discover that irreverence permeates the entire movie, and it’s the comedic flair that saves it from being another Green Lantern. Like that film, Guardians seeks to establish too much too quickly, and so it’s stuffed to the gills with exposition, much of which is incredibly redundant. I don’t think I heard the name "Gamora" come up without a reminder that she is the “adopted daughter” of Thanos, for example. It also changes locations so frequently that it’s hard to ever get a feel for any one place, and the lack of travel time makes the galaxy seem considerably smaller than it should.

The group’s assembly is similarly rushed and kind of clumsy, but once they get together everything becomes much more entertaining. I wish the movie had started right at the lineup scene from the trailer and just cut out all of the unnecessary exposition at the beginning. It would've lent some mystery to how long these characters knew each other and that in turn could've obscured the fact that they’re willing to call each other family even though we've only seen them together as a group for like a half hour.

In any event, their banter is fast, furious, and terribly amusing. Each one has their own particular quirks, and those quirks are used to great effect in the group dynamic, such as Drax the Destroyer's (Dave Bautista) inability to grasp most metaphors. Still, the show really belongs to Chris Pratt's Peter Quill and Bradley Cooper's Rocket Raccoon. They’re the perfect kind of snarky anti-heroes, and without them, the rest of the characters would fall flat. Zoe Saldana's Gamora gets the worst of it, seeing as she’s a walking cliché without much else to her, but even the pretty wonderfully realized Groot needed Rocket to handle some of the thoughts that Vin Diesel and the animators couldn't convey with the words “I am Groot.”

One of my fears for this movie was that Rocket and Groot would look completely out of place given they are computer generated and the rest of the cast is not. Every so often the Uncanny Valley would appear, but for the most part they look like they are in fact there beside the actors.

Alas, the same can’t be said of the story, since there isn't much of one at all. There’s a MacGuffin everyone wants, and a super strong baddie who wants to use it to kill a planet full of innocent civilians. Since the Guardians are a group of misfits who aren't particularly super and don’t really care about being heroes, they’re at least interesting, but the villains are so unbelievably boring and cliché that they might as well not even be there. In fact I think you could replace Lee Pace with the MacGuffin itself and nobody would realize something changed.

And while it's nice Earth isn't in the crossfire for once, they do end up having a climatic battle above a city on a very Earth-like planet that we know so little about it might as well be Earth anyway. Not sure about you, but I feel like the whole “giant aerial battle to defend the major city from alien invaders” thing has been thoroughly played out at this point.

That said, that battle does include one of the single most out-there tactics a hero has ever tried on a villain. For all the movie's faults, it's things like that which make it so much fun that it's easy to let the other stuff slide. That and the incredible soundtrack rocking in the background, which consists in large part of awesome 70s and 80s tunes that come from Quill's cassette tape. There may come a day when I'll get Hooked On a Feeling out of my head, but it is not this day.

Marvel clearly gets that their audience came to have a good time, not to see a bunch of superheroes suffer through “real world” issues, which makes even these otherwise less than stellar assemblies an enjoyable experience. They're also willing to take a risk on a bunch of wacky characters like these to branch off from churning out sequels all the time, and for that I'm happy to say go ahead and see Guardians of the Galaxy. It might not be the best story you've ever seen, but it’ll make you laugh.

(It has a bit more profanity than any of the other Marvel movies though, so you might want to leave the youngsters at home.)

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Blue Shell Solutions

Don't mess with Luigi in Mario Kart


A couple months back Mario Kart 8 came out to give the Wii U a good paddle-shocking back from the edge of death, and with it returns one of the most infamous items in all of gaming: the Spiny Shell. Also known more commonly as the Blue Shell, it’s appeared in many iterations of the Mario Kart franchise over the years, and its notoriety comes from how infuriating it is to be on the receiving end of it.

For the uninitiated, Mario Kart is a deviously addictive little party game from Nintendo wherein players control their favorite Mario characters and their souped-up gokarts in a race across whimsical landscapes. It has created and destroyed more friendships than perhaps any other thing invented by man, due in no small part to the abundance of crazy items the racers can use to harass their fellow players. One such item is the aforementioned Spiny Shell, which when fired promptly homes in on the first place player and blasts them into the sky. Virtually unavoidable, that little blue turtle shell with the spikes coming out of it is a stream of vulgarities just waiting to happen.

Ostensibly the Spiny Shell exists to balance out a first-place player’s ability to open up an insurmountable lead over the other racers. Not only will the person out front likely have more skill than the others, they don’t face many of the hazards of riding in the middle of the pack such as other racers ramming them. In addition, they get first crack at any boosts or items on the track. Thus we have the Spiny Shell, which in theory would allow the players to slow down the top racer just enough to catch up.

In practice, the Spiny Shell serves mainly as a means for lower ranked players (and especially the AI racers) to troll the better ones. Now don’t get me wrong, that can make for some incredible entertainment, particularly if you’re not the person in first, but it’s certainly not terribly effective at bridging the skill gap that put the players in their relative positions in the first place. It merely gives one group a means to lash out at another in a futile attempt to feel better when they come up short by comparison. It neither imparts skill to them nor encourages them to improve. It can’t take away the drive, skill, luck or natural talent of the winner either, but it can frustrate them enough to stop playing.

This holds true for all schemes that seek to impose equality of outcome by attempting to redistribute success. Progressive tax systems that take money from the rich and give it to the poor never succeed in creating rich people out of the poor, nor have they turned the Warren Buffets of the world into paupers. Obamacare hasn’t made the poor healthier and the wealthy sicker. EPA regulations and fines haven’t stopped oil and gas companies from dominating the energy market, nor have the subsidies to solar companies made green energy more financially viable. Or to pick an example in the news today, giving Gaza to the Palestinians didn’t make them freer and the Israelis less democratic.

When the frustration of being harassed for their success grows large enough, people just leave the game. In the Mario Kart world, that takes the form of incredibly creative uses of profanity, flying controllers, and someone stomping out of the room ne’er to return. In the real world, it involves hiding money, skirting regulations, buying exemptions, or straight up moving out of the jurisdiction of those who would seek to use these Blue Shells.

So the next time a politician comes to you with a magic bullet that will make the less fortunate, less skillful, less talented, and/or less hard working get to a better place by shooting it at the folks who have succeeded due to their ability, effort, or dumb luck, just remember that like that spiny blue shell, it'll change very little beyond making someone else’s life miserable.

Also, Luigi will drive by your house and give you the death stare for it.