Saturday, March 31, 2012

More Thoughts On Being A Geek - Regularly Scheduled Programming to Resume Soon

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I've always been a little strange. At first it was the sort of normal things that children with overactive imaginations did. I went on safari with imaginary friends under tables, I had fantastic explanations for everything, and like every small child I needed to know why. Not just why I was supposed to listen to adults or look both ways before crossing the street, but I needed to know how things worked. I read incessantly and absorbed knowledge like a sponge. I had a microscope and was making slides of drops of my own blood, small sections of plants, fleas that i caught on my dog. I took a scalpel and dissected the organs that came bundled up in parchment paper inside of the chicken my mother was making for dinner that night. My fascination with why didn't exactly make me popular and I certainly never felt like I fit in.

I was most often found with my nose buried in a fantasy or science fiction book, books so large that other kids who would rather be running and playing tetherball at lunch or recess teased me for reading the dictionary. I volunteered in the library at my school - something reserved as a punishment for most kids at my school - because I found comfort in alphabetizing and order. In high school this translated to me retreating to the second floor of the library to read poems in languages I barely understood where I knew no one would bother me. Or hanging out in the computer lab.

For me, being a geek wasn't a label. It wasn't a way to define myself. It was just who I was. And you can say that it was something I reclaimed, a name that other people called me as a child in an attempt to hurt me, but that's not really the truth. As a kid I was never the sort of girl to shrug and say "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me". I was the sort of kid who sat there and let you run your mouth until you pissed me off enough to get a warning and after that I felt completely justified in nearly giving you a concussion with the spine of the book I was reading at the time - say what you will about Robert Jordan but his books made excellent weapons for a scrawny fourth grade girl.

The point is that I spent at least eighteen years of my life NOT fitting in and then I discovered I had something of which to be truly and genuinely proud. All of those eclectic little interests that I'd gathered up over the years, my love of video games, my growing interest in comic books, science fiction and fantasy novels, weird movies .... there were lots of other people like me. I discovered the geek community and suddenly I was embraced for being strange. There are all stripes and color of geek. We are a varied group of people, but there is a place for everyone. We're the island of the misfit toys and there is something so beautiful about that. When you spend a lifetime thinking that you're unusual and vaguely hoping that by some mistake you were lost by alien parents who will eventually come to take you back to your home planet, it's an unbelievable relief to find that you are not alone.

And then I read something like this article about "fake geek girls" and it makes me incredibly sad. I suppose that when you've spent your life feeling like an outsider and you begin to watch what seemed to be an exclusive part of your culture go mainstream, you start to become slightly territorial. There is always a sort of inner subculture "well, i did it first" attitude. You are always going to have your snobs who become concerned with the authenticity of everyone else. The sort of hipster geeks who are playing table top role playing games that you have never even heard of and will abandon them the second they become mainstream. What I have learned is that no matter what culture you're in - except possibly for some strange testosterone fueled frat boy bro subset - nobody likes a douche. Like Wil Wheaton says, "Don't be a dick."

I'll be the first to admit that I've been guilty of my own little inner geek subculture cattiness. I tease a demographic I call casual frat boy gamers in a good-natured ribbing sort of way. And yet I don't think there is ever a time when I would want to be participate in the exclusionary clique behavior that seems to encompass nearly every other subculture. I'd like to think that most of the community shares this view with me. So let's not ever exclude people for  being "not geek" enough or question their authenticity. Offer to share the geeky things that turn you on because you might just find someone who never realized how comfortable you can be once you learn that there are people who will love you for being just as strange as you can imagine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

For the first time in longer than I can remember, I purchased a video game and completed it in the same day. The game in question? Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City. I have some pretty mixed feelings about this game.

As the name of my blog might have indicated, I'm a sucker for anything when it comes to killing zombies. I was weirdly excited about the fact that I was able to play through a large portion of Dead Island before firearms were even an option. If you think this is weird, sit down and discuss your zombie plan with me sometime. I made a hobby out of telling guys in bars why their chosen firearm or local megastore hideout was the reason they would be dead within five minutes. As huffy as they got about being schooled by a girl, very few of them were able to fault my logic. When it comes to zombie killing goodness, Resident Evil: ORC definitely filled this need for me. I will admit that it was mostly enemies from previous games (with one exception that I won't ruin for anyone), but considering the fact that the game occurs during the same timeline as Resident Evil 2 you can't really fault them.

What really bothered me about the game was that it didn't feel like a Resident Evil game. We've been complaining for years about the fact that you can't move and use your gun at the same time in Resident Evil and to some degree I came to miss that. With this game it seems like they made more of a push toward the "I won't buy a game if it doesn't have multiplayer modes out the wazoo" crowd. I'm a bit of a loner when it comes to video games. I like playing by myself. If I'm terrible or amazing, it doesn't matter. I don't have to listen to twelve year olds talk trash because I'm a girl... which may sound like a little thing, but there comes a time when you find yourself telling a mouthy twelve year old to come back when his balls drop and he no longer sounds like a little girl and you just shake your head at yourself. I will say that since those days I've become a lot better at not engaging with the ignorant trolls who think that it requires a penis to operate a video game controller. But I digress. The game basically plays like Left 4 Dead co op with a little Gears of War mixed in for good measure. I haven't touched the multiplayer non-campaign modes yet. I will say they did a good job giving you an even mix of male and female characters. It doesn't really matter one way or the other, but it is nice to have the option.

My criticism doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it, but I will say that if you are expecting the experience we have come to love from Resident Evil games I would simply wait for Resident Evil 6 and hope that they move away from this squad based first person shooter action. It's a far cry from the beginnings of the survival horror genre. These days Silent Hill - no matter how convoluted the stories get - has the market cornered there.

So what's next for this gamer girl? I'm spending the next few hours playing Alan Wake: American Nightmare and ruminating on the role of fathers and husbands in video games. It's been a topic on my mind since I started noticing the predominant role of father figures in video games and a distinct lack of women in similar roles. I also have Silent Hill Downpour to play through and the I Am Alive demo to check out.

On Being A Geek

Felicia Day, one of the few media relevant geek girls I admire, reposted an article today about fake girl geeks. I won't bother linking to the article because it was pretty much about geekdom being an exclusive club defined by an obsessive knowledge of a particular obscure genre. The article in and of itself was ridiculous, but it touched on a particular pet peeve of mine.

There is a subset of women - even a few with some degree of fame within geek and gamer circles - who saw a way to gain attention by exploiting a particular niche. It is as though they thought "Hey, I'm good looking and the geek culture is starved for girls like that so I can get famous by exploiting that". I'm not going to name any names because it is simply in bad taste. I will say one of them recently popped up in the final game in a certain widely played trilogy. When your claim to geek girl fame is licking a piece of gaming hardware that manages to look less plastic than your skin.... well, you know who you are and you know what you're doing.

I realized I haven't really given anyone a proper introduction here. I'm a gamer girl - among other flavors of geekdom that i inhabit - and have been as such since i was about six years old. If my fascination with video games had a birthday, it would now be old enough to enjoy the whiskey of which I am so very fond. When asked about the games I play, I pretty much tell people that my girl card was revoked because I own somewhere well over 350 video games. I read comic books. I enjoy science fiction and fantasy novels, though more science fiction as I've gotten older. As someone who has spent most of her life feeling like she was on the outside, I love the fact that geek culture is ultra inclusive. Do I resent the fact that comic book conventions have been swarmed by fans of movies and television shows because studios figured it was profitable to market there? Yes. Would i ever laugh at anyone who demonstrated a general lack of knowledge about geeky things, but a genuine desire to learn? No.

What I do take umbrage with is the fact there is a certain subset of women who use geek culture and its general male dominated membership to make a play for attention. It sort of reminds me of Agent Perrotta, a character featured in an episode of Bones that took place in Los Angeles. She is constantly trying to parlay her career with the FBI into something like Temperance Brennan's fame and fortune. She pesters Temperance about reading a screenplay and is constantly seeking advice about things like getting an agent. Agent Booth calls her out on it, basically saying that working for the FBI is a noble cause in and of itself and should not be used to turn yourself into a fame whore. This is exactly how I feel about fake geek girls. It's dishonest and exploitative to something that is a genuine part of many people. We find acceptance and fulfillment in our chosen subculture. It is offensive to us to use it to further other ambitions when it is not something about which you are actually passionate.

If you're new to the culture and it is something you are genuinely interested in, don't be afraid. Ask questions and be open to learning. We're the subculture that allows and includes everyone, but phonies? Screw those guys.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mass Effect 3 and the Rise of Spoiled Consumers

Like much of the video gaming world, I spent the last two weeks rapidly consuming the final installment in the Mass Effect trilogy. When I reached the end, I was struck by the fact that this was the end of a series that I've invested considerable time in over the last five years or so. As I played through and encountered characters from the previous game, it felt a little like running into old friends. I sat back and contemplated the question of organic versus synthetic life and how the invention of true artificial intelligence and synthetic life forms would change the development of humanity. There will be a coming post on seeing an ending come to a story in video gaming as opposed to the stream of releases in the certain series. I hate seeing a story told well beyond its viability because people are still willing to blindly throw money at it, even buying games they have played before because it has been graphically updated.

This morning I woke to the news that a gamer had filed a complaint with the FTC against Bioware due to the ending of the game. And that the creators of Mass Effect had caved to fan pressure and were changing the endings. Processing this information made my head want to explode. There is sort of privilege among the consumers of television and video games that I have yet to see in other mediums. It is as though they feel they are entitled to a say in the formation of art forms that they have no role in other than their consumption. I have never seen people protest the ending of a book. I was a fan of Chuck Palahniuk's early novels, but as they started to deteriorate with things like Lullaby and Diary I just stopped reading. I chose not to consume something that disappointed me. There seems to be this sense of entitlement on the rise with consumers.

Last year the television show Game of Thrones faced fan backlash when they remained loyal to the story as written by George R.R. Martin. People protested as though the show's creators would go back and refilm, changing the entire course of the story by removing a key plot point. I laughed then at the audacity of an audience telling the creators of art how and what to create. And it has happened again with Mass Effect 3, but this time the result is that the creators are planning on changing the end, catering to the pressure of consumers. Where did this sense of entitlement come from and is it okay that we as consumers change the shape of works of art to fit our wants?

In a time when most media is pirated and available for consumption without paying for it, has money given consumers the power to change what they consume? With the rise of television shows that require audience voting to determine the outcome, do we feel we have the right to tell artists what and how to create? Is it okay to cry foul and file lawsuits every time we feel cheated by an ending or a storyline? I've always believed that we make choices with our money. We choose to spend money on things that we find worth it. And that is how we speak. If an installment in a series of games, a movie, a television series, or even an album, disappoints us, we stop spending time and money investing. I hate the idea that whining over our disagreements with an artist's decision could change the face of what is created.

With that said, I have read a little further into the complaints on Mass Effect 3's ending and it is less a problem with the ending of the game than it is a problem with the choice to disregard all the choices we have made through out the games. I understand being disgruntled because consumers were sold a world that changes based on the decisions you make and the ending ignores that game mechanic. Every choice you've made, whether or not to be an honorable person, does not matter because you are given three options at the end. I still don't agree with the idea that we can involve lawsuits to tell a company that creates art WHAT to create, but I understand expressing displeasure with what was created.