Gaming without your brother

Category Archives: Opinion

Remember when I talked about a game-a-thon for charity awhile ago? It was a terrible, meandering post about just losing meaning in my life a little bit (maybe the post wasn’t so much about that, but in hindsight that’s the attitude it was written in). This is about that.

I recently tried to get more involved in the Rooster Teeth community. It has . . . been going okay, still haven’t worked up the courage to game with anyone on the site even though I joined a couple of groups for that specifically. Slowly but surely! The best connection thus far has been a Salt Lake City group. One proactive site user in the Salt Lake area has started a team for Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, as a part of Extra Life, and I joined!

The link above explains the details of Extra Life, if you haven’t heard of it before. My donation page is here.

Why donate? Why am I doing this?

A) I feel really strongly that all charities should give 100% of their proceeds to who they’re trying to benefit. Check, Extra Life does that.

B) The Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals uses all of its money to let patients stay at their facilities cost free. On the list of noble causes, that’s pretty high up there. They deserve some help for that, doncha think?

C) I get to play video games for 24 hours in a really cool locale, Gamerz Funk.

I understand that part of the challenge of getting donations is that it’s for a very specific, local hospital. The factor that I think could transcend geography is that it’s helping kids, right? You might not know a kid in Salt Lake City, but they exist right? Kids that need help. So if you have a couple bucks and want to encourage me to last the full 24 hours, consider clicking the link above and donating towards my modest $200 goal. The SLC team I’m a part of has a $5,000 goal that my $200 will contribute towards.

Thanks, you know I love you all despite my absence in the blog-o-sphere,

Laurie


“Laurie, why break your silence now?”

“BECAUSE I BOUGHT A WII U and kind of regretted it for a minute or two but now I don’t.”

I’m starting a video game production master’s program (an expensive master’s program . . . ) at the end of August, so I’m feverishly playing through my backlog of “important” games from the past few years to make sure I have an robust vocabulary when it comes to talking about games in my upcoming classes.

Last week I saw an article with Kotaku and the powers that be at Nintendo at E3. The article was pleasant enough, but I was reading a “what are you gonna do when Nintendo fails” kind of vibe underneath all of the journalist’s questions (maybe that’s just me being defensive for what is essentially the embodiment of my childhood). In my indignation I started pricing out the different Wii U bundles available at the moment.

Buying a Wii U has been in the back of my mind since they debuted, and I always knew it was a matter of when not if. My most recent decision had been to hold off and if I were to make a big gaming purchase before school started, it would be a used PS3 to catch up on those exclusives that seemed to hold more critical weight than any Nintendo exclusive. And yet there I was on Thursday evening, standing around a Target electronics section, waiting for a minimum wage employee to unlock the cabinet for me so I could pick up the Mario Bros & Luigi games Wii U package.

Today I was reviewing my finances and realized that a $300 purchase was . . . not terrible but those $300 could’ve been applied elsewhere. And since I bought it, I have played it once, very unsuccessfully with my girlfriend. And it’s not just like I didn’t get around to playing this weekend, I actively chose to finish Tomb Raider (AMAZING GAME) on my PC, instead of sit down with Mario on my Wii U. Why did I just drop a good chunk of  change on this console?

Because Nintendo. And at first I thought it was stupid to justify the purchase by that alone, but now I’m realizing that it’s like doing a solid for a friend. I would do just about anything for the friends I’ve known since my single digit years, and Miyamoto is that friend. I’m positive (as are most industry analysts with a level head) that Nintendo’s dark spell of sales will pass. Zelda will come out. Mario Kart 8 has come out and everyone loves it. The Wii U will continue and I’m positive in a few short years, Nintendo will come up with something else that no one has ever seen, like the Wii remote or the touchscreen gamepad.

And even if they don’t, does it really matter? These are the pioneers of gaming as we know it today. I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and buy a Wii U but I do know that my brief remorse of supporting a company that fostered as passion that has become my life has faded to nonexistence. After thinking of that, it’s only natural that I throw Nintendo a bone and buy a cool system in exchange (that can control my TV like a remote! COOL!)


This draft was created on 2/23/14. For the record. The record of documenting how often I think about this blog and say “I’ll come back later.”

I applied for the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering master’s program. In non-education-ese that means it’s a master’s program where I learn how to make video games. Specifically, I applied to the track labeled Game Production which means at the end of two years, I should essentially be a Producer, which means I should essentially be a project manager. For the record, that sounds great to me, but I’m sure that sounds terrible to many people. I like organizing and task driving in a benevolent way. The other two tracks are more tradition art or development/programming.

Anyway, I submitted this application on 2/28/2014. With the application, I had to write a statement of purpose. Naturally it went through multiple iterations and the third to last was a coming-of-age, overcoming-obstacle level of dramatic. Because I’m self-indulgent, I’ll post it here.


At the end of my undergraduate degree in 2012, I was a interning as a content writer for a web hosting company in Orem, Utah. I realized that I was going to get a full-time job offer upon graduation, and was relieved to lock in health insurance and a steady income to start paying back my student loans. It was where I had planned on ending up after graduating with an English degree and years of technical support experience – a writer at a technical company. Reaching the final destination of the plan should’ve been elating but despite my satisfaction with where I was, I realized it wasn’t truly where I wanted to be. It was a good job. I wanted a great career doing something I was passionate about – I wanted to help make video games.

Some of my earliest memories are of watching my brothers play their Nintendo Entertainment System. The Christmas my parents broke down and bought me a Gameboy Color with Pokemon Yellow is perhaps the best Christmas I’ve had to date. I was proud to finish my undergraduate degree, but I was more proud of the gaming PC I built on my own a few months later, as a belated graduation gift to myself. The first Dungeons and Dragons campaign I role played through might be in my top five favorite games of all time, despite lacking a screen and controller. I’ve always loved video games and the magic they create but I assumed working in the industry was a pipe dream. After my final college credits were completed in 2012, I realized the least I could do to approach the pipe dream in my free time would be to build a games writing portfolio. And thus, littlesistergaming.com was born.

The frequency of posts has waxed and waned over the past two years but more than just sharing my experience of playing certain games, I became a part of a community. Unbeknownst to me at the time I started the site, there was a thriving, underground band of would-be video game writers who all dream of getting paid to work with video games in one way or another. The 60 or so of us write on our respective sites, read each other’s work, and share, comment, and support other authors through various mediums like Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress. The pinnacle of my experience with Little Sister Gaming was being published on VentureBeat for writing about one of the Indie 10 games at that Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington, in 2012. The re-published version lacked my voice and style, but having my name next to a piece of writing on a video game website gave me a sense that perhaps working in the video game industry wasn’t as out of reach as I thought.

At the Penny Arcade Expo in 2012, I networked with another aspiring games writer who introduced me to an indie board game developer. Years later, this developer thought of me when looking for a third host for his video game podcast, Go For Rainbow. We have interviewed the team behind Magnetic By Nature, Ellen McLain of GLaDOS fame, Simon Patrick from The New Yorker, and other developers and artists from the industry. I was finally lining up real outlets for my gaming passion, instead of simply gaming as a hobby.

I started working at Property Solutions International in November 2012 as a technical writer. I was the only writer, and was hired specifically to document a massive new product the company was rolling out in beta. It was a moving target that few of the employees had a firm understanding of, but clients needed definitive answers in a user guide. I set out to identify my variables, gather the information, liaison with the developers and designers that would be able to answer my questions, and churn out a polished final product as quickly as possible. I began managing that first documentation project, and have continued to manage documentation projects for the rest of the company’s 23 products since then. Recently I’ve been tasked with creating a development roadmap including user stories for an internal software project to streamline all of the technical writer work, including editing software release notes every week. All of this experience to date has accumulated to approximately 2,000 hours of project management experience to apply towards my Project Management Professional certification application.

I purchased multiple books about Agile software development methodology to learn the guiding principles and values behind our continuous software updates, so I could understand why it was important to offer our customers such quick turnaround (instead of lamenting that frequent updates in software meant frequent updates in documentation). I taught myself Adobe InDesign and have begun to learn the Markdown markup language, to improve the deliverability of product documentation and efficiency of updating that documentation. In the past three months, I was promoted to a team lead position and was intimately involved in the interview and hiring process for three more technical writers.

After speaking with students of the EaE program and the University of Utah, I’ve heard first-hand how rigorously the curriculum prepares students in all program tracks to hit the industry floor running. In an effort to be kind, multiple students have tried to scare me away, citing the workload and frenetic pace of projects in the program. Despite their best intentions, these anecdotes excite me more than ever. In the video game industry, I want to be a part of great art. I want to be a part of an experience that people from all backgrounds and all ages can’t get anywhere else. I want to solve problems and facilitate solutions for teams to meet deadlines and break boundaries. It all sounds hyperbolic, or idealistic, but I’m listening to the Journey soundtrack right now and it’s hard to not write soaring words to match the soaring melodies. I have learned in my limited professional experience that my best move is the assist, and my natural position is the organizer, the facilitator, and the researcher. I know in the EaE game production track I can go into industry and deliver games into the marketplace for fans to enjoy and newcomers to discover. Games change lives. Games changed my life. Games gave me something to look forward to as a child and something to aspire to as an adult and I want to learn how to create something that will have the same effect, in the EaE game production track. Thank you for your consideration.


PS I got in! With a much better/more professional, but equally awesome statement of purpose created after this one.

 


I clicked on a Kotaku article the day the Titanfall beta opened, looking for instructions on how to get in on it. I haven’t been following any of the Titanfall hype, except hearing it was about robots and people were generally excited. Skimming the article, I realized that it was an EA title, delivered through Origin. Immediately I was torn. People hate, EA, right? They had done something evil in the recent past, if I wasn’t misremembering . . . but what exactly was it? I honestly couldn’t remember. For a brief second, I thought about googling it or perusing their Wikipedia page but . . . beta sign up . . . giant robots . . . I clicked the link and downloaded Origin. If nothing else, I could get a terrible first-hand experience and raise my voice in a rallying cry to boycott EA yet again.

I loaded Titanfall and it. was. awesome. Seriously incredible. I got the PC beta so I could adjust the FOV to something that wouldn’t make me nauseated. The textures were lackluster, I’ll admit, but the gameplay was so fun. I didn’t play any game type other than Attrition (just kill the other team) but I didn’t even get my fill of playing that, let alone moving on to the other game play types.

Looking at all of the hype, I remember my initial reservation. I haven’t read another account of anyone trying to justify their previously declared hatred for EA with their love of Titanfall. EA reported 2 million unique visitors during the beta. I can’t knock anyone else for going back on their previous lines in the sand – I did it myself. And I don’t even think I have any less integrity for doing so, let alone anyone else (depending on how loudly you yelled about it, I guess . . . ). But isn’t it funny, was all I was thinking about this morning. Isn’t it funny how short our attention spans really are.

People lost their minds over the Origin hatred when it launched. A few level heads pointed out that most people hated Steam when it launched for its spotty service. However since Steam has become ubiquitous with PC gaming, people don’t think about it any longer. And no it looks like people are forgetting Origin and EA’s original evil to enjoy what could be the most exciting FPS in a long time (at least until Destiny launches). It makes me wonder how the tables might turn on EA as a company (especially in light of the Comcast/Time Warner debacle) in the time to come.

Thoughts? General musings? Again, I’m not indicting anyone – I would be indicting myself if I did so (and maybe I should) it’s just interesting the short attention span we all have when something as shiny as Titanfall shows up. Leave a comment, let me know your thoughts about EA, Origin, Titanfall, and whatever else you want.


I thought before I typed this up, I should check out the Wikipedia page, see if anything about the developer stood out to me that could be a better talking point than just writing up how much I did or didn’t like the game (because I know this game is ages old and me talking about it now is poor form). This is a quote from the Wikipedia entry for this game: “He [the developer] did not expect it to be a success, and that he was ‘half-expecting it to fail for being too stupid of a game.'”

Despite his concerns, this game is dirt cheap and a good time so you should definitely pick it up. Aside from that, I’m going to touch on, once again, how much I love indie games. You’re welcome.

You know why indie developers are great? Because they just wake up one morning (might have been years ago, before all of their incredibly dedicated, hard work, but all the same! it started one random morning) and decided, “This idea is awesome. I’m going to make it myself because it will be awesome. If no one else thinks it’s awesome, that’s too bad, but at least it was awesome to me.” I think I love this mindset (or that I’m particularly a sucker for it) because I’m so the opposite. I get defeated so easily (see: my track record on this blog . . . ) and never have confidence in my own creativity. Actually scratch that. I have a lot of confidence that some of my ideas are pure gold – I also just recognize the amount of effort they’d take to execute and I give up before I begin. So when one dude decides he’s going to make a game out in Microsoft XNA and assumes it’s going to be too stupid to even make him any money so he sells it for $1, and then it becomes an underground favorite – yeah. I love that guy, and all of his aspirations. Having said that, I never played his other game The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, but all the same! He’s a boss. Cheers to you, Mr. James Silva. Live your dreams, and long live the dreams of all indie developers everywhere.

Speaking of indie developers! My friend made this game called Cyber Heist for his senior thesis/project in a video games development-centric Master’s program and that is awesome that he is in it, and it exists. The game is getting crazy hype and he is getting crazy hype and I couldn’t be more over the moon for him and his cohorts working on the game. Although the premise is tongue in cheek (hackers trying to get into the system to erase all of their student debt), the idea of the second player and first player having complete different gameplay experiences is . . . fairly novel. I can’t think of another game that does that besides Wii U games (people with the Wii U controller in New Super Mario Bros Wii U for example, place jumping blocks anywhere on the screen, and don’t control a character). Comment! Correct me with examples, because I’m sure I’m wrong.

Speaking more about indie games! Tripleslash, the team that made Magnetic By Nature (which I am in love with), is releasing a full version of the game in the next few months. Details seem a little sparse on any official outlet, but it looks like the fully-funded Kickstarter plans on delivering a newly polished, full version in Q3 of 2014 on PC, Linux, and Mac OS. I’m also pretty sure the “Ultimate” version on the official website is for the new, upcoming release, even though the demo video still shows the gameplay of the $1 title on the Xbox Live Indie Aracde (still great, by the way).

Anyway. You know me and indie devs. I’m just a regular fangirl, droolin’ all over people makin’ moves and fulfillin’ dreams without corporate backing. I love you indie devs. Get it, girls.


I started this draft awhile ago, and originally the title was “I will buy a Wii U for Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze.” I am the ultimate sucker for anything Donkey Kong Country related. Have you guys played Donkey Kong Country Returns? Dat game! So good! I don’t know what the critics ended up saying about it, but it had so much charm and the jammin-est tunes since the original Donkey Kong Country, I don’t know how people have survived without playing it. And yeah, I’m being hyperbolic, but Donkey Kong Coutnry Tropical Freeze looks so good and a beloved video game company is doing so poorly . . . I just want to help somehow.

I’ve always been a Nintendo kid. My pedigree includes the NES, SNES, N64, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, and the Wii. I’m a sucker for all Mario, Donkey Kong, and Zelda-themed games. I’m constantly on the fence about splurging and jumping into the portable Nintendo world again, just for a taste of some more Mario KartZelda, and Super Mario Brothers. My frugality has won out so far, but with all of the headlines Nintendo has been making recently about a deeper and deeper plunge into the red . . . my heart breaks a little as I acknowledge my bank account is desperately incapable of helping even the amount of the price of a new console.

I used to think Nintendo was invincible. Even when the 360 and PS3 started eclipsing the Wii hardware, I thought “No way – Nintendo still has something novel here.” And even when the Playstation came out with the Move I thought “Too little too late, suckers.” When Microsoft came out with the Kinect, I thought, “Whoa. That’s pretty cool . . . but Nintendo will pick it back up shortly, they just need a few months.” Time passed, there were more and more reboots of the same IPs and still Nintendo stood in the shadowy plane of 720p behind it’s competition.

When they announced the Wii U, I thought there were some  cool features (different functionality on the controller screen versus the main monitor, playing from the controller and being able to give up the TV on demand); unfortunately I knew deep down it would be up to developer buy-in to really launch Nintendo’s console over the moon. People were worried about release titles, but I sagely remembered that no consoles have good titles at launch, so who cared? Then, the hardware specs came out. All so disappointing. All so subpar. All so definitely not next-gen. Was Nintendo losing its touch?

Time has shown . . . that perhaps they have. I’m not saying I won’t still buy a Wii U at some point, but a Playstation 3 is definitely higher on my list, as are a lot of games. But where does that leave this title, and my favorite franchises? I don’t know, to be honest. It’s with a heavy heart and a hanging head that I doubtfully look at the Wii U price, and games available for it.

This is all very rambley and I know it. Grief is rambley. And of course this is all a little over-dramatic, a little tongue-in-cheek, but honestly at the end of it, I do feel anxious about Nintendo’s future, and how little they’re motivating me to help. I’m undecided if one classic title will be enough to make me pull out my wallet and jump to their aid.


I see that WordPress has kept innovating – I really like the simplified layout. I wonder if it costs more in management functionality. Ramble, ramble, ramble (spoiler alert: the rest of this long post is kind of like this).

You guys. You keep following me on Twitter and including me in your Follow Friday tags and it’s just a lot; naturally I am super grateful for it.

I’ve read many “State of the [insert whatever your medium/project is]” posts all over the internet since this is a new year. I feel disinclined to post something similar (although this might as well be considered that I s’pose) – I’m terrible with goals, because I don’t think being accountable to myself is good enough motivation to do anything. I’m just me, you know? Why do something for me? And sadly I know how thoroughly over-saturated video game blogging is, and how difficult it is to take it to a level to make money from it. I recognize that multiple times (probably all on this blog) I’ve tried to talk about how you can have a different end goal than making money. And sometimes that’s really manifested itself – sometimes I’ve just written to write here because I want to wax eloquent about video games. Unfortunately those moods are few and far between. I know I started this blog to create a polished portfolio to present to Kotaku or Polygon or some online gaming news outlet, to then be hired. But sticking to as schedule feels like a chore, and not sticking to a schedule reduces most any chance of getting virally known (even mini-viral).

Plus, you know, my job is going real well in my real life. I get to write stuff, now I’m managing people, leading development direction in a small number of cases, and getting free break room food every day which helps my grocery bill. The motivation to write to get out of a situation wanes when the situation is pretty good.

The other conundrum is that I might still use this as a dumping ground for thoughts on video games except  I find myself playing video games less and less, which is shameful. I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft in my spare time. My girlfriend is loving Splice, which is super heartwarming. We tried to play through Cogs the other day but god damn that game, am I right? So hard. I suppose I could do a write up on Cogs . . . haven’t done that yet. Aside from that, I finally tried Battle Block Theater (same team that put out Castle Crashers) and I Maed a Gam with Zombiez!!!!111!! Or whatever/however it’s spelled. Okay, okay, I could write up some thoughts about the very minimal amount of gaming I’ve done, you’re right. You’re right.

You know what has really been catching my interest lately? Game casting. Right before I really dove off this blog/the internet, I recorded about an hour of me playing Remember Me (which I “rented” from Gamefly, and still have, and have been paying for without using for . . . many embarrassing months now). I was going to edit it down to at most 30 minutes and then see how people liked it – either keep going with Remember Me or pick another game with a female protagonist (without giving it away, it was kind of the point of the series to play games with female protagonists). The other day I was thinking about that (because I have a to-do task in my Gmail to cancel my Gamefly subscription) and I was thinking what if i just did like 5 minute highlights of playing games with female protagonists? More work on my end . . . but potentially a funnier option.

And I started thinking of that because I made a goal that in 2014 I would get more involved with charity work. I do nothing to give back, and everyone who can, should. I definitely can. But I realized that my primary interests were helping further Child’s Play or like, Extra Life. Their official websites say either go volunteer at a hospital, or be the one streaming games and getting sponsors. Who would want to watch me play video games for 24 hours? I don’t think my mother would even want to watch me play video games for 24 hours, and she’s the most supportive, longest-present person in my life.

Unless I had an audience base. And then, the 5 minute video thought – I’d have to keep them always thirsty for more, so 24 hours was a real treat – something to entice donations, you know?

But we’re back to the original problem/premise – it always feels like work. I get home from work, and watch a ton of YouTube. People doing what I’d like to be doing (e.g. RoosterTeeth and Achievement Hunter). Maybe some of us are just consumers, and some of us are just producers. If only I could get paid to write ramble-y blog posts . . . That’s where my voice shines, but I suppose everyone’s does when they ramble. But I like to think mine stays coherent, which might give me a leg up over other ramble-y bloggers.

I’ve honestly been thinking about posting the following question for awhile, and in sincerity (i.e. please leave a comment with real advice for me because I feel like I’m losing a part of my life and I’m not sure why): how do you get motivated to start/maintain/complete projects? All of these blogs of ours are labors of love, but why can’t I follow through with it? Is that just a personality defect? Which sounds really negative but I can totally accept that – I’m more curious if anyone found themselves in a situation like this and crawled out of it. I suppose the outcomes have to outweigh the costs . . . but I’m unsure if I can achieve the outcomes I want (i.e. at least a little money and a little internet fame)

If anyone has read this far in this post, YOU ARE A TRUE FRIEND. I’m also disproving my false idea that my rambling stays coherent magically.

Honestly, the deterioration of this blog (and my gaming habits in general) always begin when I start dating someone. I don’t think that it’s because I start morphing into the other person, I just have a very strong and specific need to spend every second of every day with that person. So if they don’t want to play video games (and sometimes if they do) I default to doing something else because hey, it’s them. Video games are just video games. Plus, meeting all of their friends, and keeping up with your friends – it all just eats up time, time that I’m happy to sacrifice, but time nonetheless. Is all of that bad, or is it normal? Am I making relationships unhealthy, or is this just a natural evolution?

Here’s the real bottom line: I’ve been really unmotivated and bored at work all day, and thinking about all of this a lot. So I’ve just vomited this all out but I would really love to hear some responses, if you too are bored or unmotivated sometime this weekend.


Image from the Steam Store

Image from the Steam Store

If you haven’t ever heard of Kentucky Route Zero, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Although the indie title from Cardboard Computer didn’t make a huge splash across all gaming news outlets, I had happened to read a rave review of it on Kotaku. After that, I didn’t hear much about it. I believe it’s in a humble bundle of some sorts, but I can’t confirm (is humblestore.webs.com really affiliated with the official Humble Bundle website? Can’t tell).

I bought a this game full price on Steam because after reading it’s description, wouldn’t you?

“Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games (like the classic Monkey Island or King’s Quest series, or more recently Telltale’s Walking Dead series), but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.”

Fun fact about me – magical realism is MY JAM. I love the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I love the idea of magical realism (inexplicable [“magical”] things happening in a seemingly realistic world), I just . . . love everything about the genre. I haven’t ever been a big sucker for point-and-click games, particularly if they involve guess clicking, but that last clause, “focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill” put a grin on my face as soon as I read it. I knew I had to buy this game.

Since the Steam Summer Sale is well under way, I had to start looking through my unplayed Steam games from last year’s sale and picking up the slack. I decided to force myself to start playing some of the games I had been looking forward to but never got going on, I would install them, so they would be staring me in the face. I finally installed Kentucky Route Zero and started it Sunday evening. Because it’s episodic (five parts), I’ll publish a series of posts as I play through each episode.

The intro menu is minimalistic, asking which chapter to start on – simple Courier New text on a black background. The title displays across my entire monitor, again, just white text on a black screen. Immediately I am charmed by the polygonal, geometric art work. All the colors are muted, and much of every scene is dark, but it helps that much more to see where you click to move forward the protagonist, Conway. The graphics indicating gameplay are clever: an eye to look at a person, animal, or object; a notecard to speak with someone; two stick figures holding hands when you and another party member can interact with an object or location point.

After a simple introductory fetch quest with an old man at a gas station, you jump in your moving van (Conway is a driver for an antiques shop) and hit the world map, which is essentially just a road map. Major highways are numbered, but only by driving down a road do you then learn it’s name. A handy logbook keeps track of your conversations that had driving directions. Your position on the map is indicated by a wheel that rolls along as you click on various roads. Points of interest only come up as you pass them. Some allow you to get out of the van and interact with a new scene, while others are strictly text-based wanderings through buildings (e.g. churches, museums, stores, etc.).

The aesthetic of the whole experience is very minimalist. There is no soundtrack – only sound effects that vary as you move through areas. One outstanding example of creating an atmosphere is when Conway enters a bait shop, and the game informs us that he sees a cashier and a row of tanks filled with water. As this text is populating, a faint water-bubbling sound fades in as though we’re standing near the tanks. If you choose to approach the tanks, the bubbling grows louder. If you choose to talk to the cashier, the decibel level of the tanks remains faint. These kinds of details aren’t new to video games, and we all know that good details like that are the best way to achieve immersion in a video game. All the same, that attention to detail from an indie developer, who is very aware that there are few sensory inputs in their game so every detail counts, is delightful.

By the same token, that minimalism creates a very . . . uneasy feeling as I played through the game. I don’t believe this is in the horror genre, and yet something fishy is going on. There are ghosts, and no one seems to be able to give you a straight answer about this mysterious Route Zero. I don’t ever feel like something is about to pop out at me, but . . . I also never feel completely secure in my chair. As someone who thoroughly dislikes being scared, this is a perfect medium. I am completely head-over-heels into this environment without being forced to jump out because it wants a cheap thrill. The sound effects and lack of soundtrack are what really bring these feelings home while playing through episode one.

Image from CreativeApplications.net

Image from CreativeApplications.net

My only concern as I gear up to jump into episode II is that there are sometimes a dozen different story options in one conversation. I’m playing by gut, just kind of approaching situations as though I were Conway, but because I’m a completionist (I’ve played Mass Effect 3 four times to make sure I’ve seen every different conversation choice), I’m wondering what I’m leaving behind by not repeating conversations. I hope all hanging plot points (there are a lot) get resolved by the end, but I suppose I’ll wait and find out!

Currently, Cardboard Castles has episodes I and II out, with promises of III-V coming before the end of the year. The two-man dynamo team also has an experience available for free called Limits & Demonstrations: A Lula Chamberlain Retrospective. From the page itself, it says “Marking the first major public showcase of her work in over twenty years, this retrospective exhibition of work by pioneering installation artist Lula Chamberlain comprises a diagonal slice through time, place, and form.” You know me. Any labor of love I’m definitely going to be checking out. Post forthcoming about that title, most definitely. Also, what a great way for me to be introduced to artist, Lula Chamberlain!

Thus far, a huge round of applause to the Cardboard Computer developers, Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy. Playing Kentucky Route Zero is a treat audibly, visually, and intellectually. I can’t imagine the future chapters going anywhere but up. Pick it up now for 25% off at the Steam Store!


It’s been awhile. I want to say “I’m making awesome video content!” but what’s really happening is I’m constantly checking my Amazon purchases and my Gamefly account to see if all necessary software and hardware will arrive soon so THEN I can start recording awesome video content. In the meantime, I should be writing up a storm on this blog, but alas – holidays always throw me for a lazy loop. But enough of this! On to the bee in my bonnet.

I was browsing Xbox Live accounts online at work today and I realized I needed to not be lame and just drop some points for some non-lame avatar threads. I started with updating my hair (since I chopped it all off a few months ago) and the thought crossed my mind “Maybe it’ll look weird since I have to choose a guy’s haircut to put on my female avatar.” Without much surprise, the hair looks fine on the avatar, so I moved on to updating my pants and shoes to something less frumpy. I opted for some standard shorts that look like what I wear most summer days, and then I realized that there weren’t any shoes that looked like shoes I wear. I then realized that I was only looking at the women’s shoes options. “Ah, makes sense. I did choose the female avatar body. But I bet I can find some shoes I like in the men’s section.” I came across some Oxfords, thought “Perfect!,” and tried to preview them on my avatar.

ENTER GENDER BINARY OPPRESSION. I got an error message telling me “Oops! These shoes are for the other gender” or something very similar to that message. The “Oops!” was definitely there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to protest Microsoft, and I wasn’t distraught for days. If someone has run across this error message before and has subsequently protested Microsoft or was distraught for days – I feel you. Those are appropriate responses. That rejection of how you identify can be really frustrating and even traumatizing. For me, it wasn’t, but I was bummed out, and annoyed at Microsoft’s short-sightedness.

Gender-specific clothing? Really, Microsoft? I just . . . man. What a antiquated thing to code into your social service. Clothes are just clothes! People make avatars to be a cooler version of themselves. I don’t own Oxfords, but I want to, and I want my dang avatar to wear them, because I hate flip flops and clunky tennis shoes. And if I were a dapper butch lesbian, I’d want to have my tie on my avatar and my loafers, ya dig? Microsoft shouldn’t pidgeon-hole people or how they identify. Free the clothes for all, Xbox Live!

Add me if you so desire: lbizz66 (note that the shoes my avatar is currently wearing are not accurately representative of the persona I’d like to project on Xbox Live. Thank you).

Have you run into a bummer like this before? You identify as a dude that loves heels, or a chick that loves ties? Leave a comment, rant against The Machine (Microsoft), and let’s keep our eye on the avatar editor to see if Microsoft figures it out sooner rather than later.


believe other people have blogged about this fairly recently. Part 2 of this series came out last week, a friend sent it to me, I watched parts 1 and 2, and have now formulated opinions about this, then remembered that people might’ve already spoken about this. So wa hoo, I get to add my voice to the mix!

Frankly, anyone who finds fault with anything that Anita Sarkeesian has said in any of her videos are not thinking critically enough. I’ve been binge watching her whole channel now (spoiler alert: I love it) and I can’t recall if it’s in her tropes video or an earlier video, but she points out how just because we critique something doesn’t mean we don’t love it. I think some critics may have missed that Sarkeesian loves the classic games she picks apart in her part 1 of the series. She says she was raised on Nintendo. It’s not that I don’t love video games, but it’s undeniable they need to step up their game in regards to equal treatment of women in narratives.

And I love her point that they need to step up their treatment of men in narratives. It’s weaksauce to pin character development on the loss of a loved one, and obviously so hackneyed. Do more for your Hitman, your Max Payne, your male protagonist!

Her evidence is unshakable – there are way too many damsels in distress in video games, and way too many “killing women to save them,” and all of the other points she brings up. I think people get defensive about video games and this issue because no one wants to be labeled as a misogynist for playing these games or for not noticing earlier. If I was insinuating that, I would be indicting myself as well. I never noticed these things before Sarkeesian’s videos brought them to my attention.

That doesn’t mean I’m an idiot for not noticing, it means someone has given me some new, good information that can improve the future of video and the future of my video game involvement. That’s to be celebrated, not balked at! It also doesn’t mean these things didn’t exist before, or that because you didn’t notice they aren’t there. It’s just a testament to the pervasiveness of patriarchy in all media outlets.

Finally, lots of people like to argue that the developer didn’t want to say that so it’s taken out of context, and she’s digging to meaning that’s not really there. Here’s the thing about that: it’s not about what you recognize, it’s about what you subconsciously absorb. Anecdote: I worked with a guy who let his 4 year old son play Red Dead Redemption. The kid killed a prostitute in the game, then the next day drew his toy sword on his mom’s throat and said something to the effect of “I’m a cowboy like the game!”

I would bet cold hard cash it wasn’t a conscious decision to think “Oh, I have to commit violence against women to embody this new exciting game that I played” but subconsciously, that’s exactly what happened. We’re absorbing and learning behaviors about how to treat women based on the entertainment we consume. That’s why the rest of Sarkeesian’s videos about a broader spectrum of pop culture are equally valuable and fascinating to me. People try to debate this EVERY DAMN DAY to me and while I try to be really open-minded 100% of the time, everyone who disagrees with me is incorrect. We all absorb what we see, consciously or unconsciously. Often these don’t mean we’re going to go out and kill prostitutes (but for some horrendous people in really extreme, unlikely circumstances, it does) but it does mean we just moved the water level of respect of women one millimeter lower in our subconscious. Because people don’t see that in everyday interactions in the minute scale it occurs in, it is ignored, scoffed at, and dismissed.

Here’s the take away: People will make you uncomfortable by pointing out biases you didn’t know you had, and pointing out some of your favorite things that might have really unsavory aspects to them (e.g. I absolutely love Red Dead Redemption, but yeah . . . there are problems in it on a social level, most definitely). So, if you previously ranted against Sarkeesian for her cold hard facts about how women are treated in video games, reassess what made you so defensive in the first place, swallow some pride, and acknowledge your discomfort so you can have an honest conversation with yourself about the content you love (and that I love too) and how it treats women and minorities and how that affects you or others who play the game. It doesn’t mean we have to abandon the games we love. It means we have to be informed consumers of a culture we love and participate in, and perhaps, when given a chance to vote with our dollar or internet comments, we can lean towards making choices that support/further positive women roles in video games, and help others do the same.