Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taking engagement photos like a boss

The practice of taking engagement photos is becoming increasingly more popular for modern couples. Unlike wedding day photographs which many family members will expect- if not demand- to be kept traditional, engagement photoshoots allow couples to express themselves without reservation and show the world who they really are.

Proof that Engagement photos can be fun for everyone... except for zombies.
Images property of Amanda Rynda ( and used by express permission.

The fact that "who they really are" is filtered through the lens, direction, and eye of a professional photographer who then touches up the finished pictures to ensure that they are of the best possible quality also helps explain the draw of engagement photos- candid Facebook pictures of you and your beau are nice and all, but pale in compares to a nice series of professionally done photos.

My fiance and I opted to do non-traditional engagement photos due, in part, to the length of our engagement (~2 years). Some were still rather traditional (if beautifully framed) while others made passing references to 1980s John Cusack movies. Quite a few featured lightsabers. I figured this finished product was geeky and nontraditional enough- and it was, until I stumbled across the work of the now-famous wedding photographer Amanda Rynda who was generous enough to allow me to post some highlights of a recent engagement photoshoot that two of her clients contracted her for.

The story of how the photoshoot came to be (as well as some feedback from the couple) can be found on Amanda's photography site. I knew that zombies were popular and everything, but I had no idea they creeped into the world of The Wedding Biz.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part IV: The Token

Today's post is the fourth installment of a series focusing on some of the most cliched portrayals of geeks, gamers, and otaku in mainstream media: Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired. This series will present some of the most prevalent, and offensive, geek stereotypes in pop culture in an attempt to convince you that The Big Bang Theory really isn't all that funny. Part 3 was The Oedipus Rex, and the series continues next week with Part 5- The Babysitter.

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired
Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Although Dante Alighieri died long before the age of computer geek, I would like to think that he would update the malebolges of hell to make room for certain modern writers. Hacks like Dan Brown would be an obvious choice (his eternal torment: being forced to write a chapter that was over 500 words long) as would sitcom schlockmongers like Chuck Lorre (forced to elicit audience reactions without use of a laugh track) but what of those writers who commit less obvious but no less pardonable sins? Like those who overuse rhetorical questions in the lead-up paragraphs to weekly feature pieces?

Those writers are already damned by their unfailing good looks, titanic genital endowments and near-legendary wit, so the divine punisher need only concern himself with heaping out literary vengeance on those who continue to write roles for...

#4 The Token
The presence of the kawaii asian girl is merely there to counterbalance the token on the right. (source)
  • Stereotype Cliche: A character included ostensibly to bring multicultural appeal to an otherwise lily white cast, The Token- as far as geek stereotypes is concerned- is defined by either, or both, of the following personality traits

    1) Being preternaturally gifted at all things mathematical or technical
    ex: everyone on this list
    2) Having an awkward, obvious unrequited crush on a main character.
    ex: Zaboo (The Guild), Felix Gaeta and his Baltar bromance (BSG)

    While admittedly this is about as much depth as any other character can expect on a major network sitcom or summer blockbuster, there is always the nagging question of why none of the other (white) characters on the show can fill the role for the minority character, which would allow them to be something of a more traditional token.
  • Notable Examples: Hiro Nakamura (Heroes), Zaboo (The Guild), Raj (Big Bang Theory), Hikaru Sulu (Star Trek), Felix Gaeta (Battlestar Galactica), Ray Arnold (Jurassic Park)
  • Why it's offensive: Because according to The Washington Post, everyone already thinks that all Asians are gifted electronics experts and it makes the rest of the cast look awkward and vaguely racist by comparison. Still, as far as stereotypes go it's probably more progressive to suggest that all Asians can school your ass in advanced network infrastructure than suggesting that all Asians know martial arts.

  • Suggested Replacement: A laptop wearing a coolie hat, an Asian character with a degree in British Literature.
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Monday, August 29, 2011

From a hurricane... to the moon!

While much of the northeast avoided the brunt of this weekend's hurricane tropical storm, my area must have done something particularly blasphemous to call down the wrath of a forgotten god- possibly eldritch in nature- upon us. Mighty trees are like scattered about the roads like unwanted toys, (tree) limbs protrude from the ground like accusatory fingers and electricity has become something of a luxury since Saturday.

But that hasn't stopped me from setting up shop in a local Panera and keeping an eye on the indy game scene for you! Freebird Games- makers of the critically acclaimed The Mirror Lied- has released a trailer for its new 16-bit inspired RPG, To The Moon, and it's pretty awesome.

The beautiful, retro title launches this fall for the PC blends familiar elements of Chrono Trigger with Inception. As such, the plot is a bit dark but the finished product is as bittersweet as the ending of Rankin & Bass' take on The Hobbit: two doctors develop the ability to create artificial memories in patients and use this technology to give their subjects a chance to pursue dreams that went unfulfilled in their lives. Unfortunately, the procedure is a bit... delicate... and subjects die shortly after the treatment. Thus the doctors use it to grant dying patients the chance to live out one of their life's dreams before they die.

In the game, you follow the life of Johnny- an elderly man who always dreamed of going to the moon... just not in the traditional sense:

The story-driven game which promises to not have any combat or leveling mechanic looks intriguing but may be a bit of a hard sell to the RPG crowd. Based on the aesthetic alone, it would make one hell of a movie but I'm not sure how well a game focused on lifelong regret and unfulfilled dreams will market to gamers.

Then again, as those who enjoyed Chrono Trigger at the time of its release are now slowly aging into their 30s, the topic or mortality and regret will likely be flitting across their subconscious gathering more momentum with each passing day. Yet for these 30-somethings, To the Moon- and its message- could not come at a better time since they are still purportedly young enough to change their lives and seize the joys of youth (albeit, not literally...) before they find themselves in Johnny's situation.

Of course, by then we'll probably have the technology to implant our consciousness into the cockpit of a supersweet, tricked out android body once our meat bodies fail... so the point of the game is moot, but it still looks like a beautiful way to pass a few hours this fall.
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Friday, August 26, 2011

With the rise of digital manga... what remains for libraries?

The concept of digital manga- and digital comic books- has been around for awhile now but apparently, someone in the publishing business recently picked up an iPad and realized its size approximated that of a comic book page. Soon after this momentous realization, the whole world went crazy for the idea too.

The whole world, that is, except for public libraries which were collectively hoping that collections of manga and graphic novels would help keep them relevant in today's digital age.

Chance encounters in library stacks like this have lead Perverts Who Walk Around With Shoe-Mounted Upskirt Cameras (PWWAWSMUC) to form an aggressive political lobby aimed at keeping public libraries in business. To date, we they have been unsuccessful.
To wit: in an article questioning whether libraries are still relevant in the digital age, a young woman is pictured reading manga in the stacks with a subtitle of

"Angela Andrievska, a page at Burnaby Public Library, checks out some of the manga Japanese comics available at the Bob Prittie branch. The library is broadening the scope of its collection and the services it provides as a way to stay relevant in the community."

So it seems that the push towards digital manga is not going to go over all that well at the next ALA Conference. Still, hope remains for libraries in these bleak times since there is a near-complete lack of a practical distribution model for manga in a digital format, and piracy is still commonplace among its early fans. Yet industry giants like Viz Media have sought to combat this trend with a robust library of over 300 titles available both online and via an iOS app. While an impressive number, even this effort pales in comparison to Jmanga's goal of having 10,000 (licensed) titles available online by 2013.

Predictably, this has lead to something of a furor in the traditional manga industry and has left a void open for artistically savvy young turks. The Digital Manga Guild, which launched its premiere title last week, is one such group making headlines for publishing predominantly yaoi titles by hiring nonprofessional translators, artists, and editors to do the work on their titles with a profit-sharing model. By having their employees receive no payment upfront, but knowing they will have a vested interest in the success of the title, the DMG is hoping to pound out yaoi faster than any of their competitors proving- once again- that pornography paves the way for technological progress.

This provides a bittersweet, and suitably fitting, coda for public libraries as well since they've only just now come to realize exactly how important access to pornography is. As they prepare to pursue legal action to protect their patron's ability to surf teh pr0n whilst in the stacks, one can only smile in bemusement as they load (NSFW) up on their 1024 x 768, 132 ppi iPad screens in the privacy of their local Starbucks.
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chiptune music makes it ok to rock out to NES sounds again

Chiptune music is an interest of mine that rarely bobs above the surface of this site. Writing for a videogame music website as I do, I've been exposed to a broad range of gaming music (indie and mainstream) and have come to the sad realization that modern videogame soundtracks are becoming increasingly homogenous. Almost any AAA game released to the western market will invariably have a James Horner-inspired, louder-is-better soundtrack which is heavy on metal pipe sounds and light on anything creative. These soundtracks are little more than an orchestral assault on one's ears masquerading as music.

Ah, but chiptune music my friends... that's something else entirely. It's the incredible, urban amalgamation of an underground music scene with the DIY software and hardware communities. It's the underground retro movement that even hipsters haven't heard of. And it is awesome.

He's not holding a bass and playing a gameboy, he's playing music from his gameboy while holding his bass. (source)

Chiptune music works like this: in the late 80s and early 90s, computers and gaming consoles used a dedicated soundchip to create sound effects and music. Composers of the day put code into the individual games that told this chip what beeps and bloops to make at what point and viola! The 8-bit soundtrack you remember so well from your NES days was created. This approach of having the system, and not the game itself, play the music was a necessary one since the storage capacity on a gameboy or NES cartridge wasn't really all that robust (~6MB).

As videogames evolved and become more complex, the idea of dedicated soundchips died out altogether being replaced by more modern methods (sample playback) but the soundchips remained unused and unloved, lying in powered down NES and Gameboys awaiting their day on eBay. It was only a matter of time before someone realized that these chips could be opened up with the correct piece of software and one could create entirely new music from them due to their relatively broad range of available pitches. Little Sound DJ is a prime example of this type of software (all housed on a custom Gameboy cartridge with an added microUSB port for PC interfacing) and as the video below shows, it's quite a versatile little tool.

As for where you can find chiptune music, you're already on the best resource for it! Chipocrite (who composed the Bizarre Love Triangle cover above) ranks as one of my absolute favorites and the site Bandcamp is a great resource to track down other chiptune DJs like Chris Keyser, Inverse Phase, exilefaker or Note! If you're in the mood for live shows, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Brooklyn all boast huge underground chiptune music scenes if you know where to look.

Also, if you're at a Con chances are you'll happen upon an up-and-coming chiptune musician without even knowing it. That dude playing on his gameboy in the hall at 1am while sweet 8-bit style music plays around him? Chances are it's someone like Skip Sandwich DX

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An ode to my MMO mentor

An accurate predictor of one's succes in an MMO is the amount of friends they make in the game. Skill and an understanding of the game's underlying mechanics all help but much as it is in life, getting anywhere in an MMO often owes more to who - and not what - you know.

By the time I had met my Anonymous Mentor Friend (AMF) I was already fairly well established in FFXI. I was a mighty level 50 (out of 75) character with one subjob, a decent bankroll (largely donated from my other in-game friends), and a keen understanding of how to hit things with a sword until they fell over. AMF happened to be in the same social linkshell as I was, and decided to take me under his wing as his protege because I made him laugh. He was a max-level healing job, and I was an up-and-coming melee DPS. As soon as we became friends, my experience in-game would change forever...

The Yagudo are a theologically complex race of quasi-antagonists that look like what would happen if you left a Skesis and Big Bird alone for a night with a bottle of tequila and an iPod full of Barry White music.

With AMF's help, I breezed through most of the mid-game challenges in a matter of weeks. Levels were gained, limits were broken, and artifacts were acquired in a blur of teleports and sidequests. In return for his tutelage (and countless cure bombs) I shared with him some of my favorite spots to farm and the finer points of how to smack things with a sword while on auto-attack. I was the Robin to his Batman, the Starsky to his Hutch, the Tennille to his captain. These were good days.

As our time together wore on and AMF became involved with endgame raiding, I continued to hold him in near-mythic esteem. He was fighting bosses that I had only heard of, and he asked me for help with strategies because, apparently, he sucked at using Google.

 Our friendship continued to grow and he began referring to me as his little brother (this was less of a term of affection, I later found out, and more of an excuse he gave to his endgame group to explain why he was helping me with lowbie quests) and I, never having a brother of my own, suddenly found myself desperate for the approval of my older sibling. "I'm hanging out with my older brother, I'm one of the cool kids in the game!" I thought.

 "Elves." I corrected myself, "One of the cool elves."

A point of clarification needs to be made here before the story continues. Unlike other, more popular, MMOs, Final Fantasy XI did not make it easy for players to use Ventrilo or Team Speak while playing. This lead to the majority of in-game communication taking place via text, with a few more trusting souls using cell phones or landlines to chat without relying on their keyboards.

As such, when you "talked" to someone in FFXI, you were really typing to them, so you never heard their voice or formed a more complete mental picture of who they were past what you could see on screen. And on screen, AMF was now on his 3rd level 75 job and rode imperiously around the world on a black chocobo that he had raised from scratch with gear that I could never dream of having. When he typed, his sounded like Chuck fucking Norris in my head. This man was like a god to my n00b self.

This carefully constructed image was crushed one day when reality- the cold and harsh mistress that she is- intruded on my friendship with AMF. His keyboard was acting up, or so he said, and we were searching for a key item for some mission or another so he casually suggested I call him so we could navigate the zone we were in more easily.

 I was a bit nervous to speak to the man whom I had come to idolize over the past few months, but readily complied as my character jogged away from his on screen. The phone rang as dunes rolled by and I lost sight of AMF. I stopped to check the in-game map to see where I was, just like he had taught me to do, and while I stared at the faux parchment on the screen, I was completely unprepared for the grating, high-pitched, southern twang that awaited me when the phone stopped ringing:

"Belt! Don't go down that way- there are gahlins all up in that tunnel!"

My mentor, my bro crush, my Chuck Norris was a teenager from the deep south.

I tried to hide my disappointment as best I could, but the illusion was irrevocably shattered. Reality had crushed yet another of my fantasy worlds and transmogrified my heroic older brother into an excitable southerner nine years my junior. Faced with such a crushing realization, I did what any sane, well-adjusted adult would do: I drank.

 I drank until I was ok with the hand life had dealt me. It's how 20-somethings deal with working corporate jobs out of college (and for the rest of their lives) and how parents cope with their children taking bit parts in high school musicals, so it seemed the best way for me to deal with this particular disappointment as well. 

Oddly enough, my friendship with AMF only grew stronger from that day on. He convinced his endgame raiding group to let me join and he continued to help me with more complicated quests in-game. In return, I helped him with his homework and gave him advice on girls. Fate had robbed me of the older brother I never had and provided me instead with the younger brother that I never really wanted, but it was a workable friendship all the same.

In time, I began to take him under my wing and help him along in the real world as he helped me along in FFXI. Something in me changed, as I realized that I now actually wanted to help him grow up and succeed rather than have him help me succeed in an online game that I once loved. No matter how much fun I had in FFXI, I would say that the most meaningful thing I had accomplished in my years of playing was helping my AMF score an A on his Social Studies midterm essay and breeze into his Junior year of high school. least, it would be- but that paper I wrote for him (in exchange for some of his DKP) was complete crap and his teacher never bothered to check half of my references. Still, an A is an A and I got my loot. In the end, everyone- but the fine state of Georgia's public school system- won.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part III: The Oedipus Rex

Today's post is the third part of a series focusing on some of the most cliched portrayals of geeks, gamers, and otaku in mainstream media: Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired. This series will present some of the most prevalent, and offensive, geek stereotypes in pop culture in an attempt to convince you that The Big Bang Theory really isn't all that funny. Part 2 was The Jargon Fountain, and the series continues next week with Part 4 - The Token.

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired
Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Ask a geek who his first love was, and most will reply- without heistation- Seven of Nine or BASIC. Not many will say "my mother" although admittedly a child's love for their parents is often taken for granted by both parties. What film and TV writers fail to understand is that this level of implied maternal affection is usually all that most geeks feel on the day-to-day towards their mothers. A good meal, an unexpected phone call, or sizable birthday gift may cause a brief, sharp spike in the levels of love, but they usually fade in time for the weekend's scheduled Battlestar Galactica

So fundamental is this lack of understanding by writers, that they are convinced that a full third of the overall geek population still lives in their parent's basement, stuck in the perpetual twilight world of the manchild. While these geeks possess towering intellects, terrifying computer skills, or particularly pointy prosthetic hands, they are all humbled by the badgering and mollycoddling of an oppressive mother. Thus is born...

#3 The Oedipus Rex
Some dudes just never get over the mommy issues
  • Stereotype Cliche: Revered by other geeks/hackers/cyber terrorists, The Oedipus Rex is often consulted for help when shit begins to get real. Once a plot point becomes too complex for the most technologically savvy group member can handle, they will make mention of a hero or mentor that they know of and convince the others to seek out their advice. A small sidequest will take place as the image of the heroic mentor is inflated by whispered rumors of his near supernatural abilities. The group hesitates when they find his home. The knock cautiously on the door, only to have it answered by... his mother.

    Cue laugh track as the most powerful geek in the world is shown to be a maladjusted shut-in who games, hacks, and schemes in the basement shadow of his mother's house.

  • Notable Examples: Howard Wolowitz (Big Bang Theory), Kadaj (Final Fantasy Advent Children), Kevin Smith's Character (Warlock... like you'd remember that, Live Free or Die Hard), Comic Book Guy (The Simpsons), Norman Bates (Psycho), Freddie (iCarly), Buster Bluth (Arrested Development), Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory)

  • Why it's offensive: The idea that a puissant genius needs to be humbled in front of the audience is bad enough, but you just don't mess with a man's momma. Mr. T knew that, Dr. Doom knew that, and even Hitler knew that (did you ever hear of a plot to assassinate FDR's mother?) This trope exists for the express purposes of making audience members feel better about themselves, because while they may not understand what the hell the internet actually is, at least they don't live at their parent's house!

  • Suggested Replacement: A rogue software engineer who lives in a sensibly furnished Ikea-branded apartment, an evil hacker collective who works out of a local Starbucks because- hey- free WiFi!
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Monday, August 22, 2011

A strong case for a 3D Final Fantasy remake

Bad things happen when videogame companies attempt to make original motion pictures. In fact, it's only been attempted once (although examples of bad movie adaptations of videogames are legion) and the result damn near bankrupted the company in question, lost $120 million at the worldwide box office, and lead to its director resigning in disgrace. I am of course referring to Squaresoft's millennial blunder of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within... one of the most unfairly reviled movies of the digital age.

Somehow, the film still bombed even with a protagonist like Aki Ross (above) and strong critical endorsement by Roger Ebert

The simple fact of the matter is that Spirits Within is a really good movie with breathtaking digital animation that still holds up well after ten years of developments and innovations. If you don't believe me, watch the "troll in the bathroom" scene from 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and tell me its CG doesn't suck by comparison. Visuals aside, Spirits Within does lack any real character development, but the plot clips along nicely and delivers a story that's enjoyable (or at least followable...) from beginning to end. In fact, much like Final Fantasy XIII, one could argue that Spirits Within only suffered because it was called "Final Fantasy" because- let's face it- video game movies weren't exactly considered to be high art after 1993's Super Mario Brothers.

One of the biggest travesties facing Spirits Within is that it has been all but abandoned by Squaresoft (now Square Enix) and will likely spend the rest of its post-release in the bargain Blu Ray bins of big box retailers, waiting to entice a curious passerby with its $8.00 price tag. This is a shame considering the potential it has to be a huge box office draw if its graphics were updated to allow for 3D projection. Considering that the movie almost sank the merger between Squaresoft and Enix after it was unveiled as box office bomb, the prospect of SE revisiting (let alone updating) Spirits Within is relatively slim, no matter how compelling the graphics might be.

After watching the trailer below I think you'll agree with me that Spirits Within could be the best case for 3D technology being retrofitted to a Final Fantasy title that doesn't involve Tifa Lockhart and the words "boob physics"...

Which is a shame, considering that it will never exist.
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Site News!

A bunch of new readers have found their way to Kawaiian Punch over the past two weeks, and so I figured it was time to update the Start Here! page. If you're new to Kawaiian Punch, or are a regular visitor looking for the highlights that you might have missed, check out the Start Here! page for some of my most well-received (or outright hated) posts. If nothing else, it will provide you with an excellent idea of what I am capable of writing when I'm sober and adequately caffeinated!
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Healbot makes being a healer fun... or at least app-worthy

As anyone who has played an MMO knows, being a healer is a thankless job. When your play your role perfectly nobody really notices, but the minute a fight turns pear-shaped your chatlog is spammed with "HEALZ!", "HEALZ PLZ!", and "OMFG! HEAL!!!!!" as careless damage dealers learn about hate/aggro lines the hard way.

While healers are extremely important to the success of any raid or group endeavor, few find the prospect of main healing to be fun for the reasons listed above. But a small group of WoW players have developed a free iOS app that aims to make being a main healer fun (in a whack-a-mole sort of way) with called Healbot.

Ashley Gosiengfiao proves that being a White Mage/Healbot can be sexy. Or, at least proves that sexy white mage cosplay exists (source)

Perhaps the most amazing part about Healbot is that for all of its minimalism, it turns the job of main healing during a raid into a fun little management game. To play, you simply watch the Hit Point bars on the screen decrease as damage is incurred, and your job is to select Light, Medium, or Heavy heals- each on its own recast time and able to heal an amount of HP proportionate to its name- to patch up the wounds. And that's pretty much the game. You juggle those three spells, keep all of your party members alive, and watch the HP of The Boss drop until it reaches zero and then you win (yay, you!)

But there's more to the game than this. As others have pointed out, the game- perhaps as an unindented side effect- stimulates your imagination through its minimalism. By avoiding graphics or even naming The Boss, players are left to imagine their own scenarios (or none at all) where their parties are fighting some eldritch horror bent on their annihilation. For the fantasy inclined mind, they may picture giant stone golems, cave trolls or winged demons wrecking havoc. I found myself (a recovering MMO player) enjoying some pleasant nostalgia stirred up by the app and had flashbacks to memorable FFXI bossfights as I played, picturing The Boss as a flyying mostly-naked bird chick, a giant mafiosi moogle, an evil (if diminutive) sorceress, or an ambulatory oil rig. I had some strange times back in Vana'diel...

New of this app may be anything but news to you, since it was released on 7/27 but I completely missed it while I was en route to Otakon. Perhaps one day when I have a bikini-clad staff or writers (or at least bikini-clad cowriter!) working for me, I'll be able to handle two stories at the same time but for now- it's just me so things like this may come a bit late.

And ladies, I am accepting applications for the cowriter position. Don't wait, apply now!
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

A breakup letter to my PC

Uh... hi. I know you can't hear me right now, but the doctors told me that I should talk to you. We haven't spoken much recently, PC, but I was the first person you told them to call before it all went black. It's funny, isn't it? How after all that we've been through and where life has taken us that I'm still your first phone call? I'm losing focus already, and I knew this would be hard, so I wrote down what I wanted to say. I'll leave a copy here for you because after you're re-OS'd you probably won't remember who I am, but I hope my words might store a fragmented packet of a memory in some lost cluster of your system.

I'm rambling already. Here goes.

Do you remember how we met, PC? It was just after my ex and I split up. Sure, we had been introduced before then and we hung out a little, but we met- we really met that summer when she dumped me two days before my birthday. A friend at work told you that I was looking to meet some new people to hang out with, and he knew that you had a whole MMORPG's worth to introduce me to, so he put us in touch. It was weird at first, since we didn't have much to talk about and I spent the first hour or so in-game locked onto an NPC and running in panicked circles, but something clicked between us. I'll always remember how sweet and musical your laugh was when my level 1 ass was handed to me by an Orc in East Ronfaure.

Soon I was spending all of my money on flashy upgrades for you- a killer graphics card, an LED backlit keyboard, a fleet of extra fans... you were all I could think about. I'd rush home to jam an eager finger onto your power button and before either of us knew it, it was 3am and we were anything but tired. Do you remember those days? I thought I saw your power indicator light flicker just then but... no, the doctor said that would be impossible.

Within weeks we were an official couple. At work, I'd be looking up ways to make you happier or finding fun sidequests for us to do together on a rainy Saturday morning and - ugh - I'm losing focus again and I'm writing this. It's hard for me to get through this next part, but I'll try.

You understood me, PC, like no one else did. I'd be stuck at some dull party and you'd call or email me with a convenient excuse to leave. Muttering something about "server downtime" I'd rush over to your place at midnight on a Saturday and I'd spend hours VPN'd into you from the electrifying chill of the server room, as we both tried desperately to devour each other's warmth over a standard PPTP connection. I think those were some of the best moments of our time together, and if you could even boot to BIOS right now, I know you'd agree with me. It's in your firmware.

But soon, cracks started to form between us. It started with my iPod - you never liked her - and I admit that my constant references to how sexy, sleek, and exotic she looked were kind of rude in retrospect. You'd roll your eyes and casually BSOD at first, but you indulged my wandering eye and convinced yourself all the while that it was ok - healthy, even - for me to flirt with other brands. When I asked you to spend some time with the iPod, though, that's when the trouble really started.

It was a classic lover's fight. I had a super-important article to finish for my urban ethnography class and you decided we needed "to talk" at 11pm the night before it was due. I was frustrated, but I indulged you and held you when you eventually broke down. As the hours rolled by, my stoic mask began to slip and I could no longer just tell you that everything was going to be ok.

I saw the clock, it was 2:30am and the tears started to roll down my cheeks as I told you how much I needed you - not just then, but always. You believed me - hell, I believed me - but we both knew at some level that I was lying. I wanted to finish that paper and go the hell to sleep. Finally, you calmed down and I was able to complete the article with an hour to spare before class. I knew things were bad, but I still thought we could salvage "us".

I don't know what made me think a threesome would do it. Juvenile lustful fantasies, I suppose, but we were both so desperate not to be alone that we believed it could work. It wasn't easy talking you, or the iPhone, into it and even I wasn't sure which way it was going to go at first, but that night was amazing.

Not for us, you said as much the next day - I barely paid attention to you once I turned you on and forced you to interface with her, but between the iPhone and I, there was something primal. My fingers danced, positively danced, across her smooth screen and I made her do things that you could only dream of doing, PC. I think she wore you out obligingly around 10:30 or so and you slipped off to sleep. Your battery life couldn't match hers, and she knew it.  She and I didn't pass out until 3 hours later when I finally wore her battery down into the red.

Why am I telling you this? Because you knew it already. You weren't really in sleep mode, were you? No, you were pretending to be out cold but I know you heard all of the lustful noises she and I were making. How the hell else would you know the wallpaper I chose for her? I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at myself for not being a man and telling you that it was over between us at that very moment. But suicide, PC? I never thought you'd go down this cliched road.

Maybe if I had Ebay'd you faster to a new lover things would have turned out differently, but I didn't. I told you that she - MacBook Pro (we can use her name since she's a huge part of my life now) - was moving in this past month and you said you were ok with it. All of your stuff was still here, and I wasn't going to kick you out after all we had been through, and part of me believed that maybe you two would be friends. That all flew out the window when she offered to use her Mac Migration Assistant to transfer everything from you to her. You accommodated the request, but I saw that telltale look in your Event Viewer.

You were pissed.

And you had every right to be. But overdosing, PC? A literal short circuit? I expected better from you. The doctors say you're so messed up inside that you're shorting out your OEM AC adapter. You were born with that plug, and you need it to live, but now you're so fucked up that you're poisoning it with unreliable voltage and fluctuating amps. It's sad, but you always had a flair for the dramatic and after the whole Amy Winehouse thing broke... well, I guess it was just fresh in your mind.

Anyway, this has gone on for long enough PC. No matter what the doctors can do for you, it is over between us. I loved you once, and I will always look back on those days fondly, but now your life is in the hands of 3rd Party Hardware Warranty Repairs. Your ports are being probed and tested by a stranger's uncaring hands and you brought this all on yourself.

I need to get going now. I left MacBook Pro downstairs in the lobby, and I'm sure she has guys hanging all over her. Be strong, PC. I need you to be strong. You'll be worth more on Ebay as "Refurbished" that you would be "For Parts".

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Boy murders great-grandmother with sword, videogames

Normally when a story involving a sword and some sort of crime makes the news, you can bet your tsuba that the sword in question is a $49.95 QVC-issued katana that the perpetrator used (while drunk) to mete out some trailer park justice, challenge their girlfriend to a naked duel, stab some friends at a World Cup party in the name of revenge, or threaten police with during an 80 hour standoff. It's like Edo-era Japan out there in the news, just with more white trash.

But thanks to a eurocentric 14-year-old boy from the suburbs of Atlanta, the trend of katana-only sword crime was broken on Monday when he used a "medieval-style" broadsword to kill his great-grandmother when she told him to stop playing videogames. Cue anti-gamer sentiment in 3...2...

The crime pretty much went down exactly like this, except that Aeries was a 77-year-old woman and Sepiroth was her 14-year-old great-grandson with two prior arrests. Also, Sephiroth had a pellet gun which he later used to beat a police dog unconscious.
(source unknown... ping me if you recognize it!)

The obvious reaction when the media gets its hooks into a story like this is to rail against the violent videogame industry for corrupting the minds of our nation's youth, because- hey- he killed her when she interrupted his gaming. But what makes the tragic death of the septuagenarian in this story extra-special-bonus tragic is the fact that her murderous great-grandson was already arrested twice this summer for violent behavior. In fact, two months ago he was arrested for stabbing his grandmother in the foot with a sword... just, uh, not the same one he used to kill his great-grandmother with, apparently:

"This is not the same sword. He cut his grandmother on the foot with it that time," (Sheriff) Miller told CBS.

...which is not exactly all that comforting.

To summarize: the boy was arrested not two months ago for stabbing his grandmother with a sword and then and somehow came across a new sword to murder his great-grandmother with. Did nobody (parents, grandparents, police) think to stop him from purchasing the second sword or perhaps, y'know, search his room for other weapons after the first arrest? I sincerely doubt that he earned points for good behavior between then and now, considering that his second violent arrest (which came at the end of July) prompted the County Sheriff to remark that "we almost had to hogtie him not to hurt him."

The biggest unanswered question about this story (other than the name of the game the boy was playing that prompted the murderous outrage. I sincerely doubt it was Hatsune Miku's Project Diva, but I've been wrong before) is where exactly did a 14-year-old come up for the money to buy not one, but two, different swords in the span of a single summer and who let him purchase them? The person who enabled these purchases is really at fault, and I'm sure the Douglas County Police have their suspects.

In all seriousness, while I am a staunch and avowed gamer, I can understand why nongamers are angry over this crime. An elderly woman is dead as the result of a tragic outburst and it is clearly the fault of videogames that she was murdered by her progeny. Videogames and videogames alone. The murder was so bizarre, so unprecedented, that it was practically unpreventable. I'll give Sheriff Miller and the Douglas County Police a pass on letting this crime happen, because there was literally no way they could have seen Monday's murder coming unless they had a team of psychics working for them.

...and even then it would have been close.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part II: The Jargon Fountain

Today's post is the second part of a new series focusing on some of the most cliched portrayals of geeks, gamers, and otaku in mainstream media: Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired. This series will present some of the most prevalent, and offensive, geek stereotypes in pop culture in an attempt to convince you that The Big Bang Theory really isn't all that funny. Part 1 was The Prepubescent Prodigy, and the series continues next Tuesday with Part 3 - Oedipus Rex.

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired
Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Writing for television or film is an unenviable job. No matter how complex a plot a writer might have, or how richly detailed their characters might be, they are ultimately encouraged (read: forced) to dumb down their scripts to appeal to a broader audience. It's not mandatory that they do this, of course, but in the rare cases where they stay true to their artistic vision their show can win six Emmy awards, be praised for its razor-sharp wit and still be canceled for "poor ratings". Not that I'm bitter or anything...

With these pressures in mind, it is almost- almost- understandable why a writer would employ an obvious cliche to explain a more nuanced part of their story in three lines as opposed to three episodes. Or maybe I'm just giving television and film writers too much credit and they really don't know how stupid some of their technological dialog comes across. Whatever the case may be, if I could punch one cliche in its hypothetical throat, it would be...

#2 The Jargon Fountain
Sure, he looks peaceful now... but as soon as another character asks him what he's doing, his explanation will sound like a Comp Sci 101 lecture mashed up with a William Gibson audiobook and the amorous advances of an irate waterfowl.
  • Stereotype Cliche: A loner among the other "cool" characters, The Jargon Fountain is a highly volatile geyser of unrelated technological terms and phrases just waiting for the right moment to erupt. Writers love to employ this cliche whenever they need something highly technical (or physically impossible...) explained away quickly, hoping that the audience will be overwhelmed by a salvo of impressive-sounding words and not stop to think about the sheer inanity (or insanity) of what they just heard. To complete the cliche, a nearby character will often ask The Jargon Fountain to repeat what they just said in English.

    Once The Jargon Fountain has completed their bit part, other characters will fix them with a look somewhere between admiration and the disapproving glance one gives a new puppy who just pissed the floor in excitement and then carry on with the plot. If The Jargon Fountain reappears later in the episode/film, they're likely going to turn evil and die in the most demeaning and perfunctory way possible.

  • Notable Examples: Dr. Weir (Event Horizon), Boris Grishenko (Goldeneye), Geordi La Forge (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Henry Gupta (Tomorrow Never Dies), Whatever Jusin Long's character's name was from Live Free or Die Hard (Live Free or Die Hard), Dennis Nedry (Jurrasic Park), Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory)

  • Why it's offensive: "I'll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic... see if I can track an IP address..." Need I say more?

  • Suggested Replacement: An Applied Mathematics grad student, a glitchy Speak & Spell
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Operation Rainfall wants to bring kickass roleplaying games to the Wii

This is going to be a serious gaming news kind of post, but since it's the start of the week I will take pity on you and treat you all to some sexy Hatsune Miku vocaloid cosplay before we dive into what, exactly, Operation Rainfall is and why it's the best thing to happen to the Wii since the Wii fit (hula hoop girl video). But first... happy Monday!

It are fact: sexy Space Explorer Hatsune Miku cosplay pics can makes any Monday better.
(source... nsfw-ish)

As any mother's son who calls himself a gamer knows, the Nintendo Wii hasn't seen a lot of engrossing roleplaying games since its launch five years ago. Many industry writers and insiders attribute this dearth of "serious" gaming titles to the fact that so many of the Wii's most popular games rely on the motion-sensing gimmicks of the Wiimote. This novelty of gameplay has lead developers, and more importantly, the public to regard the Wii as less of a traditional gaming console and more of a fun party game machine.

But in the past eighteen months, three incredible roleplaying games have been released for the Wii in Japan: The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Pandora's Tower. The Last Story in particular is noteworthy since it was directed and produced by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of the Final Fantasy franchise, and features music composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Unfortunately, none of these games are scheduled to be localized outside of Japan leaving many American and European RPG fans fondling their dice bags in frustration. Thankfully for them, there's Operation Rainfall.

Once you move past the CIA-inspired name, Operation Rainfall's purpose is incredibly straightforward: they are planning to pester, petition, and plead with Nintendo until The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Pandora's Tower are given US and European releases. The voices behind Operation Rainfall are articulate and class acts, as is demonstrated by their open letter to Nintendo President Satoru Iwata which begins by them thanking Iwata for Nintendo's steps to reward early adopters of the much-maligned Nintendo 3DS before they offer to help with the marketing of the three RPGs they want to see localized.

While fan campaigns are rarely effective, there is some hope for the goals of Operation Rainfall- Xenoblade Chronicles has been given an August 19th release date for the European market. Whether or not this came as a result of any effort of their own remains unknown, but Operation Rainfall has now moved into its purported second phase and offers fans a chance to take action by purchasing a $5.00 virtual copy of the original Final Fantasy on the Wii's virtual console and then sending Reggie Fils-Amie (the CEO of Nintendo of America) a template letter explaining the reason for their purchase. The hope for this campaign is to raise Nintendo of America's awareness of the potential fanbase that these games will enjoy in the United States (and abroad).

When everything is considered, Operation Rainfall is an ambitious project that may or may not have any real impact on the release of the three awaited titles (for all we RPG fans know, Nintendo may be planning to release them in time for the holidays), but it's amazing to see such strong fan interest this late in the Wii's console life. If you like classic RPGs and own a Wii, this might be a good time to cough up $5.00 and take part in a grass root campaign to make the Wii's selection of available titles suck a little less.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Anime yoga for otaku? Sign me up!

You can't walk past a magazine rack these days without seeing at least five publications dedicated to yoga. The proven health benefits of yoga are fairly well known, and since yoga requires very little equipment for beginners, it is natural that there would be demographic-specific yoga dvds spreading across the consumer market eager to cash in on the popular trend. There are already dvds of yoga for moms, yoga for men, yoga for dogs (not recommended!), nude yoga, and nude gay yoga... but what about anime yoga for otaku? Yogataku?

Picture her in a plow pose and tell me that it wouldn't sell (source)

It seems like this should be a fairly easy marketing opportunity for whatever anime studio decides to pursue this hypothetical project. Otaku have demonstrated that they are serious about fitness and weight loss (although my experiences at Otakon make me question to what degree...), and pretty much anything that features to the anime characters will have a strong fanbase or at least attract scores of curious consumers within a matter of weeks. The challenge of selling an anime yoga dvd to otaku would be about as difficult as marketing tofu to vegetarians... so why hasn't it been made?

Part of the difficulty would be in distinguishing it (visually) from Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit Yoga or K-on! Fit for that matter, but outside of that, I think the only reason it doesn't exist is because no one has realized the potential market for it. Again, if there are products that market yoga for toddlers, yoga for soldiers and yoga for Jimmy Buffet fans, it seems like a glaring oversight that there hasn't been an anime yoga dvd for otaku made to date. Vocaloid's sister software MikuMikuDance *almost* has the potential to create something like anime yoga but of course, once you put Hatsune Miku in a downward dog the challenge would be keeping it under an NC-17 rating and out of the hands of the creepy van contingent.

The non-masturbatory health potential of this hypothetical anime yoga dvd is tremendous (equal almost to its masturbatory, non-health potential) as it would help otaku tone and firm up their trouble areas by working with familiar characters, music, and environments. Tighter, firmer midriffs for cosplay aside, the goal of pursuing physical fitness for whatever reason is a laudable one. While I'm not sure this dvd would provide anything approaching a proper yoga workout, it seems that the integration of Gundam Suits and yoga mats wouldn't be all that difficult. Somebody seriously needs to make this happen.

...or someone at least really needs to make that downward dog thing on MikuMikuDance possible. Hell, I'd settle for upward dog if anyone's feeling ambitious!
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why we game (according to psychologists)

Ask a gamer why he or she games and the responses will be legion. Whether they play out of desire to just have fun, pwn some n00bs or to seek an escape from the real world (or the responsibilities of the real world...) for a few hours, gamers across the world continue to log in, log on, and tune out. But now psychologists are looking at the fundamental reasons for why we gamers game and the results are fairly surprising. Apparently, we're in it to find ourselves. Or rather, our ideal selves...

My ideal elf. Presented for sake of comparison: my FFXI avatar and me. Evidently I didn't understand the "fantasy" aspect of "Final Fantasy" all that well...

The appeal of videogames, if the University of Essex study is to be believed, is that they provide gamers with the opportunity to play a role that they would like to see themselves play in a hypothetical situation. When shit goes down in real life, I'll probably be the first person to jam his head into his lap and scream in terror until he passes out, but when I'm playing an action title like The 3rd Birthday my character will pull out a gun, ignore any sense of danger, and have her goddamn clothes blown to shreds as she fires round after round into whatever just charged into the room. Outside of the nonconsensual transgendered disrobing in the example above, I think the heroism of the videogame scenario is preferable to the pants wetting that I'd do in real life.

To put the above another way- the study showed that gamers are not drawn to gaming to find an escape from themselves and their identities, but rather to put themselves in a situation where they can allow their ideal self to be actualized. This situation is something that the game industry seems to have created by accident since their best attempts to introduce morality into games have been somewhat hamfisted and ineffectual.

In the late 1990s, developers began releasing sandbox games like Fallout which attempted to incorporate moral choices into the plot of the game by offering players "hero" and "villain" endings based on the moral choices they made throughout the game. Unfortunately, the moral dichotomies they presented were laughably black-and-white with little ambiguity present to really test a player's moral fiber. When your character saw an elderly woman fighting off a pack of thugs, for example, and your options were to save her life or shit on her corpse's chest while smoking a cigar, it didn't take a lot of thought to realize which choice would earn you good karma points and it's arguable that anyone who chose the corpse-shitting option was doing so only to see the alternate plot/ending of the game.

So while sandbox games have ultimately failed at introducing morality into gameplay, it seems that the imagination of gamers rushed in to pick up the slack:

"Observing thousands of gamers playing everything from The Sims to World of Warcraft, the researchers were able to trace that attraction back to childhood, when we used our imaginations to project ourselves as all sorts of things: an athlete, a rock star, a superhero—the list goes on.

Video games provide us with the opportunity to adopt pieces of their protagonist's identity, giving us a glimpse of a life we'd secretly like to lead."

...which is a comforting statement to read and see committed to an academic journal. Many have criticized modern games for their lack of storytelling but it's nice to see that our subconscious can fill in the blanks created by slashed budgets and rushed production schedules to draw something profound and meaningful out of games.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see exactly how many grenades it takes to expose all of Aya Brea's soft, supple pixels...
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part I: The Prepubescent Prodigy

Based on the reception of the MMO Personality Archetypes series, I've decided to devote Tuesdays to series posts and "listicles" because hey- it worked for

Today's post is the kickoff of a new series that should hopefully be more accessible to the non-MMORPG playing readership of this site (all four of you): Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired. This series will focus on some of the most prevalent, and offensive, geek stereotypes in pop culture in an attempt to convince you that The Big Bang Theory really isn't all that funny. Check in for Part 2 (The Jargon Fountain) next Tuesday!

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired
Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Writers love to exploit children. Not in an Upton Sinclair sort of way (at least not any more), but for the sake of advancing their stories. Stephen King has spent decades convincing his readers that anyone under the age of 12 is a magic-channeling plot device, and George Lucas damn near got himself killed for his overuse of them in the first three Star Wars films. If there's one commonality that almost all children share in modern literature, it's their ability to understand technology that baffles the adults present in the story with them.

Whether they are gifted pod racers, talented Shanghai stunt drivers, prodigies in the medical community, or plucky sidekicks, they all bow down before the most annoying, overused and offensive young person cliche of them all...

#1 The Prepubescent Prodigy
"It's a Unix system.... I... know this!"
  • Stereotype Cliche: A virtual adept at all things related to computers but universally unskilled at sports, this unpopular character often serves as the butt of most every joke in the script until the rest of the characters can't figure out how to turn on a computer. At which point, they'll come groveling back to their former whipping boy/girl and beg for help. For whatever reason- perhaps because they see it as a passable replacement for parental approval- The Prepubescent Hacker will help them and then be promptly forgotten about once the characters face problems that have nothing to do with computers.

  • Notable Examples: Lex (Jurrasic Park), Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars Ep. I), Lucca (Chrono Trigger), Julia Stiles (Ghostwriter), Riley (National Treasure), David Lightman (Wargames), Chekov (Star Trek reboot)

  • Why it's offensive: Outside of the obvious ignorance of what hacking actually *is*, the stereotype perpetuates the myth that someone who is made fun of by the other characters for days on end will want to help them when they are suddenly, and temporarily, useful. When all that stands between the main characters and a grizzly death is a computer terminal and The Prepubescent Prodigy, I'd at least like to see a moment of hesitation on the hacker's face before they decide to charge in and save everyone.

  • Suggested Replacement: A smartphone with Google, R2-D2
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Anthropologist leads charge for academic acceptance of Na'vi language

James Cameron's Avatar holds the distinction of being the highest-grossing film of all time, sitting almost one billion dollars ahead of its closest competitor (Cameron's 1997 Titanic). Despite shoddy writing, terrible cliches, and more one-dimensional characters than a daytime soap opera, Avatar won its share of devout fans with lush, sweeping visuals and its trademark race of 10-foot-tall mostly naked blue people- the Na'vi.

Although most everything about the Na'vi is fictitious, their language (also called, erm, Na'vi) is quite real and apparently anthropologists are beginning to take note of this.

For all their linguistic complexity, even the Na'vi don't have a word for this. Give him hell, Tubby Wolverine! (source)

University of British Columbia's Christine Schreyer, a linguistic anthropologist, has recently concluded an international survey on speakers of the Na'vi language to learn what drew them to learn the fictional language. More specifically, she hopes to extrapolate from this data set how speakers of dying languages (such as Navajo, Nahuatl, or Klingon) can preserve the grammatical underpinnings of their language as the number of speakers declines in the face of globalization. This assumes, of course, that such individuals have access to the internet and a good amount of disposable time and income but hey, it's an interesting line of research all the same.

Also interesting is the dedication of the Na'vi speakers who responded to Schreyer's survey. By dissecting the ~1,000 official words of Na'vi from the film, fans have created a centralized website where one can learn grammatically correct Na'vi. This isn't particularly unprecedented in the world of sci-fi/fantasy as fans have successfully reverse-engineered Tolkien's created elvish languages almost forty years ago, and The Klingon Dictionary continues to attract a handful of studious trekkies to the guttural Klingon language- but what distinguishes the community of Na'vi speakers as impressive is the sheer speed at which their language-learning site was launched.

The fan-driven amateur linguistic experiment into Na'vi began weeks after Avatar's release date. This is leaps ahead of both Klingon and Elvish, which took years to really catch on (owing, perhaps, to the lack of internet culture or wholesale lack of internet at the time of their release) and their speakers are fractious at best. Speakers of Na'vi can download a free app to their iOS devices or PDFs of Na'vi dictionaries available in 10 different languages (including Estonian!) all from their community-centered website.

While I think Schreyer may have a long road ahead of her if she plans to convince other academics that the lessons of the Na'vi language initiative can be used by disenfranchised speakers of dying languages as a means of preserving their linguistic heritage... but who knows? One can well imagine departments of Na'vi studies cropping up at more progressive universities after Avatar's two sequels are released in the coming years. It might not be a bad idea to get on this future department head's good side!
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