Hero Worship at Tokyo in Tulsa

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A little less than a year ago, I debuted The Astonishing Bobcat: Hero Worship to my first live audience and reflected on what an experience that was. After doing some more appearances since then–some planned, some on the fly, (note to authors: keep a digital copy of your work accessible on your smartphone; you never know when a spot at a showcase will open up) I have actually begun to dig the whole public reading thing.

As of today, I am looking forward to my very first con appearance at Tokyo in Tulsa in July, 2014. I’ll not only be talking about the current novel, but I’ll also have news about the soon-to-be released second book. Please come by my booth and support me as I step into another role–promotor. I’ll be the brand new author sweating bullets. See you there!

Post-E3 Reflections 2014

It’s E3 time! Again…

Last year, I wrote my first real post to my blog about my thoughts on E3 2013. Since E3 continues to have significance as a kind of holiday among video game fans, and since this month marks the one-year anniversary of my blog, I thought I’d talk about my thoughts on this year’s E3 conference.

To avoid rambling like last year (first blog post and all) I’ll go over each of the major conferences in chronological order, talk about anything I found noteworthy (or not), and then I’ll close out with a summary of my thoughts. Let’s dive right in:

Microsoft: 

While I haven’t made a secret of the fact that Microsoft drove me away as a fan about halfway through the Xbox 360’s tenure, and I have no plans to ever buy an Xbox One, I will try to be objective here and talk about what I thought was intriguing and what wasn’t, instead of just writing the whole conference off.

First off, I have to give Microsoft credit for covering games and only games at their E3 presser.  This decision alone made it one of the best conferences they’ve had in years. Their fumbling attempts to rope in both casual players and enthusiasts with their presentations for the last few years has led to some absolutely painful, boring conferences, and I’m glad they decided to stick with things that the crowd who actually tunes into these conferences will be interested in.

And Microsoft featured a few games that actually did pique my interest. Sunset Overdrive, the latest game from Sony alum Insomniac, looks colorful, bombastic and exciting. It’s a nice change of pace from their last outing, Fuse, where they let the pressure of industry trends turn what could have been a unique shooter with a lot of personality into something incredibly generic, and stylistically it’s like nothing else on Xbox at present.

Additionally, Microsoft had one of the biggest surprises at the show (at least for me), when they announced a sequel/remake to Phantom Dust, the original Xbox exclusive arena fighter/CCG. They only showed a CGI cutscene teaser for it (I’ll talk more about this later), but the fact that they’re even releasing a new game in the franchise is kind of amazing in this day and age, since the original Phantom Dust’s sales were…underwhelming, to be kind.

They also announced an exclusive game from one of my favorite studios, Platinum Games, called Scalebound. Again, another CGI trailer with no gameplay whatsoever, but I’m kind of surprised that Microsoft would reach out to Platinum for an exclusive; as much as I love Platinum’s games, they certainly aren’t system-sellers for most people and outside of a loyal cult following, they tend not to sell that well, especially among Xbox die-hards.

And that’s it for the positives. For the rest of what got featured at Microsoft’s conference, my response was “don’t care” or “I can get it on another platform.” This is the primary reason I gave up on Xbox; there just isn’t enough there that interests me to warrant a purchase, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Ubisoft:

Ubisoft had exactly one game to show that I cared about: Valiant Hearts: The Great War. It’s a 2D adventure game, similar in mechanics to Double Fine’s recent title The Cave and animated in a storybook style using the UbiArt engine that powers Rayman Legends. It purports to tell the story of five individuals who save the life of a soldier in World War I, supposedly based on actual letters from these people sent during the war.

Ordinarily I detest war games. As someone who comes from a long line of veterans, I find it offensive to turn actual war into a perpetual toy for people to play soldier with online. I don’t even like war movies (with very few exceptions) for similar reasons. But Valiant Hearts looks to be taking a different approach and telling a meaningful, heart-felt story about the war in an artistically tasteful way, not unlike how Art Spiegelman’s Maus tells the story of the Holocaust through cartoon analogues of mice, cats and pigs. So Valiant Hearts is one title I’ll be watching with great interest.

Everything else was boring to me: sequels to franchises I’m not interested in, new IPs that I equally don’t care about (most of which were featured at Sony and Microsoft’s conferences anyway), fitness and dance games. In other words, typical Ubisoft. 

EA:

Given EA’s track record of late, anything positive I have to say in this segment comes with the unstated caveat of “…if they don’t mess it up.” So just bear that in mind.

That said, there were a few games in EA’s conference that did interest me. The first is Battlefield: Hardline, which uses the Battlefield 4 engine to make a cops-and-robbers tactical shooter. As much as I detest war shooters and movies, I’m actually a big fan of heist films and cop films and the few games that have attempted to utilize that kind of setting, so this is one Battlefield title I might be interested in picking up…after I’m sure that the online is working correctly.

Second is a new Mirror’s Edge game. Now, I still need to play the original Mirror’s Edge, but I was intrigued by the first-person parkour title when it came out, and the sequel (what they showed of it) looks to be in much the same vein. When I get around to trying out the original game, I might give Mirror’s Edge 2 a shot if I like what I see.

Finally, there’s the new Dragon Age game, Dragon Age: Inquisition. I loved the first Dragon Age, and I own and have played (but not beaten) its divisive sequel. I’ve been a big fan of BioWare’s work since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the original Xbox, but I’ve noticed that their work seems to have declined in quality or at least shown more problems since EA bought them out. So, I’ll be approaching this one with caution.

As for the rest, it was just sports games and sequels to franchises that aren’t up my alley. 

Sony:

Aside from their decision to showcase Playstation-exclusive TV and movie stuff, Sony’s conference was very similar to Microsoft’s; a few games I’d like to play, a lot that I probably won’t  or that are going to be available elsewhere. Having said that, there were definitely some games at the Sony conference that caught my attention.

First, Sony announced a new stand-alone DLC for Infamous: Second Son, sort of like what they did with Infamous: Festival of Blood a few years ago. I think that’s a cool idea. If/when I get a PS4, I’ll definitely be picking up Second Son and downloading this DLC. Not much else to say on that front.

Second is LittleBigPlanet 3. I like the first two LBP titles, and this new game looks to be pretty cool, adding new characters with new abilities and promising to port over all the user-created levels from LBP 1 and 2 with improved visuals…though the visuals are one thing that left me kind of scratching my head. I’ve complained before that a lot of the games for the PS4 and Xbone look like they could have been achieved on the PS3 and 360 with a minimal downgrade in visuals, but this is especially true for LBP 3. It looks almost identical to LBP 2, and really does nothing to justify the new hardware. I know LBP has never been a visual showcase, but it’s such a transparent move to sell more PS4s that I can’t help but roll my eyes at it.

Third is a new game from gonzo action game developer Suda51, titled Let It Die, which is going to be exclusive to PS4. It was just a teaser trailer that showed no gameplay, but I’m a fan of Suda51’s work, so on one hand, I’m definitely intrigued by this one…on the other hand, it’s since been revealed that the game is going to be both always online and “free to play,” which are major no-nos for me in a console title, so I’m very much on the fence.

Fourth is a title called No Man’s Sky, a “procedurally-generated” space exploration game that’s supposed to create new content as players explore the game’s universe. I’ve heard this kind of hype before from games like Spore, so I’m more than a little skeptical, but the footage they showed did look very nice. I’ll be interested to learn more about this one as it comes out.

Finally, there was a teaser trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. I’m a big fan of the Uncharted series (in fact, I’m sitting next to a curio cabinet holding my limited edition Nathan Drake figurine as I write this), but this was just a CGI teaser trailer and showed no gameplay footage whatsoever. Beyond showing that Uncharted 4 is on-track for a 2015 release, there really isn’t much more to say about this one.

As for the rest of what Sony showed, it was all either third-party titles that will be available elsewhere, new IPs that don’t interest me (The Order: 1886 comes to mind) or CGI teasers that didn’t do anything other than announce the fact that a game was in development. 

Nintendo:

As you may know, I’m definitely a Nintendo fan, and the Wii U is the only 8th generation console I currently own. Having said that, I think Nintendo had, hands-down, the best presentation of all three console makers at this year’s E3.

There was no plugging of third-party titles with exclusive DLC, no talk about TV shows or movies, just tons of exclusive games and content, coupled with great, funny presentation, including sketches by the creators of Robot Chicken and a Matrix-esque kung fu battle between Nintendo President Satoru Iwata and Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. If you like Nintendo at all and you haven’t seen it yet, clear thirty minutes or so from your schedule and give it a watch. I promise you it’s worth your time.

There was new footage and information on previously announced titles, including Hyrule Warriors, the newly-christened Yoshi’s Wooly World, new Smash Bros info, the Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire remakes, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Bayonetta 2 (which will ship with Bayonetta 1 on the same disc). And there were a ton of surprise announcements, including a new game based on the Captain Toad levels from Super Mario 3D World, a stunning first look at the upcoming Legend of Zelda game, a sequel to Kirby: Canvas Curse for the Wii U, a Mario level-creation game, and a brand-new third-person shooter called Splatoon that looks pretty exciting.

Nintendo also unveiled their previously-discussed NFC figurine toys, which they’re calling “amiibo.” These are little figurines of Nintendo characters that, similar to Skylanders toys, when brought into contact with the Wii U Gamepad’s NFC reader (or an upcoming NFC peripheral for 3DS), will enter that character into the game and allow it to interact with the game and player in unique ways. Amiibo is going to be supported by a number of titles, the first of which will be Super Smash Bros, which will launch along with the figurines. I’m not sure how much I, as a 29-year-old man, will get out of this new toy line, but it’s pretty cool-looking and I’m sure it’ll print money for Nintendo, which is something they really need right now.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, I’d say this year’s E3 was a lot more encouraging than last year’s. I’m significantly less disillusioned about the state of the game industry than I was a year ago.

That being said, this year’s conference brought into sharp focus some trends in the gaming industry that simply need to die. I’m sick of console-makers, rather than producing their own content, claiming third-party titles on the grounds of temporary exclusivity or exclusive DLC or early betas just so they can pad out their presentations. Likewise, I’m also tired of CGI teaser trailers that tell us nothing about the game itself and show no actual gameplay; every conference except for Nintendo’s was rife with teaser trailers like this, and it was a massive waste of the audience’s time.

Additionally, and this is more directed at Sony, the increased emphasis on “free-to-play” titles at major E3 conferences over the last few years is disquieting. F2P is a dangerous business model; for every game that does it right, there are ten games that become “pay to win” or “free to play…for 5 minutes unless you pay us.” It’s also a model that console owners don’t historically respond well to, so if these platform holders aren’t careful, they could wind up alienating the very people who keep them in business.

Finally, and this is probably going to make me sound like an old man, I buy game consoles to play games. I don’t buy them to watch TV or movies, and I certainly don’t buy them so I can watch a particular show that’s exclusive to that platform. Maybe those kind of tactics play with a wider audience, but those aren’t the people who are going to tune in to watch an E3 conference. So Sony, Microsoft, please just give it a rest with the TV shows and spend that time talking about games, because your TV shows and movies aren’t going to convince anybody to spend $400+ on one of your consoles.

…Unless you’re planning to make 6 more seasons of Firefly. Then we can talk.

 

The Scary Truth of Dangerous Insecurity

Outdated ideas deserve an outdated reference.

Because outdated ideas deserve an outdated reference.

A few weeks ago I posted this piece discussing the fact that our fiction fails to reflect the continually-evolving state of gender relations in modern society, and alluding to the problems that logically could follow from entire generations of men being conditioned to expect to relate to women in an archaic way, and having the rug pulled out from under them when they find out the world doesn’t really work like that. I’d said my piece on that subject and was prepared to move on to other topics.

Then, not even a week after I had put up that blog post, the UCSB shooting happened. Elliot Rodger shot and killed six innocent people and then himself, and his own “manifesto” and YouTube videos revealed that he had done this to “get revenge” on the world because he didn’t have an attractive girlfriend (or any girlfriend, but he placed major emphasis on the “attractive” part), and he felt that he was owed one.

That, in the parlance of our times, is some spooky shit. Suddenly, and understandably, I think, I was less inclined to immediately move on from this topic.

After I wrote a blog entry discussing the problems that arise when entitlement and gun ownership collide, and as I did a little more reading on these subjects, I quickly found that Rodger was involved with the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement,” a group of loosely-connected (and often opposing) online communities who ostensibly speak up for men’s rights in a feminist-dominated world. Anybody with a basic knowledge of history will immediately understand why that mission statement is so absurd.

My previous experiences encountering this self-described “Movement” mostly amounted to running into one of its advocates on a message board or in an online comments section in a thread dealing in some way with sexism, or reading about them conducting cyber-attacks on feminist websites. I hadn’t fully realized the depth and breadth of this phenomenon. But after the UCSB shooting and learning of Rodger’s motives and who he was talking with online, I felt a need to dig deeper.

Apparently after Rodger’s affiliation with them came to light, the MRM forum that Rodger had been a part of, PUAHate (short for Pick-Up Artist Hate) had been shut down by their former webhost. Through doing some reading, I found this article by a woman who tracked down the new message board where the members of PUAHate had re-congregated. The writer created a profile and lurked there silently for eight hours, documenting the highlights of what she saw written by the community.

Fair warning, the article is a difficult one to stomach. For those who’d rather not feel like their brain needs a shower today, or for those who’d simply prefer to avoid giving a click to a Gawker site (understandable), I’ll briefly summarize the main “points” made by the PUAHate members below:

  • They believe that they are entitled to an attractive woman with whom they can have sex.
  • “Attractiveness” is apparently not in the eye of the beholder, but rather measured by a series of physical measurements and invented metrics that would be more at home in benchmarking computer parts than in discussing another human being.
  • If a woman is sexually active (or perceived to be sexually active), then she should be servicing all men everywhere. If not, she is a “slut” and “parading” her sexuality in front of lonely men.
  • Men who are not having sex (“involuntarily celibate” or “incel”) are an oppressed group, and the entirety of modern society is a feminist construction that exists for the purpose of cock-blocking them.
  • Rape is a dominant alpha male behavior, particularly date rape, and is to be encouraged and admired.
  • All men feel this way whether they’ll admit it or not, and killers like Elliot Rodger and Richard Ramirez are simply taking the next logical step and should be emulated.

To paraphrase Alan Moore, if that last bullet point fills you with an intense and crushing feeling of fear and disgust, don’t be alarmed. That indicates only that you are still sane.

PUAHate is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many forums out there just like it, separated only by the thinnest of ideological differences, and all of them spewing the same drivel and hate. All of them are full of lonely men who, rather than take charge of their own lives, accept responsibility for their own failings and becoming somebody worth loving and who can love in return, prefer to externalize their insecurity and self-loathing, blaming others for causing their problems and embracing hate instead of love.

And that’s all it is. In the entire ideology of the “Men’s Rights Movement,” there isn’t anything about what it means to be a man, about what men should be able to do, about fatherhood, about courage, about building and creating and growing. There is nothing but hate for women. It is misogynist in the truest sense of the word, and it all stems from these men believing they are not receiving what they are owed. They were taught that they deserve an attractive sexual partner, and they’re not getting what they feel they were entitled to.

This problem of perception is very real. It’s not going to go away on its own. And as long as it’s around, there will be more people like Elliot Rodger. More innocent people will die, and these “activists” will lurk in their dark corners of the Internet and cheer the killers on.

So I must re-iterate my call to action; writers everywhere, we need to make a change. We can’t, in good conscience, take part in warping another generation of men into these hateful creatures that applaud the deaths of innocents.

Our stories will teach the next generation, and we need to make sure they’re being taught better values than the belief that women are a debt that’s owed to them. We need to teach that worth comes from self-improvement, not the possession and destruction of others. And most importantly, we need to teach that hate is not a substitute for love.