Hiatus

Hiatus is a funny word. Hi! – Ate us. Hi ate us. Why would you do that, Hi?

Anyway.

If you’ve followed my twitter, you probably more or less know that I recently lost a very dear, very best friend unexpectedly. “It was a very complicated death,” my therapist told me the last time I saw her. I’ve thought about that a lot – when isn’t death complicated? I am, however, inclined to agree with her. There’s still a stigma around certain ways that people leave us, and for now, this isn’t my place to discuss hers. But to put it mildly, it has changed my world. I knew her for nine years, and she was a brilliant, passionate, beautiful person and it aches everyday. Things seem a little less bright, right now. Even the good news – I bought a new car, I was accepted into the university I had been dreaming about for months – is tempered. Everything is a little dull.

It’s been about a month now, and I haven’t even started to piece myself back together yet. While I wasn’t exactly bursting with content, I had interviews planned, a big interview I had already done, a piece half written about the things I care about – livestreaming, eSports, making safe, inclusive places on Twitch. FemHype has been posting outstanding content day in and day out and I was excited to contribute, excited to be part of it.

Right now it’s hard to muster up any empathy for anything, any semblance of caring except trying to cope with this gaping wound in my heart. As the dust settles, finding that passion again is difficult. I’ve more or less stopped playing Smite. I’ve more or less stopped playing any games, unless it’s Neko Atsume, which has been comforting in its simplicity. I’ve started playing Capitals, which is less stressful too. I’m trying to sink myself into Mass Effect 2, because I want to feel something for games again. I still care, don’t misunderstand me – but right now, it’s hard to feel anything except for this pain.

So, instead of constantly beating myself up for not writing more about games, I’ve decided to make this post. To explain, maybe. Because I felt bright and hopeful and ready just a month ago, and I need to find that again. And I need to give myself time to heal and to focus on myself, and to write for myself, too.

I’ll be posting a lot more over on Tumblr, which is less formal, and after a few weeks of Twitter lockdown, I think I’m ready to interact with the world again. Feel free to send me an email or Tweet at me.

Stay safe, my friends. I hope to see you soon.

Sexism, feminism, Twitch: that Sky Williams video

I don’t even really know where to start with this, but I wanted to quickly touch on the Sky Williams video.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, game comedian and player Sky Williams posted a video titled “Dear Female Streamers.” It’s a tirade against “bad” women streamers – you know, the ones who are too sexy to stream. He didn’t name specific names, but the video did include pictures of women streamers with ample cleavage. Most of Sky’s argument against these women are that they 1) make it too difficult for other women streamers who don’t show cleavage/aren’t sexy enough to get involved with streaming and that it intimidates them and 2) women who stream like this are manipulating young men into giving them money.

There are so many things wrong with these claims that I don’t even know where to begin, but I’ll touch on those in a moment. Sky has subsequently streamed twice since the video was released three days ago, once alone, in an effort to clarify his position, and once Thursday night, with guests Kaceytron and eventually Totalbiscuit. Also on Thursday a special episode of Dropped Frames also took place, with streamers lolRenaynay, ShannonZKiller, Kaceytron, and Dexbonus, all prominent streamers with thousands of Twitter followers each, most of them all strongly against Sky’s views.

All of this made for a really interesting day on Twitter, I’ll tell you that.

While I hesitate to give Sky Williams credit for opening this discussion, as this is a discussion that women have been having among themselves for sometime, it has certainly exploded in just a few days. Williams has claimed he’s receiving death threats now, and this is reprehensible. Nobody deserves that type of fear. What this evolving conversation has shown to me is that it’s now time to leave him out of the discussion and move on to the claims themselves, and to look hard at the root of these claims and possible solutions.

It’s no surprise that Twitch can be a toxic place for women to be in. Women are subjected to intense verbal harassment in chat. I’m a big advocate for safe spaces in Twitch chat, something that I think places like Stream Friends and Feminist Cabal cultivate with care. Unfortunately, not all chats are created equal and more often than not, you are subjected to this harassment for the simple fact of being a woman. This is the fundamental flaw in Sky Williams’ argument: it doesn’t matter if you’re covered up, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, if you are a woman on Twitch, at some point in your life you will most likely run into harassment.

The only people to blame in this situation are the harassers, not other women streamers.

Let me say that again: women streamers are not the enemy.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. We live in a society that values conventional beauty and relentlessly pits women against each other. When I was younger, this was something I struggled with. It’s easy to see a woman getting a job I wanted, a boy I wanted to like, anything and everything easier than me. It’s no secret that there is an unconscious bias against fat people, against unconventionally attractive people. It’s easy to look at all that and say, “hey, it’s not fair that they get that. They took that from me.” It’s easy to look at this evidence and to look at streamers who use their attractiveness to their advantage and to say, “hey, that isn’t fair.”

It’s not fair. It is the worst thing to see something that you want be taken away from you and feel that it was only taken away because you weren’t good enough.

But that isn’t other women’s faults. As I grew older, I came to know that. I came to meet amazing women, all struggling against the same thing, the sexist and patriarchal society that we live in. These women are not responsible for the harassment that men heap upon women. That responsibility is solely on the harasser.

One of the things that makes me saddest in the world is women who hate other women because they are trying to be seen as “cool” or liked by men. And this feels awfully like that.

Sky’s second point makes me less sad and much more enraged. Listen to me closely: women are not responsible for how men behave.

Listen again: women are not responsible for the actions that men take and the way that they behave when they are sexually frustrated.

One more time: women are not responsible for the gross, inappropriate, and sometimes terrible behavior men display, on Twitch, or in life.

I think that about covers my initial thoughts. I don’t think Sky thought he would get pushback, which is very telling of the type of community he’s engaged in. He’s had problematic behavior in the past with certain eSports videos concerning women, so I’m by no mines letting him off the hook, but this is a complicated issue that should have been handled by women in the industry. He frequently mentioned how he knew women who didn’t stream because they felt intimidated by women who used their attractiveness for clicks and I understand and sympathize with that. He has mentioned that he is working on a followup video and I’m interested to see if he’s learned anything in the past few days.

That being said, it’s time for him to be out of this discussion now. It’s time for men to stand aside and listen and learn. The last few days were fast and furious and have resulted in many conversations in the streaming community, and I’m so invested in seeing where it goes from here.

That time of the year again

Well, that personal resolution of a “post a week” sure didn’t pan out, did it?

Last week was GDC. For the first time ever, there was an eSports summit present. I spent most of the day there and it was an amazing experience to be surrounded by passionate, talented people, in the field that I’m interested in. I met T.L. Taylor, a personal hero of mine, who penned the book Raising the Stakes, a thoroughly academic look at eSports and its growth. I met a host of fine women, all connected to eSports in a way, as they presented their views on the participation on women in eSports. I sat through a talk on college eSports, game balancing, and a design talk by Riot.

I’ve thought a lot about where I want to head in video games, what field I care about, and the eSports summit really solidified that eSports is somewhere I want to be. I care about its growth, its ability to be competitive for everyone, and the dynamic shift it represents in what people consider “sport.” I’m also wildly passionate about growing its diversity, particularly women. I want eSports to grow in the best way, and not the way that alienates, destroys, and disrespects the women and minorities that try to break into it. I want to be there, I want to be part of that.

I’m passionate about livestreaming, too, and while they’re not exactly the same thing, I feel that they go hand in hand. I’m intensely curious and interested in Twitch, its culture, and what it can do and how it can help. I’m interested in the challenges that women and minorities face on this media – and the ones that they don’t, and the ones that are talked about too often. I’m still wrestling with my views on entertainment vs fairness vs celebrity vs culture, and I don’t know if I’ll ever know where I stand on most of that.

In light of all of these things, this blog will change, somewhat. I intend to start playing DayZ again, so my journals will most likely be reappearing. I still play Smite almost every day, and I’ve thought about how to incorporate that into this blog. Maybe summaries of good matches? Maybe how I get better? I’m not sure yet. I also want to (except I really, really don’t want to) start playing other eSports, starting with League of Legends. Who knows? Maybe I’ll love it. I’m trying to stay optimistic!

Finally, my first contribution will be appearing on FemHype later this week (a summary of an eSports panel I attended last week at GDC, about women in eSports). I enjoy reading FemHype, and I feel that it’s accessible, encouraging, and smart. Sometime later this month, I’ll have more content posted on FemHype that I’m excited about, but don’t want to talk about just yet.

I feel that this is going to be a good year, and I’m terribly excited about it all.

First Impressions: Gravity Ghost

I have a tiny bottle that lives on my bedside table. Inside this tiny bottle, there lives some sparkling blue sand, little seashells, and a tiny, clay fox that smiles when you shift him out of the sand. Finally, I know that this fox’s name is Voy.

Gravity Ghost is puzzle physics game by Erin Robinson’s Ivy Games and I played it first at PAX in 2013, where I acquired my tiny bottle and Voy. I was immediately drawn in by it’s soothing music, whimsical colors, and girl floating through space. Gravity Ghost was still a full year and a half away from release at that point – it came out yesterday, January 26, 2015, and is why I just so recently learned the fox’s name. I had pre-ordered, so I was able to get in a few days beforehand. Score.

I finished Gravity Ghost in four hours, across a three-day period. This series is called First Impressions, where I generally talk about a game before I finish it. I started writing this a few times before I finished, but I couldn’t finish it before I was compelled to finish the game. You know those dreams you have, when you suddenly slam awake, gasping for breath, feeling like you just fell? Gravity Ghost doesn’t wake you up gasping for breath, but you do fall, and when you fall, you keep on falling, around planets and in circles and through stars. That is to say, I couldn’t write beginning thoughts without finishing it, as I fallen headfirst into its music, story, and characters. What I can write here are my middle thoughts, because even though I’ve completed the game, I’m nowhere near done with the story (or talking about).

The main character is Iona, a ghost girl searching for her fox friend. Along the way you learn about her family and friends, and meet new animal friends too. Gravity Ghost is physics based and its means is through planets – you jump and swing around them, collecting flowers that increase the length of your hair (why this doesn’t exist in real life, I don’t know). Your hair acts as your inventory, storing the animal friends you find along the way (I, also, keep animals in my hair). Eventually you gain abilities to terraform planets, through elements like ice and fire. You collect stars that open up new levels and puzzles and you reunite your animals with their bones, freeing them to scatter more flowers into the stars as they joyfully bound away.

Sound quirky? It is. There are a few problems, of course. The gameplay can be repetitive and some levels feel frustrating. I thought the skill level ramped up with no warning, which is just my take on it as someone who is admittedly bad at actually playing games. Those levels are few and far between, though, and most outlets have called Gravity Ghost out for not being challenging enough, so take that as you will. The game also uses its main three voice actors for several different characters and while they all do admirable jobs, it’s a bit jarring in practice. My main problem was the length: I could easily, easily play for much longer in this planet system.

The flaws are far from distracting, however. This game is everything that I love about indie games. It feels tender and touching and heartbreaking. The music and almost chalk-like art work together flawlessly. It’s scored by Ben Prunty, who brought us my personal favorite soundtrack, the soundtrack for FTL: Faster than Light. When I heard that he was doing the music for Gravity Ghost, I was excited. Rightly so, it turns out. The game opens with the Ivy Games logo, and then the following quote by Charles Simic: “Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships.”

When the quote fades, you see Iona and Voy the fox happily playing together. Together, the quote, the words, and the music took my breath away, before I even exited the menu screen.

Maybe that “waking up, grasping for breath” metaphor works, after all.

You can purchase Gravity Ghost on Steam here, and the soundtrack here.

Twitch: Behind The Music

Today Twitch introduced Twitch Music, a new site brimming with 500 songs for casters to use, royalty free, on their casts, and to prevent those pesky muting problems that have been happening with VODS and streams. Twitch’s new music library features EDM artists and playlists for your perusal and use.

Last year, Twitch started muting VODS and streams that played copyrighted music “without permission.” Understanding the tenuous relationships between musicians, particularly games musicians, and their copyrights, permissions, and dealings with services like Tunecore is tricky. Services like Tunecore are meant to obtain royalties and, up until Twitch and Youtube, had been used primarily for collecting royalties from songs used in movies and television. Now, services like Tunecore, jointly with services like Content ID, mute videos of games being played, as the copyright maker isn’t being paid for their music being used.

It’s a mess without an easy solution and a host of questions. Music makers, and gamemakers, for that matter, deserve to be paid. But many of these creators want broadcasters to be able to play their games and music without a hassle for the caster. How does that happen without potentially harming these creators financially? Should they be paid? How much? It’s free publicity, right?

These questions, and more than I can think of right now, will need to be answered, and soon. Twitch is taking preliminary steps to try and present a solution with their free music library. It leaves much to be desired, though. On their site, they welcome musicians to apply to be part of the library but with a pretty steep catch:

If you are an artist, label or other music copyright holder and are interested in making music freely available to the Twitch audience and you have a minimum of 250,000 subscribers or followers on YouTube, Facebook and/or Twitter, we would love to hear from you.

What? Twitch pls. 250k followers? You have to have some serious public trajectory to get on that list. Games musicians generally do not meet that limit. Most musicians in general do not meet that limit. I’m baffled at why Twitch would ask for such a high following to be allowed to use their service – I can only imagine that they’re paying these artists or labels, and so don’t want to open it up to everyone, as that would open the gates to having to pay everyone, too. I’m on the side of “pay for what you use,” so if Twitch is paying those people, cheers for them. At the same time, you’re cutting off a community that has been thriving and building its own music scene, that can’t participate and will be punished for trying. Streamers will resort to the library to make sure that their VODS and streams don’t get muted, leaving these musicians out in the cold. What strikes me more is that popular games musicians don’t make the cut, either. People like Austin Wintory, who scored Journey, or Grant Kirkhope, who scored iconic games like Donkey Kong. Their follower counts fall far below the necessary 250k required to be part of Twitch’s library.

The second part of Twitch’s announcement today had to do with an experimental “beta music category.” Which, I have to say, isn’t that experimental, as “Music” has been an option as “Game” for months now, with games musicians creating music for games on Twitch already. Still, it’s nice to see Twitch opening up to broader horizons. I hope they go far with this. Once again, though, this seems aimed at already high profile musicians, as they namedrop Deadmau5 and Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, to name a few. While I’m heartened by this change, I hope Twitch doesn’t lose focus on the community that made it what it is today.

Twitch provided an FAQ, that you can read here, if you so choose.

The Smite World Championships

The SMITE World Championships were this weekend (is it SMITE or Smite? I think it’s the former, but damn, that’s obnoxious. I’ll stick with the latter). To recap, Smite was my GOTY for 2014. It’s the first e-sport I’d ever gotten into. And this weekend was more or less magical.

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When I was young, my parents enrolled me in cheerleading. I stayed in this sport for a hot second before I landed in softball, where I stayed for approximately six years – from six or seven years old up until I moved to Arizona, when I was thirteen. My family are still big baseball fans; I’m a big baseball fan. I now live in Seattle, where the people who live here live, breathe, and die for the Seahawks.

I get it. I get sports. Unlike what feels like a good portion of people in gaming, I get it. I remember oiling up my first glove, wrapping it in a rubberband, and stowing it under my mattress to break it in. I know the smells of the baseball field and the satisfying thwump of the ball hitting the glove. I know the joy of heading into a giant stadium, in a sea of people wearing the same colors, hollering your heart out for your team down on the field. My parents pay for MLB Ticket, a service so that they never miss a game for our team (the Los Angeles Dodgers, if you wanted to know). My parents have converted their guest room into a shrine to baseball: Dodger posters lining the walls, blue bedspread and pillows. Mine and my siblings’ old sports trophies line the walls in this room. When I sleep in this room, I close my eyes to the warm feeling of nostalgia.

So. I get it. Which is why, I think, when I discovered an eSport I could finally understand, it felt a little like coming home.

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I don’t remember when I heard of Smite, but it came to me like a lot of games, through my partner. I think the conversation went like this, as it typically goes:

“Hey, we should play this game.”

“I’ll be really bad at it.”

“Play it anyway.”

“No.”

“Free cuddles.”

“Done.”

I will do anything for cuddles, let it be said.

I don’t even remember how I fell so swiftly in love with it. I tried Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s MOBA, before I tried Smite. I even tried DOTA. They both left me feeling foolish and that nothing would ever click, that nothing would ever make me feel adequate enough to play those games with other people. Smite was different, immediately. As someone who didn’t grow up playing games, I still occasionally feel clumsy around a mouse and a keyboard, especially if I can’t WASD my way through games. With previous MOBAS, I couldn’t hack my way through. With Smite, I could.

We played with a friend at first. That grew. Eventually we grew to a group of about seven in a Skype chat, who would tag in and out and help each other level up and give advice. We all founds gods – champions, in League of Legends terms – that we were most comfortable playing, and then started working on mastering more. It became a daily ritual. It came somewhere, this Skype chat, where we could chat about not only the game, but also other things happening in gaming. Some people have gone, others have joined.

It feels like a team, like a home.

Right now I mainly play Kukulkan, a mage. I support. I poke. I clean up. I like this role. I’m no ADC. I can’t carry. But there isn’t pressure to. I have a place. I have a role. I have a home.

I have a team to support.

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My rehashing of the Smite World Championships would pale in comparison to Philippa Warr’s excellent write ups for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, so I refer you over there to get a play by play of all the action. I watched on Twitch with my partner, while we both chatted in our Skype group about what was happening. Unfortunately I missed a lot of it (East Coast time is not my friend), but still enough to feel like it was something big.

The final prize pool was over 2 million dollars, making it the third biggest prize pool in eSports history, after DOTA’s 2013 and 2014 Championships. The winners took home just around 1.3 million dollars, the rest of it split between the lower ranking teams. The last matchup was a tense “best out of 5″ gameplay, that actually went to 5 games. I’m no stranger to “best of” game series. Baseball’s World Series is, after all, best of 7.

I rolled out of bed on Sunday and blearily headed straight to my computer, the Smite Twitch channel still open in a tab from the following day. I paused to get breakfast and then set up for the last few matches of the tournament. In Skype, we talked about the choices the players made, the gods they were banning. I dug up this amazing match from a previous qualifier and we chatted about it in awe. The last match was a blur. But I remember it being tense, and that tight feeling when it became clear that one team was pulling ahead handily. It became obvious that it wasn’t going to be a nailbiter.

And yet somehow, it was still one of the most magical things I had ever experienced in video games. I had never before watched a sporting event like this, talking in a chat, instead of cheering on a field or on a couch with my family. And yet somehow, it was still solidifying. I was connected to a community, to a vision, to the human experience that always rises and falls with sports, any sport. I was there. I was part of it. It felt alive. It felt, once again, like home.

My 2014

How are we going to remember 2014? I’ve been thinking of it in two terms: BG and AG. If you didn’t guess immediately, those stand for Before Gamergate and After Gamergate. I don’t want to write anything about that, as countless others have done better jobs, but it gives you a quick guide to how I’ve viewed the year.

I started 2014 with accepting a Conference Associate position at the Game Developers Conference. I had applied in the fall of 2013, telling next to no one, and was surprised when the email showed up in my inbox inviting me to accept the position. I was honored. I still feel honored. It was, without a doubt, a life changing experience that I’m eternally grateful for.

Before heading to GDC, though, I penned a piece in February about DayZ, which prompted the making of this site, as I needed somewhere to house it. That was this post, that spawned a cascade of comments, page hits, and interviews. I was interviewed by On the Media’s TLDR podcast in April, by Jed Pressgrove in May, and by a talkshow host in Ireland (an interview I didn’t even tell anyone about – the host had no understanding of video games and, I later learned, was the equivalent of a morning show DJ. I’m embarrassed by it still.). The piece was linked to in the Huffington Post, the New Statesmen, and showed up in Patrick Klepek’s weekly roundup on Giant Bomb and Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Sunday Paper, as well as in Critical Distance. It was recently mentioned in the December issue of Bitch Magazine. For someone who hadn’t expected anything, who hadn’t written anything involving games before, I was blown away by the response. I wrote a followup, which got its own share of comments.

When that tornado finally staved of a bit, I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing more about video games, since it was the media I was spending the most time with. I started my First Impressions series and my journal of my experiences in DayZ, where I blogged a couple of times a month in each series. I spoke to a few people that I considered peers about possibly pitching a panel to PAX considering women and the livestreaming community. In July, I interviewed Jasmine Hruschak, a streamer I had long admired, for a series I called Women Who Stream, which the Border House hosted. I intended to continue that series, since I consider Twitch and livestreaming in general a new frontier, one that needs to be treated with care and explored thoroughly and carefully.

That was all BG.

I didn’t continue my Women Who Stream series (though I hope to revive it in the new year). I wrote very little from August until December. Part of this has to do with going back to school in the fall, and the other has to do with the sheer, overwhelming amount of feelings of hopelessness and from Gamergate. It feels a little silly, considering the little traffic my blog gets – though I remembered, of course, my picture being screencapped and shared on DayZ blogs, and the comments and few threats I got from my DayZ piece in February, that still trickle in now. A few of my comments about Gamergate were screencapped and on the web as well, particularly considering a developer friend I less than graciously unfollowed on Twitter. I don’t know if I’m using this as an excuse, but I want it to be considered that I, someone with a little blog, felt under attack. That Gamergate made everyone I know in the industry feel under attack.

Like I said, I don’t really want to write about Gamergate. But I wanted to mention its’ personal impact and try to put it into context in my view of the world. All in all, I wrote 24 articles in 2014. Definitely not something I’m extremely proud of, but something to think about. I want to double that – at least – in 2015.

I wrote little in the latter half of the year, for the reasons mentioned above, though I did get more involved with fat acceptance and activism. I was invited to appear on a panel at GeekGirlCon about being fat and in fandom. With a few lovely ladies, I submitted panels to GDC 2015 and PAX about fat characters in video games (both were declined – but I was happy to even have the courage to submit). PNW Fattitude, a great fat acceptance community in Seattle, interviewed me recently. I’m happy to have done these things, because fat acceptance is near and dear to my heart, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to speak about it in relation to video games, the other thing near and dear to my heart.

Currently I’m working on a piece about fat acceptance and the video game community (a piece I’ve been working on and off on for six months, so I’m not expecting it to be done any time soon), a weird little fanfiction (yea, fanfiction) based on Desert Golfing, and more things about Smite and the Twitch community. I’m currently also helping out with a new game convention in Washington called OrcaCon, and a scholarship program associated with GDC that awards and helps house and plan activities for international people hoping to attend the convention. I’m also crossing my fingers that I’ll be selected as a Conference Associate again for GDC this year.

As far as personal goals, I’ve only set a few. I’ve set a challenge for myself, that I’m putting here publicly: a post a week, which I am more than capable of accomplishing. I’m in school again this week, to finish my Associates and then a transfer to the University of Washington for a degree in Media and Communications Studies. I’m toying with the idea of taking a programming class at the community college I’m in right now, because I have ideas of things I want to do and don’t have the skills to do them. I have an ever growing love and ever growing interest in the community of livestreaming and Twitch and e-sports, particularly in relation to gender and fair representation, and I hope to explore these things more in 2015. I want to seek out more diverse media, I want to be diverse media, I want to share what I have with a community that is only growing more diverse.

Most of all, I want to believe that my voice matters, and not to be afraid to raise it. I’m terrified of pitching to mainstream games outlets, but I feel that my writing is at least comparable to most things that they publish. If I don’t pitch anything this year, that’s fine – but I want to get rid of this Imposter Syndrome and stop believing myself to be a phony if I call myself a games writer. The only person I’m hurting is myself with these thoughts.

As for everything else in the AG, I hope we, as a community, can continue to grow and depend on each other, and move past what has been the most miserable six months I’ve ever experienced as a person in the games community. I only see it getting better from here, that this was our rock bottom. Optimism is the only tool in my arsenal right now that makes it possible to get through wanting to tear my hair out from the awful things happening to the people I care about, the community I know. Here’s hoping.