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.

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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.

2014 GOTY List

Welcome to my very first top of the year list! This list will be more focused on games. If you want to know what I did in 2014, in terms of writing and other stuff, you can find that here. For this unnumbered, unfiltered, RAW OFF THE CHAIN list, you will find games that I played and enjoyed, even if they weren’t necessarily released in 2014. So! Off we go! Spoiler: there are only five, because thinking of ten was too hard.

Threes!

What can be said about Threes! that hasn’t already been said? Not much, but I’ll try. Threes! is a mobile puzzle game, made by a team of three (hah). The music is undeniably catchy and whimsical. The look is pastel and pleasing and the voice work is so satisfyingly on point. Really, what else can I say about Threes!? Threes! reinvented mobile gaming for me. I’ve always been picky about what games I have on my phone, because I don’t use my time on just anything, and Threes! opened my eyes to what mobile gaming can and should be.

Desert Golfing

Desert Golfing showed up relatively late on my consideration for this list; that is to say, about a week ago, when it first started showing up on GOTY lists across gaming sites. I downloaded it and blew through to hole 200 immediately. I like Leigh Alexander’s piece on it quite a bit, which you can check out here. Like Threes!, Desert Golfing is mobile and simplistic in its design. My partner prefers to chart out his moves, while I prefer to blast through each hole, my score for each hole repeatedly in the double digits. And I don’t care. If I randomly get a hole-in-one, I’m ecstatic and pumping my fist in the air. If I miss it, it ain’t no thing. And I like that. There is no fanfare except what I abscribe to a hole-in-one. There is no punishment, except a seemingly arbitrary score ticking away at the top of the screen. But in this game, it’s just you and the sand and the hole and the ball. You are your worst enemy. You are your best friend. Sometimes there’s a cactus, but mostly it’s just you. I’m obsessed; I’ve started writing fanfiction. I haven’t written fanfiction about a game in years. Thanks, Desert Golfing, I thought I was finally clean.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Hearthstone introduced me to CCG’s. I’ve written previously about Magic the Gathering, and how Hearthstone eased my way into it, with a softer landing than I would have experienced had I gone in with zero CCG experience. Hearthstone is an experience all on its own – its presentation is sleek, on both mobile and desktop, the art is stunning as always, and the core game mechanics are as brilliant as anything Blizzard has ever done. I haven’t played Hearthstone in a few months, but I’ve given it up in favor of Magic, and its more intense gameplay and human interaction. I have grown to love Magic in a way I didn’t think was possible and I owe some of those feelings to the gentle way paving of Hearthstone.

Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames

This is a game made by Deirdre”Squinky” Kiai, who brought us the unique Dominique Pamplemousse. Quing’s Quest is made in Twine and in a few words: it is a sparkly ball of light, with feelings of intense joy and lots of glitter. This is the only game this year where I romanced anyone – sorry, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Nero, you foxy, smart, wondrous thing, you, I will romance you every day if you let me. Anyway. 2014 was an ugly, ugly year for gaming culture, with the rise of Gamergate and all the awfulness it entailed. It was easy to feel hopeless; frankly, it’s still easy to feel hopeless and frustrated about video games, to wonder why I even care about advancing this medium of art. Quing’s Quest took those feelings and personified them, literally. I don’t want to give away the ending, because this game is an utter delight that you need to play immediately if you haven’t. Seriously. Stop reading this and go play it.

Smite

Smite is my GOTY. I’ve written about Smite before, and a little about why I love it, and the problems that I feel it has too. Those problems haven’t gone away; if anything, it’s even more of a glaring offense now, with the addition of gods that continue to fit the mold of Nearly Naked Lady Syndrome, culminating with Awilix, a Mayan god who, when she dances, leans forward and wiggles her chest. Hi-Rez, PLS. It’s extremely aggravating, considering the time I put into Smite. So, then, why is this my GOTY? Let’s say you’re a girl who played baseball when she was younger, but was never any good. Or really, felt any good at anything. Even video games. I wrote a little about that before, that Smite makes me feel like I can play video games, and that I can be good at them. That feeling as only intensified. My favorite game of all time is Kingdom Hearts 2, and the feelings I feel when I play Kingdom Hearts 2 all come down to happiness and love and connection, and when I play Smite, the feelings more boil down to adequate and self confidence and good enough. Have I felt those in other games? I think so, but never do I consistently feel them as I do in Smite. Other than that, I’ve simply spent more time in Smite than I have in any other game this year. It’s awoken me to an interest in e-sports, a career path, something to strive for.

Just fix your goddamn ladies Smite, and we’ll be peachy as all get out.

So that’s my 2014. A lot of small games, and mostly mobile. I had a lot of things happen in 2014, and I wonder if that’s why most of these games are repetitive and able to be played on the go, without the use of my main rig. For 2015, I hope to play “bigger” games – games like No Man’s Sky and Night in the Woods, games that have an end. I’d like that. And maybe I’ll even take a crack at Dragon Age: Inquisition, and romance someone other than Nero for the whole year.

GDC, CA, SF, WTF

Last week I attended the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. As someone on the periphery of games for the past 3 years, I’ve heard of it and read the stories that have come out of it almost obsessively, but this year was the first year I’ve been able to attend. I did so as part of the Conference Associates program, meaning I had to volunteer twenty hours, wear a bright orange shirt, and meet some wickedly amazing people (but more on that later).

For the past few years, like most 20-somethings, I have been musing on what I “want to do with my life.” I’m fortunate enough to not have a day job – right now I function in the capacity of errand runner and operating person for my partner’s freelance music business. I had a “real” job from the first time I could, when I was 16, all through college and early adulthood, until the summer of 2012, when I quit my extremely fulfilling data entry job (sarcasm) to take on this position. There’s something very weird about going from a full time worker bee to having very little to do very quickly. I enjoyed not having to “really” work (don’t get me wrong – I am well aware of the privilege I have to say this and I am more than aware of how lucky I am to have this be my position) for probably a year, until I hit a brick wall of depression and confusion.

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Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

It’s been awhile since I’ve tried to blog religiously.

Since it’s been awhile, I’ll try to introduce myself.

My name is Kim. I’m a 20-something in Seattle. It feels like I’m still new in town, but I’ve been here for a year and a half, after moving from Phoenix, Arizona. I’m completely in love with Seattle. No, the rain doesn’t deter me, and yes, I miss the sun when it’s gone too long. I wouldn’t change it for the world though.

My interests include video games, social justice, trying to make interesting Paleo foods without burning down the house or getting bored of it, and animal behavior (primarily dog training. You wanna talk about the four coordinates and why +R is the best way to train out there? Let’s go.). 

Right now I’m trying to navigate the waters of not having goals in life and trying to survive. It’s excellent, let me tell you that. I live with my boyfriend of 3 years and my Border collie mutt Yoshi (who sparked my interested in animal behavior). I’m trying to learn how to code games using Gamemaker and CodeAcademy. I’ve also made a few short games in Twine and I’m trying to learn more so I can make more interesting things with CSS.

I’m a writer. I’ve identified as that for as long as I can remember. I’ve forgotten that for a very, very long time. This is my attempt to remember all that I’ve forgotten. I’m trying to recapture the joy I felt when I could bang out thousands of words in a day. Hundreds of pages of stories. So many ideas and characters I’ve forgotten. 

I want that back. 

Time for a ride.