Local Gaming and Newcastle’s Continued Export of Idiots


I read something last week and haven’t really had a spare minute since to vent my frustration with what Grainger Games got up to at this years Games Media Awards. They basically lived up to everybody’s worst idea of a gamer which is to say a rowdy, laddish inarticulate mess. Conveniently that is also everybody’s worst idea of a geordie.

This is the thing that intimidates people who go into places like Grainger Games. Having worked previously in a second hand games store I know that the the scary gruff men are actually lovely humans who want to help anybody from noob to qualified nerd. I was somewhat intimidated as a wee lass by the men who worked in games stores. I convinced myself gradually, especially having had a job in that environment, that it only appears uninviting and exclusive. When it comes to actually experiencing the community, they’re all people and it’s all good. Apparently the iffy, laddish vibe I get from Grainger Games was not unwarranted.

full of iff and lads

Grainger Games: Iffy and Laddish

Booth Babes! And dwarves. Condoms on tables. I’m not even sure how to prioritize my incredulity. AND everything was bright orange, as if it weren’t bad enough. This only adds fuel to my ongoing suspicion that women are only welcome in the gaming community if they’re half naked. I know that this isn’t true, but  is it hard to find any visual evidence. In addition to this macho-man uniform they were keen to enforce at the event, condoms were strewn across the dinner tables. Should any of the attendees have been overwhelmed by their masculine desire to fuck something, there would at least be no embarrassing rash. This sort of idiotic display of masculinity is exactly what encourages hostility from people who are convinced that girls don’t play games.How could they possibly survive in such a testosterone-charged environment? It’s shit like that that makes me wish I didn’t.

Not only were GG generally offensive in their message, but their behaviour. They have embarrassed the organisers, who posted a message on their website to apologise. They made a complete arse of themselves and the people who were trying to accept rewards. They were the talk of the industry, but perhaps not in the way their sponsorship had intended. Here’s the lovely JamSponge with further thoughts (I got this link from the gizmodo article)

Now, this would all be annoying enough if it were just some random shop. It’s bad form and shitty behaviour from an indy retailer. Indy retailers should be encouraged, but it’s hard to encourage this sort of thing. However, as somebody from Newcastle who regularly shops in one of the several Grainger Games stores about the place, this is just heartbreaking. Recently this region seems to have specialised in the export of idiots. This doesn’t bother me when it’s on X-Factor or Big Brother because it’s not the sort of thing I consume. As far as I’m concerned it’s local shit as opposed to national shit. When it’s something I care about and it’s from my city, which I love, I am genuinely upset. JamSponge makes it clear he has nothing against Newcastle, but I kind of do. We are a gorgeous, wonderful city. Rather than embrace our idiots and smothering them beneath a pillow of brilliance, we kick them out and inflict them on the rest of the country instead. We then jealously guard our treasure and culture like someone’s going to take it away.

Fuck’s sake, man.

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Cinema As Experience: How GhostBusters Made Me Confront a Cultural Dilemma


The greatest danger to my social life is my complete inability to plan beyond the next meal. If it’s more than about six hours away, it doesn’t cross my mind until it’s too late. It will not surprise you to learn, therefore, that I didn’t make even the smallest of efforts to plan for Halloween until it was too late to get time off work.  My only free time was Friday and according to my fundar, there was nothing going on. I dressed in my mourning gear and got comfy in my pit of despair, resigned to the fact that this Halloween would suck.

This is where the Tyneside Cinema solved every problem ever and revealed that they’d be showing GhostBusters at 10:30pm. Plans were made immediately to get to the little cinema on Pilgrim St. to watch a movie and form complex opinions on the nature of cinema as art and experience.

Tyneside Cinema

The venue with the chairs that prompted a rant

Anybody’s who’s been to a multiplex in the last few years will have seen the nostalgic adverts talking about cinema as an experience far superior to that of furiously glaring at the screen watching a torrent tick slowly towards completion. There is certainly something to be said about going to the cinema. I would argue that whatever that thing may be, it cannot be said about a multiplex. Sure cinema is an event, but at a multiplex it’s a plastic event. When you take something as sensual as cinema and make it into a clinical boxed up commodity, it ceases to be an experience. Cinema is sensual. The vast majority of your senses are prodded at with sticks throughout the course of the film. It’s dark, there’s bright light flickering around in front of you, the sound swooshes around the back of your head and you stuff your face with Coca-Cola and Ben & Jerry’s. The satisfaction derived from your sight, sound and taste receptors being crammed with highest quality Hollywood is dampened somewhat by cheaply upholstered seats and the lingering smell of plastic and chemical cleaner used to get the ever-present stick from the linoleum floor.

Cinemas are grasping desperately to keep the bums they need on their seats, but the seats are uncomfortable and the bums are used to better treatment at home. Places like the Tyneside do many things. Fundamentally though, they have comfy seats. I’m sure they’re more expensive and they’re hell to clean, but people like sitting on them. I’m not saying I pay only to enjoy the velvet delight of their upholstery, but it helps. I went to a cinema in North Carolina that was one of those beautiful old things, like the Odeon in Newcastle used to be. The chairs were squishy, there were tiered seating areas, but not with the annoying set of stairs through the stalls. It had atmosphere, it was purpose built but with concessions for style. The Empire in Newcastle, on the other hand, has scratchy nylon seats and a sticky floor and stupid glittery linoleum where a patterned carpet should be. Sure, they have Ben & Jerry’s and Pick n Mix and…well, that’s it really. So do Tesco. Big deal.

The separation of cinema from theatre in this way pains me. It’s the same thing, but their venues are vastly different. It’s a sort of segregation of high brow and low brow culture. A segregation symbolised by the presence or not of comfortable seating. The dichotomy of  expensive explosions and timeless poetry is not as simple as that of nylon and velvet. Somewhere along the line we got from giving them similar venues to marking one as inferior. Cinema can be intelligent. It often is. It always moves us somehow and it’s never ever cheap. It is more than just something to watch while you eat popcorn. To confine it to horrible blue spaces with shiny neon and glaring plastic is to place it wrongly below the plays, operas and ballets which we display in elegant theatres. It’s unfair, arbitrary and makes an unnecessary distinction between entertainment and art. There is a great deal shown on screen that wipes the floor with Joseph and his Technicolor Sodding Dreamcoat.

I’m not stupid. Obviously movies have to make money. They are made to make money even though most don’t. I’m not saying the art should be pure and untainted by commercial considerations. I’m just saying you don’t have to sacrifice the soul of cinema to make money. Popcorn movies can be clever, can be smart and are often amazing. Of course sometimes films are just colours and explosions, but most cinema is much more than just a catalyst for snacks and these scratchy nylon boxes are selling it short.

Boast Gusters!

Boo!

As a case in point, let’s scurry on back to the original reason for this post. GhostBusters. I don’t remember who told me that the first ten minutes of GhostBusters is the neatest bit of introduction/exposition ever written, but they were right. As screenplays go, it’s perfect. I know everything I need to know about the main characters in a very short space of time. It’s also bloody funny and far filthier than any other 12A I ever remember seeing. There’s questionable yet awesome science, there’s Sigourney Weaver (who may well have questionable yet awesome science written into her contract). There’s genuine threat and/or menace with some funny, gory and scary special effects AND this is all rolled into a buddy-movie. Also colours and explosions. This is the kind of thing that the Tyneside is made for. It’s a good movie. It’s not clever or making any sort of particular point, but it is art, it is a genuine cultural experience. Just as much as any of the other gorgeous films they screen there. As such, it is deserving of a decent venue.

Good theatres are there for people who enjoy film. They are there to make your experience enjoyable, and make their money. They do not shepherd you in by the dozen, rip out your eyeballs and hold them up to an image next thing you can spend your money one, tear off your ear and hold it to the mouth of a screaming executive, begging you to watch his movie. That may have been lucrative in the past. God knows a lot of people will buy the things that are leaping out at them from the walls and screens in Multiplex cinemas. They leap from the walls of more traditional cinemas too. The difference is that a traditional cinema has a sense of purpose beyond the commercial. It has a soul and an atmosphere that distinguish a cinema from a supermarket, a place to display art from a place to sell stuff. Both a multiplex and a traditional theatre are after your money, of course. When it comes to the choice between theatre and thrombosis, I can’t say it’s much of a choice at all.

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Halloween How-to No.1: How to almost die of fright this halloween


GhostWatch is the most terrifying thing I have ever seen. While it was obvious to me, twenty years after its creation, that the show is a fake, it is so hideously (gloriously?) nineties that I can’t help but sympathise with the people who thought it was real at the time of broadcast. It is genuinely horrific. I felt like I’d been for a run after, my heart was racing. It stars Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Craig Charles. It was written by Stephen Volk.

I checked the wiki page and apparently a scared young boy killed himself after having watched it. There were bangs in his house too. They were caused by the central heating rather than a poltergeist. He was still terrified. He’d been allowed to watch because Sarah Greene was in it and his mum thought it would be ok for him to watch because she was a children’s TV presenter. It wasn’t ok for me to watch, and I’m a good ten years older than that boy.

Michael Parkinson- The Face of Terror

Michael Parkinson- The Face of Terror

I don’t want to link to wikipedia, because for some things spoilers genuinely ruin it, and for a program that depends on suspense for its malicious horror, disaster will follow any attempt to spoil the fun.

I came home from work after a long Thursday and my boyfriend was excited about a DVD he’d got for £3 at HMV. A masterpiece of horror he’d been after for ages but had never seen properly. I sat and watched with growing skepticism. I’m a graduate of the school of Derek Acorah and Most Haunted. Showy, obviously faked, medium-ship. The initially dull, almost flippant, tone of GhostWatch is the antithesis of what I’ve grown to expect from a decent ghost hunt.

I grew bored. I ate pasta and scoffed at the strange way Michael Parkinson’s suit seemed to be slowly devouring his neck. I admired Sarah Greene’s baggy t-shirt and the half-arsed way the BBC had seen fit to decorate a supposedly haunted house for halloween. There were some antics with Craig Charles leaping from cupboards and ducking for apples. I was bored.

A fairly average suburban family start talking about their experiences with a ghost they’ve nicknamed Pipes, and that’s when the dread starts to creep in. There’s screaming and banging followed by eerie silence as Michael Parkinson and Expert Woman (whose name I’ve forgotten) watch on their huge screen from the apparent safety of the studio.

The children practically skip to the cupboard under the stairs and peer through the hole they sometimes see the ghost through. The youngest describes his face, like its half eaten, and I decide that actually, I don’t want to see. The children talk about the ghost like he’s a pet that excites and terrifies them in equal measure.

There are flashes, times when the ghost is half in your field of vision, ’til the camera pans and there’s nothing. There is the ever present menace of the idea that you might see and you really don’t want to. When it’s all over there’s the relief, but also the lingering idea that you would rather see what was going on than have it creep up on you from a dark corner.

The only ghost story to scare me in a very long time. If you knew me at all, you’d mark the significance of my lack of bitching about cinematography. Since you don’t know me: it is absent, and this is significant.

Verdict: The scariest thing ever. Actually.

 

P.S There are heaps of fascinating articles written about GhostWatch, one even by the writer himself, but I won’t post them until later on. I am very against leading to spoilers in this instance.

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A Small Halloween Request/Demand


I am very much in the process of writing up my Halloween recommendations for this year and this falls somewhere in the Halloween Venn diagram of life, but only just. I found this creation through Cleolinda (who is my internet hub, just so you all know) and felt that I should share.

Somebody, somewhere has to make this Ada Lovelace outfit for Halloween.

Given the theme of my last post, I couldn’t not share this. The nice people at takebackhalloween.com have created this guide for anybody wishing to go as the first computer programmer for Halloween. There’s also a Lise Meitner in there too, if you fancy something a little more German.

I’m not sure how they got from Halloween, a traditional festival marking the thin veil between the living and the dead, the death of the year and the world’s general descent into the darkness of winter, to Ada Lovelace, but I’m not one to complain when the result is this:

DO IT. For science.

Ada Lovelace! She's not scary in the least, but what a nice dress.

I guess they could do zombie Ada Lovelace, or Ada Lovelace as she probably looks now. That would be horrific.

 

To clarify: Non-scary costumes annoy me, except this one.

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An Enchantress of Numbers: Why it’s necessary to remember Ada Lovelace 150 years after her death.


Ada Lovelace died 27th November 1852. She is not a living heroine, nor indeed does she have anything to do with October 7th. However, October 7th 2011 was Ada Lovelace Day, a day when women’s achievements in Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths (STEM) are acknowledged and blogged about all over the web.

 

Enchantress of Numbers

Lovelace in 1840ish

Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day and its website, FindingAda.com, was sick of hearing excuses from conference organisers as to why there were so few female speakers on the bill. She was also a co-founder of Open Rights Group and was Executive Director of the group in its infancy. Open Rights Group advocates for digital rights and civil liberties such as net neutrality. She has now shifted focus. Inspired by Lockwood’s research, finding inspirational female role models in STEM is Charman-Anderson’s new aim.

Why should she choose such an aim? Penelope Lockwood is a psychologist who discovered the importance of role models in driving achievement among young people, women in particular. Unlike young men, who have countless examples of success to aspire to, women have fewer examples to choose from in any field. “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success,” says Lockwood. “They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”

Ada Lovelace is a supreme example. The first computer programmer, she worked with Charles Babbage on his difference engine and was visionary in her approach. Babbage himself called her “An Enchantress of Numbers” and she produced what is largely recognised as the first computer algorithm. Ada Lovelace Day aims to ensure that young women in need of role models are not ignorant of achievements such as hers.

However Ada Lovelace is not the only female pioneer in STEM. Indeed her story is not uncommon. Brilliant female collaborators are often left out of the history of monumental human achievement.

Lise Meitner was a quarter-jewish Austrian physicist and co-discoverer of nuclear fission. Otto Hahnwas her collaborator and the man who was consequently awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery. Meitner’s intimate involvement with the research and interpretation of the data were overlooked, know as the“nobel mistake”, as her involvement was crucial. Meitner interpreted data Hahn could not understand and was directly involved in planning experiments. The reason for her omission? Germany had recently annexed Austria. As someone of Jewish heritage working in Germany, she was forced to flee to the Netherlands.

The hat keeps the genius in.

Meitner in 1906

Another woman who worked in Germany, Emmy Noether, was not permitted to take university mathematics courses as a student, completing them by attending for no credit instead. When she finally earned her PhD she was allowed to work only as an unpaid lecturer under male colleagues’ names. She was criticized in her lifetime for her lack of attention to her appearance, often spilling food down herself during enthusiastic discussions at dinner or failing to fix her hair when it fell down during long lectures, even being approached by concerned students in this instance. Despite having revolutionised aspects of algebra and successfully worked on gaps in relativity her messy hair and stained dress were apparently as noteworthy as her astounding works in theoretical physics.

Noether in the early 1900s

Lockwood’s research and the foundation of Ada Lovelace Day by Charman-Anderson highlight not only that there is a dearth of women for other women to emulate, but the women who have had extraordinary careers in STEM are not properly celebrated.

According to Lockwood, the stereotypes regarding women’s competence in the workplace mean “they may derive particular benefit from the example of an outstanding woman who illustrates the possibility of overcoming gender barriers to achieve success.” One of Lockwood’s studies involved asking students to name a role model in their career ambitions. Sixty three per cent of females and seventy five per cent of male students chose men. However, while male students said gender had no effect whatsoever on their decision, twenty seven per cent of females said that the obstacles their role models had overcome regarding their gender had played a part in their inspiration.

Ada Lovelace Day is entirely necessary. If these women were properly celebrated, if they had the status and renown of their male colleagues (of whom I have heard), I would not have had to google them.

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Greyhound: A (recycled) Cautionary Tale


In 2010 I went to visit an internet friend of mine in North Carolina, met with two more internet-friends of mine from Ireland and California and then got on a bus to meet more internet-friends of mine in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The bus journey was always meant to be a long one, seventeen hours, in fact. It turned into something more like twenty-six. In Philidelphia on our return there was something of an explosion (I wish I were speaking figuratively), a dear friend had a panic attack and I sat down with my Moleskine (lol hipster rage) and furiously wrote the following note, previously available at my disused tumblr.

***

This letter is posted here as a direct email address for a customer services department was not openly available on their website. Perhaps that is more telling than the contents of this letter. If you have ever considered using Greyhound buses, please consider this letter a warning.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about the experience I had on your buses last week. On the 24th June 2010 and the 27th June 2010, the experience I had on your buses rivals all others in both discomfort and inconvenience. The journey was from Charlotte, NC to Atlantic City, NJ and then back again.

My experience was noteworthy not only because of the appalling organisational standards of your company, but the repeated mechanical failings scattered throughout my trip alongside the indifference and occasional downright incompetence of your staff. In some instances I would strongly recommend just replacing certain staff members with actual greyhounds. The marketing angle is priceless and they are very easy to train.

My problems began on the 23rd of June when my journey was actually due to begin. Upon arrival at the station we were told that in my group of friends, one group of tickets was ‘dormant’ and that the others were not valid either, leaving us to infer that they too were dormant. It was advised that we ‘reactivate’ our ‘dormant’ tickets, something Alex, Ronan, Frank, Austin and I were only too keen to move forward with.

Unfortunately for us our bus was scheduled for 10:40pm and, despite having arrived more than an hour early, there was nobody at the station, or at the helpline (you should consider a re-brand on that particular service) who had the ability/proclivity to help us with our problem, because it was too late. Offering bus services around the clock but having stations properly staffed only some of the time is a strange way to go about things, Greyhound, let me tell you.

Feeling rather stuck, we asked the woman at your information desk (again, the names of some services need a serious rethink) what she could suggest. We were met with a blank stare and a vague shrug. Helpless, we retreated hoping to reschedule the following day. This was, they had told us, our only hope.

The 24th arrived and we did eventually, as suggested by the dates at the beginning of this letter, manage to board a bus. It turned out that our tickets were not dormant but had been subject to a rescheduling problem within the system. All that was required was some signed forms and ID checks. Nobody the previous evening had been able to tell us this due to the appropriate staff members not being present, otherwise our tickets could easily have been issued and we could have left at the proper time.

We got in line for the 7:45pm bus, already a day late for a 3 day trip, but feeling optimistic that at last we were headed somewhere. This optimism lasted until about an hour after the scheduled time when we were not yet on a bus. This was made worse by the fact that we had no idea why this might be. A lack of information became a theme throughout our journey. When approached for information, a Greyhound staff member unhelpfully said “All you can do is wait!” before turning away and offering no further details. I persisted and approached a different staff member only to be told impatiently that the driver had not yet arrived.

Understandably discouraged by this new obstacle on our journey we waited. Eventually we were saved by the appearance of a flustered looking driver who tried the best he could to manage the crowd and organise himself quickly. All efforts in vain however, as we had already missed all of our planned connections due to his lateness. When we were finally allowed to board he was able to admit only ten of the approximately fifty people waiting in line. All of these people had been allowed to buy tickets for a service that was almost double-booked.  This was also a theme throughout our trip. Thankfully my friends and I were a part of that lucky group and were boarded.

After a few attempted starts the bus departed, only for it to become apparent that the air conditioning was not working. On a packed bus. In ninety degree heat. It became deeply uncomfortable very quickly. This was made worse by a Greyhound reprepsentative reprimanding people boiling in their skins for swearing. She then passed on a message from the driver saying that he must turn back. Understandably, due to the less than ideal scenario and her patronizing and overzealous customer service stunt moments before, the passengers were incredibly angry. The driver pulled over at a rest stop and promised food and drinks from McDonalds for the inconvenience. This promise never materialised but we were all so grateful for the stop that nobody mentioned a thing about it.

After reboarding and arriving in Raleigh we watched a man physically remove the air conditioning unit and replace it with a new one. We were less than pleased with this added delay but appeased by the fact that at least we’d be late, but able to remain at  human body temperature rather than something more akin to a salamander or industrial kiln. This message was apparently lost somewhere along the line and we were transported the rest of the way to Richmond in a refrigerator instead.

Our time in Richmond was less stressful, as the next bus was less than two hours away by the time we arrived. This relief was short-lived as after boarding the driver proceeded to get lost in downtown Fredericksburg for, what another passenger informed us, was an hour and twenty minutes. Not providing directions for your drivers displays an admirable sense of humour, but does nothing for you customer service reputation. Fortunately upon arriving in Washington DC we were directed immediately to a bus headed for Atlantic City, which was delayed for a long time due to traffic. This last matter, I concede, is out of your control.

The driver did decide to liven up an otherwise uneventful journey by pulling over and proclaiming that the bus had broken down. He then started it back up and drove the rest of the way to Atlantic City trouble free. This provided added bewilderment. Perhaps it was a badly received practical joke, or maybe after years of working for Greyhound it is a force of habit. Speculation aside, we were pleased that this was the only noteworthy aspect of our final leg of that journey.

My friends and I enjoyed our drastically reduced time in Atlantic City provided, by your outright failure to organise a reliable service, with anecdotes that were both amusing and literally incredible. We were determined that our return journey would provide no such anecdotes. Our confidence was naive and ill-founded, but it was all we had in the face of a repeat of such a terrible journey.

The journey from Atlantic City to Philidelphia lulled us into a false sense of security. At least, until our arrival when the bus promptly exploded. This epic mechanical failing makes your broken air conditioning and break-downs that occur only in the minds of your drivers appear trivial. None of those are life threatening in the least. I’m sure this seems like a comical exaggeration, provided only to highlight the escalating misfortune we encountered on our journey.

I’m more than sorry to say that this is not the case. Moments after exiting the bus, smoke could be seen to pour from the back-right section of the bus, where my friends and I had been seated moments earlier, only to spread to the other side and for flames to become visible on the underside of the bus. Frank was able to take some photographs before being told to stop by Greyhound staff. Apparently ‘fire’ is where they draw the line in terms of caring about customer interaction. Because of his inability to take adequate photos, Frank also provided a small sketch of this event.

Bus Explosion

Frank is 28.

Frank is an artist.

The sight of a firefighter breaking the window I was seated at moments previously in order to extinguish the dirty great flames that are now spilling therefrom is not one I will forget any time soon, I assure you. So, in terms of providing a memorable journey, you could not have performed better. Indeed, I admire your efforts to ensure such a journey. Rarely is a bus worthy of photographic evidence.

However, when your mechanical failings wander into the realms of ‘life threatening’, I cease to have a sense of humour about them. Indeed, the summoning of the emergency services is rarely a sign of a publicity stunt gone well. I do not accuse you of attempting to bump off customers in the least, but the repeated and persistent failings of your company lead me to believe that they cannot be unrelated. That amount of failure cannot be accidental, can it?

The fact that we had already alighted (no pun intended) when the fire presented itself was of little comfort to my friend Alex, who had a panic attack in the middle of the bus station. The previous occurrence of such an attack had been after a car accident some months previously. This attack was caused by the bus journey you provided, the collective experience of which was comparable in terms of stress to a car accident. It was potentially as life threatening and equally as detrimental to Alex’s health. It did little to raise our opinion of the service you offer so half-heartedly.

Our group’s reaction of pleasant surprise when greyhound staff actually bothered to announce the lateness of our next bus cannot be considered in your favour because it was notable as the exception rather than the rule. Our next buses were late, but by this point we were no longer disappointed nor were we expecting to get to our destination at a time anywhere close to the one scheduled.

It is my experience that customer service is not a primary concern for your company, nor even a secondary one. Public Relations was a concern when my friend was prevented from taking photos of the flaming bus, but your general inability to treat passengers as customers rather than cargo has assured that even this minor concern is viewed in the most cynical light. Had you told him to get away for his own safety then perhaps your reputation would remain somewhat intact, but his lungs were of less concern to you than the potential leak of this information to potential customers. You can be assured that none of us will use your service ever again, and indeed will discourage others from doing so.

Yours,
Mell Moore.

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Girl of Warcraft: Part 2


My last entry on this topic covered bases that have been covered beautifully elsewhere by others. Namely the strange desire of games designers to put their female characters in armour that would almost certainly get them killed were they to face so much as a chilly day in the real world. In Azeroth, and many fantasy landscapes besides, facing the scourge of undead, a dirty great big dragon or an orc with biceps bigger than its head is apparently a breeze in nothing more than a chain-mail bikini. When so much thought goes into the tiniest detail in worlds like this, it strikes me as odd that such an obvious and difficult element of disbelief is suspended for the sake of minor titillation.

What is certainly even more strange is the strange myth of the Girl Gamer who simultaneously does not exist and exists but is attention seeking and rubbish. I have countless examples of this attitude from WoW forums, but believe me this attitude exists anywhere you’d care to look.

Rar.

Click for link to source!

The refusal to believe in Girl Gamers can be witnessed in its purest form in a story I read over on LiveJournal. You can read the whole thing here, but the gist of it is that somebody inherits a guild and is forced by their new position as Guild Leader to speak on Vent for the first time. Everybody is shocked and amazed to discover that this person they’ve played with for two years is a girl. For two years, they had assumed the big male orc character was played by a boy. Not exactly a wild stab in the dark, but wrong nonetheless. It’s a delayed revelation but many guild members get over their initial shock and get on with their lives.

However, one guild member in particular starts talking about how he’ll miss his old buddy, apparently under the misapprehension that “female” is a euphemism for “dead”. Now, this person was clearly so convinced that “girls don’t play this game” that as soon as he learned of her gender, it created a paradox and his brain deleted her. Really, it’s no wonder that this girl kept her gender secret so long. Especially when the stereotypical gamer girl gets such a bad rap in the first place.

The kicker is if they’re acknowledged at all, girls are largely assumed to be either really rubbish or just there to flirt with boys for gold/other in-game perks. Oh and they don’t play other games for fun, only for attention from boys. They only have a Wii. They’re totally not a threat. They don’t play even play real games.

Gamer Girl stereotypes exist and are perpetuated even by Gamer Girls who do not fit the mould. Sure I know of instances where girls have sent naked pictures to male friends for in-game perks. I also know of several boys who pretend to be girls and have cyber sex with other male players for the same reason (they say it’s for gold, anyway). I also know someone who pretended to be a girl for months, decided he was bored, so pretended to be his own brother to tell everybody Jane* had died of cancer (when in reality she had never existed.) People are weird, y’know?

I’m not saying that the Gamer Girl stereotype comes from nowhere, that this has never happened. People manipulate each other, I’m not saying they don’t. What I am saying that this strange insistence that the problem is a female one means decent gamers with vaginas keep their mouth shut because the second their secret is known they cease to be taken seriously.

MMORPGs attract weirdos of all genders, it’s just that confirmation bias means people forget about the boys. The problem girls have is that by virtue being perceived as a deviant or minority in the community, they are constantly subjected to attitudes like this:

yay xkcd

Replace Math with WoW. Pretend that instead of the equation it's the gates to Blackwing Descent.

However, because they’re perceived that way, girls tend to keep their gender to themselves and therefore continue to be perceived as a minority.

Things are not all bad, the tendency seems to be for people to be more accepting, not less.This article from 2005 outlines a lot of similar stuff so it’s not like we’re progressing at breakneck speed. I think people are generally aware that sometimes some girls play some games. I am not constantly barraged with crap about my gender when I play. I don’t talk about my gender when I play, but if it does come up it’s a thing. It’s mentioned, commented on, considered. Not by everyone, but always by someone.

I was lucky enough to play for a long time in a guild where the Guild Leader was a woman as were two of the Officers and many of our regular raid team. However once in a while in a random group, we would reveal our perverse secret identities and have a DPS immediately drop group. Or receive demands for “pics nao” (I mean really.) There is no correlation between gender and kick-assness in game. There is no difference. The fact that I know this and other people know it does not change all perceptions.

For this reason I am assumed to be male. I play a character who looks like this:

As if I'd tell you my character name.

I didn't want to look at an Undead spine all day, all right? And Orcs were clearly animated by a blind drunk person with no hands. Blood Elves are a perfectly valid race, ok?!

and I am resigned to the fact that people will assume that it’s because she looks good from behind, unless I want to shout from the rooftops that I am a girl. For the sake of visibility, I should do that. Girls should not have to become invisible to play.

Because of minor improvements as people get acclimatised to the idea of Girl Gamers, articles like this get written, which means the problem will remain because it’s “only” people whispering you inappropriate things. It’s “only” getting extra attention from people when you’re trying to enjoy your game time. It’s “only” the occasional “prickly” PUG. It’s only little things but it’s a lot of the time, and it’s representative of something much deeper and more sinister: Girl’s aren’t supposed to play games.

Less malicious but just as irritating are stereotypes like “Girls only play healers!”

Women are nurturing. Especially when killing big monsters.

Because girls care for stuff!

To put this person’s comment in perspective, of the 10 classes it’s possible to play, 4 of them have healing capabilities. Odds are if you pick a class to play at random, as many new players do, there’s a 40% chance that it will be able to heal.

So, basically what he’s saying is that the girl players who play characters that could heal, even if they don’t, are still conforming to his preconceptions of what a girl should be. The one’s that don’t are “tomboys”, therefore not proper girls and one person he knows doesn’t even play a healer and she’s pretty good! These are evidently crazy times we live in. It’s almost as if his theory holds no water at all! The confirmation bias is strong with this one. It’s just an example of a boy gamer talking loudly about what all girl gamers are like while casually ignoring the many girl gamers he knows who aren’t like that. And that’s just the ones he thinks are girls.

So, girl gamers. There is no mystery here. We exist (hi!) We don’t want your gold, or your Officer status nor are we dying to get our chesticles out for strangers on the internet. We’re not desperate to patch you up when the nasty dragon burns you, nor to inflict our hormones upon you on special days. We just want to kill some pixels. Doing so as secret cyber-transvestites should not be necessary.

*Clearly that is not a real name. Fake name for a fake person.

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Girl of Warcraft: Part 1


Female people- We can grow humans in our abdomen, dismantle the welfare state and  cause the downfall of all humanity by eating an apple/opening a box/marrying a Beatle. We can also play games. This, in my circle of friends, is a non-issue. It’s barely even interesting. My best friend got me into World of Warcraft specifically, but I was given my first console at the age of six and I’ve been killing/maiming pixellated life forms pretty solidly, albeit with varying degrees of dedication, ever since. Girls* play games. They also eat toast, get on buses and wear shoes. Apparently this mindset is still a bit unusual outside of my group of friends.

I had never considered the role of women in games and the gaming community at all until I got to university and was asked to consider it. Most people never get asked this, so I’m not especially surprised that outside of online forums I’ve never heard it discussed. I’ve never even talked about it with my friends. When it is brought up though, some frustrating issues come to the fore. I’ll focus on World of Warcraft for now because it is so massive in terms of players and content (11 million+ accounts) and has been going long enough for there to be lots to talk about.

There are no solid figures for how many girls play WoW. The reason for this will be discussed a little later but the best I could find put them at about one in five. Now, twenty percent is a fair whack. If you’re in a five man PUG (pick up group) of random players, for example, odds are at least one player is female. If you’re in a 10 man raid, two players. 25 man, five and- well, you can all do basic maths. My point being if this is the case, why does the majority of WoW’s content appear to assume that the person playing is a straight male?

I draw your attention firstly, to the phenomena of ‘porno-plate’ and the succubus.

Porno Plate, as it is often known, is the difference between how a piece of armour looks on a male character and how it looks on a female character. Observe if you would, this nice goat-woman, or Dranei as they are known in WoW.

Put some clothes on. You'll probably die

It's warm in Azeroth

See those sort of red chaps she’s wearin’? The shiny red bikini with thigh attachments? Those are supposed to protect her from the likes of this guy:

Is that an axe in your hand...?

Tagar Spinebreaker. He'll break your spine.

This would be all well and good if that’s how the armour came from the catalogue. You get your order, it’s not quite what you expected, but you have to jet to Hellfire Peninsula pretty damn sharpish or all the good orcs will be dead. However, if the nice goat lady were oh I don’t know…male, her armour would look more like this:

I mean, really?

Unsurprisingly most of the images of this armour were the female character model.

If you pop over to the comments section on WoWHead, an online resource for WoW players, the phrase “porno pants” crops up fairly early on in the discussion. And over at WoWWiki, they feel it’s necessary to display armour on both male and female character models, making the comparison all the more stark.There is language to deal with this phenomena. This is something many people find strange enough to at least talk about. Why else would anybody choose the indignity of saying “porno-plate”? WoW is not the only fantasy role playing game to have come to the illogical conclusion that “skimpy” and “armour” are two concepts that simply must meet, but that doesn’t make it less stupid. There is an amazing break-down of this strangeness, along with more pictures, here.

Speaking of women ill-equipped for battle, there is the Succubus. A companion warlocks in the game are able to summon to help them kill stuff. The Succubi look like this:

Me by what?

Mmm, spiny legs.

Yes, she is a succubus. By her very nature she’s sexualised to the nines. Her job as a warlock’s companion is to sort of be sexy at people and whip them until they die. She’s pretty useful in PvP and since Warlocks are so squishy it’s nice to have somebody who makes such an effort with their appearance as a helper. I have no problem with her powers of death-by-sexyness in themselves, more that they are directly aimed at teenage boys (as this little fella learned to his cost). There is, however, no male equivalent. According to a post on the official forums they’re working on it kinda sorta. If you’re going to make something for all players to oggle, Blizzard, you can leave the noises out, if you want.

In Part 2 I’ll talk about the strange and unusual phenomena of “Women on the internet! (omg)” and why that may be skewing our perceptions of how many girls play WoW.

*I say girls because generally in techy circles there are fan boys and fan girls. Boy gamers tend not to be described as such because apparently the noun gamer doesn’t need to be modified to let you know the person has a penis. “Girl Gamer” is a term used generally to describe women and girls who game, I’m not taking issue with that term right now because of the fangirl/fanboy thing. It’s just how it’s done. Nerds are children. That’s fine.

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Book Review: Two Tales from Manky Valley by Frank Peña


This is the second book from the BecauseInter.net guy.

The BecauseInter.net guy! C’mon!

His first book Pyromaniac Pooka is just as adorable/wrong, but only has ONE story. Gawd. What the actual fuck is that (awesome and adorable) shit? In Two Tales from Manky Valley you get TWO. Holy shitballs. I know Frank, and so he sent me a free e-book for my reviewing pleasure. Usually this would have made me cry from my eyes (No trees died for this? What is wrong with you?) but because it’s illustration heavy it is actually really fun to read on a screen. Maybe I was so used to reading web-comics that it didn’t phase me, or maybe I’m cured of my Ludditeitis. Either way, I can vouch for the readability of the e-book. There is no real blurb (except the little ones I found on the website) so I will instead allow the author to describe himself to you.


Frank Peña is a raggedy old hobo who lives in North Carolina with twenty cats. 
If you see a guy in a bathrobe and fuzzy bear-feet slippers dancing to the overhead music inthe produce section of a grocery store, that is probably him. 
Approach with candy.

Perhaps that’s actually more informative than a blurb for telling you exactly what you can expect from Manky Valley. It is silly. I’ll talk about each story separately:

The Prettiest Pony and the Atomic Death Cannon
Follow The Prettiest Pony and her pals, Butterface and Brownbagger, on an epic adventure into a haunted castle, that results in a chaotic trail of rainbows, cake and charred skeletons all across Manky Valley. (From Becauseinter.net/mankeyvalley.html)

The main themes in this piece appear to be sexist talk of anthropomorphised horses, and death cannons. Largely the themes blend together to create something brightly coloured and vaguely repulsive, both visually and ideologically. Freud says the castle represents a vagina, so I guess bestiality as well, cause they go inside of one of them. LESBIAN bestiality. I mean, my word. The juxtaposition of The Prettiness of the Pony and the castle-shapedness of the vagina confuse our ideas of what is sexual and what is just a castle, or something. Maybe we all want to sleep with our parents, or each other. Maybe we all have genitalia that resembles listed buildings. It is very meaningful. 

Li’l Stabby Goes on a Hug Rampage
Learn valuable life lessons about what happens when Li’l Stabby–everyone’s favorite hug-addicted, magically animated butcher knife–is set loose in a forest full of snuggly critters. Can anything stop his cuddly reign of terror? Probably not. (From Becauseinter.net/mankeyvalley.html)

Unlike the gritty realism of the sexy pony story, this tale is overflowing with glittering whimsy.

Having seen the first twenty minutes of Pinocchio, the Plant-Watering Fairy followed standard magical-meddling protocol by rifling through the Lonely Old Lady’s possessions for something to animate.

*sigh*
The kindly aim of a passing fey to ease the suffering of an old woman begins one kitchen implement’s quest to learn more about life and himself. We learn valuable lessons like “Don’t piss on knives, especially if you’re magic!” and “Don’t hug knives, what the fucking hell is the matter with you?” I found myself moved to tears and a little bit of fear by just how carefully Lil’ Stabby’s rampage has been imagined. Freud probably thinks the knife is a penis, I’m pretty sure he says that. This is basically about a magical death orgy, if you’re Freud. Although I guess so is everything, if you’re Freud. So…why WOULDN’T you want to read it? Sort yourself out.

Really though, as far as ridiculous fun and sinister fairy tales go, these are super examples of both. They are also an excellent cautionary tale for loved ones about the dangers of too much caffeine. You could also perhaps point them in the direction of my twitter feed. There are reviews on the site where you can (and surely must) buy it rather than on the e-book I recieved, here they are:

“It’s basically a hate-poem to vaginas…[Frank] is like a modern Jack the Ripper, only with cartoon ponies.”- Reverend CDAAAH
  
Apart from the fact that it’s actually prose, nobody died and certainly certainly nobody was disembowelled on the streets of London, this is correct.

 “If a psychologist were ever to read this, he would lose his shit.” – Frank’s Mom

As I discussed, Freud would have a field day. Momcho is ever wise.

“O__________O…I don’t wanna be a derp face” –Lady Gracington von Holtburg


Well, quite.

In summary, I agree with everything I said and whatever else I said I agreed with, and it will make you laugh. Buy it!

FULL MARKS.




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Book Review: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder


I’m in the process of transferring posts from my old blog to here. Actual service will begin when I’ve posted my selection and can start thinking about new ideas. Please excuse broken links or images and my lack of a proper rating sytem.

He…hello? Are you all still there? No. I thought not. Excellent. This means no witnesses to my jolly rusty leap into this blogging business. I had other, grandplans for my old blog which did not come to be. I have formulated a new plan. I have decided to come back with a review of a book the follows one I was very fond of and got very attached to. Its sibling is a different creature and correspondingly it has a different blurb! HURRAH!

A clockwork man is abandoned in Trafalgar Square. A ghost displays a craving for diamonds. An aristocrat returns ten years after being lost at sea and instigates riots in London. The Rakes are indulging in seances. The Technologists are growing giant insects and transforming them into steam-driven vehicles. The British Empire’s capial is in chaos, and in the midst of it all, Sir Richard France Burton and his wayward assistant, Algernon Swinburn, are beginning to suspect that someone, somewhere, is up to no good!

The previous book is referenced from the outset making this more of a sequel than part of a series. I find books that are just interchangeable blocks on a vague timeline less impressive somehow than ones that weave themselves together over a series. We hear of John Hanning Speke, malaria, Africa and the rest. Like the last book too there’s a surreal blend of stuff that actually existed and stuff I’m really glad didn’t. The Tichborne Affair was a vague note somewhere in my head, as were most of the book’s secondary characters. Irritated as I am with Victorian London (apparently) being the place to be, I can’t help but be absorbed by some of its most interesting facets. World history is mentioned more frequently too, with an Ireland apparently over-run by Triffids and Europe being hit by the technologists as London has been. It has all the gorgeous familiarity of history and all the wonderful chaos of flux. It’s as satisfying in this book as it was in the last, but not at all repetitive or formulaic.

Burton is undoubtedly the main dude (or protagonist as I believe some people insist on calling them) but he never appears to have been forced into the plot simply because of that fact and is never determined for the spotlight. This is usually the case with protagonists, and can be either really irritating or really funny, even if it’s done deliberately or well. The balance is rarer. That is I’m rarely not annoyed by a protagonist at least a bit (because everything is always about them, isn’t it?) but Burton isn’t irritating. He’s cold, a little distant and maybe hard to relate to (I suspect why there are so many loveable secondary characters) but he’s not a tit. This fact makes for rewarding reading. 

My favourite parts of the last book returned this time around. There were the continued insane (and gross) inventions as Albertian Britain gets to grips with its shiny new Eugenics, The Rakes getting into their amoral japes (the scamps) and real life geniuses getting a bit fucked up. There is also finally the recognition in print that Babbage sounds quite a lot like cabbage, and for this alone the book is worth the cover price. The technology is fucking mental and stops just short of being actually horrific because it’s so cartoonish. Focusing too much on hollowed out animals brings a chap down, you know. Describing the eugenecists folly with cartoonish horror rather than just horrified horror made it clear that this is a morally dubious endeavour but not so clear that you wonder why Burton isn’t dropping everything to ensure that no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture uh…Albertian caper. There are also zombies. And POSH zombies.

What a Posh Zombie May Look Like

The bad things actually got worse. I distinctly remember reviewing the last book and ranting about a nurse with a gun who was the exotic eye candy for our recently single protagonist. Somehow Michael Madsen got involved. Look I don’t know, okay? I talked of how wonderfully the most downfally downfalls of our hideous imperialism had been smoothed over and changed so that society was just a tiny bit less prejudiced than it had been. However, I said, the women were contributing but treated as decoration. And, I said, this would not do. Ah, said the author, I’m mimicking the ways of the time. Fair enough, said I, but still, you know. And so it was that I addressed the issue of the sexism in the last book. WOULD that I had the content to cry sexism this time around. Would that I could, dear reader, but I cannot. The reason being is that there are a handful of women mentioned in this book in any amount of detail. One of whom is Mrs. Angell, Burton’s housekeepery housekeeper. The second is Florence Nightingale who has been kidnapped and therefore appears as a plot point and only once as a character with dialogue and Miss Mayson, a swan breeder who again is mentioned most often by other characters rather than appearing herself as a character. Madam Blavatsky features prominently later on, though in what capacity I cannot say for fear of spoilers. She is a wonderful character, and I would analyse her further and pick apart interesting morsels of gender related issues but it would be a MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER. Suffice to say, that despite her being a fine character she does not negate the fact that I spent quite a lot of my time thinking “Does Sir Richard Francis Sexpot Burton even speak to women?” There are some prostitutes, a housekeeper and a nurse. I hate to be the person who bangs on about “what about the women?” I realise it gets dull and wearing and that not everybody cares. However, I only ask where the women are when there are no women. We are fifty percent of the earth’s population and there are about 8 of us in this 400+ page book. What the ACTUAL fuck? Like, really. Actually really, what the fuck?

The cover reviews are the same as last time, and I pretty much agree. Also, it won an award.

80%, 4/5, Pac-Man, whatever you like. Really good, anyway.
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