August 7th, 2009

I know I’m a little behind on the recommended reading, but here’s a piece I wrote for Topless Robot, Village Voice Media blog and sister site to my old friend Heartless Doll, back in the spring. At the time Harrah’s casinos were hosting a Rock Band tournament, wherein the winning band got $10,000 and the chance to open for the B-52’s in Atlantic City. The leg of the contest I attended, up in Tahoe, was sleepier than expected, complete with stunned old folks and only a handful of co-eds. Still, a good time was had. And by that I mean I received a small number of complementary drinks.

Read the story. See the photos. Live the dream. Or something.

August 6th, 2009

All the way back in February, when my friend and fellow tech journalist Cyrus Farivar was off living my life as an English assistant in France, he sent me a copy of Virus Gamer Magazine. Like a number of glossy game publications on the shelves both here and abroad, I wasn’t familiar with Virus, but given the headline on the cover of the issue, it’s easy to understand why Cyrus thought of me. It translates to: “Big Boobs, Big Guns!” Inside are shots of various voluptuous female characters posing in the (near) nude, described as a “cadeau pin-up” — a pin-up present. See photos here.

Though this isn’t much different than the “women of games” pin-ups Playboy has been running for years, it’s interesting to see which ladies (or their creators) could be convinced to take their clothing all the way off. It seems the more respectable the title, the more “decent” the character. Farah from Prince of Persia barely even shows cleavage, and Tira from Soul Calibur gives up only a taste of under-boob. The vixens of Age of Conan, on the other hand, show us full-on crotch shots.

Jumping off from its “Big Boobs” theme, the issue also attempts to cover gender and sex in video games in general, though falls adorably flat on its face (and of course by adorably I mean sexist-ly) by talking about, for example, the pretty New Yorker who makes game-themed bento for her lucky boyfriend, or the plight of girls at conventions, under whose photos they’ve written, “These Gamegirls are young, pretty, and can destroy us at video games. Wow!” Classy.

Not that I expect much from a magazine like Virus. Mostly this post exists to give you (and me) a chance to stare at computer-generated boobs while pretending to shake our heads at sexist faux-pas. I always wonder how artists decide what characters who’ve previously been clothed should look like naked. Who makes the belly button decision, the nipple decision? That is one important guy. And from the look of these women, it is most definitely a guy.

August 5th, 2009

I know I said I didn’t want to write anymore lists, but this one has been sitting in my drafts since before the wedding and I can’t seem to turn it into complete thoughts — possibly because I’m so burnt out on real life my mind is like a Jell-o mold. You know, the kind with the canned fruit suspended in the center that you only see at horrible dinner parties on television?

Anyways, here are my partially coherent, if disjointed thoughts on the surprisingly positive things that LOLcats and LOLspeak have done for the English language. I’m simultaneously a huge fan of this meme — which has likely already jumped the shark, but oh well — and a grammar stickler with six years background in Latin and a general passion for a correctly used vocabulary. Yes, I’m that bitch who’ll yell at you for misusing a semi colon. I think the creative word play around ICanHazCheesburger, as it enters general parlance, has done some really interesting things for this mutt of a language and the way we internet goers use it:

1) Revitalized the fun of talking.

2) Made us (geek) proud of the way we speak.

3) Inspired us to speak creatively.

4) Forces us to stop and think about language.

5) Pushed us into a new age of grammar — for better or for worse.

August 4th, 2009

I have had in my drafts folder for months now, all the way since this March’s GDC, a follow-up piece on race in Resident Evil 5, and how it has shifted from speakable to unspeakable. Back in the late summer of 2007, when I first breached the topic with “White Man Shoots Black Zombies” at VillageVoice.com, the majority of hate mail I received — and trust me, there was a lot of it — focused on how I shouldn’t have even talked about something as serious as race relations when it comes to video games. The blogs that picked up the piece, and the resulting controversy, seemed to agree that the real problem wasn’t the racial implications of Resident Evil, but that somebody had opened the flood gates on the conversation.

So needless to say I was pleased to see, in early 2009, a wave of comments coming from respectable sources, like Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Wallstreet Journal. Then a number of the big gaming blogs, who had declared the issue absurd, starting posting about the continued debate, adding their two cents. Did everyone agree with me? No. In many ways, the conversation continued to be a frustrating one (I still have regular and heated fights with friend and ex-IGNer Michael Thomsen about the very merit of discussing race in games), which helps explain why it’s taken me half a year to bring up the topic again.

Whatever the opinion being expressed, however, I’m glad that the issue is on the table, that it’s no longer unspeakable — as appropriate as that would be for a gothic genre like zombies. Speaking of which, there might just be an excellent essay in reflecting back on the race in RE5 controversy, then comparing Edith Wharton’s famous quote about the paranormal in gothic fiction standing in for the unspeakable and the gaming community fighting for that unspeakability, upholding the simple “zombiness” of the genre. Like a good academic, I am quietly plotting…

August 3rd, 2009

Call me spoiled by technology, but I had never thought about what the cybersex enthusiasts of today would have done before the internet. Having recently read Michael Leigh’s The Velvet Underground (I swear this is the last time I’ll post about it… for now), I was intrigued by the sexual subculture of erotic letter writing and amateur porn it describes. Here, in 1967, is an elaborate network of subscription based clubs advertising in adult magazines that will, for a small fee, distribute your name and address to other “open-minded” individuals. This in turn opens a sexually charged dialogue between interested (i.e. horny) parties across the country, even across the world. While some of the exchanges described by Leigh in his exposé culminated in real-life meetings, many authors seemed content with epistolary hard-ons.

As cybersex enthusiasts, this tells us a number of things. First off, we are not so unusual as people think. It is not because we are not cut off from human contact by the ennui of the technological age that causes us to seek emotionally removed forms of sexual interaction. On a personal level, sure, we may have reasons for keeping others at a computer’s distance, but the phenomenon of searching for others in far away places with whom to share pleasures apparently has a history as long as magazine circulations and the United States Postal Service.

Similarly, the internet didn’t turn us into pervs. People have been craving intense sexual experiences — and turning to those outside of their real-life circles to realize them — for longer than the world wide web has existed. The only difference is that back in the day those who felt isolated in their tastes or orientations had to risk breaking the law to correspond so frankly with others who shared their interests.

Lastly, here is further proof that there’s indeed something tantalizing about the written word — whether that word gets drawn out longingly on a page with a decadently dripping fountain pen, or typed across a screen. The act of letter writing, like the act of text-based cybersex or sending erotic emails, becomes sexually charged as sentences are sent back and forth between anxious readers. Not just bibliophiles or social outcasts, the people in Leigh’s book are manly men, well-to-do housewives, “normal” members of society who find themselves aroused by the language at their fingertips. They are our predecessors.

July 31st, 2009

In their way, these people, all of them, are saddening, bewildering, and, in a curious way, frightening. I do not even pretend to understand their drives or what motivates them or what makes it possible for them to separate so keenly the physical from the spiritual. Nor do I understand their willingness to risk the many social and legal dangers that beset their way of life.

They are foreign as the far side of the Styx is foreign, as the other side of that curtain between East and West, and there is the same sadness of human separation, of divergence and of irreconcilable apartness.

For all the moralizing and sexploitation (and shoddy journalism) of Michael Leigh’s 1967 The Velvet Underground, this passage from the very last page of the book, which I talked about yesterday, strikes me as incredibly poignant. It describes, with surprising art and insight, the fear that outsiders feel in response to any sexual “deviance,” be it BDSM, homosexuality, or cybersex. This is the fear, laid bare, that builds into suspicion, intolerance, hatred. It is the existential crisis of human understanding projected onto that which is different.

At the same time, as a “deviant” myself in just about every way Leigh’s exposé of 1960’s subcultures describes (and many more he couldn’t predict), there’s something that rings true about this passage for the kink practitioner as well — a sense of foreignness, of solitude that washes over the sub as she finds herself bound and blindfolded, over the wife as she kisses a man who is not her husband. Yes, sexuality is about coming together, but it is also about standing apart.

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