The Replacements

Blaugust 20th

“I’m here to replace you,” says the youth to the elder. This, I think, is how a lot of people view the generations as we grow older. Sometimes this turns into arrogance, but there’s some truth to the statement. The younger generations will eventually be the older ones.

How the statement’s interpreted is really important. In video games we see developers trying very hard to maintain the same thinking that they held as youth. It begins to feel as though they prize their youth more than they prize maturity, and so games have this pretty strong reputation as toys for kids. Some have chalked this up to the “nature” of video games. They’re fun, they’re inspired by childlike awe and curiously, they’re non-serious, non-political, pure. This is as much a failure of our developers to mature their craft, see it as emerging from the culture and as a source of culture in it’s own right, as it is a failure of the industry to allow games to mature. The industry is all about copying models that have already worked in the past, not improve on them. I think this prevents our games from being more versatile and keeps them narrowly focused on entertaining us. That’s why indie development continues to be one of the most important products of the popularity of the internet.

I don’t know when I started to realize this. Probably around 2007, the height of my MMO gaming. I started wanting more from my games, but I didn’t really know why I was becoming so much more demanding. Was I growing up or outgrowing games? Was I playing the wrong games? Was I just so immersed in gaming culture that I became a snob? The answer was probably a combination of all that and then some. I’m still pretty critical of games, but I’m also more accepting because I think somewhere along the line I realized I had matured. Some things would no longer hold my interest by virtue of just getting older. That leads to greater tolerance in all of us as we mature.

I encounter younger people all the time who see their place in the world as the new leaders. Some believe they have a duty to overturn everything the last generation believed in. Worse, some veterans of my generation see their place as squashing the hopes of the younger, to tell them “how it is” and in doing so discourage them from trying to imagine how it can be. To deter innovation because they worked really hard to get what they have and they see change as destroying that work. The relationship doesn’t mature. If you play as many games as I do, you know that it’s obvious in many game communities. Somewhere in there we’re all failing as stewards and students.

I wonder what can happen if we view each generation not as replacements, but as successors. Will games become more than entertainment? More recognizable as an asset to culture instead of a liability? I think we’re already finding out the answers and to me it looks promising. On most days. On some days it’s down right terrifying.

Talking ‘Bout Love

Blaugust 19th


Despite all my misfortunes of the past there’s no denying how fortunate I’ve become. My life is filled with love and I love thinking about how I got here. It was all an accident in a sense, but chalking it up to pure luck robs love of it’s meaning.

Murf inspired me to write this. He ranted about a love interest and it reminded me about how exciting that is, to adore someone and anticipate a future with them. Things go from “I’ll bet this person does [insert fantasy]” to “I love/hate it when they [insert habit]”. Its exciting to fall in love and to be in love, isn’t it?

The truth is I waited far too long to ask my wife out. We’d spent lots of time together as neighbors and friends in my early 20s. She was still in college and I was barely off the street. I had begun shacking with a few buddies of mine and found a small time job in those years at a grocery store. We shared rent on the place and shared pretty much everything else. We were still very much living in poverty, but at least we had a roof.

Anyway, Sarah was a busy body. Always doing some kind of community work, always studying. She and her roommate had frequent gatherings on weekends, usually just an intimate group of friends, some music, some liquor, some weed. She and I would somehow end up on the porch talking …well she did most of the talking. I didn’t exactly have anything interesting going on in my life. But I remember admiring her passion. She studied sociology and seemed to always be on fire about some issue or other. I always thought she looked beautiful, but strong women are a weakness of mine. I remember how attracted to her I felt. I never asked her out.

Fast forward a few years when I return visit friends and learn she’s available. Surprised was an understatement. I literally couldn’t believe someone like her wasn’t steady with someone else. I asked her out the next time I saw her and she said yes. The rest, as they say, is history. Even though we’d always had good chemistry, the day we turned it into romance was the day my heart went nova for her. I don’t even remember who I was before that day and I know it’s true for her too.

Love is a transformative experience. We’re never the same afterward. In a way, its transcendent too because the world becomes a very different place when we’re in love. It’s easier to find meaning in everything. There’s part of you that has to become absorbed in the other person, things you let fall away willingly because you suddenly understand that something else matters much more. You begin to hope everyone finds something like this and you begin to believe it’s a crime if anyone could live and never experience it. You realize how necessary love is as a cosmic ingredient, an element more powerful. The only reason it’s not on the periodic table is because it’s not matter, but it’s energy and existence are felt everywhere …when you’re in love.

If you’ve never experienced it, I’d say it’s not too difficult to find. I’ve learned that love isn’t so much about the other person as it is about you. What we want, how we see things, what we’re willing to accept. It’s not something that happens or which is found, but something that you discover has been there all along. Or at least that’s my experience with it.

Have you ever been in love?

Scree Tags: #love #romance

Pages I Write

Blaugust 14th


I write because …I’m not good at talking, but I have things I want to say.

Writing everyday is a LOT. I’ve seen some Blaugust participants say the same, that writing everyday isn’t their style. It’s definitely not mine either. But it’s been a fun challenge to participate in.

The problem I’m struggling with the most is like whack a mole. If I put more time into publishing something everyday, then I have less time to read. So I’ve been getting behind once again on my blog reading. Making that worse is that every blogger I know is doing Blaugust, so there will literally be a mountain of things I want to read by the time this is all over. Some conversations are happening that I will miss by writing everyday.

I’ve come to appreciate my usual writing schedule even more because Blaugust is showing me how balanced I”ve actually been in managing all of this. It’s hard to know if you’ve got balance while you’re maintaining, but the minute you stop and do something different you notice right away. Between work, home life and gaming, I sure do miss my usual writing schedule!

Still, I want to do this challenge. I want to know what it’s like again to do more writing than editing, which really becomes a problem over time. Some of my articles the past 2 weeks have had far less editing than I usually would do (and it shows), but it’s nice to just put something imperfect out there and be done with it. Some of you may have noticed that my diary type posts (the ones that start with Blaugust [insert date]) give you a glimpse into things I do outside of gaming like research on community issues and spending time with my babies.

I like writing, obviously right? But what I’m liking about Blaugust is learning how to press publish more often without editing too much. I may yet regret that for some of these topics, but for now it’s nice to know what that’s like once again.

Scree Tags: #Blaugust

Sexual Games

Blaugust 12th


A question on the mind of every gaming adult should be: where’s the good sex in my games?! I, for one, am excitedly waiting for it to happen. Some games try ….most games don’t. It seems games struggle to capture the awesome of sex when they include it. At best past games awkwardly mimic human physicality, but fail to deliver the heat,passion and sensuality of a sexual moment. It’s usually portrayed as either porn or as a joke in games with rare exception.

Larry has managed to become the poster child for sex in video games.

Larry has managed to become the poster child for sex in video games.

After wondering where all the sex was, I decided to do some digging into the video game past to see how it’s been done in games I never played. Leisure Suit Larry probably popped in mind for some of you even if you never played it, but video games don’t really have a history with sex. Games just generally don’t do it and mostly never have. I’ve never played Larry, but from what I’ve seen and read it’s the adventures of one bachelor as he tries to bed various women in the game. So this isn’t really an exploration of sex so much as a simulation of how the dating game is supposed to work in real life for men (granted, with humor and sarcasm).

Following various links from Wikipedia I discovered Cobra Mission (NSFW), a sexual adventure for DOS described on the wiki as a Hentai game. It featured lots of combat and the mechanics for having sex were the same as for knocking out bad guys …and let me tell you. I’ve had sex and I’ve punched bad guys, and I have to say …the former is nothing like the latter physically or otherwise. So this sounds like a bizarre game with terrible sex to me.

Some of us wonder if games can actually deliver something genuinely romantic and sexually arousing, but the answer is obviously yes. If novels can make us swoon and invest emotionally with mere ink on paper, surely games can do much more to our senses. But how? And why have games not done this yet?

Bioware: They really, really try.

Bioware: They really, really try.

To be fair, games in America appear to be the real prudes of the industry. Japan has an entire sex game industry by the looks of it, where games of sometimes dubious and downright harmful quality routinely publish sex and outright porn. I don’t have a lot of experience with these games so I can’t say that they haven’t created some good ones. But in America that’s different. We breakdown every piece of entertainment into two categories: porn or prude. There are some political factors making it difficult to develop games with mature sexual content, but mostly it’s just not something developers seem to care about. We get cheesy romance, porn, or nothing. Yet capturing sexual excitement with immersive play seems almost destined for an interactive medium like games.

I’d even argue that seduction is already a game that humans love to play. I won’t speak for others, but those moments, words, stolen glances, smiles and feelings that seduce us are 90% of what’s awesome about the sex that follows. It’s the game that gets many of us excited about the prospect of locking lips and hips. The act of sex is sometimes the endpoint, but not always. Seduction is great on it’s own.The question is whether video games can execute this sequence of seduction which doesn’t need to involve sex itself. This to me seems like a simpler task than trying to make a sex scene non-awkward and meaningful to the player. When we think about it, this is what makes romance options in games like Dragon Age fun. While the sex scenes that follow are funny at best, the act of pursuing romance is actually exciting for players.

When I play Diablo 3 I feel like I'm slaughtering real demons. This game feels great to manipulate. Maybe Blizzard should make a sex game.

When I play Diablo 3 I feel like I’m slaughtering real demons. This game feels great to manipulate. Maybe Blizzard should make a sex game …on second thought …

I think we have to stop thinking of the buttons or the d-pad as the main input device for connecting the player with the act of sex. When that happens the game reduces the act to button presses and directional combos, which is an easy error to fall into. Instead, I think a focus on the kinaesthetics is the key to pleasurable and more realistic sexual encounters in games. If the game can just connect the player with the feel of sexual excitement, it’ll have done everything games have failed at in the past by  moving sex away from a mechanical act and toward a more sensual act where it belongs.

I tried to browse through the dozens of erotic titles listed on Wikipedia and one thing I learned is that sex in games has been done a lot like how sex is handled in magazines and movies. It’s treated as the subject of porn almost exclusively and developers don’t seem to view sex as mature content existing outside of pornography. Of course, games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age do a great job of trying to portray sex as an act of romance and passion, but those scenes are super rare. They’re exceptions to the norm. That says something non-flattering about the way game designers view sex as an act. This could be because of their own awkwardness with the subject, though I’m sure the technical limitations to our understanding of sex in a virtual environment don’t make this a simple task. But what these types of games lack is that sensuality that’s integral to a sexual experience. Remember: wet dreams don’t have controllers either and often lead to orgasm without so much as self-touching. It’s all in the sensations produced in our imaginations. Games in the future could contain sexual adventures unlike we’ve ever experienced!

For now, we seem doomed to simplistic portrayals of awkward sex scenes but hopefully we’ll get better at those, and it’ll lead to baby steps toward that sensuality some of us want to experience in games. Still, how hard can it be to portray sex as a dignified act between consenting adults who desperately want to fuck each other? I’d wager it’s just a matter of developers and gamers viewing sex as mature, not pornographic content.

Sleeping in Public

Blaugust 9th


homeless-dblupThis is a crime in many places around the United States. Just take a long moment and really thinking about that. A person falling asleep in public as a crime.

No, I mean it: Think about that for a moment. Then take a look at this national report.

What kind of society criminalizes sleep? Try to imagine that.

Did you know that begging in public is also a crime in many cities across the US? How about sleeping in vehicles? Did you know it’s a crime in many places to sleep in your own car?

The city you live in, more than likely, criminalizes homelessness in one way or another. Since the great crash of 2008, homelessness has been on the rise. It’s no mystery that there’s a relationship between the housing crisis and the increase of homelessness. So why isn’t this a high priority? In my experience, people tend to think of problems like homelessness as something that happens to other people. In other words, they don’t see it as a real problem. Some lazy slob doesn’t have a home and they ought to bootstrap themselves into prosperity. People tend to believe we control whether this kind of thing happens to us, thus there’s very low perception of homelessness as a national problem. It’s considered a personal problem.

homeless-carsMost people that are homeless are just like you. Usually they fall on bad times from the lose of a job or a house. Affordable housing is one of the most important factors to observe when predicting where the next homelessness crisis will strike. None of us is untouched by the human suffering of homelessness. You could be homeless tomorrow through no cause of your own. Contrary to the words of prominent politicians, homelessness isn’t something that only affects lazy moochers. Most homeless persons were gainfully employed just before they lost their homes. What this tells us is that a right to work is directly tied to a right to food and shelter.

homeless-sheltersAn increase in unemployment doesn’t have to mean an increase in homelessness if society provides humane safety nets for it’s citizens. But we have people actively lobbying against protecting citizens from the tyranny of companies. There are people who actually believe that we ought to live on the whims of employers. They enforce this by dismantling social services which help citizens who fall on hard times (which happens for any number of reasons like family changes, deaths, illness, unemployment, disabilities, etc). These people say that welfare makes us weak and discourages people from trying. Being poor is therefore seen as a crime.

I ask that you look at the homeless ordinances in your hometown. Learn how your neighborhood treats the least of you. Read up on the statistics of homeless persons near you and learn what’s being done to solve the problem. I won’t ask you to write legislation or attend rallies or even to vote. All I ask is that you learn about the issue in your community. Be aware of how your neighbors are treated and what your city is doing about it. Awareness can go a long ways and it’s a start. Only you can decide what to do with what you know.

For those in the Los Angeles area and California region generally, here’s some resources to help you get up to speed on things in our neighborhood.

Keep in mind that the distance between shelters can be extremely far, so if you’re looking for shelters and centers you’ll need to look them up locally.

Do You Have An Identity?

Blaugust 8th 


Do you? Are you sure?

Well in the US you don’t unless someone gives you an identity. Does that offend your sense of being? You don’t exist unless someone Official tells you that you do. Your appearance won’t change anyone’s mind about this. Simply occupying space isn’t enough to prove that you’re really there. You could claim to be anything, including human, if you don’t have an identity card. But if you have this card, we’ll know for sure that you have a right to breathe and walk around and do things like vote.

This is the stuff of sci-fi novels, denying humans rights on the basis of some arbitrary legal requirement that politicians know will disenfranchise the citizenry. I know there are those who would say that requiring ID to walk around a country makes sense because we have to be able to identify citizens from non-citizens. To that I say: and why is it important to distinguish the two? And they’ll answer with more legal justifications:

And probably more excuses that I can’t fathom the importance of when it comes to human rights. Here’s a question: if a poor family showed up on my doorstep, starved, sick from exposure, destitute and speaking only a foreign language, I have a right to turn them away and even call the cops. That’s the law. But don’t I also have a moral duty to feed them and assist them with their healthcare in any way that I’m able? Is turning them away simply because it’s legal somehow justification for not doing what is right?

Voter ID laws seek to undo what was done when Obama was elected president of the USA. For those on the outside, this reference to Obama has to do with how it was possible to elect a black man, the first time my country has ever had a President that wasn’t white and male. The minority vote was crucial and decades of voter data show that conservatives struggle to win the approval of certain minority groups, usually all of them. When more people vote, the Republican party tends to lose. This hasn’t been a problem for them in the past, as minorities were a minority and all these politicians needed to focus on was the white male vote. That’s changed dramatically since Obama. They know now that they can no longer win elections on this demographic. So their approach is to change who gets to vote. They’ll cry illegals, and criminals and all other things to mask the fact that they want to disenfranchise the voters who don’t vote for them. That’s the bottom line: if you’re not voting for me, you can’t vote at all. All of their policies seek to decrease the number of eligible voters, instead of increasing them which is what every politician elected to offices ought to do.

These charlattans use voter scams all the time and they find them unobjectionable when it’s in their favor. One cannot deny that Florida has been rigging presidential elections for over a decade, but since those machines tend to favor conservative candidates, blindeye is the policy. The bottom-line is that the more people that vote, the less likely the Republican party is to win that election. So they have a political interest in disenfranchising voters and their policies aim to prevent voting, not help get more voters to the polls.

A note about this rant: I don’t actually believe that there are two political groups in my country, conservatives and liberals, but I believe people use these labels anyway because they’re easy to understand. When I say conservative, I’m referring only to those who label themselves as such, the self-proclaimed conservatives. And these are the politicians bothering themselves over voter ID laws.

Second to note is that voter ID laws share a lot in common with poll-taxes and literacy tests, in that they conveniently are inapplicable to those who want to implement them because the criteria is based on things they have. The assumption is that only legitimate citizens can afford to vote, and others who are indeed citizens but who are non-the-less illegitimate in the eyes of the majority, can be prevented from voting by requiring things of them that they find it difficult to acquire.

Identification is one of those things.

Law mandates that anything the government requires us to have must be given to us. The law can’t say that we must have ID’s and then charge us money to get them. This is why voter ID law has been stricken down at the federal level. If conservatives want ID to be mandatory, then they have to distribute those ID’s for free. And we all know how they feel about government giving out anything. It’s about principles people. Stand on them!

I wish people had the fortitude to be honest in our modern times. It’s annoying to see so many cowardly politicians and citizens hide behind clever wording, and manipulative legislation instead of coming right out and telling us what they really believe. But these people know that they’d be rejected out of hand were they to be honest. People find people repulsive who slander others, citing the law, while refusing to help those others because they have dire need. Just like the poor family on my doorstep above. These self-proclaimed conservatives believe in principles, they say. And I’d have to agree. It’s just that these principles don’t include compassion for human beings. It’s all about sticking it to’em and rigid laws and following rules without ever addressing real people’s needs.

What I Want (from “New” MMOs)

Blaugust 7th


To put it bluntly, I want something new.

And not just 1 new thing. I want 90% of what I experience to be new. New doesn’t mean giving me a new coat of paint. It means using something other than paint altogether.

When I reflect on my MMO history I’ve noticed that every time I lose interest in them is when I realize that their features are too much like what I loved about WoW. The thing is, I don’t want to play WoW. It’s difficult to appreciate game features that you feel have been done already, and done in a way that you already love. Moving to a new game means seeking new experiences. And you can’t have a new experience by doing the same thing.

There’s a valid point to be made that in MMOs, players are the dynamic factor that keeps things fresh. That’s true, but let’s ask ourselves: How do people behave in your super market? Is it different from how they behave in the supermarket in the next town over? How about at diners: do people not behave the same way from restaurant to restaurant? And driving: it’s slightly different in Canada than in the USA, but mostly it’s the same experience isn’t it? While people can make the same old things have a different feel, it won’t make the experience of doing those things feel new. It’s like eating red gumballs versus green gumballs. It’s still a gumball, just with new color and slightly tangier.

When I say I want a new MMO, I mean it in the most basic sense of the word. New. Something I haven’t seen or something I haven’t tried. Some may say “that’s impossible! Nothing is completely new!” and I’d say I’m not asking the impossible. I’m asking for the basics not the extremes, and the word “impossible” is an extreme. Let’s take for example a wind turbine, those gigantic fans towering over the Earth which are used to generate wind energy. There’s a similar looking device in my bedroom. It spins just the same, has the same basic visual design, but these two items perform completely different functions and operate on different energy. It’s true that the design principles are the same, but the execution is radically different. The wind farms are something genuinely new. They’ve taken an old concept and created something new in this sense. I want something new from MMOs.

As the years pass I’m starting to believe that this “something new” won’t come. The industry at large is better at copying than it is at creating. Such is the nature of a capitalist economy. But that doesn’t mean that something new is impossible. I plan to still play MMOs when I’m 70 so there’s still time for me to experience something new. I just wish upcoming MMOs were actually bringing something fresh for players instead of mixing the gumballs in with the chocolate drops, or adding Canadian roads to American intersections, or forcing the fan in my room to run on wind energy. If you think these examples sound bizarre, this is how I experience so-called “new” MMOs, which tend to be frankensteins composed of varying pieces of older games. I don’t think these games are awful for trying. I just don’t find them interesting enough to buy them or lay down roots in them.

Widstar is a game I think was rather fun, but not enough to spend $60 on and recently there was discussion about players like me, who think the game is good, but who can’t be bothered to play it. Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World were MMOs I heavily anticipated and I wound up playing neither, though I at least bought the latter. Warlords of Draenor is, oddly, more appealing to me than Elder Scrolls or Wildstar, even though they’re probably better. My foundational MMOs are Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft, though. So experiences that feel too similar to those make me rather default to those games for my MMO cravings than to these “new” ones. I suspect that’s somewhat the same for all of us on some level. So when will we get an MMO which really brings something new? We won’t even see it coming, tbh. Oh, I’m sure there’s still plenty of joy in the current batch of MMOs. I don’t discount their value, fun factor, or cool features. Those are all true and I respect what they do.

I just want something new.

Scree Tags: #blaugust #mmorpg #gamedesign