Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday Games: DC Shooting


Doesn't this mean violence is going down?

By now, most of you have heard about the shooting in a naval yard in Washington DC. I hadn't heard about it until I called my dad and asked him why the flags were at half-mast. Frankly, it's horrible and I'm appalled at how these things keep happening.

Also appalling? The media has, yet again, pointed the finger at video games being the root cause of this incident. Of course they did. Right away, let's just point out that there is almost literally no actual science that supports any of these claims. Let's also mention that I've been to panels about this exact topic (Kelli Dunlap Rules!). There is an unbelievable amount of bias in the media about this topic, and I'm pretty tired of it. Take a look at most of the articles that are out there about this incident. Almost all of them make mention that the perpetrator was an avid video gamer. To the point that he would play shooters for 16 hours a day or more... y'know... like a normal person...

A lot of these stories are careful not to point out a direct causal relationship to his violent act and his gaming habits, but in mentioning video games at all, they're playing to a social stigma that already exists. I really wish there was some way to educate the normal masses on what science is and how it works, or better yet, how it explains things in our world around us.


Kotaku has an excellent article with some pretty awesome video clips about the shooting. Fox News has a very great way of pointing out things that have summarily been proven to be incorrect or just wrong. At one point in a video in the article, the host brings up the comment "Every time something bad like this happens we look at is there a connection between video games and the shooter?" Then he proceeds to talk about all the most recent and heinous shootings and their perpetrators. Has it not registered to anyone that video games are so popular that it is reported that 97% of teens play games, 50% of which in the last day or so? Or how about the fact that the Entertainment Software Association says that the average gamer is 30?

Later, a comment is made that violent video games need a warning. Are they talking about the ESRB rating that says when a game is made for a certain age group? Or do they mean a warning that says a game might be addicting (although that science is dubious at best!)? With both of these comments, the shooters were old enough to legally purchase and own the games they played.

Then one of the hosts suggests that we gamers need to have "frequency testing" to determine how often these games are being played. Should I even need to go into why monitoring video game usage is not something that should happen? Why not monitor alcohol consumption for people? I know plenty of people from college that nearly failed or did fail because of the amount of booze they consumed. How about those parents I know that consumed so much alcohol they couldn't be a person, much less a parent. Let's monitor their usage. Are you telling me, media people, that Video Games are that big of a threat? Big enough to warrant monitoring?

There is an entire episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit! about this EXACT thing, it's worth watching (there is some adult language):

Sigh, I could talk about this all day.

Hit me with comments,
-Jack

PS Please read the Kotaku Article, it's fantastic.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

DC Comics Forbids Gay Marriage


Today I bring to you an article that features a double whammy: A topic that's hot right now, and a topic that's related to something nerdy: Comic Books. As the title tells: DC Comics is forbidding the depiction of a gay marriage between Batwoman and her girlfriend. Interestingly, at the same time, the creative team responsible for this comic has quit. Coincidence?
Kate's proposal to Margie
Batwoman is, of course, the female counterpart to Batman. These days in comics, Batwoman is the caped identity to a woman named Kate Kane. Her story is currently being published in what's called the New 52. The New 52 is a DC reboot attempt where they cancelled all existing comic book runs and rebooted 52 new ones. In typical Gotham fashion, Kate became the Batwoman after a series of traumatic events in her life. Her mother and twin sister were abducted by terrorists and executed in front of her before she was saved by a military task force. In an effort to try and bring direction to her life, she joined the marines but was dishonorably discharged after they found out she was a lesbian. As a side note it's interesting that this character has been gay for the entirety of her run in comics. She finally found direction in her life when she was about to be mugged/raped/killed and was saved by the Batman. Eventually Kate met a police officer named Margie Sawyer. Sawyer is a police captain working in Gotham who is in charge of a special unit.



The two writers, J. H. Williams III and Haden Blackman, have been writing this comic for over 3 years now. It is a very sudden change, but apparently there was a lot happening behind the scenes that lead up to this decision. An official statement was issued by the writers that outlines a lot of problems that people have suspected. For example, twitter posts as well as the official statement point to last minute changes, and insisting the authors ignore previous histories of characters. To put it simply, the authors felt like much of their creativity was being restricted. Some of those last minute changes came after months and years of planning - enough cause to make any sane person angry. On this issue they were told that they could engage the two characters but that "no marriage could result." Williams and Blackman are slated to leave the comic after December.
She liberated the hell out of herself.
This is not the first time DC has made a controversial decision. Indeed, lately DC seems to be tripping all over itself. In fact, DC making bad decisions has become a thing. Personally, I'm a little irritated by their missed opportunities. The New 52 was rebooting some powerful women characters that could have been a spectacular opportunity to break out of the sexism of comics. Instead, we get Catwoman in a 2 page panel where she's boning Batman. Oh, I forgot to mention that this same Catwoman comic shows her boobs and butt before we see her face. Another of their series, Starfire, depicts a very powerful super woman named Starfire. Their version of the "liberated" female character is dressing her in the smallest bikinis imaginable and having sex with everyone she meets. To translate, DC tells us it's okay to exploit women, but not to show them getting married. To be fair, they might not be against gay marriage, just marriage in general. When's the last time you saw a comic book character get married? Y'know, Marvel had a gay marriage just recently...






Oh DC... what have you done this time.

Thoughts? Comments?
-Jack

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday Games! 9/3/13

These past few weeks have seen some interesting developments in the world of Video Games. Of note: PAX 2013 took place and it was the 10th one ever. It's pretty great knowing that I was able to attend it once, and I'm hoping to go back next year. I've compiled a short list of video games and news about what's coming up in the near future. Just a few games that caught my eye...

PAX 2013

Probably my favorite piece of gaming news for now: PAX Prime was this past weekend in Seattle. Some of you may remember that I attended last year, and it was totally awesome. There are tons of panels, tons of booths, and tons of people to see and talk to at PAX, it's a pretty awesome time. There are a few noteworthy things that came out of all the PAX Prime news this year, but what most caught my eye is the new game by Gearbox.

A new Homeworld game is being made! Homeworld is a sci-fi series that was based around fleet actions. It's a real-time strategy game that is so expansive that you were allowed to build massive fleets of capital ships, escorts, and fighters. It was so in-depth, that you could actually follow the actions of individual fighters. It was a difficult game that required a high attention to detail. The new game is called "Shipbreakers" and appears to be a brand new game rather than a remake. Should be fun to see, it'll be produced by Gearbox Entertainment. Check out some of the news sites for more info, there's a lot of indie stuff that came out of PAX this year.

X-Com: Enemy Within


It has come out recently that there is going to be a pretty large expansion to X-Com Enemy Unknown, a game released this past year. They are adding the option to upgrade your soldiers with cybernetics and genetics. It would appear they are making an attempt to balance the game more between humans and aliens. My guess is that this will make the game much more aggressive, allowing humans to charge up the middle better than they used to.

It's going to be a large expansion, requiring a full separate game for those people silly enough to buy it on console. I was a huge fan of the original, so when it came out I made sure to purchase this remake. It does pretty good service to the original, but there are a few things I would have changed. Regardless, I still spent many hours playing this new version and quite enjoyed it.

With this expansion, it feels like it will play more like a new version of the old Syndicate game. Some of you may get what I'm talking about. It was a pretty awesome game back in the 90s... back when games were still difficult (ahem!). I played Syndicate a ton, so making this game feel more like that is a bonus in my book.

Space Hulk: Deathwing


A studio called Streum on Studio is creating a new Warhammer 40k Game called Deathwing. The idea is to bring the awesome action of the Space Hulk boardgame, and the original Space Hulk video game, to a new generation of gamers. It will be an FPS game taking place on huge, dilapidated space ships called space hulks. In this universe, their ships are massive, reaching more than 15 kilometers long on some of the larger ones. What will make this game interesting is that these ships, similar to our own ocean-going vessels, are limited on space. A hulking space marine in a huge set of armor can't move around all that well in cramped corridors.

I think the game could be an excellent combination of horror and action. The player will be fighting an alien species called the Tyranids - which is what the Zerg from Starcraft are based upon. In a simpler explanation, the aliens are giant insects that consume everything in their path. In particular, they will consume any biomass they encounter to add to their own species. Think of them as a biological Borg species that adapts what it consumes. I think this makes for a potentially awesome game, and I pretty much have no choice but to buy it.


There you have it. Looking forward to some upcoming games. Talk at you again, soon!
-Jack

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Batfleck - Why All the Hate?


Rumors tell tale that the sequel to Man of Steel will be a Batman vs Superman movie. If you haven't heard, Ben Affleck was cast recently into playing Batman/Bruce Wayne. In the DC Universe, Batman covers Gotham city while Superman covers Metropolis and much of the rest of the world. So it's not so weird as you might think. In the same way that the Marvel Universe has a million superheroes (X-men, Fantastic 4, Avengers, etc), the DC universe has them as well.

Anyway, the initial reactions to Affleck being cast as Batman have been negative to say the least. I have even seen a few sites that offer a top 10 list of tweets bashing the casting choice. Some of the comments are pretty funny, others just seems rude. Why all the Affleck hate? For a long time, Ben Affleck has been criticized for his acting. People usually cite Gigli as their evidence for his poor acting skills, but I've seen the guy really turn it on before. Of course, people LOVE to bring up his, probably most relevant role, Daredevil. Admittedly, the role of Daredevil was not his best.
Responses have been... interesting
I have a few ideas of my own about this. Probably my most compelling argument for Affleck: He plays a really good tortured soul. Some of the movies in which he's played a tortured soul: Argo, The Town, Chasing Amy, Dogma... etc. Even in Gigli, which was a ridiculous movie, had him playing a tortured soul - and these moments were not the worst in the film. I've watched it beginning to end, so test me if you really want to. Even Daredevil, which was a pretty bad movie, or at least not good, saw him in this same role. I think the guy knows how to play pain, and I think the guy can draw on this experience.

Experience is key here. Ben Affleck has already, essentially, played Batman from another universe: Daredevil. It doesn't take much thinking to see that Daredevil is almost the same character as Batman - each are flawed, each lost their parents, each are rich, each fight crime, etc. I like to think of his Daredevil performance as a prep course for this role as Batman. As they say, practice makes perfect.

Look! He's already got the Bat-pose!
There are a slew of reasons that have arisen after the initial backlash that support the choice of Affleck as Batman. Even as a Batman fan, I can't disagree with most of them. For one, Matt Damon supports him, and Damon has a history of making some pretty great movies. In Damon's own words "You know, he's not playing King Lear." Which is an excellent point... it'll take much more acting talent to play Bruce Wayne than Batman.

Additionally, there is a writer over at Forbes named Mark Hughes that wrote a fantastic piece about Batfleck. Of the 6 reasons he lists for Ben Affleck, I strongly agree with 2 of them. First, in becoming a director (and a successful one!), he has a different perspective on acting and what acting is used for. Now, his acting will be informed by a different perspective than before. Again, practice makes perfect. Secondly, Hughes comments that super fans have had a pretty bad track record on determining who makes a good casting choice. People didn't like Daniel Craig as the choice for James Bond. Fans didn't like Tobey McGuire as Spiderman - While I didn't like those movies, I do think he played a decent Peter Parker. Most relevantly, people hated Michael Keaton as Batman back in 1989. Even though this film didn't really feature a good Batman (he killed, like, everyone), Keaton was great in the role of Bruce Wayne. Fans are so crazy, that they even started an official petition with the White House to get the president to step in and stop the casting.

I think all these haters are judging way too quickly. I'm sitting in the "hopeful" category, and I expect that, at the very least, Ben Affleck will deliver a decent job. If I were a betting man, I'd bet money that Affleck will do a good or even great job in the role, and I'm looking forward to it.


Thoughts?

-Jack

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Games!

E3 or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, was back in June. What stole the show then was information regarding the release of Microsoft's and Sony's newest consoles, the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, respectively. Because of the notoriously bad presentation of the Xbox One, these "next gen" consoles stole the show... but what about that games they showed there? Let's take some time to go over a few of the games that really caught my eye. These are the games I'm most looking forward to for the next generation of consoles.

The Order: 1886

This game caught my eye because it takes place in a Victorian Era England and features knights fighting Demons. There are so many ways that this is cool. First, the Victorian Era has a type of character and ambiance that is very appealing to a lot of people. It's even spawned it's own separate subculture, but notably it's a very gothic setting that appeals to a lot of people. There already exists other fictional universes that feature both gothic themes and supernatural themes quite heavily. In this case, the main characters appear to be normal humans, but with a twist. If you watch the trailer and listen, one of the men is called "Galahad." So this story isn't just about humans vs demons, it's a King Arthur story. Could be pretty awesome. The game is being developed by Ready at Dawn. It will be released on the Playstion 4.

Dying Light

From the brilliant minds that brought us Dead Island, Techland has revealed that Dying Light is their next big project. They showed the above video at E3 and the reception seems to have been pretty decent. This game is being described as a mixture of Dead Island and Mirror's Edge. For some people, these two references mean nothing, so let me explain: Dead Island is a first-person action-adventure game where the goal is to get off an island invested by different kinds of zombies. You can customize weapons along the way, use firearms, and level-up a character. It gets pretty great when you can swing a huge electric hammer at a zombie's head. Mirror's Edge is a first-person action-adventure game that features Parkour as the main mode of travel. It's set in a dystopian future where you play a courier for the resistance movement. Since you don't really have any guns in the game, it's important to evade capture and bullets. I admit that I'm a sucker for zombie games, I've owned quite a few in the time that they've been popular. Indeed, I'm not even tired of them yet, they just seem to be getting better. Dying Light will be released on both consoles.

Warframe

Warframe looks like it could be something quite different than we've seen recently. Based on the trailer, it looks like it could be start of a great new franchise. The studio in charge of this one isn't one I've heard of, Digital Extremes. However, the founder of this company was one of the guys who gave us the Unreal series, so I'm not going to judge early. From what I can tell, it's a far-future action game that features at least 2 different factions. One is highly militarized while the other appears to be some ancient technological species with far superior weapons and armaments. I don't know if you've gathered, but I love sci-fi. This will be released for the Playstation 4.

Star Wars: Battlefront



Battlefront was a franchise of Star Wars games deeply loved by many, myself included. I remember fondly rushing up the Jedi Temple doing my best to execute order 66. Or, my personal favorite, destroying as many droids as possible with my clone trooper trying to hold the line during the battle of Kashyyyk. It has been 10 years since a new one of these games has been released thanks, in part, to developers closing and the rights to the game shifting hands. Finally, EA has announced that they have DICE working on the next installment of this series. DICE is responsible for bringing us Battlefield 1942, so I'm fairly sure this game is in capable hands. Battlefront is a first-person shooter similar to the Battlefield or the Call of Duty franchises but set in the Star Wars universe. Really looking forward to hearing more about this one! It will probably be released on all major systems.

Titanfall

I'm really excited about this game. Probably the most excited about all of them. This is a new franchise being developed by a company called Respawn Entertainment. This company was founded by the two guys who brought us the original Call of Duty from the company Infinity Ward. For those of you unfamiliar, this was the company that made the good call of duties up until Modern Warfare 2. Titanfall is going to be a mech-based game that reminds me a lot of how I imagine the Battletech series should have been. I liked the Mechwarrior games, but this is a new take on all that. You can enter and exit mechs at will. Particularly pleasing to me is the idea that even infantry can be deadly, and the battlefield isn't dominated by just mechs. The game play looks phenomenal, and the level of action outpaces most of their competitors. As a debut game, this certainly has my attention. It will be released on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

I skipped a bunch of pretty good games that were revealed at E3. Honorable mention games are: Arma 3, Batman: Arkham Origins, DayZ Standalone, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Dead Rising 3, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

-Jack

Sunday, August 18, 2013

3 Common Misconceptions

In every day life we will come across many things that we think we know. Sometimes we know them accurately, but there are many times where we think we know something and it's actually wrong. These misconceptions are a part of our daily lives and I'd like to talk about them. Below you will find 3 common misconceptions that I came across recently.

Swear Words
First off, let's talk about something everyone loves. Swear words! There are so many of them to choose from, and they're all so deliciously flavored which makes it difficult to choose just one. However, I'll do just that, and stick with everybody's favorite swear: Fuck.

I'd like to begin by telling a story: When I was working for a large Oil company, my boss - a PhD engineer - loved to tell a story in meetings about where certain swear words came from. "Fuck" he would say, "is a hold-over from a time when the royalty of England were forbidden from visiting mistresses and brothels." The idea is that fornication was considered not just a sin, but against the law and carried a severe punishment. Legend says that, in order to circumvent this law, certain fortunate people would carry a written form giving them free reign to put their bits wherever they wanted. Such forms are thought to have said "Fornication Under Consent of King" and include a royal seal, giving these people a hall pass.

Despite what you may have heard, his is un-correct! In fact, the word comes from a place that makes total sense. The earliest written form of the word is believed to be in an old English poem from the fifteenth century. Incidentally, this is over 100 years before the Puritan movement got into power in England (the types of people who would pass a law against fornication). This poem is called Flen Flyys, and the author mentions how certain people won't go to heaven because they fuccant the wives of other people. You don't need to be a genius to figure out that context. Earlier than this, it is believed that the word came from a Scandinavian origin. There is a Norwegian word, fukka, and a Swedish word, focka, that both mean to copulate. This seems like a pretty logical origin of this word given our usage of it.


For further reading, you might find this amusing.

Napoleon's Height

I'm sure that some of you are familiar with the military leader Napoleon Bonaparte. He's a very famous French military leader who ended up ruining most of Europe's military in what began as the French Revolution and grew into the Napoleonic Wars. It's a pretty interesting part of world history since, for one, the Napoleonic Wars developed into a continent-spanning war that involved most (all?) of the major European powers. This war paved the way for some major political and national changes. For example, it saw the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and is said to have begun the German sense of nationalism that became famous in later years. Plus, this period of history has spawned some pretty cool games.

I have one of me just like this... only on a lion.
One of the things you hear about Napoleon was that he had a complex associated with an inferior stature, or an inferiority complex. The Napoleon Complex is a colloquial term used to describe an alleged psychological phenomenon in people, usually men, of short stature. The idea is that these people are driven to excel in spite of any physical disadvantages, and compelled to prove themselves just as good or better than their taller counterparts. These people are usually said to be egocentric and very driven - often to the point of isolation. This misconception is a double-whammy because first, shorter people are actually less aggressive than their taller counterparts on average. Second, Napoleon was above average height for his time period.

You see, when you were a country of any significance back in those days, you had your own units of measure. It can cause a lot of confusion when you say that Napoleon was 5"2' which is, technically, a correct statement. Unfortunately, you're not including what units you're measuring in... he was 5'2" if you base your conversion off British inches. In fact, they would have used the French Pouce. The difference is that British inches are 2.51 cm and the French Pouce is 2.71 cm. This is a difference of about 7% - the difference between 5'2" and 5'7". While below average for today's standards, 5'7" was above average in they days of Napoleon. Converting units can be hard, and no one knows this like NASA.

Space Ships Burning on Reentry
As most of you are probably familiar, things light on fire as they reenter the Earth's atmosphere. Take a look at this video of one of the space shuttles coming in... that's not a nice sunset. That's fire.


 What most of us have been lead to believe is that this happens as a result of friction caused by traveling through the atmosphere at such a rapid pace. It makes a lot of sense to us because almost all of us know what an Indian burn feels like (thanks, brothers!).

Despite common knowlede, or perhaps common sense, this is not true! The fire that burns outside a spaceship during reentry is due to a process called adiabatic heating. The short version is that when you're going through an atmosphere at really fast speeds, the gases will apply high pressure to the front/bottom of the spacecraft. Think of it like going down the highway with your hand out the window of your car. You can feel the wind resistance against your hand - this is a force being applied by smashing air molecules against your hand. Now think of doing that same thing, but going 25 times the speed of sound... or 18,000 mph.



In an adiabatic process, is a change of a system in which no heat is transferred. If you had a closed piston system, like a bike pump with the end closed, and you pressed down on the pump, the existing gases trapped in the piston would be forced into a smaller volume. Since you're not taking out any gases, the pressure increases. This increase in pressure accompanies an increase in activity of the molecules trapped, which causes the heat of the system to rise. Heat is essentially a measure of how energetic molecules are. In a colder system, molecules move slower. In a hotter system, the molecules move faster.


To summarize, you're putting so much pressure on a space ship on reentry that the gasses will actually ignite against the hull of the ship. The result is a pretty awesome looking fireball.

I'd like to write about more misconceptions in the future. So stick around!

-Jack

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Star Wars


Soon there will be a new comic being released that will be called "The Star Wars". This comic will be an 8 issue series about the rough draft of Star Wars originally written by George Lucas before the first film had even begun to be produced. This originally story was vastly different from what ended up being released. As a huge Star Wars fan, I'm pretty excited to see what they're going to do with the story.

Kane Skywalker with his sons Annikin and Deak
One of the major differences in the rough draft is that Luke Skywalker is no longer the focus of the story. In the rough draft, Luke is actually a secondary character that ends up aiding the main protagonist. This hero goes by a name familiar to most of us: Annikin Starkiller. In this story, Luke is no longer a young, naive farm boy. Instead, he's a wisened Jedi in his prime. He's seated comfortably in a position of power in the government of their home planet, an aristocratic world. His role is to help Annikin and his father, Kane Starkiller, to right the wrongs of this unusual world.

Annikin and his father Kane go off to defeat the Sith that have infiltrated their home planet. In order to do so, they contact Luke, and Luke's smuggler friend, Han Solo. Interestingly, in the rough draft, Solo was a reptilian alien called an Ureallian. Chewbacca makes an appearance as well... interestingly not as Solo's best friend. In the rough draft, Wookiees would hunt Ureallians for sport - so these two species never really got along. I think there could be an interesting dynamic that occurs here if they actually do become inseparable buddies like in the films we know.
Alternate cover featuring Darth Vader

The comic is going to be produced by Dark Horse Comics, who have a history of releasing quality Star Wars literature in comic book form. Additionally, Dark Horse has a history of producing stories that get adapted to well known films: The Mask, Sin City, Hellboy, 300 to name a few. I'm a big enough fan of Star Wars and Comic Books in general (I've even written about it before) that I'm convinced this is going to be worth my time to read.


For any of you interested, the first issue of the comic will be released September 4th. So who among you is going to buy me this first issue!?

-Jack

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Marvel Movie News

San Diego Comic Con was the weekend before last, and there was a LOT of great information that came out of it. Whether you're interested in the movies that are being produced or the written comics, they had everything there. Even if you're there just for general geek/nerd news, there was plenty to satiate your geeky hunger.

Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon finally told us what the next Avengers movie was going to be called and, I think, mostly what it's going to be about: Ultron. When I heard the news, I admit I peed a little. Thanks to the comic series Conquest, Ultron became of the coolest Marvel baddies around.

In summary, Ultron is an android created by Doctor Hank Pym. Some of you may know him as Ant Man (or giant man). Currently, they're making a movie about him, so pop culture will get to know him better soon. Like all comic characters, Ultron's backstory is not easy to decipher, but in one of the more recent shows - Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which you should totally watch - He was created by Pym to be a security guard for a super-villain prison. Stuff happened, and he became a baddie. What makes him great is his ability to adapt. As long as Ultron has access to a computer, he can transfer his mind to a suitable storage device. This is significant because when you think you've finally defeated him, he'll come back with upgrades designed to destroy whatever flaw was exploited the last time he was defeated.

There are some awesome Ultron scenes.

For the next Avengers movie, Ant Man will not be present, which raises some interesting questions about where he comes from in this movieverse. The fan-favorite origin is that Tony Stark will create him. I can see how this could happen after the results of Iron Man 3. If any of you are interested, you can view an interview with Joss Whedon about Avengers 2 here.

Guardians of the Galaxy

The other news that really caught my eye was more news from another movie Marvel making: Guardians of the Galaxy. First of all, I want it known that the Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite story lines in comics. Coming out of the Annihilation Wave in a very organic way, Dan Abnett was able to create an extremely fun team of superheroes. This group of individuals is such a mis-match of characters that it was a risk - but it really paid off. The character interactions are wonderful, and the comics have a ton of great humor mixed in with a cosmic story... and I likes me some space opera.

Most of the Guardians pictured here.

The guardians have a wonderful lineup of varied characters some I like, some I love. One of the best aspects of the comic is the relationship between the members of the guardians - it adds a layer that isn't in a lot of other comics. Plus, this one has a talking tree in it, who's best friends with a talking raccoon... so there you go. James Gunn directing this movie is an unknown for me, but if he can bring the same quirkiness of "Super" to this film, I think it'll be a great experience. 

Surprisingly, only 10 days after shooting some footage, they were able to show a fair amount of material to the audience. I'm particularly excited at the prospect of Chris Pratt playing Star Lord. What is supposed to be a funny character is being played by an extremely funny person. It should be pretty great. In addition, the movie features the physical and acting talents of Dave Bautista of WWE fame. Yes, I remember him from then... that dude is HUGE. I'm eager to see what he brings to the screen since, I believe, this is his first real venture into the movieverse.

Most excited? I admit, I'm most excited about Cosmo.

-Jack

Monday, July 15, 2013

Video Games and Mental Health Science vs Stigma

At RTX 2013, I had the rare opportunity to listen to an extremely educational panel about mental health among gamers. The study was/is being performed by Kelli Dunlap, also known as Goosechecka through the Grifballhub community. Currently, Goose is finishing her doctorate in psychology and is trying to get her research published. The research she chose to do is on the mental health of regular gamers. Specifically, she is trying to focus on the current stigma that gamers are in some way damaged people. At one point, she told a story about how she "outed" herself as a gamer to her colleagues and was met with responses like, "I didn't know you were one of them." Pure comedy, that.
One of Us!
The panel was quite enjoyable to watch, and extremely informative. Kelli is clearly passionate about her research (and about her hobby!) and it comes out when she speaks about it. Of note is her ability to understand the  current research. It's one thing to read a study that someone else has published, but it's something entirely different to be able to take it apart and see where it is most flawed. In the case of Kelli, she not only disassembled the most widely cited research to date, she very clearly showed how these studies are flawed and damaging to the current views of gaming.


Mrs. Dunlap's research is targeted towards testing the current media and social stigmas that surround video games. I don't think anyone will disagree that there is still a negative stigma about gaming and gamers. The panel addressed the current belief that violent video games causing violent behavior - something that most of us have heard about. Kelli also addressed the stigma of who plays video games -  the current image of gamers being overweight, awkward, children who hang out in their parents' basements. Interestingly, one of the more popular shows on television, Big Bang Theory, includes most of these stereotypes. It is important to Kelli, in addressing mental heath of gamers, to discuss these current stigmas.

As Mrs. Dunlap began by pointed out that her study was performed on gamers themselves. In many of the previous studies, this sort of research was performed on everyone, not just people who identify themselves as gamers. This is the difference between studying animals in a zoo vs in their own habitat. The participants in her study were asked to take a survey that included a number of questions about their perceived mental health, their gaming habits, their work lives, their home lives - all sorts of things. In total, these surveys had over 400 questions. They waited 30 days to send out the same survey to the people taking the studies. During the 30 day time lapse, Kelli used Raptor data on gamer's gaming habits. Raptor is a program that monitors length of play and types of games. This is important because you're sampling gamers in their "natural habitat" you're not giving them a random game that they may not like, you're testing them playing the games they want to play in their own homes under their own schedules. It's an important distinction that observing gamers, rather than anyone who is available for the test. Additionally, these people are not in a laboratory setting, which has a tendency to modify behavior on its own.

Kelli ended up taking all this data and collating it in a few ways that would address the issues from her study. Interestingly, one of the only things that accurately predicted mental states was a gamer's expectations of playtime vs. actual playtime. What this means it that the gamers that didn't play as much as they have expected to (wanted to?) play were the ones to show more mental health symptoms like depression and "trait anger," which is a fancy way of saying their normal level of anger - without external stimuli. Additionally, this result only explained a very small effect. Something like 1% of her samples had this correlation. Of note at this point is that people who live in an altered mental state (like depression, like constant anger) tend to see the world differently than normal people. I know... it's shocking and I was just as blown away as you are...

This opened the door to another question that Kelli wanted to answer: do your beliefs about gaming affect your gaming habits? In order to answer this question, it had to be broken down even further:

Do you use video gaming as a replacement for therapy?
-are you using gaming in stead of seeking professional help?
Do you use video games to socialize or are video games your main way to socialize?
-do you socialize while you game, or are you of the opinion that gaming is the only way you can socialize?
Do you use video games to relax or are you using video games to lose yourself?
-do you play games to relax, or are you finding that you lose track of time and that you only reluctantly stop playing games?

According to the data collected in the study, Kelli found that the only group of people who accurately predicted their play habits were those people who use gaming as a form of relaxation. The other two groups didn't show any real connection to their expected play vs actual play.

 Now Kelli addressed the juicy part of her study: Do games cause any sort of pathology? Meaning, do playing video games actually change your behaviors or cause any sort of long-term affect on mood? What Kelli found was that duration of play in video games causes NO affect on mental state. Based on the responses of the people taking the study, the gamers that played games much more than others had no difference in their mental health. Second, the results showed that people who played shooters - games like Halo and Call of Duty - showed a reduction in anxiety. When I asked Kelli if there was anything in her study that really blew her mind, she said it was this. No one expected that this type of game would actually help reduce anxiety. Lastly, their study showed that anyone who plays a non-shooter game showed a slight increase in state anger - the type of anger one feels caused by something outside themselves and is temporary. Of note, however, was the fact that gamers show less state anger than the average person, even with their "heightened" levels.

So what does all this mean? That's a very good question and it was addressed during the panel. It turns out that using gaming another way to interact socially tends to reduce depression levels. Those people that play games with their friends or to make new friends tended to have a lowered state of depression. Those people that play video games as a way to relax after work or after a difficult week showed reduced levels of anxiety after playing first-person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty. If you want to chill out and just play some Halo, chances are that it will reduce your anxiety. People who use video games as a form of therapy, and this is clinical levels of depression or anxiety disorders, should know that gaming showed no affect on mood. If you need therapy, you should get it. Video games will not substitute proper therapy. Of note is that these affects only work on people who are in a currently healthy state of mind. Meaning that people who would be on the negative spectrum of gaming (only happy while playing, or can't socialize other than gaming) would have little benefit from playing games.

The last point I would like to address from this panel is one that cannot be answered by this study. Does a negative use of gaming affect your mood or does the current negative perception of gaming affect your mood? To make the distinction, negative use of gaming is when you can't make friends outside of gaming, or using gaming as therapy could be what actually affects your mood. Constant lack of success in endeavors outside of gaming, and going to gaming to fix your problems, could be what is creating a mood disorder. On the other side of this issue: is it people in your life telling you that gaming is only for socially ostracized people, or people who can't make friends, what's actually causing your pathology? Have you learned from their negative perceptions of gaming to view gaming as a negative activity? The study can't address these issues and it's a fundamental question that would be very difficult to study.

To Summarize, according to this study:
1) Gamers are not any crazier than anyone else.
2) In the absence of external stimuli, gaming will not make you crazy.
3) Gaming is a great way to socialize so long as it's not your only way to socialize.
4) Games are a great way to relax, but people can get lost in them.
5) Video games will NOT replace therapy - seek help if you need it.

Kelli won a $10k scholarship from Twitch.tv, Alienware, and SteelSeries to aid her research

Please, those of us who are gamers: don't let society dictate how you feel about gaming. We love the games we play and we love the hobby. This is not something we should ever apologize for. Keep things in moderation, and make sure you are happy with who you are.

-Jack

If you'd like to see a similar panel at PAX, check here

Thank you, Kelli, for proofreading this for me <3

Images courtesy of Twitch.tv

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

RTX 2013

Over the 4th of July weekend, I was able to attend the Rooster Teeth Expo called RTX. Rooster Teeth is a production company based in Austin, TX that specializes in internet content. Their most famous production is probably Red vs. Blue, but they've managed to grow and branch out to other projects. Currently, one of their more favored segments is Achievement Hunter, for example.

Characters from Red vs Blue

Sweet Cosplay
This year they played host to some 10,000 convention goers, no small feat considering the first convention was in 2010. There were many different booths to see, and many different panels to go to. Admittedly, I thought the convention floor got a little stale after the first day. Despite the fact that there were plenty of people there, I found that the convention was a bit small. I know you're probably thinking that 10k people isn't a small convention, but when you consider that you can see all the exhibits within an hour, what are you going to do with the other 2 days of the convention?
The 501st always does the best Cosplay
The answer is: Panels. I really loved the panels here. The top panel on my list is probably the Richard Garriott panel about the new game that he's developing called Shroud of the Avatar. In an unfortunate turn of events, the game is going to be an MMO. I say unfortunate because I never really got involved in this type of game. However, after seeing the demo they put out, I can honestly say that I'm pretty eager to see more of this game. Also on the panel with Garriott was his trusted coworker Starr Long. While Garriott's alter-ego from the Ultima universe is Lord British, Long's alter-ego is Blackthorn. I know for most of you this is way over your head... so let me just tell you this: Ultima is the game that basically started online and adventure gaming in general. You know what... that's an irresponsible comparison. It basically started modern gaming as we see it now. Garriott is what I would consider the visionary and dreamer while Long is more in charge of the business side of things - a person to ground Garriott.
Starr Long on left, Richard Garriott on right

Second on my list of panels that I truly enjoyed was one put on by a young woman currently pursuing her PhD. Her panel was about how mental health is connected to video games and the myths that we often see on television and in the news. This was a remarkable panel with a lot of information. The speaker herself, Kelli, was extremely well-poised and definitely knew her audience. She was able to lay out all the info in a way that made sense and was pretty easy to follow. I would love nothing more than to tell you more about this panel, but I'll try to save that for it's own post later.

That brings me to something I wanted to talk to you about: Conventions. For those of you that have never gone to a convention about something you care about, I urge you to go. There is a certain type of energy there that feeds on itself - something caused by being surrounded by like-minded people. It's exhilarating, it's terrifying, and it's addicting in equal parts. At a convention such as this, there is something for everyone. I loved speaking with the people about the deeper philosophical issues of gaming and gaming culture. For example, the panel about Mental Health and Video Games was extremely stimulating and I had some very lovely conversations with people before and after the panel. I was able to speak with game developers about their games, about my lamentations of the current status of the gaming industry, and about my hopes for their games. I was even able to give them some "advice" to put it generously.
I think that guy on the left is in every one of my spartan pictures...
I will fully admit that I'm a pretty niche kind of market, and have some pretty esoteric knowledge when it comes to video games (have any of you seen or played Cataclysm? How about Dwarf Fortress? Salem?). My thanks to my friends for tolerating my habit... my love to Lady Kay for supporting it.
This was a great costume
I digress, conventions are a place where I can go and be fully immersed in a hobby that I love. It's a place where I can talk to the people that create these things that I love. Currently, I'm in love with Borderlands 2, and I was able to speak face-to-face with one of the 2K developers at PAX last year, it was incredible. This year, I got to speak with one of the developers from Cadenza Interactive, Nick Mazmanian, about the game they are currently developing, The Wanderer, and their most recent game Retrovirus. In all honesty, I'm thrilled to have been given the chance to speak with Maz. It's was a great conversation about the industry and about gaming in general, and it left me feeling more excited about what's possible. Maz is a great guy, thanks to him for giving me something to write about.

Cadenza Interactive's next game

To wrap it up, find a convention for something that you are enthused about. I'm sure there are quilting conventions if that's your thing. There are tons of nerd-type conventions that you can go to (sci-fi, fantasy, comics, video games, film), and I know there are conventions for many other hobbies as well. Go talk to the people that share your interests and ask them questions, be enthusiastic. You'll make friends and hopefully you'll learn something new.

It's a good time for being a geek/nerd!

That's a lady on the left. Seriously.
-Jack

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My Brush With Greatness, a Patrick Stewart Tale

I know that I've written about my experiences at Comicpalooza 2013 already, but there is one crucial experience that I've saved for its own post. I hope you can understand why I've saved it. My lady, Kay, and I have experienced much together while we've been dating, but this one memory will always be with us, and it's something that we'll cherish forever.

Some of you know my lady, and I'm sure you will all agree that she's a special person. She's gentle, kind, and above everything else, empathetic. In fact, in my entire life, I've never met anyone with the same capacity for empathy as she. It's something that's made me a better person, and something for which I'm extremely thankful. When I think about what she overcame to be this way, I realize that it makes her an even more amazing person.

Kay, has been a victim of some of the most heinous domestic violence I have ever heard. In fact, she cried herself to sleep almost every night for a week when she found out that her home life was that which my family has nightmares. The physical abuse started early in her family. Having issues controlling his hands, her father would often slap his daughters and wife around, or just content himself with throwing them into furniture and choking them. Occasionally, when he was in a particularly educational mood, he would "teach them lessons" that would result in broken bones. "I told you never to use my tools" would precede him using a wrench to break her fingers. It's interesting that the abuse was often times not provoked. For example, there was a time when her Father tried to help her out by breaking her left arm. Since she's left-handed, he wanted to make sure she would survive in a "right-handed person's world." I think this paints a clear picture of a woman who would find men intimidating.

If you fast forward through many long years of this abuse, you would arrive at the time she moved out when her father choked her over finishing the last cup of coffee. We had been seeing each other on and off for about a year at this point. I knew that I was entering into a world about which I know nothing... a big fear of mine. However, there are very few times in my life where the right path has seemed more apparent. She moved out and stayed with me for about a month while I helped her to find her own place. Since then, she has stated that this was one of the more difficult things she's ever done. It took her another year to tell me that, when she went home to get her stuff, she endured another beating over having told me something that was "none of my business."

Let's move past this, and I apologize. I am only trying to supply you all with context... to help you understand the magnitude of what happened to us at Comicpalooza. As some of you have heard, Sir Patrick Stewart is a strong opponent of domestic violence and, in fact, a very active member of his community. I had known this long before I had planned on going to Comicpalooza, but Kay did not. When we found out that he was going to be there, I made sure to educate her about his activism. Some of his stories hit her pretty close to home, as he had endured much domestic violence in his own home as a boy.

Because of our experiences in dealing with this, and because of this connection she shares with him, we decided to do whatever we could to meet the man. This required postponing a trip, and moving a flight back, for a day... but it was entirely worth it. As we waited in line, I asked her what she wanted to say to him (knowing full well what her answer would be).

After the better part of an hour we finally came up to the man and he immediately began signing his name on the picture we had chosen (a classic picture of Picard!). He managed to write "Patrick" before Kay says to him, "Sir, I just wanted to thank you for-" And he interrupted with a "What?" Being a very shy woman, and intimidated by men, she is very soft spoken. This did not phase her even a bit, because she was determined to say this, "I just wanted to thank you for your words to Amnesty International against domestic violence."

Sir Stewart leaned back in his chair, pausing as he looked at her. I think he began seeing her as more than just another fan.

"It's truly a terrible thing for a child to experience this kind of violence. In fact, not one hour ago, I posted on twitter about a petition in the UK about this. Do you have Twitter?"

"I do" I told him (if you'd like to go there it's @JackGlasken).

Ignoring me, Patrick continued to meet my Kay's gaze and asked, simply, "Have you experienced this?"

My lady is a sensitive woman, and some feelings remain close to the surface. That's why big tears began to well up in her eyes, and Sir Stewart, being an intelligent man, saw this. He took her hand and told her that everything would be all right, and that she would be fine.

"You will be fine, I promise. Look at me!" he said to her. His empathy only made her more emotional, seeing as how a complete stranger (and a male one) was sympathizing with her. Her great big tears began to run down her cheeks as he showed her this kindness.

Unprompted, he got up from his seat and came around the autograph table to take her into his arms and embrace her like she was his own daughter. In the middle of a convention, and with a person of his celebrity, you can imagine the crowd that was around this man. People were all looking and all wondering what was being said and why this girl was crying. It was in the moment that I realized that to Sir Stewart, she was the only person in the world.

Simply, I was awestruck.

"I promise you that everything will be all right. These things that happened to you can't hurt you anymore. There are so many things to do in the world and so much to see. There's so much life to live for!" he said, emphatically, with his fists raised. With the power of his personality, and with expert use of his special kind of humor, he was able to calm her down to the point where she was no longer weeping.

Very quietly he said to her, "There is so much in the world for us to see and do, we can't let the past hold us back. There are so many things we can do in life."

"Like skiing?" I asked, after finally regaining most of my composure. I knew full well that Sir Stewart was a fan of skiing and I thought it might be nice for her to hear this from the man himself.

"Like Skiing! You know, two years ago at the age of 69 I started skiing for the first time, and now I'm an intermediate skier! Even now I can experience new things and live my life. You will do this, too, I promise!" He turned to me, putting his hand on my shoulder, and said, "take care of her."

As he sat back down at his table, he looks down at the photograph we had chosen and, with that characteristic humor, states, "Oh look, I haven't even finished writing my own name! Would you like me to personalize this for you?"

"Yes sir, please make it out to my lady."


A week later we were making plans to be married.

-Jack

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Comicpalooza 2013

This was my second year of attending Houston's International Comic Convention called Comicpalooza.The convention is a good one, and let me explain why: It's not so crowded that you have to feel like writers, artists, or movie stars are rushing you away from their booths, but just big enough you still get some notable guests. Typically the scene is just hectic enough to have a high-energy feel, but not so hectic that you can't spend a few minutes chatting to the people that have their own booths. I really quite enjoy chatting with these people. In fact, I find it extremely satisfying to have a conversation with them about their personal and professional projects. Admittedly, I find myself being a little envious of their situations, as I would love to write comics.
Snake Eyes and Stormtrooper... always a good sign when you see these two first
I really enjoyed a Sci-Fi/comedy comic called 51 Delta by a man named Sean Dulaney. The comic was funny, had an art style I really liked, and was a nice, light read. It was great to be able to talk to Sean about his comic and get the info first-hand. Sean is obviously proud of his work, and in my opinion he should be. You should all get a copy here! Truly, I say to you, this is an enjoyable comic and a great way to start reading comics. It puts a funny twist on the usual sci-fi tropes you see in many comics and instead injects a humorous storyline filled with hijinks and shenanigans. I'm looking forward to getting the second part.
Human-sized creeper
I also got to meet some great novice writers. There was a guy close to my age named Ian Everett. His first novel is called The Mother of Dawn. It takes place in a fantasy world where that world has become tidally locked with it's parent star... thus forcing the entire civilization to life in the terminator. Sounds like it could be some cool stuff, looking forward to reading it. When I asked him more about it, I'm pretty sure he was keen not to give me spoilers. He did mention that it's high fantasy.
She was shy.
One of the other writers I met was a young lady named Samira Bellissimo. Upon reading the excerpts for her first novel, I find that I am quite enamored by her writing style. She currently only writes fantasy, but I'm anticipating that she'll be successful enough to branch out. She and her mother were extremely approachable and perfectly willing to chat with us. All told, they were both extremely charming, it was quite a nice time. It was nice enough that I bought a copy of her novel, and I'm hoping to read it soon. I'm happy to do what I can to help her achieve her dream, to be a writer, for it's a dream I share. I wish her the absolute best!
Harley Quinn - I cropped him out because his costume was terrible

One of the first people I saw at Comicpalooza was an artist named Eric Chu. What brought me to his booth was a beautiful print of what was originally supposed to be a book cover for a book about Battlestar Galactica. The image features fighters and capital ships locked in the beautiful dance of space combat. It was quite a lovely picture. I made a comment that I would love to be able to draw like that someday but I really don't think I could. Mr. Chu, to his credit, commented, "I don't believe in talent. It's true that some people have an innate ability, but that's not what I'm talking about. If you really want to be an artist, you need to be dedicated and patient. I believe that you can make up for talent with hard work. Art like this... I think it would take a person a year of hard, dedicated work to be as proficient as I am." Interactions like this are why I love going to conventions. Mr. Chu, thank you for the inspiring words. Most of all, I appreciate your making me feel silly for not going after something that I want just because it's difficult.
With lights and everything!
Which brings me to my thought today: reaching for a dream. It's astonishing to me that people don't really do what makes them happy. I'm guilty of this as well. While I enjoy working in the petrochemical industry, it's not what I dream about. Young people with the opportunity to actually achieve their goals are something that I have a strong fondness for. In the case of Samira, her mother is kind enough to let her work on her writing nearly full-time. An envious situation, to be sure! It was because of this excellent relationship, coupled with the fact that her situation hits me close to him, that I decided to support her endeavor.  The same is true with the young writer, Ian Everett. In our conversation, he admitted that he's currently waiting tables to pay for his bills, but it's obvious his passion is writing. I'm quite eager to read his book despite the obvious misgivings about a novice/first-time writer. Y'know what? I don't care about that. I have the money to help support this guy, so I'm going to help him achieve a dream that I hope someday others will help me achieve. Why do we not do what we really dream about? In my case, I decided to go the route of steady, assured income as opposed to doing what I love and risking making nothing. I think in my case, the chief motivator there is fear. I fear failing, and I think that's reasonable.
Probably my favorite picture from the convention.

For my next post, I'm going to tell you a very special story about my lady and our time at Comicpalooza. Please keep your eyes open as I'll be posting again before too long!

-Jack