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Gaming with Multiple Personalities

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Over the last several months I've been playing a lot of role-playing games on my Nintendo DS. For those who don't play video games, a role-playing game usually involves going on an adventure with a party of other people. Often, the game allows you to name those people in your party, or partially name them. You're given a prefix--"Chrono," for example--which you can then personalize by typing a name. Your party would then be filled with people with names like ChronoTeresa, ChronoSybil or ChronoJoe.

From what I've learned talking to other players, it's common to name members of your party after friends and family. The same names wind up being used over and over, with different characters in different video games. It's what I do when I play.

A travelling party in Tactics OgreEarlier this year, I was playing an older role-playing game called Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis and I had named a flying hawk man character after my friend Joe. Hawk man Joe was very powerful in battle situations, and as I was playing, I found myself pausing for a moment to think fondly and gratefully about my time spent gaming with hawk man Joe. Then I began to think about all the other "Joe" characters I'd adventured with in video games. All different, yet tied together by their namesake, my real friend, Joe.

It seemed really cool to me that there were these different Joes running around in a digital multiverse. I enjoyed all these layers of memories of times I'd spent with the game version Joes, which were in turn layered on to my feelings of friendship for the real Joe. I felt suffused with positive emotions and camaraderie until I considered a potential downside.

I've known a few people who have fought with friends in dreams and then held a grudge against those same friends in real life. I always thought that behavior was downright crazy. Was I doing something similarly dangerous with the gaming Joes and real Joe?

I found my answer in The Daily Mail, which all reasonable people uphold as a benchmark of normalcy. As reported in this riveting story, researchers have identified something called Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), which occurs when gamers transfer their "screen experiences into the real world."

The researchers mentioned in the article are mainly concerned with the type of behavior that results from GTP, which in some cases appears to be violent. I was more interested in gamers' attempts to access menus in real-life situations, or other bizarre effects:

Almost all the participants had experienced some type of involuntary thoughts in relation to video games. They thought in the same way as when they were gaming, with half of participants often looking to use something from a video game to resolve a real-life issue. In some cases these thoughts were accompanied by reflexes - such as reaching to click a button on the controller when it wasn't in their hands - while on other occasions gamers visualized their thoughts in the form of game menus.

I have wished for power-ups in my daily life but I don't think I've ever searched for a button to click while walking around town. Now that I think about it, though, I'd be happy to see game menu options such as "Mine Gold," "Flatter," "Throw Fruit" or "Mount Dragon" appear in my daily life.

Horticultural Nerd Alert

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In a failed attempt to get The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend interested in gaming, I purchased a copy of James Cameron's Avatar: The Game for XBOX 360.The Girlfriend had really liked the movie Avatar, so I thought perhaps the game could lure her into playing with me.

Before I laid down my cash, I went to look up the reviews of Avatar The Game at Metacritic. I found a mostly negative batch of professional reviews that called the game play mediocre. The customer reviews, however, were mostly positive. Players enjoyed moving through the world of Pandora enough that they didn't mind the repetitive game play. I decided to trust the players' opinions.

Encountering a flower as a Na' viOnce I started playing the game, my expectations were confirmed: the game play did suffer from bad camera angles but the landscape of Pandora was spectacular. As you progress through the game, different regions of the planet open to you, introducing new types of terrain, landscape features and plants. There's also a feature in the game called the Pandorapedia, an encyclopedia of knowledge concerning various aspects of the planet, including its flora and fauna.

According to an article called "Avatar's New Twist on Plants," I found online at Astrobiology Magazine, James Cameron consulted with a plant physiologist named Judy Holt to develop the scientific rationale behind the plant life on Pandora. Holt also gave scientific names to the plants and provided the descriptions that appear in the game's Pandorapedia.

I found reading the Pandorapedia on my television set difficult, due to the small font size that was used for the interface. Other gamers also mentioned the font size problem in their comments at Metacritic. But the Pandorapedia's content was quite interesting, and in the case of the plant life, the descriptions helped me determine how the plants could be used strategically during combat or in other situations. Several game missions revolve around interaction with plants, requiring the player to identify, sample or gather various specimens.

I enjoyed playing as a Na' vi warrior, ducking through bioluminescent landscapes and bounding around at treetop level within a maze of branches. Although the game rewards you for uncovering new terrain, spending a moment or two gazing quietly at the dramatic vistas found tucked away within each region is rewarding in a different way.

Comics, women and games

Yesterday on Journalista, Dirk Deppey pointed to several commentaries regarding a current controversy about the treatment of women in gaming and finished by asking, "Apparently, there’s an entertainment industry even less receptive to women than comics. Who knew?"

Well, actually, I knew. In fact, it's one of the reasons I don't chime in about misogyny in the comic book world more often. It's a shitty reason, I know, but there it is. Whenever I get down about attitudes towards women in comics, I know I can always say to myself, "At least it's not as bad as gaming." The culture of gaming reminds me of the title of one of Ernest Hemingway's short story collections: Men Without Women.

I don't want to sound like I'm whining. I'm not easily dissuaded from what are often thought of as men's entertainments. I am also grateful for the many excellent gaming blogs run by individuals who hold more advanced views on women and gender than those found in the mainstream gaming media; several are listed on my blogroll.

New gaming communities are being created online that promise to be more open to women. I'm ecstatic over the recently launched Lesbian Gamers and the newly expanded GayGamer. One of the best things about the internet is that if what's out there isn't working for you, it's not too hard to roll your own.

Catching Up

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I'm making up for the time since my last post with a catch-up post, summarizing my experience over the last few weeks. I decided the easiest way to do this was to divide the major events in my life into two categories: those keeping me sane and those driving me towards the brink. Here are my highs and lows of the past month:

Keeping me sane

  • The Force is with me. The sister and I went out one night together and bought matching Sony PSP Star Wars Bundles. We had both held out on the system until now; she wanted it for Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, and I wanted it for Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. We both love Star Wars, and Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron, the game that came with the bundle, proved to be more fun than I expected.

  • Karma junkie. Under the Bush administration, I've become impatient with reading the news. I want my news straight up these days, that's why I depend on Max and Stacy's daily Karmabanque podcast. They don't futz around with the intricacies of party politics. They just give me what I want to know, raw: who made how much money killing, oppressing and impoverishing who. Their Gulag Wealth Fund provides a shorthand method of tracking what's really going on.

  • Screamin' like a banshee. Joe sent me the CD of Siouxsie Sioux's new solo album, Mantaray, for my birthday. It's pretty gorgeous. Years ago, I remember hearing Siouxsie and the Banshee's song "Desert Kisses" when Kaleidoscope first came out and thinking to myself, "This is kind of lesbian." That's also been my reaction to almost every song on Mantaray. In this case, however, Siouxsie's said a few things in the press to confirm that interpretation.

  • Girly stuff. I really, really like the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend's Elmo panties. The hot pink ones, with "Love Me" written in bubble letters above the picture of Elmo on the crotch. I know, I know. TMI.

  • Aspirational television. I have been totally hooked on the show Damages. Week after week I've watched in awe as Glenn Close opened my mind to immense new vistas of bitchiness. Through the character Patty Hewes, Close has brought me to understand levels of bitchiness I never even knew existed. I ask myself: can I possibly aspire to such intensely bitched out behavior in my lifetime? Am I up to the challenge? Thank you, Glenn Close. You have raised the bar for me.

Driving me towards the brink
  • Where there's fire there's smoke. The air in Los Angeles after the Southern California fires has been an abomination--a miserable, foul toxic brew. There is just no way to explain to you how bad the air feels, tastes, smells. The best word I can come up with to describe it to you is: chewy.

  • I was robbed. Anyone who has had a girlfriend knows there's a brief window of time after your girlfriend has swiped some an item in your wardrobe when it's possible to get that item back. If you act forcefully within this time period, taking back the item in question, one can retrain the girlfriend, much as one would an errant puppy: "No. Put that down. Put it down. No! That's not for you!"
    However, if one misses this brief window, one has no option but to give the item up. And so I say now: "Goodbye, faithful bedroom slippers! Fare thee well."

  • Another one bites the dust. Johnny Bacardi is leaving the blogosphere after five years of publishing The Johnny Bacardi Show. But all is not lost, as he can still be found on livejournal and at his Elton John blog.

  • La nausee. While shopping in the Container Store with the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend, I suffered an existential meltdown as I was confronted with the full extent of my own lack of organization. I shuddered as the world was revealed as just so many things in need of being boxed.

  • Don't tell mama. I missed Lucy Lawless's show in Chicago, a fact of which I am not proud. But I poured over the pictures and commentary from the event, and I contributed this lovely wallpaper derived from the show, which I encourage you to download. I will be there both nights of Lucy's Roxy shows in January. Email me if you want to meetup.

Cat Toy

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Catwoman LEGO figureFollowing a tipoff from GayGamer, I sped over to the LEGO Batman website and downloaded a delicious Catwoman wallpaper for my desktop. There are many other wallpapers to choose from, all tie-ins to Batman LEGO products. I can't believe I didn't know there was a LEGO Arkham Asylum for sale. And look at that cool purple motorcycle Catwoman is riding in The Batman Dragster: Catwoman Pursuit!

Maybe if I pick up one of these toys it will help me feel better about not getting the Nigo-designed Batman hoodie, which at $439 appears out of my reach. There's also a LEGO Batman video game coming down the pike, but that's not coming out until next year.

From Pixels to Bricks and Tiles

Laying bricks in a mosaicJoystiq posted recently about a Dutch digital media artist, Arno Coenen, who has created several public mosaics based on video game art. Joystiq has up a gallery of images that includes an awesome mosaicwork of Lara Croft made from tiles, as well as a clever scene of Pac Man ghosts scurrying along the sides of a corridor.

Virtual Fairytale 2.0 is a large-scale mosaic created for the exterior of a school in Utrecht. The photo shown here is of a bricklayer following a color map for the mosaic during construction. Take a look at this series of photographs to see the scope of the project, including some great shots taken from above.

By Crom's Eternal Joystick

Feminine moans emanating from Conan's hutThanks to a tip from GayGamer.net, I went and applied to be a beta tester for the upcoming online PC game, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. I filled out the application thoroughly, but I have my doubts as to whether middle-aged women are really part of their target demographic. Still, WildCimmerianBulldyke is ready to serve should she be called. I would love to be able to finally live out my transgender fantasies of being built like a Frigidaire and cleaving the skull of anyone who gets in my way. (I'll bet you probably thought it was only male comics fans who had infantile power fantasies.)

Gayming the system

I read on Joystiq the other day that the results of a survey on "gaymer's" habits are in. I mentioned the survey previously on this blog and I also participated in it. The most interesting finding to me was reading that 91.1% of the respond ants to the survey were male. I would love to see a survey that focused only on gay, bi or trans women--maybe next time.

I don't know if they identify as "gaymers" but I really love the gay male gaming couple on The Sarah Silverman Program. Console gaming is a big part of their lifestyle, and if you're into gaming, you'll probably enjoy all the video game references and how their game activity gets worked into the plot each week.

Urban Vampire Geeks

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A female killer posed against the night skyThe web zine 10 Zen Monkeys has published a transcription of "Girls Are Geeks Too," an audio interview conducted by RU Sirius with one writer and the editors of the book She's Such A Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology and Other Nerdy Stuff. I listened to the interview as a podcast on the Neofiles Show, but I know some people aren't into podcasts so if you're interested in the topic you can read the interview instead.

In one part of the interview, contributor Quinn Norton reads from the book her description of live-action role-playing a vampire character from the game Vampire in the midst of the city. While she is creeping around in character, she is seen by some children:

I, in all my weirdness, appeared out of nowhere and walked quickly by them. The parents never noticed me, but the kids did. They looked at where I’d come from, and then at me. They crouched in close to their parents and clutched one another. I looked over at them, opened my eyes wide, and gave them a slightly snarled smile.

She goes on to imagine the effect the encounter might have had on the children's imaginative lives thereafter. There's also a discussion of why vampires appeal to geeks. Don't they appeal to everybody?

Xena DS: Touching is Good

Mockup for Xena DS gameContinuing with my prior Xena in games post, I created this mockup of a Xena DS game. I also tried to use the online celebrity Mii generator to make a Lucy Lawless or Xena Mii but it doesn't work too well for women. On the bright side, the DS slogan "Touching is good" seems eminently suited to Xena. Amazon Warriors come out to play!

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