Dec 242022

I’m taking some time off during the holidays to catch up on my various pop culture obsessions, including books and games. My backlog of unplayed games is already embarrassingly long, but I couldn’t resist the impulse to buy a few more titles yesterday during the current Steam sale. I clearly have a problem. And if this whole attorney thing doesn’t work out, perhaps I can start a second career as a professional Twitch streamer. The disability community already has a presence on the site, so maybe my idea of streaming myself playing games while commenting on the latest Supreme Court decisions isn’t so far-fetched.

Speaking of virtual communities, the downward spiral of Twitter is a fascinating trainwreck. I was never a Musk fanboy, but I respected what he had accomplished with Tesla and SpaceX. But after watching him run Twitter into the ground, I wonder if Musk’s accomplishments should be attributed to employees who are much smarter than him. He seems more interested in shitposting and banning journalists rather than effectively running Twitter. And now Neuralink, Musk’s venture into brain-computer interfaces, is under investigation for animal cruelty. It looks I won’t be writing blog entries with my mind anytime soon.

May 172018

For decades, people with disabilities who wanted to play video games (especially on consoles) had to improvise their own accessibility solutions. Perhaps a relative could help you modify a controller or maybe you could find a custom-built device on the Internet that would meet your needs. But these solutions tended to be expensive, finicky, and completely lacking in technical support. Console manufacturers simply didn’t recognize that they had customers with disabilities who wanted to play their games. That may be changing, though. This fall, Microsoft will release the Xbox Adaptive Controller, the first Xbox accessory that is specifically targeted at gamers with mobility impairments. The base unit (which will sell for $100) includes oversized buttons as well as 19 (!) ports for adaptive switches of various types. Here’s a video providing a closer look at the XAC:

While I don’t play on consoles (I’m a PC gamer from way back), it’s so exciting to see a major corporation recognize that people with disabilities can enjoy gaming if they are provided with flexible hardware and software. I hope that other companies take note and make a concerted effort to be more inclusive of gamers with all types of disabilities. Over the years, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of games include options to improve accessibility in the software, but accessible hardware has always been difficult to find. The XAC could represent a genuine shift in how corporations perceive both their relationship with and responsibility to customers with disabilities. A decade ago, a mass-marketed and relatively affordable accessibility device would be unthinkable. A decade from now, I hope devices like the XAC are commonplace.

Aug 292014

While I still play video games and enjoy them a great deal, I don’t consider myself steeped in “gamer” culture. I peruse gaming websites to learn about what’s new and what’s good, but I don’t have strong opinions on the latest World of Warcraft expansion or the merits of playing as a Monk versus a Barbarian in Diablo III. Gamer culture seems to require a certain amount of obsessive attention to detail that—if I ever possessed it—has faded away in my dotage. Gamer culture also has a tendency to become mired in bro-centric toxicity; a tendency that became depressingly obvious this week when feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian released the latest YouTube video in her Tropes vs. Women series.

Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women series examines how video games portray women as ornamental objects, damsels in distress, and other stereotypical gender roles. The series has been ongoing for a couple years and Sarkeesian offers compelling evidence of persistent misogyny in games. Here’s the latest video, which is worth watching if you have any interest in games or feminist theory:

Sarkeesian’s critiques have provoked the kinds of responses you might expect from gamer bros: plenty of vitriol sprinkled liberally with rape and death threats. Sarkeesian had to leave her home this week after receiving specific death threats directed against her and her parents.

Gamer culture, like a lot of subcultures that flourish on the Internet, can be insular and exclusionary. That may partially explain the ferocity of the attacks; gaming has long been seen as a fringe activity that hasn’t received the same kind of critical analysis that is applied to film, books, and other media. But gaming is now a mainstream activity that has gained ample visibility in our culture. With the spread of mobile devices, nearly everyone has some contact with games. Why shouldn’t games be the subject of criticism? And not the kind of criticism that determines whether a game is fun to play, but the kind of criticism that examines games as a reflection of our values and mores. In other words, the kind of criticism that adults debate and discuss.

Unfortunately, some gamers don’t have much patience for critical theory. They perceive criticism as a trespass on their dominion and worthy of vicious retribution, particularly when the source of that criticism is a woman. They don’t want to see their favorite pastime grow up, which is exactly what will happen because of the efforts of Sarkeesian and other smart people. The attacks on her will certainly continue and they will be as ugly and brutal as ever, but they will eventually be seen as the death throes of a particularly toxic subculture that deserves no memorial.


Aug 152014

My family was in town this week for a low-key reunion, so posting has been particularly light. But here are a few stray thoughts for a Friday:

  • The news of Robin Williams’ death was a terrible shock. I loved his manic form of comedy that sometimes became a deluge of pop culture references. His humor channeled the Internet before the Internet was a thing. But I was also saddened by the harassment inflicted upon his daughter Zelda after she posted a tribute to her father on social media. I understand that even sociopaths have the right to express themselves, but it should be far easier to mute their toxic chatter on timelines and newsfeeds. The Internet is supposed to be a self-regulating platform, but that regulation seems to be lacking even as we become more dependent on the platform.
  • On a lighter note, I’m thoroughly enjoying Divinity: Original Sin. It’s a throwback to the isometric role-playing games of the 90’s such as Fallout and Baldur’s Gate, which are among my favorite titles. Divinity doesn’t offer much hand-holding, but I appreciate the opportunity to figure out things for myself. Between this and the forthcoming release of similar games like Pillars of Eternity, my gaming calendar should be booked through the winter.
Dec 232013

I didn’t get to play many new games in 2013; I kept returning to old favorites like FTL and Planescape. But I did manage to play Bioshock Infinite and it left me amazed. While it follows many of the standard first-person shooter conventions, the setting and story make the game a truly unique experience. The floating city of Columbia is both fantastical and fully realized, providing a brightly lit backdrop for a narrative that grows increasingly dark. I finally finished it yesterday and I’m still thinking about that incredible ending that has so much to say about science, fate, and even how we play games. Bioshock Infinite is ushering in a new era of games that mesh artistry and adrenaline and I can’t wait to see where the industry goes next.

Nov 052013

For a team that has been decimated by the injury fairy, the Packers still looked like strong playoff contender going into last night’s game against the Bears. But then the injury fairy, apparently unsatisfied with the destruction it had already wreaked, sunk its teeth into our star quarterback. After Rodgers left the field, the Packers could hardly buy a first down. Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace couldn’t be expected to coordinate the offense like Rodgers does, but he doesn’t seem to possess the skill necessary to be even a middling replacement.

Twitter sources state that Rodgers may miss 3 weeks with a collarbone fracture. That may not be a fatal blow to the team’s playoff chances, but the Packers must figure out how to win the next few games with a C-list QB.

Aug 072013

I recently cancelled my subscriptions to World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was never much of a hardcore MMORPG player, but I did enjoy the exploration and story-based elements of these games. It was a pleasant way to while away a weekend afternoon. Over time, though, playing these games felt more like tedium than entertainment. Weeks or months could go by between log-ins. I eventually realized that it didn’t make sense to pay a monthly fee for games I play only sporadically.

It’s not as if I have a shortage of other games to occupy me. But I’m more inclined to play games that can be picked up and put down easily, like FTL and Dungeons of Dreadmor. I seem to be getting more impatient in my old age.

Apr 052013

Let us pour out a pint of grog in memory of Lucasarts, the legendary game developer that Disney is shuttering after acquiring it last fall. My brother and I spent a good portion of our youth crowded around the computer in my bedroom, playing games like Day of the Tentacle, X-Wing, and Dark Forces. X-Wing was particularly suited to our style of collaborative play; he would handle piloting and combat duties while I would remind him when to double aft shields and punch it. Good times.

You can still find classic Lucasarts available through, er, alternative distribution channels. All you need to play them is the ScummVM emulator.