Archive for August, 2011

Redditalk

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Reddit Sticker

Image by cambodia4kidsorg via Flickr

Way back in the day – and by that, in geek terms, I mean probably a year ago – I used to want to keep up with the news of the day in the world at large. Yes, as much as I enjoyed reading about crazy new gaming devices or the latest in tech and geekery, I did yearn, after a fashion, for a way to keep up with all the other stuff that was going on. Thing of it is, I just didn’t want to become one of those misanthropic or sheltered geeks. You know the type – the ones that during a raid profess that they’d rather eat horse balls than try to discuss or keep up with things like politics, world events, and the fact that there is something going on beyond the next boss kill. I have work that requires me to socialize and talk to other people – some of them people who would look at you like you were speaking a foreign language if you rattled off the latest and greatest in video games and computer parts – and knowing what’s going on out in the world makes for good knowledge, or at least, small talk.

It’s why for a while, I tried to follow the news through rss feeds from traditional sites – CNN, MSNBC, Fox, et al. Now before this degrades into a discussion of how the various news sites are biased more than a stereotypical fat cop endorsing a donut store, I want to say to my small, but faithful readership that I followed all the sites equally because the news was different and had its own tone. While I’m an optimist and sometimes very much an idealist, I do know that the plain jane reality of reporting means that some bias is present at some point or another. When you understand that, it becomes much easier to deal with the fact that news is inevitably also biased, and therefore open to my own twisted interpretations. So thus I followed the news sites, watching and weeping as my Google Reader feed updated in the 1000+ for numbers of articles unread, and did what I could to read.

But Reddit has changed all that for me. For the uninitiated, Reddit is sort of “social news”, or as I like to call it, “news flavored with a generous amount of social media sauce”. The concept is simple – aggregate news from a variety of topics, and allow users to submit either links to said news or submit some of their own. The selfsame community votes articles up or down for visibility, and the site itself is mildly moderated and observed for content. The result is what is appropriate self-styled “the front page of the internet”, or “the voice of the internet”, and in all its chaotic, ever-changing glory, it is. News is delivered from a variety of categories, and “What’s Hot” is set onto the front page as a means of showing which articles are the most popular, whether they be as serious as a news story or as hilarious as cafeteria ninja. When I saw all of what I could discover- things that not only I wanted to know about the world but also of the internet at large – I immediately unsubbed from my other news sites and now only follow Reddit, choosing only the things that I want to read about, serious or not. Sadly, like many others who have any interest in random hilarity, I’ve been sucked into the vortex of insane that is Reddit for long periods of time, sometimes almost to the detriment of my productivity.

If sustainable, Reddit has the kind of dynamic, malleable model of news delivery that will become the future of how people report, talk about, and discuss news. Even blogs like this one are a self-contained targeted audience, while Redditors can basically reach an audience of potentially millions with content that is popular enough to be voted up. It’s definitely something to ponder myself as I think about how I want to let other people know what I’m thinking and what I’m sharing. For now, I’m plenty contented with sitting on Reddit and passively and happily being assaulted by its cacophony of funny images, political and social news, and unique takes on world events, and look forward to what other people post next to keep me from getting my work done.

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The Immersive Gaming Intro

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Lately I’ve been pretty bad about playing multiple games all at once rather than concentrating on one game and trying to finish it. This is definitely not what I usually do because when I find a game that I like, I tend to focus on it til I beat it or get bored of it, one of the two. So it seemed to me that when I was finding myself making progress in 5 or 6 games all at once that I started to worry. What if I had become complacent with games? What if I found many of the games that I was playing to be boring or repetitive? Had I become one of those old jaded gamers who hates everything by default? Was I losing my optimistic attitude? OH GOD – EBOLA AIDS?!

Sorry – got a little carried away there – or I wanted to cheaply plug Hyperbole and a Half and lament the lack of updates lately. Your choice.

Anyway, I soon discovered after thinking about it that I wasn’t really getting bored of games – I was simply intrigued and interested in the way that they introduce you to them. I thought back to this, and the source of this crazy altitis that I have gotten with gaming led back to Borderlands. Borderlands has a great way of introducing you to the game – you choose a character, but instead of being put into a tutorial that clearly marks what and how you’re supposed to do things, you are instead put into a town where a little cute robot named Claptrap walks you through the motions of doing things. It feels natural without seeming like it’s throwing you into the deep end of the pool yet it isn’t so contrived as to be obvious and therefore, stiff. When I started playing games recently, like Alan Wake, Fable III, and my 3rd playthrough of Metal Gear Solid, I loved playing the intros, because on-screen instructions aside, they tried to put you into a world that should matter to you as well as teach you how to play. Once you get past that, you finally get into the game proper, where gameplay and mechanics take over and the player is expected to keep up with them in increasing difficulty and challenge.

I guess I just wanted to see how different games tried to show you how to play without it seeming like you were sitting in a classroom being told how to. Of course, the failure rate of dying or otherwise losing the game at the intro is supposed to be extremely low, so I guess maybe part of it is the ease as well. I used to be one of those dudes who really loved a game the harder it was, which forced you to learn mechanics either from a perusal of the instruction book or, as was the case many a time, through constant and utter failure (you can cue the original Ninja Gaiden here, and how its unforgiving nature caused many a controller to be dropped to the ground in disgust). These days, however, probably because I literally don’t have time to fail for hours at a time, I want to make sure that I get eased into a game that will give me the appropriate level of challenge, and a good introduction with a comfortably “easy as hell” setting does that just fine.

So yes, bring on Claptrap and more intros so full of charm they even make “behind the scenes” vids about them:

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The Faceless Reality Of Geek Heroism

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Ultimate Spider-Man and X-Men #41, from Panini...

Image via Wikipedia

I got my attention called to a link posted by someone I follow on Twitter that talks a bit about how the new Ultimate Spider-Man is African-American and Latino, and the bit of a boat-shaking it’s caused in the comics community. Now, admittedly, when it comes to comics I am fairly weak, and really only have fond memories of 75-cent X-Men comics as a youth to provide any real context. But it was interesting to note that no matter what side of the debate people fell on, and no matter how extreme the viewpoints were (from disturbing borderline-racism to purist zealotry, and everything inbetween), that there was nevertheless a concern about the appearance and face that a hero presents. Add to the fact that Peter Parker has been a staple of the comic book industry’s look, and you have the makings of a volatile issue. It’s like a powder keg with a bunch of overeager pyromaniacs surrounding it with matchbooks in hand, with the only thing holding them back from blowing each other up worse than Wile E. Coyote being their own choice.

To someone who deals in, is friends towards, and forms connections with people who don’t immediately show you their face, I don’t know why faithful representation of a hero is such a huge deal. The whole issue with a change in the appearance of a hero – even one as iconic and familiar to geekery as Spider-Man – is one which after a certain point, becomes irrelevant. Not surprisingly, the reason I believe this to be is because of the unbridled optimism I share about heroism in general, and how it inspires us, touches us, and drives us to be more than just a time-clock puncher when it comes to how we spend out lives.

Heroes – including those revered by geeks – come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and appearances. A hero is a person who to others presents a strength and depth of character that causes reverence, respect, and inspiration. When you read about a tragic event or a disaster, the heroes could be firemen, police, the one guy who decides to run back into the burning building to save a family. When you enjoy a favorite piece of media, whether that’s a music, or a book, or a movie, the heroes are either the ones being depicted, or the ones who created the media in the first place. When you’re at work or at home, the heroes are the co-workers who get you out of a jam, or a parent or significant other who gives you love an support when you need it. Heroism is in many ways formless, and therefore faceless.

The facelessness of heroes is all the more apparent among geekery, most importantly in how we interact. How many times have you read or watched something that got you respect, admiration, and good feeling about what was being written or said? How many times have you been primarily concerned with what that looks like as opposed to what you experienced? On the internet, where anonymity is the default and words depict personality, a perceived hero carries no stock appearance, no iconic look, and no standard – yet there are people we consider to be heroic online every day, writing or posting, or creating content that we like.

So if the reason we like heroes is because of their traits, ideas, and creations, and Super Heroes are just heroes with a little something extra that helps them be heroic, why then are people worried about how a hero like Spider-Man looks? You could make an argument for longevity and the fact that “it’s always been that way”, but I challenge you to A)find any comic book hero who hasn’t changed costumes, looks, or style in some manner and B)really think about why you like the hero. Like I said, I have the capacity of a thimble when it comes to my comic book knowhow, but I think that Spider-Man specifically is beloved and seen as heroic primarily for a character that is not mutually exclusive to his face. He’s the geek-turned-superhero, a fictional calling card for the physically weak yet intelligent geek that can only dream of lifting twice their poundage, fighting crime, and scoring the romantic love of someone outside of their league. He uses what he’s been given and acts accordingly, and he carries a whipsmart wit that has been matched by few. Those are the qualities that construct the real face of Spider-Man – not the way he looks, but the way he is. And that goes for heroes everywhere, regardless of race, gender, creed, orientation, or any other surface quality you can judge by.

When you think about that, the only thing that loses face is the idea that our heroes need to look a certain way to be our heroes.

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Spotting The Twisted In Spotify

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Image representing Spotify as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Recently I came into possession of an invite to new-but-not-so-new service Spotify, which has been around in Europe for a while but finally came over to the US to take advantage of the vast and music-obsessed. I know that I’ve been sort of looking to jump into one of the streaming or digital delivery services, and this seemed to be an easy way to do it. After all, what’s a work day without a little bit of the soothing sounds of Gothic Rock to put you in a tranquil working mood, right?

Like most of the online tech I tend to use, I almost decided to drop the service like a bad habit until I found the very interesting sharing features, which allow you to share a public URL of your playlist that other Spotify users can click on and even subscribe to. Being the social media…errr..enthusiast that I am, this definitely seemed to appeal to me. The crappy part about iTunes is that you can’t really share your tunes unless you’re on the same network as everyone else, and even then, the naming scheme of most iTunes user lists leaves way too much to the imagination (here’s a protip: if you want me to listen to your stuff, please do not call it something like “Bob’s Emporium of Acoustic”, because I will think you own bad guitar solos and vague big band nonsense instead of good stuff). With Spotify, you can still run into this problem, but the newness of the service has its users looking to be a bit more intelligent with their collections. So I did the only thing I could possibly do.

Load the guiltiest song list ever, filled with titles that people probably secretly listen to at 2am when they think no one is watching them.

The current list I possess is here:¬†http://bit.ly/q7I4Mm and the content contained within has such amazing classics such as Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison”, Britney Spears’ “Hit me Baby One More Time”, New Kids on the Block with “Step by Step”, and the perennial fixture and cornerstone of any good wrong song list, Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”. And don’t think I came up with the list all on my lonesome, either. No, my friends and Twitter followers are just as bad, telling me to include Paris Hilton, Vanilla Ice, Prince, and Boyz II Men among others. I can only conclude this absolves me of any blame because if the people who know and follow me are this screwed up it cancels me out too, right?

If you ever get a chance to pick up a Spotify invite, check it out – and not just because you ¬†might be able to find Milli Vanilli or Kenny G on it. I think it’s got some legs and the services it potentially offers are worth checking out. Just don’t blame me if you get Genie In a Bottle or Livin’ La Vida Loca stuck in your head. You were warned, after all.

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