The Witness Sparks Discussion on Games, Art, and Accessibility

If there’s one thing that’s been on the tongues of the gaming populace lately, it’s The Witness. After around seven years of waiting, gamers of the puzzle persuasion have finally been able to wrap their minds around the vibrant, and at times trying, world of The Witness. Created by Jonathan Blow of Braid fame (a 2-D puzzle game involving time control mechanics), the games takes the player through a setting rife with puzzles—around six hundred of them—which teaches them the mechanics along the way with no outright statement of “this is how you do this”. Both Blow and the game have been hailed as artisans who take an innovative approach to the genre while providing a game that is strangely compelling despite the seeming lack of story. However, not long after the game’s release, issues began popping up with the game’s accessibility, causing frustration for some of those who had been waiting for the game. Now, unintentionally, Blow finds himself in the middle of not only a conversation about molding gaming paradigms to fit an artistic vision, but a conversation about the adaptivity of inclusion in games as well. And for his part, Blow does little to add to the latter.

The WitnessFor a long time, game creators and fans alike had been arguing for the “outside world” to take games more seriously, to view it as an art form not unlike film or literature. By now, few are arguing that point anymore: games are as much art as anything else that can be considered art. However, certain subsets of game fans take up this strange spot where they don’t want allow games the same sort of criticism as any other form of art, not realizing that this is counterproductive to what they may have argued for in the first place and misunderstanding how most video games aren’t art for art’s sake. Still, critics and players have found themselves in this strange grey space concerning The Witness. The question concerning games—indie games, as compared to games for a larger audience—has shifted from “is it art?” to “should art be inclusive indefinitely?” And that’s a hard question to answer. A simpler concession is that if it’s not, then the artist has a duty to let their consumers know.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: Games Writing at Offworld

Writing about art can be a tricky subject. There are many paths to consider, such as composition, context, and creator intent. Complicating this matter is the debate between objectivism and subjectivism. Furthermore, the multitude of perspectives from which critique can be built is unfortunately underrepresented. Even if there are many varied opinions on topics, a diverse group of writers can improve the range of opinions expressed. This week’s Web Crush Wednesday, Offworld, works to add more marginalized voices to the mix in various geek and tech cultures.

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An Ounce of Encouragement

This is a particularly tough time of year for many of us because it’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, if for some reason you don’t know that). You’re trying to make something good and actually write 50,000 words in a month. You’re behind deadline, and there’s no way that you’re going to get to fifty grand by the end of the month. Being in many ways a stereotypical “nerd” with my comical knowledge of Star Trek and my ability to list all the gods in the Deities and Demigods or all the times and ways that a Grey or Summers has died, for me, part of really enjoying a thing is delving as deep as I can into knowledge about the thing. By the same token, as someone who works in and loves the performing arts, I believe strongly in the power of an individual to create something that moves people, and so always want to create the best, most moving things possible. I don’t think that nerds are excluded from the second quality or that artists are excluded from the first. I do know that it creates a maddening obsession with well-informed perfectionism. Surely you know that feeling, too. Continue reading

Web Crush Wednesdays: Shoomlah

After last week’s web crush—Rejected Princesses, for those out of the loop—I suddenly had a memory flash by in my mind. Back before I had my own Tumblr (which seems longer ago than it was) I kept tabs on a few people who I swore to follow once I set up an account of my own. Unfortunately, with the passage of times comes the passage of promises forgotten and—what I’m saying is that I didn’t end up following anyone from that set of people. Yet one of them continued to appear on my dash, year after year, and although I haven’t followed her yet, she played a huge role in raising my standards for historical accuracy in drawings.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: The Laser Girls

webcrush picHere at Lady Geek Girl and Friends, most of our posts focus on geeky media. We hardly ever broach the techie side of geekdom. But it deserves to be talked about, because women and POC are still massively underrepresented in technological fields. When we think of techie geeks like hackers, tinkerers, and makers, we still think mainly of white men.

There are many reasons for this, but one that I’ve personally heard girls tell me is that they just aren’t that interested in technology careers. Most girls in our culture simply aren’t raised to like the hard edges and so-called ugliness of the “guts” that make up the insides of our devices. So how can we get more girls interested in technology? One way is to meet them where they are, with things they’ve already been socialized to like, in order to show that there is more than one “right” way to approach technology.

Enter today’s Web Crush: The Laser Girls. They 3D print acrylic and metal fingernails. Yeah, you read that right.

The Laser Girls

The Laser Girls, Sarah Awad and Dhemerae Ford

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On Black Characters and the Cost of Diversity

michael-b-jordan-fantastic-four-e1392904953390As you likely already know, Michael B. Jordan will play the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four film, slated for release on June 19, 2015. This casting decision was met with its fair share of outcry, because Johnny Storm is understood to be a White character, and Michael B. Jordan is clearly African-American. I think it would be easy to write it off as just another instance of fans of a very White and very male industry being a very White and male kind of racist. But there are deeper questions about misunderstanding of the role of diversity in artistic representation. During my tenure at this blog, I’ve written a fair amount about race and representation in the geek world, not just in comics, but also in video games, and theatre. I’ll be honest, I’ve found a dearth of good arguments against increasing the level of racial diversity in geek culture. Once more, with feeling: brown kids deserve more brown superheroes. Most counter-arguments to that notion are vapid, disingenuous, or just plain racist, like “most people won’t be able to relate to that character if his race is changed/is nonwhite”. There’s a comic over at Critical Miss that sums it up perfectly:

People can identify with Fox McCloud and he’s a bipedal fox. But a dude with darker skin is somehow too alien? What is that if not [racism]?

Arguments like this one are easily, and hilariously, dismissed (seriously, go read that comic). But every once in a while, a more seductive argument against diversity of representation pops up. It usually goes something like: “Why is it okay to change the race of [x], who is White, but not okay to change [y], who is a POC, to a White character?” The argument relies on a rather misguided sense of absolute equality, among myriad other problems. It’s probably easier to get traction on such an issue if we phrase it in terms of concrete examples.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: bettersupes

It’s no surprise to anyone at this point that there’s misogyny in the Western comics fandom. This sexism is even committed by some of the people that work on said comics, which is unfortunate because then we end up with a bunch of people circle-jerking about how super cool male heroes are and how super sexy female heroines need to be. Though in recent times there have been some pretty major improvements—such as Wonder Woman as portrayed in Justice League: War and Starfire’s character becoming a bit less based around sexual objectification—the bar really should be set higher about how female characters and the female audience itself are treated. Of course, changing an industry so set in its ways is going to take possibly until the end of time. So to tide us over, allow me to show you this amazing site that proves that the female comics audience isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And with a tagline like “Little girls are better at designing superheroes than you”, how could your curiosity not be piqued?

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Disney Princesses and the Art of Originality

So, today, while derping around over at Kotaku, I stumbled upon a really cool post titled “If Disney Princesses were Final Fantasy Characters.” It’s pretty straightforward, and shouts out the artwork of one Geryes over on deviantArt. He has a project called the Final Fantasy Damsel Dossier, which consists of stylized versions of Disney princesses and official given jobs (RPG professions) as though they were characters from the Final Fantasy franchise. Here they are all together:

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kida_dark_knight2_by_geryes-d6dnj2xGentle readers, your author adores both of the components of this fabulous artistic mash-up and has been poring over them all day. As an aside, the list includes official and un-official Disney Princesses. For example, on the right you will find Kida, the princess-then-Queen Regnant of Atlantis, who is not one of the eleven official Princesses, stylized as a Dark Knight. Most of them are thematic, e.g., Belle is Beastmaster, Merida is an Archer, etc. They’re incredibly cool; go check them out. It’s okay, I’ll wait here.

tumblr_mub3q9PA0x1qzimgeo1_1280Seeing this cast me back to other Disney Princess remixes I’ve seen, like this one by Mike V where Capcom fighter characters collide with our favorite Disney ladies. In case you were wondering which of them was the best, it is hands down this one of Lilo as Tron Bonne. There’s also a hilarious one of Disney Princesses twerking which is worthwhile, if nothing else, because it generated the phrase “a twerk is a wish your booty makes.

Besides the fact that these are all cool and hilarious, the frequency with which Disney Princesses are being remixed is an object lesson in how cool art has the potential to make the things we love even better if we are willing to let it be re-used, combined, and re-imagined. Most geeks already know this and can explain it in one word: fanfiction. But people are protective of their art, usually for two reasons I can think of: one, because they’re worried about it being taken from them and used, without credit or compensation; and two, because they don’t want it used for a purpose or interpreted in a way that they did not intend.

The first of these is exceedingly reasonable. Many artists receive very little compensation for the work they do, despite bringing skills and ideas that have taken their whole lives to develop. This is well-illustrated in the story of Picasso and the napkin sketch, wherein a fan asks the great painter for a little sketch on a napkin. He complies, and hands over the sketch asking for, oh I don’t know, 5000 EUR (they would have used pesetas, probably; no one knows what those are any more.) The woman recoils in terror, saying “But it only took you 3 minutes.” He replies, “No, ma’am. It took me my whole life.” More on that here.

tumblr_kuomv8qTsb1qz50oeo1_500The second is probably just as common a concern, but it is philosophically stillborn. To quote Joss Whedon: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” To me, if your art is incapable of supporting any interpretation other than the one you intended, then your art is weak. All art, all ideas, inventions, what have you, come from combining or altering elements of things that have already been. And that’s okay.

JBanksy_Napalm_HR_400kust think of all the incredible art which blatantly rips off, references, or remixes other work. The Magnificent Seven is an obvious and long acknowledged interpretation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and everyone knows that Kurosawa’s Ran is King LearThe Lion King takes from the Bible, Hamlet, and Kimba the White Lion, and is no less awesome for that fact. Banksy, anyone? It doesn’t do anyone any good to act like art, or writing, is slave to its creator. Everything is a remix of, or reference to, some thing or things that have come before. After all, there are only so many stories in the world.

But, I think that the “Disney Princess as X or Y” phenomenon (a couple of years old, in earnest) is special because of how important they are to us, culturally. Remember when it seemed that the appearance of Merida from Brave had changed to make her seem leaner, more “feminine” and less stocky? To quote Boondock Saints, “there was a firefight!” The Disney Princess are a multi-billion dollar institution, an important cultural touchstone, and they influence the self-image of young women and how our U.S. culture understands gender roles. Artistic remixes of Disney icons are an exemplar of the idea that nothing is too sacred or too important to be redesigned or reinterpreted. To say nothing of the fact that it produces beautiful things like this:

Theatre Thursdays: Location, Location, Location

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Gentle readers, I’d like to tell you a story. I work managing a theatre company that primarily produces works of what might be called “multicultural theatre.” What that means is that we basically do plays about people of color and that makes us somehow a special class of theatre, though mainstream theatres aren’t called “white theatres” for staging seasons that are either entirely white, or all-but. I’d be angrier about this, but it does mean that there are specific grants for which we can apply, and non-profits need grants to run. You take the good with the bad, I guess.

The company I work for is currently deciding whether or not to put on a play at another venue, which seems innocuous enough; theatre companies use one another’s spaces all the time. However, this potential working relationship began when the director of that venue — let’s call him Keith — approached me and my boss by saying, “I hate to say this, but there’s no other way to put it: my venue is having real difficulty getting people of color to attend our shows. We’d like your help.” The venue in question is close to my hometown, in an area where about half of one percent of all residents are Black, and the total percentage of people of color doesn’t break four percent. Their season consists of shows like Assassins, Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Legally Blonde: The Musical. All of which (shut up!) are shows I would gleefully fill a seat for. Especially Assassins. I love that show. But that’s a pretty white season.

I just didn’t understand how someone could be confused that in an area with virtually no Black people and very few Latinos, they had difficulty attracting persons of color to their performances. Let’s be charitable and assume that Keith was asking us how his theatre might engage with audiences of color, and I think that the easiest answer is: put on shows that they care about. I mean, for Christ’s sake, if the least white show in your season is Fiddler on the Roof, what do you expect? Continue reading

Theatre Thursdays: Haters Gonna Hate

Alas-Haters1You see what I did there? I opened with haters gonna hate to trick you into thinking that this was something worth reading. Muahaha.

So, I opened a play this weekend. In particular, I opened a play at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival which is a 2.5-week long festival of art and theatre. The whole thing was cool, and our venue happened to be just up the street from an Octoberfest street party, so I had the opportunity to get boozy between stagings. Always a good thing.

The next day, I read a review of our production on Phindie (Philly + “indie,” get it?), which I agree with pretty much wholeheartedly. His review was pretty sparse (our show wasn’t that big a deal) but among other things, the author wrote of our play: Continue reading