As a resident of Michigan, snow is a common think. Our state is shaped like a mitten (well, the lower peninsula is) and that implies that tells me we are destined for snow.
I’ve always liked it. When we were younger, my brothers and I could play in it in our backyard and roll snowballs down the hill, etc. It was quick and easy.
This year, we are having a mild start to the winter. We had some snow in November that I got to play with my daughter (she’s almost three) and that was a lot of fun. It was fun enough that I wanted to go out and buy some Carhart snow pants so that I wouldn’t be wearing only my jeans. Which is a lot – I don’t generally buy spendy items like that. But it was fun and my daughter enjoyed it tremendously. Part of it was her connection to Olaf from Frozen but that’s for another day.
The point being – I like snow and Michigan is, in general, a good place to get it.
This year, however, we have had a fairly mild winter. We had some snow in November and some cold temperatures so far and that is about it. According to the coming weather forecast (and this is Michigan so take it with a heavy grain of salt) we’re going to get some more 50 degree days in the next week or so.
Which is odd.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand why some folks are grateful for the changes this winter. For Michigan drivers, snow is an expectation. People that are commuting into or out of the state complain, but most of the native drivers don’t seem to have a significant issue with it. Sometimes that does mean waking up extra early to shovel my driveway, but we’ve survived worse circumstances.
The point being – snow is a fun and enjoyable thing for most of the Michiganders that I know. The Upper Peninsula folks are even more used to it than those of us in the Lower Peninsula – but then they have a higher snowfall rate than we do.
It can be a lot of fun. Snowballs, snowmen, and sledding down a hill. When we moved, one of the appeals was a big hill nearby for sledding – though I don’t know that I told my wife that one.
Then, once you are thoroughly chilled and excited – taken care of all of your snow fun and enjoyment – you get to go inside and have a nice cup of hot tea or hot cocoa while you slide under a blanket to gradually warm up. It’s a great way to spend a day!
So, I wonder, how do most feel about snow and cold? The internet is a free place!
So, I have talked about the A Girl and Her Feduniverse before. If you read any of my reviews about the Rachel Peng books, then you will be running into some familiar faces here.
We have Speedy and Hope as the primary protagonists this time around. Rachel’s not the focus here and we are, instead, introduced to the universe through Hope’s eyes and seeing her try to solve a mystery that has a lot more to do with the origins of how OACET and the ghosts work in the A Girl and Her Fed universe.
I’m not spoiling much in this review, but if you haven’t read A Girl and Her Fed yet, you might want to back out and go read it before you read on because some of this will go into spoilage as to how the rules of the Universe there work.
The main mystery revolves around an artifact, a piece of the Antikythera mechanism, that is commented on in both the comic and in the Peng novels. They have a piece of a machine that is out of place and out of time for the development of the period. Hope, Speedy, and the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin (I’m not sure if that’s a title or not…maybe I’ll tweet the author to ask) have been discussing the limits of how a ghost can work and how time flows in the A Girl And Her Fed (AGAHF for short) universe.
It boils down to this: ghosts can move backward and forward in time. However, this requires a great deal of power. A ghost gets its power from his/her effect on the world. Also, a ghosts power appears to be limited to the culture in which it was created. This means that most ghosts are quite limited in their power. Benjamin Franklin’s ghost is very powerful in the United States (as are the other ghosts of the Founding Fathers. And Lincoln…oh dear lord, Lincoln). However, when Hope travels outside of the U.S., Franklin can’t follow / can’t manifest (side-note: given his years in Europe, I wonder if he can manifest there as well…).
We already know from AGAHF that Franklin can time travel. He did it to help Hope play the stock market so she didn’t have to focus on gaining money and could instead prepare for the coming of OACET and Sparky and a few other slightly more world shattering elements coming to the U.S. (and the world) than whether or not she could pay the bills. Of course she originally thought he was a drug induced hallucination, but that would be getting off topic and into AGAHF rather than Greek Key.
The point being, his power lets him jump forward in time and, unlike many ghosts, he can bring back elements of what he finds in the future. In the comic, he brings back a ring that is linked to OACET so she can call in help from Sparky whenever she needs it. This takes a tremendous amount of power and the ring is only a small thing.
The mechanism piece? It’s a bit bigger. Which means a lot more power would be needed. Not only that, but we’re looking at a time jump that would make Doc Brown jealous.
And without a DeLorean.
Or a Flux Capacitor.
This machine piece that they have found, however, appears to have come from someone a bit more…universal. Think mathematics. Like Universal mathematics.
This has everyone baffled and a bit worried as it was found in a stash that was being supervised by the main antagonist of AGAHF.
Hope, being one of the few who knows the ghost connection in OACET, decides to investigate and she takes along Mike. The pair are psychic and are able to use that ability to tap into the ghost spectrum – though neither is particularly good at it. You do what you can with what you have.
Then we run into an archaeologist, Atlas, (who’s probably not on the up-and-up) and his sister, Darling (who’s definitely not on the up-and-up) and they get involved in examining the mystery as well.
Helen of Troy also ends up entangled.
The story is also a lot of fun. As a fan of AGAHF, I got a lot of satisfaction out of reading the story. Hope is a fun character and Speedy is a highlight as well. They play their typical roles, but those roles are written quite well.
Hope is a strong protagonist. It is immediately obvious that she is in charge of herself and her choices; there’s no damsel in distress here. No one is ‘letting’ her do the things that she does. She is doing them through her action and through her conscious choice. It’s a good message and one that shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m pointing it out because that message is often lost in other media and stories. Hope’s a character that is strong on her own and she happens to be female.
Speedy is still a hyper-intelligent Koala. I don’t really feel the need to elaborate there, but he is enjoyable. However, I’m a Speedy fan and I hear there are those that disagree with him. That’s your choice – I can assure you that he doesn’t care in the slightest.
The mystery of Archimedes’ machine is the central plot of the story and its practically a character in and of itself. The jumping and shifting of ideas and ‘OK, that didn’t work, next plan’ is a lot of fun.
For me this book had a lot to tell. It establishes quite a bit of the rules for the AGAHF universe. The world building is fascinating and I enjoyed those elements a lot.
My major complaint comes from only two elements. My first is Hope’s attraction to Atlas. It seems overplayed and not especially relevant to the plot. I get that it is part of the character of Hope to be easily distracted, but I just did not like the Atlas bit at all. It’s a personal element, but I feel it detracts from Hope’s character to have that be a focus of her distractions. The rest of her jumps, however, are hilarious and/or plot related and I enjoyed them, but the Atlas ones didn’t ping right for me. Maybe it’s my sense of humor.
Which brings me to Atlas himself. As a character and an antagonist (I won’t go far enough to call him a villain) he’s in the gray area. It could be argued that he’s not even really an antagonist so much as a stumbling point. He’s a pretty face and something for Hope to get distracted by given his amazing Mediterranean body and that’s pretty much it. There is some effort at characterization by having him have a rivalry with his sister, but it doesn’t come off as particularly effective. His reveal and subsequent plot related items come off as convenient and/or out of place when reading and that appeared to defeat the purpose of having him in play. He helps the plot along and gives Hope a few things to think about, but it doesn’t really bring out anything new or interesting in the characters and so he falls flat.
On the whole, though, Greek Key is a strong novel with an interesting mystery. Hope, Mike, and Speedy make up for the lack of a traditional antagonist by fighting with the mystery surrounding the Archimedes device. The solution is a fascinating twist and turn as Spangler develops her world and reveals new and fascinating bits about how the world works in her universe of ghosts and government. For AGAHF fans, this will be a lot of fun. For inductees and those new to the universe, it will be an exciting adventure with a strong protagonist and companions that will lead you into a complex and fun world.
I have always been about creating. I love to write, to create adventures and characters with my friends through RPGs and LARPs, to produce plays and portrayals through acting on stage. All through my life I have created.
One such creation that I had was called Life on Ramen. It was a sprite comic that I produced while I was in college. Keep in mind – this was during the hay day of sprite comics. We had Bob and George on the one hand and 8-Bit Theater on the other. It was an awesome time. If you had MS Paint and a few sprite sheets, you could make a webcomic.
Mine was about myself and some of my friends and our various insanities. I called it ‘Life on Ramen’ because I was in college and that was pretty much my only non-campus sustenance. I found the comic very funny and I put a lot of work into updating it on GeoCities. You know, back when GeoCities existed.
It was the first piece of something I had created that I shared outside of my personal bubble. I put it up on the internet and I joined some webrings (does anyone remember those? 🙂 ) and I posted it for feedback and fun.
It was something I had never done before – exposed myself like that to a strange audience. I remember being a little scared of it, at least at first, but also excited. I had hoped that I would find some folks who liked it – there were certainly enough 8 and 16 bit Sprite comic lovers out there at the time.
There wasn’t a lot of original content to it, I will admit now. But as I gained new skills and software (thanks Ferris), it improved. I had some fun characters and some, in my opinion, funny humor. There were a lot of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moments – which I still find funny.
Any how, I thought I would share this memory of my first time putting my work out for public critique and see if anyone else wanted to comment. What was your first time sharing something publicly like? What made it exciting or interesting to you?
Things here have been a little bit crazy as of late, so I haven’t had a lot of time to write.
I have, however, had a lot of time to read. So, I grabbed up my tablet and looked through for something fun but different. The cover for this one caught my eye and it was on a promotion for $0.00 so I downloaded it.
It’s a crack!
This is a detective story that is playing with all of the tropes of a detective story while throwing in elements of fantasy. Apparently there is a movement towards fantasy-crime novels (something I didn’t know) and this was my first full dip into it.
The plot is, pretty much, a standard NCIS, CSI, etc plot. Someone’s been murdered and Jake Daggers (our narrator) has to solve the mystery. Unfortunately (at least according to his perspective at first) he’s just had his long time partner replaced with a newbie fresh from the academy. To make matters worse, the newbie is a woman and an elf. So he has to deal with the newbie and a murder. Lots of fun.
The plot is pretty much straight out of those style outlines, but that’s to make room for the characterization. Daggers is clearly the focus and it shows. He has a fantastic characterization and reading him is just like reading the old detective serials that used to be on the radio. I can hear Howard Duff’s Sam Spade as I read the novel and it’s fantastic. Daggers is not a fantastic role-model – some of his views and perceptions are out of that same era and it makes for him to be very much a throw back of the era. This is particularly true regarding his partner, Steele. And while his view of Steele changes over the course of the story and becomes somewhat better, that doesn’t happen for women in general. It’s a part of the character and the setting, so it makes for good characterization. Daggers has faults – lots of them (women just being one), but he is overall a likable character with a strong voice.
Steele, his partner, does a fair job of standing up to him and its pretty obvious that the rest of his team (there are four total agents on Daggers’ task force) don’t share his archaic views. She even calls him out a few times but, unfortunately, they don’t stick. The rest of the team just let it pass, so it Daggers does come off as a bit of a bully that the reader is expected to excuse. For the most part, I am a forgiving reader and I am anticipating that this will change over the course of the series. It’s an easy place to have character growth and development and I cannot imagine that the author won’t take advantage of it.
But back to the team. The team is interesting, though most of our experience is with Daggers and Steele (imagine that!). Steele gets some screen time and it becomes clear that she’s not going to take Daggers lying down – yet she sometimes lets things slide that make this inconsistent. It’s a significant flaw, and, again, I’m assuming the author is going to fix it eventually.
The answer to the puzzle becomes a bit obvious as the novel gets close to then end, but its still a good solution and fun to reach. The ‘getting there is half the fun’ trope really holds sway through the novel, and the novel is a lot of fun to read.
Despite the flaws of the story, this is a fun book to pick up and read if you enjoy shows like NCIS or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the price of free, you really have no excuse not to.
I grabbed this book as a part of the promotion when book two launched. The author had it up for free as an enticement to check out the sequel. I’ve been busy with my students and conferences, but I managed to find some time to do some reading and this is one of the books I was determined to get through. Of course, that meant that I missed the sale and grabbed it at $2.99.
Totally worth it.
The story is fairly simple – we have Sara, the daughter of a disgraced imperial commander. Her father was killed for deserting and, given what she knows of her father, this has always bothered her. This leads her to develop her sword skills and make some living wages to support herself and her mother for much of her early life.
When she comes of age, and a few tragedies, she finds herself working with the Mercenary Guild and beginning to unravel what really happened with her father and the Emperor. There are a number of sub plots and loose threads introduced and expanded on and it’s well balanced between resolution and mini-mystery.
I’ve always enjoyed Edun’s work and this is no exception. Sara is a fine main character and fun to follow along with. I also enjoyed Ezekiel as a bit of a challenge to Sara and her developing skills. That a ‘Battle Mage’ can transform in to a Berserker – like a classic Berserker – is also interesting and makes her accessing her abilities feel like there is some actual consequence to her magic use.
The other secondary characters felt a bit more static than I generally enjoy, but it comes off to me more as her getting things established than any kind of laziness on her part. To put it simply, this is a new aspect to her world and she is getting it prepared for the future. That static-ness makes it so that she can focus on Ezekiel and Sara and the mystery of Sara’s father while introducing elements that can grow in the future. Sara and Ezekiel are charming enough that I’m willing to be patient with those characters and I look forward to grabbing the sequel when I have a chance.
The world and society that Edun has built is interesting. It appears to be linked to her Courtlight series (which I am a huge fan of (I still need to finish the last book)), but this area and part of the world feels unique and distinct in comparison to what we read in the other series. It’s much more Roman/Greek-ish (for lack of a better phrase) over in these cities and for Sara. I also like the Mercenaries and their role and reaction to Sara. I don’t want to spoil it, but it makes significant sense given the world and the way Edun has established their purpose.
On the whole, this is an excellent new world from a great author. I encourage everyone to give it a shot when they have a chance. It’s completely worth the price asked at $2.99. I see there is a print price and, if Edun ever comes to my area for a convention or something, I’ll probably grab a print copy to get it signed.
I find it interesting that in examining online gaming culture, there is no one definition that anyone seems to be able to agree on. Some people will tell you that Console Games should be excluded, others insist that a console based game is the only one that counts. Some will say that Nintendo’s Wii is not a proper gaming console; others point out that portable games such as Angry Birds should not be considered a part of gaming.
With no one, solid definition of what Gaming Culture is, I find it interesting that there can be a cultural clash or hashtag even created for this ‘GamerGate’ controversy. If you can’t define the limits, how can you define where it begins or ends.
So, before I write this, I’m going to go ahead and throw up some definitions so that I am clear in my explanation:
Core Audience (Pre-2000) – the Core Audience prior to the year 2000 for video games were males aged 15-32. This is, in general, the audience that most people picture when they think of a ‘gamer.’
Core Audience (Post 2000) – the shifting demographic that advertisers and programmers are now trying to bring in. This is largely due to the rise of mobile gaming brought about by devices like smartphones.
Core Gamer – a person who plays games at least 20 hours a week and purchases titles regularly (1)
Casual Gamer – a person who plays infrequently and purchases titles less often (1).
So, even in my definitions, it is clear to me (and a number of actual online journalists and reporters) that there has been a significant shift in the gaming audience and its marketing appeals. There are now more people playing games than there have ever been before (2). Regardless of the platform that you prefer your gaming on, you are getting consistent new content and experiences at a pace almost unheard of in older gaming times.
This massive explosion of population has thus called in to question: is gaming’s culture keeping up with its audience evolution.
Different Zeldas, Different Casting
The answer to that question is long and complicated. It is, unfortunately, almost impossible to find any neutral information on the subject, but I’ll try and share what I have found along with my opinions mixed in.
The short answer is a simple ‘no.’ To put it bluntly, we have not seen a significant change in the social demographics presented in video games. A simple trip in to Wal-Mart to look at the covers of the available titles shows that the common protagonist in major studio efforts remains white males (3). You can also load GameFaqs.com and look at their top 10:
Wow, I wish I had a better screen cap grabber…
Anyway, if you follow through on those titles, most of them feature primary protagonist characters that are white males (or, at least, based on white males for games like The Elder Scrolls V or League of Legends) with casts to match. This is consistent regardless of platform and game sub-genre. The previously defined core audience is still the target of most major publishers and the advertising backs that.
Which is all just fine if the numbers played out in favor of that group being the one that is the most marketable and has the most success for publishers.
But it’s not. The casual gaming market is exploding and making a mega-ton of money.
Consider the following chart
To put it bluntly, console sales have been dropping. Meanwhile, mobile and casual games are going up (I could not find comarable or reliable numbers for PC sales)(2). There are many reasons for this that have been examined and questioned a lot LOT by those who have far more industry knowledge than I do, so I won’t go in to it in much more detail except to say that it is clear that console gaming is dropping away.
Yet, in gamer culture, console games are a significant part of the ‘core gamer’ assumption. Even as that market shrinks, developers scramble to grab on to it and try and grab that smaller audience. They do this in many ways. There’s the nostalgia factor where developers re-release old titles that were extremely popular on the hope that you will still think the game is as awesome as it was a decade ago (looking at you SquareEnix and Nintendo). There’s the competetive factor – where you are in competition with yourself/others to climb a digital hierarchy to reach the top (Halo, League of Legends, etc). And there is the completeness factor – think Pokemon or Trophies among many others.
All of these items are combined to make it so that the player feels as though they are a part of the elite group of ‘core gamers.’ And this is an elite group. Go check out many major gaming sites and you will see instances of conflict between this ‘core’ group and other groups. The most significant division in the group is between console and PC gamers, but they all will rally around their territory in an effort to protect it.
What I have to wonder, then, is why do game manufacturers pursue the market so heavily. The definition above is one big reason – 20 hours a week of time and regular purchases means you have a reliable customer. In today’s fluctuating market conditions, that kind of loyalty and reliable revenue is hard to come by and a valuable commodity. Going after these guys creates reliable income and that’s invaluable. When its expected, you can plan against it.
But, if the data above is true and console sales are dropping, even reliable revenue is going to dry up. Thus, you market more heavily to grab at those that are left. Because console manufacturers and developers are fighting to get their share of an increasingly smaller pool, we are not seeing demographic changes to reflect purchasing trends and social trends that are beginning to show in other media. The Wii bucked this trend a bit by bringing in a lot of new players and families to gaming, but it doesn’t appear that the audience that came in is really transitioning significantly in to the market.
So, these developers are struggling to hold on to a market that is, increasingly, shrinking. That’s probably why all of the current gen consoles (Wii U, XBoxOne,PS4) have so many ‘other’ features. I know that my Wii U is used for a Netflix box for my wife and daughter almost as often as I am using it to play Video Games.
Admittedly, there are far more developers in the causal and mobile markets. This slew of different developers, inherently, means a larger pool of talent and ideas to draw from, as well as differing objectives in game creation. For every 1 major publishers for the PC/Console market, there are thousands of ‘micro’ developers in the mobile/casual market (3)
Given that, is it any wonder that they don’t want to try and compete with all of that? You’re surrounded on all sides and have been holding out. Why switch tactics in the middle of the battle – even if your soldiers are bleeding out?
That’s not to say that we haven’t got some positives up in there, however. Even with that shot, I will point out that in at least 5 of those titles you have the option to build your character and create it how you want. And in those options, there is,invariably a female option. Many of them also offer other racial options to allow for greater depth of character representation (though some of Skyrim’s options are impossible in the real world). (4) This was unheard of until more recent console and PC developments. While part of that the fact that older mediums could not support more complex graphics and store the data required for a great deal of building options (not to mention there were far fewer titles that allowed customization period), the ugly other half of it was that there was almost no market approach to consider other audiences.
Now, though, the games are starting to flip in the other direction. Customization and unique experiences are the name of the game in the gaming market OUTSIDE of major publishers. To some extent, it is starting to leak in to the ‘Big 3’ (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo), but mobile games are dominating the scene right now and they are offering an increasingly diverse and customize-able experience for end users.
What does this mean, then? It means that the recognition of ALL gamers, and not just core audience, needs to be established for developers. Similarly, the media and culture of the United States (and any other country, really) needs to accept and understand that this change of audience and demographic is both a positive item AND a potential for profit. Current ‘core’ gamers also need to recognize this shift and stop fighting against it. It would be, in my opinion, far better for them to accept it and try and re-classify their purpose in the system. Instead of being the major ‘go to’ for marketing and targeting, incorporate their experience with games and their appeal by working with the industry in it moving forward instead of fighting against the progress.
So, I was doing my usual morning read through of news sites and checking for other teaching jobs when I came across a link to an article from Think Progress.org about Felicia Day. Didn’t realize that was the name of the gal from The Guild. (Which I have watched). Then again, while I can find Patrick Stewart in pretty much any work (and, more recently Micheal Shanks), I’m not great with tracking actors to roles if they aren’t Patrick Stewart or Daniel Jackson.
Keep in mind, I also navigate by landmarks rather than street names – something that drives my wife and father nuts. My brain just doesn’t work that way.
Anyway, this was the first time I had ever heard the term GamerGate though it is something that I have been thinking about recently and did not know it. Now that I have a daughter, and my video games, I go back and consider the roles that many of the females play in some of the games that I play.
The most interesting conversation, however, came from my wife. She got me Hyrule Warriors for my birthday. We have been playing Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi games ever since we discovered them in college. They are simple enough games – run around and beat up 100’s of minions until the boss appears. Then, beat it up to. There’s a story to the games as well, but that’s largely ignored in favor of grabbing up our favorite character and slamming through hundreds of enemies as if they were soft cheese.
The character selection in Hyrule Warriors is limited compared to Dynasty Warriors/Warriors Orochi – kind of a given since one is based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms (didn’t know that until my friend pointed it out) and one is based on The Legend of Zelda which, generally, has a fairly limited cast of non-background characters (in general – Link, Zelda, and Gannon/Gannondorf). Anyway, we were playing and we had finally gotten to the point in the story where Zelda was unlocked for play in the story mode and my wife grabbed her up (After accusing me of hogging Link. It wasn’t my fault that 1P always got him by default) and took her and her rapier out in to the field.
We played through the level with my wife slaughtering far more bobobkins and Moblins than I and my sword had. At the end of the level she says to me (the following conversation is relative to my memory. I apologize for inaccuracies) – “I didn’t know Zelda was such a badass.”
I reply, “Oh yeah. Ever since Ocarina of Time she’s been given some kind of major combat. She was Shiek (something my wife learned from Hyrule Warriors (spoiler alert: She’s also Shiek in Ocarina of Time)) who totally managed to hide out and fight during the 7 year war; she was Tetra in Wind Waker – a Pirate who resisted Ganondorf – even in Twilight Princess where Ganondorf took her over following the Twilight Conflict she was one of the most deadly boss fights. She’s been BA since the N64.”
“Oh. I thought she was like the Mario Princess and you always had to save her.”
“Not Zelda. Except maybe in Twilight Princess, and she fought against Ganondorf the whole time. And then blasted him in the face with the Light Arrows in the final boss fight while you fought on horseback. it was a team effort. And she was pissed.”
I then went on to explain the Triforce and how it worked – Zelda couldn’t be weak if she had the Triforce of Wisdom; all of the Triforces respond only to those who have strong character and particularly to those who match it’s particular trait. You can’t be a weakling and wield a Triforce.
Which, as I read about GamerGate (which is a weird name anyway) and I had to go back and think – is this a real thing? And is it as poor and dramatic as the web seems to make it out to be.
The only conclusion I can come to, after examining my own gaming library and experiences with gaming, I have to say yes.
Ultimately, video games are about a narrative and an experience and, in both cases, females are, in general getting the soft spot. While there are a few exceptions (I would argue that Zelda is one of them), I tend to agree with the controversy.
Starting Monday and each day next week (except Friday. Friday will be a book review as normal), I’m going to post a series of pieces, with some research even, on my opinions and findings in examining the GamerGate with some conclusions and arguments. I think this is a fascinating topic and one that needs to be examined and discussed. I hope you all enjoy it.