New Project: Bootleg Consoles and Regional Gaming Identities

I wanted to share an area of research I’m currently engaged with, particularly looking at what are typically referred to as Bootleg Consoles as meaningful social artifacts that make up regional gaming identities.

Subor console
A Subor Famicom clone, not licenced by Nintendo

Broadly, the term bootleg console can be used  to refer to any third party video game device that plays another manufacturer’s software without the intent permission from the original developer. Bootleg consoles of the past had traditionally been cloned devices that enable one to play physical software on a non-licensed device. During the early years of the industry, these types of devices sprung up all around the world in areas left untapped by big name game developers (Atari, Sega, Nintendo, etc.) and many countries had their own variations that they fondly remember.

crazyboyconsole
The CrazyBoy famiclone.

Modern bootleg consoles exist somewhere between cloned consoles and straight emulation, and many device tend to be marketed as all-in-one devices similar to official products like the NES Classic or Sega Genesis Mini. These devices tend to feature a swath of pirated games at a fraction of the cost of official products, with the most common platform pirated still being the Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System.

powerplayconsole
Power Player device, an example of modern bootlegs on the market

Looking more critically at these devices as platforms that are more than just cheap cash-ins or pirateware may yield interesting results about gaming more broadly, and how the industry as created a platform hierarchy through I.P and access.

One way that I am examining this project is through a twitter account that collects, documents, and share many of these types of devices.  You can check the twitter account @Bootlegconsoles.

Screenshot 2019-12-05 at 11.39.20 AM

The intent of this account is to share knowledge and experiences around these devices, and does not condone piracy. You can support this project by simply sharing or subscribing to this twitter account, but also by sharing your own experiences with these devices!

I’ll be sure to share more info on this project as it progresses.

 

AnyKey’s Good Luck Have Fun Pledge

 

This past week AnyKey, an advocacy group that promotes diversity and inclusion in gaming, relaunched their Good Luck Have Fun Pledge. I had the pleasure of representing the organization at TwitchCon 2019 in San Diego this past weekend.

IMG_4943.JPG

I met a lot of engaged gamers and streamers and was really moved by all of the positive responses we received regarding the pledge and the work AnyKey does. For those who have not heard or taken the pledge, it is pretty simple. The GLHF pledge  asks individuals to:

  1. Be a good sport whether I win or lose

  2. Know that people online are real people and my words have real impact

  3. Set a positive example with my behavior

  4. Speak up against discrimination, hate speech, harassment, and abuse

  5. Show integrity by honoring the rules, my opponents, and my teammates

  6. Stop, listen, and reassess if I’m told that my words or actions are harmful

  7. Respect others, even if their sincere opinions are different from my own

The GLHF pledge is a part of a larger initiative to curb toxicity in gaming spaces, with a big emphasis being placed on esports and streaming.  If you’re a twitch member you can also earn yourself a twitch global community badge icon, which your followers can then click and take the pledge for themselves.

AnyKey is hoping to have 1 million gamers take the pledge by 2020 and so far they’re nearing 300,000 at the time of this post. It’s a simple way of showing you’re not willing to stand for toxic behavior online. You can also support the cause by using the tag #glhfpledge on twitter and following AnyKey.

twit

Follow me on Twitter @Socialvideogame

 

 

BBC’s The Women Challenging Sexism in E-Sports

A quick one to share today:

Apart of their 100 Women of 2016 series, a series of videos and articles about influential women in varying industries, the BBC has put together a video and accompanying piece about women in the world of competitive gaming.

Stephanie Harvey and Julia Kiran, two of the most prominent female gamers in the world of competitive gaming, speak out about the challenges they have had to overcome and the hurdles that still exist in the gaming industry.  Issues of pay gap between males and females and consistent harassment plague the industry, so it’s great to see issues brought up.

Voice Actors Are Striking: Why You Should Care

carou_onstrike_1

For the last couple of weeks SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents many voice actors in the video games industry, have been picketing and striking outside of major video game developers and tomorrow, Nov.17th, they plan to picket Insomniac Games in Burbank. Many of the biggest voice actors in the industry have come out in support of the strike, including Sarah Palmer and Roger Craig Smith.

Essentially the union is fighting for more protection and wages for their actors, citing that many video game developers/publishers do not adequately pay or support their actors. Additionally, the union is fighting for voice actors to receive residual payments for their works that go-on to have long life spans.With game’s rapidly expanding to become more and more immersive experiences, voice actors play a huge part in creating these worlds and it’s only natural that actors need to be compensated and treated fairly with this growing trend.

CxU5qq9UcAAZavD.jpg

SAG-AFTRA released these statements:

“This group of video game employers knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living. This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.

“In this industry, which frequently uses performers and understands the intermittent and unpredictable nature of this type of work, fair compensation includes secondary payments when games hit a certain level of success with consumers, not simply higher upfront wages. Secondary compensation is what allows professional performers to feed their families in between jobs.

“No matter what these companies are peddling in their press releases, this negotiation is not only about upfront compensation. It is about fairness and the ability of middle-class performers to survive in this industry. These companies are immensely profitable, and successful games — which are the only games this dispute is about – drive that profit.

“We have proposed a fair payment structure that enables the sustainability of a professional performer community. These employers have unreasonably refused that. The time has come to end the freeloader model of compensation and that is why our members are united behind this cause.”

Gamespot has a great article that goes into a considerable more deal than I can, but I think it’s important to note why labor movements are important in both society and the gaming industry. Fair and equitable relations within jobs have long histories of fighting for rights, and we often overlook just how important labor fights are to our history. We tend to forget this history because we live in a time in which unions aren’t as prevalent because of the privatization of many industries and years of smear campaigns against them, but unions still very much help and work in many industries and they make substantive change for many people.

So go support SAG-AFTRA, urge your favorite developers to support and work with them, and next time you boot up your favorite game take a moment to think  about the people performing the voices of the characters.

You can support the cause by tweeting #PerformanceMatters

 

Capcom Investing In Benefits To Keep Female Employees

Really Quick one today:

capcom_logo

Japanese game developers have traditionally been slow towards creating more diverse work staffs, which makes Capcom’s announcement that they’ll be investing in medical benefits to encourage employees with children to stay with the company. In their annual report, which has lots of information about Capcom and where they see the industry headed, the veteran gaming made the commitment to keeping working mothers.

Capcom is engaged in improving the employment environment for women, promoting projects in which both women and men participate, and the proactive hiring of non-Japanese employees…In particular, with respect to improving the employment environment for women, we have introduced systems that promote utilization of paid leave before and after childbirth, childcare leave, and shortened working hours. In fiscal 2016, we promoted the establishment of children facilities within the company

It’s a small step, but an important one for a company that historically has had a lot of issues with gender representation. Capcom’s current workforce is made up of about 20% women, so hopefully this step towards retaining their currently female population will increase those numbers in future year.

You may be asking: “Hey, why should I care about female employees at Japanese gaming company getting benefits?”. Well, person who hates talking about benefits for Japanese women, the more video game companies invest in programs to diversify their work force the more we’ll get a diverse range of ideas and perspective in our games. Had Capcom had more female employees on their staff, maybe they wouldn’t have received such backlash for their depiction of  female characters in Street Fighter V….Just maybe.

 

Vice’s “The Invisible People: Why Asians Need to Be Better Represented in Video Games”

376266_v1

Vice News posted an article by Khai Trung Le entitled “The Invisible People: Why Asians Need to Be Better Represented in Video Games” that discusses the the lack or representation and misrepresentation of Asians in video games. It’s an interesting subject that often doesn’t get brought up in the community all that often. Before we discuss the article, here are some important tidbits from the article:

The issue of representation is perhaps more difficult to confront because Asians have always occupied a significant presence in games history, culture, and production, creating the assumption of a non-issue. China, Japan, and South Korea are strong markets for video games with their own idiosyncrasies, studios and market influence, and are certainly as responsible for propagating these tropes as Western developers and publishers. Nor do Asian men experience the same career barriers within the tech sector and generally are not currently under the extremities of harassment and hate felt by others: not under threat of deportation or assumptions of terrorist sympathies, nor under fear of trigger-happy law enforcement. Fortunately, there has been no organized social-media movement against Asians—although some of the coarser language certainly focused on ethnicity—but rather a continuous disregard.

Nevertheless, 49 percent of Asian American respondents to a 2015 Nielsen survey “strongly disagreed” with the statement of “all races have ample representation/inclusion in video game characters.” This is more than twice as high as Hispanic and African American respondents, and similarly more than twice as high than women that “strongly disagreed” with the same statement toward gender.

I think the reason representation in video games doesn’t often get brought up in regards to Asian communities is that there is a misconception that Asian characters are being well represented in video games, primarily due to Japanese characters having a good deal of representation in the medium. There in lies the issue; the terms Asian is such a broad term referring to such a vast number of cultures and people that one population within the umbrella term receiving representation in no way should trivialize other groups’ lack of representation. One Asian community does not represent all Asian communities, and nor should representation be looked at as a form of checking of groups.

The article is pretty articulate in regards to the problems of representation in gaming, but it should be noted that the article’s focus seems to be arguing more so for representation of Asian Americans within gaming, rather than Asian communities outside of the United States. Perhaps this division goes without saying, but the article doesn’t make the distinction which will perhaps lead viewers to extend his viewpoint to more communities than just Asian Americans. Regardless, representation within the Asian American community in general is a subject matter that extends to many forms of media and gaming is no different. As the author puts forward, we’re seeing some positive portrayals in recent games but a significant portion of Asian Americans feel that video games are underrepresenting or misrepresenting their communities. With more emerging game development communities forming in Asian countries like China and S.Korea, hopefully we’ll begin to see other Asian communities better represented within gaming as a whole. Similarly, American developers need to be more conscious of representing the entire American population within their game, which needs to include the various Asian American communities that call the United States home. More diverse characters with more diverse backgrounds mean for more interesting games.

An/Other: A Game That Simulates Everyday Racism

Video Game designer Jordan Sparks has created a game that simulates what it’s like to be black living in Toronto, Canada. The game “An/Other” is Spark’s attempt to demonstrate how racism is embedded in society through the interactive medium of video games. Local media outlet Torontoist has a great piece about what you can expect once booting up the game, but I’ll go ahead and mention some of its highlights.

The game places you in the first person perspective of a single day experience of a typical black person in Canada. The first experience players receive is a police officer  requesting for identification while walking to work. Throughout your experience, players will witness and come across many forms of racism, many of which are nuanced and exhibit more embedded forms of racism that lurk under the surface of many who may consider themselves a non-racist. Things like a NPC clutching her purse as you walk near her or other characters making sweeping generalizations of children of a different race strike at  the everyday occurrences that people of color experience.

screenshot-104-640x409

The game accompanies a 80 page long paper entitled “Seeing Through The Eyes of An/Other: Developing Games For Social Change” which argues that video games have the potential to teach valuable social lessons because of their more intimate and immersive nature. I could write a lengthy post about the paper itself, which echoes a lot of what many voices in the field are arguing about video games having the potential to ignite social change with the proper harnessing of their power, but I’ll instead just refer you over to the paper itself, which more eloquently and extensively puts anything I would say.

I highly suggest anyone and everyone try the game out, as well as read his paper. It’s games like this that really exemplify how video games can augment society and will change the way we learn about social issues. Sparks and his work is invaluable, as  voices like his are ones pushing the study of video games as more than just a form of entertainment. We need more voices, more research, and more games like An/Other.

 

 

Racist Games: Street Fighter 2

heIt’s time once again to look through the library of video games and examine some of the good ol’ fun themes of racism in some of our favorite and least favorite games. Today’s racist game is one of the most well known games in video game history: Street Fighter 2.

I know what you’re saying: “Hey! Eff you man! Leave Street Fighter 2 alone! That game rocks!”. Fair enough, hypothetical person responding to this blog. Street Fighter 2 is a great game that undeniably revolutionized the fighting game genre and had a huge impact on video game history. That said, it’s a little bit racist. Like “Punch-Out!” Street Fighter 2 falls into the category of games that were unintentionally racist for the sake of having characters from around the world. The game undeniably relies of stereotypes and bizarre caricatures of different countries and peoples. Let’s look at some of these nationally accurate characters!

Zangief : Zangief is Russian. What do Russian people do? Wrestle bears, of course. Also, they do that one dance; you know the one that all Russian people do. Zangief’s ending literally features Zangief dancing with, then president, Mikhail Gorbachev.

You won’t see George Bush in Guile’s ending

Dhalsim: Dhalsim is from India. Things the developers knew about India include that Yoga is popular, Elephants are a plenty, and Hinduism is a strange and mystical religion. In Dhalsim’s ending in the game, he rides a elephant back to home! Everyone in India has a pet Elephant!

Balrog: Balrog is the only black character in the game. Haling from the United States, Balrog shares a striking resemblance to Mike Tyson and is even a boxer! Also, in the original Japanese version Balrog was named M.Bison, which clearly is a play on the aforementioned ear biter.

Upon beating the game and becoming world champion, Balrog retires to a life of luxury, and in some versions, white women!

 

Other Fun tidbits of racism from Street Fighter 2

-The Americans in the game all seemingly have fabulous lives, where as many of the other characters are pretty poor and destitute. Guile, for example, is a military hero!

– Vega is from Spain. People from Spain all love Flamenco and are Vain, or so the developers believe.

-Very few countries are represented, and yet Japan and the U.S have multiple characters! The hell!?

Street Fighter is a great game, but it certainly relied heavily on stereotypes to make up its cast of characters. I’m sure the developers didn’t intend to make the game offensive, it’s probably that they just needed to make the characters noticeably different from each other. Future games in the franchise featured more fleshed out characters and relied less on stereotypes and even the original cast is a little less racist these dam. Regardless of its unintentional racism, it’ll still be one game that will forever be a classic…No mater which 1 of the 500 versions of the game you play.

BONUS ROUND OF SEXISM!

Street Fighter had the chance of being one of the most sexist games ever, as some of the original developers actually wanted to give Chun-Lee, the only female character in the game, a shorter life bar because she was a woman.

“You know how each character has a life bar? At one point, I wanted to make the power gauge for Chun-Li shorter than for the other characters because women are not as strong. But [another designer] didn’t want to do that. We both had legitimate reasons, but then we came to an agreement to not make it shorter.”

Oh man, who thought that was a good idea. Oh Capcom.

 

 

Polygon’s “No Skin Thick Enough:The daily harassment of women in the game industry”

No Skin Thick Enough

Today Polygon posted this piece on their site. It’s an piece about the myths and realities of harassment against women in the video game industry by Brianna Wu. It features the real life experiences of several women in the gaming industry that have faced harassment and threats from gamers and consumers. I’m not going to try and make any witty comments on this one, you should just read the article. Warning: There is some pretty graphic language in the piece.

These are some pretty harrowing experiences that are laid out in this piece. Being a public figure, especially a female public figure, in the gaming industry is still one that carries a lot of hurdles and hardships. The gaming community is slowing shifting and becoming more and more accepting, but we still have a long way ahead of us. We got some real dicks still out there, and we probably always will, but it is how we as a community respond to these types of actions that make us the community we are. Gamers have to hold up those who are being oppressed in our community, and until we do we’re all failing as a community.

 

New Tropes VS. Women In Gaming Video: Women as Background Decoration Part 1

Anita Sarkeesian has released a new installment in her Tropes Vs. Women in Gaming video series that explores women as decorative objects in gaming. Her videos tend to be controversial amongst the gaming community, but I think she does great work to exposure a lot of the sexism and bias in the gaming community. Others may say “LOLWHATEVER”, to which I would reply “touche” .  Warning, some content in the video can be a little graphic and NSFW. Anyways, here’s a description of the video from  The Feminist Frequency website.

“In this episode we explore the Women as Background Decoration trope which is the subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players. Sometimes they’re created to be glorified furniture but they are frequently programmed as minimally interactive sex objects to be used and abused.

Sexual objectification is the practice of treating or representing a human being as a thing or mere instrument to be used for another’s sexual purposes. Sexually objectified women are valued primarily for their bodies, or body parts, which are presented as existing for the pleasure and gratification of others.”

Let me know what your stance on these videos are. Please  no “SHE STUPID. SHE NO NOTHING BOUT VIDAJ GYMES”.