Voice Actors Are Striking: Why You Should Care

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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.

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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

 

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Documentary Review: Man Vs. Snake

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I had the chance to watch Man Vs. Snake, now streaming on Netflix, which tells the tale of the Nibbler world record holder. Like King of Kong before it, the movie  delves deep into the community of world-record arcade gaming and even brings out many of the characters at the forefront of King of Kong. I mention King of Kong because there’s undeniably no way this film wouldn’t be compared to it; it features a strikingly similar arc of individuals trying to achieve the high score of a old video game they once had high success with in their youth. Despite the comparison,  Man Vs. Snake actually tells its core tale more effectively than King of Kong; the story of Tim McVey trying to achieve the world record is one of constant struggle and hardships, and you get a genuine sense of McVey, his wife, and his life. That said, it perhaps isn’t quite as memorable as King of Kong, which was made extremely memorable by dynamic between Steve Weibe and Billy Mitchell and the absurdity of aspects of the community. For better or worse, Man Vs. Snake really puts its players at the forefront to make it a more human interest sort of documentary, which in this goal it succeeds in strides. McVey, who throughout the movie says he’s trying to expand the notoriety of Nibbler, comes off as an underdog trying to reclaim his early glory. Unlike Kong, the community comes off as much more unified and welcoming; with competitors not having the antagonistic relationships as much. Even Dwayne Richard, who in some ways plays the Billy Mitchell role in this film, comes off as supportive, even when he is faced with the controversy of perhaps rigging his record.

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What really is socially fascinating, for me at least, in both Man Vs. Snake and King of Kong are the communities built around these aged machines. World records of 30+ old video games aren’t typically the first thing you think about when you imagine communal gaming, but such movies speak to their power to bring people together and form bonds. One of the best moments of the movie comes in its final moments when Walter Day, whom has become a name synonymous with world record gaming, speaks to the power of video games:

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“Video Games were just the device. It could have been all sorts of other things, but it happened to be video games… Video Games are like a superficial thing, it really was the essence of life challenging them, putting them at the forefront, making them have to go deep within, and really flower and pull out their own inner qualities and really decide what type of person they’re going to be”

All in all, it’s a fun and interesting enough documentary to fill your time. If you’re interested in gaming or have no prior knowledge of world record community I’d recommend giving it a shot.

 

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New Research Finds Adult Men are Choosing Video Games Over Full-Time Work

It’s the end times my friends: Video games are destroying our economy.

New research coming out the Princeton, The University of Chicago, and University of Rochester has found a correlation between the abundance of high quality video games and uneducated adult men choosing to remain out of the workforce. The study itself isn’t yet available, but the Washington Post has a good summary of the study’s findings and an evaluation of what they may mean.

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The study compares unemployment rates of adult men with happiness levels and screen time usage and found that, despite having higher unemployment rates than in previous years, adult men are on average reporting having higher levels of happiness, which is potentially tied to their increase in average video game usage. It’s a pretty interesting study with some pretty big implications:

While young men might temporarily enjoy a life of leisure, the implications could be troubling for them as well as the economy. The young men aren’t gaining job experience that will better equip them to work in their 30s and 40s. That, in turn, could lead to a lifetime of decreased wages, limited opportunities and challenges such as depression and drug use — problems that the United States is already seeing in areas hit with heavy job losses.

These are interesting findings, and in some way makes logical sense: the abundance of media is making people more content, unemployed or not. However, there are potentially other variables that are effecting this relationship. It’s not absurd to think that a contributing factor to adult men not entering the work force is because of the entry level job have been considerably reduced in recent decades due to shrinking opportunities for the working class: rather than enter the work force working for Mcdonalds and making next to little money, many adult men choose to stay at home and focus on their happiness instead.

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For an economist, these are certainly concerning findings because they exemplify how potentially disenfranchised uneducated adult men are with job opportunities. At the same time, it’s positive to see that happiness levels are steadily rising, potentially because of video games. Whats bad for the economy may be good for the individual.

I would need to read the entire study, including their methods, to make a better critique and analysis of it, but it’s great to see video games gradually become a more researched field. I highly recommend at least reading the Washington Post article as the research does do a good job of looking at the whole picture. Video games are important sociological variables that are pervading in all parts of society, so it’s great to see different disciplines starting to struggle with their place in society.

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Capcom Investing In Benefits To Keep Female Employees

Really Quick one today:

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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.

 

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

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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.

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Pokemon Go: A Bizarre Social Experiment

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I don’t need to tell you that Pokemon Go released this week for IOS and Android in the U.S, you already know this because of the numerous grown adults who have stopped right in front of you while walking.  The game made headline and incredible numbers within hours of being released and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing. Popularity alone isn’t enough to be deemed noteworthy here on the Sociology of Video Games (Take that Overwatch!), but Pokemon Go is proving to be much more than just a game; it’s becoming a social experiment.

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For those unaware, Pokemon Go has users going out into the world looking for Pokemon in their communities. Certain Pokemon appear is specific areas, and the abundance and availability of Pokemon change depending on your location.The game also features Pokestops and Gyms, which are specific landmarks that earn new tasks, abilities, and items, and these locations are scattered throughout various designated spots in each community. Players choose between 1 of 3 teams and each team must work together to claim the most gyms by battling it out with other players. How this translate to the real world is that users are venturing out of their homes to find new Pokemon and new locations that offer them rewards (I.E the baptist church down the street is seeing more people than it has in 20 years). What has developed since its release is a slew of very sociologically interesting events. To name a few:

Pokemon Go Pub Crawls are popping up in many major U.S Cities. Get wasted why you look at your phone and stumble into unknown territory with strangers. What could go wrong?

Pokemon Go is bringing a lot of new business to locations deemed Pokestops. You know that Barbershop down the street you never had the guts to try? Now you can, because a game developer has deemed them worthy of Mons.

Robbers are using Pokemon Go to lure potential victims. Sorry, no Jynxs here…Just The Jinx

Pokemon Go is showing positive benefits for people with metal illness and depression. Who needs a therapy dog when you can have 150 different Pokemon to tend to.

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And those are just a start. What we’re seeing is that Pokemon Go is changing up many normal gaming conventions and creating a new way of play. People are interacting, bonding, cooperating, and working together in new and dynamic ways.It’s really quite something to observe, as one probably wouldn’t imagine that it would take a video game for people to venture further into the community and be opened to new locations and places. The developer, Niantic, ingeniously went about how they crafted their Pokemon world; Art installations, unique community landmarks, and lesser known locations make up many of the Pokestops and Gyms, spurring many players to discover new things in their local community. Similarly, the gym mechanic is making for something interesting partnerships between strangers, as taking over  a gym pretty much requires you to work with others in your group or else your Pokemon will be trounced by the opposing team.

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Pokemon, even if its first incarnation, has always been a social game and Pokemon Go is proving to be a brilliantly crafted take on the franchise’s social elements. I personally think Pokemon Go is a really unique app. I say app, because it’s honestly a little light on the actual game side. It’s more the social phenomenon that the game has created that keeps bringing me back to the app, checking to see if any new Pokemon are near me. Niantic has the basis of something amazing; if they improve upon the game’s features and add more of a built in social element (the ability to trade, battle near by trainers, etc) then Pokemon Go might be a near perfect social mobile adaptation of the Nintendo franchise. The developer seems to have plans to expand the game, and with their record breaking numbers it’s likely we’ll be hearing about Pokemon Go for years to come. We’ll keep watching this bizarre social experiment of catching fictional beasts out in our community and report back with any more sociologically interesting findings.

 

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Mafia III Will Utilize Racism as a Gameplay Mechanic

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The upcoming 2K game’s/Hanger 13’s “Mafia III” has some interesting gameplay elements that may change the way gamers think about racism in America. Set during the late 1960s, Mafia 3 places players in the role of Lincoln Clay, an African American Vietnam War veteran who is returning to his home after serving overseas. The game’s narrative has Clay seeking revenge on the Italian Mafia for the deaths of several of his childhood friends. To enact revenge, Clay will form his own mafia in the hopes of achieving revenge for his friends and earning himself a better life.

For anyone who has played a Mafia game in the past, this doesn’t sound far off from standard fare. However, this will be first time the series has introduced a character of color as the main protagonist for the game. For the developers, this isn’t a cosmetic change they wanted to make lightly: creating a character of color set in the world of  the 1960s means that the character would interact with the world differently than a white character. As a result, the developers decided to make how characters and area react to the protagonist’s skin color a part of the gameplay itself.

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Haden Blackman and Harms, creative director and lead writer of Mafia III respectively, shared some insight with IGN on how they’re making Mafia III reflect the turbulent times of the 1960s:

The behavior of pedestrians and NPCs – certainly not everywhere throughout the game, but in large sections of it – there are places where if Lincoln looks out of place and seems out of place, people will react to that…There are places you can go that just being there is an offence and will elicit a police response. ..We aren’t so naïve to think that a single game could cure racism, but if we can get the player to think, ‘Why am I being treated differently here than in other parts of town?’ then I think we’ve done something worthwhile.”

It’s an innovative design element, one that could potentially open some eyes to hardships that many people of color face in their every day lives. We’ll have to see how it’s fully implemented when Mafia 3 comes out in the fall, but it’s great to see a developer be cognizant  enough to  realize that their characters and action have to reflect the world in which they are set. As Haden Blackman eludes to, if the game can change the way people think about privilege and make people even slightly more sympathetic to those who have to deal with everyday racism then the game will have accomplished something great.

Check out IGN’s piece on Mafia III

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