Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I first became aware of my own mortality when I was 10 years old. It was in February 1986 and my 5th grade class was all abuzz about Halley's Comet. Our science lessons were focused on it. We had lessons on how to safely view it at night. And Dad and I even went out with night vision goggles to look at it. 

It was amazing. I was in such awe and wonder. 

After it passed, my 5th grade teacher said, "The next time Halley's Comet comes around, you'll all be in your 80s." 

In my 80s? That didn't seem possible. I was still reeling from the joy of finally reaching the double digits. No way was I ever going to one day be as old as my great-grandparents. Or was I? The thought left me somber and quiet for a long while. 

I don't really think of my mortality much anymore, or I didn't until I saw a picture on Facebook that said "12/12/12 is the last repetitive date you'll see in your lifetime." 

That means there will be generations that never see one at all, as the next one is 1/1/2101. And just like with Halley's Comet, that leaves me in awe and a bit somber. 

This year has been an amazing year for many different reasons, which I will discuss in another post, and rolling over this notion of never seeing another repetitive date in my lifetime makes me realize how many very cool things we take for granted. The internet, cell phones, online gaming, Skype, modern medicine, organ transplants, airplanes. All very ordinary to us, but all very extraordinary. 

Perhaps the reflective nature of this time of year has me more sentimental than I would normally be, but I am once again reminded of my own mortality and the finite existence I have in this world. That I'll never again see something because I'm going to be dead the next time it happens is kinda cool, kinda morbid, and entirely humbling. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why I am Upset with Feministing

During last night's Presidential debate in Denver, I was live tweeting and reading the tweets of others over on Twitter. I follow feminist blog Feministing and was enjoying their commentary until they posted this:
I'm shocked and appalled that a respected feminist organization like Feministing made such a sexist and racist comment. As you can see from the picture I responded to them, expressing that shock, and as of yet have not heard a response from them. The tweet in question has since been deleted, but Feministing made no mention of it nor did they offer an apology. 

I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw the tweet, and I think Feministing owes their readers an explanation. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

City of Heroes - A Countdown to the End

As the days progress, it gets less and less likely that efforts to save City of Heroes are working. In fact, that was made pretty obvious with the release last week of the lore that was to be. That document, while interesting, also had a few things in it that really pissed me off. Matt "Positron" Miller was very flippant in his responses and seemed like a very reluctant participant in the whole thing. I was quite upset with his answer for "Who is the leader of the Knives of Artemis?" and pretty much livid with why Sister Psyche had to die. Spoiler - they killed her off "just because" they wanted more than one person to die. Sloppy story telling much? It just reinforced what I said before about the game really going downhill as of late. 

In addition to that reveal, NCSoft also announced a schedule of in-game events that are going to be going on in the final days of the game. It's pretty standard stuff, and it's fitting that they're ending the game with the event that started it - a Rikti invasion. I'm going to log in one or two more times for some final screen shots, but I don't think I'll be doing these events. I'm incredibly pissed off that I'm locked out of my own damn super group base and locked out of my Incarnate powers that I spent many hours grinding for. I'm so disgusted by the state of the game right now that I really don't care that it's closing. I'm upset that 80+ people suddenly have no jobs, but I don't care what happens to the game. The City of Heroes that I knew and loved died a long time ago, and that's the part I'll grieve for and miss. 

Still, this video is completely amazing and I would be a fool not to share it. It's by far the most spectacular CoH fan video I have ever seen. It was made by CoH player Voodoo Girl. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering September 11th

This past July, I had the good fortune to visit New York City for the first time in my life. It was very exciting, and I had an amazing time! We traveled into Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry, and our first stop was in Battery Park where we saw the 9/11 memorial made from the sculpture that used to sit between the twin towers. There is an eternal flame on the site, and behind it you can see the Freedom Tower. 
It's a humbling and sobering site to see, and even in the rush of lower Manhattan, there was a peaceful calm to this area. I remember images of this statue from my childhood, and seeing it in this condition, ravaged by the violence of steel girders shooting through it, sent a chill up my spine. 

We next made our way to the 9/11 Memorial, but the line was amazingly long and we had limited time. We sat a few minutes and took in the construction, and then made our way to St. Paul's church. The church was a gathering site for rescue workers and volunteers in the aftermath of the attack. I would like to say that people are as respectful there as they are in Battery Park, but John and I got panhandled in the cemetery of St. Paul's. Inside was a different story, fortunately. The church is filled with not only history (it was George Washington's church) but also filled with the history of 9/11. There are banners from all over the world, mementos, photographs, and this striking sculpture:
The next day was Independence Day, and we spent it on board the United States Coast Guard Cutter Katherine Walker, the Keeper of New York Harbor. My brother Bryan serves on the KW, and she is the command center for the Macy's fireworks display on the Hudson River. This handsome fellow is my brother. He was pulling up the mooring ropes so we could get under way. 
The USCG Katherine Walker was also one of the rescue boats on 9/11. She has a plaque of commendation for her efforts. Sadly, I didn't get a picture of the plaque. Bryan, of course, wasn't serving on the cutter at the time as he was, as Stephen Colbert would say, medically 13 at the time. 

As we sailed into the harbor, the striking image of the Manhattan skyline met our eyes. As we stood there and watched it come into view, Bryan said something I will never forget:

"You see that? The skyline coming into view? This is exactly the view of this ship on September 11th as they were moving in to aid in the rescue. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be serving on this ship, slowly moving toward the area, and knowing there wasn't a damn thing you could do about it? To behold so much destruction, being scared but having to put it aside to do your job? I can't, and I hope I never have to. I admire the hell out of each and every one of them."
Until then, my memories of 9/11 had been all about me and what I was doing that day. But now, I can't think of that day without thinking of that moment and those words spoken by my youngest brother. Having seen it with my own eyes gives it all a very different perspective. 

There is, above all else, a pervading sense of hope throughout lower Manhattan. From the sculpture in Battery Park to St. Paul's, there is a quiet serenity about the place that most people wouldn't associate with New York City. Though it was a tragic event, it brought people together like little else ever has, and I hope that spirit is what people take away from that horrible day. 

Below is a video about the boat rescue on 9/11. It's one of the lesser told stories of the day, but it's one that I feel is very important. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

NCSoft Closes Paragon Studios, Shuts Down City of Heroes

Those of you who follow me on G+, Facebook, or Twitter saw me post last Friday about NCSoft closing Paragon Studios and shutting down City of Heroes. It was a huge shock to everyone, especially those who worked at Paragon Studios and suddenly found themselves without a job. Just an hour and a half before the announcement, the CoH community team had announced some future content and was giving away game codes on Twitter. Everyone seemed blindsided by the event.

I am late to the party in blogging about this, I know, but I had a lot of real life commitments this past weekend. Not the least of which was the wedding of my baby brother Bryan and his wife Ashley. John and I were on our way to the wedding rehearsal when we got the news, and we moved between fast and furious conversation and stunned silence all the way to the venue. When we got there, we exchanged shocked words with another couple brought together by City of Heroes, my other brother Jon and his girlfriend Kat. We couldn't believe what had happened. 

Though I had already said my goodbyes to City of Heroes, I felt comforted knowing that I could go back any time I wanted and my characters would be right where I left them, ready to go. I was never a roleplayer, per se, but I did put a lot of thought and effort into the creation of my characters. They all had a backstory (some of them quite extensive), a carefully chosen name, a finely honed costume (or five), and a personality. The more I played a character, the more that personality came about, and the more I connected with that character on some level. There were occasions that I just couldn't connect to a character, and they promptly got deleted. In that way, CoH always felt alive. Felt like you were living out your own personal comic book. And I loved that. 

I am glad that I had already emotionally detached from the game before this happened. I've seen some very emotional responses to the news, and I've seen a few that are so over the top it's not even funny. But what is important is to know the facts, and one CoH player took the time to create an extensive timeline of events and debunk a lot of the conspiracy theories. There are also numerous attempts to save the game, though I have yet to hear if any of them are making successful headway. It's also disheartening to receive nothing but silence from NCSoft. Why did Paragon Studios have to be shut down so quickly? Why send everyone packing with no notice? What's the emergency? We may never know, but that won't stop people from guessing.

Though I hate that all the Paragon Studios employees were suddenly, and unexpectedly, terminated, I hold no ill will toward NCSoft. Had they shut the game down gradually, with server merges, going full free-to-play, etc., I would not have been surprised at all. CoH is an eight year old game, and it's showing its age. New MMOs like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 are leaps and bounds ahead of it in terms of story, setting, maps, game play, quality of life issues, and graphics. Not to mention that both games have a lot of voice acting and good cut scenes (though TSW's cut scenes put the rest to shame). CoH does have a strong and loyal fan base, but I'm not sure how competitive it can be against this new generation of cutting edge MMOs. Not to mention that it has a very flawed and confusing hybrid free to play system that turns a lot of people off. 

That being said, I don't want CoH to close its doors forever. I always assumed it was the Everquest of its genre, the unkillable juggernaut of the super hero MMO genre. And maybe that will end up being the case after all. All we can do now is watch and wait and still what happens.

In closing, I'm going to leave you with a fan video I helped make. I'm the beleaguered blue-haired Blaster, the American woman who's trying to organize the team. In the weeks to come, I'll share more of these and some of my screen shots here and on our fan pages. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Launch Day

Last week, a good friend gifted me with a pre-purchase game code for Guild Wars 2. My friend was 100% confident that I would love it, and let's just say that my friends know me well. 

John and I played during the headstart this weekend, and had an absolute blast. Not only is the game great, but we're in a guild with a lot of our long-time City of Heroes friends. Pre-purchase folks got to log in at midnight eastern Friday night/Saturday morning to check it out. After securing our names, John went to bed, but I stayed up and began exploring with my Sylvari Mesmer. 
 My first impression of the world was "This place is HUGE!" followed closely by "And GORGEOUS!" Three of us in the guild made Sylvari and teamed up to explore, do zone events, and work on our personal stories. 
The party chat here cracks me up. It took us a while to get used to reading a new map. 
But the Sylvari aren't the only race with huge, gorgeous maps. I made at least one character of every race (except human), and I can assure you that every zone is full of rich, lush detail that boggles the mind and senses. The amount of interactivity in the world is also fun, and the zone events are a blast. I was also pleased to find that you get experience for nearly everything you do, rather than just through combat. 
This is in the Norn capital. The guild chat also makes me laugh. 
There are many things to enjoy about Guild Wars 2, and I'm really, really thankful I was so graciously gifted with the game code. These are the highlights for me:
  • No monthly subscription - GW2 is a buy to play game. You buy the game or digital download, and it's yours. Forever. With no restrictions. The entire game is open to you with no additional cash coming out of your pocket. However, they do have a cash store where optional items can be purchased with real money. But even some of those items can be earned in game! You won't be nickle and dimed here. Also, you won't feel pressured to play to "get your money's worth" out of your monthly sub. Play as hardcore or as casual as you like. 
  • Fluid combat - The combat flows smoothly and makes sense. Plus, you can swap weapons in combat for an even more dynamic experience. There are so many powers that you can have going at once, it's unbelievable. 
  • Racial equality - There are no class/profession limitations based on race, like in some other MMOs. Also, there are no "good guys/bad guys" among the players. No factions to create artificial tension. You can talk to, team with, and be in a guild with anyone you want. Additionally, traveling to the capital cities for each race is super easy and doesn't require you to go through high level zones you aren't ready for. 
  • Gender equality - Women in this game don't have ridiculous armor. It actually covers them, like combat armor should. I did a mission in my personal story with my Norn Warrior, and an NPC made a super sexist comment to her. She quickly put him in his place. It was great. So far, I have seen no sexist content, and that makes me happy. The Sylvari and the Asura both have women as their leaders (I think the humans do, too; I heard NPC chat about "the human queen.") And those leaders are strong, confident, smart, and able. Also, the Asura's leader is voiced by the fantastic Felicia Day and it makes me all kinds of giddy. 
  • Crafting - The crafting system is fun and highly detailed. I don't have much experience with it yet, but I baked 10 loaves of bread and got 3/4 of a level out of it! It generously rewards your efforts with XP. 
  • Leveling and Content - You will never, ever out level content. As soon as you enter a zone, you are automatically put at one level above the zone max. BUT! You don't lose your powers! You don't have to adjust your play style at all! It's really great. And leveling doesn't have a ramp up to it. You level at a flat pace from 1 to 80. That is very, very nice and takes the grind out of leveling. 
  • Quality of life additions - There are tons of tiny details in GW2 that just make the quality of life for players good - account based guild membership, account based storage, a global contact system, customizable armor through dyes and skins. The system remembers your chat tabs, remembers you preferred gender when making characters, and you can see which if your friends is online before you even log a character in. The map is fully interactive. You can set down beacons and markers that your party can see, and even trace routes for them John Madden style. 
It wasn't all a big love fest, though I think most of my complaints were due to launch bugs. On Saturday, when John and I were leveling our Norns, the game kept separating us into different instances of zones. He didn't always get a pop up asking if he wanted to join me on my instanced mission. The "join up" feature wasn't working. The Trading Post (auction house) was down. Some people were complaining about disconnects. Many of my guild mates played GW2 in beta, and said it was smooth as silk then and ran as though it were launch ready. They said these issues were not present then, so I have confidence they've been addressed (I haven't got to play in two days due to real life obligations). I did notice on Sunday that many of those problems had been addressed, though the auction house still wasn't up. 

All in all, Guild Wars 2 is a great game. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new MMO experience. And when you start playing, make sure you look everywhere, as you never know what you'll find. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

It Was Never Just a Game

Earlier this week, I found out that an old friend from City of Heroes had passed away. Lucas had left the game long before I did, but his passing affected me greatly. He had always been a fun person to team with, bullshit with, and get ganked by. 

Lucas was a prankster and jokester. No, that's too mild. Lucas made griefing an art form. His first masterpiece was to pull a giant robot, The Kronos Titan, into a Hamidon Raid:

Some folks didn't find it funny, but now it's a Justice server legend. When people complained (at the time), Lucas just shouted "KRONOS IS A HOLD, NOOB!" - a phrase which also became the stuff of legend. In fact, the devs of the game changed the coding so this couldn't happen again, all because of Lucas. 

So tonight, we had a memorial in game for Lucas, and in true Justice fashion, we started with a Hamidon raid. 

After the first round, this happened:

CoH Community Manager Andy "Zwillinger" Belford showed up as the Kronos Titan (a cheat, because of the aforementioned code change), and even announced himself with Lucas's "KRONOS IS A HOLD, NOOB!" I would be lying if I said it didn't bring a tear to my eye. But it also made me laugh, as Zwill made the Kronos indestructible, but able to kill all of us. It was the kind of shenanigans that Lucas loved best. 

But more than this, what touched me is how many old players came back just for this. Many of them had been gone for over two years. Looking to the sea of old friends from Justice drove home that City of Heroes was never "just a game" for us. Though we have had our drama (and not everyone I have met through CoH has been awesome), we are still a big ol' family at the end of the day. We have been there through romances, weddings, babies, funerals, job loss, job gain, and all the moments that make life great. One person tonight remembered Lucas as being very proud of his daughter and her softball team. In other MMOs I play/have played, I barely talked to anyone I met. 

I spent a lot of time playing CoH during my time there, and I spent many, many hours with those great folks. And I miss them all terribly. I am very grateful for the connections I made in game, grateful for meeting John and falling in love. Grateful for all the fun times, and also grateful that I was allowed into their lives so that they were more than pixels to me. 

There was a kind of magic to Justice back in the old days, and I grieve for the loss of it as much as I grieve for my friend. I am both sad that I will never have those days again, and also quite happy that I got to share them with those people in the first place. There has rarely been a better time in my life to use the word "bittersweet." 

Rest in peace, Lucas. I'm not sure what you are up to right now, but as one friend theorized, I'm sure you're showing "meatspin" to the angels. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Review of The Secret World

As I posted on our Google+ and Facebook pages, FunCom hosted a free weekend for The Secret World this past weekend in celebration of being online one month. 

John and I spent the better part of the weekend checking it out, and I gotta say, it's a blast. 

The Secret World is unlike any other MMO I've ever played in terms of the quality of writing, the depth of the story telling, and the gorgeous world maps you're encouraged to explore. It took a bit getting used to playing an "M" rated MMO, but I gotta say that I don't think I could ever go back to playing a "T" rated one again. The freedom to say whatever you want allows for a much richer, deeper, more realistic setting. 

I made a character of each faction to check out the starting zones of each one, but the character I focused on was Zinzanni, a Templar who I was working to make an Exorcist. She had fist weapons (claws) and blood magic, and she was really bad ass.

My main character in City of Heroes was a claws scrapper, so I was reluctant to go down that route. But I wanted to build a deck with blood magic, and the Exorcist was my favorite choice. My first taste of what it meant to play an "M" rated MMO came when I slashed at something with my claws for the first time and blood came out of the target. I actually stopped and stared at the screen for a few minutes before saying out loud "I was robbed of eight years' worth of blood!" 

FunCom ran a promotion this weekend where players could earn 1200 bonus points for the store by completing 30 missions. That wasn't hard to do, and I had a great time spending my points. I bought a new outfit and a dog vanity pet. I then took my dog to the hotel in London, Tabula Rasa, where we enjoyed some quiet time in room 6, which I picked because I'm 12 and the word "sextus" makes me giggle.

This game is not for dummies. If you're looking for a tank-n-spank MMO, this isn't for you. You will have to use your brains, and I was happy more than once to have a functional knowledge of Latin. You have to use the bible to solve one puzzle, Morse Code on another, and have to decode DNA strands for another. My favorite puzzle, however, involved going into anima form (essentially, ghost form) and talking to some white ravens. The voice work was hauntingly beautiful, as was the result of solving it. Don't get me wrong - there is some mindless violence (like the Polaris dungeon), but there are many missions that are all brain power, and I love them so, so much. There is even a built in browser in the game to help you research your clues. This comes in handy if you don't have Wheelock's Latin laying around.

The game does have a few drawbacks for me, however. I miss having a global chat identity, and there doesn't seem to be any way to set up private chat channels for friends (aside from creating a Cabal or teaming up). I don't like that it has a monthly subscription and an item store, something I really hated about CoH that caused me to leave after eight years. It was also hard getting used to a game that doesn't use levels, as I couldn't tell if I was ready for new content or not. In other games, I could look at an enemy and say "Oh, they're 5 levels above me. I'll wait and do that after I advance." In The Secret World, it's not so easy. Your powers and build are the determining factor, and for a new player, it can be quite confusing. However, I was also trying to get as much play in as I could while it was free, and I think that if I had more time to research and experiment, that part would have been better. I firmly believe that my limited play time made the learning curve so much steeper. 

On the whole, the community was great. The only time they weren't great was when I asked for help with a mission and was told "If you're getting killed, your build sucks." Otherwise, they were helpful, friendly, and excited to have new people playing. I did have to silence the chat a few times, as people were posting spoilers after being asked not to. But you have trolls all over the internet, and they're not going away. Unfortunately. 

The game is full of witty dialogue and banter, and I genuinely laughed out loud many times. The voice acting is superb, the cut scenes well done, and the clues very well written. The Secret World takes story telling in an MMO to a whole new level, and future games are going to struggle to match it, let alone beat it. 

I also found it refreshing that the women in this game are not, by and large, sexualized. There was one character in the starting area (Solomon Island) who used her "feminine wiles" to get what she wanted, but she was in reality a real bad ass. The female NPCs are smart, tough, and fully clothed. My favorite NPC on Solomon Island is Norma, a middle aged, grandmotherly woman with shotgun and a bonfire for burning zombies. It is rare, if not unprecedented, to see a character like her in a video game. 

Right now, it's not in my budget to buy it (or pay the monthly sub), but I intend to within the next few months. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a good cerebral challenge, or anyone who is tired of the same old thing. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been - Saying Goodbye to City of Heroes

After playing City of Heroes for eight years, I have decided that it is time to hang up my cape and leave Paragon City behind. I have had some really wonderful times as a player, and leaving fills me with an ache and longing that I can't quite describe. 

City of Heroes was an impulse purchase I made in August 2004 right after I was laid off from my job. I needed to console myself with a little retail therapy, and like any geek girl, I wanted a new video game. I had been following CoH in the gaming mags (cause I was old school then), and figured that being jobless was the perfect time to get into a game that can be a time sink. 

I quickly fell in love with CoH, and in the many years I have been playing, I have never once regretted my decision to play it. I have had a lot of fun, met a lot of great people, even fell in love through it. I attended both HeroCons, have some cool CoH swag, and will miss it a great deal. 

But there are things going on in City of Heroes that make it impossible for me to continue justifying being a paying customer. 

City of Heroes has a misogyny problem
This hasn't always been the case, however. Until about a year ago, CoH was a very woman-friendly game, not only in terms of game content, but in the community. I met a lot of wonderful women while playing CoH (women with whom I still maintain friendships). We would often have all-woman teams, and most of us were respected as players, raid leaders, etc. And because CoH doesn't seem to attract the same kind of players as games like WoW, there was never a lot of sexist bullshit to deal with in chat. And the stories and signature characters had a good mix of different kinds of women. Sometimes the woman was the "strong" type who could take care of herself. Sometimes she was kidnapped. Sometimes she was the hero, and sometimes she was the villain. In short, the women in the stories where given the same roles as men, and it was a refreshing change of pace from other games that play out that tired woman-as-victim trope.  

But this all changed as the game started to feature the art of David Nakayama, who I have criticized before for his very male-gaze heavy art. Then came the first SSA "Who Will Die?" in which Paragon Studios made a big spectacle out of killing Statesman. They even had a funeral for him, complete with a eulogy by Positron. Did you know that Sister Psyche also died in that arc? And Alexis Cole, the original Ms. Liberty, the daughter of Statesman? Alexis was gunned down in cold blood. She was completely unarmed, and said absolutely nothing in her defense. Sister Psyche died "for the greater good," a move that humps that old chestnut about women being self-sacrificing ALL THE FUCKING TIME. And of course, no one cared. No funeral, no big cut scene. Just dead, gone, forgotten. In the case of Sister Psyche, it's rather a welcome relief from the treatment she had been receiving. In the case of Alexis Cole, it was very hard to watch. And it's a video game! About super heroes! They're not supposed to make you cringe that bad or make you wish you hadn't seen it or make you not want to continue the story. 

Then Dark Astoria was revamped, full of all kinds if eye rolling bullshit. There is absolutely NO positive female influence in that story arc. None. Unless you run it with a female character, but I digress. Every woman in the stories is either a hapless victim, a sacrificial lamb, or responsible for the whole fucking mess. Even when you get sent to help Lady Grey, who is hinted at being incredibly powerful, she still needs your help and the help of about three male NPCs. To take down one guy! Who I defeated by myself because the NPCs were too slow and I left them behind. 

Most recently there has been the sexualization of Penelope Yin, and the picture so infuriates me I'm not even going to share it. She's all tits and ass and impossible pose and it just pisses me off. 

There is no benefit to being a VIP member
Since the advent of City of Heroes: Freedom and the Paragon Market, there is no reason to pay to play this game. Being a VIP member gives me 400 Paragon Points a month. I figured this would cover the content of what they would put out monthly, thus keeping my subscription in line with what it had always been - all access. But no. Four hundred points won't even buy a power set. Every week, players are bombarded with new things to buy ranging from the frivolous to the much-anticipated. Before Freedom launched, there had been two paid expansions and a handful of cosmetic booster packs. They didn't come out often, and were reasonably priced for what they are. But now a power set cost 800 points, which is two months' worth of VIP time, or $30.00. Thirty dollars! For a power set! 

I am fed up with the nickle and dime show. And I have searched high and low, and have not found a single benefit to paying for a subscription. None. It gets me Incarnate content. That's it. My status as an 8 year veteran unlocks the rest that's usually gated for Premium members. Why am I paying for membership when I'm still expected to buy everything from the Paragon Market? 

Technical issues get ignored
Four years ago, people started complaining about the running problem in CoH. Enemies began to run, and run, and run, and put Forest Gump to shame. For no reason. A lot of times, all you had to do was aggro a spawn and it would run, not attack. Just run all the way out of rendering range with FULL HEALTH. I reported, numerous times, that this problem can be duplicated every single time with toggle debuffs. I was told it was working as intended. In the four years previous to this, enemies never ran. But we get told it's "working as intended." Since when? Is that an acknowledgement that a stealth change was put in that they will not address, but instead want us to believe was always there? 

Patches and issues are getting pushed to the live server with bugs. And not just any bugs, but bugs that beta testers will point out for weeks, and weeks, and weeks. Pages and pages of posts on the beta forums with no official response or acknowledgement. 

Paragon Studios used to pride itself on the quality of its product. Things were released when they were ready. Things weren't pushed out half-assed, and they actually used to listen and respond to players. Now they seem to want to just get things out, playability be damned. 

City of Heroes has terrible customer service
I have had a problem with my account FOR FOUR YEARS that I can't get resolved. At all. I don't want to discuss it here, because it's sensitive in nature, but suffice it to say, it should not still be an on-going problem. 

Getting in-game help is almost impossible these days, and most petitions are responded to with a form letter that only has nominal relevance to your problem. It's mind-boggling. 

And you know what really sucks? I still really like playing this game. I don't really want to stop (and I don't have to; my account is still active, it's just not VIP), but I can't support what I see as a really bad trend this game is taking. It is going in a direction, a bad direction, from which there is no return. The Freedom hybrid pay/free model was flawed from the start, and it just gets worse and worse. The story telling is getting really bad, and it just doesn't feel like the same, friendly, welcoming game that I used to love. 

And it's sad. City of Heroes was once a really great thing. It's a shame it had to end like this. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

GameStop Falsely Advertises Guild Wars II Launch

GameStop has been running this promotion in their stores:

The truth, however, is that ArenaNet has yet to announce a launch date for Guild Wars II. Costumers who trust GameStop for accurate information are going to be sorely disappointed when they try to get a copy of GWII from the store today. 

I have had a bad taste in my mouth for GameStop ever since they stole from their customers last year, and offered no apology nor suffered any consequences for it. Couple that with the fact that they open every game they get, but sell them as new, and I'm finding myself buying more and more games from Steam or Best Buy. 

I fully believe that stand alone game stores, like stand alone toy stores, need to exist. I do not like shopping at big box stores for certain things (actually, most things), but it is nearly impossible for me to support GameStop anymore. I live in a small town with very few shopping options, and GameStop bought out all of the small, independent game stores (or simply ran them out of business). It's a shame that they now the Wal*Mart of the gaming world. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Party Rock Cantina

I love geek culture mashups, and this is one of the best. Thanks to my friend Neal who shared this with me:

The 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy - A Review

Please Note - The following review contains spoilers of the three books in the 50 Shades of Grey series. Please keep that in mind before you decide to read the review. Thank you!

Usually when writing a review on a series, I will review each book individually. The 50 Shades of Grey series, however, does not have enough plot to allow me to do that. 

Before I started the first book, 50 Shades of Grey, I avoided all online reviews. I knew only two things about it - it's about a BDSM love affair, and it's wildly popular. I don't normally read books just because they are popular, but this one piqued my interest because of the BDSM theme. I'm always curious how BDSM is portrayed in mainstream media, as it's usually bad. These books are no exception. 

I started reading the first book on a plane from Dayton, OH to Philadelphia. After the first two chapters, I couldn't believe how much like Twilight it is (I found out later that it started out as a Twilight fan fic, and was not surprised at all). The protagonist, Anastasia (Ana) Steele is plain, bland, boring, clumsy, and has absolutely no sense of self, no self-control, and no backbone. I didn't think I'd be able to finish the first book, but kept going as I am a completest. When the flight attendant brought me my ginger ale, I realized I hadn't brought a book mark. I used the barf bag from the plane, and found it to be an accurate visual representation of my opinion thus far. 

50 Shades of Grey has no plot. None. It's basically Ana mulling over whether or not she wants to be Christian Grey's submissive, even though she is not submissive herself. She likes certain kinks - being tied up, light spanking, mild pain. But she can not agree to all he wants. And somehow, the reader is supposed to give a shit about that, but you won't. Just like you don't give a shit about Bella. And that is the first mark of a bad book. To quote a Twilight meme I once read, "no one read Huckleberry Finn thinking 'I sure hope someone catches this truant motherfucker.'" I did care more for Ana than I did Bella, though, because at times she does show promise as a strong female character. About 3/4 into 50 Shades of Grey, she actually stands up to Christian and points out how patently ridiculous some of his demands are, such as ordering her to only eat certain foods. The author also dropped the point of Ana being clumsy about half way into the first book, and in the second and third books she's confidently walking around in high heels almost constantly. 

The end of the first book has Ana leaving Christian and calling him a sick son of a bitch. The second book starts with him trying desperately to get her back. He wants to drop the whole contract thing and just be lovers. Christian is softer in this book, 50 Shades Darker, and reveals a lot more of himself. I actually liked this book, from a psychological stand point, though it is problematic. It drives home the old stereotype that people into kink and BDSM are psychologically damaged people, that the love of power exchange or pain is the result of some deeply held mental flaw or trauma from our past. That's simply not true. He also says to her at one point "Lovers don't need safewords." Um, yes they do. If you are into any kind of sexual play that may push limits, you absolutely need a safeword. It sends all kinds of bad, misleading, and stereotypical messages about the nature of kink and power play. I feel the author, EL James, did the bulk of her "research" into the lifestyle via Wikipedia - which is exactly what Christian tells Ana to do in the first book

The third book, 50 Shades Freed, made me want to scream. The softer Christian from 50 Shades Darker is gone, and in his place is a controlling, vicious, immature, asshole. At the beginning of the book, Ana and Christian have gotten married. They are honeymooning in Europe (like you do) and Ana wants to indulge in topless sunbathing. So she does. Christian throws a holy shit fit and makes a production of escorting them off the beach and onto his yacht. Once on the yacht, he explains that he didn't want her to be photographed by the paparazzi, which is something he could have done from the start instead of just telling her no and that she's "not allowed," like real grown ups do. This book is cringe-worthy in many spots, and Ana spends almost all of it afraid of Christian. I can't count how many times she says to herself "Oh shit, he's mad!" or some variation thereof. He emotionally and mentally exhausts her, and she is constantly on edge and unsure how he is going to behave. Instead of seeing this for the big fucking problem it is, she laughs it off and calls him "mercurial" and has a "Oh golly, what am I going to do with you?" attitude. I would not have been surprised if she, in the middle of one of his numerous tirades, had ruffled his hair and called him a little scamp before letting him punish fuck her to settle the argument. And the ultimate clincher - at the end of the third book, Christian orders, ORDERS, Ana to have an elective Cesarean with their second child. He completely strips her of her agency as a woman, and she lets him

Some other "gems" in this series includes:

  • Repetition - By the end of 50 Shades of Grey, I was longing for James to have never learned the words "mutter," "murmur," "whisper," and any variations of them. Just like Stefanie Meyer, we are constantly reminded that the main male character is beyond handsome, we are subjected to tales of Ana's bizarre and anthropomorphic "inner goddess" and subconscious more times than I can count, and everyone is smirking, looking through eyelashes, and giving each other smoldering gazes. 
  • Ana isn't very smart - In 50 Shades of Grey, Ana graduates with a BA in English, yet she seems very uneducated and not very bright. In the second book, she is talking to Christian's therapist and he is using very basic psychological terms with her (terms that she, as someone with a BA in a humanities discipline, would have been exposed to in college), and she's lost. And when Ana gets lost in a conversation, she tunes it out and starts thinking about sex or Christian or stupid shit, causing the reader to miss what precious little plot exists. 
  • Christian Grey does not progress as a character - Though he changes his mind on the kind of relationship he wants with Ana, he never makes any breakthroughs to become a better person. There are also two things at play here - Christian's psychological problems and his sexual kinks. They are two separate things, but James makes no distinction between the two. She also casually drops that he may have an Oedipus complex, and then never revisits that. His therapist says that he is, on an emotional level, still an adolescent. In the third book, this really shows. Ana calls him out numerous times, points out why his actions are wrong, he concedes, and still does the same shit anyway. And she thinks it's charming. 
  • Ana gives up her agency - After marriage, Ana wants to maintain her name in a professional setting so as to distance herself from her successful and wealthy husband. She wants to succeed in her career on her own merits, and that's awesome until Christian storms into her office during her lunch break and bullies her into changing it to Grey at work. Now, she changed it legally, and only wanted to maintain her name professionally. At first she stands up to him, and I was rooting for her, but then she relents and I just wanted to chuck the book across the room. 
  • The book is written in present tense. It's also poorly edited and has a lot of grammar mistakes. 
  • Suspension of disbelief - all of Christian's psychological problems go back to violence he suffered when he was 4 years old. Yes, it was traumatic, but how many people remember being 4 that vividly? And how do you not work through at least a little of the trauma by the time you're 28? Oh, and did I mention he's a 28 year old billionaire? 
  • "Down there" - The word "cock" is said once in the book, by Christian, during an epilogue at the end of 50 Shades Freed. Other than that, Ana refers to her genitalia as "down there" or her sex. She does use the word clitoris a few times. References to Christian's penis are also metaphorical - "he stroked his impressive length." Ana is a virgin when the book starts and she has never masturbated. It is not cute or ok to be that ignorant about your body. If you are having sex with someone, use your grown up words to talk about your bodies. Otherwise, you're not mature enough for sex. 
  • "My Fifty" - At one point, Christian says he is "fifty shades of fucked up," which is quite apt. Ana makes this a nickname, in her head, for him. And it really, really grates. I found myself skimming parts of 50 Shades Freed because of the repetition and annoying sex scenes that derailed an already weak plot.  
In summary, these are poorly written books with very bad messages to young women. Just like with Twilight, we are once again subjected to the notion that love is the same as obsession. Countless times Christian tells Ana "you are mine" or some variation thereof. He doesn't want to be her partner, lover, or husband - he wants to own, control, and posses her. He likens her to his corporate assets, and says over and over "I take care of what is mine." Sure, it is natural to be protective of those we love, but Christian takes it to psychotic extremes. And worse yet, everyone in his life either enables him or encourages it. His megalomania runs completely unchecked due to his fortune and access. Ana does have more redeemable qualities than Bella, however, in that she has hobbies, interests, she graduated from college, and she has friends. But she is just as obsessed with Christian as Bella is with Edward. James even writes that Ana is "dazzled" by Christian and can't think when he's around, just like Bella and Edward. And though Ana tries to stand up to Christian's more childish behavior, she always relents either because he "dazzles" her and then hate-fucks her into submission, or she just gets tired of fighting and gives up. It's so frustrating, especially in the third book. 

It is not ok to be afraid of your partner. It is not ok to have to walk on eggshells because you're afraid of your partner's temper. It not ok for your partner to dictate how you will give birth. It is not ok for your partner to dictate what you will wear, how you will groom yourself, and who you will spend your time with. These go beyond the acceptable levels of bullshit that one must deal with in a relationship. 

James also does the vanilla world a disservice in her presentation of BDSM. Ana is not a submissive. She likes kinky bedroom play, but she does not want to submit to Christian, nor does she like harder pain. At the end of 50 Shades of Grey, he gives her six lashes with a belt, and it tears her up to the point that she leaves him. Had the scene been written from the point of view of someone who likes pain, it would have been completely different, and erotic. As is, it is torture porn. It is not a pleasant thing to read, and it gives the idea that this is what a BDSM relationship is like. And it is not. Working out hard and soft limits beforehand ensures that the kind of play you'll be enjoying is safe, sane, and consensual. It is not safe nor sane to lash someone who isn't into pain with a belt, though she does consent to it. It should also be noted that being a Dom/Domme in the bedroom doesn't necessarily mean one will be so in every day life. Those kinds of relationships are entered into with mutual consent and agreement, and because both parties want it. In the 50 Shades series, Ana doesn't want that, but ultimately lets Christian do whatever he wants because she doesn't have the backbone to fight him, or better yet, walk away from him and find someone more suited for her. And as I said before Christian never relents, and never learns to compromise, nor does he fully grok why his actions are bad, abusive, and immature. It's really disappointing. 

I think stories like this are important to tell, but EL James does not have the writing chops to tell it. In other, more capable hands, the 50 Shades series could have been decent. As is, I wouldn't read them again and I wouldn't recommend anyone spend money on them. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

May The Fourth Be With You

I have let this blog languish for a long time now, mostly because I rarely have time to write for pleasure these days. It's a sad state of affairs, truly. I've read that in order to know what you should really be doing in your life, pay attention to what you do in your free time. And to that I say, "What the fuck is free time?" 

I have made a vow to myself, however, to get this blog back on track. I'm going to start by getting back to regular posts on Fridays and Sundays (the days I come the closest to having this so-called "free time"), and will possibly add in Wednesdays. 

Today's post is going to be a free-for-all list of things that are going on today, kinda like a lighter version of the Weekly Roundup. Ok then? Ok. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Weekly Roundup

News of the Geek

Good Internet Reads
  • Not a read, but this civil rights video shook me to the bone:
  • Raising Powerful Girls 
    • Powerful girls grow up feeling secure in themselves. They learn to take action, making positive choices about their own lives and doing positive things for others. They think critically about the world around them. They express their feelings and acknowledge the feelings and thoughts of others in caring ways. Powerful girls feel good about themselves and grow up with a "can-do" attitude. Of course, strong girls may (like all of us) have times of insecurity and self-doubt, but these feelings aren't paralyzing because the girls have learned to work through their problems. Powerful girls will grow up to lead full, valuable lives.
  • The Pill and Patriarchy
    • Until the condom, the diaphragm, the Pill, the IUD, and all the subsequent variants of hormonal fertility control came along, anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options. With a few rebellious or well-born exceptions (and a few outlier cultures that somehow found their way to a more equal footing), the vast majority of women who’ve ever lived on this planet were tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time — even if that meant effectively jailing them at home.
Neat Finds

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Never Forget. Never Again.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, calling for the internment of all Japanese-Americans in the United States. This is a little known, and even less talked about, period of our history. It was not only a shameful period of time, but the sweeping it under the rug makes it even more so. 

Today, on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the order, actor and activist George Takei has a special announcement:

70 years ago today, the President signed a decree that sent me and my family to a prison camp. Hear my story, and learn how you can help fulfill our pledge: Never Forget. Never Again.
As a child, George lived in two different internment camps in the United States. Please click the link, watch the video, and help spread the word. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

City of Heroes' Very Hetero Valentine's Day Event

One of my favorite things about doing this blog is seeing how people find this blog. Blogger has a great stats feature that lets me see referencing URLs as well as search strings. This week's search strings ranged from the bizarre (sexy zelda sex) to the eye rolling (getting to second base) to the "this is not the blog you're looking for" (gay for hot man sex). 

There was one search, however, that made me think and then made me feel guilty. It was "city of heroes valentines heteronormative." 

My first thought was "That would be a great post" followed closely by "Why haven't I made that post?" And the cold, dark truth is this - I didn't think about it. So thank you, anonymous Googler, for bringing that gross oversight to my attention. 

For all its faults, City of Heroes has never had a problem when it comes to how they treat their LGBT playerbase. In fact, they at one time had a gay community coordinator who made great strides in ensuring that the forum rules and regulations protected LGBT players from hate speech. There has never been a gay controversy in CoH the way there has been in some other MMOs.  

So for me, City of Heroes has never been on my radar about having LGBT issues (though they certainly have rampant misogyny problems), and I just didn't think about it. Mea Culpa. But the Spring Fling is, indeed, heteronormative and this year's event takes it to a whole new level.

I must warn you that the rest of the post has a lot of spoilers. Read at your own risk. 

In the past, the Spring Fling has consisted of four missions from two contacts - Ganymede (for heroes) and Scratch (for villains). They involved forced, cross-faction teaming in order to either save Aphrodite's girdle (yup, you read that right) or recover tainted water from the Well of Furies. There was also the repeatable mission from DJ Zero to take down a Red Cap named Snaptooth who is trying to destroy DJ Zero's interstellar portal. 

This year there is a new story arc, given out by Ms. Liberty (or Jessica Megan Duncan, as she's trying to be incognito by standing in Pocket D wearing the Liberty Belt and Excalibur) and Arbiter Hawk. I say it is one arc because even though one is supposedly for heroes and one supposedly for villains, they copy and pasted the entire dialog from one to the other. There is no discernible difference at all, save for a couple responses the player gives the contact, and Arbiter Hawk's total inability to explain the plot at all. Ms. Liberty goes into great detail about how Longbow psychics have divined what's going to happen, and Hawk just says "Yeah some people somewhere think it's a good idea. You in?" 

The plot involves the resurrection of Lord Recluse's former love, Red Widow. Yes, you, as a villain, are supposed to think this is a good idea just from Arbiter Hawk going "Yeah, it'll be gnarly dude. We'll, like, rise to power and shit." Oh, not his exact wording, but that sums up the amount of effort put into the villain side of the arc. 

So you go about doing this thing, that is in no way at all a bad idea, and then it predictably goes horribly wrong. You then have to steal Cupid's arrow and shoot Red Widow with it so she'll fall in love with Recluse again and not want to kill him

This is all true. I'll give you a moment to stop drooling on yourself before I continue with the stupid. 

At the end of the arc, during a cut scene, Recluse himself states that he knew all along about the Cupid's arrow spell. And at the end of the hero one, he says he'll need to thank Ms. Liberty for her help. And you never, ever confront her about it. Instead, Longbow Barbie is all "Golly gee that sucked! Better luck next time!" and continues to hang out in the intergalactic night club with her Peggy Hill feet. 

For your efforts, you get the Widow Maker badge, so you have that going for you.

The other new thing added is a new mission by DJ Zero. It is an epic set of FedEx missions where you go around in the world looking for lost Valentines which you then have the option of either delivering to the intended target or misdirecting to someone else in an attempt to make mischief. Seven correct deliveries gets you the Match Maker badge, and seven misdirects gets you the Missed Connection badge. 

So here's the thing - not one of these Valentines, nor any of the missions and mission arcs, indicates that anyone in the CoH universe is gay. The Valentines are full of a shocking amount of robot sex, but even those pairings fall within male/female pairings. For a company that has always been LGBT friendly, this is disappointing. And sad. 

This heteronormativity wasn't so obvious, at least to me, until this addition of the Valentine run. It got really frustrating after a while, and after I got the badges with my badge collector character, I stopped doing them. Yes, there were some surprises within the Valentines (finding out Mynx and Arbiter Sands are a thing for one, though I could have done without his super sexist commentary), but in the end everyone is heterosexual (or in Positron's case, asexual, as he rebuffed every Valentine I took to him; granted they were from robots and a giant Rikti monster, but still). 

Paragon Studios knows that there are LGBT folks who pay to play their game, and yet it doesn't even occur to them to have some LGBT content? That's baffling to me. I can only hope that next year they take the LGBT community into consideration and that some changes are made. 

Weekly Roundup

News of the Geek

Good Internet Reads
  • An excellent read on the bullshit social conditioning we teach little girls.
    • When the fuck was it decided that we should start teaching our daughters to accept being belittled, disrespected and abused as endearing treatment? And we have the audacity to wonder why women stay in abusive relationships? How did society become so oblivious to the fact that we were conditioning our daughters to endure abusive treatment, much less view it as romantic overtures? Is this where the phrase “hitting on girls” comes from? Well, here is a tip: Save the “it’s so cute when he gets hateful/physical with her because it means he loves her” asshattery for your own kids, not mine. While you’re at it, keep them away from my kids until you decide to teach them respect and boundaries.
  • YOU are beautiful. Period. Lately there have been a lot of stupid images going around Facebook and other social media outlets that feature really thin women and women who are more on the national average. They say things like "When did this (thin women) become hotter than this (average women)?" or "Bones are for the dog. Meat is for the man." Supposedly they're supposed to be empowering, but it's just trading one kind of misogyny for another.
    • But some women have skinny bodies. Some are curvy. Some are fat. Some are tall. Some are…all kinds of things in between. And when I hear women tear other women down because they happen to meet some conventional standard of beauty, I have to wonder…how is this better? We’re always crying “oh poor us, society has this unrealistic standard that we just can’t meet!” Then, we turn around and do it to each other all over again.
  • Not a read, but this is a great video of the best "I Love You" moments from Hollywood:
Neat Finds