Indy PopCon 2018: A Reflection

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Every convention I have ever attended has always put a smile on my face and the 5th Annual Indy PopCon was no different. Coincidentally, Indy PopCon landed on the same week as the Indianapolis Pride festival. I have always viewed anime/pop conventions to be a celebration of one’s freedom of expression, so it felt nice to see these two events align.

Indy PopCon was held June 8-10 and this was my second time attending Indy PopCon. You can read my post about the great time I had in 2017 here. Unlike last time, my stay at the convention lasted only a day: I was scheduled to give my Ethics and Videogame talk at 1pm on Saturday. During that same Saturday, I had to be back at my place around 6pm to get picked up to attend a dinner with some friends. So, I could not stay to long at the convention because it is an hour drive between my place and the convention.

I arrived at Indy PopCon around 10:30 a.m., grabbed my pass, and headed out to get some brunch. After a delicious brunch, I arrived back at the con around noon. It was in full swing by that time. Mercy (an Overwatch character) cosplayers were in abundance possibly due to Lucie Pohl, the voice actor for Mercy, being a special guest at Indy PopCon. There were also a few ill-looking Spiderman cosplays. One had a sign that said, “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good” while having a thermometer in their mouth. I was impressed and depressed all at once after seeing him.

I saw a Waluigi cosplay with a fully-body Waluigi car. It was quite impressive. While I took note that Waluigi was “Rid’in Dirty” as the music he was playing suggested, a group of women with furry tails and ears screamed in excitement as they hugged their friend who was sitting on the same bench as I.

Around 12:50 p.m. I proceeded to my panel room to set up. After a few technical hiccups, my panel kicked off a little after 1 p.m. My talk went well and the audience seemed to have received the material well.  After answering a few questions during Q&A, a few more people came up to me afterwards to ask questions. A charming woman with a black beret and polka dotted skirt came up to me asking a very intriguing question the ways that people are affected by making violent decisions in videogames. After giving my answer, I answered two other questions by other people, but the woman with the black beret did not leave.

As I walked and talked with another person, she followed in closely behind. As I finished the previous conversations, the woman in the black beret asked nicely if I could address a few more of her questions. I kindly said, sure! As I was listening to her, I noticed that a few passerby were slightly eavesdropping on our conversation. To be honest, I felt kind of cool. Only at conventions do I feel, just for a moment, like a celebrity. During our conversation, she mentioned how she really enjoyed my presentation and glad to talk to someone about her views in engaging with videogames through a critical and analytical lens, if only for a little bit.

After a delightful conversation with the woman in the black beret, I proceeded to head toward the Dealer’s room. My goal was to find a nice poster of Saitama from the anime One Punch Man. The hunt commenced the moment I stepped into the Dealer’s room. I walked around for a bit and saw no one selling posters of Saitama. Saddened, I decided to just walk around little more to see if I missed something. As I approached a kiosk selling Power Ranger figurines, I saw right in front of me: Jason Faunt.

Jason Faunt was the Red Ranger in Power Ranger’s Time Force. I kept my composure as I stood at least 5 feet away from him. He was speaking with two guys when I saw him, so I had to wait for the perfect time to introduce myself. My face was directed towards the toys, but my ears where listening in on his conversation. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I was waiting for the guys to say “see ya,” or “nice meeting you,” or something that indicated to me that the guys were leaving Jason. After waiting 2 minutes or so Jason said, “Alright, I think I’m going to head back to the table.” It was my time to strike! 34838291_1734276919989144_3645624401837162496_o (1)I immediately walked to Jason with my phone in hand and said hello. He greeted me with a big smile and shook my hand. I asked if I could take a picture with him and he said, “Sure!” As I handed my phone to one of the men Jason was speaking with, I told Jason, “I think you’re awesome. I grew up watching you as a kid!” Jason replied, “Ahh, thanks man!” Definitely, a surreal moment.

A few minutes later after the picture with Jason, I ran into a former student of mine. We greeted each other and she informed me that Indy PopCon was her first ever anime/pop convention. I immediately took her on a tour of the Dealer’s room and answered any questions she had. We watched part of the yo-yo tournament that was happening in the room. We walked further down from the yo-yo competition and saw a live snake wrapped around the trainer’s arm. That was cool to see.

20180609_145022_HDR.jpgAfterwards, we checked out this mobile 2D fighting game called “Konsui Fighter.” This game was quite different then the card and/or ‘rock, paper, scissors’ based mobile fighters I was accustomed to playing. There were left and right buttons to tap on as well as dedicated Punch “P” and Kick “K” inputs. Combos were created by tapping on these various inputs which enables your character to perform certain special moves. It took some time getting used to, but I enjoyed myself. The art direction had an anime aesthetic to it that I liked. The game is still in beta, but you can purchase it from the Google Play store for 3.99 USD. Check it out their website for gameplay footage and more information. I will be keeping my eye on this game.

Once 4 p.m. rolled around, it was time for me to head out. I said goodbye to my student and left the convention.

Indy PopCon was a charming and very welcoming venue that was full of life and laughter. I knew I would be back once I left Indy PopCon 2017. Glad I was able to attend this year’s convention. Thanks for the engaging dialogue and merriment, Indy PopCon. I look for to attending next year’s convention!

 

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E3 2018: Gamers Will Go Broke in 2019

Another year, another awesome slate of upcoming videogames begging for our money. As always, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) had an assortment of announcements ranging from new titles, gameplay videos, and cross collaborations between world-class developers and developments studios. Every E3 comes packed full of anticipation, craze, and random musical numbers during presentations (I am looking at you Ubisoft). This year was no different. Continue reading

Indiana Comic Con: Moments of Joy

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It has been a while since I have last posted; things have been difficult regarding school and my mental and physical well being. All are getting progressively better, but the grind of graduate school wears on me at times. Writing for my blog has been hard, but as I sat in my Lyft leaving from Indiana Comic Con, I knew that was the perfect time to start writing about my experience hosting my first panel. This blog post is written a journal/diary entry style, but it best encapsulates how I spent my time at the con. Next blog post will be more critical and analytical, I promise.

I applied to be a panelist for the con back in December of 2017. It was January of this year that I received an email of acceptance. I was so happy because that meant I would be holding my first ever panel where it would just be me on the stage. The email explicitly stated not to say anything in regards to my acceptance, and it was not until late February or early March that they permitted us to spread the good word.

My panel was held on Friday, March 30 at 7 pm. Not going to lie, I did not do the normal con things. Continue reading

MAGFest 2018

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Where could you find a Sexy Batman cosplayer, wizards, academics, and break dancers all in one place? Actually, there could be a few. Anywho, I am referring to the Music and Gaming Festival known as MAGFest. MAGFest 2018 was held in my home state of Maryland at the luxurious Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. MAGFest was a 24/7 carnival of all things anime and nerdy between January 4-7. I heard that this year’s festival had over “20,000” attendees. As an attendee, one can sit and listen to a bevy of informative panels related to anime, videogames, music, etc. among many other events. Continue reading

Quenching My Thirst for Nostalgia

“It’s cold!”, I said to myself as I stood in line on opening day to enter this new establishment of nostalgia. The Cade is a bar and arcade hybrid better known as a barcade. Many barcades have been springing up across the U.S. and thus, The Cade adds to those growing statistics. This was my first barcade, so I had a few assumptions of what might be in store for me. As my colleague and I stood outside, I took note of the people that were standing in line. Luckily, my friend and I got there just in time for there were roughly 15 people ahead of us and 5 behind. 10 minutes later, that number increased fourfold. During those 10 minutes, I took note of the gender and age demographics of the patrons in line.

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To be expected, it was mostly men between their early 20s to late 40s with a few women between the same age range. This got me thinking about Dr. Carly A. Kocurek’s (2015) book, Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade. This book discussed arcade history from the 1970’s to 1980’s and focused on the role gender played during those times. One of her arguments being that arcades were male-dominated spaces due to technological, political, and social factors. A major contributor being the amalgamation of teenage boy adolescence and the normality of masculinity becoming the social force to define arcades. So, as I hastily typed my notes to warm my fingers, I can only wonder if these same gender dynamics will come up in my observation. Lastly, I was genuinely ecstatic to go to my first barcade. For myself and my colleague, our eagerness to enter this space as games researchers and gamers were at an all time high. Continue reading

An Open Letter to Electronic Arts

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Dear Electronic Arts,

We need to talk. For years now, I have heard from a plethora of gamers who have expressed concern related to some of your business practices and decision making. I won’t dig into the past too much, but sometimes I wonder if you have learned from your mistakes? Remember the high development costs you put into Star Wars: The Old Republic just to not have the initial launch success that it deserved? Or let us not forget the blunder of Mass Effect 3 giving an unsatisfactory ending for gamers of the beloved franchise. Do I have to bring up the fact people have voted you the “Worst Company in America” several times!

Apparently, you have learned some things, since most of 2017 has been quite a good year for you. You’ve released several titles such as, Mass Effect: Andromeda, The Sims 4, and Battlefield 1. So, I know you’ve at least considered doing things differently to create better experiences for gamers.

Now, let’s talk about the reasons that has inspired me to write this letter. You closed Visceral Games who were developing an upcoming Starwars game. Okay. Your decision. Fine. However, 2 weeks later you buy Respawn Entertainment. Again, your money, but be mindful of why people were kind of discontent with this buyout. Respawn Entertainment has only been around since 2011. They produced two really great games, especially Titanfall 2. It is still in its infancy as a development studio and people want to see them flourish as best as possible.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you enjoy going to the famed ice cream parlor downtown that has been there for decades. It is practically a historical landmark in your eyes. The next day, you arrive at the storefront to see a notice on the front of the parlor saying they’re under new management because a mega-ice cream corporation bought them out. Overtime, you begin to notice that your scoops of mint chocolate and chocolate strawberry swirl are a lot smaller. You also recognized those lovely handmade cones you like have been replaced by standard issued vanilla cones. That would be disheartening would it not? So, be mindful that you are now proud owners of a new, but growing studio that has a good handle on their identity. Please, do not tamper with that.

Of course, I must address the elephant in the room. StarWars: Battlefront 2 was supposed to be your big end of 2017 release. It has since been your biggest and very public blunder of the year. Now, I won’t chide you anymore than what Reddit has already done and what Disney has probably said to you as well. Take this a huge lesson that gamers never like to feel cheated. Who does? Yes, in your eyes this was a strategic way to have people invest more time into playing the game, as well as allow people to progress quicker if they so choose too via microtransactions. However, that is where a frequent play testing would have come in handy. Eventually, someone would have notice the in-game economy being quite…unbalanced.

EA, I say all of this not to put you down. I am genuinely concerned about the future of your company. I own several EA titles that have immersed me in environments and narratives that still have me in awe: Mirror’s Edge, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, Battlefield, Crysis! All these games and more have had an impact on me and millions of others because they were well developed, entertaining, awe-inspiring, and thoughtful in their game design. Do not let the pointy arrows of the stock market get in the way of those qualities.

You’ll get through this rough patch like always. Again, let this sink in before you are permanently sunk into bankruptcy.

Sincerely,

A very, very concerned gamer

The Relevance of Time and Space in Overwatch

 

 

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“Get on the payload!” “Put a shield up!” “Body block so they can’t get through!” Each statement comes from conversations I’ve had with my friends while playing Overwatch. Overwatch is a team-based first-person shooter in which one can play a variety of characters such as the time-traveling Tracer to the handsome sharpshooter McCree. Overwatch has several game variations, but in my opinion, the main three would be escort, control, and assault.  In the game mode “escort” the objective is to move a large cart-like object through several checkpoints to the end of the map. “Control” has both teams fighting each other to control one central location on the map until either team reaches 100% to win the match. The “Assault” game mode has one team controlling several points on the map while the other team tries to capture each point. Once that attacking team captures the first point, it goes on to the next point and so on until they capture all points.  It was not until after a quickplay match during Overwatch practice that a teammate of mine briefly mentioned that Overwatch is about “time and space.” I heard the short quip about “time and space” coming from the teammate next to me. However, this conversation was initiated by our teammate who mostly plays the deadly Reaper or handsome McCree. Anyhow, this statement resonated with me because my teammates and I always discuss strategy, character placements, counters, when to use ult (ultimate ability), etc. So, let’s explore this concept for a bit.

Time: In Overwatch, each game mode is timed in some manner. On escort maps, each player has a clock displayed on their HUD (heads-up-display) letting all players know how much time they have left in the match. For example, if the attackers have 5 minutes to push the payload to the next point, the defending team needs to hold the attackers back for that duration. Same thing for assault maps in which there is virtual clock displayed for everyone; the assault maps, however, also have a progression counter. For example, on the “Temple of Anubis” map attackers have 5 minutes to get to the enemy point. Then, the attackers must hold that point until the capture progression wheel is full. The progression speed is determined by the number of attackers at the point without the defenders contesting it. Lastly, control maps have a percentage counter. Therefore the percentage goes up depending on whichever team controls it first and maintains it. The moment the opposing team is pushed off the point, then the percentage counter will stop for the opposing team and begin for the other team.

Time as a gameplay mechanic may be presented differently based on game mode, but the constant is that time only goes forward. Time is only added on when the attacking team takes a new checkpoint which adds another 5 minutes to the clock. Time is very precious in Overwatch, especially when it hits “Overtime!” This is the most crucial component of time in Overwatch for different reasons. The attacking team must have at least one person at all times on the payload during Overtime, otherwise game over. The defending team’s goal is to keep the enemy off the payload until the Overtime bar runs out. Overtime is only over if one of these things stops happening. “Get on the payload!” “Someone get on the payload!” That sense of urgency was ostensibly created due to time being such a factor in getting a win or a loss. Time is literally being played with to someone’s advantage or disadvantage.

Beyond time in the sense of attacking, defending, controlling, etc., having good timing is quite important. If Zarya uses her graviton surge ultimate, then anyone in range of the surge on the enemy team will be lifted off the ground open to enemy fire. However, if the robotic monk Zenyatta uses his transcendence, then the amount and speed of health he gives off could keep most, if not all teammates alive. Another example, if the enemy team is diving (rushing or charging in) on the point pretty hard, then using McCree’s ultimate, which locks on to targets to damage then, could help eliminate several characters. Time is a factor in every part of these scenarios. A character may use their ultimate ability once the ultimate percentage counter, having started at 0, ticks its way up to 100. Ultimates are “build” in numerous ways depending on the character. The hacker Sombra builds ultimate percentage aka “charge” faster by hacking health packs and her teammates using them. Zarya builds ultimate charge quickest when taking damage while in her personal bubbled shield. Knowing when to use an ultimate is key in Overwatch. I am not a pro, so I cannot tell you when or when not, you should use your character’s ultimate, but there are plenty of videos out there to check out.

Space: Space in Overwatch translates to a win or loss depending on if your team’s objective is to gain space or take away space. In the middle of that binary is the contestation to control space for it is only neutral until a team does either of those two things. We can also think of space regarding character positioning; character positioning can shape how the game is going to go for your team and vice versa. Reinhardt’s shield can take a lot of damage, but the role of it is dependent on what the game mode. Reinhardt can charge in on a point and pop his shield up. His shield being used to gain space for his teammates to help capture or keep under control of a point. If Reinhardt is on defense, then a player would use his shield to block enemy fire. Therefore, giving Reinhardt’s team some room to damage the enemy team for some time. Each character in Overwatch uses space differently and how that space is being manipulated and utilized shapes how the game match plays out. I could go on, but this is the gist of understanding space in Overwatch. Gain, contest, take away, control, are all different terms referring to the usage and relevance of space.

Time and space can be broken down in many more ways than I have pointed out. However, these two elements and how they are used and manipulated make up the anatomy of Overwatch. Time is a constant and space is expanding and collapsing. Time and space in Overwatch go hand-in-hand like Winston and peanut butter.

Dammit Felix: A Black Gamer’s Perspective

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“Dammit Felix,” I said to myself as I saw the Gamespot article, “PewDiePie Uses Racial Slur In Livestream, Game Dev Says He’s “Worse Than A Closeted Racist” come across my Facebook timeline. In that moment I took a breath and asked, “Who did he offend this time?” Unfortunately, the sky is the limit with the variations of racial slurs out there, but usually I assume it’s the “n-word”. I just kind of assume these things because the “n-word” tends to be the go to slur to express anger, rage, hatred, or the state of annoyance towards a particular entity, most likely a person.

I clicked on the article, scrolled down, and watched the attached video. The Gamespot article quotes what Felix said, but I knew hearing it would bring an audible context that I greatly wanted to hear. I listened, and waited, and waited, and then boom he drops the “n-word” bomb like it was nothing. Now, to be fair he did say sorry for using the word immediately afterwards. So what is the problem? He apologized right? Let’s move on shall we?

First of all, no we cannot simply move on. A white male saying the “n-word” is nothing new, especially a famed white male. So, what is the argument about? The argument as it relates to Felix is his lack of understanding and usage of words and imagery. Simply put, he fails to understand the brevity of his actions until after he makes them. He fails to understand why certain jokes simply cannot be told from his perspective because these jokes are culturally sensitive. I am not saying a white person cannot tell jokes about minorities. I am just saying do not expect those groups to except the mindset that it’s coming from. It would be too challenging to tell if the comedian is poking fun of a culture that they grew up in or making fun of a culture due to a severe lack of cultural understanding. Basically, is the comedian laughing at the group or with the group?

Next: the coveted “n-word”. In full disclosure, I have a bias towards the word in which I do not use it all and do not allow people in reference to me. Yes, this includes other African Americans. I get it. I get why Felix used the word. The word is known to be offensive towards people of the African American Diaspora, yet he probably hears that word being used by African Americans as a term of endearment, in a fit of anger, or disagreement. It is a word that has been reclaimed by African Americans, yet socially forbidden for those outside of the culture, especially white people. Therefore, to further express his anger towards a particular person, why not use a word that expresses his frustration, yet tantalizing enough to use the word he has been socially forbidden to utter.

I have heard several arguments about the usage of this word and why some racial groups can say and others cannot. One known argument being, if the “n-word’ is so bad, then why do African Americans still use it? Another argument being the “n-word’ is just a word, therefore I should be able to say it too, right? If Felix did not use the hard “er” version would there still be controversy? Lastly, if people stop giving the word such power, then we won’t have this problem?

I get where those arguments are coming from. As an African American male who refuses to use the word, I still contemplate why the word still holds so much power. However, I also have a firm grasp of African American history and contemporary racial politics. That is to say, I am still confused, but I understand how the “n-word” has such power and longevity. Sociologically, the “n-word” has been marked to be forbidden to particular groups, especially those coming from and/or resemble those who have historically and systematically used the racial slur to ensure that the powerless never feel powerful. So, does this incident make Felix a racist? I don’t know. Does this incident make him look stupid? Definitely.

But this is a videogame blog; so how does it relate to gaming? Look at what Felix represents to people outside of gaming culture. He is another famed white male saying and/or doing racially insensitive actions and he was playing a videogame while doing it. Gaming culture is notoriously known for people saying and doing things to make others, generally minorities, feel insignificant, unintelligent, and simply inferior. Again, Felix said this during a frustrating interaction between another game player. Those of us who play videogames, especially online, know the frustration of dealing with trolls, cheaters, and acts of randomness that brings you to a disadvantage. I have been there several times and will continue to have my moments of frustrations using expletives to vent. However, I am still mindful of the impact certain words and phrases may have, especially words rooted in bigotry and ignorance.

The creators of Firewatch issued a DMCA takedown of all Firewatch and future Campo Santo content footage from Felix’s channel which is still up in the air at the time this article was written. You can read more here. Basically, if this DMCA goes through this could start a chain reaction of other gaming companies doing the same. This would not be good for him for it maybe the biggest push to start the beginning of the end for PewDiePie.

So let us keep questioning the use of not just that word, but other forms of racially insensitive language, as well as question the state of mind of the person or people who say it.

INDY POPCON 2017: A Little Convention with a Big Spirit!

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After 6 weeks of absolute joy being at home in Maryland, I had to leave to start my series of adventures. My first adventure began as soon as I arrived at the Indianapolis International airport. A friend of mine from Maryland joined me to attend Indy PopCon 2017. I had not heard of Indy PopCon until around mid-Fall of 2016. I told two of my friends about it and one of them agreed in attending. It would be my friend’s first time in Indiana and my first time in Indianapolis, so this was more of an excursion than I thought.

We arrived a day before the convention, which gave us enough time to settle into our hotel room and relax. Our relaxation was short lived for my friend and I did not have anything substantial to eat for most of the day. We left the room to wander around the bustling Indianapolis area in search of food. After acquiring (cheap) food, walking around the mall, and seeing SpiderMan: Homecoming, we called it a night to prepare for nerd mecha!

Indy PopCon was celebrating it’s 5th annual convention. Though that is fairly young compared to others, this convention was riddled with people without ever feeling overcrowded. The last convention I attended was Otakon 2015 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Otakon has a massive fan appeal, so one must get use to being bumped into at every turn; Indy PopCon was a nice change of pace for me.

At this convention there is more of a focus on popular culture then simply anime culture. 20170708_192210This was reflected in the cosplay which ranged from Master Chief from Halo to Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  I brought a camera with me to record the festivities and most importantly, the cosplay. There was pure craziness at the sheer detail in a lot of the cosplays with a few that appeared to have come from a movie set!

There were a variety of booths in the convention hall as well. Selling body pillows with anime characters on them are a mainstay in anime conventions, but having a fully functioning Lego droid factory was new to me. As a new card game is being played in the gamer’s area, there was a 7ft Wookie with a walking stick posing for every camera aimed at him. Further in the corner of the room were two snake handlers with pythons for people to touch. There was even a tortoise there!

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Adi Shankar, Producer of Netflix’s Castlevania

There was so much life at this convention. 20170708_182404The event staff were awesome, the panels were cool and the attendees all appeared to enjoy themselves as well. I know my friend and I sure did. I wish the convention was a day longer because I had a great time, but I would be dead broke from buying to many reflective anime bookmarks.

As I mentioned before, I created a montage video of Indy PopCon. It was so much fun being behind the camera again and filming some of the most creative displays of the human imagination. Special thanks to my friend Davon for travelling out to Indiana, as well as asking cosplayers to be in the video. Another special thanks to my friend Khaleed. He agreed to help edit the video and very thankful that he did. I can not thank Khaleed enough which is why you can help me thank him in subscribing to his channel at SecondBestProductions. He has several wonderfully done montage videos of anime conventions that he has attended. Seriously, check him out!

20170708_222339Indy PopCon 2017 was definitely a small convention with lots of spirit and heart, looking forward to attending again in the future!