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.

This was my first year attending the festival as a spectator and as a panelist for a function such as MAGFest. My first panel started at 10pm that Friday, but I arrived to the center around noon. After being dropped off by my Uber, I headed towards the entrance of the convention center. People outside of the entrance were bundled up, for it was roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit that afternoon. For a moment, I forgot I was headed towards a music and gaming festival and not a formal attire event. The people outside where well-dressed with scarves and khaki pants, so everything appeared fine; normal. Things changed once I passed through the automated doors. Hypnotic electronic dance music rang in the halls as I surveyed the crowd full of cosplay. Since I had a few moments to spare, I ventured around to see and hear what MAGFest had to offer.

I met up with a few friends near the indoor Gazebo, which was the focal area for cosplayers to potentially be photographed and/or video recorded for montage videos. My friend, Shavontae, cosplayed as Danny Phantom from the very popular Nickelodeon cartoon show by the same name. I had also met up with my other friend, Khaleed, who runs the SecondBestProductions YouTube channel. Check out his video from MAGFest here. After shadowing Khaleed for some time, we parted ways for I had dinner plans with comrades from my panel.

A major component to the festival is the Music and Gaming Education Symposium (MAGES) which focuses on “the intricacies of game design, the relationships between game and gamer, and the culture that emerges from this relationship.” Industry developers, academics, and consultants held several panels ranging from creating empathy in videogames to the appropriation of marginalized identities within videogames.

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Left to Right: Dr. Kent L. Norman, Ann Marie Porter, Ph.D., Joey Barnet, Javon Goard, Reza Mahmud

I was invited by my friend, Joey, to be on two panels. The first panel entitled, “The Psychology of Video Games” was led by myself; Joey Barnet, Psychology Ph.D. student at East Tennessee State University; Reza Mahmud, GEICO Esports Marketing Coordinator; Ann Marie Porter, Ph.D.; and recently retired, Dr. Kent L. Norman, professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Our panel discussed the myriad of ways videogames have been studied through a psychological lens. I spoke about identity, in particular, the gamer identity. I included questions that asked about what it meant to embody the gamer identity and some of the social indicators of being a gamer. It was a productive and enriching conversation for me and hopefully, the audience as well.

On Saturday, my last panel was at 2pm and it would be my last day at MAGFest. I met with my colleagues in a room aka the Tea Room where staff and panelists sit, eat, and chill before going back out to the masses. As I entered the room, I saw game developer and consultant, James Portnow, from the YouTube channel, Extra Credits. 20180106_142214_HDR.jpgDr. Norman and Joey were already present in the room engaged in dialogue with James. James had applauded Joey and I for being graduate students who are critically studying and examining videogames and gaming culture. After a few pics, James had to leave, and so did we for our 2pm panel. This panel was more specific in which we talked at length about the relationships or lack thereof between violence and aggression to video game usage. Reza, Joey, and Dr. Norman conducted a study that sought to see how people reacted in various situations to different media types. Ultimately, they compared the acceptability and unacceptability of certain kinds of violent acts between videogames, movies, and news. For an example, it is okay to kill a deer with an arrow in movie and in news media, but not in a videogame. Interesting indeed!

 

With no more panels left to do, I sought to take in as much as could at the festival. I walked to the “Dealers room” which is a gigantic marketplace to buy anime and game related goods. Though I did not purchase anything, it always touches my soul to see amazing works of art (posters, figurines, shirts, books, games,etc.) being sold by independent artists and developers.20180106_135523.jpg MAGFest made a concerted effort to stock the room full of talented people wanting to sell and share their craft with the world. I have never seen a room filled with so many indie games. It was an amazing sight to see. MAGFest had hundreds of games throughout the convention center for attendees to partake in from classic arcade cabinet games such as Mortal Kombat 2 and Galaga to original Xbox, Playstation, and N64 titles.

wp-1515638939408.jpgI did not know what to expect from MAGFest. I purposely avoided looking at the list of events before the the festival for I wanted to be surprised. There was a concert being held in a large ballroom full of people jumping, dancing, twirling, overall having a good time rocking out to some EDM (electronic dance music). Down that same hallway, the PC bang-esque room was filled with at least 100 high-end PCs that attendees could play games on. As a gamer and researcher, my mind was flooded with excitement both to play and to observe the people at play. The focus on the people is why I believe MAGFest attracts some many event goers, especially because it provides a space for those to express themselves via cosplay and music.

I love it when people speak their truth, figuratively and literally. This was the perfect place to do so. Was this some kind of nerd Valhalla? I’m sure to many, yes. Of course, there are still constant jabs at people of color cosplaying characters who look different in skin tone from. For example, black man cosplaying as Superman may experience microaggression typically in the form of ‘You have a great Black Superman cosplay.”wp-1515638967136.jpg I say, “Do you! Speak your truth! #ClapBack.” In a panel I stated, “#ContextMatters.” This was in relation to speaking about identity, but it applies to this topic as well. If you are clearly dressed as Peter Parker’s spiderman, then you are spiderman. You are not black spiderman or Miles Morales unless you state otherwise. If you are not a person of color, and want to cosplay as character who is a person of color. For the love of anime, don’t do black face or any variation of the sort. Dress who you want to dress as, but be smart, mindful, and sensitive about it.

This was my first MAGFest and it will not be my last. Cannot wait to throw myself in all the chaos once more! Hopefully, my Black Panther or Static Shock cosplay will be ready.

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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.

Around 5:32pm on that cold Friday is when we finally stepped into the barcade. I immediately embraced the heat and the aesthetic of The Cade. Dim lighting set the tone, while the large television monitors loomed over top of the arcade cabinet area. After paying my five dollars, I felt The Cade embraced me with open arms.

20171211_135721_HDR.jpgFirst and foremost, The Cade is not a large space for a patron immediately can see the entire establishment in one glance. The bar is located on the right and the 15 arcade cabinets are on the left. Nearest to the door is a classic home console setup with CRT televisions to play games like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart64 on the Nintendo 64 console. My mind was utterly floored by the ambiance and the lights and sounds of these classic arcade games. These are the arcade cabinets available to play at The Cade: Q’bert (1982), Donkey Kong (1981), Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition (1992), Burger Time (1982), Super Off Road (1989), Asteroids (1979), X-Men (1992), Pac-Man (1980), NBA-Jam (1993), Gauntlet (1985), Galaga (1981), Tapper (1983), Area 51 (1995), Mario Bros. (1983), and Centipede (1980).

As I meandered around, I saw players sighing and gasping as they saw the “Game Over” screen appear before them. I played Street Fighter and within seconds remembered why Street Fighter was never the game for me. I am horrible at it. However, I played several rounds with my colleague who repeatedly defeated me with E. Honda. “Dem hands doh!”, I said quietly.

My goal was to observe the people within the space, which included informally interviewing the manager. As I stood taking notes on my phone, I heard “So good to see you! Thanks for coming!” As I slowly looked up I saw it was one of my former students. After pleasantries were exchanged, I noticed she was wearing “The Cade” t-shirt. I asked if she work at The Cade because she was employed elsewhere when she was my student. Bashfully she said, “Actually I’m…” hastily, I interrupted with “are you the manager!?” Her and her fianceé, Jeremy, run the establishment together. The conversation was brief for she had to quickly tend to her managerial duties. So, we had a meeting at The Cade during closing time the following Monday. 20171211_135628.jpg

The first question I asked was how she got started in the barcade business. Chelsea stated that Jeremy knew the previous owner of the space which was called “The Vid”, a former bar. She always played puzzles and games with Jeremy, and with her background in the service industry creating, a barcade made sense especially in Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomington is also home to Indiana University, my current institution. “We’re right downtown and there’s nothing like this”, Chelsea stated. I asked about how they envisioned The Cade to be, Chelsea mentioned the book “Ready Player One”, which is also getting a film adaptation directed by Steven Speilberg. The book described a hangout space that Chelsea thought would be a “cool basement hangout” concept to bring The Cade.

As mentioned earlier, The Cade is not large space, so I asked her how they decided the kind of “flow” they wanted for the space. “We didn’t want people walking in front of  consoles. So, that was important.” The consoles are located at the front of the establishment with cushioned wooden benches around them for people to sit and game. Next to the bar are booths for patrons to drink and eat at. Did I forget to disclose the tables at the booth light up!? In regard to the bar booths, they decided the booths should be adjacent to the bar and not in the middle of the establishment “for ease of access to the bar”, Chelsea stated.

My last few questions were related to the future of The Cade. Chelsea spoke of potentially hosting “anime nights” and “tournaments.”  4 more arcade cabinets are entering The Cade soon, but Chelsea did mention that Mortal Kombat is missing from the arcade. They wanted to have at least a game from several genres of arcade cabinets. Chelsea also want to have “some kind of comradery around us in the state.” Barcades are popular, but the uncertainty of how long this trend will keep remains a mystery. I addressed my concern to her in which she replied, “Right now, I think retro is really in, but of course as pop culture changes, we will need to change as well.” 20171208_175209.jpg

Earlier I spoke of Dr. Kocurek, whom in page 3 of her book claimed, “Today, although videogaming itself has continued to gain cultural significance, the videogame arcade as a physical space persists as an object of nostalgia, an entertainment gimmick, or a nerd mecca for the truly dedicated, even as new arcades open, making specific appeal through these forms.” 20171211_135736.jpgYes, The Cade is a space for gamers and nostalgia seekers, but also for anyone who just wants to partake in a beverage and/or videogames. For sure, the truly dedicated will be the ones to keep businesses like these afloat. Barcades not only preserve technological artifacts of arcade history, but give the cabinets agency once again. People engage and understand them differently due to the technological capabilities of contemporary videogame culture. However, the level Galaga still can give any skilled player a button mashing workout. Though the look of these games appear overly simplistic – the level of difficulty has not aged a day. Hopefully, The Cade sticks around long enough to pay homage to classic systems such as the Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, and Nintendo Switch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

EVO 2017: A Spectacle Worth Seeing!

That’s right! I attended the annual Evolution Championship Series this past weekend! I traveled from Indianapolis, Indiana to Las Vegas, Nevada; my adventure actually started with me sleeping at the Indianapolis International Airport in order to board my 6am flight on time and save money. It would have been a $60 Uber for me at 4:30am in the morning if my friend did not take me, so I must thank my friend and colleague for the help!

Anywho, I attended EVO 2017 not just as a fan and lover of fighting videogames, but as a researcher. I am working on a research project related to the fighting game community. I cannot divulge too many details, but it involved me attending EVO and interviewing several attendees and/or competitors. I was accompanied by two of my friends – both gamers and avid players of fighting videogames.

After my friends and I checked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort, we grabbed something to eat at the (expensive) food court, and proceeded to the convention hall. Once we entered, almost on cue, my friend and I both uttered, “Holy shit!” Immediately we were thrust into nerd mecha with EVO-related merchandise being sold at the very front entrance. Deeper into the convention I passed the Pokken Tournament for Nintendo Switch play area. The Dragon Ball FighterZ play area was adjacent to the Capcom booth with 100 people already gathered around to play this upcoming title. Once you get through the merchandising, one may stop and gaze at all the pools  that were around. For those who are unaware, ‘pools’ are matches that players need to win to be in the semi-finals. This means that some people could be playing against 10+ opponents in a single day.

As mentioned before, I was at EVO 2017 to observe and conduct interviews.

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I have several pages of hand written notes ranging from topics related to the diverse population within the space to the way players hold and use their joy stick on their fighting sticks. Fighting sticks are portable arcade cabinet controllers that rest on one’s lap. Most competitors use fight sticks, but do not necessarily have to use one to compete. I spent an hour just observing how players gripped their joy stick on the fighting sticks. That in it of itself could be a study since I noted at least five different ways to handle them.

Throughout EVO, I got to see some of my favorite players, both old and new. I saw Kitana Prime walking around quite bit, as well as commentating on a few matches. I also met SonicFox thanks to my friend pointing him out to me. Unfortunately, I did not converse with him because he look exhausted from pools. I almost got a picture with competitor Hayatei, but just before I got the picture Kitana Prime told him he was up next to play. Hayatei apologized and went to play. Again, this is a tournament so anyone who is competing needs to be in the area ready to play at any moment. IMG_20170714_2201101 Some matches end earlier than others, so I understood that he had to rush and leave. Maybe next time. I also got to take a picture with the legendary Justin Wong again. The list goes on who else I saw there, but it was exciting just to be in the same room as them.

 

Attending the Grand Finals at the Mandalay Bay convention center on Sunday was exhilarating. Once you walk inside to take a seat, the gigantic monitors live streaming the event immediately captures your attention. The competitors also play on a LCD platform in the shape of the EVO logo that have several smaller monitors displayed on the sides for people in court side seating to watch. I enjoyed watching all the matches in each game, but seeing the top 8 competitors fight in Street Fighter V was definitely the highlight of the event for me. It was Punk and Tokido in the Street Fighter V Grand Finals and the pressure was on. Most of the crowd was rooting for Punk, with his mother cheering him on every minute. The crowd was in an uproar whenever Punk took a round, but gasped everytime Tokido took a match. Tokido won 3-0 against Punk. You know Punk was devastated, since you could see the look of disappointment consume him. However, he kept his head high and received his medal while the crowd uncontrollably praised him for his valiant fight against Tokido.

EVO and the fighting game community (FGC) is special, at least that is feeling that was communicated to me via the interviews. I left EVO with the impression that people thoroughly love being a part of this community.  The FGC spans the entire globe with fighters coming from Mexico, Japan, Canada, Europe, etc.

 

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If you can go to EVO one day, then please go! If you can go with friends, then even better. I feel even more a part of the FGC since attending EVO. Definitely an event worth seeing in person and maybe one day competing in person as well!

Also, the after-party was lit! Seeing people go from beating each other in-game to the dance floor is a worthwhile sight!

E3 2017: The Games I Want Arrive in 2018

The annual celebration of all things videogames wrapped up in Los Angeles on June 15 and videogames are yet again going to new heights! Games such as Detroit: Become Human premiered a full length demo of the game introducing new characters and more details on its narrative. God of War showed off some awesome gameplay at the Sony briefing which included seeing Kratos’s son use a weapon against enemy combatants. This confirms that his son is a useful ally instead of a…. well a burden. Lastly, Spider-Man closed out the Sony briefing with a roughly 9-minute gameplay demonstration. Needless to say, I am excited to get my hands on these games.

However, the previously mentioned videogames and many others will not be released until 2018 or later. Quite frankly, a good portion of these games won’t see the day of light until the end of this year, if not early next year. One could have arrived at that conclusion late 2016 or early 2017. Even games that were shown off or unveiled during E3 2016 did not make an appearance this time around. Hideo Kojima’s new scifi game Death Stranding had no showing and Red Dead Redemption 2 was a no-show as well. Lastly, the biggest game on my radar, Cyberpunk 2077, is still completely shrouded in mystery.

I understand that developers want their games tight lipped because it builds anticipation and they can show off a near finished product instead a concept video. I really appreciate that mindset for a game can be shown off at E3 as one thing, then be completely different at launch. I am looking at you Assassin’s Creed: Unity.

So why are a lot of the big titles releasing next year instead of this year?

First, this is nothing new. I would argue this happens at every E3. Take Batman: Arkham Knight for example. Announced in March of 2014 and released on June 23, 2015. For Honor was announced E3 2015 and released on February 14 on this year. Franchise games like Halo are typically announced at E3 and will not release for another year and half such as Halo 4. Halo 4 was announced at E3 2011 and released on November 6, 2012. Hell, The Last Guardian was in development since 2007 and released a decade later in November of last year!

Secondly, some of these games have been delayed until 2018 or will have delays in 2018. Nowadays, this is just how it is. Personally, I do not mind if a game is delayed to make it better. 2014 to 2015 had several games being released almost unplayable either on PC or console. I’m looking at you Batman: Arkham Knight and of course again at Assassin’s Creed: Unity. So developers, take your time.

Not every game announced at E3 2017 is waiting to be released in 2018, but waiting a year for the games I want can be a struggle. You can look at this Gamespot.com list of games releasing in 2018 and later here.

E3 2017 was definitely fun to watch and we will all need to wait a bit longer before we get to have fun playing them too.

 

There is no “Respawn” option in Life

There is no respawn option is life

 

Every day I reflect. I reflect on what it means to be me; what it means to be a gamer; what it means to be a student; what it means to be black; what it means to be male, or an older brother, or a friend. I have the power to reflect on these identities because I have time to do so. Every day is a new opportunity to reevaluate and contemplate.

Videogames also incorporate moments of reflection, of pondering, starting anew, or continuing where one left off.  I can always gain a new level in Overwatch because the work I put in was saved. That saved data does not get rewritten until I, the player, choose to continue my progress. It waits for me to finish what I started. It waits for me to continue to reach new objectives and learn more in order to progress in its virtual world.

Just like life, videogames are full of bewilderment. I can be a formidable opponent against a ferocious dragon, therefore earning the opportunity to slay the beast. I could be late for an exam, therefore I must work with the little time I have been given to complete it. Both required preparation and a mastery of tools I possessed to complete the objectives swiftly and efficiently. However, there is a big difference between playing a life in virtual space and living life in real space.

Life has no respawn.

There is no press button to pause life. There is only continue.

We as people get one chance. One time to live. It is a crime against humanity when someone decides to strip away that life, especially without justification, reason, cause, or merit.

Lt. Richard Collins III was stabbed and killed on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at 3 a.m. near a bus stop on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park. Collins was at our campus preparing to graduate from Bowie State University that upcoming Tuesday.

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To those of you who do not know, UMD is my alma mater. I did not know him personally, but his death has impacted me. From the location of where he was slain to the person currently in police custody, it makes me…reflect.

As a gamer, I am used to witnessing the simulation of death. Generally, I am then afforded the chance to begin anew, and continue my path; all I have to do is press “A” to continue from the last checkpoint. However, reality is not coded that way; there are no cheat codes for death or life, and there are no patch updates that fix the many wrongs in this world. The game of life is set of the hardest difficultly, that continuously generates new hurdles, obstacles, challenges, and enemies. Life is also a horribly imbalanced system. Too much to even list why it’s so cruel and unjust.

There is no respawn.

Death is a life experience that we confront daily – either by watching it on the television, seeing it on your timeline, or simply being at the wrong place at that time. For there is never a right time for death.

There is no respawn. Just one life. A life we should preserve as long as we can. Let us share our experience with others in hopes of conquering the bigger challenges in life as well. Even if one player falls, their ideas, hopes, and dreams should carry others forward.

Lt. Collins III Rest in Paradise. May your spirit influence others to continue playing and being brave and strategic in the game of life.

 

Road to the PhD: Year One

“Road to the PhD” is a new short blog series comprised of reflections of my woes, accomplishments, up and downs, as I try to ascertain the coveted PhD. I am PhD student in Informatics in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, Bloomington. This is a brief, but concrete reflection of my first year in this program. Hopefully, these reflections will benefit those who are interested in being a games researcher and want to know what that experience is like at the graduate level.

Road to the PhD- Year One

And with the submissions of my final papers and final grades for my students, I have successfully completed my first in my PhD program. Thank goodness! I am so relieved that finals (HELL) week is over! Of course, at the graduate level I feel it starts earlier because one must budget time and energy to drafting papers, starting or finishing projects, and meeting with students to discuss their grades, if you have students. Honestly, it lasted for a good month for me because of the amount of students I had to grade upon my own work that had to get done. However, I learned a lot within the past year about what kind of student I am and the direction I want to go? Also, the balance of becoming a games scholar and scholar who still plays games during free time? A very interesting position that I have yet again place myself in.

When I first arrived at Indiana University I had very little knowledge of the other graduate students who worked on and/or with videogames. I just knew that I needed to meet them and learn about their particular interest in gaming culture. After a week or so, I met one of them in the shared PhD area where most of the PhD students have their desks. During my second week I met Alex who is interested in gaming distribution platforms such as Steam, Blizzard App, and Origin. Alex and I were also taking the same social media course as well, so we developed a nice rapport with each other fairly quickly.

Later on that month, I met Iris who is also fascinated about the culture of gaming and very much into building connections on and off campus with other game enthusiasts. Iris, Alex, and I have since played Overwatch with each other several times and currently creating a games research group and another project that I hope pans out well.

Why did I mentioned these people? Well, it’s not the people that I wanted to highlight, though they both are awesome people. I wanted to highlight this amazing collaborative journey that I have embarked on. Studying videogames as an academic interest and hopefully career, so far is proving to be intriguing, fascinating, and lots of work. Intriguing because I have involved myself from simply reading books on games to utilizing them for academic papers. Fascinating because I get to discuss at any moment between buffs and nerfs in Overwatch to the representation of marginalized identities in some videogames with others in my PhD cohort. Lastly, this is a lot of work to do because the field is still growing, and their are so many directions yet unexplored, and so many questions yet to be asked.

This first year has challenged me as a gamer as well. I now cherish games like Overwatch because I can play a few rounds and feel as though I am accomplishing something fairly quickly, as well as, being actively engaged in combat without a long wait time to find and fight my foes. Do not get me wrong, I love my Skyrim and Mafia 3, but those games require a lot more of my time. I feel sad at times because I know I need to spend at least  3 to 4 hours in the realm of Dragon Age: Inquisition to get that same sense of accomplishment like in Overwatch.  However, school makes that very challenging for me. Yes, two very different genres that appeal to different kind of gamers. However, one cannot deny the fact both require different amounts of time to accomplish certain tasks in these games. I am still working on finding that balance between work and play.

During year one, I was yet again confronted with the reality of what it means to be one of few in a particular space. I am a Black male going to a PWI (predominantly white institution) which does not bother me because my alma mater, University of Maryland, College Park, is one as well. Within in the Informatics side of the School of Informatics and Computing I have yet to see a black faculty member. This is may or may not be true, but after being their for 10 months I am pretty sure I would have seen someone. However, the lack of representation within my department does not faze as much because I expected this because of where the school is located, and seeing various ethnic groups in the space does not make me feel alone. Race has and will forever play a role in how I see, interact, and interpret things, but I refuse to let it stand in my way to what I want to accomplish. That lesson has become a abundantly clear with me graduating from UMD last year and currently attending IU.

Year one is finally completed and I could not be happier. I am excited to see what year  two has in store because gaming is taking me to new places and meeting new people. I am attending EVO 2017 in Las Vegas to conduct some research, so stay tuned for that. It is an immense privilege to be in school and be able to invest my time and energy into research I want to do. Let’s just hope I can accomplish even more since during my 2nd year.