Cosplay is a big part of geek culture, especially at conventions. I have mentioned it before in discussing how people react to it and the effort people put in it. I recently attended Emerald City Comicon and of course there were a ton of people cosplaying.
Unfortunately there were a few costumes that caused something of a stir.
I don’t normally refer to the thumbnail pictures I use here, but this is an exception. The picture I chose today is from Emerald City this year. If you are not sure what you are looking at, it is a man dressed as Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The man is clearly white, and has (badly) applied make-up to attempt to make himself appear black. There was also a trio of kids dressed as Michonne from The Walking Dead and her two tamed zombies. These kids were also white and wearing make-up and wigs to appear black.
In both cases, when I saw them, I got the impression that none of them understood the history of blackface, and that not one of them were being malicious. This did not stop several people from taking offense, especially on twitter. As far as I know there were no direct confrontations on the floor.
For those of you confused about why this would be offensive, I suggest you look up the terms “blackface” and “minstrel show.” The quick version is that there was a theatrical tradition that had white performers put on make-up to appear black, with exaggerated features. These shows are a major source of many negative stereotypes of African-Americans. These shows were common up to the beginning of the civil rights movement. Since then, due to these connections people appearing in blackface are consider a racist insult or at the very least racially insensitive.
I want to be clear that I am not saying you cannot cosplay a character of a different ethnicity. At the show I saw very well done She-Ra, Wonder Woman, and Superman costumes done by African-Americans. The difference is that they did not attempt to make themselves look white. They just showed up in costumes of characters they liked and owned it. In fact there is a great Tumblr site, Cosplaying While Black, that you can check out. This is not completely free of controversy as there are some people not comfortable with seeing their favorite characters being portrayed by a different ethnicity. I do not feel these people have a leg to stand on. Just because you are uncomfortable does not mean the cosplayers needs to conform to your tastes.
Unfortunately there are a lot of people using the exact same argument to defend the blackface cosplay. I do not find these equitable arguments.
Basically it comes down a couple of factors.
One is that while blackface is still viewed as a form of racism I think there are a lot of people that are not familiar with it and so had no idea how offensive they were being.
The other is good old fashion white privilege. I assume that these people did not know it was wrong or even take a moment to consider the ramifications. I think that even the attempts to defend them come down to white privilege. For those not sure what I mean, white privilege is the perceived advantages and attitudes that come with being born white in our culture. It also is used to refer to the inability of people born white to understand the perspective of other ethnicities, such as why a person in blackface would be offensive.
And to be clear, I am a white man of middle class background, so I can fall into this trap myself. The reason I usually don’t is that I have been educated enough to know the history and to avoid making those mistakes.
In the case of our four unintentional offenders at Emerald City Comicon, I think the man in the thumbnail is just ignorant and will hopefully learn from this to not go there again. In the case of the kids I think their parents let them down by not educating them on how their choices may not go over as well as they hoped.
And if not I think the world will provide the needed education soon enough.
It should go without saying that fandom and geek culture produces a lot of passion. Lately I have been writing about the down side of that passion. While I think it is important to bring those subjects to light, I do not want to lose sight of what it is I and so many others love that brings us together.
So I thought I would talk a bit about the artistic side of being in geek culture.
When you go to a fandom event one thing you will find is that at their heart they are a celebration of some form of art. Be it comic books, film, animation, or literature, they all are based on a form of creative output. And this will carry over to the fans themselves. So let’s take a look at the ways fans will find to express their creative side.
Before I go on I want to make one thing clear: this is more of an overview look at these different creative areas. Each one could support an entire article of its own. In fact I could very possibly do those articles in the future. I am just doing this an overall celebration of creativeness in our community and hopefully as a jumping off point for discussion.
Ok, with that out of the way here we go.
At many conventions there will be an art show, where people will display artwork they have created, usually a painting, often for sale, or as part of a charity auction. Now this art is usually geared towards the specific theme of the event, but not always. Some of it will be what is known as fan art, a piece that is based on an already existing property. Star Trek and Star Wars for years were the dominate fandoms for this, but today it could be anything that has any kind of fandom. While it is easy for some people to dismiss this kind of art since the artist is basing it on something someone else already created, that ignores the time, effort, skill, and passion that go into its creation. Many successful artists got their start this way.
Fanfiction is another creative activity that is prevalent in the fan community. I know that it gets a lot of flak for the slashfic aspect of it, which for the uninitiated among you is where a story will focus on a romantic pairing, rarely one that appears in canon, and often homosexual in nature. Now a lot of people think Fanfiction is something born of the internet, however writing stories about a favorite character or franchise is a long standing practice. There were published Sherlock Holmes stories at the same time Arthur Conan Doyle was writing. As for directly fandom based fanfiction, there were homemade zines about Star Trek as in the 70s. Like with the artists there are cases of fanfiction writers making the transition into published authors, and I am not just referencing 50 Shades of Grey. One year at San Diego Comic Con I heard Denny O’Neil say that he gave Devin Grayson a shot at writing for him based on her batman fanfiction.
A variation of fanfiction is the fan film. This is one area where thanks to technical advancements it is no longer the realm of the really passionate fans that can get the resources together to make a film. Now with digital recording, editing programs and the means of online distribution whole groups of fans can get together to make films. I would break fan films down to two categories. The first is the film based on a franchise. There are groups that are dedicated to making fan films based on Star Trek, Star Wars, and Firefly. The other type is the film based on a geek friendly premise, such as Gamers: Dorkness Rising, or the Collectibles. The advantage of the second type is that it is something the creators can generate income from. The first type on the other hand is something that gets made because the people involved love the franchise, love making films, and want to combine them. I will admit this one is near to my heart as I was involved with a group of fan film makers and made films based on Star Trek, Doctor Who and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The one creative area of fandom that has gotten a lot of attention lately is cosplay. I sometimes think the creative side of this gets lost in all the discussion of how sexy someone is or if the costume was appropriate for the convention. Again cosplayers tend to take two forms. The first is the person who looks at a fan event as a chance to dress up and comes in a costume that was purchased elsewhere. Usually this is a store bought Halloween costume. The second type is the person who takes the time to research the character they are making a costume of, find or make patterns for the costume and then take the time to make the costume. Technically there is a third type, a person whose costume is made for them by someone else, but I tend to think of them as just a variant of the second type.
It should come as no surprise that there are people who are of the type two cosplayers that look down on type one as poseurs. I am of the opinion that if someone wants to dress up as a character and the only way they can do so is to buy from a costume shop, than more power to them.
Getting back to cosplay as art, just go out and look up cosplay and look at all the variations you will see. Sure you will have the faithful reproduction of a Wonder Woman costume, but you will also have steampunk Wonder Woman, Victorian Wonder Woman, or as I saw once, a hybrid Wonder Woman/Slave Girl Leia.
Despite the flak that cosplaying is getting lately, it’s creativity has always been appreciated at conventions through the costume contests. These are often a highlight of most conventions. And again people who are really good at it can go pro. Here in the Seattle area there was a costumer named Dragon Dronet, who use to do elaborate costumes with impressive props. Based on his work at conventions he ended up working in Hollywood and is now a respected Prop maker, having worked on various Star Trek shows, Batman Returns, Alien Nation, and even casting puppets for Jeff Dunham.
I would be remiss if I did not take some time to talk about filking. Filking, or filk music, is basically fandom folk music. While it has never been my cup of tea, it has a huge following. And by huge I mean that there are whole conventions devoted to filking. A filk song can either be a parody of a known song with a fannish twist, or an original composition.
A form of creative that often gets overlooked in fandom is crafting. This is just making things with a geeky slant. You see them in most convention dealer rooms, next to the book stores, and video vendors. These are the people who are selling things they have made themselves. And it can be so many different things. Jeweler, costume pieces and accessories, ceramics, t-shirts, art prints. My wife is part of this, she makes soaps shaped like gaming dice, gelatinous cubes (complete with finger puppet monsters inside), and gems. I have also seen perfumers, corset makers, and fitted fang makers. Obviously crafters who are vending at a convention are hoping to make a profit and even a living from their work, but this does not take away from their creativity.
The last type of creativity is one that is so close to me that I almost overlooked it for this article. It is the one I practice myself. It’s the people who blog, or make podcasts, or online videos about geek culture. Sure there is an argument that it really isn’t that creative as we are just commenting on what is out there, or reviewing geek friendly media. However it still takes time and effort to put these things together and like all of the above it comes out of a love of the culture and wanting to find ways to participate in it. Again some people are able to take this to the limit and go pro, just look at Chris Hardwick.
One thing I have heard a lot is people saying “I wish I could do that, but I’m not good enough”, to which I so “so what”?
Honestly, I think people should at least give something they want to do a shot.
When I started Fanboy News Network it was out of a need for expression. I had spent some time away from the convention scene and had been working on Community Theatrical productions, mostly behind the scenes. Those productions were great, but I realized that I was missing something, my own voice. I decided to start writing as a creative outlet, and using the old saying “write what you know” decided to focus on geek culture. And let’s face it, there are a lot better writers out there covering the same things I do. But I do not let that stop me. I am doing this because I want to, and I want to get good at it. The only way to do that is to actually write.
In the year and a half I have been writing Fanboy News Network I have learned a lot. I have learned what many of my writing habits, both good and bad, are and am working to improve. I have been able to find a writing voice. I have also joined a writers group, and I am now working on projects not directly related to the site.
So if you want to try any of these things, go for it. Just do not be put off by the idea that you may stumble, or even fail at first. This is part of the learning process.
And go out and try to find other people who share your particular interest. You may find mentors or at least a support network. At worst you’ll make some new friends.
And never forget there is an aspiring writer in Seattle that is pulling for you.
While I was off enjoying my honeymoon, the whole fake nerd girl issue roared back to life with a vengeance. This is not to say that it ever went away, but the day I flew out to Disneyland to build some memories to last a lifetime with my wife, veteran comic book artist Tony Harris decided to let loose on the subject.
I’m not going to quote him verbatim, if you want to read exactly what he said go here. What I took from his rant is this: women who cos-play at conventions are just attention whores with no love and appreciation of geek culture and should just accept that their sole purpose is to be lusted after and it is their fault if men act badly around them.
I feel dirty even writing that previous paragraph.
Tony Harris is one of the best artists working in comics today. As an artist I am always going to be a fan of his work. However, after reading his rant it is clear that he has some issues that clearly need to be addressed. And he is not alone, not by a longshot. It has been going on long enough to spawn a meme and to have become a catchphrase.
What the hell? How did this happen?
It’s a complex question and a lot of people have been discussing this for a while now. As a simple male geek who loves his subculture while at times wanting to throttle it, I will now give my two cents worth.
To start with we have to understand the idea of gatekeeper behavior. This is where someone in a particular social group decides it’s up to them to protect the group by determining what is and isn’t appropriate for that group and attempting to purge that which they deem inappropriate. Pick any type of group that a person could be in, political, religious, social, or professional and you will find people who act as gatekeepers for that group.
By their very nature a gatekeeper is going to be a conservative member of that community as they want to keep it pure.
Now how do we apply this to geek culture? You have to remember that as we have said before the various subsets that make up geek culture have traditionally been male dominated industries that cater to a male dominate fan base. But smart business owners know that it is good to expand your consumer base and the best way to do that is to appeal to as broad a market as possible. For a male dominated market this means trying to bring in the rest of the human race, in other words females.
While this seems simple on the surface, there is a catch. That catch is that while someone new may enjoy something, they way they enjoy it may be different than how you do.
I think I need to illustrate that last point.
My sister and I, despite both being very geeky, are very different in how we approach it. Both of us love Horror, Disney, and roleplaying. However she is not a comic book fan and I am not into fanfiction. This is not to say that either of us hasn’t read comics or fanfiction, but there are subcultures to both and those are ones that she and I do not share.
So when the Avengers movie came out, as I comics fan I was stoked. What I was not aware of was that the fanfiction community also embraced it. Due to this my sister is now a huge Avengers fan, She loves the movie just as much as I do, but for different reasons. She will never know who D-man and Rage are, and I will never get Tony Stark and Steve Rodgers as a married couple.
Now a gatekeeper is going to say that she is wrong. She needs to appreciate the Avengers for its appeal to the comic fans and that legacy and enjoying stories about Tony and Steve adopting Peter Parker is wrong and should be shunned.
So this is where we have the origin of the issue. Maybe that Cos-player dressing as the Black Widow was inspired by the movie. Her interest is in putting together the costume and after all that hard work she wants to show it off. The best place to do that is at a convention. Does this mean she knows the entire backstory of the character? Who knows? The point is that this is how she has chosen to enjoy the culture. This is fine, and she should be allowed to do so. However the gatekeepers go into hyperventilation. This is the root of the fake nerd girl. The claim that she is a trespasser in our community that needs to be put in her place.
Another part of Harris’ rant was that ok, you have chosen to be here dressed like that, accept that you are going to be treated as an object, not a person.
No, just no. this is not even a little ok. In fact go back and read my article on misogyny in geek culture. Or any article on this subject.
So basically what we have an issue where people are feeling threaten because other people are doing things differently.
And if you scratch beneath the surface you will find it is not just the fake nerd girl meme at play here. I have heard from a friend that right after Harris posted. He had friends of his say that they hate it when people are at an anime convention and their cos-play is not anime specific, and how they want those people banned. I have also heard of a steampunk convention where a member of the convention committee went through the dealer’s hall and kicked out any dealers who they felt did not have merchandise that was “steampunk” enough.
And the worst part is that for every idiot who spews this nonsense, they will have people backing them up. If you read the comments from Harris’ post a lot of people thanked him.
That right there is why I am writing this and why others need to keep at it. We have to point out that this behavior is not right and cannot be condoned. And right now we really need to keep at it as this meme has got legs. This next image is from an ad you can find in DC comic books.
Yes, this got approved by an editor somewhere.
I’m sure I will be writing more about this in the future. In the meantime please keep this issue in mind and let’s do what we can to combat it.
As we enter the final stretch of the Halloween season we now turn our eyes to the origin of the holiday, Samhain. And since this is Fanboy News Network I am going to tie it back in with geek culture by the end.
Before I even get into what Samhain is/was/isn’t/whatever I want to tackle one of the trickiest subjects of all, how to pronounce it. You see Samhain is a Gaelic word and so its pronunciation has nothing to do with how our eyes accustomed to modern English see it. When you look at it I am sure that you assume it is pronounced Sam (as in the common first name) hane (rhyming with bane). And you would be wrong. In fact it is pronounced Sow (like the pig) in (as opposed to out).
We will get back to fun with pronunciation later.
So what is Samhain and how does it relate to Halloween? Well to answer that we need to look to our old friends the ancient Celts.
It’s easy to think of the Celts as a superstitious people who spent most of their time painted blue and hitting things, but really they were a very practical people who incorporated their spiritual lives into their everyday lives. Due to this a lot of their holy days tended to line up to practical matters like planting or harvesting. It is also good to keep in mind the harsh climate they lived in. Finally you have to remember that they did not look at seasons the same way we do. To them there were two seasons, summer and winter.
So for Samhain, the first thing to know is that its literal translation is “summer’s end”, meaning it was when they marked the beginning of the winter season. Or to put it another way, it was the Gaelic word for November. The festival of Samhain was the feast that they would have to mark the occasion. It was also when they would bring in their livestock from the summer pastures and slaughter any animals to provide food for the winter. Due to this last bit it was sometimes known as the blood harvest.
On the spiritual side of things it was a time when the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead were thought to be thinnest. Many traditions that we think of as Halloween traditions were born out of this belief. People would dress in ways they normally didn’t to confuse spirits that meant harm, turnips were craved into frightening faces to scare off evil spirits and offerings were left out for the beloved dead. Thus we have costumes, Jack-o-lanterns, and trick or treating for candy.
For the Celts Samhain was the beginning of their year and the festival of Samhain their most important holy day.
I’m sure some of you are now thinking “But haven’t I heard of an actual mythological character called Samhain?”
I’m sure you have, and let me take this time to explain why this is wrong.
In the 18th and 19th centuries in England the practice of armchair academics was very popular. These were amateurs in various sciences who would do research and get published without any actual field experience. I have always held the belief that the kind of people that did this would be what Monty Python would refer to as an Upper Class Twit.
One such individual was Col. Charles Vallency, who wrote a 6 volume set of books in 1770 that attempted to prove that the Irish people once came from Armenia. This work has the first reference that can be found naming a god called Samhain.
This concept would be picked up by Godfrey Higgins in 1827. Higgins wanted to prove that the Celts originally came from India. Now today there is scientific evidence that backs this up, but the field work that proved it had not been done yet in 1827 and Higgins needed something to prove his theory. In his research Higgins came across Vallency’s work and picked up on the idea of calling a god Samhain. He found a Hindu God named Samana, and figured he had his hook. But he needed a mythology to go with Samhain to make this work. Finding reference to the blood harvest it was an easy step to go from a sensible practice to survive the winter to a festival of ritual sacrifice to appease a pagan god. And the belief of the dead roaming the land made Samhain a god of the dead, terrorizing the people as the cold set in.
And this BS is what stuck in a lot of people’s minds. For years if you did a search on Samhain on the internet all you would find would be references to a “Lord of the Dead”. Fortunately decent research in more recent years has drowned those pages out and most information you find is in the neighborhood of accurate.
Well unless you are talking about mass media, then all bets are off.
It seems that when you want to do a TV show or movie involving Samhain that last thing you want to do is actual research, especially when the BS is so much more fun.
One example that I always think of is an episode of the TV show Supernatural. Now this show has always had its issue when it comes to research. Don’t get me wrong, I like this show, and watch it regularly. When they are working from a mythology they create no problem, but whenever they try to work in any existing folklore, not so much. Let’s put it this way, my sister and I have a game where we predict when the other is going to start flailing at the screen because they got some piece of lore wrong. When they did their Samhain episode she actually called me and said “are you yelling at the screen yet?” The answer was yes by the way. They basically took Higgins’ story and used it whole cloth, adding that Samhain was helping bring about the apocalypse.
Another is the otherwise really fun horror movie Trick r Treat. It’s iconic character is Sam who looks like a little kid in a pumpkin mask, but is in fact Samhain who acts as the spirit of Halloween.
But really it was the cartoon the Real Ghostbusters that solidified the use of Samhain as the spirit of Halloween. In multiple episodes they had a pumpkin headed baddie called Sam Hane who wanted to make every day Halloween.
As for shows that get a bit closer to the facts, even they can have issues.
True Blood for example almost drove me to drink. They did great on the Samhain mythology, but their pronunciation was like fingernails on a chalkboard. They pronounced it Sama Hane. I have no idea where they got that extra A from.
Another show that was not annoying was the show Reaper, about a guy who ended up stuck working for the Devil. In one episode the Devil lamented that he missed the festival of Samhain, and nailed the pronunciation. His mythology was a bit off, but better than most.
The one show I can cite that nailed it on the head was American Horror Story last season. They opened their Halloween two part episode with a character accurately describing the old Samhain traditions, getting both pronunciation and history correct. The best part was that since the story was about ghosts, they were able to take the accurate information and make it relevant to the plot.
So there we have it, a look at what is and isn’t true about Samhain. So when you go out this year, remember that there was no blood god wanting sacrifices, just a people getting ready for winter and honoring their beloved dead.
The Camarilla, oh what a strange history I have with thee. I claim as part of my geek cred that I am one of the founders of the Camarilla. Seeing as we are into the Halloween season now, it seems like as good a time as any to explain that.
For those not in the know, the Camarilla is a fan organization based on White Wolf’s Vampire role-playing game that came out in 1991. So how did a role-playing game end up with an international fan organization? Let me give you my eye witness account, my personal journey if you will. I’m going to use Vampire game terms liberally. I’m not going to take the time to explain them, I figure most of you can use Wikipedia.
Oh and in case there is some confusion, events in the last couple of years required them to change the official name of the organization to the Mind’s Eye Society. Since I’m talking about from further back I am just going to call it the Camarilla.
Within 6 months of the game’s release a good friend of mine named Matthew Burke informed me that he had been talking with a co-worker of his named Jana Wright and they had decided that they were going to form the official fan club, and wanted to know if I was willing to help. I was a fan of the game, having both played and run a few games since its release. Sure, I was in.
Now I want to back track here a bit. I think it is worth going over how I knew Matt and how that informed how the Camarilla was formed.
Matt and I met in a Star Trek fan club.
You see there is this really big fan club called STARFLEET International (Apparently the all caps thing is required). It’s the big Star Trek fan club with branches all over the world. The structure of the club was that all chapters were designated as ships and would be named after whatever they called their ship. This also played into a role-playing element as members of the club would have Star Trek universe persona’s and the clubs officials would also have ranks like Captain, First officer, Chief Medical officer, etc. When a chapter was just starting out it would be called a shuttle and would need an existing ship to be its sponsor until it was cleared to full ship status. Trust me this will become relevant.
So our little Star Trek club was called the USS Courageous, which quickly became the main chapter in the Seattle area. I was the Chief Medical Officer, which in real life meant I was in-charge of organizing club social events. Matt joined and became Helmsman, which if I remember meant he helped with club operations. We became friends pretty quickly and hung out a lot. And before you ask, yes we had costumes, and no I do not still have mine. If there are pictures I do not know where they are, or I would be posting them here right now.
I have no shame.
So anyway back to the Camarilla. The original group that came together to get this club off the ground was a mix of officers from the Courageous and friends of Jana, many of whom were from the Goth community. Matt had reached out to White Wolf and they were more than happy to let us form an official club for their game.
So how do you go about creating a fan organization? To Matt’s credit he had an amazingly simple plan, don’t reinvent the wheel. Many of us were part of a successful fan organization based on an existing property, so why not follow their lead.
And by follow their lead I mean take their membership materials and replace all Star Trek references with vampire ones.
I’m serious; there was some confusion on some early members’ part when they asked why there was a reference to a ship in a couple of places in their membership materials.
Chapters were called Houses, and probationary Houses were called coteries and would need an existing House to be its sponsor until it was cleared to full House status. In case you were wondering, I did copy and paste part of that last sentence.
So yes, the Camarilla is the most successful off shoot of STARFLEET International. Yes we beat out the Klingon Empire and the Terran Empire.
Matt’s plan was that the Camarilla would be a club that did fundraising and public service, just like STARFLEET did as well as the role-playing aspect. One small problem with that plan, when you base a fan club on a role-playing game guess what the members are going to be most interested in. Hint, it’s not volunteering for an adopt-a-highway program.
So gaming, specifically live action role-playing or LARPing, was clearly the heart of the organization. The great strength of the Camarilla was the worldwide chronicle where in-game events happening to us in Seattle was in canon with in-game events happening in Chicago and London. We started with a home-brewed gaming system based on Vampire the Masquerade, but quickly moved over to Mind’s Eye Theater once White Wolf released it.
It’s at this point I want to talk about the board of directors. In game they were the Inner Circle of the Camarilla and were amongst the oldest and most powerful vampires in the in-game world. My good friend Matt as Club President was the Patriarch of the Inner Circle Dorian Strack, who was also Prince of Seattle. At first I was not on the board. I was serving as Matt’s assistant and special advisor to the board. Also I was working with Matt on an idea to also produce a Vampire comic book to propose to White Wolf.
My Character was Caliban, a Gangrel and one of Dorian’s enforcers. Yes, this is where I got the name from. Why Caliban? Clearly the Shakespeare reference as Caliban saw himself as a beast but could also be intelligent. Also Matt took the name Dorian, which was what I was going to use, but he was the boss.
So part of the idea was that each board member was also the representative of their clan on the Inner Circle. Why is this important? Not long after the official kickoff event for the Camarilla, but right before we open up membership, the board member in charge of the organization newsletter just up and disappeared. We literally lost contact with him. To this day I have no idea what happened to him. As I majored in journalism in college it was natural to make me his replacement. However this meant I had to retcon Caliban into a Brujha.
So the Camarilla was off and running. And it was met with a lot of initial success. People really liked the game and so it was easy to generate interest, particularly at conventions. The Board of Directors learned a lot during that time about what was needed to run a quickly growing organization. I would say that we did fairly well. However there were some challenges. Some people found that it was more stress then they had counted on and left. Others were lured away by a more daunting challenge, a career.
When Matt contacted White Wolf about forming the Camarilla he was informed that one of the people that worked on the original game was working in the Seattle are, Lisa Stevens. Lisa had come to the area to work for Wizards of the Coast. Matt contacted her and she started attending Board of Director meetings. Lisa also invited members of the Board to visit WotC as they had open staff meetings at the time. This was almost about nine months to a year before the release of Magic: The Gathering so it was still a small company running out of Peter Adkison’s basement. A few of us went, but I was really the only one who started going to these meetings regularly, and I even started helping out on projects there.
Eventually the summer of 1993 rolled around and with it the release of Magic: The Gathering. WotC had a spare airplane ticket, and so they took me with them to GenCon that year and based on the massive response to the game Peter hired me full time at the convention.
So suddenly I am working for a game company that is growing rapidly. This did not leave a lot of spare time and within a couple of months I officially left the Board due to time constraints. I’d like to point out that I had only left the board; I was still a Camarilla member and got to keep using Caliban as my character.
If it had just been me that might have been one thing, but due to WotC’s growth they needed more people and since there were strong connections between WotC and the Camarilla board several other board members, Including Matt and Jana, were hired over the next several months. Some of the board members felt the same time management issues I did and decided to also step away from the board, but like me were still active in the organization as members. A couple balanced both; how they did this I have no idea.
Due to this eventually it was decided that a whole new board was needed. I was not involved in these decisions so I don’t know how it came to pass, but it was decided that the Camarilla group in Salt Lake City was to take over the duties as Board of Directors. At this point any knowledge I have about how the Camarilla was run would be third hand at best.
I did stay an active member more or less until about 2004. I won’t go into why I left other than to say it was a combination of burn out and some personal issues.
So how do I feel about my time with the Camarilla? Nostalgic I suppose. I joke with a lot of the other founders and early members that I am still friends with that when we created the Camarilla we said “what’s the worst that can happen” and “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The truth is that it was a good idea and it has given a lot of people a lot of joy over the years. People met other people that they would have never met otherwise. This means friendships and even marriages happen because it exists.
Other than a couple of people I hang out with that I knew before it was formed, my entire social circle can be traced either directly to the Camarilla or to WotC which itself I can trace to the Camarilla. Because of this I met my wife, found my job which I like, discovered a sister and associated family that I love, and had a host of amazing experiences. Heck even my entertainment comes from the Camarilla. I have mentioned before that I am a fan of an internet streaming show called Radio Dead Air. The host Nash is a Camarilla member and started the show as an in-character radio show in his local game.
So that is my tale of the birth of the Camarilla, as I recall it. Of course other board members from that time may remember things differently. So to them I make this offer. If any of the other founding board members have a different take on the early days, or just want to write up their memories of what happened, I will give you your say. Write up what you remember and send it to me. I promise I will publish it here on Fanboy News Network completely unedited.
As I said a lot of interesting things happened during my time in the Camarilla. One day I might dip into that vault and tell another tale. Believe me there was a lot.
On August 31st game publisher NCSoft announced that they were immediately suspending all development on City of Heroes and that the game servers would be shut down on November 31st.
While no reason has been given for this decision there are several clues. The first is that NCSoft posted a second quarter loss of $6 million. The loss was due to several factors, including rising labor and marketing costs, an acquisition and disappointing performance of their game Aion. There are also reports that there is not enough server space for their big new release Guild Wars 2. Again there is no direct connection to any of these that has been publicly stated, but I think it shows where this might have come from.
For those not aware City of Heroes was the first ever superhero MMO game. It’s a game I have a long history with. So let’s stroll down memory lane for a bit and look at what this game was and what it meant.
City of Heroes had a long development. It was announced over 10 years ago by a small company called Cryptic Studios. Originally the developers wanted to create a flexible power creation system along the lines of the table top superhero roleplaying game Champions. Unfortunately internal play testing showed that this method lead to people either creating min/maxed characters that were unstoppable, or characters build on a theme that were too underpowered to survive. Due to this fault the developers scrapped the character design system, went back to the drawing board and pushed back the release date two years.
This was pretty daring considering a lot of companies will rush a game to meet a launch date. Cryptic stated that it was better to delay launch then release a severely unbalanced game.
The result was a game that went from having an open ended creation system to one that had what was pretty standard. You selected a class just like you would in most fantasy games, Tanker, Scrapper, Healer, Blaster, and Controller. You also selected an origin but that just affected what types or upgrades you could use. Even with this restriction you could still basically build almost any character you could dream up.
What made City of Heroes stand out in character creation was the costume creation. It still stands as one of the most customizable systems for visually creating your character. People could spend hours just playing around with the different looks they could give their avatar. There would be in game player run costume contests because people loved showing off their designs. The down side is that really uncreative people would do their best to just recreate characters from comics, movies, or any other media. Since this could lead to legal issues it was against the rules. And even with that City of Heroes was sued by Marvel, but was able to win.
Game play was really standard MMO fair. Get missions which were either defeat X number of Y foes, run an errand, or go into and instanced mission zone and complete its specific win scenario. This led to an issue that affect many MMOs and still does. If you run more than one character you will repeat missions. This of course requires the MMO developers to create new content to keep its players engaged. City of Heroes actually did pretty well on this front, releasing regular updates that added new missions, zones, character classes and powers.
Another strong point was the graphics. Unless I have missed something it was the first MMO to be set in a modern urban setting. And on that front it succeeded, you had the feel of being in a real city.
Eventually they released a companion game City of Villains, which is you had both you could cross-play. Eventually they were both just effectively folded into one game.
Another big achievement for City of Heroes was when they released the Mission Architect system. It was a tool kit for players to make custom missions complete with the ability to make custom built villains. Then they could open it up for people to play their missions. It was an amazing introduction of player created content into an MMO.
I started playing the game as a beta tester and stayed with it until about 3 years ago. I had in that time leveled 4 characters to max level and I was never interested in the end game material. I found myself moving on to other games. But I let my subscription stay in place for a while. This was because even though I was not playing the game much anymore, I was still active on its discussion board.
The discussion board is probably one of the game’s biggest successes and the reason why the end of the game is being rallied against so hard. MMOs are supposed to be social by their very nature. In most of the ones I play I tend to be a solo player. City of Heroes was different. I would join pick up groups and get together with friends. And the discussion boards were and still are very active. The geek culture forum, called Comic and Hero/Villain Culture was my home base. From here I was first convinced to give the Dresden File novels a chance. It was reposts of video reviews that led me to discovering That Guy with the Glasses. It was where I would go to share geek news I had come across. I keep my subscription for almost a year after I had actively stopped playing just to keep visiting. But eventually I realized this was not realistic and dropped it, although I still periodically check the forum for news.
And that is the real tragedy of the end of City of Heroes, the end of a passionate geek community that has bonded over the years. There are of course efforts to in some way save the game, but looking at the corporate realties involved I will not be holding my breath.
So instead I will hold on to my memories of the game. I am one of those geeks who creates back story for his characters after all.
So I will remember the plight of my vampire Caliban as he fought to hold off the evil of his curse through heroic acts.
I will remember Swashbuckler and his quest to prove worthy of upholding his family legacy.
I will remember Technomancer and his struggle to overcome the miss use of his technology by the Freakshow gang.
And I will remember the friends I spent time with in the game.
As I prep for this con I find myself reflecting on a lot of things I have been noticing about the behavior of convention attendees. As such I would like to take the opportunity to go over some convention etiquette that I feel gets overlooked.
First off I would like to introduce you to a thing called situational awareness. The official definition is “the perception of elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.” That mouthful is a very fancy way of saying being aware of your surroundings, and the people and events in it.
So why am I bringing this up when I want to talk about convention etiquette? It’s because I see a lot of situations at conventions where just a little situational awareness could make things a lot better. An example is a group having a conversation at the bottom of a staircase blocking it off from people who need to go up or down, a person stopping in the middle of the convention floor to check their backpack and causing all the people behind them to have to stop quickly, or someone in a costume with protruding bits knocking over a vendor’s display. A convention by its very nature is going to be a crowded space, and as such it is really easy to end up tripping over each other. This can be made worse by some people who start to feel some crowd anxiety and start retreating into their own inner world to cope.
I want to be clear, I’m not saying be hyper vigilant. I am just saying make an effort to be aware of what is going and how your actions my impact the people around you.
This next one might seem like a no brainer, but in the environment of a convention can throw it off. The normal social standards of everyday life still apply. I’ll be honest; I am using this one as a catch all for a lot of issues that can crop up at a convention.
Yes, you are at a place where you are surrounded by people who share a particular interest. There are people dressed in a manner you do not normally see. You can meet, talk and bond with people over these shared interests. But these are still normal people and the normal social rules are still in effect. Basically ask yourself this question, “Would what I am about to do or say be over the line at a mall or grocery store?” If the answer is yes, then it would be best to reconsider your actions. Also remember that people going to the convention may have shared interests, but other than that come from all walks of life. You may all have geek culture in common, but there will be a variety of different social, political, religious, sexual, and ethnic backgrounds.
Vendor and artist booths are another aspect of conventions that are prevalent, and can have some potential issues. Both are there in a business capacity. They are attempting to connect with a cliental that is unique to the convention environment. Unless it is specifically a promotional booth, they are there to make money, and even the promotional booth is trying to drum up business for whatever they are promoting. The one issue that can happen is if someone is really fascinated with whatever the booth is about, and hangs out trying to monopolize the attention of the vendor. It’s fine to come by and chat, just remember that these folks are there with a purpose and don’t distract them from paying customers.
There is one action that I want to point out, because I have seen it at too many conventions, and I do not know why this happens. It is something that if you saw it happen at store you would definitely go “WTF?”
Do not, I repeat do not touch a pregnant woman’s belly.
It feels weird that I had to write that sentence, but as I stated, I have seen it happen on several occasions. One friend while pregnant went so far as to have a shirt made up before a convention that said “You do not have permission to touch my belly.”
And with the topic of inappropriate touching broached, it is time I go right to the elephant in the room.
Harassment has been a subject of a lot of discussion in geek culture lately. When I wrote about misogyny in geek culture I covered some of it. And since then there have been tales of major lines being crossed at conventions. In particular the events at Readercon have brought the subject to the forefront. Go here if you would like to get the details.
Bottom line, don’t be a creeper. Yes there are attractive people at conventions, and yes they may well be wearing costumes that enhance that attractiveness. And if you are at a convention being held at a hotel there might be alcohol available.
None of that is permission to cross boundaries.
With everything I have gone over here the basics are simple. Keep aware of what you are doing. Be mindful of your actions and their consequences. Have a good time, just don’t have it at someone else’s expence.
Misogyny is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately in the geek community. A lot has been written on the subject of misogyny in geek culture recently. It would almost seem redundant to write another piece on the subject. And yes I realize I am a guy writing about this, but here is why it is needed, because there cannot be enough voices speaking out about it. In fact with so much misogynistic speech going on in geek culture right now, to not speak out on it would be an act of moral cowardice.
I’m about to go into some specifics now so if you are reading this and the subject of various ways women can be attacked are triggers for you it would be best to be prepared.
So why are we seeing so much misogynism now. Well I don’t think it is a recent development. I don’t think a bunch of guys went “Oh man, the women are getting uppity; I better act like an entitled prick to put them in their place.” It’s always been there, but a couple of things have made it more visible .One is the internet. People can communicate online more easily and rapidly then they use to. Add to that the anonymous nature of online communication and you have people who feel they can get away with things they would never have dared in the past. That’s the bad news, the good news is that people are not shutting up and taking it as much now. These two combine to create the greater visibility.
Of course why it happens in the first place is no secret. From the start the collections of interests and hobbies that compose geek culture have been traditionally male dominated. And not just any males, these are usually the guys that were not part of the popular crowd in high school. Add a tendency for those with already poor social skills to be drawn to fandom and you have your stereotype of the geek.
And now you have to look at how women are traditionally portrayed in comics, science fiction and fantasy. You have the damsel in distress, who waits for the manly hero to save her, or you have the kick ass female who makes up for poor character development with skimpy over-sexualized attire.
Here is a great example; this is the cover for the upcoming issue #0 of Catwoman
Notice how you can see her face, breasts, and butt all in the same shot. For that to be possible her spine would need to be made of rubber. In fact rubber spine is fairly common in female superheroes.
So your average woman looking at this is not going to feel welcome in most geek settings. This has led to women in fandom historically being treated as rare as a unicorn.
Of course these days you have women who are making their mark in fandom. And here is the seed of the misogyny. The guys have had it as their special corner and now the ladies are showing up and expecting to be treated as people. A lot of guys do not know how to deal with this and feel threatened, and when people feel threatened they often go on the attack.
In the end the misogyny is all about power. The guys employing it want to make the women do what they want and are using what they perceive as the best tools to do it.
No better example exists than Anita Sarkeesian and her Kickstarter campaign to fund her web video series “Tropes vs. Women” which looks at how females are portrayed in video games. Since this is certainly going to look at the sexist way a lot of games treat women (We’re looking at you Duke Nukem) a backlash arose against Sarkeesian and took on a very ugly misogynistic tone. Beyond sexually harassing messages on line people have made pictures of her being raped by video game characters and one person even went so far as to make an online game where you can beat her up.
Clearly the goal was to shut her down, but the good news is that it has had the opposite effect. Her Kickstarter goal was $6,000. At this point she has now made over $100,000 and is looking to expand the scope of the series. Rather than make her shut up, the attack has given her an even better chance to speak and brought supporters out in droves.
This is a part of the story that seems to keep coming up again and again. The use of misogyny to make women shut up is being met with defiance and a refusal to be backed down. It is by no means easy. I’m sure Anita Sarkeesian has had many low moments during this.
Other examples include the recent incident where a writer for the gaming website Destructoid, Ryan Perez, went on an extremely sexist rant against Felicia Day, and the very recent incident of comedian Daniel Tosh joking that it would be funny if a female who called him out on making a rape joke were gang raped right then and there.
Perez did apologize and is no longer with Destructoid. The back lash against Tosh was so strong that he had to issue an apology less than a day after the story broke. But in both cases it feels a lot like both apologies were more prompted by “we got caught” then “we are truly sorry”. Also a lot of people came out in support of Perez and Tosh saying they should not have been called out in the first place.
Moving away from the power struggle itself for a moment, one of the big laments of people in the comic book and gaming industries is the desire to bring in more female consumers. However while they say this they still put out the objectifying material to appeal to the male demographic.
It doesn’t help that in most of the geek industries that not only are the customer base primarily male, but so are the creators. Let’s face it most men are not sure how to write or present women.
Here is an example. Here is how the Black Widow poster for Iron Man 2 looked
Now here is the Black Widow poster for the Avengers.
So it is the same actress, the same character and the same basic costume. But one looks like she is posing for a Maxim cover and the other looks like she is about to kick your ass. So what is the difference? It think it is that the Avengers is directed and written by Joss Whedon and he likes to present strong women that are actually empowered.
While we are on the subject of the Avengers I should note that a lot of reporters would tend to ask Scarlett Johansson questions that were the verbal equivalent of male gaze. One reporter asked if she wore underwear under her costume and she asked if he would ask her male co-stars the same question. The best thing to come out of that was the fact she would not put up with that crap.
As I said earlier, in the comic book industry a constant effort is put forth to bring in more female readers. However you just need to look at that image of Catwoman again to see the problem there. Another hurdle is the phenomenon known as women in refrigerators. For those not familiar with the term it comes from a story line where a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, was chosen. Kyle had a girlfriend Alex DeWitt. 6 issues after she was introduced Alex is murdered and her body stuffed into a refrigerator for Kyle to find. This is what sparks him to take being a superhero seriously.
Writer Gail Simone cited this as a prime example of writers in comics using the murder or abuse of a female character to propel the story of a male character. She maintains a site called Women in Refrigerators listing the significant examples of this trope. It also has a listing of responses it has gotten. Want to take a guess at the tone many of them take?
Another view on this is more personal. My sister* and I use to both work at Wizards of the Coast. During that time we both would be sent to conventions to work the booth. It amazed me that amount of guys who thought she was just a “booth babe” and didn’t know what she was talking about. For the record she is just as much a gamer and con geek as I am and most definitely knows what she is talking about. In fact go check out her site and tell me if you think she knows nothing.
The point of this is that the geek culture has a bad habit of objectifying women. The end result is that you do not see them as people, and this can make it way too easy to treat them horribly.
So how do we fight this? The first thing is easy to say, but hard to do. Speak up about it. When you see someone make misogynistic comments you call them on it. Even if dozens of people jump on you, you need to speak up. The peer pressure can get really bad. People feel a sense of entitlement when they make these comments and no one wants it pointed out that they are on the wrong side of the issue. But this is not an issue with two valid sides, misogynism is wrong, period. If Anita Sarkeesian can handle the crap being hurdled at her, you can stand a few flame posts.
The next part is even harder. You need to take a long hard look at your own comments, especially you guys. The misogynistic attitudes are cultural and it can get so indoctrinated that you can fall into it without realizing it. I know I have caught myself more than once. We have to make sure that we are not part of the problem. The best advice I can give is take your brain with you. Think before you comment. Remember that the people you are dealing with online, at a convention, or at a comic book shop are in fact real people with feelings that can be hurt.
If you want to read another site that covers this really well I would like to point you to Geek Girls Rule. This is a site that covers geek culture from a female perspective. As you can imagine they have covered this subject more than once and have received more than their fair share of grief for it. But they know what they are talking about.
As for where we go from here, this site is still going to be about celebrating geek culture and I will be going back to the fun stuff soon enough, but I am also pretty sure the we will be covering this again at some point in the future.
In the end I would rather say that I am part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
And if you feel the need to flame me for saying this, bring it.
*(We aren’t actually blood relatives. I may get around to explaining the nature of that relationship someday. I call her father dad and he refers to me as son, so it’s good enough for us)
It’s time for San Diego Comic-con again.That time of year. when the title of Geek Capital of the World temporarily moves from Seattle to San Diego.
I’ll admit that I don’t feel as excited aboutSan Diego Comic-con as I use to. Last year I had such great plans about commenting on the news that came out of the convention daily, only for that news to either be rehash of what we already knew, of just hype about upcoming movies and TV shows.
I almost feel I could copy and paste my pre con post from last year and have it be almost as relevant this year.
Once again we will be treated to a focus on Movies and TV shows, many of which have no relationship to geek culture at all. A lot of cos-play will be featured and we will likely get a return of the pictures of guys acting inappropriately at female cos-players. And I am sure there will be plenty of coverage about the Twilight panel since, in theory, this will be the last panel for an upcoming movie.
My biggest cause for apathy however is not due to the content of the convention at all. It is based on the issue of attendance.
When I started going to San Diego Comic-con in the early 90s you could still show up at the convention and buy a membership at the door, or at least get a day pass. Not only are those days long gone, but now it is long odds to get any kind of membership at all. While they have not moved to a lottery system like Burning Man has, you do have to preregister into an online system just to have a shot at registering on line when the registration system goes live. This year they sold out in minutes, not hours, minutes. So basically you have several hurdles to jump to get a badge and if not, you are out of luck.
I understand this is due to a combination of the capacity at the San Diego Convention Center and the popularity of the event, but I still see it as a troubling sign. If people are frustrated in their efforts to go they may start just not bothering. Right now this may not seem like a problem, but if you go back and read my article Food of the Geeks you remember I pointed out that geek themed restaurant the AFK Tavern runs the risk of running off new clients due not having tables available to walk ins. It’s the same theory. After a while people may start saying “Screw it I’m not going to bother, there are other conventions I can go to that aren’t sold out.” And this is what can lead to an event’s decline.
The simple answer that inevitably crops up is move to a site with more capacity. As simple as that sounds there are complications. At this time San Diego Comic-con is signed to stay at the San Diego Convention Center through 2015. Every time the question of moving to a larger venue comes up the city of San Diego fights vigorously to keep the convention. Since last year it brought 162.8 million dollars to the local economy it’s not hard to see why. Part of this effort is a drive to expand the convention center, but as that would cost an estimated 750 million dollars it is far from a sure thing.
Anaheim and Las Vegas both are lobbying hard to try to draw the convention away as they do have venues that could accommodate a larger attendance, but they have a strike against them, and that is that they are not San Diego. The convention organizers are located in San Diego, so they have an interest in staying local.
While the attendance issue is a pressing one, there is another factor at play that could also contribute to a decline. The convention has drifted away from its original core. When news comes out of the convention, it is again the big media stories about those Movies and TV shows. Lost in the shuffle are those pesky comic books. Every year I hear stories about how it is harder and harder for comic book vendors to get booth space due to increased costs and competition for space with other better funded media vendors. The name may be Comic-con, but the focus is clearly on movies and TV.
One thing I have been hearing is that comic industry pros prefer shows like Emerald City Comicon as they still have a primary focus on comic books. And these shows are not lacking in attendance. I learned from a staff member at ECCC that this year’s attendance on Saturday was more than the entire weekends last year, and then they surpassed attendance estimations by several thousand. This has led to them securing the use of more of the Washington State Convention Centers facilities for next year.
What this adds up to is the potential for another convention to challenge San Diego Comic-con for the title of geek convention king. I for one this would be a good thing as it would give the fans more opportunities.
So here I sit waiting to see what will happen. I will of course pay close attention to what news comes out of San Diego Comic-con this year. If it is good information I will certainly write about it. If not, well I have other articles I am working on.
Wow, sometime real life writes these blogs. Often I will start an article, and then let it sit for a day or two as I sort out what I want to say. In the case of this article while I was writing it events happened that directly relate to the subject.
So let’s start where I was going to start in the first place.
Recently I had what I realized was a very odd conversation with my wife. On the surface it was a normal conversation. I was telling her about the plight of a couple who were in the process of moving in together and the struggles that entailed. In particular the complaint they were sharing that their whole life had become boxes, nothing but boxes. What made it weird I pointed out was that while we were aware of this couple they have no idea who we are.
In fact they are two online reviewers from That Guy with the Glasses, Nash and Jesuotaku, who I follow on twitter. As I mentioned in passing in a previous post, Nash also has a decade old online video streaming show called Radio Dead Air that we watch every Monday (well I watch, my wife listens to from the other room). So between all the online interactions I know a lot about their lives. However it struck me as odd that I was catching my wife up on the lives of two people that we never met.
There is something about putting yourself out on the internet that can create a false sense of connection. Let’s be clear, I am not talking about your online interactions with friends and family, this is about people you have never met that you are following through social media. Will Wheaton, George Takei, Penn & Teller, or web celebrities like The TGWTG crowd or the Nerdist.
I’m sure that part of it is helped along if the person you follow post often, and if they put up videos more so. And if they are like Nash and have a weekly live stream, well you might start thinking of them as friends.
Not to mention that there is the ability to comment and maybe, just maybe, get a response.
But the truth is that these are not your friends. They are people you like to watch and follow on social media, but they do not know you. So when you start acting like you would with someone you are actually close to it gets really awkward, especially when you start giving unsolicited advice on their lives. I’m not saying you can’t comment if there is an appropriate place for that, and feedback on their work is usually fair game. However when you cross the line into commenting on who they are in relationships with, or other unsolicited advice and comments on their lives a line has been crossed. I know there is an argument to be made that if you have put yourself out there on social media you are asking for this kind of interaction. I disagree with this whole heartedly. That would be like me saying that a random person on the street has opened themselves up to my meddling in their lives just because they decided to leave their house that day.
In other words just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.
And we have reached the point I had written to when events unfolded that I don’t feel I can really ignore given the subject and the people I chose as examples.
In a nutshell another contributor to TGWTG known as Spoony had a massive flame out on twitter, apparently fueled by not very well managed depression that led to him being first suspended from the site, and then parting company with it all together. Unfortunately for Jesuotaku she was drawn into it as Spoony had made a tasteless joke about her involving rape and many people assumed that was what had led to the issues. Nash of course was involved as he was standing up for his girlfriend. Overall Jesuotaku and Nash behaved as adults and remained as much above the fray as humanly possible.
But there is a factor here that goes back to my original point. Many of Spoony’s followers started giving him unsolicited advice on how to deal with his depression and the issues it was causing. Far from solving the issue it fueled it further and may well have been the actual cause of the full-fledged flame out. These are not people who knew him, or any of the participants in real life, but felt the need to interject themselves in the issue. And we are back to just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.
I’m also not saying that you should never respond. When Nash’s dad had to go to the hospital a while back, I sent a message saying that both of them were in my thoughts and prayers. I did not give him advice on how to deal with it however.
In the end it is a question of thinking before hitting send. Asking some simple question:
“Is this something I would say to a stranger face to face?”
“Could this come off as creepy?”
“Am I helping, or do I just want to get their attention?”
Example, when this is posted their could be a temptation to send a link to Nash since I am writing about him. I won’t be doing this as in the end, I am just using him as an example to illustrate my point, and frankly with everything going on I think sending it to him would be a bit creepy.
So I’ll just make my post and hope I made some good points on dealing with people online.