Category Archives: Virtual Life in Pop Culture

Wednesday Film: The Singularity is Near (full)

This is Ray Kurzweil’s expansion of ideas from his book, veering off into a virtual reality/augmented reality science fiction plot. The movie is surprisingly cheesy and the quality of this upload isn’t ideal, but it’s still interesting. Some of the film was shot in Second Life, though of course this was a few years ago and the scenes are not representative of that world today.

Update Feb 26 — Well, it lasted for a day and a half before it was pulled for a copyright claim.  Hope you got to see it!


Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Research, Transhumanism, Virtual Life in Pop Culture


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Reason magazine’s Video Game Nation cover: misogynist or really damn misogynist?

By way of a story link, I found myself at Reason magazine’s site. There I discovered that the theme of the June 2014 issue was “Video Game Nation”. My reaction was


Then I saw the cover art for the print edition:


And my reaction became


The image is a riff on a Grand Theft Auto V ad and the man in the illustration is surrounded by paraphernalia that specifically relates to the article What’s Libertarian About Gamers? Ironically, that same article had this to say about the sex of gamers:

For those who still operate on the belief the gamers are mostly male, set the sexism aside. The gender split is nearly 50/50, though we did not determine whether women and men liked to play the same kinds of games.

So… the article says that their survey showed just about half of gamers are women. How exactly is a cover illustration showing a gaming guy in a suit and a nagging, buxom blonde in a halter, short shorts, and Ugg boots appropriate or accurate?  The image tries to show the “truth” about (male) gamers according to the survey, yet resorts to an insulting, outdated, sexist trope for the woman and the interaction between the two figures. I’m not sure who the artist is, since the piece seems to be signed with three triangles, so I’ll blame magazine Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch.

I’m not thin-skinned or overly precious, I get jokes, and I don’t go hunting for sexism. But as a woman who grew up gaming, worked in technology, and continues to write about both topics, sexism frequently slaps me across the face. I didn’t expect to see it on such vulgar display by Reason, whose articles I read often and to which I used to subscribe. I’m deeply disappointed and more than a little pissed off.

Women gamers come up against a variety of reactions. Some men — thank you very much, guys — treat us like anyone else. They judge us by our ingame skills, accept us as friends and equals, and don’t care whether we are tomboys or girly girls (said with affection not derision; I am one). Others bend over backwards to be chivalrous, give us things we haven’t earned, and treat us as special and beautiful creatures. While that’s a pleasant situation and some female gamers (and men playing as women) take advantage of it, it’s inappropriate, unfair, and unintentionally condescending. But then there is the reaction that female gamers see all too often, especially if they dare to roam into “masculine” realms like war games. A lot of gamers talk trash, but the vitriol spewed at female gamers is often gender-specific. We are threatened with stalking, rape, and mutilation. We get demands to show our tits and if we refuse, are told we must be fat ugly cows. We get propositioned over and over and over. Give the sexism tag at Kotaku a look if you want some specific examples. The Reason cover has managed to reinforce that women are not real gamers. At least the artist showed restraint and didn’t draw a stove behind her, so she could literally be in the kitchen instead of gaming — a taunt heard often enough that female gamer/artist Jenny Haniver named her harassment awareness website Not In The Kitchen Anymore.

Another area of concern for female gamers is the hypersexualized portrayal of women characters: big bouncing breasts and tiny waists in skimpy and impractical outfits. The Reason cover flaunts this type of sexism as well. The man is hefty and fully clothed while the woman is dressed for… her shift as a go-go dancer? A music festival? I’m not really sure who’s wearing that combination nowadays. Her clothes are skin-tight and skimpy and her cleavage is ample. Was the artist trying to make a dig at the male gamer, who would rather play than be with his hot girlfriend? I don’t think so. Her folded arms and scornful face don’t paint her as an alluring woman, despite her bodacious body.

Some of the articles in the issue are fairly good and others are lightweight. It’s a shame they didn’t choose to showcase male and female gamers playing side-by-side or competitively; images that would not only have been less offensive, but more accurate. In the end, I’m left with one reaction for the artist, the editorial staff, and anyone at Reason or who saw the cover art and thought it was a fine choice to promote their content:


UpdateReason magazine replied to this criticism already, when the cover came under attack when the issue first appeared. The rebuttal is written by Managing Editor Katharine Mangu-Ward and she says that Art Director Barb Birch commissioned the image. So, women can be insensitive about female gamers too. Apparently Matt Welch wanted a “cleaned up” recognizable image (from Grand Theft Auto V), and said, “we’re paying respect to that culture”. Removing the raunchiness of the original pays no respect to the culture of the game and keeping the non-playing, nagging woman in the artwork pays no respect to the culture of gaming or to women. Why did they only update the man’s appearance and attitude?


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Wearing an online persona in the offline world

Earlier today I was daydreaming about online and real world identity and anonymity. My daydream followed the theme of the short film from 2010 below: what if people appeared in the offline world like their primary online persona?


In the “Avatar Day” of my musing, there would be visual indications of the digital identity one uses the most. I’m picturing a lot of war gamers and zombie hunters, a whole band of Marios and Luigis, lots of kids who look like LEGO and Minecraft minifigs, some Wii Mii types, Flappy Birds and Angry Birds, and an assortment of WoW, SL, Sims, and other avatars. Sports figures, car thieves, and assassins. Perhaps casual gamers without an embodied experience would get a glowing icon above their heads: a letter tile from Words with Friends, a Candy Crush piece, online poker chips, or a mini image from Pogo. Of course, there’s much more online persona management beyond games and virtual worlds. Perhaps some would appear as forum trolls, Pinterest pins, online dating site Casanovas, Facebook Like buttons, Twitter birds, LinkedIn network icons, or texting emoji.

What would it look like to walk down the street that day? What surprises would there be? (Some people would be horrified by their own indicator or others, I’m sure.) How many people would have no digital identity indicator?  Would attitudes shift? Would we feel frivolous and superficial or relieved at how much company we have?  Hmm.

What a silly daydream.  I blame some particularly painful yoga asanas.

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Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Gaming, Virtual Life in Pop Culture


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View-Master as VR headset

Ha!  Apparently Chris Hardwick and/or his writing team on Comedy Central’s @midnight had a similar reaction to the current Oculus Rift design as I did in yesterday’s post.  Hardwick opened last night’s show with a bit about Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus and then proceeded to show “what the new Facebook will look like”:

Chris Hardwick on @midnight

Chris Hardwick on @midnight

Here’s the full episode, if you want to check it out.

As a postscript, the View-Master is made by Fisher-Price.  I grew up near their headquarters and have a lifelong affection for Fisher-Price toys.  When I went to the website to see if they’re still making the View-Master, I was surprised to see some the cute new viewer designs. That Darth Vader mask is pretty cool for a wannabe Jedi youngling!



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Virtual Reality wearables

I had drafted the post below and saved it for a final edit before I saw the news that Facebook bought Oculus. Hmm.  I treasure the interactions and possibilities of virtual worlds and I’ve watched Facebook devolve into a jumble of ads, requests for Candy Crush lives, and out of sequence zombie posts. This is not exciting news to me.

I’ve coveted an Oculus Rift headset for a while (and even more now that Second Life put out a call for OR/SL beta testers). Last week, Sony entered the arena with an upcoming VR headset for the PS4, codenamed Morpheus.  However, as much as I really want a first generation VR headset, I hope they are only a brief flicker in the evolution of this technology. The current headset designs make me think of strapping on one of these:


Don’t get me wrong; I loved my View-Master as a kid and hope it’s still tucked away in my parents’ attic somewhere. But as a 3D viewing technology, it’s bulky and limited.  I dream of something more like the holobands that were used to access V-World on the science fiction TV series Caprica:


Holobands are closer in size to a binocular Google Glass and I understand that they are fictional, but I see them as having several advantages over the current Gen One headsets.  As someone with long, fine hair, I look at the Sony proposed design and the OR and know that I’d need a strategy to avoid getting snagged all the time. If you have a loved one who already complains about your absorption in gaming or a virtual world, completely blocking him/her off with a dark headset isn’t going to improve the situation.  And, I can’t help wondering if the experience would be bearable for my claustrophobic friends.

A Glass-like headset works fine for reality augmentation but may never be able to create the sensation of virtual presence and immersion.  I still suspect that VR headsets will have limited adoption until they’re closer to that size and weight.  So Mr. Zuckerberg, if you’re listening: I’d happily test a Rift to prove myself wrong and do field QA for future releases. Ping me for my info. Oh wait; I’m pretty sure you have it.

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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in In the News, Virtual Life in Pop Culture


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Next month, the movie Transcendence hits theatres.  The trailer below seems to give the major plot points: in a future where technology is omnipresent, a radical protest group called RIFT attacks the creators of that technology, resulting in the death of a scientist played by Johnny Depp. Before he dies, his consciousness is uploaded and that sentience combined with the existing network turns into a Bigass Problem. Technology is scary.

Not sure if I’ll see this in the theatre, but I’m intrigued to see how realistic the treatment of technology is, beyond the obvious science fiction bits. The monitor with glowing green ASCII text seen when Depp’s consciousness appears could be straight out of Wargames, so that’s a little disappointing.  Since this seems to be a mad scientist monster movie, I won’t expect a lot of subtlety in the portrayal of the uploaded consciousness.

We’ve hit a point in our connection with daily tech that I expect an acceleration of movies like this.  It’s been a long time since the first Terminator movie threatened us with the idea of global network gone rogue and technology has become far more ubiquitous. The Transcendence website has a collection of RIFT posters and they’re envisioned well, only a short step beyond today. In fact, I’m sure I’ve seen the scene below in real life but with less interpersonal interaction.

RIFT poster

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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Virtual Life in Pop Culture


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Our changing concept of virtual worlds

A few days ago, after a mention of the Second Life 10 year anniversary, io9 put together a memory-jogging post about how our concept of virtual worlds — as seen through movies and television — has evolved in the past 40 years. It’s worth a look and some thought. Below: Anthony Hopkins in Freejack (1992), a film I think was under appreciated.

hopkins_freejackI can’t think of any movies or shows off-hand that show the actual evolution of virtual worlds in that timeframe, from chat rooms to 2D avatar-based chats (I worked on a short lived project using avatar presence at a major internet provider 17 years ago) to MMORPGs and 3D virtual worlds and online video hangouts.  There must be some… any ideas?

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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Virtual Life in Pop Culture


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