So That Was Extra Life 2015 (with Video)


Extra Life has become a big part of my life and something I very much look forward to every year. I started doing it in 2011 when most people didn’t know when it was and it’s now a staple of my calendar and an event that’s clearly hit mainstream consciousness. Being a huge introvert, I’ve never been good at fundraising publicly and not only does this great event allow me to turn my favourite past time into something that does immense good for sick kids, most of the fundraising is done online.  This year was my most challenging yet and I really wasn’t sure what to expect but the results were better than I could have ever hoped for and there are so many to thank and happy memories to relay.

In addition to doing the event itself, I also took on the responsibility of volunteer Secretary for the newly formed official Ottawa Extra Life Guild. The guild definitely had some first year challenges that I hope we can overcome next year but we made a big impact and got a lot more people involved which is fantastic. Our representative from CHEO brought by this year’s CHEO Champion, Devon Payette, to our last guild meeting. We geeked out about retro games for 20 minutes within 30 seconds of me meeting him. He’s a really special young man who loves video games and has used them to help him through the Hellish treatment he’s had to endure. People like him are why we do this and I’m so glad he got to meet us all and tell us his story.

I set a goal of $1,000 this year which is still lofty but a step down from previous years. This is partially because I’m currently unemployed and don’t have a pile of co-workers to nag and also because since Extra Life operates in US dollars and the Canadian dollar has tanked in the last year, it’s much more expensive for local people to donate than it was in years past. I truly had no idea if $1,000 was even a possibility and figured if I hit it at all, it would be only just. Well, at time of writing, my total currently stands at $1,565 US dollars which after conversion to Canadian dollars–which is what will happen before my local hospital gets the money–is just shy of a record! In addition to that, my partner in crime for this year, Dr. P0ul3t has crossed the $400 mark, a huge milestone for his first year and the Ottawa Guild Superstars team which was for members of our local guild who didn’t have other teams has raised $2,830 US dollars, absolutely destroying the $2,000 set goal! Even more amazing still, Extra Life as a whole has currently raised $6,775,102 US dollars, smashing all previous yearly records and they’ve also crossed the $20,000,000 barrier for total funds raised since launching in 2008. There is no way to spin any of these numbers but as epic successes and epic wins for the Children’s Miracle Network. Fundraising remains open until the end of 2015 so if you haven’t yet donated but want to, there’s still time! Click any of the links above to donate where you wish. Everything helps!

Obviously, I want to express my eternal gratitude to everyone who donated to my campaign and to Dr. P0ul3t’s this year. Your support is why we all do Extra Life. To see so many people step up in what I thought was going to be my toughest year ever still chokes me up a bit to think about. You are all amazing and doing incredible good for one of the world’s finest children’s hospitals.

There are a few people I want to thank in particular, some of which were people I never expected to contribute in the ways they did. My Mom Lynn, a personal hero to me already, donated $200, despite being retired and on a limited income and she also nagged a bunch of her friends to step up as well. Several of my freelance clients also stepped up with larger donations than usual because they knew I needed the extra help this year. Ivan’s European Deli, Jim Dickinson Auto Tech and The Cake Shop also graciously hosted coin jars for me again this year. They unfortunately didn’t bring in much money but that’s largely because I put the jars out way too late this year. That’s on me and I won’t make that mistake in the future. Someone who has previously hosted a jar for me is Big D’s Dog House, an incredible local food truck, run by super good dude Dennis Collette. He closed for the season this year before we could do that but said he still wanted to support the cause and said if I came by, he’d give me a cheque. I was expecting maybe $25 or $50 but he ended up donating $150, which blew me away, especially since he’s not open right now. Dennis loves to help out local charities and I can’t thank him enough, nor can I wait to partake in his truck’s awesome delights next year! In addition, Glen Gower who runs Stittsville Central, was gracious enough to allow me to write a small article to help promote Extra Life to our local community. That was really cool of him and I really appreciate the opportunity.

Perhaps the most incredible donation though is that from my Internet service provider. Yeah, you read that right. Like many tech savvy Canadians, I refuse to use the big telecartels when I can at all avoid it. I use a small ISP from London, Ontario called Start Communications. Their services are reasonably priced, fast, reliable and their customer service is among the best I’ve ever seen and trust me, I have high standards. I tweeted at a number of placed to ask for retweets to help raise awareness of my campaign. Start has about 3,300 followers so I said I was a loyal customer using their service to stream Extra Life and would they mind helping me spread word. Sure enough, they retweeted me which was awesome. An hour later, I got an e-mail from Extra Life saying that their CEO Peter Rocca donated $500 to my campaign, completely unprompted and out of the blue. I just stared at the screen in disbelief for about 5 minutes. These people don’t know me beyond my entry in their client database. I was just some customer and not even playing for their local children’s hospital. All I wanted was a retweet and they gave me that, plus almost a third of my total funds raised! This right here? This is why you should support small businesses! I cannot thank Mr. Rocca and Start Communications enough. I was already an evangelist for their incredible service and recommended it whenever I can and that’s been solidified now. Seriously, if you live in Canada and hate what you pay for Internet service, look these guys up and mention me if you sign up. Companies like this deserve more business.

Dr. P0ul3t and I would also very much like to thank our significant others, my girlfriend Sarah and his wife Emma for providing support throughout the day. Sarah walked the dog for me on game day, brought us lunch, coffee, beer and more and ensured we could focus on the marathon. She stayed at her parent’s in the evening so we wouldn’t keep her up but then, Emma brought us dinner and more coffee and even offered to do so again in the middle of the night. These two ladies are very special and without their support, game day would have been a lot harder. You are both wonderful and Sarah, thank you, I love you so much.

As for the day itself, it was a blast. This is the first year I did Extra Life with someone else for the entire run and Dr. P0ul3t and I really enjoyed it. He was here with me for the whole 24 hours and honestly, I think he faired better in terms of not crashing out towards the end than I did. Having another person to talk to and share energy with made things so much more fun and I really enjoyed it. I hope we can do it again next year, I’d love to. We had a private TeamSpeak server setup and our good friend Andrew (aka KeyMastar)–who I originally met through my Extra Life 2012 Twitch chat–hung out for almost the whole 24 hours, which he did the year prior as well. He’d been battling strep throat for most of the week so he couldn’t stick around for the whole marathon which I mean, yeah! I still think he’s nuts for doing it to begin with but it’s so awesome of him to do so.

We also met someone named TeddyMonstar when we were playing Killing Floor 2 who found the stream, joined our game and eventually, hopped into TeamSpeak with us and proceeded to play games with us for several more hours. He was a US military man who has been combat deployed overseas and was currently on a Texas base, running out his service time because he lost a large piece of his leg in combat. Not unlike Devon, gaming is his main way of passing the time. He was a really cool guy and great to play games with. We’re now Steam friends and I hope we get a chance to play again in the future. Almost no one watches me when I live stream but in doing Extra Life, this is now the second cool person I just randomly met while playing and I think it’s so cool this event has made that possible.

If you want to hear stories about the day itself, I highly recommend watching the Geek Bravado Ramble at the top of the post. There are too many stories to relay here but needless to say, it was a great day full of great times. In particular, our 4ish hours with Spintires was some of the most fun and laughter I’ve had in years. I’m going to see if I can cut together a highlight video of that experience because it was just to funny not to. Needless to say, we all had a ton of fun and played a bunch of great games for a great cause.

I love doing Extra Life every year but until now, nothing had topped my 2012 year when I played Dark Souls for 24 hours. That experience and all the people from Twitch that helped was something special that year. I dare say though that this year as a whole has topped it, just because of how much my fundraising expectations were surpassed, how much fun we had focusing on co-op and the great experiences we had with the people we met doing it. This year has been rough for me in many ways and this was an incredible bright spot that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. So many people made it possible and I can’t thank them all enough. Extra Life not only does incredible good for sick kids in need, it does good for me too.

There have been a lot of attacks made on gamers and gaming culture this year, many of which came from self-appointed critics who make thousands of dollars a month to do little more than whine on Twitter and Tumblr. I don’t know how much they raised for sick kids this year but gamers raised a ton, through diverse acts of selflessness, compassion and sacrifice for a cause greater than us. We took our hobby and turned it into something that did immense good for those in need. Who do you think did more of value for the world in 2015? To me, the answer is obvious. Maybe some of these critics and the press outlets that blindly support them should look to Extra Life the next time they decide to declare that gamers are dead.

This is a great event and I can’t wait to do it again. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and CHEO in so many ways. You are all great people and your generosity means more to me than I can ever express. We’ll see you next year, count on it!

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YouTube Red: The Rich Get Richer (with Video)

This is my second attempt at talking about this because as YouTube has been so bad at communicating the particulars of their new YouTube Red service, the information I had to work with has changed several times. Hopefully what we know now is final.

After many long delays and supposed rejiggerings, YouTube Red is almost here. Rumours of a paid, ad-free version of YouTube have been circulating for a long time and I think this was inevitable. It certainly makes sense, given that use of AdBlock is skyrocketing, robbing both YouTube and content creators of the pittance they get already because sitting through a 30 second ad for a half hour video is apparently too much of a burden. In case you don’t already know, I’m not a fan of AdBlock. The rapidly growing use of tools like it are causing advertising rates on YouTube to plummet since marketers can’t guarantee the exposure. This is causing those who rely on ad revenue for a living to see their salaries drop in a space that was already hyper competitive.

Lots of people say they’ll pay for the content they like if they just don’t have to watch ads. That’s bullshit for 95% of those people but the 5% who are honest about it can be enough to sustain things. Many popular YouTubers have already taken advantage of this by relying more and more on crowdfunding services like Patreon to offset what they’re losing in ad revenue. YouTube’s very aware of this and is trying to offer something that still keeps them cut in on the action, while also overcoming the bigger issue. It’s a smart business move but once again, it’s another in a long line of initiatives from the company that are designed around seeing the rich get richer while the little guys suffer.

From the consumer side, I don’t really know how much value YouTube Red offers for $10 a month beyond ad-free viewing while still supporting channels. You get the ability to download videos on your mobile device and have them keep playing in the background (you can do both of these easily with third-party apps) and you get access to exclusive shows being produced by YouTube with some of the most popular personalities, most of which look like reality garbage that only hardcore fans will care about. I’m sure they’ll expand their offerings as the service goes on but right now, it’s clearly a product for early adopters only. For no good reason, it’s not available in Canada so I can’t even test it for myself. If you do decide to try it out, I’d love to hear what your experience is like.

Where the real hullabaloo has come from is the creator end of things. YouTube didn’t tell anyone but the biggest and most popular people about the back end workings of Red whatsoever. I’m partnered with one of the biggest networks on YouTube and they were trying to tell partners to be calm and that they were working as fast as they could to find out details because they weren’t told anything in advance. YouTube has still not officially relayed any information to creators and most of what we do know now has come from bigger YouTubers like TotalBiscuit and Boogie2988 who have the means to get details and were kind enough to share them with the rest of us. At first, I was laughing at how a company as large as Google can still be so inept at communicating with their partners but the more I’ve thought on it, the more I’ve come to think that they knew exactly what they were doing and simply because frankly, like everything else YouTube does, Red is a bad deal for all but the big guys.

TotalBiscuit relayed some initial details via an audio blog. The idea behind how YouTube would share revenue from Red with creators was going to be based on watch time on a per user basis. The math worked something like this:

  • YouTube Red subscriber pays $10 a month so we start with that.
  • Google takes their cut off the top (likely 40%), leaving $6 a month.
  • That $6 a month sits in a pie that is divvied up by how much content the subscriber watches and how much of each piece of content they watch.
  • If they consume a ton of video, the overall pie gets smaller but the pieces of that pie are handed out based on minutes watched. So if they watched a large amount of your content, you get more money.

This model is actually pretty awesome for people like myself–and TotalBiscuit for that matter–who make longer videos. One of the things I kept getting told when I initially complained about my channel’s slow growth was that my videos were too long. I tried to make shorter ones that didn’t work out and I decided that I didn’t want to compromise my creative ideals because so many YouTube users have the attention span of a meth addicted hummingbird. That’s definitely hurt my growth but I decided it was worth it.

The current system doesn’t reward watch time as much as it does views. Longer watch time can get you higher in search rankings but since the ads are usually displayed right at the start of the video, once that’s happened, the money has been made and it doesn’t matter monetarily if someone watches your whole video or clicks off after a minute. Under YouTube Red, those who spend the time to make engaging, longer videos will actually be rewarded for their efforts by more revenue. This sounded like a boon for people like me and I was really excited by it.

Then we learned how it was actually going to work.

The following day, TotalBiscuit tweeted that the formula was actually going to have one significant difference from what he was originally told. Instead of the revenue pie being created per user, it was going to be one massive global pie. So all YouTube Red subscribers would be pooled together and then that money would be handed out using the same formula I described above but based on the total minutes watched by every Red subscriber globally, not individually. Why does this one change make YouTube Red go from something cool to something awful for small channels? Simple: It once again gives the most benefit to the biggest channels that are already popular.

In addition to getting preferential treatment in search rankings, suggested videos and many other ways, YouTube Red’s global revenue pie now ensures that the channels that get more views and produce longer videos will see the greatest benefit. If you have a YouTube Red subscriber who doesn’t subscribe to a ton of channels and tends to watch more smaller ones than big ones, their money goes a lot further. With everything lumped together in global aggregate, the bigger channels who get more views will naturally get a bigger piece of the pie because they get more minutes watched simply by having a larger audience. This removes the ability of YouTube Red subscribers who are dedicated to smaller channels to speak with their wallet because it combines their money with everyone else’s and turns individual contributions into a big mainstream blob. While smaller channels likely still will earn more from this than they would from ads alone (which isn’t saying much), the bigger channels will unquestionably get the brunt of the benefit.

This sucks. YouTube has more and more started to act like Hollywood where they only care about supporting the stuff that’s already popular and leaving the rest to fend over the scraps. This is a horrible way to grow their business in the long-term and reeks of short-sighted “public company thinking.” Those at the top of the YouTuber ladder are already wealthy and continuing to grow more so simply because their base is big enough that it’s continuing to multiply its own. They don’t need the help, the little guys do and we’re once again getting shafted. I have no desire to make a career out of YouTube but I would like my channel to earn back at least a little bit of the thousands I’ve invested in it and YouTube Red doesn’t look like a path to that. This move by YouTube doesn’t surprise me but it ultimately doesn’t hurt me much. The channels with a few tens of thousands of subscribers who are trying to grow into something that they maybe can turn into a career? Those people are getting completely screwed by this. They’re small enough that they can’t easily get a decent size Patreon going or be able to sell merchandise or get brand deals but they’re also big enough that they could grow into something major one day.

YouTube is a brutal career full of hard work, lots of business pressure and toxic communities. I personally don’t think it’s going to be too long before some of the few who have made fortunes from it decide to peace out and go enjoy their money. Someone has to replace those people if YouTube wants to survive and right now, they’re doing nothing to foster the next generation of TotalBiscuits, Markipliers and PewDiePies. Their rigged system is making it clear that if you decide to do YouTube, you better only plan on doing it for fun and that you basically have no chance to make a career of it because the ones that already made it are the only ones YouTube actually cares about. A slew of potential and valuable YouTube personalities are giving up or not starting at all because of this and these latest revelations about YouTube Red are just going to further that.

Creating a program or system where some smaller channels can get some better exposure would be trivial for YouTube to do but instead, they continue to come up with more ideas to milk as much as they can out of the same handful of people for as long as possible. Isn’t that what people have been complaining is wrong with AAA gaming and Summer Hollywood blockbusters for years now? This isn’t how you make things sustainable and it definitely isn’t how you grow the next generation of big stars.

Like many other YouTube changes like the Google+ comments integration and Content ID system, there’s a lot of outrage and confusion right now but those things ended up settling down and weren’t as awful as everyone thought. Maybe that will happen here too. We won’t really know how well YouTube Red will benefit small creators until the money starts to come in. I hope it works out better than expected but based on the math I’ve seen so far, I’m not confident.

At one brief period, I thought I might want to make a career of YouTube but I abandoned that idea a long time ago. This is going to remain a fun project for me and honestly, I think it’s better for that. However, there are tons of people out there who could be the next big, valuable thing for YouTube and many of them are giving up because of this rich get richer system. I hope YouTube wakes up soon because they’ve got a bubble on their hands.

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Announcing My Extra Life 2015 Campaign for the Children’s Miracle Network (With Video)

WHEN: Saturday, November 7th, 2015 @ 9am EST
WHERE: My Twitch Channel

If you’re in Ottawa, you can also donate in person with coin jars at Ivan’s European Deli, The Cake Shop and Jim Dickinson Auto Tech!

It’s that time of year again everyone, it’s Extra Life time! This is my 5th year doing this fantastic event to support the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and as always, I’m super stoked to be doing it again! If you aren’t familiar with Extra Life, it’s a yearly event where gamers from around commit to playing games of all kinds for 24 hours straight to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In my case, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern OntarioYou can learn more here if you like. Thanks to all of you, I’ve raised almost $6,000 since 2011, more than $1,000 per year on average. That still blows my mind to think about.

Since 2012, I’ve always given a theme to my Extra Life events to make them more interesting. This year’s theme is going to be a blast because I have a friend involved in it. That theme is co-op! My good friend Christian is also doing Extra Life this year for the first time and he’s going to be joining me at my house with his PC and we’ll be doing the entire 24 hours together. We have a huge selection of co-op games lined up and many of them support more than 2 players so as always, anyone who wants to join in for some of these is welcome. As always, the whole thing will be streamed live over on my Twitch channel. I’m going to try to simultaneously stream on YouTube as well but no promises yet. We’re only doing the one stream but we’ll have dual face cams. I’ve never done Extra Life anything but solo before but I think this is going to be great and both Chris and I are stoked for it.

This year is not going to be without its challenges though. Extra Life operates in US dollars and in the last year, the Canadian economy and our dollar in particular have taken a beating. If you’re donating from the US, it doesn’t effect you at all. Most of my donations come from Canadians though and for them, there’s a roughly 30% premium compared to last year after the conversion. Yeah, that sucks and it’s going to make raising as much money as before extra difficult, more so since I’m unemployed right now and don’t have a big batch of co-workers I can hit up. However, I’m not letting this stop me from attaining the coveted gold medal for hitting $1,000 in donations. I’ve gotten that medal every year since 2012 and got a silver in 2011 and nothing is going to break that streak!

Last year, I had the wonderful support of a bunch of Ottawa retailers who put out coin jars and actually raised a lot of money for CHEO. I don’t have a list for this year just yet as I’m going to talk to them this week but if you’re a fellow Ottawa resident and are curious, watch this space and I’ll update it with a list. I’ve got some other ideas to drum up some extra support as well that I’m still figuring out. Watch here and my YouTube channel for more news on those.

I usually have multiple fundraising stretch goals which are additional tough streams I will commit to doing if I hit certain targets. This year, it’s just one stretch goal and I’m tying it to hitting that $1,000 target. That said, it’s the one everyone loves, which is that I will play through and stream a horror game in one sitting! I loathe horror stuff and it’s always hilarious to watch me suffer through it. Don’t believe me? Watch me play through Outlast last year:

If we hit $1,000, I will commit to playing through either Outlast 2 if it’s out or SOMA, the newly released sci-fi horror game from the makers of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which was my horror stretch goal in 2012. Outlast 2 was announced over a year ago but there has not yet been any word of a release date so I’m not counting in it being out in time. Like last year, I will aim to do the stretch goal stream within 30 days of Extra Life and of course, it will be fully recorded and put up as a Let’s Play series on YouTube for those who can’t be there live. For real though, nothing compares to being there live to mock me in the chat.

Extra Life is going to be a bigger challenge than ever this year but I’m as driven as ever to make a difference for the kids at CHEO and gaming is about nothing if not overcoming challenges! If you can help out, you can donate on my Extra Life page and as always, you’ll get tax receipts sent to you if you provide your address. Thank you to everyone who has donated before and who donates this year. This event is very important to me and I and the kids at CHEO thank you. Come hang out on Twitch on November 7th and play some games with us! Let’s make the horror happen!

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My Response to CBC’s Coverage of the U.N. “Cyber Violence” Report

This morning, popular CBC Radio 1 news program The Current weighed in on the recent controversial U.N. “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls” report. This was not a surprise to me. Unfortunately, as with most stories that involve feminist issues, The Current and its host are not known for providing what I would consider balanced coverage and tend to wear their bias on their sleeves, though they claim to be impartial. This episode was no exception.

They had multiple guests on, spouting the usual talking points on how unsafe the Internet is for women, largely because of the actions of men, hyping up the importance of this report, ignoring its many flaws and glossing over the lacking credibility of the people presenting at the conference such as Zoë Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. In a laughable attempt to be even in their coverage, they concluded by talking to Ken White from Popehat. He’s been very critical of the report from a free speech perspective and was allowed to state his opinion but host Anna Maria Tremonti kept trying to lead him into agreement with the more extreme positions of the prior guests, either cutting him off or ignoring his answers when he wouldn’t do so. Thankfully, White is far too smart for that. It was clear she had no intention of being fair or even handed with him and had an agenda going in. Listen to the segment if you don’t believe me, it’s obvious. For a show and a personality that considers themselves journalistic, this certainly didn’t seem it to me.

Lots of other people have weighed in with opinions on this U.N. report and many of them did a better job than I ever could so I was going to leave it at that. However, seeing a popular news program on a public broadcaster present it in such a biased way as to rival cable news compels me to respond, both as someone concerned about the report and as a continued defender of the CBC.

Is there a huge and growing problem with harassment online? Absolutely. Are the social networks not doing enough about it? Absolutely. Does it negatively affect women? Absolutely. Does it affect only women and girls? No, it affects everybody! Online harassment is a global problem that affects everyone of every gender, race and creed. To only focus on one element of it attacks a huge problem at only one narrow focal point. Harassment is universally bad and it shouldn’t be some popularity contest where it’s worse for one person because of their gender. I’ve received online death threats before. I also had my house called when I was a teenager and was told someone was coming to kill me and my family and the cops blew it off. Those events were terrifying and made me an emotional wreck for weeks. Do they matter less because I wasn’t a woman? According to some, they did, including The Current apparently. No one should get harassed, it doesn’t matter who you are and focusing only on one element is an exclusionary tactic by a movement that claims to be all about inclusion.

One of the main points Ken White tried to make that Tremonti blew off was the laughable quality of both the report itself and especially it’s citations. It’s so bad, it’s something that wouldn’t pass muster in high school, yet this was being presented at the United Nations and preached as gospel by the media, many of whom didn’t even read it before posting stories to generate clicks through controversy. The Current had multiple days to realise these problems, yet they either didn’t or ignored them in favour of their agenda and when Ken White tried to point this out, it was dismissed as “Well there’s still a problem here.” Yes, among them is that this report cites things that either don’t exist, aren’t available for review or in some cases, are outright lies written by crazy people. It’s unfortunate that such things are inconvenient to the narrative you are trying to push but they nonetheless exist and deserve proper discussion. That’s the whole point of journalism.

Even ignoring all that, I find the most offensive element of the report to be this whole concept of “cyber violence”, a term that’s been fabricated in order to create a media boogeyman. Let me be blunt: There is no such thing as cyber violence. As someone who was bullied throughout elementary school and was jumped and badly assaulted as a teenager, I know what violence is. Violence is getting physically harmed, not having mean things said to you. I spent most of my childhood living with an emotionally abusive parent and I also know the pain of what being insulted to your face entails. It’s a lot different than text insults over Twitter. To equate that to physical violence is insulting to those who have been victims of the latter. Being berated online and even receiving death threats are no laughing matter to be sure but neither compares to being physically attacked and let’s be clear, neither Quinn nor Sarkeesian have ever received one ounce of physical violence for all the threats they’ve gotten. That’s why this “cyber violence” term had to be invented, because these people never actually experienced any real violence.

Quinn and Sarkeesian have been victims of true, horrific harassment–though often overstated and cherry-picked–and while I’m on record as not being a fan of either person or their work, I will never say they deserved any of it. No one deserves harassment, period. That said, these are people who are calling for a new standard of legal online censorship to be implemented because of people saying such things to them as “you suck” and “you’re a liar.” Those are literally things Sarkeesian cited as examples of “cyber violence.” These are people that believe criticism of their work is equivalent to receiving death and rape threats. That’s both wrong and frankly, narcissistic. When you put stuff out for public consumption, you are opening yourself up to feedback of all kinds and the more popular your work gets, the more extreme some of the responses will be. Ask any popular YouTube personality–male or female–about this. That doesn’t make the extreme responses acceptable but it’s not something that’s going to change. You either need to accept and manage it or stop releasing controversial content. You are not entitled to universal praise of your work. It doesn’t matter how right you think you are, others are allowed to think you aren’t and say so. If you can’t handle that, don’t post antagonising things out in public.

The fact is, these are people who have plenty of factual holes to poke in their credibility as individuals, as creators of frequently cited works and self-appointed representatives of women. They continue to claim to be living in fear while they purposefully antagonise their opposition and use their followers as weapons against those who disagree with them. Quinn is a self-admitted former Internet troll herself and was instrumental in driving harassment towards another feminist gaming organisation, one that in spite of that, has managed to release more gaming related content than she has in the last year. This is to say nothing of her documented emotional abuse of a former partner, the kind of abuse I saw drive a friend to a suicide attempt in my youth.

They are both profiting heavily from their status as victims while consistently failing to deliver products they promised their patrons in a timely manner or at all in some cases. They have not deserved any of the harassment they have gotten but they are also not paragons of virtue who who be doing only good for the world if it wasn’t for those damn Internet trolls. None of the demonstrable facts about these people are hard to find, yet the media consistently ignores them because it’s easier to put them on pedestals as only victims to push a narrative that from my observation, is one that less exists and more that people like Tremonti just wish existed.

In attempting to support the notion that the very concepts of the Internet should be fundamentally altered in order to protect the feelings of a few over the freedom of everyone, The Current completely glossed over the glaring faults in the U.N. report, the people backing it and blew off legitimate criticisms and concerns because it was inconvenient to their agenda. They also ignored the large number of women and minorities who don’t follow in lock step with the narrative of oppression that the likes of Quinn and Sarkeesian try to push and think that the proposed solutions are overreaching. Again, both sides deserve to be heard but as is so often the case, the plight of certain genders or group only seem to be considered relevant in specific, defined, convenient contexts.

Online harassment is a big problem for everyone and one that’s unfortunately going to continue to be. Removing anonymity from the Internet or making web sites liable for the things their users post is like dropping a nuclear bomb on one country, thinking that will eliminate ISIS. It will do nothing to stop the bad actors, it will only make things worse for the vast majority of good ones. You can’t make core elements of human behaviour and psyche to change by forcefully altering methods of communication. As prohibition and the war on drugs have clearly shown, trying to force people to not do something always has the opposite effect. A cultural shift is needed and I believe it’s starting but they take time and trying to force them to happen faster only inhibits progress. The fact is, culture and human nature don’t care about your feelings or your perception of the world and it takes an epic level of narcissism to think that you have a right to speak on behalf of everyone for how they should change and at what pace.

What The Current presented this morning is not what journalism is supposed to be and a supposedly seasoned journalist like Anna Maria Tremonti should know better than this. I have gone out of my way to defend the CBC and the importance of public broadcasting from governments that are trying wear it away. However, it gets harder and harder to do when I see cable-news like distortion of issues like this or when a prominent director at the network cowardly refuses to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and admonishes others for doing it. If you’re going to talk about an issue, do it fairly. If you can’t keep your own biases and agenda to the side, then at least stop presenting yourselves as able to.

The CBC is supposed to be better than this and the taxpayers who fund it deserve better than this.

Posted in Coverage, Culture, Culture, Culture, Humanity, Internet, News, Politics, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being A Good IT Person (v2)

I wrote the original version of this post over a year ago but decided to update it with some other things I’ve thought of since.

I’ve been working in IT for many years now. That time and the many positions I’ve held in it has given me a lot of time to think about the best ways to approach my job and it’s also given me a lot of opportunities to see how peers approach it. IT is far from the hardest career path in the world but it’s no walk in the park and it’s harder and more important than many think it is.

It still amazes me that even though the IT field has existed on a large scale for quite a while now, so many people still get some of the most basic elements of it so very wrong. Stuff that really shouldn’t be hard to understand seems to evade so many in this field. I thought it would be a good exercise to put down some knowledge I’ve taken from my now extensive experience that I think is critical for people to know who want to excel in IT and be both well regarded and satisfied. Many who do this job are often bitter and miserable and while we sometimes have cause to be, I don’t think it has to be that way and I think that a lot of it comes down to the individuals themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing IT people in the world, many of whom are better at this than I am and I’m not saying that the advice I put forth here should taken as bible truth by everyone. I do however, think there are fundamentals here that can be universally applied by all members of this field and they’re not adhered to often enough. These won’t solve all your problems as someone in IT but I think if you derive your own personal creed from some of these basics, you may find yourself satisfied and dare I say, enjoying a career that many consider brutal and unfulfilling. IT can absolutely be a cool and enjoyable career but like many others, it’s often what you make it and that takes effort.

So what has almost 15 years in the IT trenches taught me?

1. You Are In the Customer Service Industry
IT is not a standalone career path and like most others, it has roots in something else. Make no mistake, whether you’re a help desk rep or a person maintaining infrastructure, you work in customer service. You may not be working a telco’s call centre or the returns counter in retail but your goal is first and foremost to serve your users (i.e. your customers) by providing them as reliable, easy and friendly a technology work environment as you can. Without your users, you have no purpose. Customer service is a wide reaching term and many incorrectly associate it with low-grade, mundane jobs. That’s just not the case.

You may be the one guy in charge of IT for an entire company or you may be a person within a larger team with a narrow scope of responsibility that never involves interacting with a user. It doesn’t matter, your goals and scope are always customer service. You may be different than the guy working the returns counter but at a core level, you both work in the same field. This should be the driving factor behind everything you do. IT people who either don’t believe this or don’t adhere to it are often the ones regarded as having a bad attitude. If your #1 goal of coming into work is not to provide the best customer service you can, you’re just doing it wrong and you make the rest of us look bad.

2. Your Users Are Not the Enemy
This is really a more general career rule but I see a lot of IT people not following it. Do you get annoyed when you go somewhere to get service and it seems like the person is having a bad day and taking it out on you? You’re there to conduct a transaction and the person treats you like you’re a burden and making their day worse. Sucks, right?

That’s exactly how you come across when you act dickish to one of your users. No matter what has happened in your day, you should never take it out on your users unless they give you a reason to. The user likely isn’t the reason the server crashed or you were denied an important budget item and they almost certainly aren’t the reason you had a fight with your spouse. Treating users like enemies rather than allies is the biggest single reason many IT departments and user bases don’t get along and often see each other as headaches and enemies. You both work for the same company and even though you have different jobs, you’re supposed to be unified in your goal of making the company succeed so that you also succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, some users are dicks and I’m a firm believer in getting what you give. Forcing a smile when someone’s being unreasonable is a good way to encourage that treatment to continue. Be firm and assertive when you need to be but only then and don’t assume someone is a dick until they show themselves to be one. You’d be surprised how many people who come across as mean when you first encounter them are just having a bad day and how much a smile and a “How can I help?” will flip their attitude right around.

Without your users, you don’t have a job and without you, they can’t do their’s properly. It’s a symbiotic relationship, not an adversarial or parasitic one. Treat your users as enemies and they’ll do the same. Hostility begets hostility. Don’t let them walk over you but don’t give them reasons to hate you.

3. There Are No Stupid Questions
You’re super good at this stuff. You should be if you’re doing it for a living. Thing is, your users likely aren’t and many IT people often forget that. If they were as good with technology as you are, they wouldn’t have a need for you now would they? So don’t be a smarmy prat when someone asks a question that seems elementary to you.

I know computers and tech like the back of my hand. Thing is, I don’t know anything about fixing cars but I would be pretty annoyed if a mechanic acted like I should already know why my check engine light is on. So why should I roll my eyes and act like I’m talking to a 5 year old when someone asks me why their bookmarks bar in their browser is missing because they accidentally clicked the wrong thing?

You may be an expert in your field but chances are, you’re an ignoramus of 95% of other fields. Don’t treat people who didn’t choose to go into IT as though they’re stupid or intellectually below you. While you certainly need a good head on your shoulders to do this stuff, let’s not kid ourselves, we aren’t rocket scientists or brain surgeons. We’re important to those people and certainly not lesser than them but let’s not pretend we’re on the same plane of knowledge.

4. Speak Bloody English
The number of IT people I’ve met who talk to their users with the same technical language they speak to each other with and then wonder why their users’ eyes gloss is staggering. Again, if the users understood everything you did, they wouldn’t have a need for you. When explaining a problem or a solution you’re implementing, you need to recognise that you’re not talking to a technical expert.

I didn’t have a hard time learning how to do this but from what I’ve gathered, it’s actually a difficult skill for many, almost akin to learning how to translate between two languages. That may be but knowing how to break tech jargon down into plain language is one of the most valuable skills you can have in IT. It’s something to work on and always be striving to improve. Personally, I’ve found that using a lot of analogies and comparisons to more common things in the real world makes something a lot easier. For example, I’ve often used the analogy of a scratched CD and how that causes skipping to explain bad sectors on a hard drive. I know, I should probably update the analogy to use something more modern than CDs but you get the idea.

Learning this skill is invaluable to defusing tense situations and also to just make your users feel that you’re trying to help them understand their problem. People hate being ignorant of why things aren’t working and even a little bit of knowledge can make them feel a lot better. You don’t need to explain the nitty gritty of everything but even a top level explanation can make a situation much easier for everyone. Get good at doing this.

5. Fight For Your Interests
Far too many companies in the world see IT as a burden and a black box. Executives often don’t understand what we do and that makes them suspicious of us. Our departments only cost money, they don’t make it–at least not directly–and the executives see only money going in and because of their ignorance of our work, we’re often first on the chopping block. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in my career it IT managers and departments that don’t put up enough of a fight to get what they want and need.

IT is important. It’s hyper critical in fact. A company can survive without almost any other department for at least a short time but no IT people means that if something breaks, they’re effectively crippled. We may not directly generate profits but make no mistake, a successful company without IT is no longer successful and we are instrumental in ensuring efficiency. It doesn’t matter if times are tough where you work, you need to be good at explaining why IT needs what it asks for and you need to be willing to take the gloves off, get in the trenches and fight for those resources with everyone else. What you do is important and you need to act like it.

Corporate executives may not be IT gurus but you can explain what you need and why it’s beneficial to the company in a way they’ll understand. Learn how to talk business to them instead of tech. It not only makes it easier to communicate your needs, it shows them you’re willing to put in the effort to explain things in a way they’ll understand. You don’t need an MBA to make a business case.

If you’re denied stuff you need now, it will only make things much worse later on and you have to be willing to speak up and make that known. Cowering back and letting some clueless executive tell you what can wait is a failure on your part. It’s not easy taking a stand, even less so in companies dominated by type-A salespeople but ultimately, it’s what you have to do to provide the best customer service which as stated above, is the industry you’re in.

5. You Gotta’ Love It
I’ve worked with a lot of people in my time who got into IT when it was the hot, upcoming career path because they saw it as an easy way to make good money. They took a bunch of training, got the paper certifications they needed, punch in, punch out and make their money. That’s a lousy way go about any career.

If you don’t enjoy what you do, how can you do it well over the long term? If this is just a paycheque and not something that interests you, gets you fired up and that you don’t ever think about when you’re outside the office, how are you ever going to do the best job you can? You have to be engaged with what you’re doing. If you’re just going through the motions, you’re not giving the work the attention it deserves.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that sometimes you just need a job and the argument that “You should do what you love and if you don’t love it, you should do something else.” is a simplistic, reductive and frankly insulting way to look at the job market. We’ve never lived in a world where everyone can do what they ideally want and make a living at the same time. There are things I would probably love doing more than IT but in reality, they’re not likely to happen or at least, not to bring me the stability I need. That doesn’t mean I don’t love what I do though because I absolutely do.

I love technology and I love discovering how to best use it to improve the lives of others. If you’re working in IT and can’t wait to get home every day so you can focus on anything else, you should probably find and pursue something that interests you more because just going through the motions ultimately serves no one well. You may need a job but if you hate it that much, spend some time getting good at what you actually do love and maybe that can become your job and make you that much happier.

6. Always Be Learning
This is something I’ve sadly neglected way too much in my career because I got comfortable, lazy and frankly, arrogant at how much the experience I had actually meant. Like almost any other field, there are always new things to be learning about it and you will never be in a state where there’s nothing left to be enlightened with. Really, this should be obvious in the field of technology where things are always advancing at light speed. Yet many people–myself included–think they know all they need to and just sit still.

Even if it doesn’t look like your job needs more knowledge than you have, keep acquiring it anyway. Read articles, do online courses, run experiments, request training opportunities. Do as much learning as you can whenever you can. It may help make your current job better or it could open new and exciting doors for you going forward. Becoming complacent in the technology field is the worst thing you can do and stagnation is ultimately a death sentence for your long term advancement.

I learned this the hard way and now I’m struggling to regain lost ground. Don’t ever let this happen to you.

7, Be Inventive
One of the greatest things about modern technology is how it can be bent and shaped to serve our needs in ways we or perhaps, even its creators never thought of. Some things are more rigid than others but you’d be surprised how if you just colour outside the lines a bit, you can pull off some downright miraculous stuff that can save time, money or just make something more useful to you and your users.

Never be afraid to experiment or to push the envelope of something you have at your disposal. Just because the manual doesn’t talk about doing a thing doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it just means the people who wrote the manual didn’t think of it. The IT people who advance farthest are often the ones who innovate and break things in beneficial ways, coming up with means to solve problems that deviate from the norm. It shows a depth of problem solving and critical thinking skills on your part and the one thing I’ve learned is that the more you hone that skill, the more unforeseen opportunities will just appear in front of you because you know to look for what isn’t readily apparent.

8. Never Be Stubbornly Loyal
Brands have ups and downs in the quality of their products. Vendors have ups and downs in service and pricing. What was great last year could suck this year. I’ve seen so many IT departments that refuse to change who they use in spite of this because they’re comfortable with the familiar and they’re worried about the repercussions that could come from change.

I’ve worked in places where a brand of laptop has gone to crap but they keep buying them anyway because they can’t be bothered to research something else or are scared it’ll be worse. The same thing has happened with software, particularly security tools. I’ve had to fight to change a supplier whose service has gone downhill because some executive is friendly with our sales rep and doesn’t want to offend them. Companies often rely and prey on this response and you can’t give into it.

This is business and you’re supposed to demand the best you can get for the least amount of money possible. If a brand or supplier is no longer providing that, it’s time to move on. If you give in to feelings of guilt and harm your organisation in the process, you’re thinking is backwards. If something isn’t living up to expectations, drop it and find something that will. Sticking with companies that do a lousy job is why they don’t change. Your business is a privilege and the core concept of competition is that everyone’s supposed to fight for that. If they know they can profit off the path of least resistance, they will. Don’t let them.

So there we have it, some of my tips that I’ve gleaned from my years in IT about how to be better at it. Really, a lot of those rules can be applied to any number of different careers but they have all served me well in my time and I think if more IT people followed them, this is one that would be better thought of. I’m sure there are many more things out there too and if you work in IT and have your own rules and creed, I’d love to hear about them!

IT can be a great and rewarding career but it’s too often thought of as something you do for a few years until you can advance out of it or until you figure out what you really want to do with your life. It doesn’t have to be this way and it’s something you can do for a long time and love doing on top of that if you just look at it a certain way and spread that enthusiasm to those you surround yourself with and serve. Sure, I’ve thought about changing direction before and I may still some day but right now, I’m still looking for an IT job to replace the one I lost. Not just because I’m damn good at it but because I want to keep doing this. This can be something you love doing, just look inwards and find what calls you to it. If nothing does, that’s OK too but you should think about what can make you happier in that case.

We can be heroes but it’s ultimately down to us. Make yourself a hero!

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Review: Until Dawn

Heavy Rain meets Telltale meets Cabin In the Woods

NOTE: This review is free of spoilers.

I am not a fan of horror games. Like, at all. Really, I’m not a fan of anything horror related. I’ve just never seen the fun in being scared. Yet when I started to see coverage of PS4 exclusive Until Dawn, I became inexplicably intrigued. It looked less like something made to terrorise you constantly and more like something you’d have seen if the mechanics of a recent Quantic Dream game met a shlocky B-grade horror film. That’s pretty much what it is and I think that’s cool but to enjoy it, you’ll have to enjoy the mechanics of the former and either enjoy or at least tolerate the latter.

Until Dawn apparently started life as a first-person Move controller exclusive for the PS3 but eventually got reworked as a third-person PS4 game with more traditional controls. Developer Supermassive Games had also made nothing remotely like this before so it’s an ambitious effort. It has actual screenwriters involved, features a fully performance captured cast of several well known young actors and runs on the Killzone: Shadow Fall engine so it’s definitely a big AAA title.

The comparisons to something like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls are very apt as there’s a lot of quick time events, tank controls the rest of the time and many choices that claim to have significant impact on how the story progresses. I like David Cage’s stuff but to say his games feel auteur-ish is being polite. Until Dawn has no such pretensions. It’s dumb horror and it knows and owns it.

The basics are that a bunch of teenagers–who vary wildly in personality to the point where I’m not sure why they’d be friends–go to a fancy chalet in the woods owned by one of their rich parents for a weekend of drinkin’ and bonin’, the kind of thing I never got invited to in high school. Not that I’m bitter or anything. A bad thing happened the first time they did this but they’re back again to try to rekindle their friendships and move on. A whole bunch of new bad stuff happens, you’re not really sure why and when you finally get an idea, a big twist happens in the middle that upends things before they go downright crazy in the second half. It’s not remotely realistic but these kind of horror stories never are. You’ll shift between all the different characters in the story through many different environments and have to accomplish different things, sometimes alone, sometimes with a computer controlled partner. It’s possible for every character to die and you’re supposed to try to save as many as possible. I managed to save half of them and while it’s possible to save everyone, it’s apparently very hard to do.

The story is pretty good if you’re into this kind of thing. If you aren’t, you’ll probably hate it. The characters constantly make the worst decisions possible, the early game especially is full of teenage drama that makes you want to smack them, some of them are frankly assholes and even though straight-A students are among the group, they all act like total idiots a lot of the time. Again, this is normal for this kind of horror but it’s not for everyone. If you like movies such as Cabin In the Woods, you’ll probably dig this. That said, while movies like that are called horror, I don’t really think they are. There’s plenty of strong language, gore and tension but I never found it particularly scary. Jump scares abound but they remind me of Dead Space in that they’re very telegraphed and you’ll know when many will occur before they do. This fits well with my taste in horror but if you’re into real terror, you probably won’t get it in Until Dawn.

Unfortunately, there are also more than a few plot holes that feel like the result of content that had to be cut. There are two sub plots involving reindeer and a wolf that get built up and then just trail off. There’s a helpful character you meet in the second half and while he knows a bunch of plot related history, you’re never told why he’s actually there. In the first half, there are interludes involving a therapist that are some of the most unnerving in the game but again, they just stop at one point without explanation. It’s very odd that so much effort was clearly put into these elements just to have them end so abruptly.

The game play is another aspect you’re either going to enjoy or despise, just like David Cage games. Some people call these types of titles modern adventure games but I think modern interactive movies is more fitting. When you have full control of your character, you walk around with tank controls, examining your environment to find where you need to go and searching for various collectibles along the way, all of which can provide clues that nicely fill out the pretty messed up back story. There are trophies attached to the collectibles but it’s nice that they gave them all a purpose besides padding. I got most of them on my first run and if you’re thorough, most aren’t hard to find. The majority of the action sequences are various forms of quick time events and when a cut scene is running, you have to keep your hands at the ready as a prompt could appear at any moment. You don’t have to hit them all but miss too many and it could be the end of your character or even another one you aren’t controlling. You’ll also have the option of choosing between different dialogue options and attitudes during conversations. Each character has a large set of stats and relationships with other characters that will fluctuate depending on your choices. Some of the things your characters can do at key moments will be determined by these and if they’re extreme enough, you may not even get a choice.

Each character has many stats.

It’s clear that Until Dawn was designed to be played through multiple times to see all the different permutations but just like Heavy Rain, the identity of the main villain is always the same. It would have been awesome to see this change depending on how you played, essentially allowing you to create your own story. It doesn’t and at least for me, playing a story driven game again when I know how it’s ultimately going to end anyway just isn’t that interesting. I’d rather just look up the other endings on YouTube. I also discovered that while many of the choices do have noticeable impact later on, Until Dawn has the same problem Telltale games do where some choices that seem to be important actually have no impact on the outcome, they just make you think they do. Not every choice has to be massive but it always feels a bit deceptive to me to make the player think they’re doing something important when really, it doesn’t matter at all.

Technically speaking, Until Dawn is mixed. The environments are gorgeous and most of the characters and animations are incredible to the point of uncanniness, though some animations were clearly rigged manually. The score is fittingly tense and the overall sound design is top notch. It also uses the DualShock 4’s speaker in some interesting ways. Load times are virtually non-existent but it’s not at all well optimised. The frame rate is locked at 30 and during some sequences, it can dip into single digits. I know it started development on another console but for a PS4 exclusive, it should really run better than this. There’s no online play whatsoever, though you can enable an option that will compare your in-game choices against a global database, like many Telltale games do. It’s off by default and I left it off but if I do another run, I’ll definitely use it.

Until Dawn is a game where you’ve got to be into both its subject matter and the way it plays. If you aren’t into one or both, you won’t enjoy it. It’s very much about the characters, story and atmosphere but still has more game play and meaningful choices than games like Gone Home or the recent Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. A AAA title that is aimed at specific audiences this way is very rare these days and I really appreciate that some developers like Supermassive and Quantic Dream are still trying to make them. It’s got some flaws but it’s a solid effort from a team that’s never done anything like it before. I enjoyed my 10 or so hours with it and if you’re into what it offers, I think you will too. I hope Supermassive gets another chance to make something like this from scratch as they’re clearly onto something. They just need to work on the polish and making sure all the loose ends are tied up. Good effort guys, keep trying. If you’re not sure this is the kind of experience you want though, you may not be into this for full price.

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Introducing Geek BravAudio

Since I clearly wasn’t producing enough content already, I decided why not do even more? I think I may have a problem.

I recently acquired a free SoundCloud Pro Unlimited account through my YouTube network. I’ve been mulling over what to do with it and have decided to start off by adding a new feature to my Geek Bravado blog entries: Audio readings! You’ll now be able to listen to me read all of my future blog entries as well as my most current one, and select past entries I may choose to record. People are busy and I’m not exactly known for my short form posts. I freely admit that I prefer to listen to longer pieces when I can and I figured this is a great way to add more options for my readers and also to get more vocal practice. I recently retuned my recording setup so it should sound nice and radio-like, as much as my voice can.

My aim is to post the audio versions at the same time as the written ones but depending on time and circumstances, that may not always be possible. I intend to give every entry an audio version, they may just occasionally come a bit later.

The audio versions will always be embedded at the top of the posts but you can also follow my SoundCloud channel through their web site or their Android and iOS mobile apps. If you prefer to use your own podcast app, you can also subscribe to an RSS feed and get new content that way.

For now, this is just going to be for audio readings of Geek Bravado posts but I’ve been pondering some other audio content I could put on SoundCloud. As always, I’ll announce when and if that happens. I’m always looking for feedback so please let me know what you think of the audio posts by leaving comments either here or on SoundCloud. Right now, it’s just me reading with nothing in the background. I prefer to listen to stuff that way but I can add music or other things if more people want that.

Thanks for your continued support and as always, if you like what you see and hear on this blog, SoundCloud or YouTube, please tell someone you think might enjoy it as well. Enjoy!

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