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What's with the name?

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Essay

Essay

How You Can Get On Jeopardy!

Tina Nguyen of our sister site The Braisier achieved nerdvana last night when she appeared on Jeopardy! and was able to show off her smarts and bask in the presence of Alex Trebek. Here she explains how you can achieve the same.

“Oh my god!” people gush whenever they learn that I’m appearing on Jeopardy!. “Are you super smart? Are you like some sort of braniac? Did you tell Alex Trebek to suck it?”

Ideally, the answer would be “Yes, yes, and absolutely.” In reality, the answers are “Sort of, Jeopardy! requires more computer-esque skills, and if I had actually pretended to be Darrell Hammond pretending to be Sean Connery, Trebek would probably punch me.” What I don’t tell them—and what I will reveal to you now—is that it took me four attempts to get on the show. Yes. Four.

This is how I got onto the greatest game show on television, and this is how you can, too.

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Essay

Papers, Please: A Game About Borders, Stamps, and My Family

I don’t know how I decided to play Papers, Please without considering the parallels. Why that game, of all the games in my backlog? Was it a subconscious thing? It’s laughable, really, that I didn’t think about it. It’s as if I’d actually forgotten how much of my life has been defined by stamps in passports, how many sleepless nights I’ve spent worrying about said same.

I’m writing this from my childhood home in Southern California. I came here for a convergence of events, primary among which was my grandmother’s memorial service. She was a German immigrant first, a US citizen second. At the memorial, my uncle spoke of a photograph that showed my grandmother and her sister as little girls, playing in their backyard. He remarked on how if you had looked at them then, it’d be hard to imagine how differently their lives would turn out.

He was speaking, in part, about East and West Germany.

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Essay

Tabletop Roleplaying for the Shy and Cerebral

When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, my partner is a walking rulebook. Need to calculate a stat? She’s got you covered. Trying to fudge the length of a spell duration? She’ll call you on it. Don’t know which dice to roll? She knows. From combat to lore, she’s a font of knowledge, and she’s meticulous in her record-keeping. If you’ve forgotten anything — loot properties, earned XP, how much gold’s in the kitty — she’ll have it down. It’s amazing.

Roleplaying, on the other hand…roleplaying doesn’t come instinctively to her. My partner is shy by nature, and content to be the quiet member of the table, declaring actions when necessary, but otherwise supporting the rest of us by doing math and taking notes. Our current campaign, however, is an RP-heavy city setting, and though we’ve been having a blast, my partner has felt that she’s not contributing much. The other night, a few hours before our scheduled session, she asked me, with no small amount of trepidation, if I’d help her get better at roleplaying.

As if I’d say no.

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Essay

The Constructive Side of Escapism

I’m not sure why I thought of Minecraft that night. I hadn’t played it in months. But as soon as the idea entered my head, it was all I wanted to do. I wanted to build a house.

It didn’t start well. Within forty-five minutes, I had deleted three singleplayer worlds, and in keeping with my month-long mood, I was telling myself that a house was a stupid idea to begin with. I didn’t know how to design a house. When playing with my friends, I was commonly the explorer, rather than the architect. I left buildings to people who could do something other than shoeboxes with roofs on top. Visual design has never been my strong suit.

I was on the verge of quitting. “Hang on,” I said to myself. “Don’t give up. Forget picket fences and vegetable gardens. If you could live anywhere, where would — “

The answer appeared immediately, as it has for twelve years: Tomahna. Atrus and Catherine’s home, from Myst III and IV.

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Essay

Pacific Rim Is Not Your Average Action Juggernaut

The dismal state of this summer’s blockbusters is multidimensional: not only did big-budget films generally perform poorly, but they also were conceptually and emotionally hollow. The Lone Ranger didn’t seem to understand why Johnny Depp in redface could possibly be a bad thing, and the failure of the Smith-Smith-fronted After Earth to draw in crowds boggled the minds of film studios everywhere. When the promising prospect of Elysium turned out to be a moralistic bull in a china shop, the summer sci-fi set seemed doomed.

Is there anything to salvage from this black hole of summer cinema? I think there is: Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which stands out from the crowd of half-baked action/sci-fi juggernauts for one reason: it knows what it is. It knows that it’s a visually-amazing action flick– but what’s even more interesting is that it knows how to subvert pieces of the genre other films blindly pay homage to. In particular, Pacific Rim has a way of smashing gender-based action movie tropes like they’re Kaiju skulls.

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Essay

Clones Are People Too: The Science and Science Fiction of BBC America’s Orphan Black

As BBC America’s Orphan Black heads into its second season, many critics have focused on Tatiana Maslany’s supremely impressive feats of acting and the many compelling female characters as the draw of the series. If you haven’t watched the show, you’ve still likely heard that the lead actress plays no fewer than seven distinct characters, just in the first season. However, Orphan Black also stands out as a piece of science fiction, and it does so in a very relevant manner. The series is a distinctly modern science fiction story and focuses on two crucial themes: individuality and gene patenting. By posing serious questions about humanity, Orphan Black serves as an effective analogue for real life events, which elevates its science fiction status. Read on to find out how the show is reflecting our society, perceived stereotypes, and why they’re way ahead of the sci-fi game.

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Essay

On Internet Friends and In-Person Friends, Or As They Are More Commonly Known, “Friends”

A couple weeks ago, I spent an afternoon chatting with an old friend on Skype. Back in the day, she and I were steady companions. We even shared an apartment for a year and a half. As we talked, we worked out how long it had been since we last caught up (December, at the earliest). The names of a few other friends came up, people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. The lack of contact was understandable. I had moved away. Things change. People grow apart. It happens.

“It’s just so hard to find time to catch up,” my friend said. We both nodded, with sad shrugs and “what can you do” expressions. That’s life, right? But as we sat there in mutual agreement, something started to bug me. I have another set of friends, every bit as dear, that I keep in touch with often. Daily. Constantly. The difference is, those people don’t live far away. They live on the internet.

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Essay

Thoughts On The Death of Books, The Emptiness of Video Games, The End of the World, Etc.

One Christmas, a few years back, my grandmother gave my brother and I each an envelope containing a crisp twenty dollar bill. My brother opened his, and thanked her. She smiled and said, with a wag of her finger, directly to him, “Don’t spend it on video games!” My brother and I exchanged a quick glance. I received no such instructions. I can’t say exactly how I spent that money, but given my spending habits, I have a pretty good guess.

My grandmother’s remark was not surprising. Her technophobia was a long-standing cause for rolled eyes between my brother and I. Computers were the downfall of everything, as was the wane of fountain pens and letter writing. She thought it was wonderful that I was a writer, but I don’t think she ever quite got how the internet was involved. Her understanding of modern technology came from late night cable news, and she didn’t want to listen when we tried to do damage control on that front. Video games were never, ever okay.

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Essay

What We Aren’t Talking About When We Talk About Inclusion and Representation, And What We Are

Last week on Kotaku, there was an excerpt from an interview with game creator Gavin Moore, who spoke strongly against the idea of an optional female protagonist in his upcoming game Puppeteer. I’m not going to directly pick apart what was said, because there’s already been plenty of digital ink spilled on that front, and besides, that’s not quite my style. But the full interview did kick me into thinking about the all-encompassing conversation concerning inclusion and representation. It’s not just happening in games. It’s happening in comics. It’s happening in movies. It’s happening in SF/F (and how). This conversation has engulfed all of popular culture — particularly geek culture — and it’s gotten messy. The thing that stuck with me about that interview was not that I disagreed — in a number of cases, I didn’t — but that it missed the point of what the conversation is about.

And so, I offer the most navel-gazing question ever: what is it actually about?

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Essay

On Xena and a Lack of Female Villains

If you’ve seen an episode of Xena, hell, if you’ve seen the opening titles to Xena, you know that you don’t mess with Xena. She’s strong, clever, resilient, and at times, ruthless. The show remains an important feminist text for a number of reasons, reasons reinforced by the likes of Joss Whedon and Quentin Tarantino. It champions strong women, but at the same time, it does not paint them as these infallible, flat superheroines. The female characters of the show, allies and villains alike, are rounded, with complex back-stories and goals that range from trying to lift a city-wide ban on dancing to wanting to become the queen of the Amazons.

But this is old news. What’s really striking about the show is just how many of the central villains are female. To date, I believe Xena still has the most female big-bads of any television show.

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