Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Beer and Loathing

My Goodness! I'm sincerely sorry for the long delay between updates. I've been a little preoccupied lately with various things, and I've also been just a little lazy. To make up for it, here's a mega-post.

Last week was "Beer Week" in my hometown, and as wonderful as that sounds in principal (for the most part it is quite wonderful) in reality, Beer Week can be quite frustrating. The explosion of interest in beer that has occurred over the last couple years means that beer-related events are now drawing huge crowds. While it used to be possible during Beer Week to walk into a place, sit down, have a bite to eat, and drink some quality beers, this year it was common to people lining up to get through the door. It takes a bit of the fun out of Beer Week when you are packed into a bar like sardines at all times.

My greatest disappointment, however, involved one legendary beer: Pliny the Younger. Here's the back story behind the beer: I've discussed its sibling, Pliny the Elder, before. It's sort of difficult to find in bottles, but, at least in my town, it's readily available on tap. The Elder is considered to be one of the best beers in the world, but its cousin, Pliny the Younger is an even more rarefied beast. The Younger is brewed in extremely small quantities only once a year, in early February, and is not available in bottles. On Beer Advocate, it was once the highest rated beer in the world, and currently sits at the number two spot. The brewer, Russian River, serves it in their brewpub and a few kegs are shipped out to small number of lucky bars and pubs around the country. When it goes on sale, things tend to look like this.

Dr. Sparkle is visible in this photo. I suppose that if you can pick me out I should offer some sort of prize?

I've had first hand reports that the lines at Russian River got out of control this year, with waits up to eight hours.  I've always wanted to go to Russian River during Pliny the Younger season, but decided it might be saner to find it locally. Here in town, anyone who gets a keg will tap it during Beer Week, though the where and when will always be kept secret until the last moment. On Saturday, a local faux-British pub announced they would be selling it that evening. This was bad timing: I was having my car worked on that day, and needed to available to pick it before the shop closed. Then, on Sunday, a local beer and burgers place I frequent was going to tap a keg. We arrived about an hour early, and while a line was already forming, it didn't seem to be outrageously long. Ironically, I was standing next to a lady who said she lived a block or so from the brewery, but couldn't deal with the lines at Russian River. By the time they opened the keg and started pouring glasses, the line had stretched around the corner, and as we moved forward, we were pretty confident that we would be drinking some Pliny the Younger soon.  So everyone was quite shocked when, as we were about halfway to the door, a staff member informed the crowd that the Pliny was sold out.  We ended up eating lunch there anyway, since the place still had an astonishing line-up of rare beers on tap that day. This will mean nothing to folks who aren't beer fanatics, but: Firestone Walker Double DBA, Black Butte Porter XXIV, Flying Dog Barrel Aged Gonzo, Dogfish Head Burton Baton, Ballast Victory at Sea, Sierra Nevada Ovila Double Barrel Aged, and several others. It was the sort of line up of beers you rarely experience and I wish I could have had one of each. As a bonus, while leaving, the owner grabbed me and we discussed the Pliny situation. He explained the "keg" of Pliny they received was extremely small, and as a consolation, he dragged me back in and poured me samples of the Black Butte and Double DBA. Both were frickin' delicious, and since I am currently cellaring bottles of both, I was quite pleased to know how great they were. (Its also worth noting that while many places charge $5.00 or $6.00 for a glass of the Pliny the Younger, or even bundle it into expensive beer flights, this place was practically giving it away at either $2.00 or $3.00.)

In summary, this is both a wonderful and frustrating time to be a beer fanatic in this country. So many wonderful beers are made, but they are getting harder and harder to find. Certain limited beers hit the shops and sell out the same day. A fellow beer drinker, Dan S, mentioned "the chase" in the comments a while back. You will read about certain beers but you never find a bottle. You haunt the beer stores, scanning the shelves for anything new. Frequently, you'll see guys in the aisles, talking on their phones: "They just got in four or five boxes..." A few years ago, I never had problems getting certain once-a-year beers like Deschutes' The Abyss. In 2012, I never saw a bottle. Just too many people getting into beer nowadays....

(Just a reminder, this is video game blog, not a beer blog.)

A couple weeks ago I was complaining about the future of videogames, when, as if on command, we got the clusterfuck known as Sim City. EA releases a highly anticipated game, but requires players be continuously logged in to the EA servers. The next thing we know, the servers are overloaded and people can't play the game, even in single player mode. EA tries to alleviate things by removing some features from Sim City.  Maxis claimed that the online only requirement could not be dropped, since the core features of the game required connection to the servers in order to function.  Then, it turned out this was simply not true. The final result: everyone hates Maxis and EA just a little bit more than they already did. User reviews are currently averaging one star on Amazon and 1.5 out 10 on Metacritic. Perhaps after Diablo 3 and this, publishers will finally get the hint?

On a positive note, the long awaited, long delayed first episode of Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs Women in Video Games has been released. You might recall there was a bit of an online dust up over this a while back. Sarkeesian announced a Kickstarter to fund a series of videos about sex stereotypes and the role of women in videogames. The troglodyte set of the internet proceeded to freak out at this idea, and began a pretty concerted, vicious attack on her. The low point of all this was probably a flash game someone created which simulated disfiguring Sarkeesian by punching her in the face.

This will launch around 100 fuck-tons of online butt hurt.
A year later, and the first video is finally up.  It's a reasonably well made look at the "damsel in distress" motif in classic gaming, copiously illustrated with clips from many games. There's nothing too deep here; it will be obvious to anyone who played games at all back in the 80s that one of the most common plot elements was "girl kidnapped/rescued by hero." This figured heavily into many Nintendo games of the era and just about every 8-bit/16-bit beat-em-up. Sarkeesian provides numerous examples of this as well as several counter-examples in which male characters "rescue" themselves, without outside help. Connoisseurs of internet drama will want to keep an eye out on Youtube for future video critiques, responses and "rebuttals" of this video, a good number of which will be virgins-with-rage yelling at her for saying Shigeru Miyamoto is sexist or something.

My main complaint with the video (other than some questionable handling of the damsel in distress motif in the pre-videogame era) is the excessive repetition of the word "trope" in its contemporary, internet-y sense.

I don't have an exact release date for Chronturbo 4, but quite a bit of progress has been made. I actually finished editing Valis II right before posting this! In the mean time, I'll leave you with my current  favorite German 70s progressive Jazz-Rock video, "Uranus" by Klaus Doldinger's Passport. German TV technicians of the era were pretty creative, and here they spice up the performance by splicing together footage from different pefermormances using split screen, so it looks as if the Doldigner is duetting with himself. It's pretty ridiculous and awesome.


Sean Clements said...

Well. Like I've said before. Ill have no chance of ever getting anything from Eel River in Hawaii. All the specialty places don't carry any of their beers. But I am curious. Last summer on vacation to CA I feel in love with Dechutes Black Butte porter. And I've found a local shop that carries it so I'm fairly happy. It very much is my kind of beer. What is the difference between that and the XXIV version? You know in case a miracle ever occurs and I find some where I live. I am glad that besides Videogames, you decide to mix it up with something else that I enjoy, mainly Beer. And maybe 70's bands or German rock, not so much my cup of tea but interesting nonetheless. I am always figure it could be much, much worse and am very fortunate to read about games, beer, 70,s bands and interesting Internet controversies. Furries anyone? ( shudders at the thought.)

As far as the recent trend of misogyny in games, while I am aware of it, I think it is such an explosive topic I try to stay away from commenting on those issues for the most part. I don't think you can really win or have an intelligent discussion sometimes through all the Vitriol surrounding the issue. I think 1 up did a female in games week where I just stayed away from the comments for the whole week. (I did enjoy the articles) it reminds me in a way of what happens when people ever make an argument against Israel, how all the cries of anti semitism come out. (not saying that a lot of the attacks against Israel aren't anti Semitic , because frankly, a lot of them are.) but you just can't win. Try to make an argument that you feel that some of the actions Israel takes are very imflamitory or discriminatory and you will have hell unleashed upon thee. I feel the situation is similar with this whole female tropes in games thing. That's why I stay away from those discussions. Although I will probrably check out that video.

Anonymous said...

Before reading this, I had watched Tropes vs Men in Games by Ebolaworld and thought it was a wonderful piece of entertainment that resembled one of my own horrible blog entries. Now, after reading this post, I realized it was merely another spoof. Still enjoyable, but I was hoping to have found a kindred spirit. Thanks for update, as always, and I'll definitely check out Anita's first episode.

Kamiboy said...

I've always found the attempts of people with an agenda to try and change a medium according to said agenda or critique it for not being in line with it to be pathetic and misguided.

Keep agendas out of the arts, especially video games, because they have a clear focus and purpose.

Dan S said...

Deschutes recently came to Chicago, meaning you can now get things like Black Butte Porter at your local supermarket chain. I've been meaning to pick up a sixer of it as I've heard good things.

Our beer week starts on 3/16. Don't even get me started on how ridiculous the crowds were a few years ago when Stone finally came to town. It was nearly impossible to move at one of the bars featuring their beers.

jh- said...

You sound like a tall guy, and with not much else to go on I'm gonna guess you're the guy on the left in the white shirt, that the arrow is almost pointing at.

Sean Clements said...

I'm not sure which picture is DR. S. But I sure know where that is at. The brick facade buildings with letter street names with large parking garages in the backround was instantly recognizable. My friends wife who lives there works not far from that street in the Downtown area. And while I've never been there for Beer week, I've been there for quite a few Jazz Festivals.

Doctor Sparkle said...

That Tropes vs Men thing feels like Tropes vs Women narrated by Harry Plinkett. They even borrow the mangling of "protagonist" gag. But there is (or was) a real Tropes vs Men thing. They raised funds on Indeigogo then suddenly disappeared with the money. But just the other day they reappeared, claiming that it was not a scam and they really are making the videos. We'll see.

BB XXIV is a supercharged version of regular BBP - higher alcohol, sweeter, richer - an "imperial" porter. I take it you are an Eel River fan, Sean? I like their Triple Exultation, but I've always pegged them as "hippy beer." Acai berry beer sounds so wrong.... And don't even get me started on the Jazz Festival. Though they've now broadened their lineup a lot and have dropped the "jazz" from the name!

And how the heck do I sound tall? No, that dude is not me. Actually, it always kind freaks me out when I find out what someone looks like that I only know from their voice. They always look completely different that I thought they would.

Tel : 04 said...

Hi Dr Sparkle,
First thanks a lot for your "Chrontendo"incredible life time project.
I'm also a beer fan(maybe because i'm half german?) but never try to dig out all information about process,...
I just like to enjoy it with friends, food,in a nice place:)

Anyway just few words to say thanks again to invest your time for "our"pleasure:)
BTW I watched the"tropes vs women..." and Anita Sarkeesian made a mistake saying that even in new area of video games princess peach never appeared especially as an "heroine".Well looks like she didnt has a DS...
Have no idea if you speak some french(I'm also half french...)
but if it's the case you can maybe enjoy this online program about hardware in video games call "very hard"
and this program about.. video games from a veteran !
Short fun and interesting:)
Waiting your "chronturdo 4" !!!!

Phronemophobia said...

Before the video began, I noticed everything was disabled. It's never a good sign when one is about to express themselves without debate. Not once was Samus, Carmen Sandiego, or Lara Croft mentioned and I already know where she's going to go with the Super Princess Peach game. The response videos are more enlightening than her own.

jh- said...

@Phronemophobia I don't know what value there is in keeping unmoderated comments when the majority is along the lines of "who let this jew whore out of the kitchen".
And how is Samus relevant to Distressed Damsels? What is it about sexism discussions that make almost everyone miss the point so much?

Sean Clements said...

Hey @ tel04 regarding that princess peach game. She did mention briefly that game by showing a picture and saying she would come back to that later. Why that is appently that game is appently considered very sexist because all the attacks involve emotions. Thus implying that females are super emotional or something. I am sure she will unleash some hell on this game next episode. Incidentally, I am pretty sure Super Princess Peach is a Tose developed game that was commissioned for Nintendo. I know I said I'd stay out of this argument, but I do feel that just because media portrays characters in traditional gender roles does not nessecarily make it inherently sexist. Ya if your problem is the portrayal of traditional gender roles, then ya I suppose Videogames are just as guilty as TV, books, movies, and music has been guilty of that. I mean games are no more systemic oppressors than the Brady Bunch or a Warrant music video (am I showing my age here?) in fact I would say that Videogames are one of the mediums that has allowed a lot of positive portrayals of women. I mean how many games have you seen where your character has been boy girl selectable for your hero or a strong female protagonist outright? It seems like a lot. And I think on e example of r New super Mario bros, cant you instead of choosing your stock characters, you can choose a Mii Chatacter to play with? Essentially allowing you to play as yourself?

Anonymous said...

I agree with jh, anything interesting that might arise in the comments will be drowned out by vile people leaving vile hatred. Plus, Youtube comments are generally not well respected for their intellectual depth on most other sites, but now people act as if she's dodging a peer review process or something. Every single site that is tangentially related to video games (it seems) has a story on the video, there are plenty of comments out there.

Also, the fact that every list of "strong" female characters overlaps heavily with Phronemophobia's ought to give people who dismiss concerns about female representation in video games pause. Also, notably, none of Phronemophobia's examples were tasked with rescuing men!

The Tumblr that Sarkeesian set up that showed games with a damsel in distress was pretty effective, I thought. It just kept going!

Sean Clements said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean Clements said...

I'd also like to note that a lot of Older Sega games have strong female characters. One of my favorites being Phantasy Star. Also the Ninja (Or Ninja Princess in Japan), Quartet had a main playable character as a female, Alien Syndrome has selectable male or female player, Golden Axe (some can argue that maybe Tyris is over sexualized but the male warrior is also wearing a loincloth so its pretty equal considering the setting) Alien Storm, Streets of Rage (at least they took out the panty shot in US version), Phantasy Star 2 has strong female characters (hell it even has a gay NPC) , some of these can be atteibuted to Reiko Kodama at Sega, esecially Alis in Phantasy Star. But I can't think of too many role reversals of a female character rescuing a dude in distress.

Anonymous said...

sarkeesian is pretty great and i'll support anything she does regarding the media and the portrayal of women. it's a shame what's happened to her, but that is apparently a very common thing for internet-feminists.

Doctor Sparkle said...

I'm pretty sure that Sega's high frequency of strong female characters was due to Kodama's presence. I would guess that a woman making creative decisions was pretty rare in the Japanese video game industry at that time.

A number have folks have pointed out female characters such as Samus Aran, etc, as if their existence somehow refutes the video's thesis. Sarkeesian is not saying there have never been any non-passive female characters. Rather she's saying that the "kidnapped female character" is very common.

As for Warrant, I'd say they were actively involved in the suppression of women. How many teenaged girls do you think they knocked up?

It's kind of weird that "Cherry Pie" came out in the 90s. That song just seems so stereotypically 80s. I tend to think of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" (1988) as being the absolute end of 80s glam rock.

Sean Clements said...

Err yea, maybe Warrant was a bad example. Point taken. Incidentally I remember hearing an interview on NPR last year that Warrant hated the Cherry Pie song and were forced by the label to make that song and promote it with a single to fulfill their contract.

Unknown said...

Dr. Sparkle, would you be the gentleman in all black directly underneath the round saloon sign?

Anonymous said...

The other reason that Samus is not a great example is that your prize for beating that game quickly is Samus' body; you get to see her with fewer clothes on. In many damsel in distress games, the woman is the reward to the hero, in Metroid, the woman is the reward to the player.

In respect to Golden Axe, Tyris is very sexualized, isn't she wearing an armored thong? And this sexualization of female warriors continues in lots of RPGs and games with a sword and sorcery setting, even as the males are covered up with useful and non-sexualized armor. Anyway, I think this is going to come up in the second video, about sexualized female fighters.

Lastly, is the male barbarian in Golden Axe really sexualized in the same way as Tyris? Do women actually like men built like Arnold as Conan? This comic touches on that idead:

Anonymous said...

I think you're only half right, Dr. Sparkle. She does point out that the trope is common in video games, and she does provide plenty of examples to prove that, but she is also making biased comments about things like the altering of Dinosaur Island and the negative impact saving fictional women has on society. She's ruining the validity of the video's thesis by polluting it with strong beliefs that she might wholeheartedly believe, but, for others, could also just as easily be explained without referring to sexism at all. Once she begins talking about the world and how this trope is reinforcing that negative image, that's when someone can't help but think about the strong female protagonists they've used in a variety of titles. Games where the woman is tasked with having to save herself, a kingdom, the planet, or even time and space mean nothing, because, as far as some feminists are concerned, that protagonist must rescue a single, helpless man in order to prove something. Seriously, even if the trope actually did have some sort of negative effect, is there really not enough other games out there to help players worldwide understand that women are not weak?

Anita was funded $150,000 to help educate people on gender tropes in video games. I love that idea, but to do the job effectively, she needs to try to maintain a neutral stance and allow the viewers to make their own opinions and share them with others, which is currently something we cannot do on youtube because that option has been disabled. It's like being told, "Sorry everyone, but even if you have something interesting and intelligent to say, Anita is just too afraid of those mean ol' troll comments to allow it."

I honestly believe that if she can avoid trying to sneak her agenda into the series and focus on providing a detailed and impartial assessment of the topic on each subsequent video, it might turn out to be almost as interesting and informative as Chrontendo... maybe.

proudhug said...

Thunderf00t posted a brilliant rebuttal / plea for her to allow comments. Most poignantly, he shows that her opinion is arbitrary and these "tropes" can just as easily be explained in reverse to point out how these games degrade men and build women up.


Sean Clements said...

In Reply to anonymous. As far as Tryis Flare, that is why I said she may be over sexualized. But as far as the context of the game she is dressed rather appropriate. Golden Axe being set in a very Barbarian like fantasy world finds most of its characters minimally clothed or armored. Based very much on The Conan type of fantasy world and not Medieval. Most of the bosses are also minimally armored. I think that she wears basically a bikini outfit and the male warrior wears a loincloth are stylistic decisions more to fit the setting and not to objectify the female warrior. As far as the false equivalent argument I don't think that really holds as I don't the male warrior is mini I ally clothed to emphasize his masculinity as well. Actually I think both of them fighting in that attire is equally ridiculous as is the setting of most of the game. Or looking at it another way, supose everything else in the game were unchanged, how would Tryis appear artistically in the game if she was wearing a full set clothes from head to toe? So for the setting I think it may be appropriate, especially since in the game she doesn't do anything risqué or strike overtly sexual poses. She kicks ass and takes fighting stances and plays similar to the other two characters. Unlike say characters in modern fighting games where they are dressed that way for obvious sex appeal. I guess I'm saying its my opinion that in this case I don't see it objectifying her as a protagonist. They don't play it for sex appeal. While I think if you put her character in a different setting, say the Wild West, you could obviously say they were objectifying her. Now maybe the whole Conan and red Sonya type of barbarian warrior fantasy theme could be argued to revolve around male fantasy theme then in that case I could see her as being sexualized. So ya maybe sexualized, but not nearly in the worst way I could think of and surely mostly harmless.

MadDecent said...

Woah! Awesome, I too live in Sac. I recognized 14th and R St. and Shady Lady.

So random! I live 1 block from the capital too. What a trip!

MadDecent said...

Also... you have quite a few big fans of your blog and the Chrontendo/sega series here in Sac. All 4 of us are devoted viewers!

Chrontendo is a virus and its easy to get addicted :)

Anonymous said...

Sean, I really like Golden Axe. It's one of my favorite Genesis games. And, I agree with what you are saying about it not being that bad. I do think that we do ourselves a disservice if we just leave it at that though.

You are correct when you say that what Tyris is wearing fits in with the fantasy universe. But why do we think that? The bikini was not invented until the 1950's or 60's, yet we don't think that it is out of place in this medieval universe.

How come Tyris looks like a swimsuit model, instead of a female athlete or body builder? This too is a form of sexualization.

The dwarf is strong, but has no magic; the barbarian is less strong but has more magic; and Tyris is weakest, but has the most magic. Have you ever noticed how it's usually the woman who is made the weakest and give more magic as compensation? On one hand, there is the realism argument, men, on average, have more muscle than women. On the other hand, magic and armored bikinis.

It's not that Tyris should be fully covered, but why doesn't she wear briefs instead of a thong? Or a cutoff shirt instead of just a bikini top?

The answer is that Golden Axe wasn't made in a vacuum. It draws on Dungeons & Dragons, Conan, and other fantasy works. It's within a culture that has ideas about what roles and body types are feminine and desirable.

If we accept Golden Axe without a critical eye, we accept a whole slate of ideas and choices, some not ideal in their treatment of women, as normal. And that allows other games to start from Golden Axe's normal and build off of it. And this leads to stuff like SEGA Europe's youtube channel uploading a video of Tyris from Golden Awx: Beast Rider that has the description, "A short video that highlights the assets of the main character Tyris Flare. We mean of course her handling of a huge sword."

Anonymous said...

"The dwarf is strong, but has no magic; the barbarian is less strong but has more magic; and Tyris is weakest, but has the most magic. Have you ever noticed how it's usually the woman who is made the weakest and give more magic as compensation?"

There's the belief that learning magic is more of a workout for the mind, than it is for the body. The magic wielder is stronger mentally, while the brawler is the stronger physically. One could assume that this game portrays the woman as being the most intelligent of the bunch. I don't see that as much of a weakness.

As for the skimpy outfit, well, the target audience for video games at the time was usually male.

Sean Clements said...

While I agree with most of what you are saying Anonymous I would refute a few statements. One I don't think she looks like a swimsuit model. I realize with 16 bit graphics its hard to have too much detail, but she is obviously a muscular athletic build. She has large muscular legs and obvious biceps. At least in the original game. And she looks more or less plain other than the bikini. I don't see her as being a model. In later games in that decade I think they actually did give her more clothes. Although I don't see how having slightly more covering would make that much of a difference I could agree with you statement that they could have but her in shorts. The other statement I disagree with is that all 3 Warriors are equally powerful. This attacks do the same damage. The difference is the dwarf has the longest range, but no magic, while Tyris has the shortest range but the most magic. I just don't see it as a conscious decision to sexualize or Steroetype her and more of an artistic decision where all the fighting characters show their legs and chests. (while the non fighting characters like the villagers, king and queen, and imp are fully clothed.) hey since you can play as Tryis and resue the King, does that go against the damsel in distress trope?

Anyway if I was blessed to have a daughter instead of a son, or for my son too for that matter, I wouldn't have a problem exposing them to Golden Axe. While the latter entires and the video you pointed out where they are obviously playing on making her hyper sexualized, I would have a problem exposing them to without first ensuring they had a good foundation on what constitutes realistic depictions of females and the treatment of women.

Brandon said...

I just discovered your videos a couple weeks ago and I'm glad to hear Chronturbo is progressing nicely. It is shaping up to be my favorite (there are too many Chrontendos and there's no way I have time to catch up).

Sean Clements said...

Ok I am going to guess you are the dude in glasses to the left if the R street sign. Next to the girl in purple. But I sort of cheated.

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