Leigh Alexander

Leigh Alexander, Gamasutra editor-at-large, Kotaku and EDGE mag columnist, and NYLON Guys games editor, is on Twitter.

Donald Duck promoting birth control? Sex ed history

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Collector's Weekly presents Slut Shaming, Eugenics and Donald Duck: The Scandalous History of Sex-Ed Movies, exploring the strange, often awkward and puritanical history of education about birth control and disease prevention through the years.

At one point, the Comstock Law even blocked anatomy textbooks; the idea of students learning how their own sex organs function in books was apparently scandalous to Victorians. While social purity leaders urged parents to teach their children proper sexual morals, by the end of the 1800s they were looking to school as the next-best place to teach proper behavior. In 1892, the National Education Association teacher’s union, which was proposing a standard 12-year school curriculum, passed a resolution endorsing “moral education” in schools.

Whoa. Yet by the 1910s, there were already apparently a number of graphic films about venereal diseases -- and later on, films about how the "brassy", low-income girl from under the bleachers would probably be the vector by which "nice boys" spread it to their "nice" girlfriends.

And that's before we even get into "stranger danger" films:

Former child actor Sid Davis became the driving force behind “stranger danger” guidance films. “Sid Davis is very much his own phenomenon,” says Prelinger, who was friends with the director before his death. “He was a chancer himself. He had been a juvenile delinquent and a bit of a gambler, and he’d made fortunes and lost them. Before he died, he told me the story of how he was working as John Wayne’s stand-in on the set of ‘Red River,’ and he was talking with the Duke about a case of kidnapping and child molestation in L.A. And the Duke said, ‘Why don’t you make a film?’ and staked him money to make ‘The Dangerous Stranger’ (1950), which was the first film about abduction and sex crimes—the sex crimes being suggested, if not shown.
It's a long read, but an educational and amusing one.

Find more queer women of color on Netflix

Sistah Sinema aims to offer a wide selection of films by and about queer women of color. It's via a partnership with Indieflix which hopes to add about five titles per month to the platform while showcasing global diversity.

Memberships are only $5 per month, and Colorlines recommended films including Cheryl Dunye’s important 1997 film “The Watermelon Woman” and Kourtney Ryan Ziegler’s look at black transmen, “Still Black".

[h/t Elixher]

Dark mornings: tool to help you calculate gloomy commutes

gmoomyThe toughest part of the Winter season isn't the cold, the blues, or December's annual cramming of a full month's work plus last-minute whatevers into three actual work weeks (are you on Boing Boing pre-holiday procrastinating? Hey, me too!) The hard part is commuting in the dark.

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Derby the dog runs with the help of 3D printing

Friends, I have endeavored to develop a carapace to protect me against Inspiring Dog Videos of any kind on the internet. You can tell me I won't believe what happens next and I will -- oh, you cried at 1:43 or whatever, but not I.

Yet I can't resist this cute story of Derby the Dog, born disabled, who was given custom 3D printed prosthetics that allow him to run for the very first time. Maybe because all of the very serious science and design stuff that is going on in the video. Yeah. I'm here for the serious science and design stuff.

Want to try making a video game? Visit the Sorting Hat

sortinghatIf you have ever read anything I've written about video games, you will have heard me insert notations about the democratization of tools. The business of making games used to necessitate access to bureaucratic, white-guys-only organizations and their social and professional lexicons. But now there are radical tools that anyone can use to make games about anything they want.

That's good in theory, but how do you know where to start? Developer Zoe Quinn has made a simple new online utility designed to help experimental developers and new creators alike see which tools are right for their vision. Sortingh.at makes recommendations depending on your aspirations and existing abilities, and also provides links to resources online you can use to learn how to use those tools.

Lowering traditional barriers to entry and de-mystifying aspects of game creation is a great way to welcome new creators to the table in a space that arguably needs some fresh voices and different perspectives.

This is the best Best Art list

Animal NY is one of my personal favorite sites for Stuff To Do With Net Art, and Rhett Jones has a formidable "The Best Art of 2014" list up just now. That's a funny title -- best art.

There are a number of great projects on the list -- parody, performance art, political work, Clickhole -- anything Jones would describe as "extremely ambitious, extremely innovative, extremely funny and extremely communal."

Mystery of creepy 1970s Sesame Street clip solved

I didn't truly appreciate what a miracle is YouTube til I realized how many half-remembered Sesame Street sketches, songs and puppet shows from my grainy, nostalgic childhood could be found there. Some of them seem quite odd in retrospect, and there are folks out there dedicated to tracking down the oddest.

Jon Armond and friends had some lingering memories of a 1970s song-animation where the cracks on a girl's wall come to life and become her friends -- Crack Camel, Crack Monkey and Crack Hen.

It all goes a bit creepy when they meet Master Crack, a large, monstrous face-like cluster in a corner of the room, plaster crumbling from the maws of his eyes. Who thought this would be a good idea to show children?

To find the "Master Crack" clip, Armond went on a veritable quest, recorded in this audio documentary. If Serial was just about trying to find weird old children's show clips from the 70s I'd be so hooked.

Anyone remember an old Sesame clip that was just the stop-motion transmutation of a sandbox into a desert scene, accompanied by gentle music? I think two toy rhinos were placed into it at the end. If you know that one and can find it, Tweet me (@leighalexander)!

[h/t Laughingsquid]

Help preserve feminist video gaming history

Back in the mid-90s, late game maker Theresa Duncan made some unconventional, ground-breaking CD games based on the everyday experiences of young girls. There's now a Kickstarter campaign to bring them back and ensure her seminal work isn't lost to history:

This project, by the NYC-based digital art nonprofit Rhizome, will fund the process of putting three games directed by Duncan—Chop Suey (1995, co-created with Monica Gesue), Smarty (1996), and Zero Zero (1997)—online, for the first time ever. With your help, they will be playable in any modern browser via emulation and available for free, for a minimum of one year.
Throughout my career as a video game critic, and in recent years a feminist one, I've noticed we tend to treat the advent of girls and women's stories as novel. To lots of us, they are -- for example I'd never read a syllabus on feminist games, or seen work like my friend Nina Freeman's vignette games (Nina just successfully defended her thesis and got a Masters of Science in Integrated Digital Media from NYU, congrats Nina), til my adulthood.

But the games business' particular fixation on newness and "innovation" mustn't divorce us from our obligation to history -- that's what makes Rhizome's work with Duncan's oeuvre more important now than ever.

Read Jenn Frank on Theresa Duncan's memory here, or her piece about Duncan's Chop Suey here. For more on girlhood and the early days of games, here I am in the Guardian on Rachel Weil's feminist art.

The clitoris is a direct line to the matrix

At Motherboard, Claire Evans presents a brilliant "Oral History of the First Cyberfeminists, sharing bits of her correspondence with pioneering Australian tech-goddesses Josephine Starrs, Julianne Pierce, Francesca da Rimini and Virginia Barratt, four net artists who worked together under the pseudonym "VNS Matrix". It's awesome.

Evans met them as part of her exploration of the Cyberfeminism cultural movement, which she said "peaked in the early 1990s and dissipated sometime between the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the coming of Y2K."

VNS Matrix worked in a wide variety of media: computer games, video installations, events, texts, and billboards. In their iconic “​Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century,” they called themselves the “virus of the new world disorder,” and “terminators of the moral codes.” With this irreverent, but keenly political language, they articulated a feminist aesthetic of slimy, unpretty, vigilantly nose-thumbing technological anarchy. They coded. They built websites. They hung out in chat rooms and text-based online communities like ​LambdaMOO. They told stories through interactive code and experiences like the CD-ROM game All New Gen, in which a female protagonist fought to defeat a military-industrial data environment called “Big Daddy Mainframe.” They believed the web could be a space for fluid creative experimentation, a place to transform and create in collaboration with a global community of like-minded artists.
Their work is part of a cool archive of art from a time when, they say, the internet was less masculine and capitalistic.

The year's best music, by mood

There are a lot of album of the year lists, but Hype Machine's Zeitgeist 2014 list is a bit special.

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How sound affects taste

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White wine goes with fish and red wine goes with meat. But some new research from the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford has apparently unearthed evidence of an implicit relationship between what we eat and what we hear -- between taste and pitch, as Scientific American reports.

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Now you can play as a border guard on iPad

One of my favorite games of recent years, Papers, Please (previously), just appeared on iPad. It'll be a good fit for the platform, and I hope this means more people will get to play it.

You play as a border agent for a fictional, grim Soviet Bloc-inspired nation. In the mundane and dehumanizing task of processing paperwork, you discover an unexpectedly complex landscape of decisions and provocations. You end up thinking a lot about The State, and the problematic, dehumanizing nature of bureaucracy itself.

Is it gauche to quote from my own review in the New Statesman from last year?

Just from a mechanical standpoint, balancing a complex set of components and variables is surprisingly engaging, a constant test of your acuity. The game has a delightful tactility to it: stamping feels so weighty and wet you can nearly smell the ink, and papers shuffle with excellent brittleness. As days pass in the game, the demands increase -- it soon becomes clear it’s nearly-impossible to process everyone in the same methodical way, without mistakes. You start losing money. Your son gets sick. And that’s when Papers, Please starts getting truly interesting.
The iPad version didn't launch without wrinkles, though. Apple initially rejected the game for 'pornographic content' -- the bleak, utterly unsexy nude backscatter photos you look at when you're screening for contraband. Creator Lucas Pope just put some underpants on there so that players who don't like the nudity have an option, and things are okay.

Apple says it was all a misunderstanding on its part -- but it's worth pointing out the company has a history of finding reasons to disallow uncomfortable political games from its App Store.

Reminding white allies that it's not about them right now

Photo: Reuters

Jetta Rae Robertson brings us the view from the front line of recent Berkeley protests on recent police violence against black people.

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Play thousands of 48-hour game jam entries

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The Ludum Dare international game jam is probably the largest event of its kind -- and the longest running, at over 12 years. Three times a year, game developers are challenged to build and share a new game within 48 hours, often documenting their process and making source code available. Each time, the community votes to agree on a theme.

This year's is 'Entire Game On One Screen.' Which sounds simple, like, 'okay, no iPad companion app,' but it's actually a real design challenge -- just think about how many games have menu screens, inventory screens, y'know, different levels, little things like that.

The submission phase is over, and anyone who wants to dive in can play and rate the 2,637 games, with 1,365 in actual competition (here's a cool entry browser if the website itself is overwhelming). It's fun to get involved, not only to learn more about the rapid prototyping process, but to see the seeds of game design's next wave of inspiration. The winner of the competition is always a creator to watch.

There's often a lot of brilliant weirdness -- like this 'hot n cold' maze game led by staring animals. Or this -- what is this? And there's something about this simple but beautifully-drawn dragon game that takes me back to the interactive net art domains I used to visit in the 90s.