Archive for August, 2006
Had a great time at the Penny Arcade Expo over the weekend. It was my first time, as I wrote the other day, at any type of videogame convention, so I wasn’t real sure what to expect when my friend Curt and I left Chicago on Thursday afternoon for Bellevue, WA and PAX. Here’s a few highlights from the show.
-Thursday night we checked into the Red Lion hotel, had a bite to eat at Denny’s, and then just hung the hotel room and played World of Warcraft on my laptop. I have to say the hotel was great, and (as the concierge pointed out to us) we got an insanely amazing deal on the room because of the convention– something like 70% off of the normal price.
-Saturday morning we jumped on the bus to downtown Seattle and Pike Place Market. I’d been there before (two weeks ago was the last time, when I was in Seattle for my familiy reunion), but Curt had never seen it, so we met up with his friend Mike and Mike’s girlfriend for a quick tour of the market and some thai food. At one, we headed back to the Meydenbauer Convention Center and PAX ‘06.
-Friday we saw the Alex St. John keynote, and the Q&A panel with the two guys who draw Penny Arcade. I have to say I wasn’t really impressed with St. John– he seemed a little rushed, and he didn’t really talk much about DirectX (which he created). He really just told stories of crazy Microsoft parties that he and his team threw. Call me a nerd (you will before you are done reading this), but I’d rather hear about how he developed the architecture than about how he got Bill Gates to dress up in a black trenchcoat with a shotgun. But I did enjoy the Q&A panel a lot– Gabe and Tycho are totally plugged into the gaming culture, and I was there to see them announce their first game (thought it was funny that right away they acknowledged game critics, who they mercilessly attack, would probably not like their game very much).
-After dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, where I could swear the waiter kept calling us his “amigas” (I assume he was referring to the fact we were gamers and not calling us girls), we headed back over to the convention center to try and see the Friday night concert. But after a full hour and half of waiting in line (the show started at least 45 minutes late), we gave up and left without seeing the show. That’s the only really big problem with PAX– as cool as the events were, nothing was very well organized. There was lots of line-waiting, but the lines weren’t well kept, and events never started when (or even where, sometimes) they were supposed to. I’m surprised we saw as much as we did, considering how badly organized it was.
-Saturday morning, we got up early to go see videogame speedrun videos (I told you you’d call me a nerd). We watched someone beat Legend of Zelda in about 20 minutes (and yes, that is as amazing as it sounds– VERY), and SMB1 in about two and a half. There was also a showing of a Metroid speedrun, but that guy used some kind of exploity cheat, so it wasn’t as cool.
-Then we hit the trivia game panel, hosted by the guy from Chatterbox. He was giving away all sorts of sweet stuff (a bunch of DS Lites, with copies of the Starfox game that didn’t come out until today), but who knows where he got his contestants from, because they were pretty much clueless. I’ll just say that they missed a Final Fantasy question. I made one valiant effort by trying to give the name of a developer who sponsored a gaming scholarship, but my guess of American McGee was way wrong. Oh well.
-Also got to see the Ubisoft demo panel of Assassin’s Creed, except that they didn’t actually show Assassin’s Creed (whoops for them). Instead, I saw 20 boring minutes of the new Splinter Cell multiplayer, and 10 more boring minutes of Dark Messiah (more on that in a second).
-After Saturday lunch at Subway, we really lucked out, because the line for the main Exhibition Hall had pretty much died, so we strolled right in. The hall itself was definitely the best part of the whole thing: lots of companies were there showing off all kinds of stuff. I played:
- Guitar Hero 2 (I rocked STP – Tripping on a Hole…, even though the opening three note chord threw me for a sec)
- The aforementioned Dark Messiah (Ubisoft’s swords and sorcery FPS– even though the actual demo was boring, I’m going to say it was the Game of the Show. I played through the single player demo at the Nvidia booth and was blown away by how well the Source engine worked for hand to hand combat. You could actually throw barrels at the bad guys, and even kick them down after parrying a blow)
- D&D Online (didn’t play much, but Turbine gave me a free copy of it, so I’m going to try it out some more)
- Auto Assault (I asked the guy why his game was being shut down, and he walked away from me)
- Guild Wars (got a free copy of this too, but didn’t like it as much as WoW)
- Warhammer Online (reminded me a lot of DAoC, not a surprise because it’s being made by Mythic. Didn’t think it matched up to WoW in graphics or gameplay, but then again, I played a really early version)
- Table Tennis (Plays like Virtua Tennis, but is not Virtua Tennis)
- Company of Heroes (I lost, as I always do with RTSes)
- Elite Beat Agents (this game was sweet fun, but I was terrible at it. I’m going to buy it, just to get better)
And I probably played a few more that I can’t think of right now. Also, got two t-shirts, a bunch of keys to NCSoft games, and two or three free copies of games. Schwag = awesome.
-Saturday evening Curt and I went to CPK with Chris Grant (editor of Joystiq), and a few other bloggers who work at WIN (basically my coworkers). All great guys, and we had some great discussion going about videogame journalism over pizza and spring rolls.
-Afterwards, we went to the concert, and this time they did start more or less on time. I saw MC Frontalot, who I was not impressed with at all– I kind of think that since MC Chris exists, nerdcore doesn’t really need any more rappers. Also saw the Minibosses, who play videogame songs with rock guitars and are awesome. Unfortunately, sleep beckoned, and we did leave a little early.
-Sunday morning we got up early (at 9), because I had to make it to the Guitar Hero tournament. Now, I’ve really only been in one videogame tournament in my entire life, and I won it, so I had high hopes for this one. But it was a rollercoaster ride– when we started practicing, I got walked all over, so then I figured I didn’t have a chance. When the tournament actually started, not only did I get to pick the song (so I chose one I really liked– “Even Rats,” if you’re a fan), but I started out winning big, so I figured things would be good. Unfortunately by the end of the song, I got overconfident, and it turned out I didn’t really have a chance– dropped out in the first round. Oh well. So I went over to the PC freeplay area, sat down at a Counterstrike computer, and spent about half an hour fragging noobs. That got me in a better mood.
-Sunday evening, after the “Closing Ceremonies” (which were a complete disappointment– 45 mins in line to watch two guys suck at Tetris for 5 minutes), we met up with Curt’s friend Mike again, and hit up the Bellevue Cheesecake Factory. I’d never been– that Strawberry cheesecake is good, terrible stuff.
-Finally, Monday we headed back downtown to take the bus to the Space Needle. Curt, however, was not impressed by the Space Needle, so we went instead to the Sci Fi Museum with a guy that we’d met from Canada (whose name escapes me– sorry Canadian guy with good taste in Sci Fi). That place was actually really awesome. I think it was the first museum I’ve ever been to where I didn’t have to read all the little cards– I more or less knew what movie that prop was from, what that sci fi book was about, and what television show that alien came from. I recognized the Star Trek set and the Fifth Element gun. We had a blast quizzing each other on all the different ships and alien worlds and what media they came from. We only spent about an hour there, but I was very impressed (even if they didn’t have Douglas Adams in the Hall of Fame).
-And Monday evening we jumped back on the plane and came home (with a nice round of Battle for Wesnoth on the way).
It was an incredible weekend. Even now I’m still pretty much overloaded on nerdiness and gaming culture– I have yet to go through all my demos and check out all the crap I nabbed from show vendors. But it was a heck of a time, and I’m so glad I got to do it. We’re supposed to do a podcast tonight, but I should have pictures up soon after that. PAX ‘06 may have been extremely nerdy, it may have been smelly, and it may have been extremely unorganized, but darnitall, it was amazingly, extremely, super fun.
I’m off to Seattle again tomorrow, this time to go to the Penny Arcade Expo. Yes, after years of solo uber-nerdery, I am finally going to a real-life nerd convention.
There is going to be all kinds of crazy awesome stuff there. I’ll get to play games, and more games, and more games. Some of them will be in tournaments. Some of them (like, hopefully the Wii) won’t have even been released yet. I’m going to see panels, meet people, and listen to concerts (including the Minibosses, which I’m thrilled about). I’m going to bring my DS and finally, after all these months, actually play someone standing right next to me (instead of someone half a country away on the Internet). I’m hoping to get lots and lots of schwag. I’m hoping to meet some awesome game people to interview and make contact with.
And of course, I’m hoping to have crazy amounts of fun. I can’t think of a trip that was so selfishly aimed at me and my interests and my idea of fun that I’ve ever taken before. Sure, that trip to the Grand Canyon was fun and stuff, but it was no videogame convention. It’s awesome to be someone old enough and someone of means enough to set off for four days of doing exactly what I want to do. It rocks in a way I can’t even say.
You can bet when I get back that I’ll have lots of pictures and things to talk about. I’ll be back Monday afternoon. Catch you later.
I’m dead tired after what has been a really long week, but I do have two things to share with you.
1) If you didn’t listen to the podcast this week, you didn’t hear me say that I’m now working for AOL. That’s right, Weblogs, Inc., which a blogging network that AOL bought a little while ago, has hired me to write for one of their blogs, WoW Insider, which is a daily blog about news pertaining to the online roleplaying game called, yes, World of Warcraft. I can just see you rolling your eyes right now at my nerdiness.
But it’s ok, because not only are they paying me, but that means that I’m getting paid to write about playing World of Warcraft. See that? All those hours I spent way back when are finally paying off. Not paying off by a lot, I’ll grant, but paying off nonetheless.
Now, if you know nothing about the game, you won’t get much from the blog. There’s a lot of jargon, and insider info, and really, stuff that no one cares about except for people who play World of Warcraft (there’s six million of them in the world, but if I know my audience, you probably aren’t one). But trust me when I say it’s great for me. I feel like I’m finally getting paid to write about something I actually want to write about, and that is a terrific thing.
2) Also, if you’re in Chicago, turn on WTTW 11 (the public television station) tomorrow sometime between noon and 4pm. They’re doing their yearly (?) fundraising drive, and I’ve somehow volunteered myself to be one of those people answering phones and collecting donations in the background. Sounds like fun, right?
Also, I hear they’re going to be showing a marathon of BBQ University, and host Stephen Reichlen (who I’ve actually seen in person before, long story) is supposed to be BBQing in the parking lot. So that sounds cool, too.
I really doubt that this will happen, but if I can somehow get video of myself answering phones on WTTW, I’ll put it up here for all to see, just so you people in cities not Chicago can check it out.
That’s all. Time to go home now, and sleep the sleep of the… sleepy.
Bloggers everywhere (Boing Boing, which means bloggers everywhere) have been talking about this profile by Claire Hoffman of Joe Francis, the founder and creator of Girls Gone Wild, the video series which– well, you know what it’s about. Girls. Go wild. And take their tops off.
Hoffman is being praised all over the place for the story– mainly, for her lead, which details Francis throwing her up against a car in a demonstration of his own arrest.
Joe Francis, the founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” empire, is humiliating me. He has my face pressed against the hood of a car, my arms twisted hard behind my back. He’s pushing himself against me, shouting: “This is what they did to me in Panama City!”
It’s after 3 a.m. and we’re in a parking lot on the outskirts of Chicago. Electronic music is buzzing from the nightclub across the street, mixing easily with the laughter of the guys who are watching this, this me-pinned-and-helpless thing.
Francis isn’t laughing.
Now, as leads go, it’s not a bad one. It’s a pretty good one. It grabs your attention and makes you want to find out what happens next. But is it good journalism?
Here’s where things get interesting: I’m going to say no.
I’m going to say that Claire Hoffman showed unprofessionalism and ego in her story about Joe Francis. I’m going to say that she did things wrong. And I’m even going to allege– and I know this will be extremely unpopular of me– that she actually did what Joe Francis says she did: let herself be victimized.
Now, before you think I’m crazy (or is it too late?), let me clarify. Joe Francis is a complete tool. He is the kind of guy, as the article says, who would get invited to partner with someone on a money-making idea, and then steal the idea for himself. He degrades and attacks women, and makes money while doing it. He’s accused, in the piece, of torturing women, victimizing them, and even raping, or at least taking advantage of, an 18-year-old girl, a virgin no less. Joe Francis is no doubt a terrible person. And I’m not here to defend him.
But simply telling the story of what a goon Francis is doesn’t seem to be enough for Hoffman. She goes out of her way, throughout the piece, to insert herself and her relationship with Francis into the action. You could say that she simply wants to reinforce that this guy’s still bad by listing her own personal experiences with him, but to me, it sounds like she’s bragging. Here’s what she says about Francis’ own attempt at press.
Francis has manufactured his own celebrity. He has become famous not just by selling soft porn but by affiliating himself with a tribe whose notoriety is perpetuated by the tabloids. He’s been romantically linked to heiress Paris Hilton and Kimberly Stewart, Rod Stewart’s daughter, and the gossip columns have reported that he’s hosted Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn at his house in Mexico.
Until recently, the New York Post’s Page Six, the paper of record for this world, treated Francis as an inconsequential hanger-on. Then, in March, Francis hosted a bachelor party in Mexico for Richard Johnson, the page’s editor, and within weeks Page Six was wondering if he could be the next Hugh Hefner and even a likely candidate to buy Playboy.
Francis happily acknowledges that he courts attention. The effort, he says, is not about his ego but about selling his product. “Everything that gets covered in my name drives the business,” he says. “The two are synonymous. You have to play the image up.”
But then, here’s what she says about a personal “conversation” (as if this can be called a conversation) she has with Francis.
“My favorite is explaining to dumb chicks why the qwerty keyboard is called a qwerty keyboard, and why the letters aren’t in order,” he tells me. “They’re, like, 18 years old, and they’re, like, ‘Wait a minute, there were typewriters?’ And you got to start there.”
I give him a look that says I have no idea what he’s talking about. I haven’t spent much time with 18-year-old girls lately, but the ones I know have usually heard of typewriters. But a qwerty keyboard? Never heard of it.
His eyes register my blank stare and he pounces, full of glee. “Hold on,” he says excitedly. “You are a writer for the L.A. Times and you don’t know this answer to this question?” He is shouting, turning to the back of the plane, making sure that everyone hears. “Unbelievable, she’s 29 years old and she doesn’t know about the qwerty keyboard!” It’s a game, it seems. He’s being playful. Sort of.
“She’s going to slaughter me now,” he shouts to the group as I keep smiling, writing in my notebook, tape recorder running. Apparently, he wants more of a reaction. He’s pantomiming me typing furiously, writing an article.
How much of that is about him, and how much is about her? Is she pointing out that Francis considers her a “dumb chick” for a reason? We don’t need to see this conversation at all– if the worst thing Francis ever said to her about eighteen-year-old girls during their whole time together is that they don’t know what a “Qwerty” keyboard is (so called because of the top left line of letters on a keyboard placed that way because commonly used letters were supposed to be placed as far apart as possible, to keep the typewriter hammers from jamming– Hoffman leaves the answer to Francis’ question out of the article), then she probably wasn’t listening very well.
Here’s her following Francis around at a club in Chicago.
I follow Francis and his bodyguard through the crowd to find Kaitlyn Bultema. She’s dancing on a podium and leaps off at the sight of Francis. She’s wearing a skirt-and-shirt ensemble that exposes her stomach, most of her breasts and much of her bottom. I ask her why she wants to appear on “Girls Gone Wild” and she looks me in the eye and says, “I want everybody to see me because I’m hot.”
It’s then that it hits me: This is so much bigger than Francis. In a culture where cheap and portable video technology lets everyone play at stardom, and where America’s voyeuristic appetite for reality television seems insatiable, teenagers, like the ones in this club, see cameras as validation. “Most guys want to have sex with me and maybe I could meet one new guy, but if I get filmed everyone could see me,” Bultema says. “If you do this, you might get noticed by somebody—to be an actress or a model.”
Now that’s an interesting story. Hoffman also notes in the story that Francis is having problems with Girls Gone Wild being so big– the girls that are showing up to his shoots aren’t as innocent as they used to be. Most of them, for one reason or another, actually want to be in his movies. They want to buy into his schemes. They want to be victimized in that fashion. That, as Hoffman says, is a problem with the culture, and she goes on to describe in detail one such woman’s experience with Francis– an eighteen-year-old stripper who is so impressed that Francis wants to talk to her that she lets him take her virginity. Now that’s a hell of a story, and in those scenes, Hoffman gives us unprecedented access to the kind of monster Francis really is.
Unfortunately, that’s when she starts getting petty.
Francis sounds scared in the message he leaves on my office voicemail: “I’ve seen some excerpts from your article that I guess you’ve sent to the photographer and, um, I want to talk to you about it.”
No photographer has been assigned to the story, and no excerpts have been sent to anyone.
I don’t call Francis back right away, so he calls my editor. He tells her that I have a crush on him, that I have an ax to grind because I am jealous and angry.
“I just felt that Claire may have had a little affinity for me,” he says as she takes notes. “It may have come out when she had a few drinks.” He describes my behavior as aggressively romantic. “Originally she hit on me. That’s how I met her. I took her to a lunch. She called me all the time and it wasn’t about work. It was about me. I know when a girl has a crush on me.”
He tells her I was drinking heavily—”we all were”—and offers to send photographs to prove it. When my editor asks if he put his hands on me that night, he doesn’t hesitate.
“I did absolutely get physical with her—but not romantically,” he says. “We were outside standing by a police car. The officer told her to quit taking notes on what he was saying. I said, ‘There’s no freedom of the press here.’ I took her arms behind her back and said, ‘Let’s take her to jail.’ I said she should go to jail and the officer agreed with me. She didn’t get the sarcasm. She listened to him. She stopped writing. Can you believe that? That’s the 1st Amendment. She’s not a journalist. I stand up for the 1st Amendment. But she didn’t.” My problem, he tells my editor, is that I “wasn’t smart enough” to “get” what he was saying.
Here’s a tip: anytime a writer uses quotes around just one word (in this case “get”), they’re pulling everything they can out of context to tell their own side of the story. I’m not saying Francis isn’t being a total ass. I’m not saying he didn’t grab a woman by the arm and hurt her– I’m under the full belief that he did. I am saying, however, that Hoffman is doing the wrong thing here. She’s writing about herself, not the story. She’s quoting Joe Francis, not because he’s saying interesting things (all she had to do to get a scene like this was look in his police record, obviously), but because he’s insulting her. “Look at me,” I hear her saying. “I’m a great reporter because my subject is angry at me.”
Speaking of getting subjects angry at you, the only other article I can find by Hoffman is this piece on the LA Times website (the Times bio says she “covers Hollywood and the adult entertainment industry”) on “Tom Cruise and Scientology.” Any reporter worth her salt knows that if you want to choose a confrontational subject in Los Angeles, you couldn’t do much better than Tom Cruise and Scientology. And yet there Hoffman is– it’s almost as if she is daring her subject to be angry with her. She puts Tom Cruise in the lead, in the headline, and writes three full pages about him. And yet, even though she’s working with another writer, they couldn’t get the man to say one word to them: “Cruise and Miscavige declined requests for interviews.”
And then there’s that final scene in the Francis piece. The headline comes from there, and it seems like it’s the most genuine back and forth we get to see between Francis and Hoffman. It’s also, not surprisingly, a return to the incident in the lead.
When I think back on that night, our very public scuffle isn’t what seems the most revealing. Instead, the moment I saw Francis most clearly—his charm, his rage, his cunning and even his regret—came later, when no one was looking. I was waiting, still shaken, outside the club for a cab to take me back to my hotel. Francis, who had disappeared inside the bus, returned.
Ignoring the two policemen who hovered a few yards away, he tiptoed past them to stand over me. He rubbed my shoulder. His gestures were oddly gentle—even fond. I felt sick.
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching over to tousle my hair. “We love our little reporter. Don’t we guys? We love our little reporter.”
I stared down at the dirt as he whispered in my ear, “I’m sorry, baby, give me a kiss. Give me a kiss.”
He just hurt her, and she lets him rub her shoulder? He just grabbed her arm and slammed her up against a car, and she lets him tousle her hair? On what planet does a guy like Joe Francis hurt a woman in this way, and then ask her for a kiss without at the very least getting socked in the face, if not kicked between the legs?
On Earth, apparently. I guess being the victim makes a better story for Hoffman than a woman who’s willing to stand up to Francis and not take any of his crap. There is a great story in this piece: it’s of a horrible man and how he makes his fortunes. It’s a picture that’s worth showing to everyone who can stand it. But I just wish Hoffman could have kept herself out of the frame.
Boy, if you had some kind of itchy need to know every single thing I did on my summer vacation last week, you could do a lot worse than listen to the latest podcast over at Happy Time. I relayed my experiences crabbing, deep sea fishing, and visiting every place you can see in the pictures down there, and it all finishes up in an interesting conversation about what would happen if a bear fought a shark (they’re natural enemies, you know).
Plus, Luke catches me up on celebrity news– apparently Eminem was right about N’Sync, and Mel Gibson said something he wasn’t supposed to. And we even put a little Shakepeare in there! Every podcast could probably use a little less Gibson and a little more Shakespeare.This post has related audio! Listen to the show over at Happy Time>.
Newcity printed this piece I wrote last week about Stephen Elliot and his series of political readings around the country to support progressive candidates. Also very notable because even though I didn’t include much about her in the piece, I got to sit down and talk writing and reading with Audrey Niffenegger, whose book I really enjoyed.
mikeschramm.com is cc 2004-2006 Mike Schramm.