Mouse Smash

JC Lau's blog about geekery, gender and other rants


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A Midyear Resolution: Diversify Your Gaming Experience with One Simple Trick

I have played video games since I was three years old, when my mother brought home an Apple IIe computer, and loaded up Pac-Man for me. From there, I went from playing a range of games like Tonk in the Land of Buddy-Bots and the Monkey Island series, to console titles such as Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed and Halo.

But here’s one thing I’ve noticed: my favorite games will, more often than not, have a protagonist that looks nothing like me. Where games have a single playable character, that playable character is likely to be a man. A white man. Maybe he has a beard, maybe not. He’s probably also straight–perhaps he also has a wife or child or someone close to him who’s died or been kidnapped at the start of the game as a plot device, and he’s probably armed with some sort of gun or melee weapon or both. Continue reading


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Seven Indie Games I played in 2016

2016 was a pretty interesting year for games: with the rise of VR and announcements about new generation consoles, there’s a lot more going on for gaming than in previous years. I didn’t get to play everything that I wanted to (of course), and although I played a lot of AAA games as well, I’m trying to spend more time looking at indie offerings. Here (in no particular order) is a quick list of some of the indie games that I played last year and would recommend: Continue reading


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Review: Train Conductor World

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Train Conductor World is a new release from Voxel Agents, where the main mechanics involve line drawing to move trains from one track to another.

The premise of the game–set in Europe–is pretty straightforward, where you have to direct trains onto the correct track (based on color), by drawing a track for them. When levels are completed, you can acquire access to other cities, all of which have their own unique features. For example, Bruges has a huge canal down the middle of it, and you have to draw bridges for your trains to go on.Now, the game can get tricky when multiple trains need to cross paths, but of course your job is also to prevent them from colliding. Continue reading


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GeekGirlCon Panel Recap: In Conversation: Anita and Zoe

One of the biggest turnouts at GeekGirlCon ’15 was for a panel that was announced at the last minute. “In Conversation, Anita and Zoe” featured special guests Anita Sarkeesian (creator of Feminist Frequency) and Zoe Quinn (game designer and co-founder of Crash Override Network) as they discussed what it was like to be high-profile women in tech, online harassment, and what action we can all take to prevent online abuse.

Elizabeth Sampat, who moderated the panel, started by posing some questions to Sarkeesian and Quinn. “You are both successful women in the public eye,” she said. “What kinds of things do you have to do or put up with that men in similar positions don’t have to do?”

Quinn answered first: “I’m worried that people will see me in public and I look like crap.” With the amount of focus that goes into evaluating women’s appearances, she voices her concerns about how if she doesn’t look “acceptable,” she will find threads on Reddit the next day criticizing how she looks. “There are all the things that go into appearance. I got into game dev and writing so I didn’t have to see people but now with this public thing I have to use makeup. It’s easier now when I think of it as painting a Warhammer mini.” Continue reading


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The Top Ten Games of 2015 (that I played)

2015 was a busy year for me, in that I started a few new jobs, started working with the awesome GeekGirlCon, and started roller derby again with Rat City Rollergirls. Somehow I still managed to play a few games, but  I didn’t get to spend as much couch time as I wanted because I was too busy adulting. Wow. Life. Anyway, here’s a list of some of my favorite games from this year, in no particular order:

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Assassin’s Creed: Unity: I know this came out last year but I didn’t play it until this year (because I was like, “oh noes, AC Syndicate is coming out, and AC Chronicles and woe is me I’m so behind on the AC franchise”). I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and I love Paris (whose prerevolutionary times the game is set in) but at its core it’s a one-trick pony. The story is a bit odd, but the gameplay and combat systems are like seeing an old friend. Maybe because I waited I also got the patches in so I didn’t experience any of the hilariously bad bugs and publicity that plagued the game’s release.

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Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime: A super duper cute co-op game where you and your partner jointly operate a spaceship–you have to drive, operate the shields, fire the laser turrets (on all sides of the ship) and navigate with the map while love-hating aliens are attacking you. It’s like an absurdly cute version of the Millennium Falcon. Probably not for someone who doesn’t like bright pink and orange or bunnies or life.

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South Park: The Stick of Truth: Technically this should have made last year’s Top 10 list but I didn’t end up starting it until late December 2014 and spent most of early 2015 playing it. Basically, it’s an adventure game with turn-based combat, but if you liked the TV show’s snarky writing style, this game plays like an extended episode. I mean, you’ve got enemies like Nazi cows and fetuses, right?

Jackbox Party Pack: This is probably THE best set of party games I’ve seen for a very long time. Designed to connect to your mobile device, this game has resulted in some of the most hilariously inappropriate comments from friends and family alike. My favorite game on the pack is Drawful–it’s similar to Pictionary, if you could pick what the title of the picture was called.

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Helldivers: I have a love/hate relationship with this game. It supports up to 4 player co-op, but because you all share the same screen AND there’s no way to turn off friendly fire, shit can get bad pretty quickly. Still, it’s very silly and very fun, although I think it’s optimal with about 2-3 players.

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Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition: I’m not a huge fan of the Tomb Raider franchise generally, but I really enjoyed the writing and the story behind this one. Good, smooth gameplay for most part, and non-ridiculous puzzles.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition: A long, rambling open world which is dangerous for completionists like me. Still, if you like hack-and-slash with lots of bossing around your minions, this might work. Bonus points for the witty dialogue writing between characters when they banter, and they insanely detailed character creator.

The Long Dark: Oh my god I love this game. It’s so challenging and beautiful. The feeling of despair when all your stats are low and you know you’re not going to make it but you still are trying to push on is truly tragic. I do find some of the repetition a bit odd (in that there’s no end goal as the story mode isn’t available yet) but whatever, it’s still a good, breathtaking, playable experience.

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Ark: Survival Evolved: This is a new game and it shows, with random weird bugs that pop up every now and then. But the idea of it is pretty awesome; think Minecraft but with dinosaurs and guns crossed with Lost and Jurassic Park and you get the idea. And when you can ride your raptor (alas, no bike squads) into battle, that’s pretty neat. I’d be excited to see how this one develops further when it goes into beta.

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Halo 5: I’ve waited a long time for this one and it was pretty awesome. One of my favorite things about this game is the fact that each of the two spartan teams featured in the game are made up of half women and at least one person of color! And that’s not even like a point that’s mentioned in the game; it’s just like that’s how the Halo universe just is. Great writing, cool new weapons and worlds, and on-point gameplay. Too bad about the lack of splitscreen but apparently that might be back in a future game.

That’s about it for now! Happy gaming for 2016!


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Morality and Games, and the Morality of Games

I started contributing to International Games Day @your Library, which is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization to make games inclusive in library collections. In my writing for them, I analyze some issues in games and write down my thoughts. This piece originally appeared on their blog.

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One aspect of playing games is that we can do things in games that we cannot—for a variety of reasons—do in real life. We become fighters, adventurers, characters with distinct motivations and abilities to our actual selves. For example, even if we can’t fly in real life, we might be able to in a game. Or maybe we develop ninja-like fighting skills, while in real life we are horribly uncoordinated.

Notice that the examples I give about are cases where we’re limited by physical boundaries. But what about moral considerations? Just because there are games where we can kill, backstab, steal, and rape, does this mean that we should do those things? What do our moral decisions in games tell us about what kinds of people we are? Continue reading


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Games as Art

I started contributing to International Games Day @your Library, which is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization to make games inclusive in library collections. In my writing for them, I analyze some issues in games and write down my thoughts. This piece originally appeared on their blog, and was republished in the Games Round Table of the American Library Association.

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Can games also be considered art? There are games that, to be sure, are described as art, and games that are visually appealing, but can games as a whole be considered an art form?

In this article, I’ll consider the artistic value of games. This can be a heated and controversial topic, so I don’t expect this to solve any age-old debates. However, I hope that I can generate some thoughts on the relationship between games and art, and how games could fit in to the world of art. Continue reading