Beyond the Final Boss

I’ve exchanged a series of tweets tonight with fellow video games industry figures Mike Bithell and Byron Atkinson-Jones. To my amazement, if not surprise, both Mike and Byron were bullied as kids. It looks like they’ve had the last laugh.

That’s incredibly powerful. Isn’t it?

Kids are still getting bullied today, and whilst racism (including Islamophobia and antisemitism) and homophobia were often triggers for bullying in the past, mostly, bullies pick targets and then carry on driving the dagger home, ruining lives. Even today, it seems that the lives of some children are destroyed by bullying. So whilst schools have been by and large much better at handling bullying in recent years, survivors of bullying know just how rough things can be regardless of any and all preventative measures.

What struck me about the conversation with Mike and Byron is that we all felt helpless and without wishing to speak for them, I know that for a long time I carried that pain with me. I’ve overcome it now, but am sensitive to the pain in others. Not everyone recovers. Not everyone survives. There is a silver lining to this cloud. Some of us don’t just survive, some of us become winners, leading amazing lives, charmed lives, blessed lives, way beyond the dark nightmares of our childhood when we didn’t see a way through the wall of hatred we’d have our lives smashed against by our fellow pupils on a daily basis; when there seemed to be no escape.

We made it through and we won and it’s our world now.

Yesterday, a guy in Selfridges was being aggressive towards me and wanted me out of the way. I stood up to him and raised my voice to match his, without becoming rude, or matching his aggression. I took the moral high ground, asserted myself and felt good about doing that. The younger me might not have been able to do that.

It’s possible to survive bullying, it’s possible to win despite it. We think that’s a powerful message to give to youngsters, so we’re going to get together to start talking about how to do this. We could do YouTube videos to begin with, and we could present to schools. I think we need to move past the idea that you can just “survive” bullying. To show vulnerable young people real, living examples of people who can thrive despite having endured bullying is a hugely empowering message and I think it’s one we need to get out. Video games are now the epitome of cool, as valid an art form as music and film. Those who are successful in this field can serve as very useful examples to the next generation.

If you’re interested in supporting our agenda, drop me a line (shahid@shhd.org) and I’ll add you to our mail list. Soon we will have a web site / Facebook page / YouTube channel and all that jazz.

I feel like video games, an industry in which I’ve had the privilege of serving for over 30 years now gave me a new lease of life beyond the pain I knew as a child.

Here’s some of Mike’s story:

I was bullied for most of my secondary school years. I was pretty much the lowest rung in my school, mainly because of nerdiness I think, but I was also a bit overweight, at least at the start. Mine wasn’t nearly as bad as many.. I remember constant verbal abuse and name calling, and getting beaten up by groups. I was also regularly locked in cupboards. My head of year’s response was to tell me to avoid populated areas of my school. Dickhead.

 

Two things shifted it.

 

The physical stuff was first, I hit six foot two at about 14, and gangs of bullies quickly learned that trying to hit me was a bad idea. I’m not violent, so I still got the verbal stuff, name calling, being told I was a loser. I never lashed out so was perceived as weak and targetted.

 

Year 11 was the big one. I remember it being over night, but it probably wasn’t. Male power ceased to be about strength or macho supremacy, it became about how often girls laughed at your jokes. Being the weird one who’d had to cultivate a sense of humour as a coping strategy suddenly made me OK. I was still a nerd, but from that point on those who didn’t like me just avoided me. Very preferable.

 

Now for Byron’s story. Some of you who went through some of what he went through will know the pain he felt when he was recounting these experiences in abbreviated form. Byron is a hero for me. I want other kids who are bullied today to know that they can get to where Byron is today, where Mike is today, where some of you who are reading this from the video games business are today and hold on by their fingernails to the hope that while the pain never completely goes away, hope and joy and camaraderie and self-respect and joy and mutual respect can eclipse it.

My Father was in the Army so every couple of years I would find myself at a new school (9 in total) and in each one of those schools there was a core group of bullies that made other kids lives hell, I realise that now but at the time it felt like they were singling me out. Each time the form of bullying would be different.

In one school I went through my entire time there being called ‘Gay’ I didn’t know what it meant but they kept at it and any kind of names intended to hurt do so if said enough and all the other kids who didn’t want to be picked on would join in out of fear for themselves.
 
We moved back to the UK (Wales) and in the school there one of the bullies took great delight in physical harm. One time he and his friend pretended to be friendly, got me to climb a tree and then spent what felt like a lifetime throwing stones at me, I couldn’t get out or down from the tree and in all this time my house was in line of sight and I remember just wishing my mother would come out to rescue me. He would also sneak up on me at school and push me down stairs and kick me in the genitals. It got so bad that I eventually spoke to a teacher about it, they took me to the headmaster and he then threatened to cane me for telling stories.
 
In one school I was bullied by a teacher, this was in Germany in an Army run school. I was given special math lessons, just myself and him. If I got something wrong he would hit me hard on the head.
 
Part of living in NATO headquarters meant having to go to a weekly boarding school some distance from home. At home my best friend was Charles, the son of an American soldier and he was black. I’d never encountered racism before and it never even occurred to me that there was a difference. Only british kids were sent to the boarding school because the high-school was based on the American education system which was vastly different from the UK one which meant Charles didn’t come with me. My first week there a gang of older kids asked us younger ones if we knew any black people and me not knowing any different said yes, my best friend. They proceeded to beat me up until I renounced him and all black people – which I refused to do. Eventually even older kids who were my neighbours at home found us and stepped in to save me. This had a profound affect on me, I feel more comfortable around non-whites than I do whites, which I suppose makes me a little racist now? It was at this same boarding school that another kid held a knife to my throat and threatened to stab me.
 
Thing is I just wasn’t an aggressive kid, my parents realised I was being bullied and tried to do something about it. The schools were powerless and if the teachers said anything then the bullying go worse. The answer was to try and toughen me up and at that time it meant sending me to learn Martial arts and I did a lot. Did it toughen me up – not really but it did teach me how to get myself out of situations and a knowledge that if I needed to do some damage, I could. I just refused to lower myself to the level of the bullies, I refused to do to them what they did to me which to them seemed like I was afraid so they kept on. I think this introspection saved me but at the same time makes me want to stand up now and tell kids going through this how to deal with it.
 
I have more stories like this.. as I mentioned on Twitter, I was born in Hong Kong so that made me a Chink to some kids, being raised in Germany made me a Kraut to others and having Welsh parents made me a sheep shagger to all the rest.
 
I would be bloody hard for me but as I said, if you get something moving about this then I will stand up and tell my story.
 

Write to me at shahid@shhd.org if you want to:

  • Be kept up to date on our activities
  • Take part in meetings
  • Be prepared to discuss your experience in a YouTube video
  • Contribute your time or skills to help us get the message out
  • Talk to kids at school (I can help arrange this, starting in London)
  • Stand alongside the likes of Mike and Byron

We are determined to make a difference. I know that recounting the pain is difficult, so I don’t expect everyone to do it. It’s not where I think we should focus anyway. The focus should be on what lies beyond the pain and perhaps how our experiences helped make us what we are today. I know this is painful for many. You don’t need to jump in straight away, but let the group give you strength. You’re not alone.

 

***

Mike Bithell 

Mike is a game designer. He’s worked in games development for 5 years. Mike’s designed games for console, PC and web. He’s also fiddled with mobile, but has yet to make anything of value. Probably best known for Thomas Was Alone, a pretentious indie platformer for Mac and PC. He spends far too much time on twitter.

Twitter: @mikebithell

Byron Atkinson-Jones

Byron has been making games on and off for 20 years, working for companies like Lionhead studios, EA and indie legends Introversion and PomPom. Byron now runs his own small company called Xiotex Studios where he continues to make games. You can find him on twitter as @xiotex where he mostly goes on about his obsession with Nando’s and game making.

Instagone

Stops Here

You’ve all heard the news about Instagram, that they’re about to set loose some particularly nasty licence conditions. Many of the users are up in arms, and so they should be.

I’m not surprised. Facebook bought them. Mark Zuckerberg and I don’t share the same view on data privacy. He has what one might call “progressive views”. I stopped using Instagram, sadly, when Facebook bought them. I’ve since started using Facebook again. Hypocrite? No. I just made a simple adjustment. I now behave as if Facebook was a public arena. I post nothing, and say nothing, that I wouldn’t want my worst enemies to repeat.

With the news on the licence terms changing for Instagram, and with the recent improvement of the iPhone Flickr app (it’s not great, but it’s usable), I decided to take some conclusive steps.

  • I used instaport.me to download all my Instagram pics as a .zip file. This didn’t take long.
  • I uploaded the files to my Amazon S3 repository for long-term safekeeping.
  • I backed up my files locally.
  • I backed the files up to the cloud via CrashPlan.
  • I uploaded all my photos to Flickr and started to rename them.
  • I deleted my Instagram account, permanently.

You can find my photos here:

And my Flickr profile here:

Goodbye to an Old Friend

 

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I’ve finally had it with Simplenote sync. 

I’ve been using Simplenote for several years, and have gladly paid the subscription fee for the Pro version two years running. At $19.99 a year, that’s a lot to pay for an app that doesn’t provide much that the likes of IA Writer doesn’t. The latter doesn’t feature tags, or the brilliant search mechanism that Notational Velocity on the Mac made so popular, but that’s fine. I can still use Notational Velocity with Dropbox sync.

The great thing about Simplenote sync was that it was instant. If you think Dropbox is fast, you haven’t experienced the wonder of making a change on a Mac and knowing that the changes are already on your handheld before you’ve had a chance to pick it up to check.

Right now I’m sitting through a Simlpenote Dropbox duplication sync and watching duplicates of files appear over and over. NVAlt, a popular fork of Notational Velocity, also seems to be having problems with Simplenote sync of late and I think Brett Terpstra has pretty much given up on it. When Michael Schechter of A Better Mess wrote this, I decided to clip it and come back to it later to finally kick the Simplenote habit, which I did today.

Of course, given my “one-more-go” nature, I decided I’d have another look at the Simplenote Dropbox sync to see if I could get it to work. I copied my notes into a new Dropbox folder, pointed Simplenote at it and watched as it duplicated everything religiously and I got notification after notification of files being added to Dropbox. Enough is enough.

So, given the issues with the sync, and given that this was the only real benefit of Simplenote, and despite the fact that my subscription is paid until august 2013, I’m going to have to say a sad goodbye to the longest lived piece of 3rd party software on my iPhone.

A Bicycle for the Mind

Whenever I sit in front of my Mac, I am almost overwhelmed by possibility.

I feel like a caveman sat in the pilot’s seat of a Cessna. In the air. I practically shriek with delight at every magical, cool, amazing, distracting thing that is happening, scarcely able to grasp why what is happening, is happening.

I feel like the whole history of the world has happened in the last 30 years, since the day I put my first game up for sale, and I have been unable to grasp it all, to understand it all, to absorb it all. A century ago, nobody would have read more than the content of a Sunday newspaper in their entire lives. Now I feel like I’m drinking the Niagara Falls.

Jobs said that the computer is like a bicycle for the mind. Yes, it is, but I have a bicycle and it sits on a turbo trainer unused. I spin it from time to time, but have never got anything like what I should have out of it. It’s the same for computing. I feel so limited in the face of the three-orders-of-magnitude jump in power in my working life.

I have several computers, and every time I sit in front of one of them, I feel overwhelmed by all that I could have accomplished using one. A computer is the means of production. I can produce anything. Can.

My desire to produce, to create, to inspire, to reach out, to engage, overwhelms me, but I am still somehow riding in this barrel across the rapids and haven’t hit a rock yet.

I’ve worked on over a hundred games directly, have written untold articles, have composed so much music that is now forgotten, have made websites, have even exposed a cult, but I feel that my consciousness, the consciousness of untold others is straining to expand to the next level to accommodate the unbounded possibility that still abounds.

Raspberry Pi: First Impressions

Raspberry pi

After months of waiting, after going through buyer’s remorse, then nonchalance, I received my Raspberry Pi today. My usual response to new hardware is one of automatic excitement. It’s excitement that comes from the amygdala, bypassing the neocortex altogether. So I was surprised to hear myself mumbling “meh”.

I am spoiled utterly by Apple, where you are sensuously connected to your purchase through sublime packaging that is an experience as seamless as it’s possible to have. I had to consider that I had spent 1/16th what I would on an Apple product, but in reality, product experience is seldom directly connected to wallet shock. Sure, if the experience is horrible, one is tempted to look at the price as further evidence of decision failure, but that tends to happen less and less nowadays. I’ll shut up about Apple in a minute, but it never happens with Apple product. 

Raspberry Pi is a throwback to the Tandy era. It should strike me square in the amygdala, given how long I’ve been involved with computers, but it fails, because it isn’t the 1970s and this is pretending to be relevant now. 

It’s not that it’s a bunch of chips and connectors on an open board that’s the problem. I’ve got a drawer full of old ISA cards, SCSI interfaces, Matrox graphics cards, PDS interfaces and the like, so I can live with that. It’s just so…unusable.

Here’s what I need before I can even use this device:

1. A USB power supply. (I don’t even know what one of those is actually)

2. An HDMI cable (All of mine are in use, but I could spare one I suppose)

3. A USB keyboard (my Apple ones probably won’t do the job, so I’ll have to order a cheap PC keyboard)

4. An SD card, not a generic one.

5. A USB mouse. (Not a problem, I have one or two lying around)

6. A monitor. (I have one, but it’s hooked up to a real computer)

7. An Ethernet cable to the router, which sits miles away from where I want to use the device 

8. And of course, the piece de resistance – a real computer which is used to prepare the unprepared, uninitialised, unadorned Raspberry Pi board.

I will then have to prepare the SD card with one of several brands of Linux and I can then plug it in.

Given that I already have a computer, which can run Linux virtualised, and given that I’m probably going to have to spend well over a hundred quid to make this thing useful, what exactly is the point of this?

How Do I Prevent Image Capture from Opening?

Image Capture, an otherwise useful utility for scanning, is not something I want to have starting up every time I connect my iPad. So given that it’s a Sunday, I decided to do something about it.

Obviously, my first port of call is no longer my wits or my guile, but Google and it’s always interesting to see which suggestions that now venerable tool throws up before I complete my entire search term.

Screen Shot 2012 06 17 at 12 34 51

Facebook obviously has bigger problems on their hands than their IPO it seems, look at the company they appear to be keeping.

Back to Image Capture, it seems this is all one has to do:

First, click the little up arrow / triangle icon at the bottom left of the window.

Screen Shot 2012 06 17 at 12 36 06

Then click on the drop down.

Screen Shot 2012 06 17 at 12 36 27

And finally, set it to start-up silence. 

Screen Shot 2012 06 17 at 12 36 35

So is there anybody who likes the Facebook Timeline?