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27 Jul 20:43

The AFK Room: more than just an oasis amid the roar of QuakeCon


I passed it probably a dozen times during QuakeCon weekend: a closed door off the hotel's main thoroughfare, marked with a standing sign inviting attendees to take a break from the show. It certainly felt like a good idea: as friendly as the boisterous crowds of QuakeCon are, it's an easy place to become overwhelmed or anxious.

The AFK room, however, isn't just a spot for some peace and quiet amidst the amiable roar of the convention. It's a place for people who are in crisis to find help. Late Sunday night I spoke with Russ Pitts, co-founder of Take This, the charity providing and staffing the AFK room at Quakecon.

"It's not just a quiet room for us," said Pitts, a former games journalist and co-founder of Polygon. "We're a mental health awareness and education charity, so we don't want to have a room where it's not monitored or where people can't get more help than just a quiet space if they need it."

Take This was founded in 2012 by Pitts, game journalist Susan Arendt, and clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Kline, after freelance writer Matt Hughes took his own life. The idea for the charity arose from conversations between colleagues of Hughes, who were unaware that he had suffered from depression. "What kind of resources would we have wanted to create to help someone like Matt understand that it's okay to not be okay, it's okay to talk to people about these issues?" Pitts and others asked themselves. "And Take This grew out of that."


The first AFK room arrived at PAX East in 2014, and according to Pitts, they're now visited by roughly 500 people a day during PAX conventions. This is the first year QuakeCon has provided an AFK room, though I expect the practice will continue to in the future—Pete Hines, Vice President of PR and Marketing at Bethesda Softworks, is a member of the governing board of Take This. Pitts said the charity is also reaching out to other conventions. "We're talking to organizations like GenCon. We're going to have some kind of presence at DragonCon this year in Atlanta."

"Every time we do this, including here at QuakeCon, we have people come in who are in states of extreme duress, who are experiencing emergent crisis of some kind, whether an anxiety attack or panic attack or suicidal ideation." As a result, Take This provides access to trained professionals for event attendees, and also provide training to convention staff and volunteers on mental health awareness.

Due to the variation of laws from state to state, Take This doesn't offer services or therapy in the AFK room, but instead provide information about how and where visitors can find local help.

"As far as mental health goes, the legalities are different in every state, "said Pitts. "We don't do clinical services here, we don't do therapy in the room, we don't diagnose in the room, but our clinicians do offer people advice about local resources, and they're trained in therapy so they know the difference between having a conversation and dispensing therapy. So, they know where to stop."

You can learn more about Take This at their website.

26 Jul 20:45

Humans episode 7 review

by michaeln

The penultimate episode of Humans, are the synths any closer to acceptance? Here's Michael's review...

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

It’s the penultimate episode of a series that has led with ideas, concepts and emotion and left scenes of action and physical conflict take a supporting function. The last major chance for some long-form reflection before everything kicks off into (hopefully) some kind of resolution next week. The central device of this episode, Max’s enforced thirteen-hour shutdown, was a smart move that kept two groups of principals, the Hawkins and Elster families together for a final bout of soul and CPU searching before the police kicked the door down. 

Much of it was dedicated to the same topics as in previous weeks, the concept of family in artificial life, the capacity to experience joy and pain, albeit with some subtle inflections that furthered the discussion. Note how, for instance, Mia not only declared herself to be Leo’s mother figure, but acted as one too, expressing concern for Leo’s safety when he was away and as his steadying conscience when he returned. When it was revealed that Joe had called the police, it was Mia who held Leo back from attacking him and whose voice carried when the synths needed to make a collective decision.  It was a shared maternal instinct that helped her to bond with Laura and a comparable ‘human’ experience that allowed her to offer comfort. 

Less competent in the human-synth relations department was the hapless Joe, who has never fully recovered from his indiscretion with Anita and appears to be even worse since she was revealed to be Mia. His attempt to piggy-back on Toby’s friendly approach to Fred was as clumsy as his work with the ball. His later scene playing FIFA on the console was one of the most subtle, and revealing, visual jokes that you’re likely to see on TV all year. He may have softened a little, but he is still the weak link in the Hawkins’ chain of empathy and emblematic of the continued doubt that prevents a complete human-synth reconciliation. The flip-side of that uncertain fear is personified by Karen, whose longing for her own destruction reveals a feeling of futility that cannot ever be soothed by garden football or playing with a child’s dolls. 

The toys worked as a multi-purpose metaphor, illuminating several strands of the synth experience, from the way they are viewed by human beings (‘dollies’ being a telling pejorative), to the way that the Elster set claimed to have learned. As with young humans, they were encouraged to play and explore so that they could discover the world for themselves, rather than having their knowledge programmed artificially at inception. That line between human life and synth life? It’s so thin now as to be transparent. Max’s procedure was deliberately designed to resemble a human operation, complete with synth fluid transfusion. Humans and advanced AI synths are to all intents and purposes the same. They differ only in their physiognomy. 

Still, try telling that to the police. Niska’s unfortunate notoriety is, as the TV in the Hawkins’ kitchen suggests, the primary public image of the synths, a reputation that will be very difficult to return to factory settings. George’s accidental death will not help things either, no matter how calmly he personally took it. The scene in his house offered several reminders of the uncanny nature of a world with synths in it. The fight between Niska and Karen was unusually, even eerily quiet, free from the shouting and laboured breathing that accompanies human combat while Vera’s intervention was both charmingly mechanical and coldly comical. Then, of course, there was Odi.

Odi and George having been holding deathbed conversations with one another since the very first episode and finally they had one for real. This was the most touching of the lot, with Odi’s malfunctioning recall working as a perfect imitation of words of comfort. ‘We are not alone George’, he said, his voice soft with imitative sympathy, ‘Mary is in the next room’. To be told something pretty as you lay dying. It’s all anybody wants, really. Does it matter that it’s a repeat of an old routine? Not to us and not, I suppose, to George either. 

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode here

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Review Michael Noble 26 Jul 2015 - 22:00
16 Dec 07:09

Should Disney reboot the Indiana Jones series?

by sarahd
Feature Mark Harrison 17 Dec 2013 - 06:41

Disney's bought the rights to make more Indiana Jones films. Is it time for a reboot?

Raiders Of The Lost Ark is my favourite film of all time. It's just as vital and entertaining as it was when it was made, over thirty years ago. While neither The Temple Of Doom or The Last Crusade are up to the standard of the original, they're both almost as good, in different ways, almost serving as a Superman III style split of the darkness and lightness of Raiders, into two separate entities.

I love Indiana Jones so much, I can't even completely hate Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. To many, that may seem contradictory, but to me, it's a bit like a late-era Roger Moore Bond film, or Die Hard 4.0 - not an bad film, just a bad Indiana Jones film. Even having said all that, it's interesting to play devil's advocate in reaction to recent developments.

On Friday, it was announced that Disney had fully acquired the rights to make future Indiana Jones films, as part of the LucasFilm deal. It's interesting that in all of the talk about Star Wars: Episode VII in the last twelve months, few have asked if there'd be more Indy on the cards. Did we all think that they'd just leave it alone?

Over the weekend, Disney's chairman Alan Horn told the press that a new Indy film would be at least two to three years away, and added "there will surely be new Indiana Jones movies in the future, be they sequels or reboots, and when they do come to fruition, Lucasfilm will be producing".

The three leading creative talents behind the series - director Steven Spielberg, producer George Lucas and leading man Harrison Ford - have all been talking about another Indiana Jones sequel to some extent or another since the fourth one came out in 2008. If anything, Ford seems much more eager to reprise this role than he is about the possibility of revisiting Han Solo in JJ Abrams' new film.

Realistically speaking, there are probably executives at Disney who would like to reboot the series, but there won't be many film fans out there who are interested in the prospect of anyone else playing Indiana Jones while Harrison Ford is still willing and able.

To go back to the Die Hard comparison, a straight-out fifth film would not necessarily be commensurate with the disaster that was A Good Day To Die Hard. Ford clearly cares too much about the character to ever phone it in like Bruce Willis.

Even if he were further hemmed in by Shia LaBeouf, CGI monkeys and the sheer expanse of time that has gone by since his heyday as a leading man, it's fair to say that most would still prefer another sequel, to a reboot with a younger actor.

On the other hand, revisiting the Roger Moore comparison, Steven Spielberg initially conceived of Indy after the Broccolis spurned his desire to direct a Bond film. Even if you're the kind of cineaste who believes that Hollywood films have gradually become more creatively bankrupt since the advent of the Lucas/Spielberg-led blockbuster movement, at least there was some innovation there.

One of the problems with originality in current blockbuster cinema is nostalgia, because Hollywood is unfettered by any kind of deferral of satisfaction. Just as Spielberg couldn't make a Bond film, George Lucas' difficulty in acquiring the rights to Flash Gordon gave us Star Wars. Nowadays, directors can clamber aboard reboots or belated sequels to films they were watching when they were kids, because they've become properties that studios are eager to monetise again.

However, the Bond films rebooted every few years, in recasting the lead role. Where Indiana Jones has differed from 007, however, is in the same actor playing the role over three decades. It would be much harder to change actors while keeping the same façade of continuity at this point. We all know it; Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones.

As I said though, the prospect of playing devil's advocate is too tempting. If you have to reboot it, and you rule out magically de-aging Ford in some top secret machine at Disneyland, who do you cast as the man in the hat in an Indiana Jones movie for the 2010s?

Even having already acknowledged that Ford's performance is indelible, it's tough to try and recast without looking for someone like him. To think like an executive, and turn around and say “We have the rights to do what we want, let's reboot this”, perhaps the most obvious casting choice would be Hugh Jackman.

In his mid-40s, he's only a little older than Harrison Ford was when he took the role, but he looks the part, and he'd also be coming into the role from another iconic turn in a geek property (Han Solo and Wolverine, respectively.)

We know that Indy would probably be younger in a reboot than he was in Raiders, because it ain't the years, honey, it's the mileage. I've seen some suggest Chris Pine of Star Trek fame, but you probably wouldn't cast William Shatner as Indy either.

Pine's co-star Karl Urban would probably be a better fit for the role. Again, older, but given how the internet response to any attempt at recasting will be roughly a million times more vitriolic than the recent Bat-fleck farrago, a fan favourite like Urban would probably have the most cushion-y landing on fanboy ears.

It's fair to assume that they wouldn't try to outright remake Raiders, because in terms of filmmaking, that's probably the difference between heresy and face-melting sacrilege. A reboot would inevitably tread over some of the same beats from the original trilogy, but there's a plethora of McGuffins from unmade sequel scripts, which could easily lend to new adventures set in the 1930s and 1940s - Excalibur, the Round Table, Atlantis, and the Garden of Eden, to name but a few.

Ultimately, Spielberg and Ford probably have to pass on doing a fifth film, or actually make it, and properly round off their run, before we see any movement on a reboot. This means we'll probably see Shia LaBeouf in another Indiana Jones movie before we see a new Indy, and which is the less palatable prospect?

In a pre-Crystal Skull universe, a reboot would be unthinkable. Now that the fourth film exists, we might need a reboot just to be safe in knowing that LaBeouf isn't going to take over the franchise as Henry Jones III. We'll leave that nasty little possibility in the “face-melting sacrilege” pile.

Despite taking its inspiration from James Bond, we have to conclude that casting Jackman or Urban or Andrew Lincoln or Ryan Gosling (etc. etc.) in the lead role of the Indiana Jones franchise would not be the same as Roger Moore replacing Sean Connery. It's not an unthinkable prospect, but Disney can't ignore first refusal on the part of Spielberg, Lucas and Ford.

What do you think? Would you rather see a reboot of Indy, or another sequel? If you had to make Indiana Jones today, who would you cast in the lead role?

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