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To the woman who stood up at PAX

Last weekend was PAX Prime in Seattle and, despite the fact that I was working the convention, I managed to sneak away to a couple of the diversity panels (as is my wont). The first was “Women in Geek Media”, another was “We're Not NPCs: It's a (Straight White Cis) Man's World”, and the final one I made it to was “Damsels and Distress: Exploring Tropes in Gaming”. It was in this panel that the woman to which I’m referring stood up to comment. The panel of 4 white women was moderated by a latino (or hispanic?) man, and it was pretty solid. They touched on lots of interesting topics such as “where’s the line between sexy and sexist” and “what kinds of female characters would YOU like to see in games”.

After about 30-40 minutes, they opened the floor to comments and while I really do love discussing this topic, I stayed in my seat because I have a kinda rule about this sort of thing (which I’ll touch on in a minute). The second comment was an African-American woman, likely somewhere in her 20s if I had to guess, and she stole the show and garnered a huge, well-deserved round of applause. Her underlying point, to my ears was basically this:

“It’s great that we’re talking about female representation in games, but why are there only white women up there? Where are the women of color?”

The panelists took it in stride, and admitted that we all need to do better when putting these sorts of panels together but I wanted to amplify not so much what she said, but the fact that she stood up and said it. I would have said it right then and there but as I mentioned, I have this rule.

You see, as the quintessential “cis white male”, I have decided that my role at any panel like this is simple - show up, sit down, shut up, and listen. I really enjoy grappling with these discussions because I think it’s important. 1-on-1, I’ll talk for days about sexual politics, gender diversity, gay marriage or whatever. But at public sessions like this I’ve realized one simple truth - every second that I, or someone like me is speaking is a second that someone like this woman isn’t. And we need need more people like her standing up and speaking (and dare I say, less people like me).

My rule keeps me from speaking in these panels but, but that’s not till step 3. Step 1 is show up. I show up not only because I want to learn, and in doing so become better at life/games/etc, but also because I want the attendance of these panels to reflect that there are white dudes who care about this issue. I want to help build a games industry where EVERY voice has a seat at the table, not one where there’s a “white dude table” and an “everybody else” table. I want to do this, because it will make our industry better. It will make our art better.

She made several other great points about representation (for instance, the difficulty of “owning your sexuality” when black women are already represented as overtly sexual in very different ways than white women). Then at one point she asked “what do we need to do to have this conversation?” (meaning, to have more diverse representation on these sorts of panels.) I unfortunately didn’t get her name, but I hope in some way this finds it’s way back to her because the answer is simple -

Keep Standing Up!

And next year, make a panel of your own! I promise I will be there, and I promise to shut up and listen.



Veronica Mars and Flixter/Ultraviolet - A Match Made in Hell

Man I just hate being disappointed in new media. Yet every time I put my hope into something, I'm consistently let down.

About a year ago, the Veronica Mars movie made headlines for breaking Kickstarter records and promising to be one of the first movies of a new generation of hollywood. Funded by fans, and going with an innovative launch across theaters, Blu-Ray and digital download, the movie was blazing a new trail. And I backed it, partly because I like what it was trying to do, but also because I loved the series and I wanted to see it continue.

And now I'm wishing I hadn't.

Unless you're totally new to my writing, you must know how much I hate ultraviolet. It takes a system that works great (iTunes) and arbitrarily changes things around just to be different. It's total crap and unfortunately, it's the only way for me to get the "digital copy" I paid for. (that's in quotes because it it won't play on my AppleTV, it's not a "digital version" or a "digital copy" or anything other than garbage.)

I still have a blu-ray coming so I will get an actual copy of the movie eventually (unlike those who backed at the digital-only level, sorry folks), but I make it a point to support the things that I want. I vote with my wallet and my wallet stood up to be counted in the "same day digital delivery" camp. When possible, I go out of my way to NOT give money to the ultraviolet/flixter people, it's the only way to keep it from growing. This means that if a movie I want has a "multi-pack" that only includes a digital "version" for flixter, I instead forego that purchase (including all the other value added) and purchase it via iTunes. Because I care about the quality of these things and "shitty" is not something I support financially. 

And that's why this is frustrating. Without my knowledge, my vote was counted in the "pro-flixter camp" and that's just simply not OK.

It's up to the Veronica Mars movie folks at this point to step up and fulfill what they said they would and I haven't comnpletely abandoned faith that they will eventually. But you'd think these supposed "media masters" would eventually realize that angering your fan base, then eventually doing the right thing will never be as good as just doing what you say the first time.


Handelabra Games: Humility vs. Moxie

(Originally posted here, September 2013)

As I move through the LaunchHouse Accelerator process, I’m finding myself in a familiar position, which my gut tells me any entrepreneur can relate to. You see, my industry is video games and it is likely the one thing I know way more about than just about anyone else who passes through here. I don’t actually need to guess about this; every time I’ve asked anyone from mentor to finance person, first timer to 5-time exit guru for help about the games industry, they all collectively throw up their hands and say “yeah, we don’t really do that in Cleveland.”

The irony is that almost all of the people will, right after telling me essentially not to trust them on this topic, proceed to explain what’s wrong with what we’re trying to do. It’s frustrating and it’s what tends to push me to the moxie side of the continuum. “This person admitted to complete confusion, but then attempted to pontificate anyway, why would I listen to anything they say?”

But one of the most important things I’ve been learning from the LaunchHouse process is that knowledge can come from anywhere. I’m constantly reminded that I need to swing back over to the humility side of things and stay out of my own way. But how do I make sure not to swing too far? The truth is, I do actually know quite a bit more about this industry than most of these people. How do I not discount that knowledge, while still maintaining an open mind? Luckily, a Monday session with Mo Wheeler gave me the name for this phenomenon - “Last person I talked to syndrome”.

The first iteration of Handelabra fell prey to this a LOT. It’s why we started 4 different major projects in the first year. Every time I would talk to someone who even seemed to know more than me about something, I would completely rewrite my plan to match this person’s view of reality. I spent a lot of my time assuming not only that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room (probably a good thing) but that I was in fact the dumbest (whoops). This is how I came to learn what my most important skill as an entrepreneur probably is: Filter.

I need to be a semi-permeable membrane that can assess any incoming information for it’s net worth, allow in that which is helpful, and keep out that which is not. Being able to sit, listen and assess with the humility to actually hear it, but to still have just enough moxie to ignore information that truly isn’t constructive is a hard skill to hone.

But I’m working on it.


But WHAT goes to heaven?

I just had a very instructive conversation over the dinner table tonight. My eldest offhandedly mentioned that the concept of heaven came up at school on the playground.

It has always been a precept of my parenting that I would not be the one to introduce these traditional religious concepts to our children. That I would, in essence, shelter them from even having to know about that stuff as long as possible. (It should be noted that this is in stark contest to my wife, who has a more standard-progressive 'all the colors of the rainbow' outlook. In other arenas, I feel the same but religion is my sticking point due to its history and divisiveness.)

So when the concept of heaven came up, and the 7 year old said "but what... IS it?" I found we had reached the point where an explanation was in order.

"Well," I said, thinking on my feet. "Some people think of it as a place where you go after you die because it makes them feel better," I said, thinking that was about as magnanimous an answer as I could rightfully give. But it was what happened next that I found so instructive.

What followed was the 7 year old and the 5 year old pontificating on what part of you would actually go to heaven.

"So does your skeleton climb up and walk somewhere?"
"I think your brain pulls itself out and has legs and arms."
"Is it like, your skin and everything?"
"ECHO-MACATION." (What? The 2 year old had to participate too. She was listening when the others we're talking about bats earlier apparently.)

What I realized I was witnessing was two young minds, unencumbered by the concept of an eternal soul, having a philosophical discussion regarding the nature of the self. Pretty heady stuff for the Tuesday dinner table if you ask me. But what I realized I was really happy about was the fact that having not pre-installed them with he traditional judeo christian software, they were essentially unlimited in their mental meanderings. I imagine that this must be one of the reasons I've always felt so strongly about not exposing them to these things, even if we tempered it with teaching from the other world philosophies, I just didn't know how to verbalized it - religious thinking is so limiting.

Watching these two wrestle with the idea of a mystical landing place after death, without the idea of the eternal soul that necessitates such a belief was so interesting because they could follow every thought down to its conclusion. I have to assume that a child told from the moment they could speak "you have an eternal soul, and that's what YOU are" would miss out on all this discovery. More importantly to me, it means they didn't have to waste time unlearning some base level assumption. They didn't have to have that moment most of us have in high school or college where they have the 'what does it all mean' moment that causes them to question everything that came before. They get to explore these things on their own (and of course, I'll be here to answer any questions that might arise).

If anything, what I now know is that sharing in the journey of these kids exploring these issues, while being totally unafraid to ask what in other circles would be heretical questions, is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything.


Handelabra Games: Turning a passion for games into a business

(As part of the LaunchHouse Accelerator program, I'm blogging a bit over at This post was originally published there.)

I am an entrepreneur because of Steve Jobs. Yes, it's a horrible cliché, likely to get even more horrible as a pair of movies chronicling his life and work make their way into the mass consciousness, but as I like to say - I was into Apple way before it was cool.

Jobs was once quoted as saying, "Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."

It was when I first began learning the truth of this statement that I set out to start making my own apps. The old me would sit around and wait for someone else to do something. The new me chose to take the steps necessary to make those things happen. The trick is, this isn't a lesson one learns in one brilliant stroke, I continue learning it everyday. This is why it took 3 years and more than 10 apps to realize that I didn't want to be making just apps. I wanted to make games. 

My partner John and I love games. Board games, video games, mobile games, social games; you name it. This passion is what lead us to move away from making apps that "fix a problem" into games that entertain. We know games, and we know what's fun. We also know that there are tons of fun games that exist only on the tabletop and that our experience over the last 3 years has put us in a perfect position to bring these games to digital platforms, helping those companies get their games in front of a wider audience, make some money, and yes frankly, bring a little fun into the world.

We've been headquartered at the LaunchHouse for about a year now, pretty much ever since I knew it existed. The atmosphere of collaboration vs. competition was something I had heard vague stories about in mystical places like Silicon Valley but had never experienced firsthand in Cleveland. After seeing it in action watching the end of the last LaunchHouse accelerator class, I knew this was something I wanted Handelabra to be a part of.

While I'd spent several years learning how to effectively and efficiently build good software products, there was a certain special sauce missing. Some combination of networking, collaboration, finance connections, marketing acumen, et cetera, wasn't quite coming together for our products.

I'm hoping that the accelerator process can help me put the focus on the areas Handelabra needs help with.

We're only two weeks in but the first two topic areas, finance and storytelling, are already two major areas where I had lots to learn. The most important piece, that I mentioned I have to relearn everyday, is that this isn't rocket science. These sorts of things are learned by lots of people everyday, who are no smarter than me, and I can be one of those people shaping the world.