TIME Video Games

Is This Really the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Launch Trailer?

Activision's near-future military adventure starring Kevin Spacey as the head of a rogue private military company arrives in just a few more weeks.

I don’t see a lot of gameplay in this pithy less-than-a-minute trailer, so I’m not sure why Activision’s calling it a “gameplay” trailer. Just excise that word and it works: type “Official Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Launch Trailer” and you’re golden. But by using the designator “gameplay,” I’m betting it’s not the last “launch trailer” we’ll see.

When I first glimpsed it on Saturday, the trailer had 300+ views. Now it has over 5.3 million. It’ll doubtless double that in another 48 hours. That’s the power of a Call of Duty.

There’s a little more to see here, but it’s not much. The same clips already shown in previous trailers pop in, abridged. The new stuff–and is it all new stuff? I can’t tell–amounts to 1-2 second clips of people in EXO suits doing impossible things, each of which Call of Duty-philes will obsess over.

The game is out November 4 (November 3 for Day Zero edition buyers) for this- and last-gen PlayStation and Xbox systems as well as Windows. It looks terrific in this trailer, a collage of rainbow-plaited tracers and pluming squibs and mo-cap Kevin Spacey smirking in a suit. And I’m still hopeful that, though it’s clearly rooted in the ballistic-power-fantasy school of design, the game has some subversive fictive tricks up its sleeve.

It’s one of these what-games-can-be questions for me (and I include the storytelling angle in my definition of “game” here–it’s a holistic thing). I’m definitely not from the “Who cares about the narrative, does it shoot good?” school of thought. If Beau Willimon and David Fincher can use an actor like Kevin Spacey to tell a politically nuanced tale that slyly comments on current affairs, why can’t a piece of interactive entertainment starring Kevin Spacey do the same?

TIME

Here’s What’s Coming in PlayStation 4 System Software Version 2.0

Sony

Sony lays out a slew of new features in its upcoming overhaul of the PlayStation 4's dashboard.

Companies usually save their big guns for major number turnovers, because that’s what we’ve come to expect after a lot of this-point-that integer creep (unless you’re Apple, anyway, at which point you shift from subsets of the number 10 to big cats to surfer hangouts to national parks).

Sony has a name for its upcoming major PlayStation 4 operating system overhaul. It’s called “Masamune,” after a widely acclaimed Japanese late 13th/early 14th century swordsmith. And yes, that is a little audacious, but then the update sounds fairly ambitious.

Version 2.0 will bring Themes, a dedicated YouTube app and something Sony calls “Share Play”: a way to play local co-op with friends on other systems, which sounds just like ordinary co-op, and is, except that you need only a single copy of the game between the two of you. The idea seems less about saving people money than creating quick-help scenarios, say you’re stuck and need a hand, or want someone to actually take over your controller and drive. Call it “Help Play.”

But we’ve known about that stuff since August. Yesterday, Sony announced a bunch of additional features, one of which involves rejiggering the way your console handles content in the menu, another that shows you “players you may know,” the option to listen to your music while playing a game (off a USB device, with support for MP3, MP4, M4A and 3GP formats), new voice commands, some new live broadcasting channels and filters, and the option to change the dash’s background color (weirdly absent at launch, so more of a catching-up thing ).

Of them all, I’m most intrigued by the content area change. Here’s Sony’s bulleted breakout:

PS4’s Content Area, which shows the latest games and apps a PS4 owner has used, has been redesigned to help make it easier to quickly find and access content. It now shows 15 of a player’s most used apps or games, and additional items will be added to a player’s Library. The Library on PS4 has improved filter and sort functions to help organize contented by type (game / app / TV & video), name (a – z or z – a), recently used, or install date.

That’s the one I’m most excited about, if I’m parsing what Sony’s saying correctly and it’s going to shorten the left-right scroll sprawl. I don’t mind the way content stacks now in one super-long line that grows with each new game you play, but I’d say I’ve visited the tail end of that line maybe a handful of times since the system launched. Not seeing stuff you’re not sure you need, or only rarely use, is roughly analogous to it not being there.

We’re still in the dark on Masamune’s release date, but it’s supposed to drop “later this fall,” technically giving Sony until December 21.

TIME Video Games

8 Takeaways From the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One September Sales

Some of the more interesting points plucked from NPD's September video game sales figures.

Continuing a long upward-downward trend that’s defined much of 2014, combined sales of video game hardware like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were up significantly year-on-year for September, while physical software sales were down, reports NPD.

Let’s step through the pullouts.

The Xbox One didn’t outsell the PlayStation 4 after all

Did anyone think it would? They did: Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter predicted earlier this week that the Xbox One would outsell the PlayStation 4 in September.

“We expect Xbox One sales to exceed those of the PS4 for only the second month since launch,” Pachter said, according to VentureBeat.

And yet Sony claims the PS4 “won the month of September, nearly tripling August sales” (it credits the limited-edition white Destiny PS4 bundle as a major factor).

Remember that we don’t know by how much the PS4 outsold the Xbox One (perhaps it was photo finish), and to be fair, analyst predictions are never guarantees.

New physical software sales are plummeting…

New physical software sales took another dive in September, dropping 36%, says NPD.

Save for May, which was basically “Mario Kart 8 month,” new physical software sales have been slightly to dramatically down every month through September. Bear in mind that NPD’s figures don’t take into account used retail game sales or digital software sales, and focus strictly on classic video game demographics (that is, not smartphones, tablets, other mobile devices or microconsoles and so forth).

…but new hardware sales have skyrocketed

Hardware sales were up 136% for September, year-on-year, says NPD. The lowest year-on-year month for hardware was January, just 17%, which makes sense because January 2013 was a five-week reporting period (whereas this year was just four), plus January’s the sales hangover after the holiday splurge.

Generally speaking, year-on-year hardware sales percent increases have been in the high double and occasionally low triple figures. Considered against the declining new physical software figure, and given that you can buy just about anything on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One digitally, well, let’s hope someone reputable’s conducting insightful surveys, so we can get a better sense for what the correlations are, and whether software sales are in fact up.

Destiny broke at least one record

Destiny was the top-selling video game for September, whether considered as a standalone SKU or against other multi-SKU competitors. NPD calls it “the most successful launch of the year so far,” then adds that “an even more prestigious feat was the fact that Destiny had the best launch month of all-time for any new IP in video game software.”

Traditional sports games ruled the roost

While Destiny took the top sales slot, Madden NFL 15, FIFA 15 and NHL 15 (all thee with cross-generation versions) each placed in the top 10. On current-gen consoles, Sony says those three game sold the most on the PS4.

Super Smash Bros. can still do big business for Nintendo

September was all about the 3DS, from Nintendo’s vantage anyway. Even if the game was only available for the last two days of the month, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS easily placed in the top 10, competing with multi-platform SKUs to snatch the fourth slot, beating Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, NHL 15, Minecraft, The Sims 4, Disney Infinity 2.0 and Diablo III.

Nintendo’s pocket-brawler sold 705,000 units in all, with over 135,000 of those as digital downloads. The game bolstered 3DS sales, too, helping Nintendo to 140,000 units, a 55% increase over August sales.

Where’s the Wii U in all of this?

Up 50% in unit sales over August, says Nintendo, helped along by sales of it Zelda brawler Hyrule Warriors (190,000 units), and sustained sales of racer Mario Kart 8 (60,000 units, for a lifetime total of nearly 1.2 million units).

Pay no attention to the noise

Sony’s September sales breakdown has a bunch of stuff in it that you might call “infometrics,” not to be confused with the science of informetrics (note the “r”). Infometrics is a buzzword I used to hear a decade or so ago from “data intelligence” companies trying to up-sell their analysis services. It’s basically a fancy neologistic way of saying “look, some numbers!”

So we have Sony’s claim, for instance, about “social sharing” amounting to 450,000 hours of live gameplay. Trouble is, we have no idea what that number actually means or what to stack it against in the press release. It sounds impressive–nearly half a million hours of stream sharing!–but consider that game streamer Twitch alone does something like 15 billion minutes a month, or 250 million hours, total.

On the other hand, this is interesting and tangible: Sony says Destiny is the most-played PS4 game, with “total gameplay hours” five times higher than the next-most-played game.

TIME Video Games

The 5 iPhone Games You Should Play This Week

Give these games a shot

Looking for a new iPhone game for your commute to work or lunch break at school? TIME rounded up some recent favorites that are worth a try.

  • War of Ages

    App Store

    It’s hardly a surprise that War of Ages is in the top 100 apps in the App Store. For those of us who played games like Age of Empires in the late 90s and early 2000’s, everything from the similar title, to building a nation, to developing a reliable army makes War of Ages feel like a throwback to these original strategy games. But War of Ages allows you to play online against millions of players, which adds a fascinating dimension to the classic medieval strategy genre.

    War of Ages is available free in the App Store.

  • Goat Simulator

    App Store

    When Goat Simulator was announced earlier this year, it was given web-wide attention due to its premise: a surreal Grand Theft Auto-type game involving a goat. Some believed it was an absurdist work of art; others called it a glitch-ridden disaster. Either way, Goat Simulator allows players to control a third person goat and explore the animal’s world, slingshotting the goat from object to object using its extremely elastic tongue while destroying everything in its path.

    Goat Simulator is available for $4.99 in the App Store.

     

  • Banner Saga

    App Store

    While many game developers have started using the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus’ larger screen sizes as a way to explore three dimensions, Banner Saga still delivers a stunning 2D landscape. Players choose their own characters and can follow any number of paths in this role-playing game that feels more like a Norse epic than a game one might plan on a phone. The art itself looks a lot like a detailed cartoon, which seems all the more appropriate when you take your Vikings into battle or sneak through a dark forest to avoid being seen by an enemy patrol.

    Banner Saga is available for $9.99 in the App Store

  • Daddy Long Legs

    App Store

    Daddy Long Legs is as hypnotic as it is simple. The premise sounds almost like a bad joke: successfully tap your screen to guide a hairy black cube with two gigantic legs down a track. Every time the cube falls, it splatters on the ground and the player starts over. For the cube, the road is endless. The only limit is how many hours a player is willing to spend trying to beat a shamefully low high score.

    But Daddy Long Legs also inadvertently delivers a disturbingly poignant message to its players: sometimes baby steps and persistence and a little luck yield greater results than big strides.

    Daddy Long Legs is available free in the App Store.

  • Jack B. Nimble

    App Store

    The first thing one notices about Jack B. Nimble is that it looks almost exactly like an original Game Boy game. With hints of Mario and Sonic and obvious traces of Indiana Jones, Jack B. Nimble is an endearingly old-fashioned monochrome game that lends a dash of eeriness to this hand-held style game. But Jack B. Nimble moves at a decidedly faster pace than its predecessors, and developers didn’t forget that players would be using a tool far more powerful than an old-school Game Boy. Somehow it’s as much at home on the iPhone than it would have been on a Christmas wish list in 1992.

    Jack B. Nimble is available for $1.99 in the App Store.

TIME Video Games

What Is #GamerGate and Why Are Women Being Threatened About Video Games?

What is #GamerGate?

Correction appended: Oct. 17, 2014.

The online movement #GamerGate, which has been brewing since August, took a frightening turn this week when feminist commentator Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speech at a Utah college following a threat against her life. Sarkeesian chose to bow out after Utah State University officials decided to go forward with the event but couldn’t promise Sarkeesian they would be able to keep legally-carried guns off campus.

The anonymous threat warned the school’s administrators of a brutal assault on the campus if Sarkeesian’s talk was allowed to proceed.

“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” the email said. “She is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU….I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.”

The threats are familiar ones for Sarkeesian, whose positions have made her a target for those who feel threatened by feminists, particularly in the gaming community. But the people attacking Sarkeesian have been emboldened lately by #GamerGate, an online movement whose participants say they are targeting corruption in gaming journalism. The campaign has roots in hate speech towards women who make and talk about video games.

How did #GamerGate begin?

In August, a programmer named Eron Gjoni wrote a series of blog posts about the end of his relationship with indie game developer Zoe Quinn. Gjoni accused Quinn of sleeping with a video game journalist named Nathan Grayson, who at the time was freelancing for gaming sites Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun, allegedly in exchange for positive reviews of her game Depression Quest.

Depression Quest was already a controversial game. Released in early 2013, the indie game simulates the experience of having depression and is played entirely by choosing multiple-choice text options. Many gaming outlets applauded the unique game and its exploration of a serious subject in a brave way. However, the game also diverged from the kinds of content and gameplay found in most mainstream games. Some observers argued it wasn’t actually a good game in terms of the experience, but it was instead merely an intellectual exercise, and the articles praising it were puff pieces that caved to P.C. pressure.

When Gjoni publicized the personal details of his relationship with Quinn, certain gamers—who had already criticized the initial coverage of the game—became even more vehement in their vitriol towards Quinn. Stories of Quinn’s sexual history along with nude photos of her soon appeared on online message boards and chat programs like 4chan and IRC. Harassers went so far as to talk about whether they could get Quinn to commit suicide, with one participant saying that wouldn’t be a smart “PR” move.

It’s important to note here that the charges against Quinn and Grayson hold little water. Neither Grayson nor anyone else at Kotaku even reviewed Quinn’s game. Grayson briefly mention the game once in a March post about a completely different subject, but that was before they began their relationship, according to all parties involved. Kotaku has since conducted an investigation into the matter and said it found no ethical violations.

Nonetheless, some gamers were angry that the press didn’t report more on Gjoni’s accusations. Frustrated, the already-angry gamers continued to levy personal attacks against Quinn in reaction to what they perceived as the media’s silence on the matter.

Who is Anita Sarkeesian, and why did someone threaten to shoot up a school if she visited?

Around the same time Quinn came under attack, #GamerGate participants began harassing Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic who speaks about women’s roles in video game plots and game development. Sarkeesian hosts a show called “Feminist Frequency” on YouTube. Last year, she launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for a new series exploring what she considers harmful, sexist tropes in video games:

Anonymous Internet users began threatening Sarkeesian’s life in August after she posted a new video on the sexualization of women in video games. One person even created a game in which players were invited to abuse her. Sarkeesian eventually filed a report with the San Francisco police department and was forced to leave her home for fear of her personal safety. The FBI is investigating the death threats made against her.

It’s at this point in August that Firefly actor Adam Baldwin coined the term #GamerGate on Twitter. Using the hashtag, a group of #GamerGate participants began harassing writers who have supported Quinn and Sarkeesian. Other women in the gaming industry, like Brianna Wu, also received threats against their lives. (Wu has since had to leave her home and go into hiding.)

Fast forward to this week, when someone again threatened to take Sarkeesian’s life.

Why does #GamerGate think feminist criticism of gaming will lead to the “death of the gamer?”

Some of those involved in #GamerGate consider women, minorities and others’ calls for wider representation in gaming as an attack on gamers, who are predominantly young, white and male. Some believe feminists like Sarkeesian are trying to force them out of gaming — online news site Breitbart published an article entitled “Feminist Bullies Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart.” Not all gamers and not even all those who support #GamerGate attack women or support misogynist views, however. Some participants view the movement as an inquisition into corrupt practices among gaming journalists.

Still, following the harassment against Sarkeesian, Quinn and others, a number of journalists and editors published articles condemning gamers who participated in harassment against women. Among the most aggressive of these criticisms came from Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra, who wrote an op-ed titled “‘Gamers’ don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers are over'” at the end of August. That article and similar ones which followed were not well received by many in the gamer community. (Alexander also wrote a related piece for TIME.)

What does Intel have to do with #GamerGate?

Intel was a sponsor of Gamasutra until #GamerGate participants pressured the $158 billion company over Alexander’s article, resulting in Intel pulling its ad dollars from the site, according to re/code.

Intel has since claimed that it was unaware of #GamerGate when it made that decision, but it didn’t return to posting ads on Gamasutra. #GamerGate has gone on to harass several companies into taking similar actions by sending emails at specific times to flood target companies’ inboxes.

What do participants in #GamerGate want now?

Some claim that the gaming industry and the journalists who cover it have grown too close. Several gaming sites have started changing their policies to prevent possible conflicts of interest: Kotaku, for example, now forbids its writers from donating money to indie designers on Patreon, a Kickstarter for indie games.

These complaints are joined by louder, more hate-filled voices making violent threats against women simply for talking about or working in the field of video games. The group has also largely attacked independent gaming developers like the one that released Depression Quest, which typically get little attention from journalists, not the large companies who many say share a quid pro quo relationship with some writers.

Read next: Fixing What’s Wrong With Gamergate Starts With You

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the parent company of the web site Kotaku. It is Gawker Media.

TIME Video Games

Fixing What’s Wrong With Gamergate Starts With You

Whatever you think about games, game journalism or recent critiques of the way video games treat women, you have an obligation to be respectful in debates, and it's a shame we still have to say that.

This is how far we have to go: the Entertainment Software Association, a U.S. video game trade association and sometime D.C. lobbyist group, is now having to remind us that threatening to do violent harm to someone is the opposite of okay.

“Threats of violence and harassment are wrong,” an ESA spokesperson told the Washington Post Wednesday. “They have to stop. There is no place in the video game community—or our society—for personal attacks and threats.”

Read those words again, slowly, because they are a measure of the distance that remains between right here and now, and the point at which our species practices general civility in all its forms of communication, where human beings can depend on each other not to be cruel, condescending, vicious and in some instances even homicidally hostile over cultural disagreements. It should be as shocking as some of these threats that in 2014, someone has to utter the words “harassment is wrong.”

And yet at least three women who work in the games industry have had to temporarily leave their homes after being threatened with horrific acts of violence, simply because they said something someone else found disagreeable. Critic Anita Sarkeesian, known for her video series deconstructing female tropes in video games, just canceled her appearance at Utah State University after someone threatened “the deadliest shooting in American history” if she was allowed to speak. (The university deemed the presentation safe to proceed after consulting with local law enforcement, but can you blame anyone so threatened?)

The locus of all this animus in recent months is a so-called movement known as “Gamergate,” another neologistic slogan born of the infamous 1970s political scandal whose tendrils have circumnavigated space-time to motivate people to lazily append and then rally behind an egress descriptor glommed onto a vague reference label. Like the Tea Party, Gamergate may have been forged with something like an original central purpose: in its case, ostensibly reforming perceived corruption in “games journalism.” But as some of its supporters began violently threatening women who wrote about the topic, it quickly snowballed into something far messier and treacherous, a perplexing mass of conflicting idea-vectors, vitriol-filled social media assaults and online forum-filled cascades of general thuggery.

In a recent Salon article celebrating Richard Dawkins’ slight backpedaling on religion, the site references an interview with the evolutionary biologist, in which Dawkins says “There is a kind of pseudo-tribalism which uses religion as a label.” He’s talking about The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), reacting to a question about what could motivate a group to acts of utter barbarism like the beheadings for which ISIS is now infamous.

“Pseudo-tribalism” summarizes nicely. Swap “religion” for “Gamergate,” specifically for those using the term to denigrate and terrorize women, and you have the analogue. That well-meaning proponents of Gamergate have utterly failed to wrangle the slogan back from these bomb-throwers means it’s time to abandon it, to find a better way to prosecute concerns about journalistic corruption, and to wade civilly into the intellectual debate about female tropes in games.

Whatever you think of Sarkeesian’s thoughts on games and those tropes—and it should go without saying that there is room for civil debate about any critic’s thoughts on anything—there’s no room in such a debate for harassment, libel, slander, rape threats, death threats, posting intimate photos of someone without consent, outing their geographic location to intimidate them and so forth. Harassment is not debate. Harassment ends debates. It’s antithetical to dialogue, and, assuming you’re not so aberrant or sociopathic that you can’t tell the difference, isn’t meaningful dialogue what you’re after?

This is how you change the debate, and it has to happen before dialogue starts, before you even get to the level of worrying about semantic contentiousness over whether the label “gamer” is forever or forever stultified. In logic debates, there’s a thing known as the ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem is Latin for “to the person.” It means to attack someone personally–and irrelevantly–instead of debating the actual idea or claim or argument. The litmus test is this: after you’ve typed out your comment or message board post or social media screed, does it violate this fallacy? If so, that’s what the delete button’s for.

If you don’t care about respecting someone else’s right to disagree with you, if all you want is to cause harm for some twisted sense of catharsis, what can I say but that you’re doing something that’s the opposite of noble, the opposite of productive, the opposite of moving the ball down the field in whatever direction you think is important–and when you escalate harassment to the level of violence, it’s the very definition of psychopathic.

What I find most depressing about any of this isn’t the state of journalism (it’s hardly just “games journalism,” folks) or what men think about women and women about men. It’s that as human beings in 2014, we still think it’s okay to pick up a keyboard or tablet or phone, venture to someone else’s online space, pull out our weaponized words, and open fire.

TIME Media

Misogynist Online Abuse Is Everyone’s Problem — Men Included

The harassment against feminist #Gamergate critics is getting attention now. But the toxicity goes much farther in our culture.

I wasn’t going to write about #Gamergate. Most of the video gaming world is outside my experience. I used to play more, when I had more time and hair, but now I only play a few tablet or iPhone games, and badly. (I get a 384 on Threes, it’s basically a national holiday.) Not my issue, I figured.

Weeks went on, and I kept seeing references to a culture war between gamers and gaming journalists, especially feminist critics of the industry, that had devolved into vile sexist harassment and death and rape threats. So I started reading, and to an outsider anyway, Gamergate led to a vast tangle of ancient grievances and offenses that seemed about as easy to unravel as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (For those interested, Todd Van Der Werff’s explainer at Vox is one of the better I’ve read.) That sounds awful, I thought. But again, not my area. Not my problem.

And then I read this terrific column by the Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan that made me realize that it is totally my problem, and everyone’s. The abuse that female game critics and journalists and developers have been receiving has been extreme–specific threats to friends and family online, bomb threats, people hoping to drive women to suicide, the threat of a mass shooting at a talk video game critic Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to give. But it’s not unparalleled.

In TV criticism–in any cultural criticism now–the price of having a female byline and an opinion is getting subjected to torrents of gender-specific, grotesque, sometimes frightening and threatening abuse, which men like me, in general, do not deal with to nearly the same degree. I panned CBS’s Stalker. Mo Ryan panned CBS’s Stalker. But only she received the e-mail, quoted in her column, that told her to “shut the fuck up” because “MEN WE PREVAIL.” (Disclosure, I guess: I’m friendly with Ryan, as I am with a lot of TV critics, and I will confess to being biased against someone calling a friend a “fucking misandry freak.”)

And what’s the offense here, in each case? What were the fighting words? Somebody made some videos criticizing gaming tropes as sexist. Someone said that a TV crime show was exploitative and abhorrent. Someone said, maybe don’t harass women in the video game industry. This is the threat. This is the crisis.

It’s the “War on Christmas,” essentially. (There’s an excellent piece in Deadspin drawing out the parallels between the political and the entertainment-industry culture wars.) It’s the grievance of an identity group, already superserved by the larger culture, outraged that its service has become slightly less super. Their thing used to be the main thing, the default thing, the assumption. And now, if you point out that it is no longer the only thing–as is the case, both in American society and in entertainment–why, you’re persecuting them.

I have to assume that the people making death and bomb threats are, as the saying goes, a “small but vocal minority.” But this sense of disproportionate grievance is not so small. Put simply: someone saying mean things about a thing you like is not an assault on your liberties.

So someone made you feel bad for playing a video game that you like? I’m sorry. Maybe there are valid arguments against them. Maybe you could make those arguments! But nobody is about to haul you off to the Misandrist Re-Education Camps because they caught you playing Assassin’s Creed.

Someone got all righteous about the TV shows you like? Maybe they asked why there aren’t more well-rounded women in True Detective or why there are so many dramas about brooding male antiheroes and serial killers or they said something was a rape scene that you didn’t think was a rape scene? That’s unfortunate. But guess what? HBO’s still making the second season of True Detective! Networks are still going to make all those antihero and serial killer shows! You’re still going to be on the receiving end of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline full of product tailored to your specific tastes. I think you’ll be OK!

But as a larger group, we have a problem–all of us. It’s women, online and in real life, who have to deal with the fear and the abuse and the is-it-worth-it-to-say-this, in far greater numbers. People tweet horrible things at me sometimes, but I don’t pretend writing a post like this is any kind of brave act on my part. I’ll publish it and go on my merry way. I have the Guy Shield, or maybe the Dude Invisibility Cloak. (It’s +3 against trolls!)

It’s still my problem, though. There’s a whole genre of men saying that they’ve become feminist because they have daughters. I don’t; I have two sons. Which is exactly why this kind of toxic crap in the culture is my problem, because they play games and they live in the world, and I want them to grow up to be decent guys with healthy human relationships. I don’t want them immersed in a mindset that says that throwing anonymous abuse at women is somehow retaliation in kind.

It’s my problem because I may not be a big gamer, but no part of the culture is an island. The dudebro attitude is manifest in TV comments sections and movie discussions and literary arguments–the puffing out of chests, the casual gendered insults–and it’s stifling, and it’s depressing, and it makes too many people decide it’s not worth engaging anymore.

It’s my problem because I love ideas and innovative culture and smart conversation. And every time a woman decides she needs to cancel a speech, or decides it’s not worth the risk to keep working in the creative field she loves, or decides, you know what, not today, it’s just not worth it to publish this column on this subject–it costs me and everyone else (even if it costs the women affected much more). It’s my problem if anyone’s engaging in a concerted effort to shut someone up, because I’m a writer and I’m a person and I live in a society.

This toxicity that we’re stewing in may not be All Men or All Gamers or All Anyone. That’s obvious. And it’s besides the point. What matters is that it’s all our problem.

TIME Gadgets

The Best Small Android Tablet

The Nvidia Shield has a beautiful display, blistering performance, a light, comfortable and good-looking design and a clean interface, making it the best small-screen Android tablet.

Nvidia ShieldShopping for a smaller tablet can be daunting, thanks to the sea of 7- to 8-inch Android devices available. It would be simple if most of the low-cost models were easily dismissed, but Android tablets are getting lighter, slimmer, faster and more powerful while simultaneously getting less expensive.

To find the very best tablets, I looked for four key elements: a bright, vivid, pixel-dense display that looks great at any angle; a lightweight design that’s comfortable to hold in one hand for long stretches; a powerful CPU coupled with a good amount of RAM for smooth, speedy multitasking; and an interface that’s easy to understand and navigate even if you’re not tech-savvy. Price was also a consideration — a great small tablet shouldn’t break the bank.

That narrowed the field down to three standout tablets: the Asus Memo Pad 8 ($129 on Amazon), the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 ($389 on Amazon) and the Nvidia SHIELD Tablet ($299 on Amazon). In the end, the Shield Tablet is my ultimate pick for best small tablet based on its balance of price point and feature set.

Made for Gamers, Great for Everyone

Nvidia designed the Shield Tablet primarily for gamers, so its long list of impressive features includes things like superfast gaming performance and the ability to wirelessly stream PC games from the computer to the tablet. The same elements that make this a great gaming tablet make it a great all-around tablet as well.

The Tegra K1 processor inside isn’t just quad-core; like most tablets, it has 192 graphics cores. That translates into a smooth experience no matter which app or game you’re running, and it ensures the tablet will be able to keep up with Android apps well into the future as they grow more complex and resource-hungry.

The Shield Tablet’s 8-inch, 1920 x 1200 resolution display creates deep colors and crisp details that don’t wash out or distort when you hold the tablet at an angle. Whether you use the Shield to read an e-book or a web page, its high pixel density means that small fonts stay sharp.

The Shield’s display doesn’t pop as much as the display on the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (2560 x 1600 Super AMOLED), and if you look closely, the difference in resolution is noticeable. If you want the very best display, the Tab S has it. But side by side, the Shield Tablet stands up quite well to this competition — especially impressive since it costs about $100 less.

Another notable difference between the two tablets is weight. The Tab S 8.4 is incredibly thin and light for its size, weighing 10.4 ounces versus the Shield’s 13.7 ounces. The Shield is still light enough to hold with one hand during long reading sessions or with two for longer gaming sessions without making your wrists ache.

Bonus: Stylus

On top of its sweet gaming features, the Shield Tablet offers one more extra that makes it enticing: a stylus. Just like the stylus for Nvidia’s last tablet, the Tegra Note 2, the Shield’s stylus is a step above the kind of capacitive styluses that work on any tablet, but it’s not the same technology used in active digitizer pens like those with the Galaxy Note series. Active pens are more desirable because they’re accurate and precise, making it easy to reject input from a palm or finger. They achieve this through wireless communication between the pen and the display, which makes the tablets more expensive.

Coupled with the processing power of the Tegra K1, the Nvidia DirectStylus 2 software emulates this functionality in the Shield’s pen, even though it’s not an active digitizer. You still get a very thin, precise tip, and there’s even some pressure sensitivity and (even more impressive) palm rejection — all without expensive hardware.

Nvidia has included a handful of note-taking and writing apps that take advantage of the pen, including Evernote, Write and a handwriting recognition keyboard. The company also developed a neat drawing app called Dabbler that emulates several different types of drawing and painting environments, including wet watercolors.

Outside of last year’s Galaxy Note 8, this is the best stylus experience available in the 8-inch tablet range.

Android and Interface

Most popular Android tablets come with an interface skin over the base operating system that changes the look and some of the functionality of the operating system. Google Nexus tablets and, now, the Shield tablet are major exceptions to this rule. Although Nvidia did a ton of work on the back end to give the tablet some gaming chops, the company didn’t mess much with how Android 4.4 KitKat operates, preserving the stock look and feel.

I’ve praised well-designed skins on tablets from Samsung, ASUS and other companies in previous reviews, and in truth, I prefer them since they smooth over some of Android’s rough edges and make executing some actions more efficient. However, KitKat is Google’s most polished version of Android to date, and if you prefer to take customization into your own hands, the Shield Tablet offers the same blank canvas that Nexus devices do.

You’ll find a few Shield-specific tweaks, such as the Shield Hub interface/menu for easy navigation while connected to a TV and using the game controller. (More on this later.) There’s also Console Mode for streaming full HD video or games to an HDTV. Otherwise, it’s Android business as usual.

Media

The same hardware that makes the Shield Tablet a gaming beast also makes it a great little machine for watching video, showing off pictures and listening to music. Between the beautiful display and the high-end graphics, you’ll enjoy smooth playback of full HD and 4K movies from the device or via streaming. The latter is possible thanks to a dual-band, 2×2 MIMO wireless antenna that connects to the strongest signal available to receive and send data at super-fast speeds.

The Shield sports a pair of speakers on the front, flanking the display. It’s no surprise, then, that the Shield’s audio quality is well above average — and not just because the sound blasts directly toward you. The sound quality is the best I’ve heard on a tablet, well rounded in the mid-range with actual bass. It bests the Galaxy Tab S 8.4’s sound without trying (although it doesn’t take much to earn that distinction, since most tablet speakers aren’t great). Still, it’s still a nice touch that means that you won’t need headphones to get a good audio experience.

Aside from Shield-optimized games in the Shield Hub, you won’t get any special or exclusive content sources beyond what you can find in the Google Play store.

Cameras

The Shield is singular in that it has 5-megapixel cameras on the back and the front. Both take above-average pictures for tablet cameras and are supported by a robust camera app that makes it possible to tweak settings for better images. The high-quality front camera is a bonus not only for people who love selfies but anyone who likes to video chat.

Gaming

nvidia-shield-controller
Nvidia

As I said at the start, you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate all the great things about the Shield Tablet. But since it is designed for gamers, you’ll appreciate several features and accessories that only add to this device’s value.

First and foremost is the optional game controller ($60 at Amazon), designed to be just as comfortable and robust as an Xbox or PS4 controller. It communicates with the tablet wirelessly over Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth, managing lag so minuscule you’ll never notice it when playing. All of the games available via Nvidia’s Hub work with the controller out of the virtual box; for others, a mapping app lets you use it with almost any game.

The most impressive software feature is GameStream, a technology that makes it possible to play the high-end games stored on your PC using the tablet. Currently, GameStream only works when the computer and tablet are on the same wireless network — so just in the home — and with specific hardware on the PC side (not to mention some suggested routers). That said, being able to play a game meant for a computer on a tablet is really cool. And when you’re in console mode and connected via HDMI, you can play those same games on a big-screen HDTV without having to move the computer away from your desk.

Gamers love sharing gameplay with friends (bragging rights are important), so Nvidia has built in a sharing option that allows you to record game play for sharing or streaming to gaming video site Twitch.

The only drawback for gamers is that the $299 model only includes 16GB of internal storage. There’s a microSD card slot to hold media and some app data; however, this version of Android severely restricts moving and running apps from SD cards.

Games tend to take up more space than other apps, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on available space.

A 32GB model is available, although it comes with an additional element: LTE. The extra storage and antenna make for a $100 price bump.

Good Reviews Across the Board

At release, the Shield impressed pretty much every reviewer who got their hands on one.

PCMag praised it as “one of the most powerful mobile devices available right now,” calling Nvidia’s success at fitting so much power and flexibility into an 8-inch tablet “genuinely impressive.”

CNET sums it up nicely: “Even if you don’t take advantage of its gaming prowess, the Nvidia Shield Tablet is one of the most versatile — and affordable — high-performance 8-inch Android slates you can buy.”

The Best Small Tablet: Nvidia Shield Tablet

The Shield Tablet has all the elements of a great tablet: a beautiful display, blistering performance, a light, comfortable and good-looking design and a clean interface. It adds some sweet gaming features and a surprisingly excellent stylus on top of that, all for the relatively low price of $299.

Even if you don’t care about gaming, this tablet’s closest competition is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, which costs almost $100 more. While the Galaxy Tab does have a lighter design and a brilliant display, the Shield is more than competitive on both fronts. That’s why it’s my top pick.

Runner-up: ASUS Memo Pad 8

Asus Memo Pad 8The $129 ASUS Memo Pad 8 is the tablet you want if you’re looking for something under $200. It used to be that tablets in this price range were either very limited in functionality or poorly built. That’s no longer true, and the Memo Pad line in particular has exemplified how low cost can be done right.

The 8-inch IPS display has a relatively low resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, but the quality of the screen itself is quite good. No matter what angle you hold it at, the vivid colors stay true and don’t wash out or distort. The screen gets pretty bright too, although it’s a bit reflective even at 100 percent brightness.

The Memo Pad is lightweight yet feels well-built and sturdy, not cheap. It runs on a quad-core Intel Atom processor, a decently powerful and speedy CPU for an Android 4.4 device, able to handle any basic app with ease. However, the Memo Pad’s relatively small amount of RAM (1GB) means that resource-hungry apps may choke. If your needs are simple — email, browsing, a few casual games — then you won’t have problems.

Asus has created a custom UI skin to go over Android called ZenUI. While it does add some functionality and change up the operating system’s menus a bit, this skin is mostly a light touch.

The closest competition in this price range is the Amazon Fire 6 ($99 on Amazon) and Fire 7 ($139 on Amazon) as well as the ASUS Memo Pad 7 ($125 on Amazon), the 7-inch version.

The Fire 6 is the most tempting of the bunch due to its $99 price. However, Amazon’s newest tablets continue to suffer the same challenge as always: a limited Android experience. With the Fire, you can only run apps from Amazon’s store. The company has a vast library, but it’s not as deep as Google Play.

The 7-inch Memo Pad is almost identical to the larger version both inside and out, and it’s the next generation of the very impressive Memo Pad HD 7 from last year.

Unfortunately, this year’s model doesn’t have as nice a display or as good a set of cameras. Unless you really want a 7-inch tablet instead of an 8-inch one, the larger version is worth the extra money.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Video Games

World of Warcraft Enjoys Over Half a Million Subscriber Bounce

Blizzard's indefatigable fantasy MMO picks up players as both its 10th anniversary and next expansion loom.

World of Warcraft‘s next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, trundles onstage November 13. And so Blizzard’s tireless fantasy MMO, slow-bleeding subscriptions for years, is experiencing a kind of bounce — to the tune of about 600,000 subscriptions. The new worldwide subscriber tally: in the vicinity of 7.4 million.

Blizzard hasn’t announced or confirmed the 600,000 figure; it’s the implicit takeaway subtracting one press release from another.

In early August, Activision Blizzard revealed World of Warcraft‘s subscription base had fallen to 6.8 million, down 800,000 from the prior quarter, when it stood at 7.6 million. The last time the game’s base was that low, the housing bubble hadn’t popped, The Sopranos was still on the air and the Governator was only midway through his California reign.

Yesterday, Blizzard slipped the 7.4 million figure into a press release about a Warlords of Draenor prelaunch patch. That number is current as of September 30, 2014.

At its height, World of Warcraft commanded 12 million subscribers. That was October 2010. Someone’s been plotting all these press release points on a Statista chart if you want to see the broad sweeps. The actual chart probably looks more like one of those chaotically scribbled volume-trading maps, with subscriber activity trending gradually down, marked by periods of noisy, frenetic re-acclimation.

A subscription surge was inevitable. It’s happened every time the company releases an expansion. Warlords of Draenor, which follows Mists of Pandaria‘s release two years ago, is Blizzard’s fifth expansion for the game. Its raises the level cap from 90 to 100, shines up the graphics, plugs in the customary new dungeons and raids, and for its new feature trick, gloms on user-created garrisons whereby players can recruit in-game characters to automate loot-gathering busywork.

World of Warcraft celebrates its 10th anniversary on November 23 (brace for the glut of press paeans). It’s one of the longest-running MMOs of all time, and it’s the most broadly played subscription-based MMO by any measure. Plenty of MMOs have lived longer–I believe Furcadia, which launched in 1996, currently holds the record–but the nearest rivals (like EVE Online, which launched in 2003) have only fractional populations.

TIME Video Games

Video Game Feminist Cancels School Speech Amid Shooting Threat

Anita Sarkeesian pulled out of and event at Utah State after a mass shooting threat

A feminist speaker well known for her videos criticizing the role of female characters in video games canceled a Wednesday speech at a Utah college after learning the school would allow concealed firearms at the event despite an anonymous threat against her life.

Utah State University staff members were notified of a threat to carry out a mass shooting at the school if Anita Sarkeesian, author of video blog “Feminist Frequency,” was allowed to deliver a speech on women’s role in video games, the Associated Press reports. The threat was delivered by someone claiming to be a student in an email claiming they would commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if Sarkeesian’s speech continued as planned.

“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” said the email, the Standard Examiner reports.

The university decided Tuesday it was safe to commence with the presentation after consulting with law enforcement. However, the school also said it would allow attendees with a valid concealed firearm permit to attend the presentation, in accordance with state and local law.

Sarkeesian then decided late Tuesday to cancel her speech. A university spokesman said the FBI told officials the threat is akin to similar intimidating messages received ahead of public appearances by Sarkeesian, who has often been the target of Internet harassment from those who disagree with her beliefs.

[AP]

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