This may come as a surprise to many of you, but I love horror! Even when I was a kid I loved watching horror movies, much to my mom's frustration, as she'd be the one who had to get me to fall asleep later.  To get my horror fix I have a 'Fright Night' once a month with my good friend and fellow horror lover, Tiffany, where we watch scary movies and play horror games to our hearts content. Margaret and Lisa tried to join us once, but never came back after we watched "The Audition." Look that film up if you dare! Now way back in 2012, Tiffany came over sans any movie and asked if we could use my computer. I thought we'd be reading creepy stories or something, but instead I was introduced to a little game called "Slender: The Eight Pages." We each took turns playing as an unfortunate soul who has to wander through a creepy forest collecting eight pages that warn you of its dangerous inhabitant, Slenderman. This antagonist is a tall, slender (duh), faceless humanoid that seems to know when and where you've collected all the pages, becoming stronger and faster with each one, and he'll stalk you until there's simply no escaping him. Seeing him in all of his suited glory, even at a distance, amongst the trees was more than enough to send a chill down your spine and send you running the other way.
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He'll steal your soul but not before showing you insurance plans.
Even with his effectiveness as a monster, the mechanics of the game were different from what the public was used to. It was easy enough so that casual gamers could play, making it very accessible, and while most games would give you some kind of weapon or way to defend yourself this game gives you nothing but a flashlight. It's also widely believed that you play a little kid because everything in the forest seems bigger, making the player feel vulnerable and heightening their senses, so that even a pin drop could make them scream. The game was scary, fun, and engaging enough that I figured it would probably be popular, but I truly had no idea. While you could easily find Slenderman in creepypastas and memes everywhere online, before 'Eight Pages' was released, after the game's release, he truly ruled the Internet. After the success of the first game, many sequels were released, one of which really kicked off a worldwide discussion of the mythos behind Slenderman. In "Slender: The Arrival" the gameplay becomes more vast as your task is not just to collect pages, but figure out what happened to your friend, Kate. The story that unfolds isn't unlike many of the ones you can find floating around online where kids go missing, and adults who catch glimpses of him begin to go insane. It's even unclear as to whether he kills his victims, turns them into something else, or even sends them into different dimensions.

Despite just being a solid game, the main source of Slender's fame came from the video-sharing site, Youtube. Because of the games' accessibility, use of atmosphere, and occasional jump scares, it became the go-to source for amusing reactions from people who happened to record themselves while playing. Even well known 'Let's Players' like Pewdiepie and TobyTurner got in on the action and spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of copycats. Let's face it, no matter how good of a person you think you are, you know that seeing people get scared and scream is hilarious. Think I'm wrong? I've got billions upon billions of video views to back this up.
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Admit it, you could watch this all day.
After the crowning success of Slender, hundreds of other games came up out of the woodwork promising to scare the living crap out of its players. It was (and still is) a beautiful thing, really. Aspiring game designers became inspired to use gaming engines to show their craft through the horror genre. In order for any horror game to stand out it needs to use visuals, sound, game playability and story elements to be successful and immerse whomever is playing it. Only the truly talented saw there games reach the YouTube limelight and it was because they used all of the above elements in new and creative ways, but none of them were able to reach the same level of stardom or public consciousness like Slender did. That is until some genius named Scott Cawthorn used a fear every kid has known since the early 80s and made it into something that has given millions of people sleepless nights.
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What kid would find this entertaining and fun???
One fateful 'Fright Night,' it was my turn to introduce Tiffany to a game: "Five Nights at Freddy's." In this game you are a security guard working the nightshift at a fictional restaurant similar to a Chuck E. Cheese or the past Circus Pizza called 'Freddy Fazbear's Pizza'. It's your first night and you get a voicemail from your boss explaining the job to you. Everything sounds normal until he mentions that the animatronic animals on the stage wander around the place at night and will stuff you into an animatronic suit filled with wires and rebar if they see you. You're fixed to the one spot at your security desk, giving you limited perspective and making it impossible to escape. Even worse, you have a limited amount of power available to you, power that controls the cameras, lights and doors that are your only protection. Each night becomes more intense as the figures become more active and new characters like 'Foxy the Pirate' and 'Golden Freddy' keep you on your toes. At the end of the week you get nothing but a pathetic paycheck and a sense of dread about coming back to work.
PictureA-are you being serious right now?!
Once again, the games' method of leaving the player practically defenseless made the game stand out only this time the player is expected to notice patterns and develop a strategy for conserving their power and staying alive all five nights. And, like "Eight Pages," the game is easy to pick up and play for anyone. One other very important thing that "Five Nights at Freddy's" and "Slender..." managed to do, was create a mythos behind their game. We learn bits of information about the backstory of the restaurant itself in the first installment of "FIve Nights at Freddy's" but in "Five Nights 2 "an intriguing, if not disturbing, backstory begins to unfold strongly suggesting child abduction and murder by a mysterious 'Purple Man'. Until the release of the 3rd game, forums and comments sections were constantly ablaze with theories and speculations over what exactly happened at Fazbear's Pizza.

FazbeargangCreating nightmare fuel since 1984.
Very recently, the third and last (possibly) part of the game trilogy was released. All of the stories were finally explained and Internet nerds everywhere pumped their fists in the air after finding out their theory was correct. But what impressed me the most was the feeling that I got after finishing the final installment. I won't spoil the ending of the game for you, but by the end you feel as though you've really just solved a decades long mystery and have brought peace to the souls of the murdered children, as silly as that seems. You're suddenly able to see the overarching story as a whole and realize just how sad and tragic it really is, but you still feel as though you've accomplished your role in the story. At that moment, I realized that I had somehow become incredibly invested and emotional over a horror game about walking animatronics. That's what made this game stand out among the others. The creator gave it a heart and soul, if you will. You're given a reason to care, and continue to care throughout the entire trilogy. This is very refreshing and a huge improvement from what the horror medium has been making in recent years. Too often it's about having tons of jump scares, being the most disturbing, or having the most gore. But all of these things in themselves are dull and uncreative and will be quickly forgotten.

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Yawn.
Hopefully, "Five Nights at Freddy's" will inspire a mess of new games and projects that take risks, push boundaries, and make us all enjoy the journey to the end. And please, for the love of God, Scott Cawthorn, keep making games!

What are your favorite horror games and what makes them stand out? What do you hope to see in the future of horror games?
For information on the games mentioned in this post, please use the links below.

Slenderman: The Eight Pages

Five Nights at Freddy's

 
 
Here we are in the middle of March, and I bet you didn't realize that we were also in the middle of Women's History month. If you did, then major kudos. If I'm being honest, I actually forgot. It only remembered when the topic was brought up by my dear friend, Margaret, during our monthly book club meeting. I was slightly embarrassed by this faux pas when she called me out on it because typically, I never forget things like that. I'm usually the one bringing up such facts. Maybe this turn of warm weather is messing with my internal circuitry.
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Come on, even Leslie Knope drops the ball sometimes...
After the meeting, I tried to forgive myself for this error by thinking about all my favorite female heroes from both real history and fictional history, that have blazed trails in their own times, and inspired me in my own. So, this week, I'd like to reflect on my history in the world of fandom and present to you, my top five women that are responsible for turning yours truly into Geeky Pheebs. 

5) Lisa Simpson

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Since "The Simpsons" and I have been on this earth for almost the same amount of time, I really don't remember a time without it in my realm of fandom. Like most Americans, everyone can relate to at least one of its colorful characters. For me, it was always Lisa. Lisa Simpson was always hungry for knowledge and knew all the icons of feminism. Her willingness to embrace the things she was passionate about no matter the labels by her brother Bart or other school children always inspired me to do the same long before fandom was fashionable.


4) Ursula Le Guin

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When I was in the third grade, I had to do a book report for class. While roaming the bookshelves, the kind librarian, Mrs. Wellington, noticed my proclivity for all things Lisa Frank and suggested I read a book called "Catwings" by her favorite author, Ursula Le Guin.  That's where my love for all things Fantasy began (my love for all things Sci-Fi began sometime before that, but that's a tale yet to come).   It's also when my own fandom for Ursula Le Guin began. I ended up acing the book report, and subsequently read the other books in the series (looking back now, they're much better when you're under 10).  I've gone on to read almost everything Ursula has ever published and admire her not only for being a trailblazer for other female authors in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi genres, but for not imitating the voices of male authors before her. Instead, she crafted her own unique style that inspires many authors today, both male and female. As a special bonus, check out this short film, "The Field of Vision" by my filmmaker friend, Siri Rodnes. It's based on the Ursula Le Guin short story "The Field of Vision."

3) Amelia Earhart

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Ever since I've been into Sci-Fi, I've always dreamed of flying, and when I first learned there was another woman born a long time ago that also dreamed of being beyond the sky, I knew I had to learn more about her.  Talk about being a bold woman, this aviatrix dove head first into an all boys club and demanded to be a part of it with or without her their blessing. Just think for a moment, if this woman never existed, we wouldn't have had a Sally Ride! Heck, a myriad of fictional female pilots or space captains wouldn't have existed, as I am sure many creators based their characters on the Ms. Earhart.

2) Ellen Ripley

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Speaking of famous, female Space Captains. I saw the original "Alien" way too young. When I was a kid, my babysitter (knowing that I liked Sci-Fi) grabbed the first video on the shelf in the Sci-Fi section of the local Blockbuster, and plopped my little sister, Stella, and myself in front of the TV so she could "hang out" with the boyfriend. While the movie scared Stella for life, I was in awe of this strong sweaty woman named Ripley. There she was, in command of a crew of men and had to lead them against a ferocious monster. She was also the first female character I saw on screen that wasn't pining for the attention of a man. All she was interested in was doing her job. I must admit, Ripley has been the basis for a lot of the characters in my own work and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I'm really looking forward to seeing her in the saddle again for the Neil Blomkamp reboot.

1) Grace Hooper

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The number one spot goes to the MOTHER (^bonus points for "Alien" reference?^) of computer science, Grace Hooper. She worked on Harvard's Mark 1 computer, invented the phrase "debugging" and was a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. So if the "Avengers" were real, I'm pretty darn sure she'd be on the team.
As a Linux lover myself, I owe a big debt of gratitude to this woman for inspiring me to learn just the point and tap aspects of computers. Also, I can almost guarantee that without her, we'd still be using typewriters and pagers.

That about rounds it out. Although I did this list 1-5, the truth is I love all these ladies equally in their own unique way. As a way redeem myself for my forgetfulness I presented this list to my Margaret and asked for hers in return and I'll issue the same challenge to you. So, what women have inspired your fandom?
 
 
Have you ever been to a convention? No? Then why in the world are you reading a geek blog? Don't worry, I'm just kidding. I'm sure quite a few geeks out there, sadly, haven't experienced the awesomeness that is a Comic/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Video Game/Anything Else convention.
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Official logo of MarsCon 2015.
 Now, I can't speak for every geek and nerd out there, but my hunch for why they're missing out, is because they've heard of the BIG cons. You know, conventions like Comic-Con, Wizard World, or Dragon Con. While these are the ones everyone seems to know about, they are also the most expensive. Some have nothing but pricey merchandise and celebrities who charge you just to look at them [SHATNER!]. Others are renowned for being impossible to attend because tickets go so fast, or because you spend more than half of your time at the con waiting in line for something.
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And this is just for the restroom.
Don't get me wrong! There's nothing wrong with all big cons, the experience just may fall short of what many geeks expect. I would love to attend a con like this one-day, but it's just not possible right now with my lack of finances and time. However, those in the same boat as me don't have to feel like they're missing out! Nowadays, you can't swing a dead red shirt without hitting at least one smaller, local comic convention. Not only are cons like these more affordable, but also they have more to offer in terms of entertainment, interactivity, and community. My hope is that I can start a series showcasing some of the best smaller cons in my area. And then, someday, the rest of America!

I'll start off the series with one of my favorites, the first convention I ever went to: MarsCon (MN).
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MarsCon tapestry
The very first MarsCon was held in 1999 with the intention of attracting geeks and nerds across the board! If science fiction books are your bread and butter, this is the con for you. If you are constantly working on a new cosplay, this is the con for you. If your idea of a perfect night is staying in with friends and playing Magic: The Gathering, this is the con for you. Literally everyone will find something that they like here! Every year they book guests from your favorite TV shows and films as well as some of the best authors of sci-fi and fantasy! And each year has a theme that can be applied to nearly every fandom there is. This years' theme was 'Heroes, Wizards, and Fae...Oh My!' and everyone there took it to heart.
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A Klingon Faerie happened...and you missed it.
They have the staples most conventions have. There are a slew of talented local artists who bring amazing artwork in every year for people to bid on. Not just wall art either, but knitted items, jewelry, and (of course) fairy wings. A Masquerade show that showcases not just experienced costumers but beginners, as well as kids, with a prize for each category. Their Masquerade isn't so much about how perfect the crafting is, but about the work, dedication, and passion put into what each of costumers decide to show. They have a Gaming Room for all your RPG and strategy inclinations. By the way, if you're a novice at any game, then have no fear! Everyone there is more than willing to help you assimilate. And of course there's the Dealer's Room, filled with things you didn't realize that you needed until there. Not only is there tons of cool stuff, but also it's all reasonably priced!

Some of the more unusual offerings of MarsCon help with its widespread appeal. The science room hosts interactive exhibits and demonstrations from organizations like the National Space Society, Mars Society, and Twin Cities Makers. This year, they had a simulation of the bridge of the HMS Artemis! The A/V Room shows independent films related to Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as not so independent offerings like Monty Python and classic Saturday morning cartoons! The Prop-A-Torium houses both official and fan-made props from all kinds of films and TV shows. The collections amassed there are nothing short of impressive.
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Here there is life-sized, working Daleks. For real.
Perhaps the thing that really sets MarsCon apart is it's own 'MarsCon Dementia Track' a la the infamous Dr. Demento. Every year, a number of comedy artists from around the country, headed by 'The Great Luke Ski,' come to perform throughout the weekend for a very enthusiastic audience. They also host the opening ceremony each year, ensuring that it's entertaining and memorable. I'll confess that I don't often get to stop by their shows (if you haven't figured it out yet, there's lots to do!), but whenever I have the chance to check them out, I always have a blast! If you love 'Weird' Al or are just of fan of anything humorous, you owe it to yourself to spend some time with the Dementia crew.
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Where laughs and obscure geek jokes abound! For more info: http://marscondementia.com/
New this year was an Anime/YA room for discussing young adult literature and hosting Anime Showings. Also new was the 'Room of Requirement,' a room especially for the kiddies or adults who act like them. Here you could pretend to be a fairy by posing for photos with oversized props and donning fairy wings, see 'mythical' creatures and reptiles, craft to your hearts content, and play a life- sized version of D&D!
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Like this but with dice!
MarsCon is not just about geeking out and having the time of your life, though. You also get to make a difference! They have a blood drive for those interested and this year they accepted donations to the COPD Foundation in memory of Leonard Nimoy. You can also be part of a charity auction, which benefits the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Greater Minnesota) and the Gordy Dickson Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Even with all of the amazing things offered at MarsCon, its 'shining quality' is its community. Everyone behind-the-scenes is incredibly friendly and passionate not just about the convention, but about the people who attend! They go above and beyond to make each year an immense success and you can tell that they love every moment of it. As someone who first started coming a few years ago, I can honestly say that going to MarsCon was like being with friends I'd forgotten I had.

When it comes down to it, MarsCon is an excellent gateway for the uninitiated. It's small enough that the crowds won't be overwhelming and there are endless things to occupy your time for a very reasonable fee. I guarantee that whilst there, wherever your own interests lie, you will always find a few comrades and friends to make your time there truly memorable.

Did you attend MarsCon 2015? If so, what were your favorite things about it? Do you have any special memories? Share them in the comments section below.

For more info on MarsCon, please visit their website HERE.

 
 
If you're a geek or subscribe to fandom culture anywhere on earth, you're no doubt aware that last week, we lost a legend.  On February 27th, 2015, Leonard Nimoy passed at the age of 83. On that day, even the Star Wars/Star Trek rivalry was shelved to honor a man that used his talent and fame to enrich and inspired the human race. 
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Truce.
I'm a fan of Star Trek. That's all I'll say about it because I don't want to spend a lot of time this week on ol' Phoebe. Instead, I want to use this space to honor the man we all knew as Mr. Spock.

As I reflected on Nimoy's death this past week, and read about his life in the countless articles/obituaries, I felt a bit sad that so many would only remember Nimoy for his work in the entertainment field and will never know of the work he did off the movie sets to leave this world a better place.

This week, I'd like to highlight three things about Leonard Nimoy that reveal a man that was dedicated to making a difference on this planet.
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Nimoy.
1.) During his time on the original Star Trek series, he championed for equal pay for actress Nichelle Nicholls who played Uhura. This meant standing up to the show's producers, which was a bold move in the racially tumultuous times of the 1960's.  Learn more HERE.
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Nichelle Nichols
2.) In 2007, he created the "Full Body Project." The project was a book that consisted of photos taken by Nimoy that featured full-figured women from a San Francisco burlesque group. He said he created the project in order to 'challenge entrenched concepts of beauty' and that it was 'direct response to the pressure women face to conform to a size two.' Learn more HERE. [Warning: some material may be NSFW]
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Nimoy behind the camera.
3.) In 2001, he donated $1 million smackaroos to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, CA. They even named a section of the place after him. If you've never heard of the Griffith Observatory, it's one of the only free, city accessible, observatories in the world and has been a location in countless movies and TV shows including the Star Trek franchise. During a visit to Los Angeles some time ago, I got to visit it, and recommend it to anyone with an interest in the stars. Learn more HERE.
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Griffith Observatory. Photo by Matthew Field, http://www.photography.mattfield.com
I've provided links so you can learn more about the legacy of Nimoy and hopefully you too will see the man as more and just Spock.

Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy. Live long and prosper...