Category Archives: International

Critical Intel: Now at Waypoint!

Well, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? Here’s one good thing at least — my column Critical Intel has moved from Zam to Waypoint, the new gaming vertical by Vice.

I’m grateful for my time at Zam, but am excited to transition to Waypoint and the many exciting things happening there. We’ve got wonderful stuff in store, from deep-dive investigations of games and politics, to crime stories, to dispatches from around the world.

In fact, this Waypoint team is so good that my first thought was: Man, I’m really going to have to up my game to fit in here.

The first Critical Intel column is already up — it’s on the interactive Ghostbusters haunted house at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, and what it says about Asia’s adoption of Halloween.

This is only the beginning! In the coming weeks and months you’ll get to see some of the best work I’ve ever done, that dives into the hidden subcultures and politics behind games. The columns will be less frequent, but more in-depth.

Thanks for following me on yet another publishing adventure!

firehouse-4

 

 


Beating Jet Lag: The Sprint/Marathon System

Getting from the US to Hong Kong–or vice-versa–typically involves around 24 hours of travel. You can cut that down to 16 hours if you book a direct flight, but unless you get lucky that’ll cost you about the same as a good laptop.

So instead of tackling 12 hours worth of jet lag, you’re tackling jet lag on top of a sleep deficit. Good luck with that.

For expats, jet lag is a fact of life–I’ve grown used to battling it during my trips back and forth to the US, or shepherding friends through it when they visit. And let’s be clear: it’s more than an inconvenience. Jet lag means missed productivity on business trips, squandered time on vacation, and can be dangerous if you’re driving. Jet lag can make or break your trip.

But I have a method for dealing with the dreaded upside-down clock, one I refer to as the Sprint/Marathon system. Essentially, it’s a way to synchronize with the current time zone by getting a fast start to each day (the sprint), then keeping yourself awake until 10:00 PM (the marathon).

clockwork-orange-eyes

Pictured: An Alternative Method

Here’s how it works:

Start the Transition Before You Leave

This is a great trick if you can do it–I can’t. The basic idea is to go to bed and get up progressively earlier (or later) each night the week before you leave, which minimizes the shock of the new time zone. I’ve never found this feasible (I’m an insomniac writer who can’t sleep on cue) but I have friends who swear by it. I assume it involves NyQuil.

Decide Whether to Sleep on the Plane

To me, the first question is whether to sleep–or try to sleep–during a flight. I’m tall, so while I might cat-nap on flights, I usually don’t out-and-out sleep unless I’m in an exit row. (Aside: most Asian airlines don’t charge extra for exit row seats.) Still, even if I don’t sleep, it helps to lie still and rest my eyes for an hour or so.

Here’s my rule of thumb: If you’re arriving at your final destination in the morning, sleep. If you arrive at night, stay up.

The object here is to get on local time. If you’re arriving in the morning you need to be ready for a full day. Not a nap-in-the-afternoon-and-bed-at-7:00-PM day, mind you, a caffeine-fueled rock-it-out-until-10:00-at-night day. If you arrive at night, you need to be so tired you’ll collapse in bed immediately.

You need to either crash or hit the ground running–there’s no in-between.

Morning: The Sprint

So you’ve either just stepped off your flight, or you’re waking up from your post-arrival coma sleep. Rev your engines kid, because it’s time for the sprint.

The first thing you should do is go through your morning routine–shower, shave, brush teeth, scarf breakfast–then immediately get out in the sun.

The point here is to shock your system. UV rays tell your brain it’s get-up time, and the smell of eggs and toothpaste brings a familiar routine to the first day. Do anything that convinces your body clock that it’s go time. Drink the marvelous nectar that is coffee. Blast music. See a new place right away. Sprint.

And I mean that literally. Go exercise first thing–whether it’s a walk around the block or a full-on run. Catch some Pokémon. Get a shot of adrenaline within an hour of waking up.

Do this right, and it’ll carry you through the afternoon. And make sure to enjoy it, because it’s going to be the easiest, most fun part of the day. If you’re working, now’s the time to do your exciting tasks or anything requiring concentration, because your energy levels will only go downhill from here.

Beware the Afternoon Crash

The most dangerous part of your day is the afternoon crash. For my wife and I, it always comes at about 3:00 PM. You’ll want to rest. You’ll want a nap, but don’t give in. Do not under any circumstances take a nap. Don’t even lie down. Lying down when you’re tired is the “just one bite” of the jet lag world.

Story time: When my wife and I moved to Hong Kong, we were badly jet-lagged. Our first day was exhausting. We ran around opening bank accounts and getting cell phone plans. It was the first time we experienced the crush of Kowloon crowds, and on top of it all, it was pouring rain. When we got back to our hotel room at 3:00 PM, we laid down on the bed for five minutes before getting up to change and continue our errands.

We woke up seven hours later. We’d missed our own welcome dinner.

But missing events isn’t the biggest deal–the problem is that when you nap, it further desynchronizes you from local time. Instead of wanting to sleep in the day and be up all night, you’re waking up at 10:00 PM and not wanting to sleep again until 8:00 AM. It essentially ads a day to your adjustment. Repeat after me: It’s. Not. Worth. It.

When you want a nap, drink coffee instead. Run around the block. Best of all, don’t be anywhere near a bed at 3:00 PM. Stay on your feet and out in the world.

Evening: The Marathon

The worst part of the day, by far, comes after 3:00 PM–this is the marathon, a seven-hour march until 10:00 PM.

It’s going to suck.

The best thing you can do is distract yourself. Sometimes I’ll schedule an event at night–a play, concert, or dinner–just so I’m forced to stay awake and mobile. Yesterday, I binge-watched five episodes of Stranger Things knowing I wouldn’t be able to sleep without seeing the end. If I’m trying to be productive (like today) I’ll do my fun high-energy work in the morning when I have energy (like this blog), and leave mindless admin tasks or errands for the afternoon. It’s okay to be low-energy and conserve your strength, provided you don’t fall asleep. If you’re on the couch, don’t lay down. If indoors, keep the lights blazing. Big warm meals are a bad idea.

Stay up as long as you can. I usually set 10:00 PM as my target bedtime, but will concede if I’m falling asleep at 9:00 PM. Crashing in bed when you’re tired is better than getting a second wind, which can happen if you push it too far.

Getting Your Best Night’s Sleep

Okay, you made it to bedtime–let’s talk about getting the best sleep you can. Here’s some tips:

  • Set an alarm for 7:00-8:30 AM. You want to be up with the sun, and if you crash at 10:00 PM that gives you 9-10 hours of sleep to make up for any deficit you’re running. If you wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 AM, give yourself 30 minutes to try and get back to sleep–if it’s not happening, then get up and moving.
  • Sleep with the curtains open at least a crack. Remember: sunlight is the best alarm.
  • If you can get someone else to wake you up, do it. It’s too easy to turn off an alarm and roll over. Tell them they won’t be doing you a favor by letting you sleep in.
  • Turn your cell phone off. Don’t use it as an alarm if you can help it. Someone who doesn’t know you’re traveling might Facebook Message you at 3:00 AM, and you will not be able go back to sleep. Trust me–it happened to me at 5:30 AM this morning.

Do It Again on Day Two

Day Two is always the worst. The first day you’re usually riding an adrenaline wave, excited to be in a new place or happy to be home. By the second day, you’ve settled down and the sleep deficit starts dragging at your ankles. Day Two can be a tricky bastard, too–it’ll make you feel like everything’s fine, then sneak up from behind and knock you out a few hours after lunch.

Stick to the script and you’ll push through it. Get up, sprint, beware the afternoon nap, and marathon until the end. Stay caffeinated, on your feet, and physical.

Remember that it only gets better from here.


I Talk Games and Conflict at Blogs of War

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I appeared on Blogs of War’s Covert Contact Podcast to talk about games and warfare.

Discussion topics include:

  • How games (often erroneously) portray warfare
  • Call of Duty‘s strange evolution as the premier military series
  • The merging of video game tech and military hardware
  • How VR and gamification will change how we live–and how we fight

This was a great chat, and it looks like I’ll be returning to comment on games there from time-to-time, so keep watching my Twitter feed!


Extra Credits: Where Do Consoles Come From?

Once again, I’ve collaborated with the folks at Extra Credits on a topic I’ve followed for a while: supply chain problems in console manufacturing. Proud as punch serve as a co-writer with EC, and hey, is that Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame? Damn.

This sounds like a dull issue, but it’s increasingly important. Our globalized economy provides mind-boggling manufacturing power, but it also hides the people who actually make the objects we use in our everyday lives.

Give it a watch:


Playboy, Lovecraft and Pikachu: A Post-Halloween Article Roundup

It’s been a busy time — as a writer who loves ghosts, ghouls, and everything spooky, the Season of Shadows always means more work for me.

Now that we’ve hit November (aka post-Halloween depression season) I can finally take stock and update what’s been going on.

First of all, I visited the interactive Resident Evil haunted house at Universal Studios Japan and wrote about it for Playboy.

By the way–that link is now Safe For Work since Playboy‘s gone nude-free.

I also had a just-for-fun piece on GamesRadar+ about all the ridiculous outfits the Pokémon company has dressed Pikachu in. Are you ready to see a J-Pop Pikachu? Is anybody?

And finally, I wrote a piece for Slate‘s Future Tense Blog on how H.P. Lovecraft is an unrecognized master of environmental horror. It also has some thoughts about how society tends to age out of certain fears, and age into others.

So that was Halloween. Bring on November! Gonna be a good one.


I’m at Playboy Discussing the Video Game Wars of the Future

I wrote an article for Playboy that included an interview with leading defense expert P.W. Singer.

Singer’s a brilliant guy, the type that you listen to when he talks. So when I found out his new novel, Ghost Fleet, predicts that video game technology will merge with military hardware, I thought it was worth asking him about it.

Military Expert P.W. Singer Predicts the Video Game Wars of the Future (NSFW, because Playboy. Do I really need to say that? I mean, there’s no nudity, but still, it’s Playboy.)

Wait, did you say you read it…for the articles?

Haha, so funny. You’re totally the first person to tell me that.


How to Spot A Fake Photo on Twitter

The police response in Ferguson yesterday shocked the nation. We saw video of cops shooting rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators, a journalist hassled out of McDonald’s and police gassing an Al Jazeera crew and dismantling their equipment.

Several photos stood out: One depicted a policeman spraying mace into a little girl’s eyes. Another a protester hit with a gas canister. A third showed an officer pointing his rifle into a car’s open window. In game circles, an article about how Ferguson affected videogames stoked anger at its insensitive focus.

Here’s the problem though–these last four had nothing to do with Ferguson. The photos were taken months or years earlier, over a thousand miles away. The article (from my publication, The Escapist) didn’t exist. These hoaxes are part of a growing trend in social media fakes–photoshopped or misidentified images intended to provoke outrage or fool users as a prank.

They’re not limited to Ferguson, either. I’ve detected fake photos during the World Cup, Occupy Protests and several other major news events. They’re a part of the news landscape now.

As social media like Twitter and Facebook start beating our traditional media to reporting on unfolding events, users need to start being more savvy about what they share. Not only does sharing fake images misrepresent the situation and cause confusion or anger in the public, sharing and commenting on media without fact-checking it can do lasting damage to a journalist’s reputation.

So here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to spotting a fake on social media. Generally, investigating and debunking a photo takes under two minutes, and some methods under 60 seconds.

 

1) Be Naturally Skeptical

TearGasOccupy

Photo Credit: AFP, Kimihiro Hoshino

First of all, consider the source. Does this photo come from a respected source like a journalist or a news outlet? If not, does it seem like this person is on the ground or knows what’s going on? Does it tally with other accounts?

For example, the photo above circulated a lot yesterday, claiming to show a protester hit by a gas canister in Ferguson. The photo does show a protester who’d been hit by a gas canister, but this was taken at the Occupy Oakland protests in 2011. It caused a pretty big stir at the time because the protester, Scott Olsen, was an Iraq veteran.

Anyone who’d seen footage or pictures of the Ferguson protests should’ve been immediately suspicious of this photo. Why? First of all, anyone who saw photos from Ferguson could tell you that the protesters were mostly African-American, but everyone in this picture is white. Second, there’d been no indication from reporters on the scene that there were casualties from gas canisters–something they’d have reported immediately. Third, the black hoodies were a hallmark of OWS.

Don’t assume anything’s true. If it smells even a little wrong or sensationalist to you, check it. Think before you Tweet.

 

2) If Unsure, Use Google Image Search

(Photo: O Globo, Pedro Kirilos)

Photo Credit: O Globo, Pedro Kirilos

When I was debunking Ferguson photos, a lot of people just assumed I have exceptional visual recall–but actually I was just using Google Image Search.

For example, when I saw the photo above of a cop macing a child, it didn’t read right to me. The cop’s uniform and police cruiser looked different than the ones I’d seen in photos. It was taken in daylight when the Ferguson crackdown happened after dark. And finally, the police in Ferguson flat-out weren’t getting that close to the demonstrators.

To check it, I opened up another tab to Google Image Search and typed in, “cop macing child.” There was a matching picture on the first page of results. When I clicked on the photo, it led to a page debunking the photo as a hoax–turns out this one’s a favorite and has been around for years. When I followed through on the links, I found the original news report from Brazilian outlet O Globo.

Yes, not only was this photo from 2011, but it was taken at a protest in Brazil. Finding the real source took around 60 seconds–not exactly strenuous. Trade secret: hoaxers are lazy, they take from the first page of results every time.

There’s also a shortcut for this tactic: If you install the Google Image tool in Chrome, you can search for pictures through dragging and dropping them into Google Image search or pasting a URL, which is useful for pictures that aren’t easily described, if you’re not good with search terms or you’re in a hurry.

 

3) Make Sure Any Text You Share Contains The Proper Context

Sometimes it’s not the image itself that’s wrong, it’s the comment framing it. While editorializing on a situation is one of the things social media does well, make sure the text passes muster and corresponds what the picture shows. Even a genuine photo can mislead people if it’s framed in an incorrect or biased manner.

checkpoint

Photo Credit: AP/The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton

 

Take this photo for example. It made the rounds yesterday as an example of militarized police, and while it carried the hashtag #Ferguson it didn’t explicitly claim to be from Ferguson–an inherently misleading difference (clever girl). While this snapshot does show worrying things about police use of weapons–he shouldn’t be pointing that rifle directly at the driver–this didn’t happen during a protest, or even take place in Missouri at all. This photo shows a checkpoint the California Highway Patrol set up after a man shot four police officers in a Sacramento suburb–making the rifle a little more understandable. (If you look closely you can see the officer’s CHiP patch.) While it expresses a valid point, the way it’s framed tricks the viewer into thinking police checkpoints are happening in Ferguson as we speak.

But there are more harmful examples too. Remember the Reddit attempt to find the Boston Marathon bombers that ended up plastering an innocent man’s picture all over Twitter? Or Anonymous claiming they’d found Mike Brown’s killer yesterday? All real photos with erroneous or deceptive text. If the evidence on a claim seems thin, it’s better to wait until it’s corroborated before passing it on.

 

4) Spotting Photoshops

Most social media fakes aren’t photoshop jobs, since it’s less work for a hoaxer to find an existing photo and misrepresent it. However, since today someone decided to smear The Escapist with a photoshop, I’m including it.

Learning to spot photoshops can be difficult and should be a post in itself. I’ll instead link you to this short LifeHacker guide and add this: your best bet is to look for edges that don’t line up well (see the awful unmatched blockiness in the Escapist fake below), suspicious blending, lighting that isn’t right or shadows that should be there but aren’t. Most photoshop fakes are fast and sloppy alterations–but the best way is still to use Google Image search to find the original and see if it was doctored.

 

5) A Note On Article Screenshots

Photo Credit: Some Lying Jerkbag

Photo Credit: Some Lying Jerkbag

One recent trend has been for people to take screenshots of an article’s headline and then post it to Twitter, decrying that a site would publish an article on such an offensive topic. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but the main one is that by giving people a screenshot rather than a link, it can either misrepresent the content (i.e. spur people to judge the article without actually reading it) or in the case of the crude photoshop above, spread around a piece that the website never published.

When you see an article being flogged around the fleet like this, your first step should be to find and read that article.

“But I don’t want to give them traffic!” you say. But I would counter that until you know that the article exists and the actual content it contains, you probably shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what it says and definitely shouldn’t share it. (Indeed, hoaxers count on you sharing without reading.) Sure, you can argue that an individual headline–at least when it’s real–can be off-putting, but making that argument implicitly states that you’ve judged the material based on your preconceptions rather than what it actually says. “This article is awful,” is a different statement than, “This article is ok, but I don’t like the headline or the header picture.”

If you search for an article and don’t find it–or find a similar article under the different title–don’t automatically assume that the website retracted or altered it (as I saw several people do today on Twitter with the fraudulent Escapist piece). If you’re suspicious, contact one of the editors on Twitter and ask if the screenshot’s genuine and if the piece was removed–editors are generally fairly upfront about that sort of thing and it takes roughly five seconds.

This is particularly crucial if you’re a journalist, since you risk burning bridges by posting fake or misleading screenshots. Check your facts. Do at least the minimum amount of research to make an informed decision. Don’t take attacking a publication lightly.

 

6) What To Do If You Share a Fake

If you do share a fake–and it happens to all of us–minimizing the damage takes seconds.

  1. Delete the post or tweet.
  2. Immediately post a retraction apologizing and explaining the photo was fake.
  3. If you wrote a blog post highlighting or editorializing on the photo, take it down or–if it’s only one part of a larger blog post–edit the post and include a highly visible note at the top explaining the mistake and apologizing.
  4. Apologize to anyone you may have disparaged and say you’ll be more careful in the future. This is especially important if you’re a journalist and badmouthed another publication–this is a small industry and editors will remember.
  5. If any of your followers shared the photo with a lot of people, you may want to tell them individually that it was fake. Think of it like a virus, you want to contain the spread.

Social media is an incredible opportunity to share information without gatekeepers, but with that opportunity comes greater responsibility about what we spread across the internet. If you want to fire CNN and get your news on Twitter, you need to be your own fact-checker. Thankfully, a little skepticism, a few simple tools and a cool head will go a long way toward keeping your feeds hoax-free.