5 bloody stupid things that happened to me at a wedding fair

Once upon a time (a year or two ago), I was a single lady with a press pass for a wedding fair. I wrote a heap of anecdotes from the show into a Google doc but they never found a home in an article so here are five of them…

—– THE DRESS —–

“Oh, I’ve actually been a lot more naked than this for work.”

There is a pause while the dress fitter and I digest the latest thing I shouldn’t have said out loud during the wedding fair. I have to quickly explain about a waxing feature I did for a website once.

I am halfway into a traditional wedding dress. In case you’ve never had the joy of that experience, remember when Han Solo was flash-frozen in carbonite? I imagine it’s almost exactly like that except the carbonite has been replaced with silk, certain types of bra are out of the question and Darth Vader expects you to look radiant.

Then you add heels.

—– THE CAKE —–

“Are these real cakes?”

I am bending over next to a cake stand trying to do the culinary equivalent of looking up its skirt. I was lured over by the promise of icing before remembering (please do not ask how I know this) that demonstration cakes are often just polystyrene blocks covered in sugarpaste. The upskirt has yielded glimpse of neither sponge nor fruit and this is a massive concern.

“No.”

I draw a complete blank at this point. What do I say to a cake seller who has no real cakes? How does one assess him?

“Is there marmalade?”

I have panicked. I remember using marmalade to help stick the marzipan to a Christmas cake once. Perhaps I should have asked about the marzipan situation instead.

He looks at me strangely.

I think I remember seeing some small hotel breakfast-sized portions of jam in one of the cafes around the periphery of the showspace. The man seems to be getting exasperated with me for some reason so I instinctively decide to try and help him.

“I think there’s some jam…”

He turns away from me decisively and smiles at a real bride-to-be.

—– THE CAR —–

“Basically, keep your legs together.”

A model is explaining to me how you get in and out of a car gracefully in a wedding dress. And by “gracefully” I mean “while not familiarising your wedding party with your waxing arrangements”.

Her advice reminds me of a thinly-veiled lecture our head of sixth form once gave during an assembly about the dangers of spending lunchtimes in cars with boys. It seems that no matter how old you get the advice stays the same.

Boys. Cars. Knees together. Well done, you are a lady.

“And make sure you sort of ease yourself in backwards.”

My mind is instantly somewhere entirely inappropriate.

—– THE CATCH —–

“Someone was saying earlier that a wedding fair is actually a good place to pick up a guy.”

This unexpected piece of information comes as I confess to a lady manning a decoration stand that I am not a bride-to-be.

I suppose it makes a perverse kind of sense – a man at a wedding fair is demonstrably not entirely wedding-phobic. However, despite this excellent point, I can’t help questioning the overall thrust of the logic. Would he not be there planning his big day with someone else?

But then a darker possibility presents itself. Maybe he comes to wedding fairs for fun. And by also being at a wedding fair he would think you were also a fan of wedding fairs. Then you would be expected to participate in his hobby, poring over issues of bridal magazines which thump onto the doormat month after month and attending a never-ending stream of wedding fairs? The future is suddenly awash with pastel-coloured Pinterest boards and opportunities to care about ribbon.

“I think perhaps this man would be a Not Very Good option.”

—– THE DRESS PT 2: THE DRESSENING—–

“Do you like it?”

I am standing in front of a mirror wearing a green slip dress over which the assistant has lowered a lace layer.

“It is beautiful.”

I’m not lying, it is beautiful, but I’m not having a transformative Moment, What has actually happened is I have accidentally immersed myself in wedding – swamped myself in it, in fact, as I’m a good foot shorter than the person for whom sample sizes are made.

After I head back into the changing room I try to picture myself at a wedding. A wedding involving this dress. Any wedding. Someone else’s wedding. A play in which there is a wedding. An island of weddings. With dinosaurs, like Jurassic Park.

This leads to a few minutes of pretending to be a combination of a T-rex and Godzilla until the assistant lady asks if “everything’s alright in there?”

I emerge wearing my jeans, tshirt and backpack.

“That one is £2,000,” says the assistant.

I do not blink.

This is because I am currently pretending to be a bride-to-be who doesn’t react to high prices. Certainly not by surprised blinking. But I realise that having committed to not blinking I am unsure when to start again. My eyeballs start to feel chilly and the assistant seems concerned.

“Fantastic.”

I blink five times hoping that that will redress the balance.

I think it is time for me to leave.

Why Dota 2′s Immortal Treasures left me disappointed

Dota 2 is my most-played game ever. I have poured more than a thousand hours into it, made some great friends and I like spending snippets of whatever grownups call pocket money on little wizard hats and capes.

When the magical digital wizard booklet known as the Compendium was announced for 2014 I picked one up as soon as possible. A quarter of the proceeds go to The International 4 prize fund with the rest going to Valve. I like the idea of contributing to a tournament I enjoy and to players from whom I have learned a lot. Similarly, Valve’s input is cool. Reaching stretch goals means the team create items, a new game mode, different types of customisation – some of the rewards will benefit all Dota 2 players, even those who didn’t pick up a Compendium.

Today was the day for delivering the Immortal Treasures.

Last year’s Compendium Immortals were problematic because there was a clear disparity in terms of their value. Some were for popular heroes and had supercool animations, some were for less popular heroes and didn’t really deliver on the animations front either. As Chris puts it on Three Lane Highway, it was possible to feel like you’d lost.

This year is far better in that respect – the items are cool, the chest system has been changed so that with multiple chests you’re not risking doubling up on an item you’ve already received and there’s a chance for earning some ace rares. Indeed, I haven’t spoken to anyone who’s been disappointed. Except for me.

“Once the Immortal Treasure stretch goal is reached, you’ll receive an extra Immortal Treasure every 10 levels. Each time you open a treasure, you will find a different item, with a chance to get an exceptionally rare item.”

That’s the way this year’s Immortals work.

I’ve bought my Compendium and been enjoying leveling it up naturally, playing games and completing the tasks the booklet sets in order to gain points. I’m at level 7 at the moment and thus was entitled to one Immortal Treasure box. I opened it while on voice chat with friends as we queued for a game. “What did you get?!” was the question everyone was asking one another. I got a tail for Puck. It’s a lovely item but the character just isn’t one I play. Instantly I started thinking about the people I play with who pick Puck often and who I could gift it to.

I love that aspect of Dota – giving someone an unexpected present just because you know they love playing that hero. It’s a really nice feeling. In fact when I was waiting for the chest to open I was running through which items I’d love and keep and strut up and down the lanes with for months and months and which ones would be heading to other people’s armories for them to do the same.

But everyone else who was excited about the Immortals had received multiple drops. I realised I was the only person there who hadn’t spent extra money leveling up by buying extra points and, as the conversations continue, was acutely aware of how many cool items I was missing out on by not spending money. This is the first time I’ve felt that by not spending money I was having a less enjoyable experience than other people in Dota 2.

By spending the cost of another Compendium you can gain 24 levels on your current Compendium. That does things like affecting the rate at which you earn levels and items for your Dota profile. But what it also does is earn you at least two extra Immortal Treasure drops. Three in my case as I’m already on level 7. I guess looking at it like that made me feel silly for watching my level grow through meeting the booklet’s challenges and things. Like, I was doing it wrong and missing out by not just dropping another six quid into the pot.

I still have the Puck tail too. Like I said before, I was going to give it to someone I know who plays the character a lot. Thing is, he’s spent roughly three times more than I have on the Compendium – nudging towards the £20 mark – and so when I asked what he’d got in his Immortal drops the answer was “everything”.

The Dota 2 treasure system has improved so much since last year, it really has. But the feeling of missing out because I simply hadn’t spent enough money is not one I’ve associated with Dota 2 at all. Having it flash up during a moment I was excited about was unexpected and unpleasant, and then again when I was trying to decide what to do with the item. I want the cool items but they now they feel more like a set of toys you buy outright rather than having an element of reward or socialising to them. I could still spend the extra money – I’d prefer that to using the marketplace, I think – it’s just that I no longer feel good about it.

Why Dota 2 Is Navy Blue

A hallmark of depression is an ongoing attempt to fade out. That’s what it’s like for me anyway. The signal connecting me to the rest of the world sputters and struggles. Conversations turn to static, the future is a station I don’t have the right antenna for, everywhere there are blanks and so I start reciprocating and blanking myself out too.

There used to be a lot of navy blue in my wardrobe at these junctures. Not a rich, dark navy but the powdery one that comes from too many washes and wears. It’s a colour which, already faded, is rendered near-invisible by the ubiquity of denim in our clothes-scape. Wear an oversized navy sweater and jeans and you can slip out of view.

Last year was rough in terms of depression. It’s been part of my life for seventeen years and there’s an ebb and flow to it. That’s not to suggest it has any kind of tidal regularity which would be useful in predicting or dealing with it, though. Sometimes it creeps towards you, giving you time to pack up your things and move elsewhere, mentally. Sometimes it rushes in with alarming speed and threatens to wash you away.

I actually try not to wear that powdery overwashed shade of navy because I know why I do it and I’m trying to reverse cause and effect. It’s bizarrely important to me that my hoodie is now a mossy green, for example. But there are other manifestations of navy blue I hadn’t expected. Last year one of them was a videogame; Dota 2.

Playing as part of a team of five people is a social experience, simply by virtue of other people being there. There’s basic co-operation needed to fight the other team, in-game chat options and, if you play with friends, voices on the end of a Skype call. It’s very easy to sit and listen as you click around the map, to fade out but convince yourself you’ve somehow succeeded in being with other people for a while, that you’re maybe dealing with depression better this time because TEAMWORK!

It took far longer than it should have to realise what was really happening because, if I’m honest, I would still love there to be a way out of this disease. I wanted playing Dota to be the answer because I still want there to be an answer. Any answer. That feeling will probably never go away.

I realised that Dota had become my new navy blue when I realised I was no longer learning anything and hadn’t in months. I have a broad understanding of the game, where to stand, who to aim at, but it ended up stagnating. Each game was another wash and wear. Gradually my Dota playing faded to a powdery navy. Out of date, comfortable, safe, anonymous.

I’ve had to do the same thing as with my actual clothes, attempting to invert cause and effect. It’s harder to do with a mindset, though. Part of dealing with it has been following the professional eSports scene. Paying attention to newness and innovation, keeping up with patches, finding ways to play actively rather than passively.

In games, it’s easier with strangers, like how going to a party where you know no-one and can reinvent yourself is sometimes easier than an evening where you know one or two people and realise you’ve been cycling through the same old topics of conversation while picking at nachos for two hours. With friends the effort has to be redoubled because everyone forms habits, some in response to your own. Shifting all of that by a few degrees of action and aggression will take a while, I think.

There isn’t really an ending to this story because I’m hoping that it actually represents a beginning. After a while keeping particular shades of blue from my wardrobe became something I did automatically. I hope that doing the same for a videogame mindset will see it become second nature too. So far the results, or at least the differences, have been positive and I think I have a lot to gain in pursuing the idea.

Kate Moss, Playboy and Harper’s Bazaar: Let’s talk about covershoot reporting

Playboy is suing Harper’s Bazaar publisher Hearst for $1.35 million over publication of nude photos of Kate Moss (that’s $150,000 per image).

The thing is that Harpers Bazaar wasn’t actually the site publishing the nude pictures. Instead it was linking to another site which had posted nine images from the shoot under the title “Save yourself a fiver. Here’s Kate Moss’ NSFW spread from Playboy”.

Kate Moss for Playboy

Kate Moss for Playboy

As part of the filing (I can’t find an actual copy of the lawsuit so these are quotes taken from the reporting of the subject) Playboy says that it “welcomed the media’s reporting and discussion of its images” but that “Hearst’s link to the Entertainment.ie website page cannot be justified by any suggestion that Hearst was reporting the news of Ms. Moss’s appearance in the 60th Anniversary Issue.”

It’s those comments which made me wonder whether the general public know how magazine covershoot reporting tends to work. It used to be part of my job so here’s a basic account:

A magazine will do a shoot and interview with its cover star. It will then send a selection of the photos and sometimes a few headline-worthy quotes out to websites and newspapers for them to use in articles.

The system has an obvious benefit for the magazine in terms of free publicity but what’s in it for the websites and papers? Why feature a competitor?

The answer is “quality” and “quantity”.

Quality:
Magazines still set aside swathes of budget for photoshoots with production values and levels of access that a lot of websites and dailies can only dream of. Taking the magazine’s shots is a way to get premium images and juicy quotes into your publication without having to pay the production costs.

Quantity:
The Internet and the daily publishing scene are always hungry for content. Taking up these images and quotes can mean at least one extra news story or perhaps a picture gallery if you’re online resulting in more space filled and more page impressions for your publication. It’s why sites are constantly featuring tweets of the rich and the famous – there will alway be an audience for name recognition and the smaller you can carve up the news snippets the more articles (and page views) you can generate.

But the covershoot back-scratching above usually begins life as an email with a hefty dose of legalese attached. There are usually agreements to sign and return if you want the right to use those high quality pictures and they include a raft of stipulations regarding the coverage. Amongst the things I’ve seen magazines specify are:

  • How many images you can use
  • That the magazine title must be mentioned in the first line of the first paragraph
  • That no negative or critical language may be used in the article relating to the celebrity or the magazine
  • That the magazine cover image MUST appear in the article
  • That the magazine cover must appear no smaller than a certain pixel or inch size
  • That the publication date of the magazine must appear along with a link to the magazine’s website
  • How many thousands of pounds you will be liable for if you break any of these terms

To my recollection none has ever specified that you must not link to sites which contain the entire feature or shoot but that would clearly go against the spirit of everything I have outlined above – that is to say a mutually financially beneficial arrangement that can’t be classed as advertorial because it isn’t advertorial but sits in an advertorial-adjacent grey area.

In terms of the Kate Moss Playboy pictures, I’ve been looking at the initial reporting regarding the photoshoot. The articles are clustered around 2-3 December (likely when the embargo broke) and feature the same set of clothed/covered up pictures of Kate Moss all with similar credit lines.

I don’t work in that industry anymore so I can’t say for certain but comparing a number of different articles I’d guess Playboy seeded three photos from the shoot as well as the cover with the requirement that they were all credited to Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Playboy. They probably also stipulated that the sale details for the magazine and a link to the Playboy website appeared and I’d assume they added in the standard clause regarding negative remarks about Playboy and Kate Moss.

In terms of the Harper’s situation, my guess is that the agreement with Playboy (if there even was one – after all, the article as it currently appears doesn’t use any of the images likely seeded by Playboy) didn’t make an explicit “no urls to people posting the rest of the shoot without our permission” clause and so Harper’s decided to take the risk, inflating the page views for the article by catering to those looking for the pictures of Kate Moss in the buff but not actually hosting the content themselves.

How the lawsuit develops and to what extent Harper’s Bazaar can be held legally responsible for an infringement conducted by another site will be of interest professionally but I would also be more than happy if this situation provokes a discussion of the practice of reporting magazine shoots. They’re not advertorial so legally speaking you don’t have to mark them as such, but you’re often posting content with restrictions imposed from outside in the same space you use for content which has no such editorial restrictions imposed upon it. To my mind that’s problematic.

Double Flawless – an interview with Danielle Meder

Fashion illustrator Danielle Meder has redrawn five of gaming’s most iconic female characters giving each of them a high fashion makeover. Princess Zelda, Chun-Li, Mileena, Commander Shepard and Lara Croft have all been gifted a designer wardrobe courtesy of Meder’s pen. But the makeovers are not designed to turn these women into passive clothes horses. Instead each outfit looks to reveal aspects of the characters while appealing to a predominantly female audience.

Co-founder of Gamercamp, Jaime Woo set up the Double Flawlesscollaboration with Meder after seeing fashion site Tom & Lorenzo critiquing Mad Men‘s costuming choices. “It struck me that nothing of this depth could be written about videogame characters,” says Woo. “It seemed interesting to me then to recontextualise female characters in high fashion, and [I] approached Danielle to collaborate. I was thrilled that she saw where I wanted to go with it and then she took it to some amazing places.”

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Gone Home – an interview with Steve Gaynor

In Gone Home, The Fullbright Company has created a delicate coming-of-age tale steeped in nineties teen nostalgia and with a gloriously believable female protagonist. A positive critical response met the game’s initial release but far more interesting was the outpouring of smaller-scale personal reactions prompted by Gone Homewhich started to pepper Twitter.

Steve Gaynor, co-founder of The Fullbright Company told Wired.co.uk that as well as the steady stream of tweets, the developers have been getting private messages from players keen to share the effect of the game. “We’ve gotten a lot of very heartfelt emails and tweets from people who identify deeply with the game. It has been really great.”

In terms of particular writing, Gaynor cites response pieces [beware spoilers] by Merritt Kopas and Danielle Riendeau – “[they] really meant a lot to us.”

The story of teenager, Sam unfolds through a paper trail of notes, pictures and memorabilia scattered throughout a sprawling mansion and discovered by her sister Kaitlin. Some are plot-relevant and others serve to round out the characters of the family. At two points I laughed out loud — once when turning over a note written in class between Sam and her friend for a punchline I wasn’t expecting and the other when the game offered up a note telling Sam to stop leaving the lights on — “You’re as bad as your sister!”

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Boob Jam – an interview with Jenn Frank

“I love tits — tits are great! But I think we can have different conversations. I think people are ready.”

Games writer Jenn Frank, whose voice you may recognise from Super Hexagon, is telling Wired.co.uk about Boob Jam, a game jam aimed at broadening the conversations we have about breasts.

Boob Jam came into being almost by accident. Frank describes the scenario as “a joke that got crowdsourced into so many good ideas and so many vantages that aren’t mine that I wanted this to happen.”

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Dota 2, communication reports and the word “rape”

I have run out of reports in Dota 2.

It’s a problem you run into every now and again because you only get a limited number per week. They’re used to flag things like verbal abuse and bad conduct in other players.

The Dota 2 community is, speaking from my experience, a fairly positive environment. Some people are encouraging, friendly or offer advice, most keep to themselves, and a handful of others are offensive and awful. However, after the first time I hit the report cap and found myself unable to flag up some truly reprehensible behaviour from someone on my own team because I’d already reported something more minor, I started to view reports as a more valuable commodity.

From that point onwards it was a case of “Is this douchecanoe swearing and capslocking from another corner of the internet worthy of my report?” and “What if an even bigger jackass arrives in the next match?”

But there are a few words which send my mind in the direction of the report button quicker than others. One of them is the word “rape”. It’s a word which gets used thankfully rarely (or at least it’s been rare to my experience of Dota 2) but when it does it tends to be in mockery of another player when they’ve just had their ass handed to them in-game and I find that horrible and offensive. Whether I go on to report the incident comes down to context but any mention of “rape” means a report is instantly on the agenda.

Rape is one of the most disempowering crimes imaginable. It’s a horrific violation and an act of violence which trades on one person having power over another. It’s also underreported, hugely traumatic and comes with a hefty dose of social stigma. The disempowering nature of the crime is, I think, why I hate hearing the word thrown casually into conversation. I want the word itself to retain power and meaning. I want “rape” to mean something truly terrible and not get reappropriated for something irksome or trivial.

Those who have experienced sexual assault already have a gauntlet of disbelief and trivialisation to run as they deal with what has happened. It’s part of the reason rape is underreported. “Rape” as a casual term of insult mirrors that same attitude.

I feel like the report button with its tiny text box for a brief explanation allows me to actually do something about the problem when it angers me, no matter how tiny. It’s not as good as discussing the problem calmly and directly, but in the middle of a heated game, calm and direct discussion isn’t always possible.

Keeping the power of the word “rape”, despite the fact it can then be used as part of a nasty threat somewhere like Twitter, is a massively important part of improving how we deal with rape as a society. I want there to be as little excuse as possible for people to dismiss rape and rape threats, to trivialise them, to back away from them and to keep them unreported.