20 Dec

Podcast interview: Life. Leadership. Video Games. And me.

Classically Trained

I really enjoyed my conversation this fall with Jon Harrison, author the upcoming book Mastering The Game: What Video Games Can Teach Us About Success In Life, who interviewed me for his ClassicallyTrained podcast (“Life. Leadership. Videogames”).

We got to talk about video games (of course), fatherhood, Joey Spiotto’s art, the diversity of characters represented in Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet, the trickiest letter in the book (not Q, X, or Z), my Games & Books & Q&A interview series, and my earliest experiences as a reader and writer.

And let the record show that I caught myself (eventually) after declaring that there are 28 letters in the alphabet.

30 Oct

Some things I learned from writing Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!

Attack Boss Cheat Code - May 2014


I’ve got a new guest-post at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog on the roles my kids played (and they roles they didn’t) in the creation of my picture books Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet.

Here’s a smidge of what I say:

Every book is an opportunity to navigate that territory in the middle, between what we adults want and love and think we know and what those kids want and love and think they know.

Through my experiences with Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, I’ve come to appreciate just how much room there is to maneuver through that middle ground.

To read the rest, please visit Cynsations

02 Jul

Introducing BookPeople’s Modern First Library

Modern First LibraryI wrote in my newsletter last week about my new project with BookPeople. “Our hope,” I wrote, “is that by leveraging the longstanding popularity of Margaret Wise Brown, for instance, Modern First Library will get more great new books representing an increasingly broad swath of our society into more homes and into more readers’ hands. If this grassroots approach works, we hope that other booksellers will emulate it in their own communities and that it will encourage publishers to create and support more books reflecting the diversity in our world.”

Today, I’m pleased to share the Austin indie bookseller’s blog post officially launching the initiative:

Under the banner of this program, we will be featuring a broad range of books, new and old, that we think belong on the shelves of the very youngest readers.

BookPeople is committed to helping all kids find books that broaden their idea of what’s possible, provide fresh perspectives, and open windows to new experiences: all the things that great children’s books always do. And because we live in the vibrant, global society of the 21st century, our book suggestions have been purposefully designed to reflect the diversity of that experience. After all, a child’s first library offers his or her first glimpses of the world outside the family’s immediate sphere, and we think that view needs to reflect a reality that’s broad, inclusive, and complex, just like the world we all live in.

Please have a look at what BookPeople’s children’s book buyer has to say about Modern First Library, and stay tuned for guest posts on the subject by Austin authors Cynthia Leitich Smith, Don Tate, Liz Scanlon, Varian Johnson, and me. In the meantime, check out the Modern First Library starter sets — the folks at BookPeople have worked hard to put those together, and it shows.

16 Jun

No, it’s not just your kids

PewDiePie - YouTube

Lots of parents I know are mystified by their children’s appetite for watching gaming videos online. And lots of kids I know are mystified by their parents’ mystification.

These videos are such a key part of gaming culture that Joey Spiotto and I included a nod to them in Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet, coming from POW! this October. But for a more scientific documentation of the phenomenon, have a look at Tubefilter’s new list of the Top 100 Most Viewed YouTube Gaming Channels in the World:

Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg’s PewDiePie channel is obviously at the top of the inaugural Top 100 YouTube Gaming Channel Charts. The 24-year-old Swedish online video gamer scored an unbelievable 311.2 million views in the month of May. That’s a month-over-month increase of 5% and roughly equates to more than 120 views per second during the 31 days of the month.

05 Jun

Games Week at The Guardian

I like Andy Robertson‘s evenhanded, commonsense approach to the joys and concerns that parents have when it comes to their kids and video games — it fits right in with the tone I strove for in my upcoming book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet.

I bring up Andy because he’s on prominent display in the Games Week feature published this week in The Guardian.

In Video games and violence: a parents’ guide, he counsels:

Unlike film and books, video-games are a new technology that we don’t yet fully understand, particularly in their potential for health or harm. That means that it is even more important for parents to accurately understand video game violence and the context in which it exists.

Playing games together as a family, stopping technology migrating to bedrooms, making use of PEGI ratings and having open conversations about these topics creates a healthy environment to maximise the enjoyment of this aspect of family life whilst avoiding potential pitfalls.

In another article this week, he sympathizes with parents who ask, “Is my child spending too much time playing video games?

Video games are entertaining, enjoyable and beneficial to children in many ways. They educate, provide space for creativity and offer healthy social interaction. But at the same time, the best examples are highly moreish and children will push boundaries to play for increasing lengths of time.

Excessive behaviour in any area of life rightly signals alarm bells for parents. However, for emerging an technology like games, it can be hard to identify excess over enthusiasm. Is an hour a day okay? Two? It’s even harder to judge if you don’t play games yourself.

The package of articles also includes a fascinating one by Leigh AlexanderGirly video games: rewriting a history of pink — about an art exhibit I was entirely unaware of, even though it was here in my home city:

The Visual Arts Center in Austin, Texas, currently has a very unusual exhibit: a vintage girl’s bedroom, perfectly preserved. There’s a chunky monitor pegged to a Nintendo Entertainment System, all dove’s breast gray and violet.

Pom poms decorate the television as a pink pinata slumps alongside; a pearly Polly Pocket toy, Judy Blume novels and posters depicting the romantic heroines from popular anime series Sailor Moon complete the picture. It’s presented in the museum as a “typical girl’s room” from the early 1990s. Also in the museum is another exhibit: a set of plastic digital Barbie game capsules under glass, hushed and precious. It looks like a priceless slice of history.

Except none of it’s real, exactly. The little girl’s room never happened. And the Barbie games are virtually worthless.

This is the art of Rachel Simone Weil, who has reimagined the nostalgic digital past as it might look if girly things had mattered then. A digital artist, programmer and rom-hacker, Weil found herself increasingly drawn to obsolete technology and collector culture – where she was surprised to learn that the traditionally feminine had no real value, financially or otherwise.

It sounds like the exhibit has since closed. I hope not. Jenny and I would love to go, and take our daughter — and sons.

02 Jun

This is your parental brain on Minecraft

Who knows why author Melissa Wiley‘s children chose Minecraft as the vehicle through which to educate her about a major scientist? What matters is that they did, and that the whole thing is adorable:

One day I accidentally fed [Minecraft dogs] Darwin and Newton too many pork chops at the same time, and you know what that means: a puppy. I couldn’t wait for this new pooch to grow up, so I could see what name the girls would give it.

When I came home this afternoon, half dead after a skeleton ambush, the pup was waiting beside the front door, all grown up and sporting a new blue collar. Her name was Annie, the hover-text informed me. I was a little surprised that the girls hadn’t continued the scientist theme.

Shows what I know.

The parental affection is just as obvious, though expressed just a little bit differently, in James Parker’s recent essay in The Atlantic, “The Game That Conquered the World“:

Can it be true that in Minecraft, to apply a line of Philip Larkin’s, how we live measures our own nature? An octopus’s garden, a whirling hall of knives … Choose, minecrafter. Build. It’s all you. My son, to my astonishment, is building an international airport. Me, I’ve killed a couple of cows. I made a start on a crafting table, and then gave up. And now I sit in obscurity, in my roofless house of dirt.

And in case you’re wondering, the “M” in my upcoming book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet does not stand for Minecraft. But the game adored by Parker and Wiley’s offspring is in there somewhere. My own 10-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way.

30 May

Being bad at video games (not to be confused with being bad at video games)

My upcoming book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet has put me on the lookout for intriguing articles on the gaming world, especially those that parents might find interesting or useful.

Today, “‘Bad’ video game behavior increases players’ moral sensitivity” caught my eye:

New evidence suggests heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated.

That is the surprising finding of a study led by Matthew Grizzard, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, and co-authored by researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Texas, Austin.

“Rather than leading players to become less moral,” Grizzard says, “this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity. This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”

The study, “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive,” will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

The name of that study sounded familiar. Didn’t I read something about that recently?

Not exactly. “Being Bad at Video Games Ups Aggression” was about something else entirely:

Video game playing can make you angry or aggressive. But it seems that the key factor may not be the violence. It’s the player’s incompetence at the game that’s behind the ramped-up emotions, whether they’re upping their kill count in Grand Theft Auto 3 or simply trying to solve a puzzle in Tetris.

That’s the take-away from a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. [Andrew K. Przybylski et al, Competence-Impeding Electronic Games and Players’ Aggressive Feelings, Thoughts, and Behaviors]

I’m curious to find out more about the subjects in the Grizzard study, especially their ages. How old does a player typically need to be in order to experience that increased sensitivity?

But in the meantime, all you writers and editors out there, drawing a clear distinction between “being bad” and “being bad” would be a good idea.

08 Nov

Cause! For! Exclamation!

My agent, Erin Murphy, broke the news first:

I know I tend to be enthusiastic when announcing new deals, and I can throw around the exclamation marks, but our latest deal has totally LEGITIMATE exclamation points, I swear. Here it is:

SHARK VS. TRAIN and THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS author Chris Barton’s ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!, an irreverent abecediary of video game terminology that children might use to educate their parents, to Sharyn Rosart of POW!, by Erin Murphy at Erin Murphy Literary Agency (World English).

(Title and publisher name: Four exclamation points.)

(Also, don’t you love the word abecediary?)

This deal came about after I read an article in Publishers Weekly announcing a new children’s imprint at powerHouse. Editor Sharyn Rosart said the imprint’s releases “will be ‘heavily visual’ and a ‘little offbeat.’ These books, she added, will ‘have a sense of humor with crossover into the adult market.'” Boy, did Chris Barton have the perfect book for her!

Allow me one more exclamation point: Sharyn plans to publish the book in fall 2014 (!). Okay, one more: Can’t wait! Congrats, Chris.

I’d like to add one as well: Thanks, Erin!

And, actually, I’ve got a “one more” of my own. Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet came about from my desire to understand the gaming terminology that my sons so generously shared with me, so this project is an instance of them being even more inspiring than usual. Thank you, too, boys.

11 Jun

What am I putting in their way?

Without having thought too much about it, I realize that I’ve been pretty actively strewing books in my kids’ paths lately. Not that they need help finding books that engage them, but a little extra, sneaky, non-pushy parental input never hurts.

Here’s a sampling of the books that have just happened to turn up recently — on the sofa, on the coffee table, on the CD player in my car, etc.:

Alex & Me, by Irene Pepperberg
Face Book, by Chuck Close
Who Do You Think You Are? Be a Family Tree Detective, by Dan Waddell
Looney Tunes: The Ultimate Visual Guide, by Jerry Beck
Rocks and Minerals, by Chris Pellant
Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

How about you? What books are you hoping that your children might just happen to notice?

13 Feb

Kid-Lit for Geek Parents, and Liz Scanlon on Happy Birthday, Bunny!

In case you missed it, last night there was this:

That’s me chatting with authors Melissa Wiley and Jennifer Holm and moderator Kristen Rutherford about children’s books on the Geek & Sundry #parent show. Let me tell you — an hour goes by fast when you’ve got a great subject and good company to discuss it with. I hope we can do it again.

And in case you don’t subscribe to my monthly Bartography Express newsletter — in which case you’ve just missed out on chances to win one of my books and Liz Garton Scanlon’s newest title — here’s a little of what Liz had to say about Happy Birthday, Bunny!:

I was thinking about birthdays, about how they’re really considered the end-all and be-all events of childhood, and then I thought, Are they really always all that? Because here’s the thing: Little kids don’t really get birthdays at first. They’re noisy and overwhelming, there’s all sorts of secret protocol, you have to share, food gets set afire. Really, it’s a lot to absorb!

Click here to read the rest of my quick interview, and get signed up to receive the March issue — with which I’ll be giving away Tanya Lee Stone’s new picture book biography, Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell.