New Paper Doll Outfit – Codex

And Alana gets another geeky costume! It’s not going to stop, so get used to it. This one is the costume Felicia Day wears as Codex in the very geeky show The Guild. Codex is her avatar in a World of Warcraft-like game and this costume can be seen in the cartoon images of Codex that is in the show’s opening as well as on Felicia herself in The Guild‘s first music video “Do You Want to Date My Avatar” and in a brief appearance in one season 3 episode (this is specifically the music video version, if you want to get technical). The show is brilliantly funny and each episode is only a few minutes long, so I highly recommend it. I’ve been enjoying it immensely and I’m looking forward to season 4! Oh, and I would have liked to include Codex’s staff, but I couldn’t make it look right in Alana’s hand, so I gave up on it. It would have covered up most of the cool parts of the costume anyway.

The full sized version of this costume as well as the rest of Alana’s costumes and the doll herself are all available on her page. Definitely check out the music video and if you enjoy it, watch The Guild! It’s a really fun show! And the entire run is available for free on X-Box Live, too!

New Paper Doll Outfit – Amanda

Today I have a new outfit for Serena from another book. This one is from the book Invisible I, which is part of a really awesome new series that is interestingly interactive. This is based on a flash-back scene from the book and is a dress worn by Amanda, the missing central character of the series. The Amanda Project is all about a teenage girl who disappeared and is leaving an intriguing trail of clues for her friends and acquaintances. The problem is that everyone is realizing that they don’t really know who is she is at all and barely know where to start looking, since she was almost a different person for each one of them. It’s a fantastic book and the website where you can become a part of the story and help write future books is great. I highly recommend this one. The book is awesome and I can’t wait for the next one! In the meantime, the website is a wealth of fantastic stuff!

The full size of this dress and Serena and the rest of her outfits can all be found on her page. I promise that Carmella will get some new outfits pretty soon, too!

New Paper Doll Outfit – Tika

This is a new dress for Alana. It’s the costume Tika wears in the animated movie Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I am not advocating watching this movie. Ever. Not even being drunk could possibly save this movie. It’s awful. The people and backgrounds are hand animated while the dragons and everything dragon-ish are computer animated. And they aren’t blended nicely like with Beauty and the Beast or anything. It looks like two separate movies sort of collided and the result is horrifying and literally painful and confusing to watch. Not to mention, the story barely makes sense the way they cut it down. And the movie is full of really bad mistakes that REALLY should have been caught before it went to print (my favorite is when the layers got messed up during the big, climactic fight and the bad guy’s weapon is sicking through his torso for a few seconds). But this is Tika, the barmaid who becomes a warrior of sorts in the books, but is pretty much just a panicky barmaid in the movie. I have no idea how the skirt works, but it’s animated, so it doesn’t have to really make sense, right?

The full sized version of this and all of Alana’s other outfits (as well as the doll) are available on her page. I notice she doesn’t have any book outfits yet. Eventually she’ll have some, it’s just that mostly I read books for kids and teens, so most of my book-inspired costumes have been for Carmella and Serena.

New Paper Doll Outfit – Cindy

This is a new dress for Serena! The inspiration came from the book Seeds of Yesterday by V. C. Andrews (it’s one of the sequels to Flowers in the Attic). It’s a dreadful book and I absolutely don’t recommend it. It’s a total waste of time unless you enjoy overwrought melodramas full of inconsistencies and annoying plot devices that don’t really make sense. But it’s also full of parties and so I decided to give Serena a party dress like one described in the book (she really didn’t have anything formal yet, so I thought she deserved it). The book was written in the 1980s, so the dress is inspired by some prom dresses from the early 1980s. Cindy is described as having pulled the ruffle off the shoulder in an attempt to look more sexy and grown-up, so I did that to the dress and it ended up looking pretty good that way.

Serena’s other outfits and the doll herself can all be found on her page, which is also where the full-sized version of this gown is. She has some more dresses coming up, so if you liked this, there’s more gowns and dresses to come.

New Paper Doll Outfit – Wonder Woman

Well, Alana’s collection of superheroine costumes would hardly be complete without a Wonder Woman costume, now would it? This is the Amazon Princess’s current look from her own comic which is being written by Gail Simone right now. I was reading it for a while (and am considering trying it again), but the plotline with the male Amazons really annoyed me. The Amazons are the only totally female society in… probably all of major comicdom, and for some stupid reason DC decided to undermine that by putting a guy in charge of them. A dead guy at that. I’m sorry, but the Amazons should be what they are – a society of women warriors – not some women being led by a zombie. That’s just stupid and annoying. I do have to give Wonder Woman points for splitting from them over it, but that doesn’t make it a better storyline. But then, DC has done a good job of driving me away from most of their books lately, so why should Wonder Woman be any different?

Full sized versions of Alana and her outfits (including this one) can all be found on her page. I’m afraid that the tiara on this may be impossible to actually put on the doll if you’re cutting these out. Sorry about that! You could ad tabs to the sides of the tiara and cut little slits between Alana’s face and hair to slide them into, holding the tiara onto her head, but that’s the only idea I have.

New Paper Doll Costume – Max

Today I have a new outfit for Serena! This is the outfit Max wears in the cartoon Batman Beyond. Michael and I recently watched through this show and I really enjoyed it, even though I remembered not liking the few episodes I’d seen in the past. The one thing I wished it had given me that it didn’t was some explanation for where Dick Grayson was. He was mentioned, but his absence was never explained. It felt weird. Other than that, it was a fantastic show. Bruce as an older, but still pretty scary, man was great. I loved Ace (the dog). And Terry was a great contrast to Bruce. He really was a different kind of Batman and that was cool. Best of all, he wasn’t just a clone of Dick or Tim, he was a fully fleshed out and interesting character. Max was my favorite, though. She was smart and tough and figured things out that it always seems like someone should be able to figure out, but in comic books no one ever does. She was really awesome. I would have loved to see her get to be Batgirl or something, but I think it actually worked really well having her remain a civilian but get to help and work with both Terry and Bruce at various times. Yeah, she needed saving that one time, but most of the time she was pretty kick-ass in her own right and even that time she was holding up pretty well in a pretty weird and creepy situation, so I’m not going to begrudge her it too much (she was way better as a kidnapping victim than Dana, anyway, who just whined and screamed the whole episode). She was a great friend and a great ally and I loved her. So my paper doll gets her outfit!

Serena and full sized versions of all her outfits (including this one) can be found on her page. She’s got a bunch of gowns and fancy dresses coming up, so that will add something new to her wardrobe! And I will get back to more outfits for Carmella, I promise!

Competition in Videogames and Gender

I read this fascinating article about testosterone and competition in games yesterday and it got me thinking about a lot of things. One of the biggest things that struck me as I read was the discussion of player behavior after a victory. The paper talks generally about how “if there is some way for winners to communicate, losers are subjected to degrading displays of status.” The author discusses how this kind of crowing about a victory makes the losers feel worse and tends to cause them to stop playing the game. That got me thinking about gender dynamics in competitive games like this where the players can communicate with each other. And realistically, there are very few competitive videogames these days where the players don’t have the ability to easily communicate either through text or voice based chat systems. I think that extrapolating from this article can help explain one of the big, and yet basically ignored, problems with bringing more women into “hardcore” gaming.

The language of smack talk itself is extremely problematic from a woman’s point of view. A lot of it is extremely gendered and sexual in nature, and women never come out on top when it comes to smack talk language (pun intended). Losers are told they are “pussies”, that they “play like a girl” and to “bend over and take it” or “suck it” (there are worse ones, but I don’t feel like filling my blog with them). Winners have any number of euphemisms for testicles, “stuck it to them/you” and are “The Man”. It’s pretty clear that being a girl is a bad thing in the culture of competitive videogames, at least metaphorically. So what happens when the player in question actually is a girl or a woman?

To begin with, it’s sometimes hard not to feel unwanted and unwelcome in a culture filled with this language. To be the woman who can push past that and play with the big boys anyway (again, pun intended), you almost have to be willing to be twice as good as anyone else and able to somehow reconcile being female with that skill. Some do this by talking as much smack as the guys, in their sexist language, thus sort of adopting the mantle of “one of the guys”. Others basically stay silent and just let the guys josh each other about being beaten by a girl. Some almost get apologetic about being female, as if they have so internalized the language that they themselves are ashamed of being women (thankfully, this seems to be more and more rare as more and more women gamers gain visibility).

Many women (although not all) play a different kind of social game in their everyday lives than most men do. Deborah Tannen has explained how for many men (although, again, not all), social interactions are about forming and negotiating a hierarchy where the most dominant reach the top and it’s not very desirable to be on the bottom. Women, on the other hand, strive for connections. It’s not that they don’t want to be or think they are better than the next person, it’s that it’s very important to at least keep up the facade of a level playing field. It’s why apologies are so vital to female relationships, they allow things to return to the status quo by (implicitly) acknowledging a wrong done or invoking empathetic feelings.

This comes into play for some women when they lose and are “subjected to degrading displays of status.” For some women, this almost violent dressing down is actually painful. Because of the impulse they have to avoid social conflict, it’s actually a very distressing experience to be so spoken to. In female relationships, women will often assume that such responses are somehow their own fault, and this reaction becomes so ingrained that it carries over into other experiences. Add to that the gendered language and such an experience can easily go from distressing to frightening.

And then you’ve probably lost that player, and rightly so. We’re taught as women to avoid frightening situations, not to fight back and to stick together. So no matter how much fun the game itself might be, if the community provides a frightening experience for the woman, every instinct she has is probably going to tell her not to stay and not to come back. And then we come to what happens when a woman sees such things happening to other people.

When a woman sees something like that happen to her friend, she’s likely to be distressed like her friend, although to a lesser extent. And she’s going to leave with the friend. They’ve learned this is a dangerous place to stay away from. When she sees it happen to someone else, there’s a good chance she’ll empathize and realize that it could easily happen to her. And then, again, you’ve lost her (and that time she didn’t even have to have the experience, just witness it).

We’re taught to avoid danger and that danger is everywhere. And for women, avoiding danger makes a lot of sense. Games may not pose a real, physical danger, but they can cause us to feel that way. And why would you want to feel that way if you don’t have to? This doesn’t mean that games shouldn’t be competitive. Competition is good and women like competition as much as men do. And it’s not to say that games that allow communication are bad. Communication adds a lot to a game’s appeal, as MMOs and Facebook games prove daily. It’s just to say that perhaps there’s more to attracting and retaining female players than just making more appealing games and marketing to them better. The attitudes of the gaming community itself also needs to change.

New Paper Doll Outfit – Elizabeth Bennet

This is another gown for Alana. The dress was worn by Greer Garson who played Elizabeth Bennet opposite Laurence Olivier’s Mr. Darcy in the 1940 movie version of Pride and Prejudice. The movie wasn’t bad, although it wasn’t really the story that Jane Austen wrote, either. It is often criticized for not being set during the regency period when the book is set, but rather in the middle of the 1800s. Some sources claim that this was because the studio had costumes sitting around from Gone with the Wind and couldn’t afford to make all new ones, which is actually pretty likely since things were reused a lot back then to save money. I don’t know for certain that it’s what happened, though, so take it with a grain of salt. The costumes were very pretty. The flouncy dresses and focus on “trapping” husbands made the portrayal of Elizabeth seem much less practical and level-headed, but she still came out looking better than most of the other young women. It wasn’t an amazing movie, but it was enjoyable. It’s vastly different from the book, though.

Alana’s other outfits and the doll herself can all be found on her page. So far she mostly has superhero costumes and period costumes. Looking through the pile of outfits I have for her, there are more of both of those, but eventually she will get some normal, modern clothes too. She has a lot more outfits than either of the other two dolls, though, so it may take a while to get to them!

On Customer Service

One of my biggest pet peeves is bad customer service. As far as I’m concerned, there’s really never any excuse for it.

Let’s be clear here about what I mean by good customer service, though, since I’m not sure everyone has the same definition. I consider customer service to be not so much about making the customer happy as about giving them the best service possible. It simply isn’t possible to make every single person happy all the time. Sometimes people have impossible problems (“my computer has smoke coming out of it and I have to finish this project by tomorrow!”), sometimes it’s not feasible for the company or the customer service rep to truly help the person such that it will make them really happy (“but I sent the check! why don’t you have a record of it?”), and sometimes people are just in bad moods and want to take them out other people (“look, if you can’t produce a purple plastic purse for me in the next five minutes I’ll scream!”).

None of those things, however, are excuses for bad customer service. No matter how annoying the customer or how outrageous their demand, they should always be treated with respect. Doing so also gives you the right to ask that customers treat your customer service reps with respect. It’s really a win for everybody. Good customer service means happier, more satisfied customers who are more likely to give you return business and happier, more contented employees who do more work at a higher quality.

Unfortunately, customer service is one of those things that people seem to only understand is important when they are on the customer side of the relationship. Everyone wants to receive good customer service. This doesn’t mean everyone wants to be pestered by store employees and read to from canned scripts when calling customer service lines. Those things aren’t indicative of good customer service, they are indicative of companies more concerned about their bottom line than their customers (which really doesn’t make sense when you realize that they only have a bottom line because they can attract and keep customers).

Good customer service requires truly respecting your customers and genuinely wanting to help them. Some examples of good and bad customer service:

Your cable goes out and it doesn’t appear to be because of any of your equipment. You call the customer service line to report that it’s not working and ask for it to be repaired. The customer service rep consults their computer and doesn’t find a note about your area, so they put you on hold briefly (less than three minutes) and call the repair coordinating office to see if anything is happening in your area that hasn’t shown up on the computers yet.

They come back on the phone with you and say that yes, someone is looking into it and the expected repair time is currently four hours. They apologize for the inconvenience, thank you for calling to let the company know the cable was out and tell you that if you call back after the cable comes back on, the company can refund your bill for the time it was out. You ask why they can’t do the refund right now while you’re on the phone and the rep explains that the company requires it to be done after the blackout is over so that the proper amount of time can be credited. That way, if it’s only out five hours you get that amount of credit, but if the problem ends up taking ten hours to repair you can be properly compensated for that time. The rep then asks if you have any other questions. You say no, thank them and hang up.

This was a good experience, even though your problem wasn’t fixed. You and the rep were both treated with respect, the problem was treated as real (even though the rep had no record of it to begin with) and procedures were explained when you requested them to be.

You are in a serious accident, but not seriously hurt yourself, and your doctor suggests you see a mental health specialist about your experience. You call each of the doctors recommended and find that your health insurance doesn’t cover any of them. Your doctor suggests that you obtain a list of doctors in your health plan and they will suggest someone from the list, to prevent that from happening again. You call your health insurance customer service line to obtain the list.

You get a voice recognition program first that has trouble recognizing your voice, but eventually get to an actual human customer service rep. The rep immediately asks for your identification number, birth date and name. You give this information and after a moment of silence, the rep asks you how they can help you. Slightly annoyed already, you explain that you need a list of mental health practitioners that are covered by your plan. The rep says you have the wrong department and transfers you, which causes you to wait on hold for a few minutes for another customer service rep.

You explain what you want again. The rep responds with “what do you need to see one for?” Taken aback, you stammer and ask why it matters. The rep gets exasperated and explains slowly that it will help narrow down the list. You state that you’d rather not go into your mental heath with a stranger on the phone. The rep seems annoyed, but doesn’t argue.

They then ask how you would like the list, since it’s “really long”. You ask what your options are. The rep says they can read it out to you (although clearly they don’t want to) or they can fax it to you. You don’t have a fax number. You ask if they can email it to you. The rep sighs and says sure and asks for your email address. You carefully give your email address and ask for them to repeat it back (having little confidence that they were listening). They seem to have it correct. They ask if there’s anything else you need and when you say no, immediately hang up. You go to check your email more than a little annoyed.

This is a very bad customer service experience. Even if you went into the call in a good mood, you ended up angry and throughout the call no one was treated with respect. Your requests were treated as annoyances, you were asked for personal information that you should never have been asked for and information that you should have been asked for in the wrong way and you became so annoyed that you started to treat the rep as if they were incompetent.

Unfortunately, the second call is becoming more typical of my experience as companies cut funding and training from their customer service departments, outsource to people who have no way of hoping to help the people who call them, and gain monopolies and other forms of control such that people have no choice but to remain their customers, bad service and all. Money is poured into marketing (and we see how well that seems to be working) and taken away from actually providing a good product and service to customers.

This is not a good way to do business and it’s not a good environment in which to be a customer. Being a customer doesn’t make you a lesser being. Everyone is a customer. Even CEOs are customers to someone, and they expect good service when they are customers, so why do they provide anything less to the customers they have? This is what I really don’t understand. No one is just a customer service rep or just a businessperson. Everyone is on the other side of the counter sometimes and when they are, they want good, compitent service.

They want cashiers who are efficient and able to do things like process returns without having to wait ten minutes for a manager, they want sales reps who don’t pester them to buy extra things but do find them what they want and make useful suggestions, they want reps who are willing to try and find the solution even if they don’t have it. They want to be dealing with trained employees who are respected enough by their companies to be allowed to think for themselves and do things. And companies should want employees who are loyal to the company to because it respects them and gives them enough leeway to find solutions or to hand customers off to people who can when necessary.

Customers who have good experiences talk about it. They tell their friends. I know that seems like a myth, but especially in this day and age when such experiences are all too rare, it’s true. I can’t tell you how many repeat customers I had and I saw the people working around me get because we provided great customer service when I was a bookseller. People would not only come back, they’d bring their friends and talk about it. I’d have strangers walk up to me and say “my friend said you were so nice and helpful to her last month when she needed a birthday gift for her niece and I remembered that, can you help me?” And I saw that happen to the people around me too. I also saw customers leave upset talking about never coming back and heard customers repeating horror stories of what happened to them or someone they knew. Bad stories get around too, you see. And both types also get Twittered, updated as Facebook statuses and blogged about.

The thing is, if you give me good service, I suspect you might care about me. If you fail to give me good service, I know that you don’t care about me. And thats really what it’s all about. I want to give my money and even work for companies that care, even abstractly, that I am their customer or their employee. I don’t want to give my money to companies to actively don’t care about me. So that’s the challenge. Show your customers you care, and they’ll care about you. Show them otherwise, and you might find that they respond in kind with that too.

Related Link: Marvel Divas: Bad Customer Service

New Paper Doll Outfit – Lilly

Here’s another new outfit for Serena! This is the outfit that a character named Lilly wears in the comic NeoZoic. The comic is about a human civilization in the middle of a landscape where dinosaurs roam. Lilly is part of the defense squad for the city. Whenever dinosaurs attack the city walls (nearly always predators), these defenders are called up to protect the city. Lilly had this awesome sort of steampunk-ish outfit and I just had to draw it. She had some pretty heavy artillery too, but I’m really bad at drawing weapons, so she’s only got those long daggers hanging at her hip. The illustrations in the comic are all dark earth tones, so this outfit is dark browns and reds in the original art. Lilly looked very tough, despite being only a teenager. I haven’t gotten to read much of this comic, but I enjoyed what I read! Hopefully I’ll get to read more at some point!

The full sized image of this outfit as well as Serena herself and all the rest of her wardrobe can be found on her page. Next time I’ll have another dress for Alana!