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Author Archives: Eric Swain

Episode 21 – Actually, It’s About…2014

December 17th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off)

It’s that time again, the end of the year is upon us. Rather than exhaustively go over everything of note that happened in 2014, instead we more skim over several various broad topics of interest. 2014 hasn’t been a pleasant year overall, but in the spirit of glader tidings we decided to focus as much as we can on better things.

Direct Download

CAST

Eric Swain: The Game Critique

Kris Ligman: Dire Critic

Alan Williamson: Five out of Ten

Lana Polansky: Sufficiently Human

SHOW NOTES

Flappy Bird is Making $50,000 A Day on Mario-Like Art

You Are Mountain

Twine, the Video Game Technology For All

Cat Petting Simulator

The Terror Aboard the Speedwell

The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo

Support Games Criticism

Critical Proximity

Video Brains

Does Twitch Plays Pokemon Give You Hope For Humanity?

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Full list of games mentioned at end: Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Shovel Knight, Curtain, 2:22 AM, LaLa Land, Kitty Horrorshow’s games, Aeryne Wright’s games, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, The Fall, 80 Days, Gods Will Be Watching, The Niflheim, Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, Coffee: A Misunderstanding.

Our TYIVGB Methodology

December 9th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Announcement: - (Comments Off)

Every year, Critical Distance produces a feature entitled This Year In Video Game Blogging. You’ll be seeing 2014’s roundup in just a few weeks, so let’s take a moment to talk about how the sausage is made.

We have always endeavored at Critical Distance to be open and honest with our methods. Over the years, we’ve refined our process, taking note of what eased the load, while broadening the view.

The Starter Lists

We begin by creating the three starter lists. The first list is my own, crafted by going through all of our This Week In Video Game Blogging roundups featured over the past year. The second list is created by our staff curators. The third and final list is the combined suggestions from our readers.

The First List

The first starter list is the bedrock on which TYIVGB is built. First, I put together a list of links that are auto-shortlisted. Either they have been deemed to sum up an issue or game perfectly, it was a huge deal throughout the year, or otherwise is one of those pieces which was so significant that it clearly merited inclusion. Previous examples include Brendan Keogh’s book on Spec Ops: The Line, Killing is Harmless, and Leigh Alexander and Kirk Hamilton’s Final Fantasy VII letter series.

For the rest of the first starter list, I read through all the TWIVGBs of the past year. I pull out all the links I remember throughout the year and any further links that seem of interest for the year roundup. Previously, I read all of the featured links, but this was time-consuming and my current method creates pretty much the same starter list in a much shorter amount of time.

The Second List

The second starter list comes from our other curators. Each staff member creates a list of pieces they feel should be considered. They can submit anything they feel worthy of inclusion to augment my own effort, whether it’s something they feel I may overlook due to my personal perspective or simply a piece that didn’t make it into a TWIVGB for whatever reason. They use their own discretion in how they each create their personal submission lists.

The Third List

The final starter list is the simplest: we collect all the suggestions emailed from our readers, as long as they’re before the final due date. If you’d like to send in a reader submission of your own, you can learn about that process here.

The Longlist

Once I have the starter lists, I clear out the duplicates. Since inclusion in the shortlist isn’t based on popular vote, if something is already on one list, it doesn’t need to be on another. This helps streamline the next few steps. Also, I remove any obvious non-starters: joke suggestions, pieces that go against our mission statement, and those that don’t meet the higher standards necessary in a yearly roundup. They may be perfectly fine for TWIVGB, but TYIVGB is a different beast — it is more selective and refined.

From there, we consolidate all three starter lists into a longlist. This usually contains 100 to 300 articles. The length determines how long I spend culling it. Some pieces cover the same ground; others don’t meet the same standard of quality; and others still are those we like, but ultimately don’t add significantly to the critical corpus.

We also have a method for special edge cases such as if there is no single, high-quality article on an important issue; if there’s a gap representing a larger conversation that is spread quite thin; or if there is other missing representation in the fabric of the year. For these cases, the Critical Distance advisory board can make decisions where straight curation fails. Such cases are rare, and I have probably spent more time considering how to deal with hypothetical cases than I have ever actually needed to deal with a real one.

The Shortlist

Eventually, the longlist becomes the shortlist. In practical terms, this is when the list length is down to double digits. Then I meet with Kris Ligman, our Senior Curator. Together, we give the shortlist a once-over. It’s good to have a second set of eyes check the work, ask me questions about the choices and give me an opportunity to defend any questionable pieces i.e. for the aforementioned reasons of notability. By this point, my brain is usually fried, and it never hurts to double-check your work.

An Aside Concerning Self-Nomination

As all of our staff curators are themselves critics and commentators actively writing about games, it only makes sense that articles with our bylines would show up among the longlists and shortlist. That being said, we’re not here just to promote our own work, so we’ve developed an honor code of sorts for dealing with these situations.

It has long been our policy to never recommend our own work for the weeks we do TWIVGB. We can nominate our work when someone else is doing the roundup and thus able to properly evaluate our work, but never for our own weeks, except in special cases (for instance, when we are linking to a zine or anthology in which we are one of several authors). In my case, I adopted this policy because, in years past, I was the primary submitter of links and thus had considerable influence over the curation. As our site has grown in popularity, that influence and inclusion rate has decreased considerably, but we have continued with this policy in the name of fairness.

Being the lead curator on our year-end roundup, I recuse myself from judging any of my own work for possible inclusion. Instead, anything of mine which has been included in TWIVGB over the past year I hand over to Senior Curator Kris as a separate document. Kris makes the call on which, if any, of this is included. I have no say in this part of process, and I’ve done it this way every year since the first TYIVGB. It’s only fair that someone else pass judgment on my work.

The Write-Up

Once the curation is finished, we organize the articles into an outline and then comes the easy part: writing the feature. I write the descriptions and attributions of each piece, along with descriptions of their respective categories and a conclusion that sums up the whole year.

Like any act of creation, curation is an work of subjectivity. TYIVGB is what I, and the rest of the team, personally consider to be the most representative writing of the year — not necessarily the “best,” however that may be defined. Additionally, while others contribute to the process, it is still me behind the feature. TYIVGB will thus come tinged with all the biases and thought processes inherent in those facts.

Hopefully, This Year in Videogame Blogging will act as a snapshot of the year. The aim is simply to create something that someone looking at it years hence will read and say, “Yep, that was the year that was.” If we can accomplish that, then we’ve done our jobs.

Now Accepting Submissions for TYIVGB 2014 Edition

December 5th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Announcement: - (Comments Off)

It’s that time of the year again here at Critical Distance! We are opening the floodgates to reader submissions for our annual end of year feature, This Year In Video Game Blogging.

In addition to my own efforts and the work of our staff curators, we are asking you the community to help fill the gaps. In general, we are looking for pieces that will help outline 2014 as a year. This is a feature of reflection and, in the future, a starting point to give a general idea of what 2014 was all about. Below are a list of general guidelines of the type of things we are looking for to give anyone who may need it a starting point. The only hard rule we have for submission (other than our general content policy) is that any suggestions must be from this year, 2014.

Now for the guidelines.

1. Any piece of writing that just sticks out in your mind. Days, weeks, months later you remember this piece of writing. Pieces that get cited to this day are would fall under this category. Examples from previous years:

-The New Games Journalism by Kieron Gillen (2005)
-The Lester Bangs of Video Games by Chuck Klosterman (2006)
-Ludonarrative Dissonance by Clint Hocking (2007)
-Taxonomy of Gamers by Mitch Krapta (2008)
-Permanent Death by Ben Abraham (2009)
-Video games can never be art by Roger Ebert (2010)
-The Pratfall of Penny Arcade – A Timeline (aka Debacle Timeline) by Unknown (2011)
-Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line by Brendan Keogh (2012)
-Tropes vs. Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian (2013 to present)

2. Any pieces that are an excellent example of larger trends surrounding the most talked about games of the year. Like from last year — BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, Gone Home and so on. We want example pieces that highlight the discussion that took place around those games.

3. Any example pieces from the important voices and platforms (critics and sites) that stood out this year. These are the pieces that best highlight or represent the critics’ writing and work throughout the year.

4. Any pieces pertaining to gaming culture that highlight a conversation from this year. Large compilation pieces are preferred should they exist or pieces that otherwise capture the scope and variety of the conversation.

5. Any pieces that is simply an exceptional piece of meritorious writing about games.

6. Yes, you can nominate your own work.

Please email all links with “This Year in Videogame Blogging” in the subject line. DO NOT use Twitter for TYIVGB submissions. EMAIL ONLY.

Also, please keep emails brief. No long lists of 50 links with an essay praising each one. If you forget a link, go ahead and send another email.

The deadline for TYIVGB reader submissions is Midnight, December 24th Eastern Standard Time.

We thank you for your time and hope you have a happy December. My hair is going white already!

November 30th

November 30th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Hope for all our US readers you had a lovely, stuffing Turkey Day and didn’t spawn too many family brawls. For everyone else, happy weekend. Welcome to This Week In Video Game Blogging!

Bioshock and Beyond Earth

Bioshock is back in the critical eye. Anthony Burch at his blog No Wrong Way to Play decides to see what the consequences of the little sister decision is by never using any of the Adam earned from making a moral choice and finds the game lacking in its response. Meanwhile, Rick Stanton at Rock Paper Shotgun looks at the legacy of Looking Glass Studios in regards to the Bioshock series.

On the other half of the header, Katherine Cross writing for Polygon finds that Beyond Earth can’t top Alpha Centauri. Peter Christiansen writing for Play the Past, focuses on the Beyond Earth‘s tech trees and notes that while in many ways it is no different than Civilization’s determinism approach to technology, in others it matches with recent historical understands of Actor Network Theory. And Errant Signal’s Campster feels the game has a bit of an identity issues between Civilization and Alpha Centauri‘s different styles and themes.

AAA Themes

Jamie Patton finds the Assassin’s Creed series through III to fail by creating an everlasting present of anti-colonialism values that devalues actual history and our ability to change for the better.

Romance author Ruby Duvall takes and does not take issue with a Dragon Age: Inquisition side quest dealing with a character liking a romance serial and the serial’s inclusion as part of the greater world of Dragon Age. Looking at Bioware’s other major property, Dara Khan at Videogameheart thinks through the theme of transhumanism being presented in Mass Effect‘s final choice and finds it doesn’t mesh with what the rest of the series has been about.

At TransGamer Thoughts, Heather Alexandra explores at one of the most underlooked games of the past few years, Binary Domain, and how it deals with AI and what it means to be human.

Meanwhile, George Mylonas looks to a more recent game, Alien: Isolation, and how it functions through the research done about the horror genre.

Interactive Fiction

You may remember a few weeks ago we posted a piece on Alter Ego by The Digital Antiquarian. His wife, Dorte, has written a follow up from the point of view of a woman playing the game as a woman. Later that week, he focused on what looks like the final game in his “digital book” series, 1987’s Portal. It doesn’t look like something that would be out of place in the modern day’s more avante guarde Interactive Fiction scene.

Javy Denton muses on driving alone at night and how Glitchhikers nails the need to talk to someone in the wee hours, even if it’s just other parts of yourself.

The Feel of the Game

At The Butter, Brian Oliu talks about the feel of being the superstar that NBA Jam evokes. It’s not about winning or losing, but putting on the most amazing basketball show possible.

In The Binding of Issac: Rebirth, one starts off with a normalish looking body and by the end has transformed into a monstrous blob of flesh. At PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams explains how it is a statement of freedom in a way, “free from established rules and stricture, free to continue to grow into something other than what others desire it to be.”

In his review of Never Alone, Daniel Starkey comments on how happy he is, as an American Indian, that any tribe would get a game made in conjunction with them to valorize their history and beliefs as “an interactive piece of folklore.”

And Cara Ellison, in her NSFW column at Rock Paper Shotgun, chats and laughs with some real world lesbians about the hilarious failures of Girlvania, an ‘All-Girl Sex Simulation’.

Design

Our own Zach Alexander goes back to a notable title in the mobile battle monster game genre, Puzzles and Dragons, and digs into its exploitative practices against the genre uninformed, likening much of it to capsule machines.

The Extra Credits crew praises the Dark Souls series for its approach to scalable difficulty.

Criticism on Criticism

Nick Capozzoli comes back to his own blog, to unpack the recent statements about opinion and objectivity of Youtuber Total Biscuit. How, when boiled down, the complaints always seem to be, “Why Wasn’t a White Guy Consulted?

Brendan Keogh decides to return the favor to Darius Kazemi and review his book on Jagged Alliance like Kazemi did to his book two years ago. In it, Brendan continues the conversation about approach towards long form criticism.

Melody of Melody Meows About… talks about the need to defend oneself from the purposefully compulsive nature of many of today’s video games. They are designed not just to be enjoyed, but all consuming to the detriment of everything else.

Wrapup

Remember, we are always accepting suggestions for our weekly roundups. Just submit them via our email or @ message them to us on twitter.

If you’re quick you can submit a piece for November’s Blogs of the Round Table.

If you can, please support us and the good work we do here at Critical-Distance through our Pateron. If you can’t afford it, but want to help, signal boost our efforts.

Thank you and have a lovely week. I’ll be subsuming myself into the end of year curation mines.

November 9th

November 9th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

How are you all this fine, crisp, chilly autumn day? And you in the southern hemisphere can keep your bragging to yourself, thank you very much. Eric here to take you on another journey through This Week In Video Game Blogging!

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta 2 continues to stir up conversation both as a sexual entity and in the game’s other facets.

Apple Cider Mage picks up the sex positive/sex negative discussion around the titular character as an opportunity to explore what is actually meant by both terms in a feminist context.

Todd Harper, however, is tired of the discussion around Bayonetta’s body and sexuality behind it to the exclusion of everything else. To that end he posted a series of short posts on the game as capable of instilling joy, dance and music, the angelic facade of the monsters and Bayonetta’s love of the camera and vice versa.

Ben Ruiz continues on this with a set of videos on his development blog going into extreme detail about the technicalities and depth of Bayonetta 2‘s fighting system.

Military and Politik

Kill Screen’s Chris Priestman, instead of leaving the image of “Hold X to Pay Your Respects” and calling it a day, talks about why Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare fails to earn that interaction.

Jake Muncy also condemns the use, but instead goes on to talk about grief and our odd aversion to dealing with death at funerals. Muncy then talks about two games that managed the ritual of dealing with grief far better than CoD:AW.

At Polygon, Charlie Hall puts the spotlight at a different type of war game, with This War of Mine‘s focus shifted a few yards off screen from Call of Duty‘s soldiers and instead focuses on the cowering, surviving civilians trapped in the conflict.

Meanwhile, at Ontological Geek, Tom Dawson turns his eye back to 2012’s Spec Ops: The Line and why it asks “How many Americans have you killed today?” and if that isn’t sending the wrong message.

Finally, Robert Rath talks about a different type of war, the War on Terror, and how Shadows of Mordor is a mirror of that conflict. He says the game fails Tolkien’s world by eliminating the themes of idealism, suspicion of power and our better natures triumphing to instead mire itself in modern cynicism, realpolitik and victory coming from tactics and the willingness to do anything.

History

History Respawned invites Dr. Zach Doleshal on to discuss the Eastern Bloc through the lens of Papers, Please.

And the game history e-zine Memory Inefficient volume 2 issue 5 on religion and game history has come out, featuring articles from L. Rhodes, Austin C. Howe, Danielle Perry, Mauricio Quilpatay, Jon Peterson, Amsel von Spreckelsen and Stephanie Cloete.

Contemplation

Sometimes one needs to only lean back and think, letting the mind wander for no practical end and see what connections can be made.

Alex Jones compares the feeling of driving at night between Glitchhikers and Euro Truck Simulator 2.

Zolani Stewart explains expressionism paintings and their lessons to understanding worlds like that of Sonic Adventure 2.

Horror Games

At Outside Your Heaven, Matthew Weise feels like he should like Alien Isolation more than The Evil Within, but he finds that the former just retreads too much ground.

On Gamasutra’s member blogs, Sergio Hidalgo has some words on the mental tax on developers making horror games, drawing from his personal experience.

Craftsmanship

A concerning not only with content, but with how that content is both delivered and expressed.

If you missed GDCNext, Raph Koster has put up his slides from his talk from that conference, “Practical Creativity.” More than a few of the slides are thought inspiring, even as just a rough outline.

Sam Kabo Ashwell of These Heterogenous Tasks wrote A Bestiary of Player Agency a few weeks back. It’s a long piece that goes into quite a number of different types of mental and physical play spaces and how the various implementation affect our behavior and what we get out of the game.

My colleagues at PopMatters Moving Pixels have also talked about different implementations. Marshall Sandoval writes about the use of regional authenticity to create the texture of real places rather than the bland settings of regurgitated copies of copies of copies. Also, G. Christopher Williams looks at the addition of a first person view to Grand Theft Auto 5.

Then there is David Canela who, on his Gamasutra blog, notes the many binaries in Dark Souls that mirror the thematic binaries at play in that world and how the oft overlooked sound is another of them.

Dispatches from Vienna

Joe Köller has these links to give from across the pond.

The essential story this week: apparently a German theater ran a stage adaptation of The Secret of Monkey Island. Videogame Twitter noticed it too late to make it to an actual performance, but the image gallery alone is worth clicking that link.

Austrian student paper Progress has a special on games this month, which includes a bit of media history by Helga Hansen, as well as Anne Pohl’s summary of recent GamerGate nastiness, among other things.

Meanwhile, Mina Banaszczuk talked about being an inexperienced player in MMOs.

Pixeldiskurs also has a recording of a talk Michael Schulze von Glaßer gave about his new book on games and the military-industrial complex.

You Know What This Is About

No seriously you do.

We missed this one from a few weeks ago: PBS’s Idea Channel tackles the issue of how to create responsible social criticism through media. So many good lessons here, like how saying something causes people to X is not the same as saying something causes X to be thought of as normal.

Indre Viskontas ends her Inquiring Minds interview with Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage on the anger directed towards woman in tech and videogame fields.

And finally, stand-up comedian Brock Wilbur gives his story of how he was doxxed by the hashtag and how absurd it is as someone who has nothing to do with video games. At one point, he quotes his mother’s reaction to the whole ordeal:

Why don’t they just take away all the Halos until boys learn how to play nice?

#TakeAwayTheHalos indeed.

Lighten the Mood

After all that, I need a laugh. Here’s Conan O’Brien trying and failing to cross a street in Call of Duty.

The Usual Footer Stuff

Please send any link recommendations to our Twitter account or by email.

We have a new November prompt, “Home Sweet Home,” up for Blogs of the Round Table.

Critical Distance is funded by readers like you! If you like what we do, please consider pledging a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

And I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but I’m cold.

Episode 20 – The Founderhead

September 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off)

Our regular podcast host Mattie Brice needs a bit of extra time for her latest interview, so we’ve dug into our archives again for yet another heretofore unheard Critical Distance Confab episode. In this installment, Eric Swain interviews our very own founder and former head curator Ben Abraham.

Part of the original games blogger boom in 2007-2008, Ben Abraham has always found himself focused on the community of critics. It led him to try and bridge many of those working unknown and segregated by the internet’s distance to eventually founding a curation site (this one!) to bring all the best writing.

Also in this podcast, we discuss some of his other notable projects and his obsession with Far Cry 2, the focal point of a few of those projects.

Direct Download

SHOW NOTES

SLRC

Permanent Death – The Complete Saga

Frank Bilders is Dead

A Post-Comment World

i am ben abraham

Replayability is NOT a word

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Episode 19 – A Critic By His Window

August 15th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off)

This month we bring you another interview from the unheard archives. A few years ago Kirk Battle, going under the pseudonym L.B. Jefferies, was one of the most prolific critics of the burgeoning amateur bloggers arising from the boom of 2007 and 2008. Now he is retired from the video game criticism game. We look back on his time as a critic and his view of criticism itself.

In addition to being a personal inspiration to podcast moderator Eric Swain, Kirk Battle was named Critical Distance’s 2010 Blogger of the Year.

Direct Download

SHOW NOTES

Banana Peppers Martinis

PopMatters – L.B. Jefferies

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Review

Zarathusra Analysis

ZA Critique: The Darkness

ZA Critique: Okami

Lester Bangs rant

Pauline Kael – 1234

Samuel Johnson and Video Games

Does Video Games Need a Lester Bangs?

The New YouTube Video Games Criticism: An Interview with “moviebob”

Does Video Games Need a Pauline Kael?

On Design Centric Criticism

Telling Tales in Gabriel Knight 2

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Episode 18 – The Great Curator

July 15th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off)

This month’s podcast is all about a subject near and dear to our hearts: curation.

Here at Critical-Distance we curate games writing and other forms of criticism. But what about curation of the games themselves? Steam is getting flooded with new releases to say nothing about the games that never seem to get the spotlight at all, hidden away individual projects scattered around the web.

For this month’s podcast, Mattie brings two curators of small, free indie games (Merritt Kopas and Chris Priestman) to discuss the process and the philosophy behind what games they try to give the spotlight to and what audience they are trying to reach.

Direct Download

CAST

Mattie Brice: Alternate Ending

Merritt Kopas: mkopas

Chris Priestman: Warp Door

SHOW NOTES

Forest Ambassador

Forest Ambassador Patreon

Forest Ambassador Twitter

Warp Door

Warp Door work in progress

War Door Twitter

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Episode 17 – The Blogfather

June 15th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off)

Due to some unforeseen circumstances (namely, an impromptu digital game conference), Mattie Brice is unavailable to bring us a podcast this month.

Fortunately, we dug into the archives and found this gem: an unreleased interview with Michael “Brainygamer” Abbott. Recorded about two years ago, most of what we talk about is his historical perspective from the beginning wave of internet bloggers and critics and his own view on video game criticism.

We hope you enjoy!

Direct Download

SHOW NOTES

Brainy Gamer Podcast

Bloody Play

I’m your huckleberry

A conversation about Braid

Prince of quitting

RPG Syllabus

Unplayable

Portal on the booklist

Seeking the light

Look at the camera and smile: No More Heroes and the New Wave

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Episode 16 – The Artist Formally Known as Critic

May 15th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off)

Welcome to the first podcast in the brand new Critical Distance Confab!

We were so impressed with Mattie Brice’s moderation of our Black History Month podcast that we’ve asked her back to helm a new, monthly series. Each month on the 15th, Mattie will be tackling exciting, weighty topics flanked by special guests from across the critical landscape — and perhaps a few surprises as well!

This month, Mattie sits down with fellow critic-developers Lana Polansky and Cameron Kunzelman, to discuss how they got involved in game design, why game development interests them, and how becoming a developer has changed how they write about games.


Direct Download

CAST

Mattie Brice: Alternate Ending

Lana Polansky: Sufficiently Human

Cameron Kunzelman: This Cage is Worms

SHOW NOTES

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy