Showing posts with label video games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label video games. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pitfalls

Apologies for being away for so long. With the new job comes new stress due to a steep learning curve and I’m adjusting to an environment that is completely unlike anything I’ve been in before. Whereas I used to sit in a cubicle staring at the clock, I am now running around, arranging charts, answering phones and grabbing a quick sip of water or bite to eat when there’s a small break in the rush of patients. It’s definitely challenging, and I’m hoping to hit my stride soon.

To deal with the stress I’ve broken out my used copy of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey for the X-Box. I bought it for under 20 bucks on the suggestion of my visiting and adorable younger gamer cousin. It didn’t really bother me that I didn’t first play The Longest Journey, as I’ve started a lot of series playing sequels first.

I immediately felt that I could identify with Zoë (though not because she first appears in her underwear!). The first things that you find out about her is that she dropped out of school, broke up with her boyfriend, and moved back in with her dad. She’s lost and disillusioned, which is, I’ve found, a common emotional domain of many 20-somethings. The story of Dreamfall is excellent: it’s filled with cross-dimensional political conspiracy. While not all characters were completely developed, I noticed that there was a definite effort to give specific attitude and background to many of the NPCs—something that is usually ignored in many other games.
That doesn’t save it, however, from some huge complaints that I have. In a game that features so much diversity in its characters, I was appalled that the developers relied on some pretty insensitive and stereotypical portrayal of Chinese people. How many games do I have to play that feature a Chinese NPC wearing ancient-China style robes and hair, sporting extremely slanty eyes and speaking with a mouth full of buck teeth high-pitched and quivering English? Another aspect that confused me was how the very beginning of the game, which takes place in Tibet, features NPCs talking in their native tongue. I liked hearing an unfamiliar language. I initially thought it cool that a game that travels the world would feature different languages instead of just pretending that everyone speaks English. Yet after the first chapter in the game that completely vanished.

There was a lot of good in Dreamfall: specially the complex story, the game’s focus on women characters, and it’s genuine diversity. While playing the game, I kept comparing it to Indigo Prophecy, and found Dreamfall much more satisfying. However, there was a lot lacking too. Despite two of the main characters being women, the game didn’t lack sexism. Despite the game’s push towards multiculturalism, it had racist elements and was specifically grounded in white privilege. While these aspects really did turn me off to the game in a lot of ways, I have to admit that I’m hooked. I ordered The Longest Journey (soon to come in the mail) and am awaiting the next installment(s) of the series. I’m anxious to continue the narrative and see if it’s shortcomings continue or are improved upon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Some of the Same

Yesterday my brother let me come over to do some (free!) laundry. So in the midst of suds and folding I checked out a couple of demos on his 360.

Beautiful Katamari was first. I really like the controller for the 360 and think it’s a vast improvement over both controller models for the original Xbox. But in the context of Katamari, it was a bit awkward to play on a controller where the analog sticks aren’t side by side. I realize I’m being picky—it’s something I’m sure most people won’t have any problems with.

It was also disappointing to see that in Katamari’s third console incarnation that the camera is still wonky. And even though the graphics are bit brighter and a bit shinier, Beautiful Katamari is the same game as the first two. I don’t think online capabilities will do much in revolutionizing the formula either. It’s sure to be some fun, but there’s no way I’d shell out sixty bucks to play a game I essentially already own.

The demo I was truly excited to play was Eternal Sonata. This is the game I’d own a 360 for. Made by Tri-Crescendo (one of the two companies behind the Baten Kaitos games), I expect a ton out of it and its original premise of Chopin having delirious deathbed dreams. It. Is. Gorgeous. The visuals are dreamy and colorful. The music swirls and bends. The battles are fast-paced and genuinely fun. You only have a specific amount of time for your turn, so it’s similar to the Baten Kaitos series except it doesn’t feature cards. (People interested in the game probably already know about the light/dark features of battles as well.)

Yet I was crushed by what I gleaned from the gender roles of Eternal Sonata. The demo features no story, but it’s easy to tell what the prescribed roles are for the three characters that you control. The leader of the group is Allegretto, a pretty boy with a sword. We then have Polka, our cute and weak heroine who heals and whacks foes with an umbrella. Finally, there’s Beat, an eager and adorable young boy with an oversized gun. I love me my JRPGs and am not surprised with the common gender clichés that are often presented. But seriously, I’d like to see more. That said, I don’t know if there will be other characters that might push the gender envelope, but as of this moment, I’m doubting it.

After playing the Eternal Sonata demo, I’m left having to make a compromise that I always have to make. I know that when I do get a 360 down the line, I’ll most likely pick this game up. It has so much else going for it that I know I’ll enjoy, but I’m going to have to end up pushing the gender issues present in the game to the back of my mind. This has happened before with games that I’ve particularly enjoyed--Dragon Quest 8 and Tales of Symphonia, I’m looking at you.

While it’s true that I’m fully capable of enjoying a game despite problematic gender presentations, I’m tired of having to make so many compromises. And I know that I’m not alone—other gamers that are queer, identify as female and aren’t white often have to make the same type of aggravating decision when it comes to choosing a game to play.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

That was three days ago? A Rundown of Wizard World Chicago

This past weekend I set aside my internship and other responsibilities to attend yet another year of Wizard World Chicago with Shions_Glasses. It’s awesome to see every year more and more women and girls attending the con—the first year I went there didn’t seem to be a lot of us, but this year there was lots. It’s a good time to be a fan girl.

I don’t know if it was just me, but Wizard World seemed tiny this year. There just didn’t seem to be as many panels or booths. Hell, the Nintendo booth wasn’t even there. A shame because I was looking forward to getting some more free Pokemon cards and downloading a rare Pokemon or mystic ticket for my copy of Diamond.

Marvel’s booth had me a bit disappointed. I’m always impressed with free swag, even if it’s just DC’s Countdown pins and Batman temporary tattoos. I was crossing my fingers for a John Cassidy X-Men poster or something like that. There was a glossy poster for Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter that was definitely cheesecakey, but a little outside my taste.

I was surprisingly impressed with Sony’s booth. They seemed to aiming for some accessibility by being kid friendly. The PaRappa the Rapper port for the PSP was getting a strong push, as was the strategy-RPG Jeanne D’Arc. I grabbed a gorgeous poster for Jeanne D’Arc, and Shions_Glasses was given a PaRappa t-shirt that’s about five times too large just for posing for a few pictures with the PaRappa mascot.

On Saturday afternoon we made sure to stop by the DC booth to get Will Pfeifer’s signature. Other than that, we didn’t have too much to do with the big two. Instead of going to any of the panels we spent our time flipping through back issues and wandering around Artist Alley. We picked up about 20 issues of Gotham Cental (all for $1.50!) and grabbed Spider-Woman: Origin and the Metal Gear Solid TPB for half-off. In the Artist Alley I searched out David Mack (as I do every year) and bought the second and third volumes of Kabuki. Before we left for the evening we caught some Beck (dubbed, yuck) in the anime screening room. I’m a bit annoyed that they were only showing Funimation licensed anime this year. What about Manga and Bandai? They were there too.

Saturday night was probably my favorite part of the convention, though it wasn’t specifically Wizard World-related. In my part of Chicago they were having a neighborhood festival, and in celebration my local comic book shop invited their regulars to come hang out and drink some beers. There wasn’t too many of us there, which was more than alright with me. I was content with talking the whole while with a woman who didn’t even stop at home to change out of her Catwoman costume. The whole experience was a bit surreal: where I grew up I bought my comics from a video rental store, so there was never a place for me to go and hang out and talk geek.

Sunday was more of buying. For 35% off we picked up the first volume of Monster (manga is always seriously lacking at WW), Coward, the three TPB volumes of Bruce Wayne: Fugitive and Tales of the Slayers. We also stopped by Artist Alley and grabbed a copy of Winter Beard by Cathy Hannah and The Exploits of Aimless Boy by John Aston Golden, who is actually a regular at my comic book store. We waited in line for the Wheel of Doom and I won my cat a rubber band to play with (the topic I chose was Lunar: The Silver Star and they unfortunately didn’t know what the hell I was talking about) and Shions_Glasses won a hardcover book of Wizard covers, which he promptly gave away.

It was after this point that the con went sour. We stopped one last time at the Sony booth to check out the Heavenly Sword demo. Some guys came up behind us, and one of them decided that it’d be a ton of fun to verbally harass me. I don’t feel like going into too much detail, but his comments involved such things as upskirt shots, masturbation, and rape. Unable to contain my anger, I told him to please shut the hell up, and went on to furiously explain that rape is not a joke, it’s a hate crime, etc. but as he only seemed to get more belligerent with my every response. So I went to security and he disappeared into the milling crowd. At least I can say that security did take me seriously and even profusely apologized.

Yet getting harassed sucked any fun that was left out of the con. We did go afterward to check out the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, but it was difficult to enjoy.

With all the internet harassment that’s been going on lately in the game and comics community—the avalanche of racist comments regarding Resident Evil 5, the hijacking of GayGamer.com, and Girl-Wonder.org getting hacked— being harassed at the con just fit in too perfectly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Shame on you internet, I thought you were cool


I found a great blog today as I was reading up on Resident Evil 5 reactions. It's called microscopiq, and combines my two favorite things: art and video games into one cool blog. The article on RE5 is also stellar, as he points out many of the issues inherent with the concept of the game. The best point against the game is how the characteristics of the super zombies of RE4, transferred to a black person, creates a zombie that resembles many of the negative black stereotypes.
"With bulging eyes, simian super strength, and a room temperature IQ, we’ve been portrayed as savages beyond redemption."
What is not so cool, and that has made me as angry as a space banished Hulk, are the comments on that post. This post has gotten waaaay more attention than any of the other posts on the blog, and the majority of the comments are telling him how wrong he is. All I can think is "How dare they." What gives these people the right, to come to his blog and tell him that he is wrong; that he shouldn't be offended by obvious racist imagery. Most of the comments boil down to, "No. You don't/shouldn't feel the affects of racism, shut up!" It's inconceivable. Who else would feel the affects of the imagery in this game if not an African American. Commenter after commenter kept admitting to being white and claiming that they have never know anyone to be racist, that racism doesn't exist, and that these images of a race that they don't belong to aren't racist. Well of course you don't feel it if you're white, but it exists. It exists when you go onto an African American blog throwing your whiteness all over the place and saying not to talk about things like racism and be a good boy. Does anyone else see the absurdity in someone defending a game where a white person goes into a black space and starts wrecking havoc, when they themselves are going into a black space and wrecking havoc. This sounds like the perfect game for these people, right up their ally. It's pretty clever of the power structure to admit that racism is bad, but then also claim that it doesn't exist. This leaves those who are affected by racism without even a voice to speak out against it, because, according to the power structure, there's nothing to speak out against. A good rule to follow from now on is that if any marginalized person calls out some sort of oppression of their group, maybe everyone else should just shut up, listen, and at least consider the possibility.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Didn't I Already write this post?

I was very excited about Rogue Galaxy when I first heard about it. Level 5 left me in love after Dark Cloud 2 so my hopes were high. However, Rogue Galaxy did not turn out how I envisioned. It falls short of Dark Cloud 2 in gameplay, story, and most importantly: feminist stuff. Dark Cloud 2 did a great job of balancing between its girl and boy characters. Max and Monica were given equal attention in both story and gameplay, thus creating a gender equality which went to defy some game conventions. Monica was fully clothed, (not counting secret cat outfit) and fought with a sword, a rarity in video games. While Max was the brains compared to her brawn, and he fought with a nontraditional weapon, an honor usually assigned to a women. Developer: "Girls can't handle anything as phallic as a sword, we better give her an umbrella."
Because of these and other great elements that seemed to intentionally defy conventional roles, their follow up game seemed to be a sure hit. How wrong I was.
[spoiler warning]
Meet Lilika. The sexualized, exoticised only woman of color within your party, and one of two women out of 8 playable characters. Her origin story isn't much better. Of course the only woman of color in the game has to hail from a "backwards" tribal jungle planet. A planet that the white skinned offworlders end up saving. Jaster and friends expose to the poor savages that the god they worshiped was none other than a vile monster causing many problems in the village. So using the power of an almighty gun, Jaster helps the silly silly savages by killing their god. I've found that Imperialism leaves quite a bad aftertaste.
The character of Lilika is fairly interesting, but how can she be taken seriously while looking the way she does. I mean a tiger skin bra? Really? How can the game itself, nay, all of video games be taken seriously when characters are portrayed in this manner. This is why I get embarrassed to tell people I'm a gamer.
I had a possible ray of hope in acquiring her alternative outfits, but I should have known better. I have to say that giving the only woman of color in the game an outfit called "Royal Servant Clothes" is pretty insulting. On top of that, her bow is pretty worthless in combat. The one saving grace is that she doesn't have bunny ears. Shame on you Level 5, I thought you were better than this.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Elebits are cute and creepy.


It’s been a harried week of trying to get used to my new work load, and trying to stay optimistic in light of learning about the sad state of women’s reproductive rights and health care are in this country.

In an attempt to either cheer me up (or to distract me from doing my work) Shions_glasses rented Elebits. I haven’t had the chance to play many Wii games. Sure, I’ve put some hours in on Wii Sports, played a bit of Twilight Princess and beat Trauma Center, but that’s been about it. I can’t afford the prince of new games, and the price of used games for the Wii hasn’t been much better.

Elebits has a lot for me to love, namely its cuteness and penchant for making messes. It seems to borrow a lot of its atmosphere from Katamari and Pikmin. I was a bit worried about the controls, seeing that I dislike first person perspective in video games (ack, tunnel vision) and therefore suck at FPSs, but it’s actually easy to get the hang of. I still feel limited by the perspective, and probably would still prefer a behind the shoulder camera angle, but it doesn’t really impede my enjoyment.

One complaint I do have is the voice acting. It’s worse than the first Baten Kaitos game. Hell, its worse then those budget kids’ shows on PBS. Everyone sounds creepy. And the story? Basically, a kid feels neglected by his parents and is understandably pissed about it. What better way to get back at Mom and Dad than by tearing the house apart? However, it’s not all innocent revenge. The game has been hinting that Elebits are acting strangely--dear god, are these hunks of pastel cuteness going to attack me?

I may not be able to answer that, as we have to return the game Saturday, but I’m pretty sure that if I ever find Elebits in the bargain bin, I’m gonna snap it up.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More on Sony hating me

Alice at Wonderland commented the other day on Sony's "Because your Girlfriend bores you shitless" ad. She also points out that there's a possibility that the ad may not be official:

Beenabadbunny says, while the ads are real, they possibly don't belong to
Sony. A Sony hired-blogger is denying they're official... going from N'Gai's original post, the ads are posted on AdsoftheWorld.com, which claims to showcase worldwide work; however, any user can upload an example.

The blog in question, Three Speech, only says that "we’re reliably informed, however, it’s not a bona fide PlayStation advert."

No names, no official press release--why am I going to believe that the ads are a fake? We all remember Sony's so-called "hip hop" fan site, right?

Besides, even if the ads aren't official, I'm concerned that Sony isn't concerned about their image. I'd like to think that that Sony would see these ads as offensive enough to their consumers to say something, instead of releasing word on a "semi-official" blog.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Why do you hate me Sony?

A quick run down of some of Sony's advertising includes:

-an American ad campaign for the PSP which featured dust balls that can be easily interpreted as racist caricatures of Mexican people.
-the UK's various sex-based ads on buses with slogans such as “Your girlfriend’s white bits here.”
-the objectifying and race-based Black vs. White PSP ad in the Netherlands
-not to mention the topless waitresses featured at the God of War II release party

And now there's this running in India, complete with a tagline that reads"Because your girlfriend bores you shitless."

What. The. Hell. Sony.

There's lots of great discussion over at the Iris boards about the ad, along with some plans to get a letter campaign going. I'll post more info about it here when it happens.
hat tip: the f-word

Monday, June 11, 2007

Whaddya mean there’s no She-Hulk?

Thanks to a close friend, I managed to play through some of the Xbox 360 version of Marvel Ultimate Alliance. We had fun—some of the best parts were smashing our way through and listening to the throaty calls of the Hulk: “Hulk always wins!”

I was petty happy with the variety of characters—the most comical team that we put together consisted of Venom, The Thing, Hulk, and Ms. Marvel. But I do have some nitpicks:

--First of all, why were the starter characters specifically chosen? I understand the need to keep the pool small in the beginning as there is a slight learning curve, but I still think they could have given some leeway. I really wasn’t feeling it with the Thor, Spidey, Captain America and Wolverine team up.

--I’ve said this before with X-Men Legends II and I’m saying it again. I think there could be more female characters. I don’t see why there can’t be some gender parity. Moon Knight is in there, but no She-Hulk? Raven, you break my heart. (We have history.) With characters such as the ones I mentioned above, it’s not like they’re hurting for some character recognition. And I say this because it’s often argued that women characters are not used because they’re not as well known by the general public.

--That said, I think it would be fun to have some more B-List and obscure characters. Perhaps as unlockables?

--The storyline, though specifically different from X-Men Legends II, felt exactly like X-Men Legends II. I enjoyed the first X-Men Legends because it focused on a specific character; it didn’t feel too large or generic.

--The character animations are still awkward, and this same problem has plagued this franchise since the beginning. Though small, and not integral to the overall enjoyment factor of the game, I thought it’d be addressed, seeing that I was playing this on a 360.

--Last but not least, for whatever reason, I had trouble distinguishing between friend and foe while fighting. I might need to sit closer to the TV screen.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Response to Virtual Rape in Games

A couple of weeks back I came across a post from Bonnie over at Heroine Sheik. Bonnie’s great—she writes intriguing feminist articles about video games and is all about promoting acceptance and tolerance for all things sexy, wacky and weird. Yet I just couldn’t get on board with this post.

An excerpt:

It’s an interesting debate, especially since we don’t often run across games that let us rape (exceptions that come to mind include Sociolotron and Custer’s Revenge) and since we were just talking about virtual rape (raping another player, as opposed to a character). Still, drawing a link between game rape and real-life rape is like drawing a link between game violence and real-life violence, and we all know how we feel about that. Thumbs down.
I do understand where she’s coming from—we brandish swords, guns and fists, strategize war tatics and take down the bad guys in virtual worlds, yet these actions don’t translate to real and everyday life. We’re not going to beat up our boss or take out the President in the name of social justice. And I’m never going to say that the guy down the street playing H-games will someday rape. But there’s something about virtual rape that I don’t think can be shoved aside for the sake of fantasy. Virtual rape games are a symptom of our society, where women are systematically devalued and rape isn’t about sex but about power and privilege.

BetaCandy writes about some of the issues that come from rape in fictional settings in her post Inherent problems in writing rape storylines:

With rape, however, we don't have a cultural consensus that "forced sex" is always wrong. A lot of people don't fully comprehend what constitutes rape or consent. A lot of people still think it can't be rape if the rapist is known to the victim. A lot of people still think women can owe men sex, and men are entitled to take the sex they've earned if it's not forthcoming. And they apply this thinking in their daily lives. To women they know. To victims when they serve on juries (or as judges). To themselves, when they internalize the blame for violations others visited upon them.

To just say that virtual rape in hentai games is sexual fantasy in pixilated form is to ignore a whole heap of troublesome and problematic issues. Rape in H-games is not real rape, but it is representative of our misogynistic culture that hurts real live women everyday.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Giant Play

Throughout my game culture class I wanted to focus on different ways I could prove that video games were an art form. It was the underlying theme behind all of my work. For my the other part in my final paper, I wanted to look at the choices made within Shadow of the Colossus. I only focused on two terms from class, but i want to look further into this game.

The Use of Ludus and Paida Play (in Shadow of the Colossus)

The narration of Shadow of the Colossus is told not only through traditional cut scenes, but through elements of game play as well. Video games have a unique ability to place the audience in the role of the "actor". Within Shadow of the Colossus, the player participates with the unfolding of the narrative. In order to successfully convey the story and themes of the narration, the game considers the different ways that people play video games. Shadow of the Colossus so fully incorporates the main theme of "respect for nature" that regardless of the person in control of the game, the story is revealed. Bernard Perron defines the difference between "player" and "gamer" in his article From Gamers to Players and Gameplayers. Players participate in Ludus play, or rule bound linear play, while gamers participate in paidia play or free play.

Anyone can be a gamer or a player at anytime while playing a game. To compensate for this, Shadow of the Colossus integrates elements of both within its main theme. The world of Shadow of the Colossus is vast and regardless of how much time a person spends outside of the main quest, the design of the world reflects the main theme. There are many distinctive areas to explore that are heavily detailed and full of rewards. An example are the white tailed lizards and fruit that increase both grip and health gauges respectively. The player's bond with the horse, Agro, can also grow by riding, petting, and playing with her. This environment is ideal for paidia/sandbox play. A player can explore nature on their own and discover its beauty, rewards, and friendships. In this way, it is possible for a person to learn of nature's value through simulation.

Ludus play of the game yields a slightly different result. As you actively kill the massive Colossi with only a sword and bow, the fragility of nature becomes apparent. It shows how the simulated world that you fell in love with in paidia play, can be easily torn apart by your actions. The main game endows respect by displaying the results of nature’s destruction. It warns of the dangers of destroying nature for one’s own purposes by showcasing the pain felt by the wanderer, Agro, and the world itself. The game therefore, uses both play styles as different chapters of the narrative. The narrative requires both ludus and paidia play to be fully realized, which is uncommon in videos games, but the ultimate message of the game is obtainable through either.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Portable Playing

I’m once again addicted to my DS, though for awhile it was collecting an admirable amount of dust. Over the winter, I had bought a copy of Contact, but became frustrated with the game after infiltrating the military complex and put it down. (Can I just complain about my HP dropping when fighting weaker enemies? How the heck can this game just not let you build up?) When I came down with a bad case of cabin fever, I started playing some long neglected Animal Crossing: Wild World, but stopped after the Acorn Festival. (I think some unconscious goal was realized.)

So my DS sat, ignored, until one fateful day I went to Gamestop and grabbed a used copy of Phoenix Wright: Justice for All. And then a week later, on an auspicious and bright day, I was given the gift of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan.

I know I don’t need to go into great detail with both these games, because I the general consensus is that they’re both awesome. I don’t mind that Phoenix Wright is text-heavy, and though at times I don’t quite follow the logic as the case--some stuff seems to come out of left field--I enjoy the mystery, leg work and trials. Much better than Law & Order.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand the music selection of Elite Beat Agents, yet I still wanted to play it. Therefore, for the longest time I pined after Ouendan, not being able to justify the price of importing it. (I saw copies of it in Japan when I was there last summer, but wasn’t able to find any good deals.) I don’t know if I’m driving my roommates crazy, but I’m addicted. It’s hilarious, catchy, and original.

I still have plans for my DS after I finish off these two. A copy of Pokemon Diamond or Pearl will be mine, not to mention that I have my eye on Hotel Dusk and Lunar Knights.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Metal Heart

I would like to admitt something to the internet: I love Metal Gear. I've recently accepted my feelings towards it after a long period of denial. It's not perfect, but who is right? Like the Metal Gears themselves, the series has its share of weak points, or as Otacon puts it, "character flaws." Yet I stil find great value and artistry within it as a whole. This love was reaffirmed by my Game Culture class. For my final assignment, I looked at James Gee's concept of cultural models within Metal Gear Solid 3. Gee's book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy was the primary text for my class and was very insightful. One part that really stuck out to me was his Cultural Models, otherwise known as the ideas that a game operates around. It is what the game presents as normal or right and its message and concept of the world. This struck a cord with me because I feel that he described what this blog examines, along with much of the feminist writings on pop culture. What do games tell us? Is a game producing the model that women are mere sexual objects (DOA), or is it telling us how gender does not effect ability, skill, or heroism (Metriod Prime)?



Since I have not played through the Metal Gear series in a while, I wanted to replay them and fully look at what these games are telling us. I feel that it provides a far more productive message than what most triple A titles being produced at this time offer, but we'll see. Here is the section of my final paper dealing with MGS3. The orginal plan for the assignment was to post it on Wikipedia, but that proved too difficult, so I figure this blog was just as good. ;)





Cultural Models (in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

James Paul Gee’s concept of cultural models (the different hypothesises that humans form on what is normal or typical) can be examined within Metal Gear Solid 3. The game presents with its gameplay and narration cultural models of war that is unique when compared to most video games. Snake Eater provides motivation for the player to strive for peace within a seemingly violent game. The main element of gameplay is stealth, or what can be seen as the avoidance of conflict. The main goal of the game is to proceed from one area to the next without getting caught. You do not have to kill any of the guards in order to “win.” The game only provides for you a non-lethal tranquilizer gun, and Close Quarters Combat abilities (CQC). You have to seek out the lethal weapons yourself. Also, every enemy can be defeated by non-lethal means, and when CQC is deployed, it is just as simple to incapacitate the enemy, as it is to kill them. So essentially it is your choice to kill or not. A cultural model that violence is never a necessity is presented by giving the player the autonomy over the level of violence within their actions. The model states that violence is an option that people actively choose.

The game goes further to actually reward the player for not taking the most violent option. If bosses are defeated with the tranquilizer gun, the player unlocks special camouflage items that can not be acquired anywhere else in the game. There are also more consequences when a dead guard is discovered compared to when a sleeping guard is discovered. Defeating the bosses without lethal weapons is no easy task, and if guards are incapacitated rather than killed, they will become an obstacle again as soon as they wake up. Therefore, using non-lethal methods adds more difficulty. This presents the cultural model that violence is not the easier option, but peace will garner greater rewards.

The strongest example of the game’s peaceful intentions is the finally battle with The Boss. She is the only person the player is required to kill. The game forces you to press the button that causes Snake to shoot her. There is no other option that will finish the game. Afterwards, the story clearly maps out the effects of her death on Snake and his world. The consequences of the violence are fully explored thereby presenting the cultural model that violence will bring pain, and has an extensive impact on people. Therefore the player may look back on the different acts of violence they might have been committing throughout the game, and see them in a new light.

Friday, May 18, 2007

50 Things I Love About Video Games

I'm swiping this from kalinara:

It's been argued before and it'll undoubtedly be argued again, that girls don't read superhero comics. [...] I don't think it should surprise anyone that I disagree with this wholeheartedly. Instead of going on a long, angry rant explaining why, I figured I'd explain what I, a girl and a feminist, personally love about superhero comics.
Her list is wonderful. If you also love comics, you should read the whole list.

In all corners of geek culture, there's a lot of animosity towards women. It can get difficult at times to remember why I'm fighting so hard--I mean, if so much pisses me off about video games and video game culture, isn't it a bit masochistic to be going off about it all the time? When I read kalinara's list, I instantly knew that I had to do one for myself, so that I can reclaim some of my love for gaming. Without further ado, 50 things that I love about video games:

1. Puzzles that hurt my brain
2. Nostalgia
3. Soap operas in outer space
4. Beating stuff up
5. Magic & melee
6. Farming sims for the city girl
7. Playing Wii Sports with the parents
8. Making Miis that resemble pets
9. Brother/sister rivalry
10. Significant other rivalry
11. Raising Pokemon
12. Combos
13. Zombie dogs scare the crap out of me
14. Kirby is damn cute
15. Character customization
16. Old gaming consoles aka I still love the Sega CD
17. Dungeon crawling with a friend
18. Entertainment during unemployment
19. Staying up until 3 am just to beat Baten Kaitos, only to have to work at 8 the next day
20. Sneaking in some DS during work (bathroom stalls: ftw)
21. Voice acting: good and awful
22. Rhythm games and J-Pop
23. Epic boss bottles
24. Falling asleep while leveling
25. Androgynous men
26. Strong women
27. Cyborgs and robots
28. Partaking in a feedback loop
29. Sad endings
30. Cell-shaded graphics
31. Sprites
32. Mario mushrooms
33. Sega vs Nintendo vs Microsoft vs Sony
34. Being a doctor, lawyer, mercenary
35. Item management
36. Seeking out every single piece of hidden treasure
37. Bonding with a frienemy after beating a game together
38. Jade
39. The original versions of Lunar and Lunar 2
40. Pikmin
41. Swords
42. Umbrellas as weapons
43. Dynasty/Samurai Warriors will always be the same
44. Leon styled after a French underwear model
45. Thumb cramp
46. Plot twists
47. Tales of, Dragon Quest, Xeno
48. “Don't get cocky, cause it's gonna get rocky”
49. Hold on, just one more level…
50. Saving the world

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Silent Hill: Simulation of Cruelty - Part 3: The Final Act: Gamplay as Pure, Primal and Divine

Previously: Part 1, Part 2

As anyone who has played through a Silent Hill game will tell you, the endings aren't the most satisfying. They all basically say, "The game is over." The inclusion of multiple endings and the joke alien endings further confirm that the ending cinema is just presenting a new status quo, and that this new status quo is not very important to the over all message of the game. The game's narrative qualities should not be judged based on the ending alone. The (rotten) meat of the game is gameplay, and the story surrounding that gameplay. Heather's search for identity in Silent Hill 3, Henry's struggle for freedom in Silent Hill 4, and James' need for love in Silent Hill 2 all are active while the player is active. When the game is over and the final boss is killed, the game can no longer express anything to the player. Although the action leads to an eventual end, the journey is what is important in discerning theme and meaning. The literature of the game should be taken more as a drama and not like a novel.

The player benefits in playing a game with a heightened sense of immersion, arguably greater than theater can accomplish. The player gets to partake in a simulation of cruelty. With the tools given by the developers, a person is able to experience the emotions of the character first hand. Heather's fear, anger, and disgust of who she is can be translated directly to the player through the gameplay. The game is crafted in a manner so the actions and elements within it will replicate the pain of the character. On top of this, Silent Hill destroys the psychology of emotion, and takes it to the pure, primal, and divine.

The structure of the game forces a player to act within their primal nature. The key objective of Silent Hill is survival. The player is constantly put in a position of fight or flight. The limited health and accuracy of the control makes staying to fight a difficult option. Fleeing is also hampered by tight hallways, fast enemies, and a difficult control scheme. The objects you gain while playing are crucial to your survival. There is no collection of coins or rings for bonus points like in other games.
The actions themselves are also of a more primal nature for most of the game is spent using simple melee weapons, like a rusty pipe. Bullets are rare, and are not necessary in defeating the monsters. The action of physically beating something to death with a simple tool conjures images and feelings of base instincts—it is also undoubtedly you that is doing the killing., it is your force, your muscle. This deepens the immersion for the player, for they can not distance themselves from the violence with a gun. If a gun is used, however, a physical element is still placed in. Once an enemy reaches low health, it falls to the ground and cries out and convulses in death throes. In order to finish it off, the player must crush it with their foot. This violence is more intense than in most games. It is clear that you are killing something that is living, something that bleeds, and will remain after it is dead. The monsters are not mere targets to get points, and defeating them is not a way to show off how skilled a player you are. They are undefined living creatures that you have to kill to survive. Accentuating the violence draws your attention to it. You cannot overlook the bleeding stump with legs on it, or a nurse with no face as it writhes on the floor. This is exactly the type of image and act that Artaud calls for: a pure act of violence that forces you to focus on the thought behind it.

The breakdown of psychology furthers the player’s ascension. What you are killing is never explained. The horrific surrounding are never defined either. Attempts are made through the game, but are always ambiguous. At one point, Heather is horrified to find out that the things she sees as monsters might actually be people. The hell worlds that the characters fall in and out of are never defined as either a real space or something their minds create. The games are abstract, and they induce fear. This abstraction releases the player from culture and brings them into a space within themselves. They have to define for themselves the pulsing and glowing red hallway, or a table with bloody sheets that runs like a dog. That definition will be based in an emotional response, rather than what is in their day to day lives. The player's mind is therefore beyond the physical world, and through this they can reach the divine.

The Silent Hill series has borrowed many conventions of survival horror games that were established by Resident Evil. However, the ultimate goals behind the two are completely different. Resident Evil takes conventions from action and horror movies. Silent Hill's horrors hold more meaning than quick fun shocks and gross outs. There is substance in its images and these are connected to either the character's struggle or the overall themes of the game. For instance, the overarching story of Silent Hill always holds a religious element to it. Whether you are fighting a cult, being chosen to give birth to God, or tying to stop the 21 Sacraments, Silent Hill has forced players to explore that of which is not of our world. It surrounds the gamer with violence: from puzzles that give a description of a killer eating a face so that you can figure the code of the number pad in order to open a door, to carrying items that are as gruesome, like a plastic bag you filled with blood from the cut throat of a hanging corpse. In this world of violence a person is forced to leave their everyday lives, and in their work to survive, they are raised to a pure primal state like the one Artaud describes. Perhaps when they leave the space of the game, the player will have a greater understanding of the meaning of violence, so that they will never side with it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Silent Hill: Simulation of Cruelty – Part 2: A Link to the Divine

Previously: Silent Hill: Simulation of Cruelty – Part 1: An Introduction to Theatre of Cruelty

Can a game capture the primal force that Artaud speaks of? Artaud was very specific in the fact that only theater could achieve this. It might not be possible, but compared to theater, it can be said that video games are the closest medium for this to be achieved in, and the Silent Hill games are the closest representation of that possibility. The main connection between the two is Artaud's concept of gesture. Games are the only other art form, that when played, will never be the same twice because no matter how many times you play through a game, the moment to moment actions are based on human reaction and thought. It can be as simple as the way in which the main character walks down a hallway. In a movie or novel, the main character will always walk down the hall in the same way, but this rigidity does not exist in games. There is the chance for creation based on the individual player. The power of gesture was very important to Artaud. The fluidity of theater can capture life. Video games can capture that fluidity, and take it further.

In Theater of Cruelty, the actor takes the role of a shaman for the audience. The actor is the audience's link to the divine. In video games you are the actor, because the game will not move forward unless the player takes action. Video games therefore place the user in a distinctive position: they are both part of the story and the audience. It is their action that will make the game unique through every movement, giving a more natural flow to the art, pulling it closer to the divine. The question becomes: is the player the shaman or the avatar? I don't feel that the player has enough freedom to remove themselves from the place of audience. There are some games that give the player freedom that make him or her the storyteller, but in Silent Hill the actions that you can partake in are limited and specific. You can only use predetermined objects, follow the story in a set course of events, and although the camera is adjustable, you can only see what is within its range of movements. Therefore, the creators crafted a specific experience that a player can have--which forces the player to act in the way they want--but the player is still given enough freedom so that actions can be slightly different every time they are performed. In this sense the avatar is the shaman to the player. The lack of freedom to zoom the camera up to a bird's eye view, or pick up any object onscreen limits the responsibility of the player to tell the relatively linear story. The choice of this story element was already selected for the player. Such as when an obstacle arises, like having to beat screaming, bleeding carousel horses until they die, the player will interpret this as an event in the character's (in this case, Heather, from Silent Hill 3) journey. In this way the user is just unveiling the story. The game is therefore created to have an effect on the player, not the other way around. This ultimately places the player in a position to be freed from their everyday life so that they can rise to a higher plain.

Next: Taking it a step further: immersion and cruelty.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Silent Hill: Simulation of Cruelty - Part 1: An Introduction to Theatre of Cruelty

Horror games have been a top selling genre of video games for over a decade. They have taught us the value of conserving ammo in a zombie outbreak, and to always leave room in your inventory for the unexpected health item or bloody rusty key. One survival horror game series, however, has tried to teach us more. The Silent Hill series has consistently pushed its players beyond normal shock and excitement. The series uses horror as a tool for an expression of an idea, instead of just thrilling its audience. In this sense, Silent Hill moves into the realm of art. Art feeds from artistic ideas of the past, and video games are no different. The Silent Hill games are an extension of the concepts found in Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty, for the ultimate goal of the games is to lift the player out of reality to a place of primal forces.

Artaud developed his Theater of Cruelty in the 1930's in response to art and the declining soul of humanity. He believed that art had lost its purpose in society—that it should not be a part of any high culture, but rather used as a means for "the world of the gods" to enter in us. Totemism inspired him to look at art as a way to release forces that hasten communication with the divine. In ancient cultures, performances done by shaman were used to entrance the viewer and take them to a higher plane. He felt that the loss of these rituals in society caused great pain and destruction. To Artaud, theater could save humanity because it is "capable of recovering within ourselves those energies which ultimately create order and increase the value of life." Theater is not confined to any one language because it is based on live actions, or as he puts it, "gesture." The gesture of theater can "reverb" in a person, which allows him or her to take the attitudes behind the gesture within themselves. Each performance is unique, which allows it to recreate the natural rhythms of life, in any circumstance.

Theater of Cruelty was created so that the brutality of the world could be shown to us, so that we can see that the sky can fall. He felt that violent images gave a person the sense of the supernatural which would therefore raise us out of our culture. Take, for example, walking on the street with a group of people, and then suddenly witnessing a child getting hit by a bus. In the initial moment everyone in the group would be lifted out of their culture and everyday life, and taken to a primal place. The violent images in Theatre of Cruelty focus on the violent thought behind the act. To emphasize this: the thought and not the act will show violence's true nature, making it impossible for the audience to embrace violence or war. The thought behind the violence will be seen as useless and can therefore redirect humanity to peace.

Next: How the Silent Hill series fits in with all of this.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Invitation Only

Ever since its launch on the web, Iris Gaming Network and its in-house magazine Cerise have been charged as being separatist spaces for women gamers. What Iris actually aims for is an inclusive space. However, I want to take this opportunity to discuss some of the theory behind separatism and some of the benefits that can come from it.

To take it right from Wikipedia:
Separatism in a feminist context “suggests that the political disparities between men and women cannot be readily resolved, and encourages women to direct their energies toward other women rather than men."
Meaning that trying to solve the issues between men and women that are caused by the patriarchy is futile. Women building a support group for other women is time better spent.

Karen Mudd, writing for Off Our Backs describes separatism in the eyes of Marilyn Frye as
“various sorts or modes from men and from institutions, relationships, roles and
activities which are maledefined, male-dominated and operating for the benefit
of males and the maintenance of male privilege -- this separation [is] being
initiated or maintained, at will, by women.”

Because of patriarchy, everything in our culture privileges certain traits, that of white, straight, able, upper class men. If you do not possess these norms, you are excluded or suffer in some sort of way. Creating one’s own group effectively changes the norms and privileges of the culture that you create.

Mudd also nods to Bette Tallen, a feminist political scientist, who defines the differences between
“segregation and separatism-- the former being imposed by the dominant class,
the latter being self-imposed.” Mud goes on to say, that Tallen believed,
as a supporter of separatism, that “integration and assimilation are
synonymous.”

Tallen views separatism as an active choice that fully rejects dominate social structures.

In gaming culture I’ve learned that I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. Rather, if I want to be seen or respected as a gamer and as a woman, I get in trouble, as in getting harassed. Yet, if I keep quiet, I get to internalize and ingest stacks of sexism (with heaping sides of racism and homophobia.)

However, if you split off into your own separate and safe space, the dominant group is still incensed. What’s going on here?

I see separatism as something that spits in the eye of patriarchy. There’s safety and revolution in numbers. When a group of people split off, they’re essentially saying that they’re rejecting the way things are. They want to create their own place with their own rules, because way things are isn’t working. Within this group, members are able to organize, solve issues, and work towards solidarity. They are powerful rather than powerless. Ideally, after some time, the group might decide to mingle with the dominate culture again, or they may not.

I realize that what I just wrote is all hypothetical. A separatist group can be successful or fail, like any other project. Also, while I do see the value in separatism, I think it has its limits. I want to take part in dominate culture. I want to be recognized, I want to have a say. I believe, essentially, that over time and with a lot of work, that it can change. That’s why I love the idea and work of Iris. Groups that focus on inclusiveness, like Iris, provide a safe space while working towards evolving dominant culture.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Requisite Backlash

Yesterday Kotaku linked to Cerise, and predictably, hostility in the comments section ensued. Check out these related and brilliant blog posts that discuss gaming communities and women:

Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities
On women-oriented gaming communities
Kotaku Commenters Prove the Necessity of a Women's Gaming Magazine

There are many issues I’d like to address that I found while wading through the comments. Some would be separatism vs. integration, using the word misogyny instead of sexism, internalized sexism, and the idea that feminist gamers are sexist i.e. anti-male and anti-female.

However, what I want to focus on today is the idea that women gamers shouldn’t have their own outlet (or magazine such as Cerise) because their numbers don’t equal that of men who game. The actual demographics of people of video games can reveal a lot about the current climate of the video game industry and culture. So who has the controller? Brace yourself for some stats.

Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins wrote in their essay “Chess for Girls? Feminism and Computer Games” that in 1999, around 35 million homes in the United States owned one video game console, which is about 30-40% of American homes. In addition to this, 10-20% of homes rented consoles or shared with their neighbors. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2006 Sales, Demographic and Usage Data, 69% of American heads of households play computer or video games, the average game player’s age is 33, and 38% of percent of gamers are women. In fact, gamers consist more of women that are 18 years or older (30%) than that of boys who are 17 years or younger (23%), and according to Nielsen, women make up 64% of online gamers.

When we think of the typical gamer--and this includes the commenters over at Kotaku--a white, pimpled, horny teen boy is usually called to mind, yet the stats indicate that the gaming community is more diverse. The stats regarding women gamers, especially those that reveal that there are more adult women gamers than of teenage boys, challenges our stereotypical image of a gamer.

I’m sharing these stats because I want to reiterate that there are more female gamers out there than is usually acknowledged. However, even if we don’t outnumber men, it doesn’t mean our viewpoints are less valid. We’re a demographic and that’s enough. Besides, our ranks are growing. There’s a group of us that think the culture of our hobby could be better, and we aim to make our voices heard.

ETA:
More reasons for a magazine for gaming women
Zach proves why nobody doesn't like Molten Boron
"STFU and GTFO"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reuters Ignores Women Gamers, Plus Geek Girl Stereotype Bingo

In a piece of enlightened journalism, Reuters blames video game accessories for strained romantic relationships between men and women. The article, as is expected, thoroughly stereotypes women and their relationships with gamer guys. At least Brenda Brathwaite is featured in the second half of the article--for the sake of balance I suppose. However, it isn't enough to shake the heterosexual-infused, women-are-weary-of-video-games attitude of the article. Therefore, I've decided that this article could benefit from a treatment of tekanji's "Geek Girl" Stereotype Bingo:


Relationships mentioned as being important to women: This is the main point of the article. As the first sentence says, "enter the video game accessory as date killer".


Mentions shopping or accessories: Yep. The equivalent to video games and accessories are... shoes.


"Social" as being attractive to women: The end of the article speaks to double dates and games. Also games can "serve as a his-and-hers social elixir."


Women are seen as "casual" / non-serious users: I would argue that the description of Guitar Hero as a game that "encourages friends to duel against each other as spectators cheer them on" and therefore women enjoy it, is an attempt to make it seem casual.


Let's see, 4 out of 9 squares. I say we have a bingo.


Via Joystiq.