Meaningful Choices: Catwoman DLC and Arkham City

September 4, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 61

I always feel a bit silly when I review older games. Clearly, Arkham City has been out long enough to get a “Game of the Year” and “Armored” editions, so there are already a lot of reviews of it out on the internet. General consensus: it’s awesome – go play it. So today I won’t be reviewing Arkham City and the Catwoman DLC so much as taking a quick look at how the DLC develops Catwoman as a character, and how this affects the overall story of the game. To be up front, Catwoman is a character that I have loved ever since I watched Batman: The Animated Series on Saturday mornings as a child. I have a bit of unconditional love for her that allows me to typically overlook any faults that come with different incarnations of her character…except the Halle Berry version. I’m still not sure what that movie was. That being said, I think the Catwoman DLC was a phenomenal bit of both character development and gameplay that goes beyond my fan-worship of the character, and here’s why:

1.) The Catwoman DLC helps Arkham City pass the Bechdel Test

For anyone unfamiliar with the Bechdel test, here’s Anita Sarkeesian to the rescue to explain

As Anita points out, the recent cycle of Batman movies have miserably failed the Bechdel test. Most superhero movies/games do, primarily because they are focused on a male hero. However, even movies focused on women fail the test. For example, horrible thing known as the Halle Berry Catwoman moviet. The Catwoman DLC manages to pass the Bechdel test by focusing on the relationships in Catwoman’s life that actually don’t revolve around Batman.

Catwoman needs Poison Ivy’s help to access some goods in the game, but Ivy is mad at Catwoman for not taking proper care of the plants while Ivy was away. Clearly, since this is an argument between two comic book characters, it gets a bit out of hand. But this exchange is unique in that it has two women discussing something other than men. Taking the superpowers out of the narrative, it can be read as an argument between two roommates about killing the plants. A fairly mundane argument that probably happens once every five minutes in real life. In fact, in real life most conversations between women don’t focus on men. I appreciate that the DLC incorporated something so mundane as an argument between roommates, it made Catwoman feel more real to me as a character. This is the same reason I liked the flash-animated series “Gotham Girls” (although the girls did have to focus on boys, saving them mainly). Catwoman is depicted as a real person with her own special relationships with characters, and I think the DLC handled that very well.

2.) The Choice to Save/Abandon Batman Feels Meaningful (Spoilers ahead!)

I was reading this post by Ninety Nine Percent Gaming about why death in video games is often pointless, and it made me think about how death is handled in the Catwoman DLC. When Catwoman is killed, you have to re-start, which is clearly in keeping with most video game conventions which can be seen as slightly silly at this point. However, the decision to save or abandon Batman is made more meaningful by the innovative way they treat his death if you choose to abandon him.

If you choose the option to say “screw him” you are treated with a terrifying SOS message from Oracle, the ultimate death of Batman, and a credits sequence. Clearly the Catwoman DLC is in 4 episodes, but if you choose the abandonment route in Episode 3, you get hit with a credits sequence. In video games, death is typically not permanent, but a credits sequence signals finality. Triggering a credits sequence signals the end of the game, the end of your playtime. Having the decision to abandon Batman end with a credit sequence makes the decision, and Batman’s death seem more significant. Sure, after the sequence you get to go back and make the “right” decision (if you want to make it through all 4 episodes), but the cut-scene combined with the credits give finality and weight to the decision, that doesn’t make it feel pointless. Honestly, I think either decision is right up Catwoman’s alley as a character, and I appreciated that the player was given an option, and that the developers made the player’s decision feel like it mattered.

Overall, if you like Catwoman and appreciate the chance to play as a female character in a male-dominated genre (super-heroes or video games, take your pick), this DLC is done well from a narrative standpoint. If you dislike the gameplay of Arkham City in some way, clearly the DLC isn’t doing anything new in terms of that, so you’ll still hate it. But! If you like the Arkham City gameplay, and you’re looking to add to your experience or just fan-girl out over how awesome Catwoman is, I’d definitely recommend playing through this DLC.

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Catwoman Gets Armor AND It Covers Skin!

August 30, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (9) 84

So for those of you that pay attention to video game news, you probably should have heard that the Wii U is going to have an “armored edition” of Batman: Arkham City. If you haven’t, here’s the gameinformer, kotaku, and comicsalliance versions of the story. To sum it up, the Wii U Version of Batman: Arkham City

Armored Edition
features a new skin for both Batman  and Catwoman, and go figure, it adds more armor to them.

It looks like Batman merged with Cole MacGrath

Catwoman is one of my favorite female characters of all time, and I completely realize how problematic a character she can be. When I heard they were adding “armor” to her I got a bit down in the dumps. Why? Because frequently in video games when a character’s defense goes up aka they add armor, they get more naked. In his article “Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits” Ryan from the Mad Art Lab points out that

Math…we meet again.

For those of us that aren’t math inclined (me) this typically means that the higher the armor quality, the more skin is exposed, and the larger your character’s cup size is, even more skin is exposed. Sure, I like my character’s to be good looking (hey, fantasy world) but this type of armor can be a bit obscene and breaks the fantasy for me because of how unrealistic it is. If you expect to be shield by incoming arrows, fire balls, or lightning bolts, you should probably expect to wear full armor much like male characters do. The tumblr Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor is dedicated to providing images of women in proper armor, and this article by Beck Chambers over at the Mary Sue argues that yes, women can wear real armor just like the big boys. Coming from this sort of background, I fully expected to see Catwoman completely naked (even though the Wii U is a family oriented system). Low and behold, Catwoman’s new armor actually covers up her skin!

Still not sure why the armor glows…

Rather than unzipping her cat suit, the armored edition covers up the cleavage that Catwoman is clearly known for , and glows to boot. While this isn’t my favorite Catwoman costume ever (I’m fairly partial to the costume in Batman: The Animated Series), the armor does what it is supposed to do: cover her body.

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Guild Wars 2 Developers: "Name not ok – Adolph Critler"

August 28, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 47

So this post from Terra Nova brought to my attention that Guild Wars 2 developers are answering user questions about why accounts have been banned. They have a huge thread on Reddit. So, if your account has been banned, and for some reason you believe that it wasn’t gold famers, you can ask the Guild Wars 2 developers exactly why your account was banned. Here’s one of my favorites

“Not OK: ‘GET THE FUCKING CAVERN SCUTTER ENERGIES YOU FUCKASSES.'”

Or

“Name: OK Chat: Not ok — Neurologic: “the worm IS fucking hard if you’re a fucking mentalpatient no we fucking dont you can take a keep with 5 people if you’re not a fucking dickhead”

If you read through the Reddit thread you can see quite a few good responses. I think this is a great tactic from the developers to demonstrate early on in the game where they stand on offensive language. This opens up a dialogue where gamers for once can see what exactly is okay and not okay. I personally wonder how many of these people realized that what they were saying was offensive. Also, it is slightly disheartening how many troll comments there are after the developers explain some of the language offenses. Overall I think this is a really positive move, and I’m glad that it is on Reddit where it can be documented for all internet posterity. Some of the comments that got players banned make absolutely no sense grammatically, in that it appears as if random offensive words were just strung together lacking any sort of verb or noun to properly guide the sentence. Also, the confusion of some of the people with banned accounts is priceless. “It’s not okay to call people fucking mental patients?” Here’s a screen shot of the thread if you think it’s too ridiculous to be real (click for a bigger pic):

This is a real, amazing thing people!

If you typically play single player games you can read the threads for a better idea of what online gaming can be like. If you play online games, hopefully this step by the Guild Wars 2 developers will start making it and other online games a more pleasant place to inhabit. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go mine that thread for troll gold.

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Yes, there are dick-free places on the internet

August 27, 2012 Leading Lady Links Comments (0) 59

Weekly Roundup is the feature where I gather up all the interesting articles pertaining to gender and gaming from the previous week. This week I look at the game “Dungeons of Dreadmoor” and the kick-ass people who created it, and moderate the forums.

Last week a friend posted a link on my wall. The blurb said

“I’m about to tell you a story about videogames, kitchens, and internet forums that has a happy ending. Stop laughing, I’m serious.”

When I read those two sentences, I cautiously clicked on the link, fully expecting something terrible and misogynistic despite the intro.  It’s hard for me to imagine any story about videogames, kitchens, and forums that has any sort of ending that doesn’t end in tragedy for a woman participating. However, cakepie relates an astounding story sans tragedy. After participating on the Dungeons of Dredmoor forums for less than 24 hours, cakepie encountered the “make me a sanwhich” comment. If you’re a woman on the internet/gaming community, you know what I mean. The instant someone identifies you as a woman, it takes maybe thirty seconds for someone to tell you to “go make me a sandwhich” (“like a good woman” is typically implied) The first time I ever played Halo online when I was 12, I immediately got told to go back to the kitchen the minute the players heard my voice (As I learned later in life, I was lucky that the comment was so mild). On forums you’ll often encounter images like this one:


If you type in the phrase “Make me a sandwich” into a Google search, the third suggested search is “Make me a sandwhich comeback”. There are many good comebacks, and cakepie makes good use of these in her response to the troll (Read her full article for a good discussion on how moderators should respond to these comments). Here is one of my favorite images for combating the sandwich comment:

Amazingly, another forum member joins the fray: the freakin’ GAME DEVELOPER David Baumgart.   He says:

I won’t stand for this bloody stupid sandwhich “jokes” that marginalizes female players involvement in this community (and like, life in general). It’s precisely the opposite of the kind of environment that we here at Gaslamp want to create.

I’m honestly not sure of the last time I read something so awesome on an internet forum. But wait! It gets even better:

Now that I’ve, weirdly, been part of making a game and it’s got a forum, I’m not going to tolerate a tone that alienates anyone traditionally disempowered by gaming communities, be it women, GLBT folk, etc, – even unconsciously. Hence my insta-rage and banning

If you want to see Baumgart’s full response: click here. It’s worth reading. Really. Like, go read it now. It is the first thing I’ve read in awhile that has give me hope that a bit of humanity and decency is finally making its way into the gaming community.

This isn’t the first time that Dungeons of Dredmoor has done something awesome for gamers! In this article from the Borderhouse, rho describes how Gaslamp added a female playable character to Dungeons of Dredmoor. Even better? One of the game’s developers joins in the discussion of the need to include both sexes and more races as playable options in games. So, in this spirit of putting money where my mouth is, this game is definitely now in my Steam library. I can’t wait to play it, and I’m totally stoked that I can play as a woman, be part of the forums, and have developer/moderator support throughout!

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Why I Bought an Ouya (Even though it might totally suck)

August 17, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 34

So, I realize that I have been out of things for a week or so (blame my husband who has weird human urges to visit the people that spawned him) so I just wanted to start off with a hello! I’m happy to be back! Thanks to everyone who visited my site while I was gone, and for all the views I got yesterday when I announced that I was back. Who says the internet can’t occasionally be a welcoming place?

So today I’ll be writing about the upcoming new console system: the Ouya.

Limited Edition that’s going to be delivered to my house next spring!

This system has been completely kickstarter driven (similar to the Rift which looks like another very interesting addition to the gaming world) and the Kickstarter closed last week, so anyone who wanted an awesome bronze Ouya instead of the normal grey metal one: suck it! If you couldn’t tell from that last statement, or the title of this article, I am one of the 63,416 backers of the Ouya. I opted for the limited edition brown brushed Ouya, because at the time I decided since the regular console only cost $99, I might as well shell out an extra $40 to make myself feel special, while still spending far less than the initial prices of the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 when they were the new consoles on the block. My husband paid $500 for his PS3 when it first came out, and I’m only spending $140 – seems like a good deal to me! So besides just cheap, what is the Ouya? Luckily there’s an awesome video that pretty much explains it:

Specifications:

  • Tegra3 quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB of internal flash storage
  • HDMI connection to the TV, with support for up to 1080p HD
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth LE 4.0
  • USB 2.0 (one)
  • Wireless controller with standard controls (two analog sticks, d-pad, eight action buttons, a system button), a touchpad
  • Android 4.0
  • ETHERNET! (Announced by Muffi 7/18)

The Ouya is a console, built on Android, that can hook up to your tv. So all those fun Android games that you get to play because you have a sweet phone and an expensive data plan, I will get to play (in March) for much cheaper. In addition to just hosting Android games, Ouya has teamed up with several big companies like OnLive, TuneIn, XMBC, Square Enix and Namco Bandai to bring music, tv, and some awesome launch-title games to the system. I’m personally super excited to be able to watch League of Legends matches on my tv. Ever since we got our desktop its own monitor, I’ve missed being able to watch/play League on a 40 inch screen. With all that going for it, I decided that it was at least worth it to spend a chunk of money to test it out next March.

While I am super excited about it my concerns for the Ouya are its android origins. Will playing android games on a huge tv be fun? The pacing of many phone games is such that they they can be played on the go, in brief moments of free time, and not necessarily for extended periods of time because hey, that would drain your battery pretty quickly. I’m wondering how well Android game-developers will be able to work out a new sort of pacing for the Ouya. While the thought of playing Temple Run on a big tv initially excites me, I can see games like that getting stale after five minutes. It’s fun when you’re on the go and only have a few minutes to spare, but when you sit down for your weekend fun time, will you really want to boot up a game like that? Of course, there are android games out already that call for a different type of pacing than Temple Run and throwing all phone games into the category of fast and fluffy is unfair, but I am concerned about whether or not the games offered on the Ouya will be able to hold my attention. That is, after I spend many hours of my life playing FFIII.

My second concern about the Ouya is the whole “Free-to-Play” model. All games in the Ouya store are supposed to have some free-to-play function. If you’ve played any games on facebook recently you’ll realize that yes, free games are fun, but no, they’re not *really* free and they’re designed to frustrate you into buying something! I’ve been playing Outernauts (don’t judge me, I’ll play anything slightly resembling Pokemon) on Facebook recently, and I run out of  “energy” after about 15 minutes of playing and then I have to quit. This drives me insane because I just want to sit and mindlessly kill time for a couple hours, but I can’t because I’m stingy with my money. I think free-to-play games like League of Legends or TF2 have developed a model where people can enjoy the games without feeling pressure to buy skins or hats, but I am worried that we’ll see more games like Outernauts where the free-to-play model severely limits gameplay rather than the League of Legends/TF2 model where buying things is just fun and silly (but still clearly makes a lot of money).  However, since the Ouya is “hackable” we may see a lot of completely free and bizarre new games too, but it’s still too soon to tell.

The post was getting text heavy. Here’s a look at the Ouya controller.

My third concern is that the Ouya is where gaming is going to be in the future, but perhaps we’re not ready for it *right* *now*. It does appear as if software rather than hardware is becoming important in gaming. Most new releases are offered in physical disc form but also in software only form. The Nintendo 3ds store offers many fun, downlodable games, and I think I buy more games from PSN than from my local GameStop. The Ouya is trying to circumvent big name developers by making their console free to develop on, as long as the developers make their game free to play in some form. This could be pretty awesome, but this could just make Ouya the Linux of consoles. A few, elite, dedicated people may have the patience and drive to use it, but the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles might still have all the flash. It’s possible that the Ouya might inspire a new software only console that will play AAA titles, but that console most likely won’t support a “free-to-play” model. So, the Ouya might be a stepping stone,  or it might end up being Linux. Both of those options may be more likely than the Ouya becoming a fully-fledged competitor to Nintendo, PlayStation, or Xbox, but again, it’s too soon to tell.

So why did I throw down $170 (I had to get the extra controller. 2 player android games seemed worth it)  to buy a system that I’m not sure will succeed? Mainly because at this point, there’s still just as much chance that it will succeed as there is that it will flop. To me it was an even bet, and with the media support through OnLive and XMBC I figured that it wouldn’t be a total loss even if developers and gamers never took to it. I also wanted to put my money where my mouth is. Many people have been critiquing the current console system and the way that big title games are currently made. As many of you know, a lot of current games are stale repetitions of previously made games. To me, almost all FPS games are the same game, and there’s not a lot of incentive for me to buy any of them. Since these titles take so much money to make, developers want to spend their money on something “safe” which usually means non-innovative. If we buy these games, then we are supporting this “safe” model and not forcing developers to reconsider what types of games they design. If you like FPS the way they are then that’s great, not trying to dig on those, but you will continue to support that type of game with your money. I wanted to support something new and innovative, to perhaps call video game companies to be more aware of new developments in technology and gaming. With 8,596,475 dollars raised for the Ouya, I think that the system will at the very least force big developing companies to re-think some aspects of the current business model, and I’m glad that my paltry $170 has something to do with that.

For more information here’s the Ouya kickstarter, and homepage

 

[Edit] Kotaku just reported that OnLive is going bankrupt. I wonder what kind of implications this will have for the Ouya?

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Review: Pokemon Conquest

August 3, 2012 Reviews, Video Game Reviews Comments (0) 50

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Yay Pokemon

So, Pokemon conquest has been out for a little over a month now. As a Pokemon fanatic (I primarily use Tumblr to look at adorable pokemon pictures all day) I pre-ordered this game well in advance and devoured it the second I picked it up from GameStop.  For those of you who may have been iffy about the whole Pokemon + Nobunga’s ambition cross-over, you were right to follow your instincts.

Story: The story of Pokemon Conquest goes like this: you are a warlord, you need to beat all the other warlords in battle and bring all of Ransei under your command to before Nobungas, the evil warlord does. Why must you do this? Because it has been foretold that once a warlord unites all the kingdoms under one command, the creator of Ransei (spoilers: It’s Arceus) will appear and bend to the Warlord’s will. Nobunga wants to use Arceus to destroy Ransei, while your Warlord strives to stop this. Compared to the Pokemon plot of “catch all the pokemon and beat the elite four” this Pokemon Conquest story should win a nobel prize. However, like most video games, the story is simplistic, but serviceable.

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The main problem I had with the story was the way it abruptly ended. Going into the last fight, you should be aware that it is the last fight. However, once you defeat Nobunga, the game is over. You don’t get to continue playing as your Warlord and any assets you had (warriors and pokemon) disappear. I expected to be able to keep playing in Ransei with my warlord while I continued collecting pokemon and warriors. This is not the case. Instead, there are several end-game quests, where you typically control one of the Warlords you fought during the main storyline. The quests can be fun, but they get repetitive. If you complete all of them, then “The Two Heroes of Ransei” episode is unlocked where you get to play as your hero again. As much as I wanted to go back and play as my hero, playing through all of those episodes just wasn’t worth it.

Gameplay: Battle system in Pokemon Conquest resembles that of previous strategy JRPGs like Final Fantasy: Tactics. You can control up to six pokemon on a grid. Like a traditional pokemon game, these battles take type strengths and weaknesses into consideration. Psychic can’t hurt Dark, Dragon falls to Ice, etc. The majority of kingdoms favor a specific type of pokemon, reminiscent of Pokemon Gyms, which makes larger battles easy to prepare for. In these battles it is necessary to micromanage your pokemon and think beyond action/reaction to play well. You must carefully think about pokemon types and the scope of your pokemons attacks. Some pokemon can only attack one square ahead of them, while others can attack through three squares. If you like strategy games, than you’ll probably enjoy this type of combat. The merging of Pokemon with Nobunga’s Amibition worked particularly well here to create a unique and enjoyable rendition of strategy RPG combat. Image

While the majority of the game is focused on combat and conquering new kingdoms, there is a secondary emphasis on collecting warriors and pokemon. Within each kingdom there are locations where you and your warriors can travel to fight wild pokemon and warriors unattached to a kingdom. You must defeat “wild” warriors within three turns to be able to draft them to your side, although with certain warriors there are other conditions that must be met. To obtain pokemon, a warrior must link with themWarriors can link with any pokemon, but most warriors favor specific types and have one pokemon that they form a perfect link with. The higher the link the stronger a pokemon can become. For instance if my link with a pokemon can only go up to 50%, then once 50% has been reached, the pokemon stops growing. Perfect links are are links with the potential to get to 100% which theoretically means those pokemon should be pretty powerful. If a warrior has a 100% link with a venipede, it still doesn’t work out that way.

There are over 200 pokemon to collect, and almost as many warriors to recruit. If you really want to catch ’em all, then you have a patience for tediousness only rivaled by John Goodman:

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Luckily, the episodes at the end of the game give you a lot of opportunity to obtain pokemon and trainers, and collecting them all is much more doable than getting 649 pokemon (number will probably change soon with Pokemone Black and White 2 coming out so soon).

Gender/Race/Sexuality: You get to choose which sex you want to be at the beginning of the game, hooray! Regardless of what you pick, your warlord gets saddled with a loveable warrior named Oichi and her jigglypuff. Judging from the fact that the first woman you meet owns a jigglypuff, I feel justified in saying that there are some slight problems with the depiction of women in this game. Most of the women are either weak like Oichi, or very sexy. There are some depictions that are fine, but considering OIchi is the first woman you meet in the game, and the one you spent the most time with (you have to put up with her through the entire main storyline) I find the game’s representation of women to be kinda sexist. You could make the argument for historical realism since the game is in a feudal setting, but its that involves pokemon which invalidates all arguments of realism. There isn’t any diversity in terms of race, all the characters are the fun white/japanese hybrids that we typically see in JRPGs. As I mentioned in a previous post, Japan has a homogenous population and typically produces games with homogenous populations. LEARN TO DIVERSIFY!

To Play or Not To Play: If you’re a huge fan of Pokemon or you like strategy RPGs, I would say go ahead, pick up the game, but maybe wait a few months for the price to go down. The game is a really fun mash-up, but the abrupt ending of the main storyline, and the endless end-game Episodes drove me up the wall. Since you’ve been forewarned now, the game might be more enjoyable. Now here’s your reward for reading through this review (as if the review weren’t reward enough)

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Not You Average Three-Way: Alice, Chell and Faith

August 2, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 45

So, today we’ll be looking at some of my favorite video game heroines, Alice (yes that Alice) from American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns; Chell from Portal and Portal 2; and finally Faith from Mirror’s Edge. Unlike last week where I didn’t choose a winner, I think one of these women will emerge victorious over the others.

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Who Would Win In A Fight: I included three women in this week’s feature because I honestly wasn’t sure who would win in a fight between Chell and Faith. Chell has the portal gun which would allow her to forever run away from Faith, while Faith is usually unarmed and is trained to run from combat. If they met in combat, I feel like they might take one look at each other and GTFO. They each probably have better things to worry about.

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She’s holding a messed up doll and a bloody knife, c’mon!

Alice, on the other hand, is quite literally insane! And she carries a knife. A big knife. Did I mention there was a knife? If you compare their images above, clearly Alice is the only one covered in blood. Confronted with each of these women, I would probably high-five Chell, move out of Faith’s way, and scream and run if I met that particular image of Alice. If the movie/book Carrie has taught us one thing it’s that girls with slight mental problems should not be toyed with lightly. Alice carries the only offensive weapon, and she would hands-down win in a fight with Chell or Faith. And with the weird physics of Wonderland at her disposal, she could probably catch one of them too.

Who has the best personality? Chell is clearly at a disadvantage in this competition due to the fact that she NEVER EVER TALKS. I know the whole ‘silent hero’ thing has been around a long time in video games, but it gets old. It’s hard to determine who Chell is other than just a shell for gamers to imagine themselves in. Chell is obviously intelligent and nimble-bodied, she has to be (for the sake of science!), but it is much less clear what drives Chell, and what goes on in her head.

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Faith, on the other hand, is much more fully fleshed out. Faith is concerned for her sister, Kate, and proving her sister’s innocence is one of Faith’s key motivators. She is intelligent, driven, spunky, everything a successful protagonist needs to be. She also has to make hard decisions as some of her colleagues become implicated in the conspiracy she’s trying to solve. As an added bonus, we get to see more of her through the cut scenes of Mirror’s Edge than we get to see of Chell.

Alice Liddell is of course mad. Through both games we see her dealing with the death of her parents and survivor’s guilt. In American McGee’s Alice, she is drawn back into Wonderland which has grown dark and tainted. Caterpillar explains to her that her mind is what has tainted the land. In Alice: Madness Returns she finds herself back in Wonderland, and oh gosh, it’s still a dark place. We get to know Alice through her memories and through items collected in the game.

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What Alice clearly has going for her is her imagination. If Wonderland is all in her head, then the beautiful and horrific images of the game must stem from Alice. Players get to see the surface of Alice through her interactions with others, but we also get to see deep into her mind. Faith might be the girl you’d want as your friend, but Alice’s imagination can’t be beat.

Who is the most objectified? None of these characters is particularly objectified, a statement I don’t often get to make about female video game characters! If you ever troll through the top 100 lists of beautiful game characters, Chell, Faith and Alice typically don’t make the lists (well, Faith does occasionally but I’m assuming that’s because of the whole fetish for Japanese looking things).

Both Chell and Faith are games that employ 1st person perspective, we only see the world through their eyes. This means that the player is given very little opportunity to stare at the character and comment on their “fuckability”. When you do see Faith or Chell, they are wearing clothing appropriate to their environments (unlike Lara Croft wearing shorts in the snow). Their proportions seem average, and neither is presented as a sexual object.

Alice, who doesn’t quite look legal, is also presented in a fairly non sexual way. You see her stockings and dress which are all covered in blood. She’s so crazy that no one wants anything to do with her, romantically or otherwise. However, as this picture shows, cosplayers get up to all kinds of things as Alice (Also, this is just an amazing picture).

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Picture courtesy of deviantart’s  AliceYuric

There’s something about Alice that taps into the whole ‘sexy schoolgirl” fantasy, which often gets exploited in cosplay and halloween costumes. So while Alice isn’t particularly objectified in-game, outside of that game people have managed to make her quite the seductress.

Who would YOU choose?

My bias in this article has hopefully been pretty clear, Alice wins this competition for me hands down. She is an interesting character, she has a wicked knife, and the dark portrayal of Wonderland that her mind generates is amazing.

Disagree? Have Suggestions for future features? Let me know in the comments!

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What Pokemon and Beanie Babies Have that Skylanders Doesn't: Narrative

August 1, 2012 Articles, Toys Comments (0) 42

So, usually Wednesday is devoted to the series “Would you rather” which I am postponing until tomorrow. Today, I would rather look at Skylander’s: Spyros Adventures and the way it combines collecting and gaming.

Clearly, the Pokemon video games were some of the first video games that integrated an aspect of both collecting and gameplay.

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This was a highly successful model because it enabled the game to be more social by necessitating player interaction if they wanted to obtain all of the pokemon, while also featuring normal gameplay for those that didn’t give a damn about catching em’ all. This has clearly been a popular model with games like Digimon and Fossil Fighters and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker presenting variations on the original Pokemon model.

Skylander’s: Spyro’s Adventures is on more game that follow suit, however, Skylanders are not collected in game, but must be collected in the form of figurines.

As you can see from the picture, there is a portal that comes with each copy of Skylanders. A player must put a skylander figure on the portal to introduce the character to the game. This has been a savvy business model as the release of the skylanders figurines has been staggered in waves, inflating the value of some figures. In addition to the normal figures, there are special editions of each of these characters. There are legendary skylanders which have better stats than the normal versions, and there are gold and silver versions (very rare) of some characters. The figures are important to the game, but have also triggered a secondary market in collectors who just want to own all of the various skylanders figures in all their iterations. In this way, Skylanders  taps into the same market that Beanie Babies exploited in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Image

For those of you who don’t quite remember, the Beanie Baby craze hit the United states driving prices of hard to get beanie babies upwards of thousands of dollars. They sold books on the projected pricing of beanie babies, and at my school beanie babies were banned from the playground because of high incidences of theft. Skylanders figures taps into this collector’s market, which has also seen the prices of certain figures skyrocket exponentially. A few weeks back, the Skylander figure Camo sold for almost 40 dollars, typically an individual skylander retails for 9.99. As supply finally caught up to demand, the price returned to normal, but now certain other figures prices are up as they become hard to find.

Considering the upcoming realease of Skylanders: Giants clearly this model has worked out very well for Activision. While Skylanders  initially relied on ties to the Spyro franchise to sell copies, the game is doing well enough on its own currently to warrant a sequel and the addition of new skylanders figures. However, there is one thing that I think that Skylanders has missed in its appeal to children as collectors.

For those of you who have played Pokemon, you will remember that each time you catch a new type of pokemon for the first time, the pokedex entry (a brief sentence or two of flavor text) pops up to tell you about the nature of whatever pokemon you just caught. For example, catching a Zubat (yes I hate them too) would tell you that “It has no eyes. Instead, it relies on its ultrasonic cries for echo location to flit about in darkness” a brief entry that tells you a bit more about the nature of Zubat. For Beanie babies, each came with a four line poem. Continuing with my apparenty obsession with bats, Batty the bat’s poem reads:

Bats may make some people jitter

Please don’t be scared of this critter

If you’re lonely or have nothing to do

This Beanie Baby would love to hug you!

Both Pokemon and Beanie babies provide a small back story on each character. When you are purchasing a skylander character, they do not come equipped with a story of any sort. You receive the figurines, an online code, and a card of the skylander, but there is nothing that comes in the packaging to make the characters relatable.

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Online, the official skylanders website provides some background information on each character, but the failure to attach these stories to the skylanders in the packaging, I feel, is a failure to engage Skylanders younger audience, and to get children to relate and play with the skylanders figures in and out of the game. Clearly I don’t want to underestimate children’s imaginations, but I think that adding a line of backstory for each character would enrich the gameworld, and also make the characters more engaging for the intended audience. Again, considering how successful the sales have been so far, I don’t think Activsion will consider changing any aspects for the release of Skylanders: Giants. However, I think if Activision had studied its market a bit more beyond just recognizing that “Omg, people like to collect things in video games” it would have made Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure a more enriching game narratively, and the figures more interesting to a younger audience.

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Leading Lady Links: Don't Be a Dick

July 31, 2012 Leading Lady Links Comments (0) 46

So today we’re continuing this week’s roundup, to see what I covered yesterday you look mosey on over to this post.  The first story I’m going to cover is Wil Wheaton’s 40th birthday! For his birthday on July 29, he launched the website don’tbeadickday.com. Here’s the gist of the website:

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Also, if you don’t quite know how to accomplish that, here is a helpful infographic chart:

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Sage advice for everyone on the internet! So if you ever had a crush on the young Wesley Crusher, or you enjoy his series on tabletop gaming at Geek and Sundry, then you can honor Wil Wheaton everyday by following the simple rule: don’t be a dick.

Speaking of people who are attempting not to be dicks, Kotaku recently released a series called 1st Person Perspective where they interview everyday gamers about random topics. The fist topic considered was “Strong Female Characters”. This gives an interesting look at what some everyday guys think of female characters, and I was amazed at the lack of dickishness! If i had any internet skillz whatsoever I would be able to embed the video, but due to technical ineptitude I simply advise you to go watch the video here.

Of all the systems currently out, it appears like the Nintendo DS is the system that invites equal amounts of dicks and chicks to play it. If you look at IGN.com, all their female writers and editors primarily write for the DS section of the website (which is a rant for another day). In Japan, Nintendo gets Japanese Female Stars to advertise the DS, according to this article. As the article notes

It’s not just enough to be popular. Nintendo picks actresses or models who are popular with females, instead of pandering to males by picking the latest bikini model. That isn’t to say some of the woman in Nintendo’s ads are not former bikini models—some are. Buy they’ve moved on to either mainstream modeling or acting, and they have cross gender appeal

It makes me wonder how consoles in the US would market their systems for a cross-gender approach, or if a similar approach would work here.

Yes clearly, this post is already a bit Kotaku heavy, but here is one more article of interest from Kotaku about *gasp* race AND gender! The article, Assasin’s Creed New Black Heroine Represents a New Kind of Liberation” points out that black female protagonists are hard to find in most video games, and that the new  Assassin’s Creed: Liberation game is an anomaly in the gaming world because that’s who you get to play as.

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I would just like to say I am super excited about this, even though I’m usually only feel “meh” about Assasin’s Creed. I may have to pick up a Vita just to see how well they do with a black female protagonist in this game.

Moving on from Kotaku, 1up has a great article by gamer Kat Bailey about “Being the Only Girl in a Madden League” If you thought being a girl in the gaming world was rough, try being a girl in sports gaming! What sounds like it could be a horror story littered with brotastic anecdotes, turns into an inclusive, fun experience. Bailey points out that:

 One thing I’ve discovered over the years about gaming is that it’s more inclusive than most people realize. For every reprehensible claim that sexual harassment is “part of the culture” of a gaming community, there are at least 31 gamers who know better. Yes, even in a game like Madden NFL.

So basically, even in a game like Madden NFL, people know how not to be dicks. I feel like there is a lesson to be learned in this for 4chan trolls…

For people that have experienced gendered bullying in video games, Marina Martinez and friends made this video discussing bullying, and ways to respond and deal with it. It’s about a 120 minute long video,  but really interesting if you’re into this stuff, or want to learn how to better handle bullying. The main video starts at about 4 minutes in, until then its mainly them setting up.  EDIT: Apparently my embedding skillz have proven worthless again, here is a link to the video!

Finally, AN ARTICLE ABOUT BOOTH BABES FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A BOOTH BABE! Okay, maybe that wasn’t something to yell about, but it got me excited! Booth babes get a lot of flack from people who want the video game world to be ‘more respectable’ and they also have to deal with people that are fairly excited to emerge from their caves and see girls. So, this article by Elaine Low over at Jezebel adds an interesting perspective to the whole to booth babe or not to booth babe debate. My favorite quote of the article:

That we have recurring conversations about the necessity or frivolity of booth babes is a silly attempt at misdirection. Maybe those who frown upon slutty-looking costumes should petition game developers to stop designing slutty-looking video game characters.

So maybe if we treated women like normal human beings in-games, gamers would learn to treat women as normal human beings outside of game??? CRAZY!!!! Also, a great suggestion for how game developers can cut down on being dicks.

So clearly, if you’ve learned one thing from this post, it is clearly that being a vagina is clearly preferred over being a dick…wait…what? Er…maybe that’s not the lesson. This list of articles was the least dickish I’ve posted about so far, and hopefully the internet can continue this trend into the next!

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Polymorphously Perverse: One Man's Experience Playing a Sex Video Game (and other news)

July 30, 2012 Leading Lady Links Comments (0) 49

Welcome to the Weekly Roundup where I pull together all the news involving women and gaming so you don’t have to! In the past week there have been quite a few interesting articles dealing with gender, race, and sexuality so I’m going to divide this roundup into two posts, one today and one tomorrow (I also have a paper due this week so I don’t have quite as much time to devote to posting as normal).

Adam Miller wrote an article last week entitled ‘The Sex Video Game Polymorphous Perversity Made Me Question My Identity”. The article can be accessed here via Kotaku or here on Miller’s site Clever Musings. For those of you unfamiliar with the game Polymorphouse Perversity it is an indie game created by Nicolau Chaud dealing with the Freuding concept of polymorphous perversity, the idea that infants sexually desire everyone and everything before they are taught proper modes of sexuality. A previous article on Kotaku explains:

The premise of the game is straightforward: you’d be a young guy with a sexual disorder who stumbles onto a world where everything is about sex. Instead of saving the world, you’d go on an adventure to ‘discover your sexuality.’ It’d be an RPG, only without battles in the traditional sense—you’d be fucking people (who can give you STDs as status ailments), and your performance is graded afterward.

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Miller’s embarked on his adventure with the game in an attempt to explore the connections between psychology and libido, appropriate goals considering game-maker Chaud has a history in psychology. As Miller played the game, he quickly realized how problematic it was. While at first the turn-based comment that featured “fuck” as an attack was merely discomforting, the game’s portrayal of transsexual’s particularly disturbed Miller. In-game they were labeled as “trannys” a term most transsexuals find offensive.  Miller points out that

Worse, the transsexuals have very demeaning dialogue; transsexuals in this game are presented as sex predators because of it. They all sound like men during sex. You get HPV after being penetrated by them. Doesn’t all of this convey a rather narrow worldview?

Instead of encouraging a player to explore sexuality, the game merely encourages the player to direct a male character to “fuck” everything in site or risk dying through depletion of the “horny meter”. Wonderful game right? While the game seems less like an exploration of sexuality and more like male fantasy,the portrayal of transsexuals within the game stirred in him some emotions that he had suppressed for some time, namely that he was not happy with the sex assigned to him at birth.  This is a brave admission in light of how the gaming community usually reacts towards discussions of sexuality and gender. The comments are particularly delightful, one commenter saying

Having Adam review this game is like having an Iraq veteran suffering from PTSD review Modern Warfare 3. What are you THINKING, Kotaku? Did you put ANY thought into this? Why was a game that was created thoughtfully by a sexually active straight adult male reviewed by a VERY sexually confused virgin?

So basically, a straight white male should probably review every game because that’s typically the target audience right? Luckily many other commenters were supportive of Millerss admission of sexual confusion. I think some of Miller’s comments of the game are still very apt:

I don’t know if I’m happier identifying as a man or a woman. I don’t know if I’m hetero-, homo-, bi-, or pansexual. What I do know is what I’m taking away from playing Polymorphous Perversity: it’s okay to be yourself, just as long as you’re a sexually overactive male without decency or standards. Everyone else should be ashamed of themselves, including me.

So, if you are a straight, white, cis-male go play Polymorphous Perversity and have fun validating your sexuality! For everyone else (myself included), I’m going to recommend ignoring the game unless you’re using it as evidence of continued misogyny in video games.

Continuing with our apparent theme of gender and sex confusion, according to this article by Owen good, the Minecraft guy is supposed to be gender neutral.

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While the default character skin has a goatee and is often considered male, most creatures in Minecraft are supposed to be either gender neutral, or portray traits from both genders. According to creator Markus “Notch” Perrson :

All other living things in the game are genderless, if not exhibiting the traits of both genders. “The chicken/duck/whatevers have heads that look like roosters, but still lay eggs,” he says. Cows have both horns and udders

One of the things that allows Minecraft to designate living creatures as one gender is the pixelated graphics of the game. The graphics don’t allow for must distinction of gender, so Notch made everything one gender so that gamers wouldn’t have to worry about it. Clearly gamers have created new skins designed to create the illusion of different genders for the base human model, but on a basic level, every living thing in Minecraft is monosexed. Take that gender binaries!.

I feel like discussing gender binaries is a good segue into feminism! I identify as a feminist personally, which you could probably tell from my previous articles. Jenn Frank wrote an excellent article last week (okay okay it’s been two weeks but I missed it for last week’s roundup) called “I was a Teenage Sexist” In the article Frank deals with her journey of being a woman in misogynist culture, and how she finally realized feminism was for her. This is a great article, but rather long, so here were some of the highlights of the article for me:

Instead, feminism – and other types of social justice, I figure – acknowledges that there is an invisible pattern of experience that comes along with being, very visibly, something else.

You don’t have to think of ladies as “victims” – I’d prefer you didn’t – and you don’t even have to think of some experiences as “baggage.”

But feminism does ask you, as an ethical human being, to objectively reexamine certain standards of behavior, which themselves are often based on an internalized, invisible set of shared beliefs and values.

Feminism isn’t about holding another sex in higher esteem than the male sex. Rather, it’s about anti-sexism.

It’s about making sure your child doesn’t grow up believing she is somehow subhuman.

And if someone ever makes your child feel like he or she deserves abuse, you better hope that kid is confident and surefooted enough to fight back.

Again, I would recommend reading the whole article, especially if you’re on the fence about your feelings of feminism. Frank does a good job of examining why feminism can be hard to embrace for many women, but why she feels (and I agree) it’s so important.

So those are some of the interesting articles that surfaced last week, I’ll continue to point out more articles tomorrow as I continue the Weekly Roundup!

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