Waffle Bites: Women Characters in Gaming

March 14, 2015 Waffling Around Games Comments (3) 22

In honor of March being National Women’s Month, we are releasing a series of short podcasts, “waffle bites” if you will, to celebrate women in gaming. For our first Waffle Bite, we explore female characters that have personally made an impact on us.

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Problems of a Married Gamer: Obsession

April 7, 2014 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 29

Sharing is a core concept in our marriage that has been extremely necessary in resolving some of the problems that arise with two gamers in a household. Since husband and I are both fairly relaxed about gaming, being willing to share resolves the majority of our problems. We’re willing to share TV time, take turns with games we both want to play, and we’re particularly understanding of each other when each of us receives a new game. That said, one of few things we haven’t struck a balance with is sharing time and attention with each other – which all came to a head last week during the Google Maps Pokemon challenge.

Problem: Google Maps Pokemon Challenge

On March 31, Google announced that you could catch Pokemon using the Google Maps app on Smartphones and tablets. Needless to say, I was fucking psyched. I got wind of this information about thirty minutes after my husband came home from work, and by the time he got home he found me deep in my Pokemon catching journey. It’s not the first time he’s dealt with my Pokemon obsession, but the time restraints (only 48 hours) on the Google Maps challenge added an intensity to my fervor that was unusual even for me. I clearly didn’t read the disclaimer.

PokemonMaps Disclaimer

I managed a quick hello when he poked his head into my office, and even moved my operation into the living room so it would appear as if we were hanging out, but I was completely focused on becoming a Pokemon master. This was my chance to finally capture all 150 in a single game! I was going to catch ’em all, even if it meant losing sleep and sanity. I basically ignored my husband for the few hours he was home before bedtime, even as he put background noise on for me, and cooked me dinner. At the time, I knew I was being a bit of a brat, but I also figured that I could be a brat just this once.

Unfortunately the next day, April Fools itself, I realized that I had missed one Pokemon in my hunt the night before. I had not caught Mew, and I proceeded to hunt the elusive critter down on and off all day between work assignments. No matter how long I searched for Mew, or how many reddit threads I read, I still never got to this screen:

MewGoogleMaps

 

By the time Husband got home, I was completely distraught over my lack of Mew. One of my friends from graduate school had found Mew in 30 minutes, what was wrong with me? I shared some of these feelings with my husband (let’s be honest, I was pretty histrionic) and finally annoyed him to the point of exclaiming “IT’S JUST A GAME. WHO CARES”. For those of you who have met my husband, you know what an accomplishment it is to get him to raise his voice.

Solution: Snap Out of It

At that moment, I finally popped out of my Pokemon Playing Bubble. Sort of. Let’s be honest, I was still completely beside myself over Mew. However, the rational part of my brain kicked in enough for me to realize that my obsession with Mew was not worth upsetting my husband over.

I stopped my search for Mew that night, despite the fact that I still had 5-8 hours left to find the mythical creature, and despite the fact that I have never owned a Mew in my life, and this was my best/easiest chance to catch one. A tiny image of a cute felinesque furball is not worth alienating my husband for any reason. By the end of the night, I managed to have him smiling again as I sang  “Everything is Awesome” on repeat.

I’m not going to lie, as someone who is prone to playing video games for 6-10 hours stretches, this problem is going to re-surface again in the future. I may disappear from the world when Dragon Age: Inquisition  releases, and dont’ even get me started on Kingdom Hearts 3. But when my full brain is firing, my relationship comes before gaming. I just have to continue considering myself lucky to be with someone who understands my obsessions…most of the time.

Obsession

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Problems of a Married Gamer: Caring is Sharing…It Can Be Fun?

March 26, 2014 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 14

I’m married, and my husband complains that I don’t talk about him enough online. So here’s proof of his existence:

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I don’t have bangs anymore. Zooey Deschanel may have ruined them forever. Since I have been living with my husband for 3-4 years (I can’t remember exactly…we had to have the wedding the day after my birthday so I could get our anniversary straight) we’ve had occasional problems having two gamers in the house.

You’d think we would be living the dream. Every gamer secretly wants their significant other to be game friendly. No one else will understand why you’re frantically yelling “STFU NOOB” at the computer screen when Sona steals your kill in League of Legends. Non-gaming partners may eventually come to understand that leaving you alone while you’re on the computer/console is a good idea, but they’ll never quite be able to share your joys and frustrations.

Player 2It’s true that playing Halo, League of Legends, Little Big Planet, or ModNation Racers with a partner is fantastic. You always have a player two on standby, and they typically don’t mind if you spend your entire weekend re-play the Mass Effect triology. Although I’ve had to learn that’s not allowed on date weekends, or trips when I’m supposed to be socializing with my in-laws.

So, in-laws aside there are some key problems that hubby and I have had over the years. While some of these have improved with money, throwing money at things is rarely a long-term solution for us (because we’re poor).

1.)  Not enough bandwidth a.k.a STOP WATCHING NETFLIX WHILE I’M PLAYING

slow_internetLook, when you have two people trying to play League of Legends and watch Netflix simultaneously…things aren’t going to go well. We’ve moved fairly often in the past few years and this problem wanes and waxes with our internet company. Currently we have ATT U-Verse (do not recommend) and some days it can barely handle Netflix by itself.

This means that we can’t always enjoy using the internet at the same time. Sometimes *gasp* we have to share if we both want to do things that will eat our internet. So maybe I pull out my Firely DVDs and lust after Captain Reynolds for an hour or two while hubby plays and later we switch and he watches his Lost blu-ray collection. This isn’t always ideal. Sometimes I might not have a game, or DVD I want to watch. Sometimes I just want to binge-watch Orange is the New Black or hop on my League of Legends smurf account and squash noobs.

Again, this doesn’t happen too often, but it’s definitely a frustration you can look forward to when living with another person.

2.) Epic battles for the Television

When husband and I first moved in together, we only owned one television. It was a nice television, one husband bought with some extra loan money, but all those inches couldn’t make up for the fact that we only had one.

I don’t want to watch husband play Dark Souls or BioShock all day long. BioShock creeped me out so badly the first time I watched him play that it received a perma ban from our house during hours I was at home. Conversely, husband doesn’t want to watch me play Kingdom Hearts or Dragon Age all day. I really can’t imagine why.

This means, yet again, we’ve had to learn how to share. Before we had the same work schedules, this was much easier. Our shifts never quite lined up so we each had time to spend at home by ourselves gorging on gaming. Now that we have big kid jobs this has become more problematic. Luckily, this was a problem we could throw money at. Our set up now looks something like this:

Dueling TVs

(Please excuse the picture quality and mess)

If you don’t have the money for an extra TV, you too will have to share.

3.) Only One Game. Also Spoilers. 

The problem with two gamers in the house is that on occasion – not too often because husband and I don’t like the same games – we are both interested in the same game. And since not enough games have co-op campaigns (or at least not enough games that I would want to play that way) we have to decide which of us gets to play first.

If we only have one disc of a game (like Borderlands 2) I usually take the backseat, because I have more time on my hands than he does. We also get lucky when things are free on Playstation Plus . Sometimes this problem has an added symptom of spoilers.

RiverSongSpoilers

I just started playing Tomb Raider when it recently became free for Playstation Plus members.  What I love about the game so far is the cinematic experience that makes me feel like I’m right there with Lara.  When my husband started playing it and passed my save point, things got tense. I can’t be in the same room as he plays the game because I don’t want my experience ruined.

We don’t have a good solution for this problem yet other than sticking my fingers in my ears, putting on blinders, and screaming “I CAN’T HEAR YOU”. It’s a work in progress, just like most long-term relationships.

So for all you gamers out there looking to monogamously commit yourself, choose someone without internet needs that doesn’t mind when you spend long swaths of time ignoring them for video games. Or you know, grow some balls/ovaries and learn how to share.

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Is Fem Shep the Obvious Choice?

February 27, 2014 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 24

2057142-shepards

When I was at my LCS (local comic shop) yesterday, I branched into a discussion about Mass Effect with one of the workers there. Based on my comic choices for the past 6 months – which includes basically anything led by a woman..and Saga – said worker immediately asked

So you played as Fem Shep, right?

I immediately assented. Of course, who else would I play? We talked for a few more moments about which games of the trilogy were our favorites, then I went home and read comics. As I was re-playing the conversation in my head later, I wondered why it was such a given that played as Fem Shep, and why it was such a given that the worker never had.

Of course, the most obvious clue for many is the fact that I identify as a woman. Evidence suggests that men gender-swap characters 3-4 times more than women. Unfortunately there is less data on women gender-bending, mainly because the reasons behind it seem obvious. Academics and journalists alike often assume that women gender-bend characters to fit in, nip harassment in the bud, or to play out their power fantasies (which obviously can’t be accomplished in lady form). mass_effect_2__female_and_male_shepard_scars__by_troodon80-d4kgvsj

It’s true that, as a woman, I rarely ever gender-bend in video games on purpose. As long as I have an option about who I get to play, I will typically choose to play as a female character. Borderlands 2 is the exception to this rule because I am terrible with the Siren class and I really enjoyed playing the tank. To anyone who really knows me, it would be fairly obvious that I would play as Fem Shep.

The only thing I knew about the comic shop worker, is that he was male, and he confirmed that he had played as Male Shep. What really surprised me about the exchange, was that the worker had never even tried to play as Fem Shep. I have tried the game as both Fem and Male Shep, and like Andrew Kauz in this Destructoid article, found that playing as Male Shep was unbearable to me.

Compared to Jennifer Hale’s Fem Shep, Mark Meer’s voice grates at my ears, and he always seems more like a construct than an actual character to me (no offense Mark!). Fem Shep as a character feels more real to me, while Male Shep lacks a commanding presence or voice when I play. Since I have given both experiences a try, it always perplexes me to encounter those that don’t – particularly when so much of the internet supports Jennifer Hale as superior.

Commander_Shepard Then I realized, I lived with someone who could answer these questions for me: my partner. He has started playing Mass Effect multiple times, and always with a variation of Male Shep. I asked him why he had never considered playing Fem Shep before, particularly when it was clear that the game didn’t hold his attention while he played as Male Shep (he has never beaten the first game, let alone made it to the 2nd and 3rd ones).

The answer I received was perplexing. Partner explained to me that he had simply never thought to play Fem Shep before. He expressed that he though he would enjoy the game better if he attempted a run-through with Fem Shep, because he had heard the character was better. When I asked why he had never tried a play through with Fem Shep before, he just responded

I never thought about it too hard before. I was running on default

So for my partner, who identifies a feminist ally, default was choosing to play as a character that matched your own gender, without really thinking through the reasons he did it. His response makes me wonder how many other gamers may have missed on out a different experience in a video game (not necessarily Mass Effect) because they were running on default. Given the choice, the gamers defaulted to their corresponding gender option and never looked back.

shepard_armor_comparison_by_feena_c-d3em5rt

How many experiences have people missed by running on default? Has ubiquity of choices available to gamers in-game and out has inured many gamers to the point where  choice doesn’t register as important relevant to the game at hand? Have choices become obstacles to game-play that one must hurry through to trigger the next fight sequence? Probably nothing that drastic.

Instead, I suggest that previous games have not weighted the male/female choice favorably. In many games, nothing significant changes based on a choice of gender. No one speaks to you differently, interacts with you differently, even if you’re in a world where a woman outside of the kitchen is rare (I’m looking at you Dragon Age: Origins).What Mass Effect brings to the table is the pronounced difference of character by the introduction of voice acting.

With the addition of voice acting, Bioware made the difference important. Despite Male and Fem Shep having the exact same lines and the exact same actions, Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale added weight to the choice of gender by making Male and Fem Shep distinguishably separate identities. They made the choice matter.

Now, if only I can convince the comic worker and my partner of this.

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Grrrr…..Time's Top 100 Games List

November 15, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 52

So, if you haven’t heard the news, today Time deigned to publish a list of the top 100 all time video games. Too see the full list go here (and check out those poll numbers!).  Don’t get too excited. As one commenter points out,

List should have been called:  100 most ground-breaking or industry-changing computer games.  Best?  Not so much.

So, the list isn’t absolutely amazing. There’s only one Zelda game, one Final Fantasy game, yadda yadda. Your favorite game might not be on the list, and it probably won’t include enough of the games of your favorite franchise. However, it is a good list of ground-breaking or historically important video games, and I find it absolutely FASCINATING how many of the indie games have been downvoted for importance. I’m also not understanding the Animal Crossing hate, but that’s neither here nor there. But let’s get to the main point. How many of these games feature female protagonists????? I bet you can’t guess. Oh alright, I bet you can. Fine, I’ll just tell you. There are 5 entire games out of 100 that feature a sole female protagonist. So a mere 5% of the top 100 (and this list is clearly disputable) games feature a lone female hero. But wait, you say, you’re skewing the numbers! How many of those games even allow you to play a protagonist? Let alone a gendered one! Fair point. So, I made a graph!

For those of you who prefer words here is the break-down sans graph:

Male Protagonist: 55 Games

Female Protagonist: 5 games

No Protagonist/Gender Unspecified: 23 games

Choose your own gender: 17 games

In essence I went through the list and categorized the games based on the playable characters. This was not an exact science. Donkey Kong is clearly a monkey  but he codes male when later compared to Dixie Kong. Games like Starcraft don’t really have protagonists per se, although there are  humans in the game. So there were some intricacies and judgement calls involved in the process. I decided Donkey Kong is a dude and Starcraft (and similar games) fell into the “no person” category due to the lack of protagonist. If you want to nitpick the process or count the games up yourselves go right ahead. No matter how you wrangle it, I bet you can’t wrangle enough off the wall reasons to justify even 10 games as having female protagonists! At the end of this process, I was left with four main categories:

  1. Games you Play as male
  2. Games you play as female
  3. Games where you can choose
  4. Games where there is no protagonist/protagonist is unsexed

Out of 100 games, you could play as a male 55 times. So well over half of the games on this list feature a male protagonist or an all male cast. The category with the second-most number of games is the no protagonist/protagonist is unsexed category. This category included 23 games. So, about 20% or in other words 1/5 of the top 100 games featured no recognizable protagonist (like in asteroids or flower) or the protagonist was unsexed (like frogger). So in essence, if the games don’t feature a male protagonist then it is fairly likely they’ll feature no protagonist at all! Only slightly behind the “no sex” category is that of “choose your own gender”. This includes games like mass effect where you build your character, or games like Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat (most racing or fighting games) where you choose between several pre-made characters. This category came out fairly strong with 17 games to its name. Fairly respectable, but still in third place. Also, if the statistics for Mass Effect 2 can be applied to other choose your own gender video games (and they may not apply) then when players can choose, typically 80% of players choose to play as male while a little under 20% play as female. So we could count 80% of choose your own gender games as male protagonist and 20% as female protagonist…but that would involve more math..and I already made a pie chart!

These three categories make up  95 of the 100 games on the list. Out of 100 games, you are 78% likely to play as a male or an unsexed character rather than a female, with only a 17% chance you have the option to play as female, and a 5% chance of playing a game with a female protagonist. Also, while I counted the metroid games as playing as a female, I’m never sure if they count. Clearly, I’m playing a bit fast and loose with numbers and categories here (and if you have better suggestions for categories, different numbers please comment!), but 55 male led games to 3 female led games is a staggering number no matter how you twist it. You could do a similar tallying for different identity groups. Out of 100 apparently very influential games I can’t spot a protagonist of color, a queer protagonist, or a disabled protagonist excluding the games which allow customizable avatars. However, this list does span the past 40 years of gaming.  If we made a list of the 100 most influential games of the past 5 years do you think there would be a more diverse character set? Do you think the customizable characters truly count as diverse?

Finally, if you feel a bit soul-crushed after becoming aware of the harsh reality of statistics, or you’re bummed out because you want some pie and you can’t actually eat a pie graph, follow the #1reasontobe trend on twitter. You’ll see posts from some amazing men and women in the gaming industry that are fighting to increase the diversity of protagonists gaming experiences and everywhere.  Also kittens:

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Duel-Wielding – breasts or guns? A review of Tomb Raider Box Art

October 24, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 32

The new Tomb Raider game box art is out! So, let’s take this opportunity to review how Lara’s image has changed over the years…for the better in my opinion.

So let’s start with the original image:

Image

Ah…old graphics

So the original Lara image, gigantic cone boos and all. According to Tom Raider lore, creator Toby Gard “accidentally” increased her bust size by 150% and this was wildly embraced by the whole development team before the small “mistake” could be fixed. Clearly this version of Lara, like Barbie, would most likely snap in half if she was suddenly brought to human life. Despite her fantastical proportions, Lara does look fairly bad ass while she dual-wields pistols.

This image remains fairly stable through the next few Playstation sequels:

Image

Except for Tomb Raider: Chronicles (which I had never heard of until recently), the boobs are definitely front and center in these games. But, there’s still the dual-pistols, so at leas she’s packing. Chronicles stands out as an outlier where Lara is not in her typical outfit, and her action stance covers her boobs up. Overall, all four are fairly similar, and stand in line with the first Lara image.

Moving on to Playstation 2, we get Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness

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Here we get Lara in a new outfit, fitting with the “angel of darkness” theme. Still fairly unrealistic in terms of graphics and breasts, and we  get midriff in this picture! Overall, probably one of my least favorite Tomb Raider covers, and I haven’t heard many people that have liked it. If you do, feel free to defend yourself and this game in the comments!

Next we have a compilation of Lara’s that steadily get a bit more realistic:

Image

LegendsAnniversary, and Underworld represent a wide variety of Lara images. In Legends we get a close-up of Lara’s face, a bit more realistic than previously which is nice. Anniversary continues to update   Lara’s image. We get the obligatory tits and ass pose, but those features have been toned down and now conform to more realistic proportions. She’s still sexy, but now I’m not afraid to hug her for ear of being crushed to death by her knockers. Underworld continues the trend, and now we seem to be missing Lara’s head, which has previously been just as integral to her image as her attire and proportions. Despite the lack of head, and the midriff, she also seems to be more realistically attired in terms of the equipment she is carrying. Also, Lara is actually dirty in this picture! After years of excavating artifacts in dusty and remote locales, Lara’s image finally reflects this.

Finally, we have been blessed with the cover art for the upcoming 2012 Tomb Raider:

Image

This image is by far my favorite yet. Here we are seeing Lara at a younger age, and of course the graphics are better than ever. I really enjoy seeing her in her environment and somewhat bedraggled at that. The only thing missing to me in this image is her pistols! How does Lara transition from bow and arrow to duel wielding? If this game doesn’t answer the question, I will be one seriously disappointed fan.

So, which game/image is your favorite so far? (You can choose the new game if you’re currently convinced it’s going to be the best thing ever)

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Easy Mode: Making Games More Accessible?

September 9, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 29

Recently in an interview with London’s Metro, Hidetaka Miyazaki discussed a potential for an “easy” mode to be incorporated into Dark Souls. Miyazaki says

I personally want my games to be described as satisfying rather than difficult. As a matter of fact, I am aiming at giving players sense of accomplishment in the use of difficulty.Having said that, however, it is true that Dark Souls is rather difficult and a number of people may hesitate to play. This fact is really sad to me and I am thinking about whether I should prepare another difficulty that everyone can complete or carefully send all gamers the messages behind our difficult games.

This comment has sparked a bit of a debate in the gaming community about the purpose and (lack of) necessity of difficulty settings in video games. In an Edge interview, Alex Hutchinson, the lead developer for Assassin’s Creed III says,

“A lot of games have been ruined by easy modes. If you have a cover shooter and you switch it to easy and you don’t have to use cover, you kind of broke your game.

These two perspectives paint an interesting picture of the need or lack thereof for difficulty settings in video games. Each interview brings up some key arguments which we’ll explore in-depth.

1.) Making an easy mode “breaks” games

This argument by Alex Hutchison can best be described through this video (originally from College humor)

The idea that “easy mode” will break video games is a valid one. There is always the possibility that an easy mode will create a Stormtrooper effect, and that you will be able to go around the game in an unhacked version of “God mode”. The problem with this view for me, is that it appears as if people coming from this point of view are not the people that should be playing games on an “easy” difficulty level. If you consider yourself a “hardcore” gamer then easy mode is most likely not for you. If you’re playing with a high skill level, then of course going through a game on the easy setting will make you feel like a god among men.

I recently played Dragon Age II as a mage on the “easy” setting –  which can make it feel like the game is broken. Honestly that’s half the fun of having an “easy mode”. Sometimes it’s just fun to dominate a game, even if you know you couldn’t do it on a different difficulty level. However, when I first started playing Dragon Age II, I needed that “easy mode” in order to simply survive the game. I would never have been able to beat the game without the “easy” setting, nor would I have been able to enjoy the game as much if I was constantly thinking strategy.

That is the true purpose of an “easy mode” – to help less experienced players acclimate to a game. Not all easy modes are done well, but I do think that they can be done without “breaking” the game.  If you have a cover shooter, then the easy difficulty level should ease you into learning how to use cover. A game like Guitar Hero eases new players into the game by adding keys and octaves for each difficulty setting – easing players into the harder difficulties. You have to find the right balance between making a setting so easy that even noob players feel like gods while still not inducing rage quits.

2.) But but but…all games shouldn’t be all things to all people!

This argument isn’t one that is made directly by Alex Hutchinson or Hidetaka Miyazaki, but it is one that has been brought up in discussion since their interviews. In a post entitled “Not all games should be all things” one blogger suggests

What I think is going on here is that a game maker wants the game to be all things to all people. They look at someone like Nintendo whose games sell to ‘everyone’, and they get more money. Why shouldn’t games have an easy mode?

Maelstrom points out that the main goal of most video games is related to winning/losing. His argument basically boils down to this:   Easy mode makes games more accessible to different levels of people, but if the ultimate goal is winning, then why give people the opportunity to win that don’t deserve to? In a response to the question “What’s wrong with adding different difficulty levels” he answers

It is because it changes the gamers. It creates gamers who think they are entitled to see all the content just because they bought the game. At least during the 8-bit generation, they had to buy a game genie and experience the shame of cheating

Heaven forbid that someone who pays for a gaming experience gets to have a complete one because of an easy difficulty mode! To me this argument again brings out the bias of hardcore gamers. If you are a hardcore gamer, you have all of my applause and respect for your skills. There are many extremely difficult games out there, and if you’ve mastered them you certainly have all my respect.Do you know what you get for beating a game on hard that I don’t usually get when I play on easy? A trophy! I can never Platinum trophy the Mass Effect series because I can’t play on Hard. There are certain rewards in place to recognize your skill as a hardcore gamer without denying games to people with less skill like me.

I don’t think I’m entitled to see all content just because I bought a game. Playing RPG’s has taught me that there are always cut scenes that have to be earned. I would just like the possibility of being able to earn those, and I typically can’t unless a game is dumbed down a little for me.  I’m sorry that there are people out there who think I don’t deserve to be able to experience  entire games just because I’m not as skilled. Companies do make more money off of people like me by including an easy difficulty setting. But, my experience playing on easy may be just as difficult to me as your experience playing on nightmare mode. Does the ability of people to complete a game on easy mode really take so much away from your sense of accomplishment?

3.) Games are Supposed to be a Challenge

Games are supposed to be a challenge and I think Miyazaki’s quote speaks directly to this. He says that he is “aiming to give players a sense of accomplishment in the use of difficulty”. Dark Souls is a notoriously difficult game and one small misstep can demolish hours of steady accomplishment. I am consistently impressed when anybody tells me that they’ve beaten Dark Souls. It is a well-known difficult game and there is a sense of accomplishment and pride from the people that have been able to beat it. The academic study “Fear of Failing? The Many Meanings of Difficulty in Video Games” points out that

Players clearly prefer feeling responsible for failing in a game; not feeling responsible is tied to a negative perception of a game

We want to be held accountable for our missteps. If we feel like failing is our fault, then successfully conquering an area of a game that has provided vast difficulties gives us a sense of accomplishment. Playing a game on “God mode” is only fun for about 5-10 minutes. After you’re done slaughtering everyone (or whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing) the game gets boring. There’s no challenge and thus no reason to continue. The problem with that for many people is the difficulty arc.

When you get to a point you just can’t get past no matter what, you eventually throw the controller away and quit the game. I could get to the 6th castle or so on Super Mario before my little brother and I just couldn’t progress any further. We probably tried a thousand times, but we were never able to manage it. The difficulty level increased too high for our skills to match it.

Games definitely have to do a delicate dance with difficulty settings. It needs to be hard enough to give challenge, and not difficult enough to make players break things in a violent rampage after they’ve died for the 100th time. It’s a difficult balance to strike especially when there are so many gamers out there with disparate skills. I personally think that adding difficulty settings helps players manage this difficulty arc on their own terms. If something is too easy, switch difficulties, do the same if it’s too hard. Games are supposed to be a challenge, and many studies have shown that players want it to be this way. The addition of multiple difficulty settings ultimately can help players control their own difficulty arc so they can enjoy the game and still feel accomplishment when they complete it.

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Review: Square Enix's Drakerider

September 7, 2012 Reviews, Video Game Reviews Comments (0) 17

Drakerider, an iOS exclusive game from Square Enix dropped today. Like the recent iOS port of The World Ends With You, the game is split up into chapters. The first’s one free, you’ll just have to pay for the other four…which will end up costing you $20.99 for all five additional chapters, or 6.99 for individual chapters. I downloaded the first chapter to play this morning, prmarily intrigued by any game that would let me ride around on a dragon. I mean, what’s up with all those other Square Enix JRPGs that make you walk everywhere? Shouldn’t your entire party have insanely overdeveloped legs by that point? Especially considering how often I made them run places. In Drakerider though you don’t have to worry about that. Like the title suggests, the main character Aran gets to ride a big ole dragon named Eckhardt.

Story:As dragons go, Eckhardt is kinda a dick. Aran has to concentrate at all times to control Eckhardt or else the dragon will go on a murdering rampage, killing his master first. Sadly, not everyone in the game world of Igraine gets to ride dragons. This special power was given to Aran by (you guessed it) a “mysterious girl” dressed in white/pink. She bestows this power on Aran after he rescues her from a dungeon and defeats a monster that is known as a Dread. The Dread are the big baddies in this game, they’re invading Igraine and it is up to the dragaliers (BAMF dragon riders) to defeat them. The catch is, that there’s actually only one dragon. Eckhardt takes a slightly different form with slightly different powers depending on the person who is riding him. Under the mysterious girl’s supervision, Aran is supposed to defeat Dread demons one by one. That is the basic plot, which is fairly straightforward for a JRPG. If that bothers you, don’t worry! This is a spoiler free review, but there are a few twists and turns just in the first chapter for you! Overall the initial story, though definitely full of JRPG tropes, was fairly compelling. It definitely left me looking at my bank account to see if I could afford to buy a $20.99 game for my iPhone.

Behold! The Mysterious Girl!

Gameplay: What I liked best about the game was the combat system. I can best describe it as turn-based esque. Rather than picking a skill from a menu, you control the dragon Eckhardt with chains. By sliding the chains left and right on your iOS device, you’ll be placing the chain in a different color quadrant. Each color quadrant has abilities and attacks already assigned to it. You can disable abilities if you don’t want to waste Crystals (The game’s version of MP), but typically it doesn’t matter too much. For example, the ability “healing” is assigned to the blue quadrant. If you place the chains in the blue area then Eckhardt and Aran will automatically heal if they’re HP is low, or attack if you have close to full HP. You have to quickly move the chain before your attack bar fills up, whatever quadrant the chain is in when the attack bar is full is the ability that is going to be used for that turn. I think it is a fun way to incorporate the touch screen while still relying on a fairly familiar style of JRPG combat. It’s not too hard to get the hang of, and I think its a bit more fun than scrolling through menus for attacks.

Leveling up incorporates a system similar to the Crystarium from FFXIII. Aran starts out with certain abilities, and there are clear paths that you can choose to go with. It’s less complicated than the Crystarium, but still allows you enough options to develop Aran to fit your play style. These abilities are also bought with Crystals, so it is actually not always advisory to buy multiple abilities before a boss fight (learned that the hard way). You need Crystals to fuel your attacks, and if you run out during a boss fight, you are basically completely screwed.

World: When you aren’t in a specific location, you fly around the world of Igraine on the back of your dragon. Instead of being an open world, locations spring up linearly after you’ve completed certain missions. If you’re buying this game wanting to use Eckhardt like a Golden Chocobo to explore all the nooks and crannies of Igraine, it’s not going to happen. You can only go to locations that are available to you…or at least that was my experience with the first chapter. There’s always the possibility that  your options might be expanded in later chapters, although this is an iOS game so the world is most likely not going to be quiet as developed as you may be used to in a typical Square Enix RPG. This wasn’t a negative for me, but it might be for all of you crazy explorers out there.

Aran..the hero!

Overall:It took me 2-3 hours to play through the first chapter on and off  and I enjoyed playing it most of that time (except for the 20 minutes where I kept dying to the second boss because I needed to go power level). Again, the story was compelling even though the Mysterious Girl seemed way too young to be as naked as she was, and she was a completely passive character (If she had been playable, she would have suffered from White Mage syndrome). Aran fit the stereotype of rogue turned hero, although he was much more Titus than Cloud. Overall, my biggest problem with the game is the pricing. As you can see here and here (and many many other places on the web) no one has really been able to get behind Square Enix’s pricing of their recent iOS games. $30 for Final Fantasy Dimensions, $20.99 for The World Ends With You and now $20.99 for Drakerider seems a bit extreme to most people.

To me this signals that Square Enix is treating the iOS and Android platform as a legitimate gaming console rather than a place to make a quick buck. With most iOS and Android games relying on the  micro transactions model, do you think the high pricing of these games is a new model to counteract that? Would you rather pay $20.99 up front than realize at the end of a game that all of your small $0.99 purchases added up to over $20? I’m honestly not sure it would be possible to change JRPGs to facilitate a micro-transaction system without detrimentally changing the narrative and gameplay that makes those games JRPGs. I’m pretty upset that the whole Chapter format forced me out of the story because I need to pay for more chapters. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I needed to buy some in-game currency to extend/enhance my gameplay. Between the two, I would much rather pay $20 for about 20 hours of a good JRPG than see games like this switch to a micro transaction model. The price is still cheaper than most Wii and DS games (where all the good JRPGs come out nowadays)
and the game utilized the touchscreen well to update turn-based combat a bit. If you need a JRPG fix, I would definitely recommend this game,  but I do understand the price may be a barrier to some, especially people that are broke like me!

If you’d like to see more of the game before making a decision, here’s a video walkthrough of the first chapter. Clearly, there are going to be spoilers.

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Do We Have to Talk About This Again? Gamers and Rape Culture

September 6, 2012 Articles, Video Games Comments (0) 59

I’m subscribed to more RSS feeds than I should be, and I read them instead of my homework more often than I should. That being said, it always makes me cringe when I see the word “rape” come up on my feed. I’m typically subscribed to game blogs and web sites where you would think it wouldn’t happen that much. But honestly, I think the word “rape” comes up more often in my gaming RSS feed than it does on my feminism feed. That probably says something just as sad about gaming culture as the article I’m about to share with you.  (TRIGGER WARNING: Rape)

If you couldn’t tell from the title, yet another sexual assault has happened within the gaming community. While attending a private Minecraft party (non PAX affiliated) a man grabbed a young female game blogger’s hand, and forced her to touch his dick. When she went to the security guards at the party, they ignored her complaint and did not act on the situation. If you’re morbidly curious, her first person account of the event can be found here. At the top of her blog she has a disclaimer saying:

Everyone: I’m seeing a lot of comments on twitter and elsewhere blaming PAX for this incident and the security guard’s reaction. This party was NOT held by PAX, it was not even in the same venue, hell it wasn’t even on the same street. It was not affiliated with, sponsored by or organized by PAX. The only things it had in common were being gaming related and being the same weekend in the same city.  I’m even seeing some blaming Mojang and Notch (the party was held by Notch himself, not Mojang). The ONLY person who should be held accountable for what happened is the asshole himself. And if you’re going to get mad about security, blame that guard. Also this post isn’t about nerd or gamer culture or blaming those cultures at all, this could happen in any community, at any party, to anyone.

I’ve bolded the last part because it is the sentence that I wish to take issue with. If you’ve ever read Jessica Valenti’s book Full Frontal Feminism then you might be aware that some feminists have characterized Western culture as a whole as rape culture. Rape does occur in many cultures, in many communities, and many parties, and to many people, men and women. However, the gaming community in particular has been found to be a particularly misogynistic branch of society, and incidents over the last year (Anita Sarkeesian, Dickwolves, etc.) have demonstrated how volatile the community can be to women. As Scott Madin points out in his cover of this story:

So inasmuch as gamer culture is tainted by rape culture, and PAX is one of the purer expressions of contemporary gamer culture, yes, this is about PAX. This is about the kinds of people who felt welcome at PAX, and what they thought they could get away with. It’s about the constant presence of “booth babes” at gaming conventions, and the still abysmal representation of women in mainstream games. It’s about the kind of people who think it’s reasonable to “up the girl to guy ratio” by hiring models to attend a party, because they think their (presumed male, presumed heterosexual) attendees neither possess nor need to be encouraged to develop any social skills, and thus are and will remain repulsive to women not paid to tolerate them. (There are, of course, far too many problems with this to unpack in a single blog post.) And it’s about what all this, taken together, in constant dosage over many years, teaches people who didn’t even notice they were being instructed: women are decorative objects, there for men’s enjoyment; they have no significant interests of their own; they are not skilled; they are not peers; if they are not attractive to men they are failures; they are merely things for men to desire and despise. (If you think I’m overstating, now would be a good time to go look again at those links a couple paragraphs up.)

To be clear, PAX does have rules about booth babes that are mostly enforced, but the lack of booth babes doesn’t mean an overall lack of the aforementioned factors that seem to have taught male gamers over the years that women are for their enjoyment. Everyone on the internet, for once, has been super nice to Ky about the sexual assault, no one so far has made any claim that it was all her fault somehow (which is sadly a shocker to me). They have also all publicly said that it was definitely the assaulter’s fault, which again I sadly find shocking. But there is nothing being done about the overall attitudes of the gaming culture (and culture in general) that create an environment where people think acts like this are okay. Or, using Scott Madin’s words again:

Finally, here’s the kicker. If past incidents in gamer culture are any indicator (Dickwolves, Fat Princess, Duke Nukem Forever, Resident Evil 5, the Borderlands 2 “Girlfriend Mode” controversy, and countless others) there will be no lasting consequences. A few more people will be alienated from gamer culture, but the majority of gamers will brush it off, and continue to support the institutions that promote these attitudes. The gaming press — even the smart, progressive gaming press — will write about Penny Arcade and PAX and Gearbox and Mojang to talk about their press releases and upcoming games, and will not mention the kinds of things that happen under their various auspices. No lasting opprobrium will attach to any of their names, and the culture will not change. People, even smart, thoughtful, progressive people who understand rape culture and how it works, and work tirelessly to break down race, gender, and sexuality barriers in gamer culture, will keep attending PAX and buying games produced by developers with toxic, misogynist studio cultures. The overwhelming sense will be that yeah, that stuff was bad, but that’s all in the past. Like the security guard in Ky’s story: “Okay? What do you expect me to do?”

Stuff is bad, and it’s not in the past. I expect myself, and fellow gamers who care about the community they play in to call out the community in events like this. Make it explicit that the misogynistic pillars of the gaming community need to come down. Label sexist behavior as sexist, and don’t feel bad about it! Because, ultimately, nothing will change unless we strive to change it, and I am pretty damn tired of reading about incidents like this.

 

Ky’s original blog: explodedsoda

Scott Madin’s full post: Oh look, it’s time to talk about gamer culture and rape again.

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Tomb Raider, Racist Games, and GaymerCon (but not in that order)

September 5, 2012 Leading Lady Links Comments (0) 22

For those of you unfamiliar with my weekly roundups, this is the feature where I round up recent articles dealing with race, gender, sexuality, disabilities, identity groups etc. all in one place for your reading pleasure! Some weeks the articles may make you want to go on a violent rampage, other weeks might inspire you e-hug troll fighters. Your response is up to you, although I would suggest that violent rampages typically lead to negative consequences. No stories this week have really made me react strongly in either direction, but many were interesting all the same.

First up: Aliens Colonial Marines will have a female character!

She looks a bit scrawny to me….

And here she is, , Pvt. Jennifer Redding Quintaro (her brother is on the right)! The Alien movies have always produced some strong female characters, (and the beginnings of the Vasquez always dies trope) and this news from Gearbox is definitely a welcome announcement. Gamers and Aliens fans across the internet have been petitioning for the inclusion of female characters in the new game, and it looks like all the hullaballoo paid off. According to Gearbox, the plan all along was to include a female character. Whether it was the plan or not, she better live up to the likes of Ripley, Newt, and Vasquez or else…..or else…I’ll write scathing reviews! That’ll show ’em.

2.) Next up from Kotaku, Steam pulled a Sex game from its Greenlight service. There’s been some buzz on the internet in the last few months about sex games, like the game Polymorphously Perverse, but it general it doesn’t appear as if this game was quite as offensive as some. The pulling of this game makes it appear as if Steam’s Greenlight service will keep erotic content out of its listings. I’m torn on this because I think that there can potentially be well-made erotic games (if they allow a person to play as whatever gender they want, take into account multiple sexualities, race…etc) and I wonder if the banning of erotic games from Steam will hinder the potential development of well-made sex games. On the other hand, Polymorphously Perverse was horrendous and if Steam banning erotic games can keep the terribly heterosexist games from a large audience, then power to them. Any other opinions out there about sex games?

3.) 3-D Ms. Pac-Man at Baby Castle’s Summit.  Here’s the video:

Clearly this is just super cool. I wish I had the time/money to create such awesome experiences! I’ve always loved Ms. Pac-Man because she is one of the few female characters (if you consider a yellow circle with lipstick female) to be treated equally as her male counterpart. Ms. Pac-Man does exactly what Pac-Man does, eats ghosts, and her lipstick doesn’t seem to get in the way of that. Of course, that might have just been a side-effect of technological limitations, but hey, three cheers for Ms. Pac-Man! May women everywhere some day have the same equality that she does.

4.)  Race Wars.Com: Extreme Racism as an Innoculation against racism?

According to this article, the game Race Wars, which is a hacked version of an old nintendo games, asks the player to answer a few questions, and based on those questions assigns a race to the player, and puts them in a specific Race War. This could be Whites against Blacks, Asians against Hispanics, or a variety of different combinations of race wars based on the questionnaire. According to Nate Hill, the game’s maker:

Race Warriors is a racist, hacked Nintendo video game. It offers 16 different race war video games between Whites, Blacks, Asians, or Hispanics. As mentioned before, traditional vaccines expose the immune system to a dead or weakened germ. In this case, the racist germ is weakened. Here’s how: Before killing another race, the young player must answer 10 questions that supposedly decode their racial prejudice, and from this, the game creates an appropriate race war scenario to be played. The problem is that these questions, for example, “Do you like candles?”, have nothing to do with race at all. Regardless of your answers, you’re directed to a completely random game. You may even have to kill your own race, or fight for the race you hate the most. This all makes for an absurd, racist experience. The strength of the game is that within its world, racism is absurd.

I think this is an intriguing idea, but it hinges on one thing: players being able to recognize the absurdity. The Race Wars website says “The game is racist. The game is absurd. Therefore, racism is absurd”.  The problem I feel, comes with step number two: will players be able to understand that the game is absurd? Vaccinations typically give you a tiny bit of a virus so that your immune system can learn how to fight against it. Unfortunately, occasionally vaccinations can lead to a full on infection. Ultimately I’m afraid that this particular inoculation may lead to more infections than strengthened immune systems.

6.) GaymerCon is fully funded! Yay!

7.) Gaming Accessibility project hopes to make games more accessible for the handicapable. According to this article, almost 20% of the casual game playing database have some sort of disability. By making games more accessible, this could potentially increase profits for gaming companies, and more importantly make games accessible to people with disabilities. It’s definitely an interesting project, and I hope game companies take the guideline’s to heart.

8.) New Lara Croft video is completely uncontroversial! Hopefully you’re still interested in the new Lara Croft game, even after all that rape/not rape commotion. The newest video from PAX shows a lot more gameplay footage than we’ve previously had, and absolutely nothing that could even potentially be construed as rape. So check out the video (it’s like 14 minutes long….fyi).

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