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Vulnerability and the Female Character

Yesterday, I was reading this debate on Kotaku, sparked by comments made here by Shinji Mikami the creator of the Resident Evil games. As with any and all debates via Internet comments, you gotta take the good with the bad. But, I was surprised to find myself agreeing (at least in part) with some of the defenders of submissive female characters because while I would like to see a whole lot fewer submissive female characters, what I really want to see is a lot more well thought out characters that enhance the narrative, rather than detract from it or seem like somewhat of an afterthought.

In the Guardian interview, Mikami discusses character creation, specifically his thoughts on submissive female characters and he comments,

“If I had to name the woman character I most disliked in my games it would be Rebecca Chambers,” he says. “She’s submissive, she’s not independent. I didn’t want to include her but the staff wanted that kind of character in the game, for whatever reason. I’m sure it made sense to them. And in Japan, that character is pretty popular.” He shrugs despondently.

I can totally identify with that despondent shrug. We feminist gamers or Social Justice Warriors or whatever often get a lot of pushback for wanting more representation and more accurate representation because, apparently, “real” gamers want jiggle physics and non-threatening women in their games. (Someday maybe I will understand how strong women make some men feel somehow less “manly.”)

The comments on Kotaku start with,
“Something something Social Justice Warrior something something.
I say good on him for putting more thought into his characters, regardless of gender.”

And, while I don’t love the dismissal of SJW, I do agree that putting more thought into characters beyond the tropes would make for a richer game playing experience. (If, of course, you are into narrative, which I am.) Here at NYMG we have had many debates about what would make a good female character. Some of us want a totally badass female who takes no shit, while others are ok with a little vulnerability. Our debates over Lara Croft come to mind here. I really liked her in the latest Tomb Raider. To me, she felt real. She was dressed a bit more appropriately, and she was pretty badass. She was also at some points vulnerable. I’m thinking in particular of the scene when she was alone and scared and looking to connect with her teammates. Others felt this showed too much weakness in Lara, and I can see that point also. But, for me, if I were to think of putting myself in that situation, I would totally also be scared and looking for my team. But, I think some of the reaction to Lara’s vulnerability comes from the overall lack of really independent female characters. I may not be a badass, but I know plenty of independent females who are, and these women almost never get to play a relatable character.

Perhaps feminist gamers would be more open to a vulnerable female character (even, dare I say a submissive female character) every now and then. If it were every now and then, instead of every time. In the original Guardian interview, Mikami said, “I’m interested in vulnerable characters, in normal human beings. The horror experience is most scary when the player really isn’t sure whether their character is going to live or die – death and survival need to be on a constant see-saw.”

Mikami also directed The Evil Within, which I am playing now. As I wrote last week, I don’t see a lot of originality in that game at all, either in characters or story or even anything that happens. I listed a whole lot of games last week that The Evil Within reminded me of. A move toward more originality overall would be great. But, perhaps part of the reason I don’t find The Evil Within to be scary is because I literally do not care about any of the characters so far. So, while I agree with Mikami that “death and survival need to be on a constant see-saw,” I also need to care about the character.

I would love to see more varied characters overall. Independent women, submissive men (yes, that happens in real life), a mix of both, a variety of flaws. I would love to see all of that. The lack of this isn’t all that unique to games; we see this in other forms of entertainment also, hence the need for the Bechdel test. I would love to see a greater range of characters in general: characters that enhance the story, engage the player, and make it hard to walk away from the game before the story is over.

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Zombies, and Monsters, and Chainsaws, and… meh…

Last week The Evil Within released, a game I had some high expectations for the title, given that the design team design team includes the self-proclaimed “father of survival horror”, Shinji Mikami. However, while the game seems to tick off all the boxes (creepy hospital- check! Stoic, jaded hero- check! Zombies- check! Ridiculously metaphoric save system-check!). I really can’t give this game much more than a solid “meh”. Read more »

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Bad Boys, Bad Boys: Whatcha gonna do when they come for y— wait you were harassing WOMEN online? Nevermind then; we’re cool bra.

“If you have any kids, they’re going to die too. I don’t give a fuck. They’ll grow up to be feminists anyway.”

[All quotes used can be found here. They are tweets shared by feminist game designer Brianna Wu that she received before fleeing her home]

Saying you’re going to T-bag someone’s mother isn’t illegal. It isn’t particularly funny or clever, but it’s also not going to land you in federal prison for 5 years. Saying you will kill someone, even if you say it online or through any digital medium, can land you in jail for up to 5 years. Federal law 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) states: “Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

“I wish whoever rapes you, gets a POV video of it”

If it is illegal to say you will come to someone’s house and rape and murder them, then I have 2 questions: 1) why are so many people still making these threats online and 2) WHY THE FUCK AREN’T THEY IN PRISON?

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Borderlands the Pre-Sequel

Because Everything’s Better in Space, AMIRITE?

During last week’s podcast I chose the Borderlands series as my “guilty pleasure” games. The series as a whole is pretty irreverent, the characters are exaggerated, and the games repeatedly present unabashedly non-serious and goofy situations. In many ways, the series reminds me of classic cheesy horror movies- bad, but in the most entertaining and enjoyable sort of a way. And, at least in the case of Borderlands, it takes a lot of talent and creativity to make something so wonderfully “bad”. Given all of this, Borderlands: The Pre-sequel was absolutely on my must play list. Read more »

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Power Hour Review: The Evil Within

I’ll admit I was pretty excited to get my hands on this game. I was so excited that I got up early and went to Target right after they opened, and then I played it for most of the day. (Thank you whoever invented fall break!) It’s the perfect game for October, and yesterday was a rainy, dreary day. Fantastic!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this game, as I didn’t actually put any research into it before buying it. I was already sold based on title and cover art alone. I will say this, though: it’s bloody, really, really bloody, especially in the beginning. I can’t say I was particularly scared during the first hour, but it is pretty violent and graphic. Especially when you die. Dying is violent.

I did feel a lot of déjà vu while playing. Kotaku noticed this as well. As I was playing, I felt like I was playing a sometimes weird combination of a lot of other horror games. I’m not exactly sure how to describe it. At times, I felt like it was pulling directly from other games, and at times it still seems somewhat unique. But, at various points, I felt I was playing Resident Evil, Dead Rising, Outlast, Silent Hill, and even Alan Wake. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in some sense it added to the experience. I love all those games though, so I didn’t mind seeing and playing elements from them. I guess the Resident Evil similarity is purposeful; I’m not sure if the others were. The game just felt a lot like a Silent Hill game to me; you can run or fight the monsters, much like Dead Rising; when I was in the woods, I felt like I was playing Alan Wake (except the lights won’t save you); and, I don’t think it’s to spoilery to tell you that you need to hide in cabinets, a la Oulast.

I didn’t really love the controls though. The character seems somewhat slow to respond sometimes, and because part of what you need to do is get away from monsters, the slow response was somewhat frustrating. It never resulted in my character’s death, but I did find myself yelling, “GO, come on, Go!” a couple of times. The game itself also lagged sometimes. One time when I knew I was going to die, I had to wait for what seemed like minutes for the graphics to line up correctly. The lagging isn’t a fatal flaw, and the game is still playable through it (so far anyway), but it’s a little disappointing given that I’m playing on Xbox One. I guess I have high expectations for this console.

The game is pretty easy to navigate, and I found it pretty easy to figure out what I needed to do. There is a lot of sneaking around, and you can get through a lot of it just by sneaking past the monsters or simply running past them. So, if you don’t want to fight, it’s not always necessary. Sometimes the sneaking is necessary though because you are just not going to win. I did find myself once just going around in circles trying to figure out what to do next, so it’s a little more open world than say Silent Hill, which often seems to be forcing you in the right direction, but at the same time, I learned you can’t always backtrack.

It may sound strange to refer to a survival horror game as comforting, but that’s really what I felt. For me, it was like curling up with an old, familiar book. If you are into horror, I would recommend this game. I didn’t find it particularly scary, but it is creepy, and it is definitely gory. If you don’t want to see blood or graphic violence, than you might want to skip this one. That’s my initial take on The Evil Within but, if you are still on the fence, look for to part 2 of this Power Hour Review next week after Wendi plays; stay tuned!

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Tonight I Killed a God

WARNING: This post may be a little bit spoilery for the Destiny storyline, but it’s definitely worth the read ;-)

Unless you’ve been under a NYMG you know by now that Alex and I have been playing a lot of Destiny (Bungie 2014)…and I do mean a lot. I won’t even begin to tell you how much. One of the things that disturbed me about the game was the fact that we were often asked to come in and kill hordes of Fallen while they are actively praying to their god. I mean on bended knee arms up-stretched to the heavens praying. That shit gives me serious pause. What does it mean that I am being asked to come into a sanctuary and murder worshippers who are unaware of my presence because they are communing with their god? Am I supposed to think that this is ok because they look different from me (not that “I” am not different with blue skin, white luminescent eyes,  and glowing images of constellations floating just below my skin) or because they worship a different god than I and my ilk do?

I asked myself all of these questions in a split second as I surveyed the scene in game and compressed it all down to “Really, we kill them while they’re praying?” and voiced that to my fireteam. They responded with “Oh my god” and other utterances of surprise and quick snippets of analysis before we did what we were ultimately going to have to do in order to successfully complete the mission and advance the narrative. We killed all of the worshippers and then went on to kill their god. There was no option not to. There was no way to make peace with them. No way to agree to allow their god and their beliefs to co-exist with ours. It was simply kill or be killed and none of us wanted to die.

 

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Leveling Through Loss

Grief is a funny thing. Caught up in the throes of loss, every day can feel like you’re living through Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. When we lose something precious, it’s not just an emotional blow. It’s a physical and mental attack that can leave you feeling a bit like you’re drowning on dry land.

I want to say that, eventually, you find your feet…but the unfortunate truth is that, currently, I’m somewhere between going under and treading water. Right now, land feels very far away…which is why I wanted to take some time to talk about the idea of fantasy worlds and video games as “escape.”

For as long as I can remember, Narnia has been the ultimate dream. When life is rough, there’s something wonderful and reassuring about the idea that a passage to another world (far, far away and magical) could be found in any closet or behind any closed door. Let’s face it…pain sucks. And the idea of running away from it is an appealing one. For the past few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with my video games and crafts and a whole lot of sleep. It’s escapism…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like continuing to work through sickness or grief, it’s a way of stepping outside of yourself–getting out of your own head–and letting other concerns take over for a little while. For me, video games and novels act as a way of getting perspective. It’s not a one-to-one correlation…shooting down bandits in Skyrim doesn’t solve my frustration for real-world issues, so much as it gives me some distance before I have to deal with them again. It shifts the immediacy, leaving more time and space for healthier, more productive responses. But that’s just the after-the-fact justification. In the heat of the moment, getting to be someone else (anyone else) just feels really, really good. It’s a relief.

There’s a caveat to exploring new worlds, however, and it’s one we don’t often think about when we’re longing for that escape; no matter how or why fictional characters are whisked off to alternate realities, they almost always come back. The Pevensies’ adventures in Narnia doesn’t stop the war back home, or the bullying at Eustace’s
school. Spending the school year at Hogwarts doesn’t change that Harry Potter still has to see his aunt and uncle during breaks. And many times, as with Quico in Papo & Yo, the problems in the “real” world often continue to play a role in the fantasy world. Escaping isn’t enough. You still have to “deal.”

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is make the choice to at least start dealing by acknowledging that, yes, the door to a million wonderful, distracting worlds is right there on my laptop, my 3Ds, my playstation, and my TV, but that doesn’t mean I have to go through it. Eventually, I had to put down my controllers and remotes and mice and just hurt.

My process of dealing still isn’t complete. Most days I want the distance and distraction games affords me. Some days I need them. But it’s getting easier. And, in the meantime, I’m just a click away from Tamriel, Willow Creek, or my latest Minecraft build when I need them.

It’s not Narnia, but it’s a start.

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Episode 87: On Guilty Pleasure Games; Or, It was Destin(y)ed to Happen

Episode 87: On Guilty Pleasure Games; Or, It was Destin(y)ed to Happen (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

In this episode we talk about guilty pleasure games and what constitutes them.

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Power Hour Review: Super Smash Bros (3DS)

It may be a little odd to think of Super Smash Bros. as a stand-alone, legitimate handheld title. Although I had bought into the hype long ago and had already mentally committed myself to buying it, I had my doubts about the new Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. Super Smash Bros., after all, was a game franchise that I played with friends while we giggled at each others’ zany antics and occasionally shot death glares. It is an inherently social game and while the 3DS certainly brought an all new level of sharing and social capabilities to handheld games, I doubted its ability to compete with its upcoming Wii U counterpart. Thankfully most of my concerns were alleviated when I finally got my hands on the full copy of the game.

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Episode 87

Join us and watch episode 87 LIVE! https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/c5s1b092tonvppbnecka5ltps5g