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Episode 89: Spirits of Spring: A Case for Diversity in Games

Episode 89: Spirits of Spring: A Case for Diversity in Games (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

In this episode we talk about the Spirits of Spring, the new game that looks at bullying from Minority Media. Stay tuned after the closing for a ending spoiling chat between Sam and Charlotte.

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Why I Love Games

I didn’t always love games. I can hear Sarkeesian’s opponents shrieking when I write that: “What?? You didn’t always love games? How can you write about them?” But, I didn’t always like them. In my teens, I loved games. I was obsessed with Punch Out and Super Mario Bros.. But, then life happened, and I donated my NES to my brother. (He later returned it :) ). I don’t think I played a game at all during my twenties. My best friend bought a PS2 at the time, and I would go over and watch her play, but secretly I thought she was a little crazy.

It took Netflix to lure me back into the world of video games. These days we have streaming devices all over the place, but back then, there was only the Xbox 360. When Netflix announced they were going to stream to the 360, I had to have one. But, I was broke back then, and they were pricey to me. Nevertheless, I started researching and trying to decide if Netflix was worth the money spent on an Xbox that would likely be used just for streaming. At the time, my dad owned two PS3 and an Xbox. He’s a total geek, and as such, he not only owned the consoles, he had all the cool accessories and games to go with them. So, I told him I wanted to come over and try to play a game to see if it was something I might like. He told me that if I liked playing games, he would just give me the whole system. I was pretty sure I was not going to like playing the games, but I really wanted that system. My dad knows me well. He started me off with Dead Rising, and I loved it. Until that moment, my perception of games was that games didn’t have much or any narrative, and were fun, but ultimately didn’t tell a story. And, I craved a story. So, after more than a decade of not playing games, I was hooked again.

Now I love games. I love some of the rich narratives, but I also have renewed my love for games like Rayman Legend, which has little narrative but is super addictive anyway. I love cut scenes. I love/hate battling the boss to get to the cut scene that I just have to see. I love the escape. Sometimes in my academic life, I have periods when deep, sustained study is necessary (like prelims), and games like Rayman Legends offered a quick escape that didn’t draw me into a long narrative, allowing me to quickly refresh when my brain started lagging from reading all of the modern rhetoric.

I critique games because it’s fun. Maybe some people won’t like hearing that. But, it’s true. While many gamers want politics and critique to stay away from their games, I invite it. I don’t subscribe to the notion that games cause social problems; for example, I would never say I think games cause violence. But, I do think games (like all other popular media) reflect society. And, as such, games tend to demonstrate the challenges our society faces. To that end, I critique games as a means to show the problems. Games reflect the real social justice issues that we work against daily.

My LEGO story is similar, except I was probably away from LEGO for closer to 2 decades or more. I find I have a deep, abiding love and appreciation for LEGO that even surpasses how much I love games. I critique them for the same reasons I critique games. In both cases, I feel qualified to write about them, even though I spent years without thinking about either one of them. Or maybe qualified isn’t the right word. I’m not a gaming expert, nor a LEGO expert. But, maybe it’s ok that I write about them anyway because I enjoy it; because people have different experiences and different voices (in my opinion) are welcome and necessary.

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Genre and Game Design

In this series we’ll be looking at some principles of game design, particularly as they relate to analysis and criticism.

Genre is a useful concept for consumers and producers of media- identifying and classifying various texts as being part of a certain genre creates a set expectations. Of course, genre is a moving target, and what we understand to be part of a certain genre is constantly evolving and being redefined. Read more »

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Bow Chica Wow Wow: Video Games and the Humpity Bumpity

This post is about sex in video games. Not sexISM, but sex. Of course these two things can often not be separated. But in light of me having a shit week and #GamerGate blowing up on national new sources across the country, I thought I would change things up a bit by talking about some good old fashion human on human (or human on alien, as I will talk about shortly) sexual relations.

When it was revealed that two players could have sex in Bioware’s Mass Effect, people kind of lost their minds. Fox News, albeit not the bastion of forward thinking perspectives on sex, proclaimed that Mass Effect allowed players to engage in the a more realistic kind of sex than any medium before, and “hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of.” Another news anchor said that Mass Effect left “NOTHING to the imagination… in some parts of this you’ll see full digital nudity. Imagine!” [Oh yes, my faint lady heart just can’t handle such things!]. The discussion around this continues on as one would imagine: how can we expose kids to this stuff, what kind of violence and sexual tendencies will teens have upon playing this game, and don’t even get them started on the gender-bending aspects of the game. Games are ruining the youth and this addition of sex is just the latest problem!

But for anyone who played through the Mass Effect sex scenes, I’d venture to say you likely found it pretty lame. First, it’s not like you get to control the hip thrusts of you or your partner, you don’t get to use your joystick to play with a body part, really you don’t do anything. The sex scene is essentially nothing more than a sex scene on television. After you go through the procedures of wooing the person, you go to a cut scene that controls your and your partner’s actions. Compared to what they show daily on TV, even during primetime when those poor innocent children are watching, this sex scene is tame. It probably wouldn’t even qualify as softcore. It truly is something that would be acceptable on cable. So why are people so shocked?

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I Want You To Want Me

It’s Halloween (well, close enough) and my Facebook news feed is full of articles and videos about objectification. From the viral video of the woman walking around NYC to Buzzfeed lists of inappropriate tween getups and this gem of a costume, everyone is talking about bodies and how people should be treating them (and aren’t). And, if you dare to venture to the comment sections, there are plenty of confused or downright angry folks on the other side who just don’t understand the fuss.

I’ll admit, it’s been disheartening to read comments responding to Soshana Robert’s catcalling video with “if she didn’t want attention, she could have put on a burqa or stayed inside.” I cringe a little more each time someone refuses to listen to someone saying they are uncomfortable or harassed because “I say hi to people on the street and smile at them and I’m just being polite!” As a woman, it seems so obvious to me because it’s such an ever-present part of my life. I have a whole cache of tactics for dealing with unwelcome attention because that’s just how things go.

But it’s Halloween, and I have a confession to make that complicates the whole issue. I like wearing sexy costumes.
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Power Hour Review: Fantasy Life (3DS)

Let me start by saying that I have been waiting for this game for months. When I saw that Level 5 Studios was making this game I was really hoping for a handheld Ni No Kuni type of game. But be forewarned, that is not what Fantasy Life is.

Fantasy Life is a quest based RPG/life simulator. The characters are adorable and much more customizable than you would expect. There are a good 10 skintones from pale to dark brown to choose from as well as 4 body types from tall and thin to short and stocky. There are also a good number of hairstyles to choose from. I spent a good amount of time just on character creation and was pleased as punch that I could actually create a character with my skin tone without being forced to stand in the sun for several hours a day every day (ala Animal Crossing).  Read more »

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Fear Through Her Eyes: Analyzing the Female Character in Horror Games

The Final Girl: it’s a trope that’s sure to resonate with any horror fan, regardless of their level of interest or devotion to the genre. Referential to the trend of horror media leaving a solitary female character as its “last person standing,” The Final Girl is generally defined as being that remaining woman or girl who’s left to confront whatever terror killed and/or eliminated the rest of said woman or girl’s group and initiate the final battle or confrontation. Although that’s all that’s necessary to qualify a character as a Final Girl, typically said girl also was comparatively innocent or naive prior to the horrific set of events she found herself forced into, is resourceful, is a brunette, and, over the course of the story, becomes a hardened survivor. As Carol J. Clover states in her book Men, Women, And Chain Saws: Gender In The Modern Horror Film, the trope was initially introduced into the horror genre in 1970′s and 80′s slasher films. However since then it’s burst into popularity, becoming practically a staple in horror movies.

While certainly not as prevalent as in horror movies (where I believe that the trope is in more movies than it’s not), horror video games have also not escaped the clutches of this prevalent trope. Rebecca Chambers from Resident Evil 0, Ripley from Alien: Isolation, and Ellie from The Last of Us are just two examples of the trope in action. While not all female protagonists in horror/thriller games technically fall under this trope – some were never in groups, some had a few others survive alongside them – many embody at least one or two qualifications, particularly the quest to overcome all odds so crucial to the “scary” aspect of horror movies. And while horror games have some of the largest amounts of female characters (and protagonists in particular), I’ve struggled with how to view these female characters in terms of proper representation and feminist-friendliness for the longest time.

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Minifigs, mini-dolls and my stubborn nostalgia

I was flipping through the new LEGO catalogue the other day (because what I really need is more LEGOs!) and I was thinking back to this post, where one commenter wrote, “the City line, at least, is moving nicely towards gender equality – at least one of every set of firefighters will have a traditionally feminine head with lipstick, for example.” I have also found this to be true in other lines of the LEGO products. For instance, I have a lady astronaut minifig (who apparently wears make up in space). Out of curiosity, I counted the minifigs included in the four new LEGO City sets featured in the current catalogue. Out of 17 minifigs included in these four sets only 4 are female. Not the equality I was looking for. This is obviously not a scientific experiment, just my impressions of what I’m seeing in the catalog. One of the new sets, Artic Helicrane, includes both a male and a female in a traditionally male occupation similar to the above commenter’s reference to firefighters. So, that is happening. I suppose we are plodding along toward gender equality in LEGO.  Read more »

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Silencing is not the answer

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about Gamer Gate in light of the most recent doxxing event (Felicia Day, posting about her concerns, became a target). His response? By taking what he deemed to be an offensive action (posting about her feelings on her blog) she essentially invited the harassment. In other words, if you don’t want to get harassed, don’t open your mouth. Read more »

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Power Hour Review: Sid Meier’s Beyond Earth

Civilization, Civilization, Civilization. When I was in middle school I would wait until everyone was sleeping and then sneak into the office and play Civ II all night, going to school the next day with blurry eyes and disoriented speech patterns from a lack of sleep. I would fake sick to stay home and play. I even turned down free alcohol in high school on occasion because I wanted nothing more than to sit at my sister’s dorm room and play Civ III on her computer. It was in the world of Civilization that I discovered and grew my absolutely undying love of turn-based strategy games. While I may not go as far to say that my entire nerdom was developed because of Civilization, it absolutely played a crucial role in turning me into a gamer and a geek.

I give you this background so you can contextualize my review. It is not the review of an unbiased person. I love Civ. I talk about it in my scholarship, and I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it, making it a very important game to me. Most of the time when I turn a critical eye on a game, it becomes less enjoyable. Civ is magical.

So, does Beyond Earth hold up to my very high standards for the Sid Meier games? Undoubtedly yes. I only meant to play an hour to make this a true Power Hour review, but I just couldn’t stop myself and ended up playing for most of the evening yesterday. Here is a breakdown of some of the pros and cons of the game.

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