February 23rd, 2015
Recently, one of the other women on the NYMGamer team shared a link to a Kickstarter for “Girlcraft,” a proposal for a Minecraft knockoff branded for girls. Same ideas, just pink and purple and full of fairies and rainbows. My heart sank as I read the description, but it didn’t matter in the end — the attempt is like a master class in what not to do on Kickstarter: no real plan, no details, and no need for the project. After all, there are plenty of mods that allow players to turn Minecraft into anything they’d like. There are already fairies galore (and mods branded Girlcraft!), and players don’t even have to resort to a lesser game to get there.
But that doesn’t mean the idea of giving girls their own branded entry point is going to go away simply because this particular Kickstarter is a nonstarter. Thanks to Lego Friends, Nerf Rebelle, and even products like GoldieBlox, girls get versions of toys, activities, and ideas just for them. This is good, right? This is how we’ll break down those lines between gendered toys and get girls to slowly move into boy-occupied spaces, right? Or instead, by handing girls special toys, are we simply telling them to stay separate? Why venture past “your” aisles in the toy store when you have weapons just for you right here? Read more »
February 22nd, 2015
I love weekends, but not because I get to hangout out later or sleep longer in the mornings because there is none of that when you have young children. I love weekends because we can cheat on bedtime a little and do more of the stuff that gets cut short with dinner prep, homework, and general school night madness. Last night as Pea and I snuggled up in bed listening to a Geronimo Stilton audiobook and doing some kiddie coding I got sad for just a second.
Now I know that it makes no sense to get sad in this perfect moment, but let me explain. Pea is six and right now she loves math and thinks that computers and video games are the coolest things on the planet. Rather than aspiring to be a cheerleader, model, or some such madness that is pushed upon young girls by society, she says she wants to be the next “Dr. B.” she wants to teach people how to make video games and there’s no doubt in my mind that she can do it. So here is where the sadness comes in. Recently, as researchers and educators have started to try to figure out why there are so few women in the STEM disciplines they have found that while girls generally out score boys in math and science until the 5th grade after that something changes. If 66% of 4th grade girls self report that they like science, doesn’t it seem odd that only 18% of girls actually pursue STEM majors like engineering in college. And it’s not the intellect of girls or boys, but rather the ways that they are treated by teachers and parents and how that treatment causes them to think about their own aptitude. One study suggests that since girls see their intelligence as a fixed thing while boys see theirs as something that they have to work at, so as things get more difficult girls are more likely to just give up when something does not come easily to them and boys are more likely to work at it. Read more »
February 21st, 2015
Episode 95: Strange Choices: Discussion of Life is Strange (Episode One) (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)
This week we talk about the first installment of DontNod’s episode game, Life is Strange. Spoiler alert, we talk about the entire episode.
February 21st, 2015
Somebody once told me that if I had put as much effort into my school work as I did with videogames, I would have been a straight A student. I shrugged my teenage shoulders and rolled my teenage eyes but deep down that comment hurt. I knew I was smart but I struggled in school because of attention deficit disorder and a learning disability. I preferred to lose myself in a gripping book or videogame because that’s where I found meaning. What’s so criminal about that? I was still learning. A visual medium just better suited a brain like mine.
Videogames are often viewed as fluff entertainment, a pointless hobby. This perspective amplifies the idea that games rot the brain. Personally, games brought out the best in me because they compelled me to think on a much deeper level. They taught me how to problem solve, how to work on a team, how to think creatively, and so on. A Link to the Past, the first game I ever finished, challenged my six-year-old brain with all of its puzzles and hidden treasures. I didn’t just sit and watch, I participated. Games held my attention because of their interactive nature. I needed a learning experience in order to retain information. How can video games rot the brain if they’re constantly stimulating it? Read more »
February 20th, 2015
My post for today was going to be specifically about Evan Narcisse’s article that talked about video games’ blackness problem, but as I sit down to write I find that it is only going to be tangentially connected.
Video games do have a blackness problem…and so do video game players. So let me explain. Narcisse is right that Black folks in video games are still stereotypically portrayed as something out of bad blaxploitation films. I won’t go into this too much right here because I have talked about it on NYMG before, so go back and check out my posts on Saint’s Row, Grand Theft Auto, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution (among others). It doesn’t go away and sadly, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Yesterday Pea and I had the treat of her being my assistant at work (thanks to subzero temperatures). As we walked around my games narratives class watching people play games and chatting about connections between what they were playing and the books that we are reading for class, we came upon a group of folks playing Indigo Prophecy. We talked about the representation of one of the game’s three protagonists, Tyler Miles, a Black man who dresses like a bad throwback from the 70s and even has what appears to be black velvet paintings on the walls of his apartment (the original game was released in 2005 and this version was the newly remastered 2015 version). We kind of summed it up as “clearly, game designers think that Black folks are stuck in the 70s” (at best) and the voice of reason came from Pea who looked at us, thoroughly confused, and said “Mama, you’re Black and you’re not stuck in the 70s!”. We all laughed, adding to her confusion, but it was one of those laugh to keep from crying moments. Pea missed the sarcasm, but drove home a point for me. People ask me all the time why I keep writing about and researching race and gender in video games and the video game industry. Why would anyone want to work in an area that is so filled with racism, sexism, homophobia, and misogyny. And yesterday really summed it up for me. My daughter, my kiddo, my baby loves to play video games and will most likely be a gamer for many years to come. Why should she have to look at shoddy representations of women, queer folks, and people of color? Why should she have to see something portrayed that is not only offensive, but completely inaccurate? Why should Tyler be dressed like a pimp on casual Friday in 2005 or 2015? Read more »
February 19th, 2015
In an interview published last week on Game Informer, Rhianna Pratchett, writer for the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider and the upcoming game Rise of the Tomb Raider, was questioned about how Lara Croft’s long history of overt over-sexualization and persistent objectification was handled with these latest reboots. For most of her pixelated life, Lara was, as Game Informer described, “a sexed up caricature of femininity.” This isn’t to say that she wasn’t an admirable character in other aspects or that she had no other remarkable personality traits, but it’s hard to argue that was was very much created with the male gaze and female sexuality in mind. Normally I might have just read over Pratchett’s answer to fulfill my own curiosity, but the way the question was worded sparked a bit of internal debate within myself. Rather than merely asking about how Lara is being presented in these most recent reboots, Game Informer asked if Pratchett thought if Lara could be sexy, given her “rocky” history with the trait. Pratchett responding with the following:
“I personally don’t have an issue with female characters being sexy. However, in the past the industry has suffered from sexy merely being used as a solo personality trait. Likewise, the definition of what constitutes sexy has been very narrow and frequently meant overly sexualized, which was off-putting for some. We definitely need more diversity in this area and to create more characters who’re sexy because they’re smart, funny, thoughtful, loyal, textured and flawed people, on top of whatever they may look like. I still think Lara’s sexy. She’s beautiful, fierce, empathetic, determined and smart – which arguably she was before. But now she’s just not sexualized. I think that decision has definitely helped us reach new audiences.”
Pratchett raises a good point: too often “sexiness,” especially for women, is equated solely with physical attractiveness. Even more specifically, “sexiness” – especially in video games and other forms of popular media, but still sadly true in the “real world” as well – becomes synonymous with dressing and looking in a way that is pleasing to and aligns with the male gaze. It becomes synonymous with inappropriate and overly revealing outfits for female characters, female character designs that conform to Western beauty ideals, and a female character’s first revealed or primary character trait being her physical attractiveness rather than their ambition, their strength, or any other positive personality traits. However, more than this, Game Informer’s question and Pratchett’s response that followed made me really wonder if a female character can still be physically “sexy” but still remain her status as a positive representation of women or well-developed character? Are these things mutually exclusive?
Read more »
February 18th, 2015
This week, I’m reviewing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Zelda fans will need to bear with me a bit because I’m a relative noob to Zelda games. My only other experience with Zelda was playing a few hours of A Link Between Worlds. And while, I enjoyed A Link Between Worlds, at some point I got stuck, and I wasn’t engaged enough in the game to go back and redo a whole bunch of stuff, so I abandoned it. (This almost happened again in Majora’s Mask, but more on that later.)
When I saw the trailers for Majora’s Mask, I knew I wanted to give a Zelda game another try. The trailers looked dark, and I love a good dark story in a game. And, Majora’s Mask didn’t disappoint on this front. I found many of the characters super creepy (no spoilers, but you can see some of this in the trailers), particularly the big, creepy moon. Many of the landscapes and characters work well with the dark story line, which is basically that you have 72 hours to save the world from an ancient evil. Read more »
February 16th, 2015
As a young child, I played games with both my mother and father in different ways. I remember playing Ms. Pac-Man with my mother; there was a machine in one of the restaurants where she worked, and we huddled over it many an afternoon, taking turns navigating the mazes and avoiding ghosts. With my father, it was Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and The Legend of Zelda — we poured weeks into Zelda, playing again and again. The first time we played, we got stuck at that hungry Goriya. We were there for days, trying to figure out just what “grumble, grumble” meant. Maybe I thought of it, and maybe he did. I don’t remember that. What I do remember is jumping around in my grandmother’s kitchen, jubilant and celebrating, because we’d figured out how to move on.
I find myself thinking about that moment a lot these days, because my father died in 2012 and it was one of our best moments together, a pure moment from my childhood, actual happiness not sullied by his alcoholism, or my grandmother’s. We had precious few of those, even as I grew up. My father spent a long stretch of my adult life in prison, and was only out for a few years before he succumbed to cancer, but even then, there are few moments as good as our realization that it was the Goriya’s desire for a snack that was keeping us from progressing. I think of that moment, too, because I play so many games with my son, and I wonder which moments he’ll remember twenty-thirty years from now. What he’ll think about when he’s playing with his own children, if he has any. Read more »
February 15th, 2015
The internet is for porn
The internet is for porn
Why you think the net was born?
Porn, porn, porn.
~”The Internet is For Porn,” Avenue Q
I like innuendo. Sex jokes. Swear words. “Romantic” scenes in books and movies. Dark humor.
I’m also Ms. Prim-and-Proper on the surface. It’s not an act, so much as I never really figured out how to be casual and ridiculous without also being unprofessional so I usually default to a Good-Girl persona at work and school. Maybe that’s why I love the opening of Avenue Q, when Kate Monster sweetly sings that:
I’m kinda pretty
And pretty damn smart.
I like romantic things like music and art.
And as you know I have a gigantic heart,
So why don’t I have a boyfriend?
It sucks to be me!
Story of my life, girl.
Kate is also a kindergarten teacher (I used to teach middle school), who is passionate about teaching digital rhetoric (okay, the internet. Close enough). Up until this point, I feel like I’ve just met my spirit animal.
Except Kate…slightly racist, pedagogy-loving, f**k-saying Kate, is utterly and completely appalled at the idea of people looking up porn on the internet.
Read more »
February 14th, 2015
I hadn’t heard of the episode until the night that it aired. Even then I only noticed it whilst browsing Wednesday’s TV Guide: an episode of Law & Order SVU involving gaming, and, more specifically, violence against women in the gaming industry. My eyebrow was metaphorically raised in interest, but some skepticism kept me from tuning in to watch the premier (that and for the sake of maintaining TV-control harmony with my roommate). Although I knew, given the typical content of Law & Order SVU, what was bound to happen, I held some hope that maybe the episode would draw some attention to the real threat some women in gaming face on a daily basis. So did it? Well… that’s a complicated question. Trigger Warning: as it occurs in the episode, there is some mention of physical and sexual assault below.
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