Archive for the ‘Articles’ category

As You Know I Am Pro: Weird Observations on Black Women in Videogames

March 30, 2015

So recently I noticed a spike in hits on my article “Lisa and Japan’s Skintone Threshold”. Come to find out the source of this spike was a thread on NeoGAF and a series of Facebook posts from our dear friend Tomonobu Itagaki, ex-head of Team Ninja.

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“The ACCUSATION:

This is a CRIME against the entire world.
IT’S TOTALLY A DISCRIMINATION BY COLOR.

Who on earth is she?
Who the hell forced our beloved Lisa to change her skin color?

Again.
IT’S TOTALLY A DISCRIMINATION BY COLOR.

 

If they have any love and respect to the characters, I never order anything .
Certainly, Lisa is a virtual woman who is in everyone’s mind. But the changing her race, it is blasphemy to humanity. So I’m talking about this matter with you guys.

In addition, there is another matter that I never forgive.
They pointlessly forced the heroines to get old. According to my analysis, the failure of DOAD caused it. Kasumi, Ayane had to get old by their crappy fault.

Morons who don’t know the entertainment always bring fatal disaster.
That’s why I hate moron developers.

 

I assure that it’s not matter of lighting issue.
This criminal pic was rendered by OBVIOUS DISCRIMINATORY
intention. As u know im pro.”

Alright, first of all, Lisa looks nothing like that in-game. Secondly, why are you complaining about DOA5 now?! This, of course, isn’t the first time Itagaki has done that. In recent interviews he complained about the new Team Ninja ruining his game and made other critical tweets on it.

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The thing is, how they “ruined” DOA5 was by turning it into a deep legitimate fighting game and not a mindless button masher. As for his other complaint? That would be the 3 year time skip between DOA4 and DOA5 which he sees as “pointless”. The reason for the time skip? Oh, right. Kasumi and Ayane were SIXTEEN in all previous DOAs (which was why their age was changed to N/A in America). That’s right, Marie Rose is actually older than Ayane and Kasumi when they were first introduced.

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To make a long story short, Itagaki is just trolling. This is nothing new. Remember his infamous crusade aginst Tekken? Well apparently he’s good buddies with the Tekken team. This is just Itagaki’s way of stirring up controversy because that is what he does and why we love him.

 

However, I do want to comment on this because the NeoGAF thread on this topic is an embarassment. Even though the game has been out for years, has a Free To Play version, and there are hundreds of thousands of pictures of Lisa out there, a depressing amount of the thread actually thinks the image Itagaki posted is actually from the game. It’s not. It is from a very rarely seen promotional render (I actively LOOKED for it and never found it!).

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If you had ever played the game you would know that while Lisa is a bit more pale than in some installments, she is far from “whitewashed”. Indeed, lighting has a huge effect on skintone which was what caused my initial article. Remember, I wrote that pre-release due to concern about Lisa’s skin color because of past examples. Post-release, while I think she could use a bit of a tan, it is nowhere near as bad as what happened to Vanessa or even Angol Moa!

LisaLighting(your monitor will affect it too. I can barely see the difference on my laptop monitor but it is very noticeable via HDMI out to my TV)

Wanna know what’s really nuts? Check out the Movie Player option for La Mariposa and Lisa’s win poses:

LisaLaMariposa

It’s the same character, the same character model, yet somehow there is a VERY noticeable difference in skintone in these in-game thumbnails! I…have no clue how that even works as attempts to recreate this effect have failed.

 

Indeed, the art book for the game shows her design sketches with a VERY dark skintone and describes her as the LEAST changed character design in the game (they consider Elliot to be the most changed). I would argue this point but whatever. The point is, disaster was averted.
I do still feel the article is interesting and worth reading though as the overall theme was why this was an accidental thing, Japanese culture, and how there is a very specific tan that seems most popular. But nuances like this tend to get lost when everyone wants to get outraged and call everyone else racist.

 

How about we turn those mirrors in on ourselves? A striking amount of people assumed Lisa, an American, was a Ganguro girl. Why would they assume this? Because she doesn’t “look black”.

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Similarly, a very large group of people insisted she must be Latina because she “doesn’t look black”. A point that Itagaki has sadly conceded to on Facebook.

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This happens VERY FREQUENTLY with these kinds of characters. I remember when Aisha from Rumble Roses first appeared and everyone assumed she was Ganguro and some still consider her Latina even though she is so stereotypically black she borders on racist! (If she wasn’t so fucking awesome!)

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Then we get into anime and Yoruichi and…yeeeah…

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It’s honestly like there is a fear of an attractive female character being black! Correction, there IS a fear of it. Remember, I was in the trenches of the “Is Lisa Black” wars of the original Xtreme Beach Volleyball over a decade ago! I saw some shit. I seriously saw people say that Lisa COULDN’T be black because she was too hot and thus must be Latina.

 

Look, I’m just gonna be blunt: I think black women are hot. That’s what this is really all about.

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More accurately, I think ALL races are hot! Every race has unique features which makes them beautiful and that should be embraced. However, while finding Asian women hot is considered normal and finding Latina women hot is pretty much expected, black women are bizarrely treated differently. Like women of African decent are the one kind of woman you are NOT supposed to consider hot.

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Oh egad if you knew the number of black girls I know who have a complex about that. Who hate being black. The answer is 3, which is also 100% of the black women I know.

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Yeeeeeeeeaaaaah…that’s a fucking issue.

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But here’s where it gets extra weird: White guys are generally not allowed to be attracted to black women. To the openly racist folks, it’s weird because black women aren’t attractive. To black people it’s weird because white people aren’t supposed to like black women. This weirdness doubles because a lot of these black guys prefer white women yet consider a white guy being attracted to black women to be “taking away our women”. Yes, seriously. Then you get the “progressives” who think white men shouldn’t be attracted to black women because it’s “exoticising”!

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Somehow we have a situation where black women aren’t attractive and it is racist to think they are. The fuck is wrong with the world?!

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Want an extra weird bonus? I have a friend who likes “delicious brown girls” in anime, but when I showed him my custom Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires character he got weirded out because I tried to make her ACTUALLY LOOK BLACK!

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Yeah, didn’t make that out of somekind of misguided sense of “Social Justice”. I made that because I wanted to know if I could make a hot black girl in Dynasty Warriors. I did.

Think that’s weird? We ain’t even getting started. I noticed that what few black women we have in Western made games (as in pre-made, not customs) were usually in zombie games and NEVER sexualized! Yes, it is here that the LACK of sexualization becomes weird. Why? Because it tells me these characters are only included to show how “progressive” the developers are.

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Now keep in mind I’m not saying these characters aren’t attractive. Purna’s artwork in particular looks gorgeous. But you can see a very noticeable difference between how these characters are portrayed versus their lighter skinned counterparts. (Also, how is it every single one I know is from a 4-player co-op zombie game?!)

What’s EXTRA weird is that even during the “Gangsta” game rush of the late PS2 era, finding a sexy black girl was like finding a needle in a haystack. Watching Matt & Woolie go through those many digital embarassments in their “Cryme Tyme” series, I quickly noticed that all of the women were either white or Asian! WTF?!

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Now obviously I have no qualms with portraying black women in a non-sexualized way. But if I want a crazy hot black girl, you know where I have to go? JAPAN.

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Yeah, the country where light skin is traditionally considered beautiful and they often have difficulty telling people of African decent from people of Indian decent. There are more hot black women in Japanese games than in Western ones. Figure THAT out! Mostly they come from either Shoji Kawamori (creator of Macross, has a black girl in nearly everything he makes) or SEGA (whose older games were frequently aimed at a Western audience).

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Now, I don’t wanna say Japan is the pinnacle of progressiveness. That’s stupid. Just like saying an ENTIRE COUNTRY is “racist” or “sexist” is. I know I dance around saying things close to that but I only speak of “traditional” beliefs which are always bullshit.

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Rather I want to imply the opposite. That our concerns about not being racist may infact make us racist. Obviously that isn’t all of America, but that is a disconcerning mindset I feel many have.

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Again: Sexy black women is racist, they have to be Latina!

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Yeeeeeeeah…

Now, one interesting thing in that NeoGAF thread was Cia, the main villain of Hyrule Warriors. When she was good she had very pale white skin and when she turned evil she got a tan. As some pointed out this is visual shorthand like the way “Dark Link” is evil. But, as was also pointed out, Dark Link has literally jet black skin like a shadow whereas Cia has deeply tanned skin like an actual person of assorted ethnic decent. Wanna know why? Because they wanted her to be sexy. It’s kinda hard (though not impossible) to make jet black skin sexy, but deeply tanned skin? Oh yeah!

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What did I say about not implying Japan was the pinnacle of progressiveness? Indeed they seem to have put Cia’s sexiness over not appearing racist because the idea just didn’t occur to them. The result is a hot evil woman with dark skin. Ain’t gonna lie, I am totally okay with this and think everyone is reading too much into it anyway. They’re not even human anyway, they’re Hylians so…I dunno.

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The Shantae skin color incident was also brought up and I *really* hated the way the poster portrayed it. To quote him directly:

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“WayForward was also guilty of it and only modified their sprites when they realised the backlash wouldn’t calm down.”

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This irritates me because I have been a Shantae fan since before Day 1 (jumped on the WayForward hype train with Xtreme Sports) and indeed Shantae’s tanned skin was a majorly attractive feature of her. However, each subsequent game made her slightly lighter with some knuckleheads even referring to her “enhanced GBA color pallet” (she’s lighter in GBA Mode because the original GBA made GBC colors darker and muddier so ALL of the GBA colors are lighter than the GBC ones to counterbalance this).

ShantaeSprites

Yes, this annoyed me and when I saw her in Half-Genie Hero I couldn’t believe it as she was paler than Sky!

PalerThanSkyThis wasn’t “whitewashing” to me just going against her character design. She looked like a demon instead of a genie (the somewhat Disgaea-esque new art didn’t help)! Tanned skin was a trademark of the character! But when this was brought to WayForward’s attention they admitted it was an accident that they did not notice and fixed it.

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But this is why I am in such a weird place whenever this topic gets brought up: I love Shantae, I love WayForward, I love dark skinned women, I DID complain about the pale skin. But when someone declares WayForward to be RACIST because of it?! “Only changing it when they realized the backlash wouldn’t calm down”?! That makes me angry. It was an accident. It was a WEIRD accident. It’s a very telling accident of our culture. However calling the fine folks at WayForward racist and feeling like you’re some crusader of justice because you bitched at them until they bent to your whim? That’s bullshit.

Similarly though, all of the people saying “don’t censor WayForward” and “not every character needs to be a PoC” drove me NUTS! I DON’T wanna censor WayForward! But this isn’t Shantae’s normal skintone! I mean in many ways it’s the same as complaining about New Dante/Don’te. Fan of the series, liked the character the way they were, noticed a weird change and is wondering why.

I complained because pale Shantae is bland and unattractive. Seriously.

 

As for Lisa’s race? I like to subscribe to the “mixed as fuck” theory. I mean no one can pinpoint it. In some ways she looks like Halle Barry, in others a bit like Beyonce, and in others she does indeed look Latina. You can’t really pinpoint it. The only clue to her ethnicity is dark skin and that she is “American”. So, I say go all the way with the American thing! We’re all a mix of ethnicities here. You tell me Lisa is Black, Latina, Brazillian, Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander? I’d totally believe that. (I’d also agree that her race is “Sexy”, but no one gets Surfroid references)

LisaPop
No, I don’t care what Itagaki says because he’s just saying whatever it takes to make DOA5 look bad because he’s jealous of how much more awesome it is without him.

Look, I don’t wanna imply that I’m some pinnacle of progressiveness. That’s bullshit. This is just a collection of unusual observations I have made and you can make of them what you will. I am who I am and that’s a guy who likes hot women of every race. Maybe that makes me a racist somehow. It almost certainly makes me sexist by SOMEONE’S definition. If so then fuck it because I don’t give a fuck anymore.

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Because as you know, I am Pro.

#GamerGate: Reaching Across the Aisle

September 28, 2014

No doubt by this point you’ve heard of #GamerGate, a movement quickly spreading across the internet from discontented gamers who felt attacked by the very journalists who cover their hobby. However, claims that the movement is a misogynistic attack against women in the gaming industry abound and it is very easy to see the movement that way: Though we claim to be about ethics in game journalism, there is a large focus on Social Justice Warriors.

It is no secret that I am vehemently pro-GamerGate. However, nothing is going to be accomplished by attacking people, we need to reach across the aisle.

I recently read an article from The Escapist where a random collection of female game developers discussed their opinions on GamerGate. While one was in favor of it, many of the others were opposed to it. What I saw was a lot of confusion, misinformation, and good questions. These people are not our “enemy”. No one is. Even the people actively attacking us are still people, they think what they are doing is right. In reality they don’t understand that we too are people, that behind the incoherent and offensive ramblings of enraged gamers are some very human grievances.  We need to make them understand our side of the story and we need to understand theirs. As such I’ve decided to answer some of the good questions raised in The Escapist’s article so as to clarify what is going on.

 

#1) Why hasn’t anyone complained about “Corruption” before?

Okay I have to be honest, when folks in GamerGate hear this one it is almost a joke. We have been complaining for years about how corrupt game journalism is! There’s the running joke of Geoff “Dorito Pope” Keighly, there’s /v/ The Musical, there’s the legend of Jeff Gerstmann, there have been many noteable instances of corruption and we have complained. So this raises a more important question…

 

#1.5) What’s different about this instance of corruption?

It is clear that there is something different this time though. This is more than just some complaining and jokes on a messageboard, it’s much bigger this time. On the surface the difference appears to be that a woman was involved in the aformentioned corruption, making it seem incredibly sexist. However, I disagree. The thing that made it different “this time”, was censorship.

When MundaneMatt’s video on it was pulled, many people raised an eyebrow and began talking about it more. When those discussions on Reddit and 4chan, some of the least moderated sites on the internet, got covered up? People took notice. That is a huge red flag! They censored 4chan?! Considering all the filthy, dirty, awful shit that gets posted there, this is what crossed the line?! This has never happened before. Not with Geoff Keighly, not with Jeff Gerstmann, not even with Anita! The degree and magnitude of censorship was startling! Either someone has too much power, or someone is hiding something big.

In reality, the indie dev in question just happens to have a magnetic personality it seems. Seriously, I have a friend who retweets her stuff and she seems like a really fun person. I could easily see her making a lot of friends in high places without needing corruption of any kind.

However, we’ve also uncovered a lot of questionable things as well: Indie Fest scams, journalist collusion, conflicts of interest, censorship, harassed devs, honestly there are so many things I can’t even remember them all. Even if some of them are exaggerations, the facts seem to show what can best be described as “a fucking problem” in the industry.

Then the journalists decided to all write articles telling gamers how awful they are. Nearly 15 articles all posted on the same day from different news sites.

Yeah, that is gonna go down in history as the gaming equivalent of “New Coke”. This whole discussion would have fizzled out by now had they not gone and attacked gamers directly like that. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really care until then. Game Journalism is corrupt? So what else is new. However, when they confirmed my suspicions that game journalists feel they are superior to gamers and even actively HATE them?! Okay, now I’m mad.

Then you get idiots declaring that games shouldn’t be fun and you get people demanding their heads! …or at least their jobs. They clearly don’t understand the medium and hate their audience so it is kind of hard to consider them qualified for the job anymore! I get that this is a harsh statement but it’s mind boggling. Why would you attack your audience like this?

This isn’t a new thing either. The Mass Effect 3 ending debacle or the DmC reboot showed a clear divide between game journalists and gamers. They were more content to just declare gamers to be a bunch of whiny angry babies than actually try to understand their legitimate issues with these things. Is it so much to ask for game journalists to try and understand where their audience is coming from?

 

#2) Why is #GamerGate so focused on SJWs if this is about ethics in journalism?

This is a very good question, and one I asked myself as I will be honest: I’m here more because of the SJWs than ethics. So what do the two have to do with eachother?

Well first we need to understand what an SJW or Social Justice Warrior even is. SJW was coined as a derogatory term for people who took their Social Justice causes too far and attacked people (hence “Warrior”, though “Crusader” would have been better). It is not anti-Social Justice and speaking personally I have no qualms with Social Justice Activists. I also approve the term because it directs people away from using the word “feminist” as feminists are not the problem either and I don’t want to paint them with a broad brush.

In essence a Social Justice Warrior is like a Troll, except for Social Justice…and I think that’s what makes them worse.

Because, you see, Trolls understand that what they are doing is wrong. They get that they are harassing a person to get a response out of them. Social Justice Warriors, however, do not. They feel they are fighting for what is right, that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. As such, the ends justify the means. Anyone that tells you to cool it? Shout “Tone Policing” at them! I have even heard some say “It doesn’t matter how you say it as long as the message is good!”. I disagree.

I think my favorite example right now is a harassment campaign against The Empire State Building. Yes, seriously. A campaign to get it lit up for Childhood Cancer Awareness was rejected due to it coming from an individual instead of an organization and it not being planned a year ahead of time (which is standard procedure for the Empire Stat Building). The response? A gang of people complaining about the Empire State Building whenever it is mentioned and active phone harassment of it’s employees, with people wishing them to “get cancer”.

Yes, I’m sure that’s fine. I mean it doesn’t matter how you say it as long as the message is good, right? You’re just raising awareness for Childhood Cancer is all!

With people getting so morally self-righteous, it ironically becomes easy for them to leave their morals behind and thus engage in corrupt acts.

However, as mentioned, the thing that really “blew up” and turned a mild scandal into the beast known as #GamerGate was when 15 articles declaring “Gamers are Over” all came out at the same time. The sentiment in all of them was the same: that the general gamer demographic is vile, hateful, and misogynistic. These kinds of statements were dripping with SJW-ism. To say it “struck a nerve” would be an understatement. It is because of this that gamers really got mad and as such SJWs remain at the forefront of the issue.

This article on sensationalist journalism and how it pertains to #GamerGate is fascinating as well and also shows why SJWs are a major focus of anti-corruption.

 

#3) Why does it seem like women are most frequently attacked if this isn’t about gender?

Ah, now this is a really good question! I admit, even to me it looks this way.

Let me make one thing clear here: Yes, women are being harassed. Yes, this is not okay because harassment is never okay. No one deserves to be harassed. No one is an “acceptable target”. Even Jack Thompson, the legendary anti-gamer lawyer, did not deserve the level of harassment he got.

So are women being harassed more than men? I am not sure.

First of all, there are multiple layers of confirmation bias to wade through. Game journalists have been insisting that women get more harassment than men for years and as such we’re trained to believe it. We see a woman getting harassed? Oh that’s proof that women get harassed more than men, even though we have no men to compare this against.

Men definitely get abuse too though. The difference is that no one gives a crap. Men being harassed on the internet isn’t news. However, women being harassed is! So when a woman is harassed, they get a lot more attention. Journalists will hold up the woman as yet another example of the blatant sexism and misogyny in the industry.

Making matters worse are the guys who just want to do good and feel defending a woman is the best way to do this. These “White Knights” often mean well, but they draw attention to the suffering of women they agree with, again emphasizing it. They would rarely do this for a man because men “can defend themselves”. These White Knights also frequently ignore any legitimate complaints against the woman in question, because they are a woman. This makes matters much worse. People who disagree with the woman in question see the hoards of men blindly following everything the woman says and attacking all who disagree with her. This makes them resent the woman even more as she inadvertently acts as their ring leader. Admittedly this raises the hostility of people who disagree with the woman and aggravates further attacks. They see the actions of a hoard of blind White Knights acting in her name as being her own actions. On top of that, the woman may see her blind army of sycophants as “allies” or a target audience or whatever and they begin to isolate her from legitimate criticism. It becomes too easy then to ignore the outside world.

This can happen to the most innocent, well meaning woman. Let’s not even think about what happens if a woman has an ulterior motive.

It is in this way that women may well get more abuse than men. They also get more support and that support in turn can be abusive to others.

In many ways this is also at the heart of GamerGate: We’ve seen women say and do some awful things, yet we are not allowed to criticize them otherwise we’re “misogynists”. This puts us in a tight spot: where is the line between criticism and harassment? Are we seriously not allowed to speak out if the person we are speaking out against is a woman?

I know this statement sounds sexist. It is. I have found it is impossible to talk about sexism without first being sexist: You have to accept that one gender is getting unequal treatment and thus, in turn, you give that gender unequal defense. Thus those who feel it is the other gender which has it worse will find your statement to be sexist. It’s unavoidable and I apologize, but the fact is that both genders are treated differently in both “positive” and “negative” ways.

I guess what I’m saying is that no one deserves harassment, but no one is exempt from criticism and exactly where the line between criticism and harassment is can be difficult to figure out.

 

#4) #GamerGate has some sketchy origins, why not use #GameEthics if that is what you really care about?

The general consensus is that if we split the movement like this, we would weaken it. #GamerGate is an accepted hashtag that many have heard about. If we were to use #GameEthics we’d inadvertantly leave some honest people behind. More than that, it would allow #GamerGate to be attacked while #GameEthics is ignored.

“Oh I support #GameEthics, but #GamerGate is full of horrible awful people! Look how horrible these #GamerGate people are!”

Let us not forget that many very intelligent claims have been made under the #GamerGate banner and if we let it be attacked, then we wind up discrediting ourselves. It’s complicated, messy, and tricky but there is good reason behind it. Yes, #GamerGate has some reprehensible assholes in it but we have to stand by it or it loses it’s impact.

 

#5) There are plenty of games made for gamers, why are they complaining?

This is something I think needs to be clarified. I repeatedly hear people saying this and listing off games like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Indeed those games are in no danger of going away. However, they aren’t the games we’re worried about. While gamers do enjoy these games for the most part, they are “mainstream” games and aren’t really made for gamers, they’re meant to appeal to the mainstream audience. Most videogames are made for a mainstream audience, especially AAA games. As such, gamers do feel marginalized in their own hobby that they’ve loved for decades! It is a very awkward feeling, but one we understand for the most part: these games are what sell.

So what do gamers want? Well it varies depending who you talk to as all gamers want different things. Generally it’s the older console gamers that feel really burnt. Gaming has become very PC-centric (even on consoles) and arcade-style or Japanese games are becoming an increasing rarity. To be honest, I have met all my friends through gaming. Most of them did not buy a 7th gen console. They didn’t stop gaming, they just stuck to emulators and the DS where good old fashioned games still occasionally flourished like Radiant Historia and Monster Tale. I would kind of like you to think about that: some hardcore gamers skipped an entire 7 year console generation because of the lack of appealing titles. I think you’ll also find a lot of #GamerGaters are hardcore JRPG nerds, hence the anime avatars.

The anger, however, comes from the way these games fall through the cracks. GTA and CoD are guaranteed good scores, they’re popular big name games. Meanwhile art haus indie games that are more focused on a “message” than on their own gameplay get held up as these pinnacles of what gaming should be. But what about everything else? What about those mythical mid-tier games? Well they get lazy reviews, minimal promotion, and frequently become the target of claims of “sexism” and “misogyny”. It’s almost as though they’re used to show the publication isn’t biased! “See? We give out bad scores too! Look at this otherwise decent mid-tier game we slammed!” “See? We care about serious issues in gaming, we gave this obscure Japanese game a boatload of crap!”. I know that’s probably sort of confirmation bias, but it certainly is how it feels to me.

Of special note for me is the reception of the DmC reboot, whose main menu featured an animated image of Dante getting a psuedo-blowjob from angel strippers. I did not see a single review complain about that and instead they focused entirely on bashing Devil May Cry fans for being whiny babies. Now I am not implying that this should be changed or that Ninja Theory shouldn’t be allowed to have controversial imagery in their games, merely that it comes off as hypocritical. Why is DOA5 featuring sexy fighting women who make up half the cast “sexist and horrible” while DmC which features no playable women and continually features them as sex objects “okay”? It feels like the answer is “because one had a huge marketing budget and the other didn’t” or “because one had a huge backlash from gamers we hate and the other has a bad reputation”. It just feels weird to see them turn off their self-righteousness out of nowhere for this one game then bring it back later in full force.

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One can’t expect every reviewer to have the same taste as you. Taste is subjective, we all like and dislike different things. However we see a lot of homogeny across various game publications. We see a lot of the same attitudes, the same messages being pushed, the same games getting promoted. I have to say I am very glad that #GamerGate has inspired more alternative game sites who aren’t part of an insular clique and may have some different opinions than what we see in the mainstream gaming press.

 

#6) No one is trying to “Take away your videogames”!

I hear this statement all the time from people, usually said in a sarcastic eye-rolling manner. However, I disagree. Though they may not realize it, they are trying to take away my videogames and I have an issue with that. Let me explain: The major focus of much of the sensationalist SJW message being pushed by the gaming media is negative. Videogames are sexist, this character is sexist, this story is sexist. What are we supposed to do with these claims? The only logical answer is to change or get rid of the sexist things, right? This seems reasonable on the surface. No one likes sexism! It’s bad!

However, what if my reading of a character is different from yours? What if what appears to be sexist to you actually seems super progressive to me? What if the developers intended something to be progressive but it came off as sexist to some? These questions appear to not be allowed. Anyone that would dare question if something is or isn’t sexist is clearly a misogynist! Trying to spin a blatantly sexist thing to be positive just shows how blind you are to your own sexism and how systemic the problem really is!

But, if you look for sexism hard enough, you will find it. Some sexism is a cultural artifact of ancient times (“women are weaker than men”), some sexism is actually pushed as being progressive (“violence against women is the ultimate evil”), some sexism is utterly accidental (“Lara Croft isn’t psycho, she just has 5 different writers!”). These issues need to be discussed with nuance on a broad cultural scale, not with a pin-point focus on videogames exclusively. and accusing a developer of “sexism!!!” isn’t going to help anyone.

Let me give you a few examples of things with multiple readings:

Hyperdimension Neptunia – A bunch of cute girls representing different game companies reenact the console wars. The characters are all female and designed to blatantly appeal to various male tastes. Outfits are tight and skimpy, skirts are short, faces are adorable. This game is frequently held up as the pinnacle of sexist game design. However, with an all female cast the Bechdel Test is passed with ease. With this many women they have to act differently or the game would be bland. These ladies run their own countries and fight villains in the name of good. Isn’t that progressive? Or does their attire and questionable age invalidate all of this?

Dead or Alive 5 – Busty women fight it out in a tournament while wearing skimpy clothes. Clearly sexist! These women are just meant to be eye candy! …that fight and win against men. The case is (or was before DLC) a 50/50 split between men and women. With this many women, once again, differing personalities are required and some of them must be important to the plot. The inciting incident of the series was Kasumi trying to rescue her brother from an evil corporation. Helena acts as the head of the reformed DOATEC now years later. Lisa is a brilliant scientist responsible for many of the ethically questionable scientific breakthroughs of DOATEC despite being a nice person. It is also worth noting that DOA5 features the option to wear normal clothes for many female characters and the ability to turn off the boob physics. On the other hand, some of the DLC outfits are jaw-droppingly skimpy.

Ar Tonelico – An RPG series about guys who fight alongside robot-ish women who use magical singing power. Initially I was very much against this game because the main women just sit in the back row and sing while the men fight and defend them on the front lines. What’s more, you cannot date the one woman who actually fights on the front line. This annoyed me and I considered the game horribly offensive. However, in retrospect there is some positivity there. Though most of the women don’t fight on the front lines, their songs do have incredible power. More than that is the dating mechanics which involve diving into a world made of the robot-ish ladies’ own mind. Again a weird premise which could be interpreted as being brainwashing OR it could be interpreted as a very personal psychiatrist session. In these worlds you help these women through their problems. The one that really stood out to me was one character whose world is this cute happy fairytale world…until you get further in and you find a disjointed broken world made of nothing but darkness. Come to find out her cute happy personality was just a mask hiding her true feelings and that deep inside she’s got serious issues. It was an unexpected and interesting twist that showed the character as someone much deeper than what you see on the surface.

Tomb Raider (reboot) – The game goes back to Lara’s “origins” showing how she became the “Tomb Raider” and the struggles she went through in a more action-centric adventure with a focus on survival. To me it was clear that they were trying to reboot her as a “strong female character” and a “survivor”. Her redesign was de-sexualized, her walk animation is procedurally generated to avoid excessive wiggle, there’s even a weird feminist undertone to some conversations. However, I myself found Lara to come off as an unhinged psychopath as her personality seemed to change between cutscenes and that the random nameless men you’re killing were far more interesting and likeable as characters. It felt like they were trying to hard and finding out the game had five writers explains many of the characterization issues. It’s no secret that I really really hate this game, but it’s intentions were attempting to be positive.

Atelier Meruru – An RPG where you play a Princess of a small kingdom who wants to learn alchemy. The agreement is that she can learn alchemy as long as she helps to improve the kingdom in both violent and non-violent ways. However, according to GameSpot, the protagonist is sexualized and thus the game is awful. This is, of course, ignoring the fact that all of the men (with the exception of the blacksmith) are smouldering hot pretty boys who you get to see naked in the bath at some point. Admittedly the same goes for the ladies too.

I admit that all of these opinions are incredibly biased and I do not pretend that one reading is more right than another. Rather I just want to show that something that may seem incredibly sexist to some may appear progressive to others and vice-versa. As such, trying to censor or ban these things would be unquestionably bad.

However, I have actually heard the argument that we do need to get rid of these games because, I kid you not, they “scare women away from gaming” and act as a giant “no girls allowed” sign. I am not even kidding. I remember both 1UP and MovieBob making this point as well as a friend of mine. In fact it is actually a commonly accepted response it seems. I find this highly problematic! As I just established, these games can be read in more than one way which is why censorship is never good.

However, let me throw you another odd fact: there are women who enjoy these games. Seriously, I have seen more female players in Dead or Alive 5 than in any other fighting game. One of my friends is a hardcore Neptunia fangirl who learned how to rig models exclusively so she could take the ripped Neptunia V models and put them in Left 4 Dead 2. One of the women who works at my local GameStop is a Bayonetta fangirl who cosplays her and bought Anarchy Reigns just because of Bayonetta being in it.

There are also women who hate these games and do find them offensive, or at least off-putting.

Is one group more right than another? I do not think so. As such, how can you ask to get rid of the games that one group likes?

“But no one is saying that!”

Perhaps not intentionally, but again: the excessive focus on the negative without any acknowledgement of the positive is a driving factor behind the belief that women are represented poorly in videogames. If all we do is complain about offensive games, what are companies supposed to take away from that? How is that not suggesting censorship? I have seen a few articles that actually end with “I don’t support censorship but…” which is just like saying “I’m not a racist but…” and you know it.

Even bad art has a right to exist.

 

#7) But isn’t #GamerGate just an attempt to excuse misogynistic actions in the gaming community?

I literally did not understand where the statement comes from but it keeps popping up. After thinking about it I guess it is referring to the harassment some women in gaming have received recently. In many ways this is a muddy area because while none of us condone harassment, we do find a few women worthy of criticism and often our criticism is painted as harassment because we’re criticizing women.

Similarly though, there is some rather harsh criticism that borders on harassment that sort of blurs together with the legitimate criticism and some legitimate criticisms are mixed with pot shots and ad hominim attacks at the subject.

The women are not being criticized because they are women though, it’s because we disagree with what they say or do and we feel we are not allowed to discuss this. While the criticism may be harsh it has nothing to do with gender. As has been repeatedly shown, Jack Thompson said similar things and received the same level of criticism and harassment. While he did not deserve that level of harassment, it does show that this is hardly gender related. Again, the reason why it feels that way is because while no one cared when we gave Jack Thompson crap, giving women crap on the internet is treated like a crime. It’s messy, but I do not feel misogyny has anything to do with it.

 

#8) What do #GamerGaters want?

There are so many varying voices and opinions on #GamerGate that it can be hard to figure out what we even want. When those anti-gamer articles dropped it pissed *everyone* off! In general though we would like at least some slightly stronger ethics in game journalism with more varied voices within the industry. We would like both sides of a story to be examined as well and for there to be less politics in game discussion. I know you can’t leave your politics behind and that everyone has some degree of bias but egad don’t push it so hard! Do not assume your politics are right, try and find a way to discuss your complaints in a more neutral way which may actually get more people on your side.

But above all else, we’d really just like it if game journalists showed some degree of respect towards their audience. I know some gamers are stupid. I met a guy in line once who was complaining about how there were no games on the Wii, *really* wanted Donkey Kong Country Returns, *owns* a Wii, but refused to buy it because he didn’t want to use his Wii…and proceeded to tell me about how it should have been on PS3 because Nintendo doesn’t own the rights to Donkey Kong. Sometimes gamers say some dumbass shit. However this person does not speak for all gamers, he speaks for himself. Just because there are a bunch of people saying stupid things doesn’t mean we all are and to lump us together like that is disingenuous.

Please, just try to see our side of things sometime.

 

 

 

So that about sums up the questions I’ve seen so far regarding #GamerGate. If you have any others, feel free to post them in the comments and I will try to tackle them, possibly in a second piece. I know some of my fellow gamers can be harsh and I hope we can learn to be more accepting and reasonable in the future.

I also hope that #GamerGate has taught us all a lesson. I frequently say that the people who most enjoy escapist media are those who have something to escape from. Many gamers are part of a traditionally marginalized group, a lot of them suffer from depression with games as their only escape, and I think a surprising amount could best be described as “not gender normative”.

Heck, it seems like there are so many transgendered people in gaming that you could actually find more evidence to support “Gaming makes you want to get a sex change” than “Gaming makes you violent” or “Gaming makes you sexist”! Interestingly, this isn’t some new trend either as if Jamie Fenton is to be believed this has been the case since before The Great Videogame Crash of 1983!

GamerGate and #NotYourShield have provided an instance where traditionally marginalized groups within the gaming community can stand up and say “I am a minority of some kind and SJWs do not speak for me”. I cannot stress enough that the focus on Social Justice pushed poorly by game journalists has actually increased the rift between various gamers. When you hear that everything you love needs to be changed to appease a random minority for no real reason, people can’t help but get angry at that group of people. In many ways it portrays them as an invading group of “outsiders”. Hearing them instead say “can you stop arbitrarily changing things, please?” has brought us perhaps a bit closer to eachother. I hope that it has opened the eyes of gamers to realize that these people are not an invading force trying to take away our games, but fellow gamers who have been here all along.

There is nothing I support more than increased inclusivity and character variety and I feel everyone deserves a game for them. However, there is nothing I oppose quite as much as arbitrarily changing the things we love in a ham-fisted attempt to make people feel socially conscious. I want people to make the games they want to make without fear of backlash. Criticism is deserved, but there is such a thing as taking it too far and that goes to all of us both Game Journalists and #GamerGaters.

Skylander’s Progressiveness and the Unwinnable War

May 15, 2014

If there’s one thing I hate about what is being called the “Videogame Culture War”, it would have to be the excessive amount of negativity. It’s claimed that videogames just ARE the single most sexist and mysoginistic thing on the planet and they need to COMPLETELY CHANGE in order to get with the times; anyone who disagrees? They’re a big sexist part of the problem, “proving” just how systemic it all is! Problems, problems everywhere! There’s no acknowledgement of the good games, the positive games, and the ways that videogames can help!

The recent announcement of Skylanders Trap Team got me playing around with Swap Force again. The first two games really weren’t that good, but Swap Force completely changed that and was a blast. As I played through a quick Arena Challenge with Punk Shock, the electric eel-folk Princess with a crossbow, I took a moment to marvel at just how unique the women of Skylanders were.

All the ladies in the game are colorful and interestingly designed, arguably without being sexualized, and able to fight right along side any of the male characters. Heck, a few of them aren’t even humanoid! I say “arguably” though because the term “sexualization” is kind of vaguely defined. Its definition is “to take something that isn’t sexual and make it sexual”. That of course raises numerous questions about what is and isn’t sexual and what it takes to make something sexual. Generally speaking though, most folks would classify that as sultry poses, come-hither bedroom eyes, exaggerated breasts, and slinky body language. However some might include lipstick, eyelashes, and any noticeable breasts at all. Either way, all jokes about Smoulderdash aside, Punk Shock is about as “sexualized” as Skylanders gets. (Well, her and Ninjini’s 3DS walk animation)

PunkShockPose

Yeah, not exactly the walking definition of sex. I mean of course it isn’t, it’s Skylanders! It’s a videogame that uses toys sold at Toys R Us for ages 5 and up! Sexualized women are the last thing you’d expect to see in such a game! Heck, women in general are the last thing you’d expect to see!

Which is what impresses me about Skylanders. I mean sure, the more characters you have in a game, the higher the probability of a female character showing up. Considering Skylanders started with 32 characters and now has about 80, yeah there should be some ladies in there! But exactly how many female characters are there in other classic Boy’s Toys lines like He-Man and Transformers? They were very few and far between. Probably because folks weren’t exactly comfortable with their little boys playing with girl figures.

But that’s the catch isn’t it? Skylanders is not a “Boy’s Toy” series! It’s honestly rather gender neutral! I’m not sure if this was intentional or if they were too busy hyping the whole toy-to-game inter-connectivity to engender the ads in any meaningful way, but the series has caught on with girls too! Thus we have toys of action girls that aren’t in “the pink aisle”.

More than that, the figures are designed to just plain be awesome. Not to be super pretty fashionistas or to be gruff battlebros. They’re just supposed to be appealing to whoever the heck likes them. They aren’t separated into some offshoot group, like the SkyLadies or something either. They are a part of the Skylanders just like everyone else! As such, you’d find many boys who would gravitate towards characters like Sprocket, Stealth Elf, or Scratch and be utterly unashamed of having a girl character. This is especially true when you factor in the collection element and the fact that the games sometimes come with a female character.

While we’re on the topic, you might have noticed that the female Skylanders also lack typical girly names. Stealth Elf, Smoulderdash, Star Strike, Whirlwind, Punk Shock, and Sonic Boom are not names I would assume belong to women. Hex, Cynder, and Ninjini are the most feminine names of any of them and they’re still surprisingly gender neutral.

The game itself also has a sizeable number of female characters in supporting roles. Enough to really prevent the world from feeling engendered in any way. Yes there is a point in Swap Force where one of the ladies is kidnapped (by a female villain, but still), but it’s hard to get mad at that when the character did so much before and there are so many other capable women in the game.

Now, yes, there aren’t that many female Skylanders. Out of the now 80 Skylanders, only 14 are female. However, 14 isn’t that small of a number and a choice of 14 female heroes does mean a lot. Especially because they’ve been here since the beginning!

The very first game in the series, Spyro’s Adventure (you almost forgot this was a Spyro game, didn’t you?), introduced five female characters.

SkyLadies_Series1

Immediately you’ve probably noticed that these are not your typical female characters. I mean, three of them aren’t even humanoid and one of them is so utterly devoid of gender signifiers that being told she’s female surprises people in spite of the fact that her main means of attack is laying eggs and sending baby griffons after you.

Yes, an utterly gender neutral designed female character who is also a mother. If we were judging characters based on strict checklists instead of who they are as characters, then Sonic Boom would undoubtedly come out on top!

SonicBoom

Skylanders Giants, disappointingly, only added 4 new females rather than the 5 the previous game had. In many ways it felt like they were just covering bases, being sure to get a female in all 8 elements and making sure there was a token female in the game’s title gimmick line of giants.

SkyLadies_Series2

However, for whatever it’s worth, this game did introduce special editions of characters. Series 2 re-releases of old characters in new poses with new moves, the light up Lightcore figures, and store exclusive alternate colors. I bring this up as it seems as though female Skylanders are highly prone to getting special editions. All five female Skylanders from the previous game saw Series 2 re-releases and three of them even made it to Series 3 (meaning they got re-released once for each game). Stealth Elf and Chill got Toys R Us exclusive Legendary versions, Flashwing got a Jade variant, and of course there’s Scarlet Ninjini and Lightcore Chill.

Again, I’m not exactly sure what “We only have 14 female characters, but we re-release them a whole lot” is worth, but they certainly aren’t ignored.

This brings me to Swap Force. Disappointingly there were no female Swappable characters, though there is probably a good reason. Namely people didn’t want questions to be raised about putting a female top on a male bottom. This is a kid’s game afterall and could you imagine how awkward that would be for parents to talk about? They could have restricted swapping to only figures of the same gender but that would take a lot of work to introduce an arbitrary limitation that would further engender the game and restrict players.

Interestingly the Swap Force team was asked about this in an interview and they insisted that the Swap Force characters were designed to be “gender neutral”. While this claim is questionable, their response does show that they are aware of the issue and do recognize the number of female players they have.

Honestly, it seemed like they had put in more female core Skylanders to make up for it but in reality it’s another 5. Same as the first game. However, one shouldn’t complain when said ladies are this awesome.

SkyLadies_Series3

Laying them all out like this, you do begin to notice trends. Namely that they add one non-humanoid in each new line and that a striking majority of these women have glowing pupiless eyes. Thus far Punk Shock is the only humanoid female with normal eyes. Just some odd observations.

I get that it seems like I’m making a big deal out of a bunch of minor observations. So what if the female characters lack engendered names? Why does it matter that they aren’t separated into a separate group of SkyLadies? What is the point of recognizing these things?

However, these very points are usually the kind of things folks complain about. These are the little stumbling points other products often have that cause some people to wag their finger in dismay. They’re minor on their own but it does add up. Here we have a group of 14 women that are a part of the same team as the guys. Them being female has little to no effect on their abilities, backstories, or their place in the team. Much of this stuff seems so normal that we take it for granted and often make the same mistakes over and over again. The fact that Skylanders avoided so many of these pitfalls, I feel, is praiseworthy. That is no easy task.

What’s more, this isn’t from some socially conscious arte haus indie game that is trying to hamfistedly “make a point”. This is from Skylanders, a multi million dollar game series that is THE name in toys right now. A game aimed at kids of all ages with gameplay designed to be fun. I think that has a far more significant impact, whether it’s intentional or not.

Now, yes, only 14 out of 80 Skylanders are female. I won’t say the series is devoid of issues, but it is important to note everything it does right. It’s important to recognize the good those 14 female Skylanders do and say “Yes, we would like some more!”.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Skylanders is quickly becoming a yearly thing. With the announcement of the next game, Trap Team, comes another handful of new ladies joining the fight. Keep in mind they have barely announced anyone at this point (as this article is written pre-E3) and there are already 3 identifiably female Skylanders expected to be coming in Trap Team!

SkyLadies_TrapTeam(the Bat Girl on the right is part of a Frito Lay contest to pick and name the next Skylander so she may or may not make it in)

I would expect at least one, if not two more (a Trap Master and a non-humanoid). Hopefully, though, we’ll see a whole lot more. Let’s take those pictures and put ’em all together one more time to see all the female Skylanders together!

SkyLadies_Series1SkyLadies_Series2SkyLadies_Series3

Now THAT is one unique set of female characters!

 

So, there you go! Skylanders, intentionally or not, is doing a whole lot of good and shows how videogames aren’t a den of vile evil! Why I’d have a hard time imagining anyone complaining about this!

That is…until I started using Google Image Search to get the pictures for this article wherin I stumbled accross an image of most of the female Skylanders together. Surely this was part of an article about how awesome the female Skylanders are! So I looked and found the article “Why Boys Need Female Heroes Too”. This is off to a good start!

“I love [Skylanders] for what it is teaching my son. Like with any game, my son is learning hand-eye coordination and improving his reaction time; his brain is learning to process information and learning to do it quickly. In addition, my son is learning what would be considered more tangible school-taught skills like reading and problem solving.”

Good! We’re off to a great start! Look how awesome videogames are! Hooray!

“But there’s one important thing that Skylanders is teaching him that I hate: that heroes are male.”

Yeah! Skylanders is gr-wait what?!

Hold on…what?! But…you have a picture of a bunch of female Skylanders in your article! The header for the article has Stealth Elf front and center! How can you say it is teaching your son that heroes are male when you are clearly displaying the number of female heroes in the game?!

“I’m sure none of the artists or developers sat down and specifically decided that only 15% of playable characters will be female (at least I hope not), but what this subconsciously suggests to players is that you need to be male to be a hero.”

…how does it suggest that when 15% of the playable characters are female? Just because there are less of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist!

“If you look at the list of the total of 80 playable characters in Skylanders, only 12 are female. Even worse, the number of female characters is decreasing with every new release”

…umm…no? No it isn’t. I can only assume this mistake is because the article was written before Punk Shock and Scratch came out as it keeps mentioning only 12 female characters instead of 14 and the picture on the page lacks both of the aformentioned Skylanders. As such it is an honest mistake as it would thus seem that there were 5 new females in the first game, 4 in the second, and 3 in the third. An honest mistake, but it undoubtedly adds to the negativity of the article.

“When my son is choosing a character, I want him to be able to pick from an equal number of male and female character because this tells him that both sexes (and I say sexes because I am making a biological argument and not a gender one, which is another story altogether) are equally likely to become heroes. That they are equally likely to want to protect that which is theirs.”

This is of course where someone would talk about the number of male teachers versus female teachers or crap like that, but this is fantasy so that’s a stupid argument. Having an equal number of male and female characters is definitely a nice thought and it would be cool if it happened. However, while there are a sizeable number of female players chances are the largest playerbase is male. More than that, Skylanders is all about weird creatures that would often be considered genderless. But since genderlessness is a weird concept we often default to male. These gender neutral characters often appeal to both genders anyway so they are an extra safe bet. I agree the way we default to male is an odd social hiccup and it would be cool if Skylanders made a larger effort to change that. However it is a difficult hurdle to overcome.

“What makes it worse is that the few female characters in Skylanders are very much female. The dragons are pastel in colour and the human-looking characters have longer hair and tighter fitting clothes. It’s not surprising that the human-like characters would be associated with human sexual stereotypes (lithe bodies, greater hip-to-waist ratios, enlarged mammary glands), because we are drawing from our own species’ differences. That’s not really the problem.”

I…disagree with this statement. Cynder is deep purple and not particularly overly feminine. When I think “girl dragon” I don’t think of bladed tails and chrome head spikes.

Cynder

This also ignores the aformentioned Sonic Boom who does appear in the picture of “all” the female Skylanders so clearly the writer recognizes this character.

However, on the human characters, I continue to disagree. Only Ninjini, Stealth Elf, and Roller Brawl have long hair (in a braid). Sprocket has shoulder length hair and Chill has short hair hidden by a helmet. Hex is wearing a hood, Star Strike is a black void with eyes, Smoulderdash is made entirely of fire, and Punk Shock is a fish with a mowhawk-esque fin instead of hair. As for the tight fitting clothes? That’s questionable if, outside of Smoulderdash, the clothes really fit any tighter than they do on the male characters. I will give them Stealth Elf’s bare midriff for whatever that is worth as well. However I do not see anything indicating that Hex’s dress is tigher than Free Ranger’s armor.

Also, how does female characters looking female “make it worse”? Doesn’t that just highlight that women can be heroes too?

But “that’s not the problem”, so what is?

“The problem is that some of the human characters (left column) could easily have been females. Chop Chop and Ghost Roaster are literally skeletons, couldn’t either of them be voiced by a female? Why is a witch doctor assumed to be male?”

I would like to point out that there are very few really human-esque male characters. The majority of those are female in Skylanders which does indeed shine a light on this exact same issue. However it does explain why Fright Rider is male.

“Every single animal-based character (examples in the centre column) could easily have been female.”

Warnado and Hot Dog, yes. However, Dino-Rang and Scorp aren’t animals but humanoid animals and actually do have a relatively masculine physique.

“Finally, with many of the imaginary creatures (right column), you can’t even tell their sex until they speak and use a male voice.

The main point here is that many characters could be female and they wouldn’t need to be designed any differently. Given that the sex of the characters doesn’t matter, we should ask why the developers and designers thought most of the characters should be male.”

Alright, this is a good point for the most part and it loops back to what I said above: When something is genderless we default to calling it male. If I stuck googly eyes on a stop sign, chances are you’d call it Mr.Stop Sign and not Ms.Stop Sign unless I put a bow on it or eyelashes or some other gender signifier. It is strange that we consider the default to be male and the exception to be female. Even the words male and female are like this when, biologically speaking, one could argue that the opposite is true.

However, I want you to re-read that: the words male and female are engendered in this same way. Male or Male plus Fe. This is a concept so deeply rooted into our very culture that expecting someone to break the mould takes a conscious effort.

Again, most of these characters are genderless and appeal to both genders. However it is difficult to discuss sentient characters without gender and thus they default to male because human culture sees male as the default.

I do not see this as a reason to ignore the positive aspects of Skylanders.

“Wouldn’t girls also want to play Skylanders and prefer to use female characters? Or god forbid, wouldn’t boys want to use a female character too? The reality is that all gamers need more female characters.”

Umm…they do and they do? What does this have to do with genderless character designs not being female? The fact that the number of female characters is so low and all they’d have to do is choose female voices and use the word “she” instead of “he”? A fair point. However these designs are genderless and often appeal to girls anyway regardless of the gender of the characters and if they wanted to play a girl character chances are they would want one that looks like a girl. What’s wrong with female characters looking female? I think your message is getting muddled.

“Eradicating sexist perspectives is easiest in if we can demonstrate that both sexes can fight to protect what they love and that sex (and gender) has nothing to do with becoming a hero. Skylanders seems like the perfect opportunity in which to demonstrate equality because all the characters are imaginary.

Although you may not realize it, Acitivision, you have an amazing opportunity to do something incredible with what you have created. Along with teaching my son all these wonderful life skills, you could teach them that all people are equal and that his mom can (and wants to) protect him just like his dad.”

HOW DOES THE GAME NOT ALREADY DO THIS?!

Skylanders has female characters who can fight. Why does the fact that there are less of them and that they actually look female invalidate this? Wouldn’t having an identifiably female character on the battlefield have a greater impact on teaching that both genders can fight rather than a genderless design with a feminine voice?

The message this article sends is baffling to me.The first time I read the article it honestly came off as though female characters looking female makes them not count as female characters; a statement so utterly baffling (and honestly incredibly sexist) I could not wrap my head around it. I understand this is not what the writer was trying to say, but it was the message I received.

However, even after I re-read it, the message is still a mess:

Because there are less female characters than male, it acts as though the female characters don’t exist. Rather than supporting what is there and encouraging more of it, it chooses to completely ignore it and complain about it.

This article right here is basically a microcosm of the “Videogame Culture War”. Ignore the positive, scour every pixel of a game for negatives, then emphasize the crap out of it and complain. Anyone who disagrees is a part of the problem, right? However, this accomplishes nothing.

When push comes to shove, me and the guy who wrote this article honestly agree: more female Skylanders would be a good thing. I just feel that we should praise what we have and ask for more, rather than tossing it aside like a spoiled child and yelling “It’s not good enough!”.

Also, this doesn’t answer the burning question on my mind: What about Sonic Boom?! Is she still not good enough or do you want more characters like her? Your article suggests that Sonic Boom is the kind of thing you’d like to see more of, but completely ignoring her raises the question of if she is good enough.

PTRU1-10990291dt

This is the problem with doing nothing but complaining: You don’t give anyone a clear idea of what you want.

What makes it all worse is that the guy who wrote this article is not the typical angry ranting loon. The article is actually quite nice, written is a calm voice and not particularly accusing either. It sees the positive in videogames in a significant manner. However it feels as though it got caught up in the zeitgeist behind this “war” and thus fell in line. Everyone says videogames are awful and sexist so it must be true! Anything that could be considered otherwise just isn’t noteworthy enough! Much like how we default to male on the gender of genderless things, folks often default to sexism when discussing videogames; an act which can often backfire.

If you ask me, Skylanders is good, but yes it can do better and I encourage that and if you ask me, that’s what gaming needs: encouragement.

New Wonder Momo on the Way…and I’m worried.

January 29, 2014

Word just broke that there is a new Wonder Momo game on the way, based on the American webcomic and developed by WayForward…and as a Wonder Momo fan and a WayForward fan I’m surprisingly hesitant.

First of all, what is Wonder Momo? Well it’s an old arcade game from 1987 wherin players played the role of Kanda Momo, a young actress playing the superheroine Wonder Momo in a live stage show. The character was a fusion of Magical Girl (dressing exactly like Minky Momo) and Power Ranger and it sort of poked fun at while catering to Otaku culture. The audience is made up entirely of fans waaay “too old” for the show and one of the game’s main mechanics is preventing anyone from taking a picture of your panties.

COVER-Wonder_Momo

Silly though that may sound, the idea of turning panty shots into a gameplay mechanic was unique. Along with the limited stage space and fake way that Momo’s Wonder Ring bounced, as though it really were just a hula-hoop, made the game uniquely charming. You weren’t a heroine, you were just an actress playing one on stage!

The game would eventually be ported to the PC Engine. While the graphics and sound took a hit, they added in small cutscenes and the improvement in the controls along makes this the better version of the game.

Obviously the game never saw a Western release.

However, while the game never saw a sequel, Momo made many guest apperances in Namco games throughout the ages, most recently 2011’s Famista Pro Baseball on the 3DS, Namco x Capcom, and Queen’s Gate Spiral Chaos.

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In her Namco X Capcom apperance she actually became a real heroine with the help of Bravoman. You see, the actress Kanda Momo was going to put on one last stage show at the Namco Theater with special guest Felicia when suddenly enemies attacked and Bravoman gave her Beraboh Powers and turning her into Wonder Momo for real.

This was clever but reveals the biggest flaw with Wonder Momo: She isn’t a heroine, she’s an actress. That was what made her original game so great and unique, but it makes telling a story with her or putting her together with other videogame characters somewhat difficult. Her sudden powers always have to be explained.

Wonder Momo’s themesong actually showed up in Taiko no Tatsujin once which caused an unusual turn of events. The song inspired Japanese nerd idol Halko Momo-i to don Wonder Momo’s outfit and preform her own rendition of the game’s music on stage. In a way it was like fulfilling a prophecy, someone actually doing a real Wonder Momo stage show. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Halko Momo-i (who I was previously a fan of due to her music in the anime MOUSE) because that takes some guts to pull off. Guts and awesome nerdiness.

This in turn sort of cemented Halko Momo-i as the “real life” Wonder Momo and thus she would go on to voice her in the Queen’s Blade spin-off title Queen’s Gate: Spiral Chaos.

Sometime, someone will have to explain to me why they made the Queen’s Blade games strategy games when the series is all about a fighting tournament.

But perhaps the strangest chapter in the history of Wonder Momo is being written right now. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Namco funded a webcomic site called ShiftyLook with the intention of making webcomics based on obscure classic Namco series. Mostly stuff that has a cult following in Japan, but is utterly unknown in America. One of these comics would be Wonder Momo: Battle Idol from Udon.

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I have to be honest, I have never seen a webcomic try so hard. At first I was very pessimistic. That clearly wasn’t the real Wonder Momo they had there, she wasn’t an idol (she really wanted to be though), and she didn’t put on a stage show. However they would later reveal the protagonist to be the Original Wonder Momo’s daughter as well as introduce a far-too-relateable overreactive fangirl who would take on the role of Amazona (Momo’s rival in the original games). It would bring up all sorts of obscure plot points and callbacks to the original game as well as continually find ways to work in the idol plot and stage shows of sorts. The webcomic was often full of self parody but it’s heart was in the right place. As I said, writing a story about Wonder Momo is very hard due to the fact that she isn’t a heroine.

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Speaking personally, I would have made it Earth-2 myself.

Now things get real strange as Namco is making an anime based on the US webcomic. What’s more? Guess who is voicing The Original Wonder Momo? Halko Momo-i. Strangely she will not be doing the themesong. That honor goes to…English rockband Area 11?! Yes it would seem they’re turning Wonder Momo into some kind of bizzarre international media collaboration…which is bizzarre considering how unapologetically Japanese Wonder Momo is.

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I would also like to point out how amused I am that the anime makes the photographer guy/love interest look a lot younger.

This also comes with a new Wonder Momo game from Western developer WayForward Technologies of Contra 4, Double Dragon NEON, Shantae and DuckTales Remastered fame.

This, however, is where I become hesitant as their track record with games based off existing franchises is shaky at best. If they love a game, they take it too seriously and if they’re unfamiliar with it, they often mock it in it’s own game and sometimes things go horribly awry.

Double Dragon NEON is beloved but an odd beast. On one hand it plays like Double Dragon and is indeed a damn good game. On the other hand it shits all over the canon of the series and its characters. There was no post-apocalyptic future, no secret of Sosetsu Ken, and strikingly little Abobo love (really? Just a big biker dude?). It focused more on parodying the 80s in an over-the-top fashion. Indeed there was a charm to this with many great songs and funny moments, but it just isn’t Double Dragon. I guess this didn’t sting so much only because we already had the cartoon and Double Dragon V. No matter how much it mocks the Lee brothers, at least it’s not that.

Centipede Infestation is another story though. While it has some clever writing (“My father was in the Missile Command”), they managed to utterly botch the core gameplay in the worst way possible. Making it a twin-stick shooter is one thing. Adding Tower Defense elements is not a bad new twist. However, the big problem? The Centipedes are just regular enemies that ONLY take damage in the head and do not break apart into smaller centipedes. Yes, that’s right, the thing that makes Centipede what it is, the titular enemies, are just generic mooks with nothing special about them. How exactly do you fuck that up so hard?!

A good middleground would be BloodRayne: Betrayal. On one hand they reworked the game into a somewhat anime-styled sidescrolling brawler with Castlevania elements. However the game was overly silly in many ways what with the rocket/drill coffin that Rayne used to enter the stage and much of the conversations seeming to mock the game itself. I enjoyed it, but I don’t care about BloodRayne and I can only imagine how much this could piss off it’s core fans.

Contra 4 then represents the flipside. Contra 3 was absolutely beloved at the WayForward offices and thus the game took itself too seriously to the point of actively de-canonizing Neo Contra. One look at Contra Rebirth shows WayForward and Konami had very different ideas about the series. Konami leaning it towards a silly parody of action movies while WayForward kept things super serious.

This brings us to the new Wonder Momo game, to which I am very hesitant about.

Admittedly much of this comes from the fact that I’ve been dreaming about a new Wonder Momo game for years. Except I would have made it an Idol Management Simulation/Action Game hybrid with players auditioning multiple actresses for the role of Wonder Momo, arranging and advertising the stage show, setting pyrotecnics and adjusting the difficulty of the show to bring in crowds with a focus as much on performance as it is beating the stage. Afterall, that is the aspect I find most wonderful about Wonder Momo: the fact that it’s a stage show. It’s a dynamic utterly unique to that one game.

Being based on the new webcomic though, this obviously won’t be the case. Stage shows play a near nonexistant part in the story. They happen but the focus is on actual heroics. Admittedly the comic itself has a very jokey self-parodying style which will fit well with WayForward’s own tendancies. For a game based on the webcomic, they’re a perfect fit even if I just expect the game to be a reskin of BloodRayne: Betrayal/Batman Brave and the Bold/Thor DS. Heck, those games are good so I really wouldn’t mind it.

The issue I have, it seems, is more that it’s based on the webcomic in the first place. Being a game based on a comic based on a game inadvertently waters down it’s premise with the requirements of narrative. As far as I can tell, the stage show setting is utterly removed from the game making it Just Another Action Game and robbing it of what made Wonder Momo unique in the first place and this is what pre-emptively disappoints me.

However, this is all just conjecture. Afterall, the webcomic made me absolutely livid until a few months later when they revealed the Original Momo and the story became more fleshed out. Now I kind of respect it and like it at times. Perhaps the game based on it will follow the same path and do something unique with the concept. As a fan of WayForward, I would have faith in them…but once bitten, twice shy.

…can you guys just do more Kickstarters for original games so I don’t have to go “This is a good game, but it kinda disrespects the source material” again and again? Please? I promise I’ll fund them all.

(EDIT: Yes I did just spend 3 hours writing this about a fucking Android game and of course I’m getting the game and gonna watch the crap out of the anime. Egad sometimes my rampant uncontrollable fanboyism astonishes even me.)

XBoxgeddon: The Importance of Backwards Compatibility

May 28, 2013

This past week Microsoft revealed their new console, the oddly named XBox One. The press conference was in many ways nothing special. They focused on the various features of the console like watching TV while Skype-ing, not one single bit of which looked like anything the 360 couldn’t do. Even the few games they showed were strikingly unimpressive in the graphics department.

It was after the conference, however, when game journalists got to ask all the important nagging questions they had been hearing rumors about: Would it always be online? Are they blocking used games? What about backwards compatibility? The answers were all worse than we could have imagined resulting in a torrential backlash that has put Microsoft on the defensive. They are now blaming game journalists for the mass consumer outrage.

Oh gee, what are you gonna do? Deny them exclusives? Go ahead! As it is you’ve already pissed off GameStop, why not piss on the rest of the industry so that no one is promoting your console. That would be brilliant.

*ahem*

However, the sticking point for me is the lack of backwards compatibility. I am not kidding when I say I would excuse everything else if they had full backwards compatibility.

Now that seems like such a minor thing. Surely the lack of used games and the mandatory installs are far worse, right? Microsoft themselves claim only 5% of gamers use backwards compatibility, even going so far as to say “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards”. Well then just call me backwards.

Indeed, I’m a game collector. Last month I hooked my 32X up for the first time in decades and went shopping for new 32X games and the thing just worked. Better than it did a decade ago (due to me using a model 2 Genesis instead of my old model 1)!

What’s more I just found out about this game called Bulk Slash for the Saturn on Hardcore Gaming 101 and intend to drop $65-$75 on a used copy as soon as I can because it looks awesome. I’m also looking at grabbing a used import Love Tra -Mint-, a Kinect exercise game/dating sim because it looks to stupid not to play.

This is the daily gaming life of GEL. As you can probably tell, none of this would be possible on XBox One.

But it goes far beyond that.

See, even other gamers would tell me “Just keep the old console then”. I mean I did with the Saturn and the 32X, right? I’m not demanding the Dreamcast to have Saturn backwards compatibility!

However, it’s not that simple.

Let’s start with the obvious: the XBox 360 is less durable than an Atari 5200 controller (ooh, collector burn)! I have an NES, SNES, Genesis, PS1, and PS2 all from when their respective consoles launched and all of them still work. Yes, even the PS2 is still working. Heck I actually have an Atari 5200 and the controller even works sometimes! But the XBox 360? I’ve red ringed through 4 of them and the disc drive is giving out on this one too. They only seem to last about 3 years on average. Needless to say, I need to find some statistics on those slim models.

However, it gets worse. Let me ask you a question: What happens when they take down the 360 servers?

First of all, you’ll lose all your patches. You see, unlike a PC or the PS3 or anything designed by sane rational beings, the XBox 360 stores its patches in the cache. This means that they are non-permanent and new patches can bump out old game patches, requiring them to be re-patched. Now, think about what those patches do. For some games it’s not so bad. Others, however, may be rendered near unplayable. You could lose access to DLC, you could be unable to load saves, lord only knows how many game breaking bugs were patched on in that day 1 patch for your favorite game!

Then you get to XBox Live Arcade games, easily the best thing to come out of this console generation. What happens when you move to a new console because your old one broke and the Microsoft servers are no longer online to move the DRM? How many XBLA games do you already have that aren’t assigned to your current system? What about your favorite de-listed games like the 3D remake of Turtles in Time, or in my case, Lucha Fury (what? it had great art!)? What about when a download breaks and you need to re-download?

Let’s not even get into XBox Indie Games, which require an internet connection to play the full version.

In a weird way, when the 360 servers go off? It will almost be like the 360 never even happened. It will darn well nearly blink out of existance. Hopefully, by the time this happens, 360 hacking and emulation will make these things a non-issue. In fact, Microsoft is even claiming that they’ll be supporting the 360 for another 5 years. A good call as in that time nearly every 360 will have disintegrated and only me and a few other people will raise a fuss about it. However it goes beyond even this, doesn’t it?

As some have pointed out, the XBox One with its mandatory installs and permissions linked to accounts is reminiscent of Steam. We all like Steam, right? Heck, we even said we wanted “Steam as a console”! However, there are some key differences, aren’t there?

#1) Steam is on PC. PC has always had mandatory installs and next to no used game market. The lack of installs is a part of what set consoles apart from PCs.

#2) Steam offers things at a lower price. But most importantly…

#3) Steam offers peace of mind. When your PC breaks and you need to wipe the harddrive? You can just re-download everything, grab all your saves off the Cloud, and jump right back in. There is no worry that your stuff will get taken away. It is all there on your account.

This is where the lack of backwards compatibility catches up to Microsoft. Without backwards compatibility there is no reason to keep the 360 servers running. There is no reason to keep your XBLA games available.

As such, why should I expect Microsoft to keep the XBox One servers running when the XBox Two comes out? What happens 15 years in the future? Do all of the games I purchased for my XBox One suddenly stop working? If the XBox One had its own Bulk Slash, would I never be able to play it when I find out about the game a decade later? They just blink out of existance?

Then why would I ever buy an XBox One game!

Oh sure, Microsoft can say that this time it will be different, but why should  I believe them? I can’t get Turtles in Time or Lucha Fury anymore as it is! Don’t even get me started on what those assholes did to Kung-Fu Strike! Now they have no incentive to keep those 360 servers running at all! Why would I ever believe the XBox One would be different? Microsoft needs to build trust and they had their opportunities. I have no reason to trust them for anything now!

MS will probably point to the popularity of MMORPGs that also require a server to run. Something that, as a Dungeon Fighter Online fan, I know all too well. However, there is a key difference: modern MMOs are free-to-play. In fact, this is why they are free-to-play! Very few people wanted to spend $50 on a game that required a monthly fee and stopped working when the servers went down! It is a very hard sell! Shoot, speaking personally I rarely bought boxed MMOs and never bought “online multiplayer only” games on 360 and PS3 like Shadowrun, MAG, and Warhawk.

You can see how this all comes together now, can’t you? Had Microsoft built upon their existing service, they could have had something. Imagine having access to all your 360 games, your account, and even your friends. Imagine calling up your XBox 360 friends from your sweet new XBox One in an XBox Live Party and telling them how awesome these next-gen dogs are! You can’t buy publicity that good! If they had made this a smooth and seamless upgrade? They could have maintained their lead in the console war.

However, like Sony and Nintendo before them, they got cocky with their third console.

I won’t say that purchasing an XBox One is completely out of the question. I’ll be real here. There is always a chance, however slim, that a must-own GEL-centric game becomes an exclusive. Whether it’s a new Rumble Roses, Monster Rancher, Bust a Groove, DOA, Twinkle Star Sprites, or just a home port of Planet Harriers, there is always a chance I’ll get your console. However, it will never ever be my “main”. If a game is available on PS4 and XBox One? I’m going PS4. I don’t care how much better it looks or runs or what kind of exclusive DLC you have, the preserveability of my game is more important.

Then again, from their own words, it sounds like Microsoft doesn’t even want my business! I mean, I am “just backwards”, right?

Of course, as The Only Guy On The Internet Who Likes Motion Control (and The Kinect GEL Ride Guy), you might think I would at least be interested in the new Kinect. The answer is no. Because, you see, it doesn’t matter how well the Kinect works, it’s incredible technology behind a bad idea. You need buttons and a tactile controller to do anything worthwhile with it as a gaming device! How do you navigate your environment? How do you manipulate objects? How do you shoot? You do realize you can’t even do a lightgun game on Kinect without a strikingly Move-esque peripheral, right? The only thing the current Kinect is good for is dancing games. The only thing a future Kinect could be good for, theoretically, is maybe a boxing game too.

As for it always being connected? Yeah, that worked out so well with the current one, didn’t it? It’s not like I didn’t disconnect that damn thing after one day of leaving it hooked up! It’s not like the one friend I have who is too lazy to disconnect his isn’t constantly screaming “XBox! Back! Stop! Pause!!! DAMMIT! Uurrrrrrrgh!!!” while in a party chat with me. It’s not like the current Kinect actually fucked with people watching the XBox One reveal!

Oh wait, it’s exactly like that.

Every single facet of the XBox One looks terrible beyond words. It makes me long for the days of game systems that were really money laundering scams by the Swedish mafia. Those were far less terrifying and scammy, and they were actually a scam!

Of course, the worst part is that Sony hasn’t made any of their own plans entirely clear yet. They could have this console war in the bag! It is literally being handed to them! Then again, so was last gen and if any company can drop the ball, it’s Sony. If they do…then could Nintendo win this console war by default?

Well, it is The Year of Luigi.

 

…and Luigi wins by doing absolutely nothing.

Dragon’s Crown Fiasco: Kotaku Really Needs To Stop Letting Teenage Boys Write Their Articles

April 26, 2013

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you have no doubt noticed the sudden escalation in discussion about sexism in videogames, the industry, and the community. In fact, according to Gamasutra, 2012 was “The year the discussion about equality in games began”.

No doubt you are also aware of Dragon’s Crown, the jawdroppingly gorgeous high definition, hand painted 2D brawler from Vanillaware most infamous for its chesty sorceress. Indeed it was only a matter of time before the two collided.

See, back when Dragon’s Crown was first announced, it was considered okay. We saw the over-the-top character designs and said “Wow those sure are over-the-top!” but continued to drool over the amazing game. It was the kind of thing that we always wanted but never thought could exist. Because, back in the 90s the beat ’em up genre vanished right as it was hitting it’s stride, stunting the growth of the genre. Shortly thereafter, 2D visuals in general were considered “outdated” and their growth too was stunted. So seeing such gorgeous 2D visuals coupled with evolved brawler gameplay is like a dream come true to many gamers. Especially the game’s own creator: George Kamitani. Dragon’s Crown was originally planned for the SEGA Dreamcast but the project was put on hold for more than a decade.

But now, “things have changed”. The pressure is on regarding sexualized female character design. It is apparently no longer “okay” to have such characters in your game, like it was back when it first entered development.

This leads to the embarrassing incident involving Kotaku. With the release of the Sorceress gameplay trailer, Kotaku writer Jason Schreier posted it with a short article titled “Game Developers Really Need To Stop Letting Teenage Boys Design Their Characters” The exact text of the article reads “As you can see, the sorceress was designed by a 14-year-old boy. Perhaps game development studios should stop hiring teenagers? At least they’re cheap, I guess.”

Upon hearing this, George Kamitani responded on Facebook with a post reading “It seems that Mr. Jason Schreier of Kotaku is pleased also with neither sorceress nor amazon. The art of the direction which he likes was prepared.” alongside a picture of three muscular bearded men giving each other noogies.

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Suddenly the thing exploded. People were shocked and aghast that George Kamitani would kinda sorta make a gay joke and thus engage in “Casual Homophobia”.

Meanwhile, Jason Schrier posted another article titled “The Real Problem With That Controversial, Sexy Video Game Sorceress” the article takes back the 14-year-old boy crack but then proceeds to try and take a “serious” stance with phrases like “For now, I’d like to elaborate on my criticism, because this subject deserves more thought and consideration than a few snarky lines below a trailer.” and “I’m not saying this particular piece of art should not exist, but I have no qualms about saying I think it can hurt this game and gaming as a whole.” with Jason trying to take the high ground and leave Kamitani with egg on his face, dragging his name through the mud.

First of all, the opening comments were both equally childish. Yes, Kamitani’s had a slight air of casual homophobia to it but I feel it is no worse than what he got from Kotaku. Jason Schrier made a childish inflammatory comment, like Kotaku writers tend to, and he got a childish inflammatory response. This is pretty common as the tone for this “discussion” was set.

This isn’t the first time Kotaku has pulled bullcrap like this. How about that time they wrote the article “The Guy Who Made Bayonetta Is Clueless about Valve and PC Gaming” which they then retitled and altered when Kamiya told them to shove it. What about that time they whipped gamers into a frenzy over a Dad being unsure about purchasing a Wii for his sons and then acted aghast and morally outraged when they lashed out at him. Again, taking the moral highground.

This is what drives me perhaps the most insane about Kotaku. They’re the tabloid rag of game journalism. They post the most useless crap and the most inflammatory article titles to drive up hits. Then they decide to take the moral highground and wag their fingers at everyone and tell us how ashamed we should all be.

Perhaps most egregious is how Jason brings up completely unrelated and far more serious issues like “One Reason Why”, in turn watering them down and using them as a smoke screen to make himself seem like some righteous crusader.

No, fuck you Kotaku.

Luke Plunkett tried to iron over this with the article “Beyond The Bosoms, This Art Is Some Of The Best In The Business” writing “In some ways it’s a little sad that the first time many people are hearing the name ‘George Kamitani’ this week is because of the issues some are having with Dragon’s Crown’s characters, because the man is also responsible for some of the finest artwork the medium of video games has ever seen.” As one commentor wrote “You mean the issue your coworker had with said characters? The same coworker who then proceeded to highlight that solitary aspect of George’s work while at the same time calling him a child? Is that what you’re referring to?”

Indeed, it is going to take more than a post of a bunch of random George Kamitani art to iron this one over.

Penny Arcade’s The PA Report also weighed in with another article. Titled “You don’t like breasts? You must like men: The disappointing conversation and art of Dragon’s Crown” the second half of the article reitterates this statement with the line “You don’t like my art? What are you, gay?” in large bold text as though to claim these were George Kamitani’s exact words and continues to flog the point about the harm of “Casual Homophobia” casting the blame on him for a few misused (and awkwardly written) words. “If he had simply engaged with the discussion and talked about his work, it would have been great. The whole thing would have ended as soon as it began. Instead, he decided to double-down on homophobia, and only apologized when the story blew up.” Because, you see, calm rational discussion is the first thing people do when called a 14-year-old boy who works on the cheap while working on your decades long dream game. Honestly, I’m surprised Kamitani was as civil as he was!

But it is here that we get to the more important crux of the issue. We have all these people taking the moral highground and saying “This is a discussion we need to be having” without really discussing anything. They are essentially sitting around and yelling “Someone should do something!” at each other.

But at least Penny Arcade gets to the point and answers the big question: What is wrong with the hyper sexualized Sorceress character? “What’s worth criticizing is how few people are doing anything else.” Ah yes, the real issue isn’t the Sorceress herself but that  she is just one of many hyper sexualized videogame women that dominate the gaming landscape! It’s a darn shame no one is doing anything else!

…except this line of thinking does not apply to George Kamitani at all.

Why? Well because literally every single game his company has ever made stars a not-particularly-sexualized female character. I would like to emphasize that again: stars. They are the lead. In Princess Crown, Gradriel was the main character and the two guys were merely unlockable extras with short side stories. There was also another girl with a sidestory as well. In Odin’s Sphere, you start as Gwendolyn and there are only two male playable to the three female playables. In Grim Grimoire you could only play as Lillet Blan. Muramasa featured a choice of male or female lead.

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This right here is the problem if you ask me. We sit here demanding less sexualized female leads and that games be more welcoming to female players, and yet every time they are we completely ignore it.

It is particularly egregious in this case as here we are wagging our fingers at a man whose entire gameography up to this point has been exactly what is being demanded! In an industry where “2D doesn’t sell” and “female leads don’t sell”, George Kamitani flew in the face of tradition and delivered on both. Wether you like his games or not, he deserves a damn medal! But no, we instead shout “shame on you” and drag his name through the mud. Now the name George Kamitani is synonymous with vile sexism and homophobia.

I’m sure everyone will act shocked when they release the Elf trailer (i.e. the female character with normal body proportions and sensible clothes) and act like this is some kind of victory even though the character has been in the game for more than 3 years.

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That isn’t to say that these games don’t have sexualized elements. From Gradriel’s transformation to the kitsune ladies of Muramasa, there have always been a decent number of busty ladies in these games. However they have never been playable leads until now.

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See, that’s the other thing. One of the reasons I am so excited about Dragon’s Crown is that the art is so different! People act like these are the norm, that they’re so cliche. Characters like these are a dime a dozen, right? Maybe back in the 80s and 90s but these days you absolutely do not see characters like these and never to such an exaggerated degree!

More than that, it is a huge departure from what George Kamitani normally does. All his other games tend to feature shorter characters with small bodies and large heads. A cuter design style meant to evoke the feel of a fairytale. Fitting as the framing device for two of his games was a little girl and her storybook. Here, however, we see tall characters with large bodies and tiny heads! I’ve never seen Kamitani’s art style applied to proportions like these! Presumably this is to evoke the feeling of old school fantasy art in all its ridiculousness. It’s somewhat subtle because it’s the same artist but when you really look there is a distinct difference in design between Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown.

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Speaking of unusual designs, I think I am most excited about the Amazon. You don’t see muscular women that often and never to that degree. When you do see them that beefy though, they usually aren’t meant to also be pretty. The juxtaposition of her curly blonde hair with her massive body is unique and fascinating to me. Especially that hair! You just don’t see a lot of curly haired women in games these days!

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In being cliche, the game’s design style manages to be unlike anything I have ever seen. While there are certainly offputting elements here and there, I am overall excited beyond words.

In being so unique, it is hard to criticize it as being “indicative of a bigger problem” because that argument only really works if the designs were more cliche. Yes, Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur exists, but who else? Lulu from Final Fantasy X? Keep going and you see that characters this overtly sexualized aren’t that common. Usually one per franchise if said franchise has enough characters.

More importantly though is that singleing out George Kamitani is ridiculous as he has personally contributed more to great female leads in videogames than nearly anyone else in the industry. If you don’t believe me, go watch some cutscenes on YouTube of Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire (especially the later).

If you wanna take the moral highground and fight for better representation of women in videogames, I would like to point something out to you: Remember what I said about how Jason Schrier set the tone for their discussion when he called Kamitani a 14-year-old boy? This applies to many situations. If you act aggressively, you’ll get aggression in return. If you act negatively you’ll get negativity in return.

It occurs to me that this is the big problem with this discussion. We spend all of our time emphasizing the bad and wagging our fingers at it. We say we don’t want censorship but then go out of our way specifically to point out sexualization and shame anyone that might like it. In a way, demanding self-censorship. This approach tends to rub people the wrong way.

What we aren’t doing is recognizing the positive. We don’t look at the good. We aren’t saying “less of this, more of this” or even “at least X is better than Y”. Nope, just a lot of finger wagging and shame.

Another example of that would be the female marines in Aliens: Colonial Marines. People continually bring up the fact that female marines were supposedly a last minute feature request, citing that “female characters should not be a ‘feature’, they should be standard”. There are many lengthy articles ranting about this fact and wagging their finger at Gearbox because real Aliens fans would know the importance of female marines. What is ignored, however, is that the game shipped with female marines, there are female marines in co-op, there are female marines in story mode. The online play in and of itself was a late feature addition and perhaps the female marines barely made the cut, but they were there.

There is never any mention of the sheer amount of FPS games that do not feature female characters. Never any discussion of the other Aliens games that lacked female marines. Colonial Marines is awarded no consolation prize. No, it just gets fingers wagged at it. Not because of the lack of female marines, but because someone (who may not even be a Gearbox employee) called them a “feature”.

What we need here is less finger wagging and more promotion. Less “this is bad and you’re bad for liking it” and more “this is good and more people should buy it”. Then perhaps this discussion wouldn’t be so vicious. Then perhaps we could make progress and agree on something and have a meaningful conversation.

I mean, the problem isn’t that games with sexualized women sell better but that games with any women, sexualized or not, “don’t sell” (a complete myth but we’ll discuss that later) right? So why cast so much shame on the people who buy these games just because it happens to be what they like? We should support positive games, not declare certain things “negative” and shame them into oblivion!

But that isn’t what happens is it? Why not? Because negativity generates money. Look at what articles get the most hits, look at what YouTube celebrities are popular, look at what you enjoy reading. There is indeed something cathartic about watching a reviewer really tear into a game. As such we don’t see a lot of positivity. A list of great female leads generates far less hits than “Top 10 Most Offensive Women in Videogames”. As such, we never make any progress and the whole “conversation” that we “need to have” is stalled. Good job, team! If you need me I’ll be over here playing Rumble Roses XX and wallowing in self loathing.

The AAA Game Uncanny Valley?

April 17, 2013

I think it is safe to say that Bioshock Infinite is “a thing”. With glowing reviews and copious amounts of praise, even outlets that don’t normally review games are weighing in.

However, many gamers seem…disappointed. For every major outlet raving about the game’s brilliance, there are 5 gamers complaining about one thing or another and their complaints are…fascinating.

Because, you see, it isn’t because the gameplay is awful but rather story nitpicks, universe questions, and minor presentational deficiencies. Things like poor foot models, recycled animation, or a bout of silly clipping. This should obviously be taken as a sign of a good game if these minor nitpicks are the worst complaints we can get, but it is the sheer amount of disappointment that has me raising my eyebrow.

My personal favorite example would be a set of wooden steps. When I looked at them I noticed the steps had blemishes on them and each step looked unique…until further inspection revealed two steps with identical blemishes next to one another. A closer look revealed a step near the top and a step near the bottom also having identical blemishes.

There are two ways to look at this. I personally am amazed they actually made 6 different wooden step textures that they switch between to make the stairs look unique. However more frequently I would hear people complain that they were lazy because they didn’t make a unique texture for each step.

Yet these same people would praise a faux retro indie platformer with blatantly tile-based construction. Why is that? Perhaps it is an odd case of The Uncanny Valley.

For those unfamiliar, The Uncanny Valley is used to refer to human-like things such as robots. The more a robot looks human the creepier it gets and the more its faults stand out.

In this case we have videogames coming closer and closer to movies and real worlds and thus the more the artificiality stands out. We don’t have any problem with the retro indie game because it walks right up to you and tells you to your face “Hey! I’m a videogame!”. However, AAA Games promise more than that. They promise a cinematic interactive experience in another world. We get so wrapped up in the BS “immersion” aspect of the game that anything that could break the immersion stands out to us. The things that remind us that this is a videogame.

For the most part this is just a weird quirk of AAA gaming. Most would agree that it doesn’t completely ruin the experience but it does stand out the more you play. It’s like seeing the strings during an incredible action scene in a movie, or being able to see the zipper on the back of a costume, or knowing what’s CG or animatronic or claymation. Those stark reminders that this isn’t real.

No, if AAA gaming had a major flaw it would be that said games are becoming increasingly similar. In my own opinion, Bioshock Infinite isn’t all that different from Aliens: Colonial Marines underneath the pretty facade. That probably sounds a lot worse than I mean it but it’s true: both are competent but generic first person shooters whose environments and stories are what makes the game more than the gameplay. Thus, perhaps, greater emphasis is put on the environments and stories and I’m not sure that is the best way to go.

This might sound weird, but games are not a good storytelling medium. Not in a traditional way anyway. Because if you want to tell a story there is usually a way you want it to play out, a message you want to send. As such players become limited in what they can and can’t do. Bioshock Infinite has this issue as well. You have no real freedom, you’re just watching a movie through the eyes of one of the actors while occasionally taking a break to play a shooting gallery. If you want your story to play out in a specific way, games may not be the best medium.

No, games are best for telling an experience. Setting up a world or a scenario and letting the gamer themselves live it out. It is in this strange way that cult classic budget game Earth Defence Force 2017 is a better example of games as a medium than anything else. EDF2017 isn’t about the story. We’ve heard it before: Aliens have invaded the Earth and they’re trying to kill us. What makes that game special is how it puts you in the shoes of one of the nameless cannon fodder soldiers trying to fend off the invasion. Not a legendary badass, not a mercenary with a troubled past, not even a rookie. You’re just a generic soldier guy. It is the sense of scale and the free-form way each scenario plays out that makes the game special. We’ve seen EDF 2017 as a movie a million times, but actually living the experience is a different story.

Bioshock Infinite, however, probably would have made a better movie. This goes doubly so for Tomb Raider.

If I ever had a concern about our complaints of immersion breaking hiccups, Tomb Raider would be it. The game was so concerned about preventing players from making Lara look like an idiot that the control was severely hampered. A bit of delay was put in the controls so that way Lara could move more naturally, so she could put her hand against the walls and look around, and clutch her wounded stomach. Her speed and pacing would change as she walked, the exact speed and distance of her dodges varied as no one really clambers the exact same way twice and the result was a game I found difficult and frustrating to play. It lacked the precision of other games.

Yet despite their best attempts, gameplay necessity still clashed with the “game”. From Lara’s arms going crazy as she quickly switches weapons, to the game’s awkward tonal shift between the cutscene where Lara obtains a gun and when she gets to use the gun. It was utterly absurd and never before was it made more clear that a game did not want to be a game.

So do we have no right to complain about immersion breaking hiccups and story faults? Of course we do! We are all free to have our opinions afterall. The real question is what developers do with this information. Do they try to make their games even more “immersive” at the expense of gameplay, or do they reconsider what they should do when making the games themselves. Perhaps it is important to ask oneself “Why is this a game? What does interactivity bring to the experience? Would this work better as a movie?”. Or, perhaps, this is a sign that gamers are getting bored with the first/third person shooter genre.

Just some food for thought.