Monthly Archives: August 2010

Community Breakup – When it’s time to leave a bad relationship

Welcome to Dumpsville popul... ah you know the rest.

 

So there I was, having contractions on my wedding anniversary arguing with a community member about her (granted) work-in-progress article. The hook behind the potential post was “all things crappy in gaming can be blamed on mothers and women” with, of course, the implied “not cool women like US.” 

And that’s when it hit me. If this community was a guy, I would have dumped his ass long ago. Why the hell was I sticking around? 

It wasn’t the article. Yes, this article did make me see red. As a woman and mother, I’m sick of being blamed for everything shitty. But this is old hat. Seen it many times. 

But what hurt most was that I knew that in the hands of this excellent writer, this was going to get page views, and lots of them. And that the community site for which this was written would all stand up and cheer this article on. Once again I would be a lone voice – Hey do we really need to throw women under a bus to make this point? And once again, only to be shot down as a hysterical loser. 

Or that’s what the cynical part of me was saying. The cynical bitter part. 

I don’t like cynical and bitter me. I like the old me, the fun-loving, easy-going, genuine me.  The person I was before I started to get mad at the sexism on the community site. And there is a lot. Just this week I asked for a second opinion of an Admin regarding a rape scene in someone’s wallpaper.  

Asking for a second opinion on a rape scene… WTF? I have been there for over three and a half years. I am a mod on that site, I used to write for the front page. I have done interviews representing the site. Yet, when it came to something as blatant as pictures of young anime girls screaming with their clothes ripped off, I was asking for a second opinion as to whether or not this violated the TOS. Why? What made me so gun shy? Why was I not doing my job? 

Cause I want to be liked. Women are socialized from such a young age to be nice. To not rock the boat. To put up and shut up.
“Ha ha, boys will be boys. I guess I have to join them since I can’t change their minds.” Well. that doesn’t really work well with me. I don’t sit quietly. I get mad, and I do something. So, I have tried to rock the boat, to show the community how I saw things. 

Each member of the site gets a blog, mine is fairly popular. I once wrote in response to a question from another blog about feminism and how women are treated differently. I tried, in my own way, to show how most gamers have male privilege, and how this affects how they see -or don’t see- the sexism in gaming and on the community site itself. I brought forward examples of said sexism: objectification of women, discussions in threads that centred on slut-shaming and victim blaming etc.  As expected, I had some dissenters, and even a few advocates. However the response was a straw feminist rant on the front page, one that was described as an almost personal attack. 

Point taken. Will shut up now. 

Women are also socialized to solve the worlds problems by internalizing everyone’s needs. “If I just play their game, maybe I can be one of them. If I am one of them, if they are happy, I can make the community a better place.” I see that I have tried that as well. If I volunteer more, I will be liked more. If I am liked more, I can have more respect and people will take me seriously.  Nope. that doesn’t happen. 

So the big question: how much does one take? Do you try to stay on and keep fighting the good fight, or do you leave? When do you leave? Is it quitting, or is it staying sane? 

I can only answer the question for myself. The time for me to leave is now. I have a year of maternity to look forward to, and I want that year to be filled with positive things. I joined the community while on maternity leave with my first. This seemed like the right time. For the last six months, I have been hit with too much negative. There is no room for me, or my voice there, not really. It’s been made clear. If that makes me a quitter, so be it. I have this blog. If anyone is still interested in what I have to say, they can catch it here. 

Now in any break up, it does help to remember the good times; there were many. This community was there when I first got my Xbox, and played on line gaming for the first time. I joined by first clan there, started a few of my own. Went to a Lan to meet these folks and they were wonderful. I’ve seen friends divorce and find new love. I’ve seen babies born, people get married. Kids have gotten sick and the response is fast, vocal and genuinely caring and supportive. 

While, yes, some members of the site are vile individuals – it’s only expected in a population of over 17,000 – the grand majority don’t mean to create a space where someone like me is not welcome. But they do. Some are so wonderful and supporting, and I will try to stay in touch with them the best I can.  

But all in all: it’s time we move on. I have new opportunities. This blog, while still in its infancy, has allowed me to see a new community. One of my own choosing. I am excited to move on to something new. 

Sorry guys. It’s not me; it’s you. Good luck.

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Excellence in Characterization – Dr. Chakwas: Mass Effect

This is the first part of what I hope to make a reoccurring series on excellence in characterization. Be warned. This edition contains minor spoilers on Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

One part Bones, One part Hollywood Rebel.

Take one part Helen Mirren, one part Bones of Star Trek fame and you will come up with one Dr. Chakwas of Mass Effect. Dr. Chakwas has become one of my favourite female, minor characters in gaming.

I have loved the way she was written from day one. She represents the best in what I feel minor characters should do; she adds flavour to the series, she further adds layers and nuance to other main characters and to the universe in which they all coexist. She also leaves you wanting to know a little bit more.

First: the facts. Dr. Chakwas is the Chief Medical Officer on board the Normandy, and thus is under the main protagonist, Commander Shepard’s, command.  She is a veteran military doctor, I’ll put her around 50 or older. When tragedy strikes the Normandy, she ends up once again under Commander Shepard’s command, this time with Cerberus.

Pretty standard “the good doctor” fare. Nothing new so far.

Where things get interesting is when you speak with the doctor about her motives for being on board the Normandy.  Her answer is simple yet nuanced. She talks about how she wanted to save the lives of brave soldiers with steely eyes and deep, sensitive souls (le sigh). The writing could have been hokey, and perhaps a bit insulting, however she comes across as poking gentle fun at her much younger, naive self. Yes, that is what she thought then, and how silly. Yet, there is a twinkle in her eye. You see that she had an adventurous streak in her, and you can see that still as the game progresses.

Later, Commander Shepard basically has a chance to ask Dr. Chakwas this question again. After Normandy v1.0 got blown to bits, she had the opportunity to go anywhere. Shepard also makes  a point of stating that it’s a suicide mission, they probably aren’t coming back. Once again, is she SURE she wants to be here? 

Again, it’s not a simple answer.  She says how she has gone through hell and high water with the Alliance Military, suicide missions don’t bother her. What this shows is that she is not the same bleeding heart romantic that she once was. She ditched the romantic, but kept that sense of adventure and duty. She could not be herself anywhere else but in a military type outfit. Damn what she is “supposed” to do or want. She is doing what is good for HER. Even if it means a not so comfortable life.

I stated in the opener that Dr. Chakwas is one part Helen Mirren. I said this for a reason. although there is a physical resemblance, the similarities are deeper. I once read somewhere that Helen got a tattoo ages ago: before it became the norm. It was a *statement* back then. Something you did if you prided yourself on doing and being the unexpected. There would have been consequences. Women DIDN’T do things like that. And I suspect that Dr. Chakwas has many such stories of her past, ones that she may not shout on the tallest mountain (like Jack) but that she quietly keeps close to her self.

When further pressed, Dr. Chakwas does what a minor character’s role is to do. She provides insight into the other characters. In general, we come to know characters not just through their own words and actions, but from the words and actions of those around them. Dr. Chakwas performs this role perfectly. She speaks about how she would basically follow Shepard to hell and back. Now we already established that Dr. Chawas is no one’s fool. She does her own thing, she has her own mind. If this strong woman is willing to follow Shepard, what kind of person must Shepard be?

She also provides layers to the universe. She says that another reason why she is on the Normandy is that she feels the need for family. She can patch up soldiers, and they will go do their job, but Joker- the ship’s pilot-  has special needs. His brittle bones mean that he will always need medical care, and she has come to care for him. She needs him, as much as he needs her. There is a real caring and empathy. 

In the middle of a dire, dangerous mission for the very survival of humanity,  Dr. Chakwas gives us reasons why humanity is worth saving: we love each other. This is a distinct counter balance to some of the terrifying and shocking things that the universe of Mass Effect shows us. It gives us hope for better and this hope was written as a realistic interplay between two people and it didn’t hit us over the head in some ham-fisted manner.

When we look at the overall picture we see a distinctly feminine character, but one that is different from what we are used to seeing. She is strong, caring but there is steel and humour. She has a naive history, but grew up fast. She provided insight to other characters and to the universe of the game itself.  Although she is a minor character she is extremely important to the game and her part is played with perfection. I want more.

Geek Feminism – On Catfights and How We Can Possibly Get it Together

I hate the term “catfight.”  It often trivialized when women had genuine disagreements with one another. “Haha – the Ladies are all in a lather! Sexy!”

But, perhaps in the geek world: we women have been guilty of bringing each other down. Meow!

This topic was explored in an amazing post on GamingAngels.com, please read and comment. It is truly a wonderful piece, inspired by geekfeminism.org.

As I stated yesterday, I honestly believe that in gaming culture we don’t do that great of a job at picking up on social issues. Personally, I find that social issues are often hand dismissed as “stupid PC BS by Really Stupid People who Love Censorship.” Now, this isn’t always the case, obviously, but that sentiment is out there.

Some readers and gamers are thoughtful, critical people who engage. Others just don’t understand why these social issues mean more to other people, or why other people see and experience sexism when they don’t. It’s a question of privilege, and I know I can’t change that. Still others, well… are just nasty and condescending: they fight the person and not the issue. Debate on issues I love. Straw-feminist rants: not so much.

I have seen this often, and for some reason, I am always more surprised when it is other women who mock and deride these issues and each other.

I think that by dismissing the sexism you are protected from it. I know I have been less happy with gaming, gamers and geek culture in general since I started to see the sexism that is rampant. Once your eyes are opened to it, you can’t ever go back. And, personally, the lack of decent discourse is even worse. I’m a talker. I need to talk these issues through, yet I sometimes feel like I am one woman fighting this alone.

It was gamer culture and gaming that made me a feminist. Now I stand here, wondering how to proceed and not knowing what to do.

Gamers: Let’s All Pick a Lane, Shall We?

Let's pick a lane. Where do we want to be?

We gamers have been under fire for ages.

We’re constantly told that our passion is juvenile at best; will turn children into godless murdering monsters at worst. Lately, the argument against our hobby has been more subtle and yet, more dismissive. Games are not art, and therefore not really worth taking seriously.

As a community, we have responded with a one-two punch against the nay-sayers: we are well informed with facts about our hobby (“Well, actually, the grand majority of games are rated ‘E’ for Everyone and so aren’t violent”) and, yes, sometimes we have been known to engage in all out on-line warfare (“This chick is an idiot! Let’s all give her book a one star rating on Amazon!”).

All in all: we defend, defend, defend. Everything is so fantastic in GamerWorld!

But I don’t think so.  I love gaming. I spend my free time writing this blog all about gaming. But I am not so in love with it that I’ve lost my reason.

We should be at the point where gamers must look at gaming with a more critical eye.  And sometimes that means we will have to acknowledge that the glass is not half full… in fact: some of the time, our glass is full of crap.  If we believe that games are art, as we’ve strenuously argued as of late, then we should be able to discuss the games at a higher level. To argue at a higher level means to acknowledge the flaws in our passion and in ourselves as members of this community.

Why is it that gamers tend to dismiss the homophobia, sexism and racism in our games and in our interactions with one another on-line? It’s as if the gamer culture thrives on being juvenile.  Tits or GTFO. See, we’re too cool and ironic to get worked up by mere political correctness.  If you can’t handle the homophobic, racist, sexist remarks on line well, then a) you are a whiny spineless worm — if this was 5 years ago I would add “hand in your man-card” — and b) get off of Xbox Live and let the REAL gamers play.

Perhaps there is also an ignorance, one born of privilege. A telling quote from N’Gai Croal and the Resident Evil 5 and racist imagery controversy:

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort  of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists?

While gamers don’t have control over the racism or sexism in the games themselves, we can control the dynamic in on-line gaming. Yet, here we also see ridiculous behaviour. In a study, it was found that women received three times the negative comments in Halo 3 than their male counterparts. This sexism can`t be blamed on the industry but must be placed squarely on the shoulders of gamers. The best we have come up with is `mute, report, pwn, a strategy which places all of the responsability for policing on the shoulders of victims of these remarks, and not on the enforcement teams at Sony or Microsoft. It also absolves other gamers from the responsability of acting on behalf of fellow gamers. We have become passive on lookers while others are harassed.

Yet we pretend that this culture  of juvenile behaviour does not exist when we have to prove that gaming is a serious and adult past time.  And so we start pulling out “The average gamer is over 30 years old and so this is an adult medium.” argument.

So which is it? Are we cool and ironic and so un-PC, or are we adults playing games that, like all works, are flawed on a social level.

In the face of the big “-isms” I find that the reaction from gamers is to ridicule, and dismiss, but rarely to engage.  As a result, we give two very counter intuitive arguments in regards to gaming:

  1. Games are HIGH Art DAMMIT. You should come to appreciate the medium as I do.
  2. It’s just a game: STFU.  GTFO and stop overanalyzing.

No wonder outsiders are confused. We’re confused. We can’t keep saying that games are high art, and then when faced with the baser elements say “it’s just a game”. We gotta pick a lane, be honest with ourselves and be prepared, educated and brave enough to be critical of ourselves and our hobby.

Nope. No sexism in games. None. What. So. Ever.

These arguments are not new. There are many gaming journalists who have run up against these attitudes and tried to argue the same arguments that I am making now. I am not surprised that people whose job it is to question and engage the industry are asking these questions. I am surprised, however, that gamers haven’t acknowledged these questions more often and demanded better by now.

Maybe the confusion is with me.

If games are art, then we treat it like an artform and not a pretty picture. That means learning, questioning and being critical. We must start reading more critically. It means we identify and we start getting angry when we see sexism, racism and homophobia within a game. It means we each denounce this type of behaviour online instead of leaving the victim to defend him or herself alone. We question and question until we are satisfied.

Or if it’s just a game, then fine — don’t argue back when people say it’s just for kids and it’s irrelevant.

All I ask is that we start picking a lane.

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists? residentevil5-03-281.jpg

Spoilers Abound! End Games – Do Gamers Crave The Sure Thing?

In case you couldn’t tell from the headline, this post contains many spoilers about games and movies. Proceed with caution! But please have fun in the comments section: let’s talk about game vs movie endings! 

My husband and I love movies with a twist, and, as is to be excepted, we found Inception a great flick. We both enjoyed The Prestige more, and Momento is still one of my favorite movies EVAH, but that’s just us. Upon dissecting the movie over wings and nachos, my husband asked me if video games had the same type of ending as Inception. 

Please Can I Haz Games Like This?

Now, for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Inception doesn’t really end. The big payoff .. isn’t. It would be like if a hero entered into the room with the final boss fight and then… nothing. That’s that. End of scene. No payoff. In fact, when you think about it, you just get more confused. The entire narrative is brought into question. Did the hero ever make it to the castle, or did something else happen?

The straight narrative that you have been following hasn’t been straight at all. Now you really don’t know the fate of our hero, not to mention the fate of the mission at hand. Everything is called into question. What exactly is going on? What WENT on?

The Wrestler ended with a big boss fight, that you don’t see. Does he die at the end? Does he reclaim his past glory? Dunno. No one does. The Prestige had a final ending, but again, one that made you question what went on the entire movie.   The Sixth Sense was one of the first big movies to have this type of switch up. M. Night Shyamalan’s followup The Village tried to capture lighting in a bottle for the second time, and while I liked it fine, the ending (everyone is actually living in modern times) I felt was projected too easily.  Momento, Vanilla Sky, Mulholland Drive, Pan’s Labyrinth are more movies where you weren’t really sure of the outcome or the narrative. And these are just the ones that I have seen: and I am not a moviephile.

Offhand, I don’t think we see these types of endings in games to the extent that we see them in movies. Offhand I have Bioshock and Killer 7.  Yes, we do see cliffhangers…  The End. OR IS IT!???  Excellent way to set up a sequel and all. We also have games where the good guy actually turns out to be the bad guy. But that is a straight double cross. That’s not anything close to finding out that Lenny actually set himself up to kill John G (see… I told you there would be spoilers). 

Why is this? Why aren’t there more games with unknown narratives and endings?

One reason why games have definite endings is to encourage replayability. One run through and the top spins forever, the other playthrough and your top falls over. One play through and you rescue the princess, another play through and you kill her. All definite endings, but different ones to explore.

Another reason could be that gamers couldn’t “handle” an uncertain ending after 12+ hours invested in the game. We need that payoff. I don’t buy this for a second. Gamers are smart adults, the same adults that are going to see Inception. We are not so small-minded that we cry if things are not how we imagined. Everyone loved Bioshock. But why aren’t there more?

Is it just easier to write and churn out Space Operas? Maybe we have something here. I have mentioned many, many great movies that are of this “major twist that makes you question the narrative” genre, but I could mention triple the number that are simple, but excellent, action films with a straight “good guy saves the day” narratives.

I have never claimed to be an end all and be all expert on games and gaming. I am a fan of gaming, just like you. So tell me: do I have this right? What games have a twist in the whole narrative a la Inception and The Sixth Sense? What have been your favourite twist endings in movies and games? Do you think that games would benefit from a less defined narrative?

Pickles, Ice Cream and … Gaming?

Maybe it’s not me.  Maybe it’s my biology.

I’m almost 37 weeks along in this pregnancy now; for the uninitiated that means I am *this* close to being full term. With pregnancy comes hormones. And with hormones sometimes comes pregnancy crazies… including cravings. And I have been having some pretty weird cravings.

Granted these craving are not the same as my first trimester grapefruit cravings (Husband: “You hate grapefruit.” Me: “I know! Grapefruit: NOM NOM NOM!”). These new cravings seem more odd, perhaps because they aren’t mentioned in the small library of pregnancy books and sites us knocked up women visit daily. No, these cravings revolve around… gaming.

Now, I’m a lucky girl, I have lots of game choice. I started another Mass Effect 2 and I’m just now starting to get the hang of my vanguard Shepard. Magic The Gathering on XBL is always a standard for me, and Puzzle Quest 2 is a game that I have been waiting forever to play. Bioshock has not yet been completed (Yes! I know, don’t nag) and I have a friend who will lend me about 5 games that are on my wish list if I but ask. I also make my own money and have no qualms about buying a game when it catches my fancy. Lots of games at my gaming fingertips. But there is only one I *literally* dream about playing.

So, when the Xbox finally got unpacked, (um… yeah, we decided to move too. No one accused us of being bright individuals) the first game I threw into the tray was… Too Human?

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic game. It’s mad fun to skate along slaughtering dozens and dozens of machines. Loot drops? Yes please! AND I can customize the colour of my dude? Alright I’m there! Co-op… well, if I had this thing called the “internet” hooked up to the house, then yes… I would be all over that (now, what in which box did we pack that series of tubes?). And you know, this game is #1 in my books for making you feel like an all-powerful god, including God of War. My lvl 36 Berzerker skates through baddies like butter, and that makes me giggle like a school girl.

Although Too Human is fun as all get out, for some reason, it is just not in my list of go to games.  definitely not one that I would dream about. And I do. It’s a mini-obsession; like a corn kernel stuck between your molars. I can’t not think of it after a while. Just like with the grapefruit.

Too Human? NOM, NOM, NOM!

Gamers often talk about biology when we talk about gaming. How many of us have uttered the words “I am so addicted to game X”. Yet, when we say “I’m addicted” we don’t really (usually?) mean a true addiction. Addiction is a biological drive, a condition that is only able to be identified by professionals.

Then are we obsessed? I don’t think so. Most of us are healthy gamers, with healthy relationships. Those gamers that have true problems, well… have problems, just like any other subset of a population. And like any other person with challenges, should be dealt with compassion.

Yet, I sometimes wonder if we gamers are built differently than our non-gamer counterparts. Oh, we could talk forever about nature or nurture of gamers. Am I a gamer because I was raised with a brother who loved videogames, or do my brother and I love videogames, because it’s in our genes?  I find it odd that once the kids were out of the house, both Mom and Dad became gamers. And in an odd switch its my mother that is the major gamer of that household.  My daughter is only three and had the most fun EVER at an arcade. Perhaps gaming in my line is carried on the “X” gene.

I don’t think I would really have thought about it, or cared about a biological component to gamers. Until… this craving. So, are gamers different? Do we have a higher play-ethic than the general population? So you feel as though you were born a gamer? That this is in your bones?

Either way, it’s time to scratch that itch… there are some goblin machines that need wasting.