Category Archives: Articles

Friday Show and Tell – Your Week in review

This site features a lot of criticism on gaming. Sometimes we have to stop and remember that gaming is super fun.

Post here and tell everyone what you did in gaming this week that made you go “Squee!” Or if you are in the mood, share something you are looking forward to in the week ahead. Or share a gaming related blog that you think is awesome: tell us why we should all go take a look.

Want to see something here are YellingatPixels? Let me know!

Basically: this is your thread. Share away!

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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.

Pay to Play Multiplayer – Would you?

So there is a hot little article running around the web today about the potential to monetize multi-player, in a pay to play model. The article quotes Michael Pachter, a market analyst, who  basically says that large publishers such as Activision are getting ripped off in this whole multi-player deal. 

The logic is as follows: If a ton of XBL players are playing Call of Duty, Activision should see some of that. But they don’t, they only see the money from the sale of the game, not from the multiplayer. If a game like Call of Duty is driving XBL subscription sales, then Activision should get a cut.  Also if players are spending huge amounts of time on these popular MP games, then they are not purchasing new games. Mr. Pacter states:

“We think that it is incumbent upon Activision, with the most popular multiplayer game, to take the first step to address monetization of multiplayer,” said Pachter. “It is too early to tell whether that will be a monthly subscription, tournament entry fees, microtransaction fees, or a combination of all three, but we expect to see the company take some action by year-end, when Call of Duty Black Ops launches.”

From what I see, the response from gamers has been swift and biting. Some are calling for a boycott of Activision is this ever happens. Some say that they will never play another Call of Duty game. Some are taking a more measured approach.

Here’s my two cents.

Hey: FPS fans. Stop pretending. You will buy Call of Duty, and pay the extra $10, at most, when the rave reviews start flying and your friends list is full of buddies playing COD. You will justify the extra charge. Right now it is getting people angry, but down the line, when the game hits the shelf, you will have rationalized the extra expense away. After all: the cost-benefit analysis still puts playing a game like COD heavily into the plus column.  $60 for the game, $50 for an XBL subscription and and extra $10 for the COD MP license is $120. Divided by the BRAZILLION hours that some people play in this game and you still have a great product at a great value. A small subscription fee is a drop in the bucket.

Secondly, the article talks about “providing value” to the player. Now this could be one of two things. One. It could be complete and utter BS, something to say in an attempt to smooth ruffled feathers. If this is the case, Activision and the like will lose respect and draw the ire of gamers everywhere. Not a great business model.

 Two. You know… maybe “providing value”  could actually mean offering something that we want.

I think the question that is more interesting than “Would you pay an extra $10 for MP?” is “What would you need in order to make that $10 worthwhile?” Cause there MUST be something.

This could actually be a huge opportunity for Activision and the like to come out of all this being the good guys. How? By actually listening to gamers, and giving us something that we really do want.

So what is it?

Free map packs? Free weapons? Free avatar clothing? Microtransactions? I doubt it. This avenue will do nothing more than make gamers see red. We don’t need or want more free crap. Microtransactions don’t excite. Yet this is easy to throw at us. So what else could they offer?

I would happily pay for a special “COD” buddy list so that I didn’t have to continuously cull my precious 100 slots on my friends list. This would be cool, and a bit different, but it doesn’t make me go “WOW.”

How about: a stricter enforcement of Terms of Service… and I don’t mean banning people with naughty words in their bio. What if Activision was able to get tough on glitchers and cheaters, racists and sexists, and ban them from Call of Duty. You want to play COD again? Pony up that $10 my friend.

What about special rooms available just for people new to the multiplayer aspect of the game. You are only allowed in if you have under 20 hours of game time. Helps newbs hone their skills against other newbs. An MP tutorial sandbox.  You could expand this: what about rooms only for people who have prestiged? That way vets can play against vets. Rooms for people over a certain age. I know I hate playing with 12-year-old kids.

All this makes me go *YES*.

Do that, and the rest of the gaming community may not only pay the $10, but pay it happily, and demand it from the other guys.

Everyone wins.

There has GOT to be a way that everyone can make money and have a great gaming experience: what are your ideas?

Quick Game Impressions – BarStar for the iPhone

I’m a sucker for local talent. I like Canadians and I like people who feel genuine passion about their product.

So when someone named, @barstar tweeted me, saying that if I liked Plants vs. Zombies (I do), I should try BarStar, my interest was slightly piqued. When I found out that they work practically down the street from me, well I decided to give them a shot. Why not? What have I got to lose? Let’s help that Ottawa  job market one app at a time. So a week later, I downloaded BarStar for the iPhone.

BarStar - Featuring Chase in red; Artie is behind the bar.

Bottom line: It’s a great little app.

BarStar a time management game. In this case, our heroine, Chase is a waitress at a bar that she and her brother, Artie have inherited. Chase has to check IDs, take orders, show people where the bathroom is, take in cash and a myriad of other tasks. Artie has to mix drinks, as well as pour wine and beer. And you only have a certain amount of time to do all of this AND make a certain amount of money. Give someone a wrong drink: it’s game over. Take too long, customers leave the bar.

Over the days and weeks, you can earn enough money to purchase upgrades to your bar. A bouncer will check ID for you. A DJ will keep the dance floor hopping. You can magically make Artie and Chase perform their tasks faster. And so on and so on.

The controls are very simple, intuitive and responsive. Press where you want to go, drag your finger to the selection. Done.  The screen for the iPhone does not show the entire bar, but this adds to the difficulty. You have to keep scanning left and right to make sure a customer in the corner isn’t getting mad. The difficulty ramps up nicely, some levels have quirks, and force you to play the game differently.

It’s fun, it’s cute and it also has that pick up and go-ness that is important in a handheld game. I can play a level in a few minutes while I’m waiting in a line up or whatever. There is a mix of long-term strategy (what upgrades do I purchase?) and simple “in-the-now” gameplay.

I also like Chase as a visual character. She is beautiful without being exploited. She’s also the brains behind the operation. Artie is also decently portrayed. He’s a bit geeky, but not as annoying as I feared. My only criticism is that I can’t necessarily replay a previous level. That is merely my game play preference.  But hey, it’s an iPhone app, its meant to be fun: it is. If that is the only criticism I have: so be it.

I say, if you are looking for a pick up and play game on the iPhone and you have already downloaded the usual suspects, give BarStar a try, and let me know what you think!

Rated M for Adolescent

A while ago, Leigh Alexander wrote an excellent piece for Kotaku, about the extreme violence in games. In the article she writes:

But as games get ever more immersive and lifelike, it starts to feel less like healthy play and more like unsettling aspirational fantasy to me. And as the economic competition around the genre heats up, the push for bigger-bloodier-more seems especially opportunistic and shameless. I don’t understand the continuing appeal; I don’t understand the unquestioning audience.

What I find interesting is that in the debate afterwards, I heard the refrain “Yes, games are violent, but most games are not. Most games in, fact are rated ‘E’.”  An example from the fantastic Ngai Croal:

Ngai Croal discusses L. Alexander's Kotaku Article

And I completely agree. Most games are not the overly violent “blockbuster movie” type faire that have people wringing their hands with worry. The games industry is more akin to Pixar’s “Up” than to “Saw.”

Here’s my problem. I’m an adult. I don’t necessarily want to play a kid’s game, but that doesn’t mean I want something mindless either. Where is our “Saving Private Ryan”?

I would rather see more games that are rated Mature, not for their gratuitous sex or violence, but for their themes.  I see plenty macho space marines that are underdeveloped stock characters having to save humanity (again).  In see women in games portrayed as ice princesses, vixen-whores or beautiful commandos: none of which are realistic and are a bit insulting.  I see sex scenes straight out of a teenaged boy’s fantasies.  I see games where I blow stuff up real good. Hey, all great games and a ton of fun… but mature they are not.

For me an example of a Rated M for Mature game, with mature themes was Fallout 3.  Tongue in cheek, laugh out loud funny, and disturbingly violent, yes; this game was also one of the most mature I’ve seen. You play as a survivor of the nuclear apocalypse, 100 years later.  Nothing grows. Raiders that roam the land leave dead bodies hanging in their territory as a warning. There are charred skeletons of children next to teddy bears and toy cars. Mailboxes contain letters of regret: there is no room at the fallout shelter for the homeowners, their bodies can be found inside holding each other. There are prostitutes, not the funny stereotyped BBWs of GTA4, but women who sell the only thing they have ownership of for a night of security. This is just the world, the trend continues as the main and side stories the state’s responsibilities to the citizenry and so on.

There must be a reason for the lack of truely mature games. Maybe this is what the Rated M market wants and what sells?

But as the gaming population ages, are we going to continue this trend? It’s one thing to be titillated at a lesbian sex scene with a Goddess, it’s another when the next day you have to take your little girl to little league. Shooting up baddies is fine, but after reading the news on-line… well you may not be as keen. 

As gamers continue to take on the “games as art” debate to heart, will we see more critical analysis of the story, universe and themes that we see in games? Will we come to a point where we can debate racism, sexism in games intelligently, or will we simply say “it’s just a game” if it all becomes to difficult to defend?

Excellent Read: Reviewing Games with and Eye to Value(s)

Gamasutra has an excellent article today concerning game reviews, and their lack of depth when speaking to writing and characterization. Yes, game reviews will dissect the ins and outs of gameplay, audio/visual mastery and the replayability of the game, but they often gloss over the literacy of the game. A quote from the article:

Meanwhile, as gamers mature they often become more concerned with exactly those aspects of the game which are being ignored. Does the game contain nuanced characters or does it merely exploit common stereotypes? Does the game make the player reconsider our preconceptions about war or does it romanticize it? Are religious and spiritual issues dealt with fairly or are they glossed over in a way that distorts the issue overall.

In chatting with a friend of mine, his immediate reaction was a defensive one. “Why can’t games just be fun?”

Yes, there will always be room for the “blockbuster” type game where Stuff-Gets-Blowed-Up-Real-Good, but sometimes I want more than popcorn.  Or I want to discuss the games on a higher level. 

I used to belong to a Reader’s Circle: that’s a fancy name for book club. We would spend hours talking about the book in question and being critical of it. Everyone threw around opinions and viewpoints, and we never felt the need to be defensive. It didn’t mean that we hated the book, or reading, but by having these discussions we became better readers. We became more knowledgeable about publishing, character, storyline, universe creation and so on. If gamers can do the same, it’s a win for everyone. Gamers become better gamers, developers may have to stand up and listen and really give us socially relevant and literate games.

And it’s okay to look around and say that the Emporor has No Clothes.  Pointing out the sexism, homophobia, racism or plain old juvenile nature of some games does not mean that games and gaming is not a great pastime. It does mean that we are thinking enough to question what we are being given. It also means that gaming can be considered a truly mature medium, one where we can talk like adults about adult issues, and not get defensive.

Either way: be sure to check out the above article. The comments are thoughtful and measured, and the author speaks intelligently to the discussion.  And let me know: how do you find the literacy in games? Any great or horrible examples of poor writing? What about games where you were unsure if the developers took present day social context into consideration when creating certain aspects of the game?