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Archive for the ‘games’ Category

A Survivor is (re-) Born, Or, Playing Tomb Raider after Anita Sarkeesian.

In feminism, Film, games, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on June 26, 2013 at 7:36 am

brian psi

In 1985, Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For inaugurated what has come to be known as The Bechdel Test, a three-point checklist for evaluating how a film represents women. Does it have at least two? Do they have a scene together? Do they talk about something other than men? The fact that so few films pass all of these—even 30 years later—means that many filmgoers keep this checklist in the front of our minds, as part of the internal HUDs that we screen all of our media through.

It is difficult now, at least for me, to play a game without my own internal interface simultaneously replaying bits of Anita Sarkeesian’s ongoing series of videos for Feminist Frequency, “Tropes vs. Women.” The first three (two of which are complete) are about the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. In part 1, she lays out the history of the trope, and some of its earlier incarnations; in the second part she demonstrates how it has been used more recently, including such horrifying variations as the ‘damsel in the refrigerator,’ the ‘disposable’ damsel, and the ‘euthanized’ damsel. The collection of cutscenes and gameplay clips she has amassed in support of these classifications is staggering and frankly, not seriously refutable. So it would not be at all surprising if, in the not too distant future, players and critics evaluate their games by some kind of Sarkeesian test, which might get at whether there are women present in the game, and importantly, whether they are protagonists or allies rather than prisoners or corpses used to drive the stories of stubble-sporting, dark-haired white dudes.

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In the Sky, Lord, in the Sky: Historical Guilt and Bioshock Infinite

In class, dystopian literature, games, gender, race, spoilers, technology, time travel, Uncategorized, violence on April 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

brian psi

Irrational Games’ latest opus, Bioshock Infinite, was released last week, to universal acclaim. Creative director Ken Levine has been making the kind of upscale promotional rounds usually frequented by novelists or filmmakers—rare air for someone who has just made an ultraviolent first person shooter, the most reviled (and most lucrative) subgenre of the most debased popular art form. Like other games of its type, the new Bioshock features plenty of gunplay and gruesome melee finishers; unlike other games in any genre, Infinite’s storytelling, setting and themes explore the most troubling aspects of American history, providing a fairly scathing commentary on the interplay of American exceptionalism, racism, religion and labor exploitation. What really struck me is the way that the game evokes—in its narrative and mechanics—two very different responses to historical guilt, responses which make the game’s politics both fascinating and contemporary.

WARNING: massive spoilers below, including major plot twists and ending!

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GLG Year-End Picks: Brian’s Games of 2012

In games, gender, Uncategorized, violence on December 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

brian psi

2012 was the year that the sexual harassment endemic to many online gaming communities finally started to receive mainstream media attention. While there had long been sites dedicated to documenting it (see also Fat, Ugly, or Slutty and Not In the Kitchen Anymore) it was the backlash to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter for her “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” doc that really set off the community’s vile and vocal undermind. Sarkeesian documented the responses she received including rape and death threats, the vandalizing of her Wikipedia page, and one guy even coded a game, the object of which was to beat up a virtual version of Sarkeesian until she was left bruised and bloody. This, people, is why the world is awful. Thankfully, Sarkeesian also received considerable support, her kickstarter hit its goal many times, over, and she recently appeared on TEDx to give the full rundown.

Relatedly, #1reasonwhy trended on Twitter after a designer asked his followers why there were ‘so few lady game designers.’ A number of industry women replied to share their stories, some of which are depressing, others hopeful, but every one eye -opening.

The Year in Games Writing

On GLG this year, Allison Bray wrote about bodies and corpses in DayZ, and I wrote about the promising/troubling phenomenon of crossplaying gender.

Elsewhere, Tom Bissell’s ostensible review of Spec Ops: The Line is actually, Benjamin-like, some theses on the philosophy of the first person shooter. Bissell asks why we enjoy video game violence, a theme newly re-relevant post-Newtown. I’ve read this piece at least ten times, and now I’m reading it again. You should, too.

Patricia Hernandez talks Gears of War and the internalization of rape culture in competitive multiplayer. And it is devastating, the saddest thing I’ve read all year.

Games Played

FTL: Faster Than Light

A kickstarter-funded independent, FTL looks and plays like a fancy German board game. You are the captain of a starship pursued by evil rebel scum. Your fragile ship will be torpedoed, boarded by killer robots, pelted by asteroids, is subjected to internal fires and will occasionally experience explosive decompression. Your few crew members must make repairs, pilot the ship, and basically keep it all together while you order them to trade for parts, explore strange nebulae, and upgrade your ship with meaner lasers and death-dealing drones. Random star maps and events means your intrepid crew will die in different, horrifying ways every time. Fun for fans of Star Trek, strategy games, and those with malevolent God complexes, FTL is less than ten bucks on Steam. Read the rest of this entry »

DayZ: Where Everybody Is a Body

In games on July 25, 2012 at 7:47 am

Guest Contributor Allison Bray

It is a silent and unremarkable landscape devoid of people. A subdued version of the apocalypse. Depending on which direction you walk, and for how long, you may find hills, streams, farmhouses, or industrial areas. An approaching figure could be a zombie or a human being, but the latter does not guarantee survival. Humans are just as likely to kill you in order to loot your corpse. You’re equipped with little more than a flashlight—useless in a fight. If you run, and many do, the environment poses its own threats. You could die from hypothermia, starvation, dehydration, shock, blood loss, or infection. If you die, and everyone does, you lose everything. Start over.

That is the bleak and uncompromising experience of DayZ, a new online video game that’s been met with widespread acclaim despite—or perhaps because of—its gritty and utterly unsexy minimalism. DayZ could be described as a simplified zombie survival game with an emphasis on realism, or a realistic survival game that happens to include zombies. In either case, the simple premise doesn’t sound that different from many other games on the market. DayZ has set itself apart, however, by throwing out the prevailing formula and its familiar balance of narrative, character, and gameplay. As the gaming industry moves ever closer to cinematic standards in producing that balance, the small team responsible for DayZ stripped away the elements of narrative and character altogether, leaving little more than a player, their on-screen counterpart, and the very real question of what they are willing to do to keep that lone figure alive.

The first people who played it must have been baffled not so much by what they found, but what they didn’t find:  DayZ drops you into a world without context or guidelines. Joining a server loads you onto the map, a fictional chunk of Eastern Europe roughly 225 square kilometers in size, but there is no introductory cut-scene establishing the details of your environment or anything else. Besides the lack of items, there is no map or compass automatically available for navigation. There are no tutorials for new players, no pop-up screens with tips or hints, and no witty sidekicks appear to ease the tension and help. Since this is a game downloaded online and not purchased at a store for sixty dollars, there isn’t a glossy booklet with explanations of the world and its items. The only information available is a small inventory screen, nearly empty at the start, and a small stats display that is a window into the heart of the game.

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A well-stocked inventory.

Like other games, some of the statistics relate to your success within this world, but success means something different in this world. No real plots or large objectives mean no progress meters, experience points or levels, and even though a counter keeps track of the number and type of kills (zombie or human), you don’t win by obtaining the highest tally of kills. You avoid losing by staying alive. Read the rest of this entry »

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