Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

The List – Year 3 (A month late)

August 6, 2014

Last year at this time I calculated that I had finished 7 of about 51 games on my list of games to finish, for about a 14% finish rate. This year, I have 9 finished out of 53, which is about a 17% finish rate. Considering that I didn’t put a push on games to finish this year and have spent a lot of time replaying games that I liked — like the Personas — that’s actually pretty good. Although I may have to consider that there are a number of games on that list that I am just never, ever going to finish.

Ultimately, the reason for the increase is that I didn’t add a lot of games to the list this year, either by not buying new games or, at least, by deciding that they weren’t going to be games that I was going to strive to finish. We’ll see if that changes over the next year.

NPC, Easy as 1-2-3

June 20, 2014

So, in recent video game news, Ubisoft has said that they aren’t going to provide a playable female character in Assassin’s Creed: Unity because it would be too much work. As you might imagine, there’s been a lot of discussion over whether this is true, or whether if even if it’s true that means that they shouldn’t do it, and so on and so forth. But I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I’m going to talk about this article that I saw in a tweet from Shamus Young, which he recommended as being particularly good, and takes a bit of a different take on the issue.

The article starts out talking about the deep and rich involvement of women in the actual French Revolution — the period the game is set in — in much detail. Much detail. A lot of detail. While this was interesting, this detail goes on for most of the 2 pages of the article, and while it was interesting and taught me things I never knew — not being particularly interested in the French Revolution because military history is more to my interest — by the second page I was skimming the article thinking “Great, but what’s the point?”.

This seems to me to be the point, and the argument for why it is bad that Ubisoft didn’t include a female playable character in the game:

It was wrong because presenting a French Revolution with women as NPCs rather than PCs reinforces the narrative that women were the “passive” citizens that politicians and laws painted them as. Well-written NPCs can certainly teach players about women in the revolution, but by definition an NPC is a character with a scripted routine, one who isn’t free to make her own choices. An NPC does not act – she is acted upon. In other words, by confining women to NPC roles, Ubisoft figuratively condemns its female characters to the second-class status and scripted life women in the actual French Revolution fought – and died – to escape.

In this way, playing a woman in Assassin’s Creed: Unity would in itself be a revolutionary act. To play as a historical woman taking part in political life – and in that period violence was a part of political life – upends the narrative that women were “passive” citizens. But more than that it gives the character a sense of freedom and choice that NPCs don’t have – the power to act rather than react. There is no greater act of liberation than putting a character under player control. A character under programming is an asset, but a character under a player’s hand has free will within the game’s laws. To make an oppressed character playable is to give them the tools to break their chains.

And to quote the legendary sages Hall and Oates: I can’t go for that, noooo, no can do.

The problem here is that it actually seems to conflate two things: game organization and characterization. NPCs are, of course, always in a game to support the narrative and immersion of the player, and so in that sense they aren’t agents, as their agency is, as stated, programmed and scripted. But that doesn’t mean that the characters themselves are agentless or second-class in any way. You could indeed convey all of the history — good and ill — of women in the French Revolution as NPCs even though they are there to support the story, as in any deep story in a game the NPCs are generally there to lead the player into and motivate them to experience the wider world you’re building for them. This is easier to do if the NPCs seem to be full agents, with real desires and real fears, so that then the player comes to believe them and want to help them achieve their desires, or in fact understands that what they desire is what it is right to desire and so comes to desire it themselves, and either tries to remove the threats that they fear or comes to fear those threats themselves. Done well, NPCs build and define the world that the play is immersed in, and the player chooses their path through that world. In some sense, it would be easier to tell the stories that the article tells through NPCs than PCs, because the player can always decide not to care and, if the game is not to be too linear, to work for or against these groups, but the NPCs always have to care and always have to demonstrate that they care and, indeed, why the player might want to work for their interests.

Now, it would have been interesting to have the only playable character be female, as then that would allow them to tell the story of these groups in detail, something that might be more difficult with a male lead. So that’s an opportunity lost. But the major issue in the article is that it assumes that if the role of an NPC is passive in games and is only there to support the player’s narrative, that doesn’t mean that the NPC themselves are passive or don’t have a narrative themselves. To paraphrase Kant, while all NPCs are a means to the end of the player and player character and player character narrative, that doesn’t mean that they are not also ends in themselves in the narrative, that they don’t have a story or even an active role in their own narrative, that the player can link to and drop in and out of as necessary. Women, then, in the game don’t have to be anything like the passive objects that the women of the French Revolution revolted against, even if their concerns may or may not be the main concerns of the player. Good NPCs are still, at the end of the day, characters, and if I’m to believe that the character I’m playing is a person then the same techniques can be used to make them seem like people, too.

So that, perhaps, can be the rallying cry of the NPC revolution: NPCs are people (characters), too. And to insist that not having a female or a male playable character and leaving those stories to the NPCs makes those stories passive, scripted, second-class, chained is to ignore what good story NPCs, at least, are for.

Whether Ubisoft manages to make good story NPCs is another matter, of course …

A fangirl by any other name …

May 1, 2014

So, there have been a lot of controversies in the geek/nerd/whatever-we’re-calling-it-these-days sphere, over what seems to be the most popular topic in most areas lately: sexism. It seems that some T-shirt company made a set of shirts that read as follows:

Shirt 1 – “I like fangirls like I like my coffee. I HATE coffee”.
Shirt 2 – “I like fanboys like I like my coffee. I HATE coffee”.

Cue angry denunciations of the first shirt, mostly for being sexist and discouraging women from being geeks and tying it all back to the old “fake geek girl controversy”. The company responded to the comments with a post on their Facebook page, saying this:

So, we’ve apparently received some bad word on our fan girl shirt, with accusations of sexism being thrown at us from a certain few bloggers…

…who have completely ignored our other variant shirt on display or didn’t even bother to ask our take on it.

Apparently it’s only sexism if it is insulting to one gender. Woo double standards. …

Anyways, the fangirl/fanboy shirts can best be explained like this: fangirls/boys =/= fans. Fans are people who like and genuinely respect a fandom, and it’s creators. Fangirls/boys are like those who have an unhealthy obsession who make us all collectively cringe in pain at what they do to the things we love.

No one should ever defend these kinds of people. Seriously, they make the rest of us look bad.

Before I get into the blog posts, if you read the comments one of the objections to this is that while they have a fanboy shirt, fanboy does mean what the sort of obsessive fan that they talk about here, but fangirl just means any girl who is a fan, and so it’s a problem. Well, let’s make sure that it does, shall we:

From dictionary.reference.com (note that the entry I’m using here is one that combines fanboy and fangirl into one entry):

a person obsessed with an element of video or electronic culture, such as a game, sci-fi movie, comic or animé, music, etc; a person obsessed with any other single subject or hobby

From Oxford American English:

• informal • derogatory An obsessive female fan (usually of movies, comic books, or science fiction).

And from Oxford World English:

A female fan, especially one who is obsessive about comics, film, music, or science fiction

Only the last definition even hints at it applying to all female fans, and still makes it clear that in general it’s meant to apply to obsessive ones. And before anyone uses that to support the claim of a difference between the terms “fanboy” and “fangirl”, here’s the Oxford World English definition of fanboy:

A male fan, especially one who is obsessive about comics, music, film, or science fiction.

So, no, if the fangirl T-shirt is a problem, then so is the fanboy T-shirt, at least in terms of terminology. They mean the same thing.

Now, some have commented that they aren’t really taking exception with the sexism, but with the shirt implying things about how people ought to be fans. The problem is that the terms fanboy/fangirl are usually given to people who … try to tell people how to be fans of a work. Most commonly, what made the terms derogatory is that it refers to people who jump into any conversation about a work and rant about what people should like about a work, insisting that it’s the best thing ever and no one should ever find any flaws or problems with it and that no one should ever, God forbid, not like the work. That’s just inconceivable for the stereotypical fanboy/fangirl. These are the people who give the hobby a bad name. not those who are saying that that sort of obsession isn’t a good thing. So those complaining that this is telling people how to be fans of a genre or work should be the ones who hate fanboys/fangirls the most.

But, aside from that, the sexism really is the big complaint here, and the comments on the Facebook page that it seems that trying to apply a criticism to women seem to be valid. Aside from most of the comments on that page, we have this article from Rebecca Pahle. She starts off in the title talking about “Fake Geek Crap”, which is odd since no one has or does claim that fanboys/fangirls are fake geeks. They can be legitimate geeks. They’re just bad ones. To make that accusation is like saying that alcoholics are fake drinkers; yes, they are still drinkers, and are just too much so. The same can be said for fanboys/fangirls; they’re still fans, but take it too far.

Now, she does manage to stay somewhat focused on telling fans how to like a work, but she does link it to sexism directly here:

…that rightfully got a lot of people ticked off because of the way it perpetuates the toxic “there’s only one right way to be a fan of something” attitude that’s long infected geek culture and often manifests specifically in a way that’s intended to push girls out of geek spaces.

This would seem to imply that there’s an implication here that’s worse for women, and note that her update to the shirt to a more accurate version replaces “hate” with “scared of” which is a common complaint aimed at supposedly sexist geeks who don’t want women to get into the hobby because they’re scared of them. But at least she does say multiple times that it’s about not telling fans how to like a work, which is better than the original post by Greg Rucka, whose title starts by linking it to gatekeeping of women in geek culture and spends most of the post talking about the trials of his daughter and ends with this:

And some asshole thinks selling a shirt that, essentially, says, GURLS STAY OUT is funny. He’s talking to my wife. He’s talking to my daughter. He’s talking to my friends. He’s talking to my fans. He’s talking to some of the best writers in the industry, some of the most gifted artists, some of the most talented creators in the arts.

GURLS STAY OUT. Heh heh heh.

Since Pahle references Rucka’s article to claim that the creators of the T-shirt ignored the main issue of telling people how to be fans, one would assume she’d, well, read the article. And anyone who read that article would certainly forgive them for thinking that the main issue was sexism, not “telling people how to be fans”. In that sense, it almost sounds like “moving the goalposts” is in play here: once the “fanboy” T-shirt was “revealed”, sexism wasn’t as easy a case anymore, so it switches to the real issue being about telling people how to be fans. Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if Pahle hadn’t referenced Rucka’s post, which is clearly more about sexism than about telling people how to be fans.

The facts of the matter are this:

It isn’t sexist to use the term “fangirl” to describe an overly obsessive female fan, particularly one who is annoyingly vocal about that obsession in a way that implies that if you don’t like what she likes, then there’s something wrong with you or you aren’t really a fan or you don’t know what you’re talking about. It is less sexist to do that than to try to lump all of those fans — male and female — into the term “fanboy” which, as anyone who knows anything about feminism knows, normalizes the male and so is incredibly sexist. While it many be debatable, a good case can be made that overly obsessive fans of any gender are a problem for the geek community, precisely because they end up telling people how to enjoy the works or the genres that they refer to, and that is indeed bad for the community (the objections on that point are valid, as far as they go). In the Facebook quote, could the creators of the T-shirt be doing that (some earlier comment/version of the post might have made reference to hetalia shippers and something else, but it’s not there now)? Maybe, and for that they’d deserve criticism. The shirts, however, don’t actually say things like that , and so to harp on that would be nothing more than a distraction from the issues around the shirts, which started the mess in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with the shirts, as far as I can see. And if people disagree then they can … post comments here (no swearing, please) telling me why I’m wrong.

Elder Scrolls Online Launches …

April 7, 2014

Via Twenty Sided Tale, I’ve heard that the Elder Scrolls Online has launched, and found an article that says that the launch didn’t go well. While it seems like they really messed up removing the starting areas, what really interested me from the comment was the part about what’s good about it:

Sure, the game has its moments. The fact you can just do whatever you want without chain quests dragging you from continent to continent is pretty nice, and what quests there are have some interesting bits to them … If you do choose to play ESO, you will find that the later parts of the game the the dialogue between NPCs and the player, etc are more consistent. You’ll also find a ton of easter eggs and delightful things to hunt down. Even becoming a werewolf or Vampire is something fun and exciting to do and completely changes the way you view your character. Also, you can find powerful motifs that let you craft some really cool looking armor.

Now, the Elder Scrolls series has been hit and miss for me, with a psychopathic rage in Morrowind, actually finishing Oblivion, and trying to play Skyrim twice now without really getting anywhere and without it really grabbing me but … aren’t those good things about the game the things that are good about the normal Elder Scrolls games? What reason would anyone have to actually playing that as an MMO? What social aspects does the game bring to the table that made it worthwhile to make it into an MMO? In short, I guess I’m wondering why there’s even an Elder Scrolls Online at all.

Comparison: Persona 3 to Persona 4

April 5, 2014

At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that my two favourite games ever are Persona 3 and Persona 4. Having just played P3P and now playing Persona 4 Golden after watching P4: The Animation, it seemed like a good idea to compare the two games to each other and give my own personal, subjective opinion on their relative strengths and weaknesses, and maybe even talk about which is the overall better game.

(Note, I’m comparing music but not sound and graphics, because to me the main difference in graphics and sound would be just technological, but the music is, to me, different enough to be worth comparing).

Story

A-Plot

Persona 3’s main plot seems to me to be the deeper plot. It involves the characters directly and ties into their specific backstories and goals, especially with Mitsuru, Yukari, and Aigis. Pretty much everything ties directly into it, and leads back to it in interesting ways. It also has a deeper explanation for what is happening, and relies less on divine intervention to make the plot interesting at the end. Persona 4, on the other hand, does poorly here as although the murder mystery is presented as the driving force, it’s the least interesting part of the game, has little direct relation to the protagonists except for the fact that they were dragged into it by being tossed into the TV, and isn’t actually presented well as a mystery at all (it’s quite easy to miss all of the clues and have no idea who the killer is when you’re asked about it). And at the end, you have to reveal the “truth”, which isn’t hinted at that well until maybe Golden, and ends up as a last minute shift in tone. Sure, it does link to the overall theme well-enough, but overall the A-Plot of Persona 4 is forgettable and likely not what you enjoy the game for, while the A-Plot of Persona 3 is what you remember it for. Advantage: Persona 3

B-Plot

In the B-Plot is where things get inverted. Don’t think that there was a B-Plot in Persona 3? You’d be forgiven for that, because the underlying plot of an MC who is going through a year of school and meeting people and building relationships and doing all sorts of things like that is pretty much put to the side. It’s there and it’s fun, but you don’t really get a sense of change from the MC because of it beyond power and the obligatory end game “We all believe in you!” dialogue. On the other hand, in Persona 4 the MC coming to live in Inaba and forging relationships is probably more important than the mystery itself, which the anime seems to point out quite well (better than the game itself does). Yu has a personality, and how he develops throughout the game, especially in his interactions with Nanako and Dojima, are interesting and important. In Persona 3, you have a character who goes through a year of school; in Persona 4, you have a character who grows over a year of school. Advantage: Persona 4

S-Links

Party S-Links

One of the reasons Persona 4’s B-Plot is so strong is because the interactions and relationships with and between your friends are fleshed out in the dungeons themselves. It’s there that you learn the most about them and where you forge the group relationship, which is far more important than it was in Persona 3. What this means, however, is that you learn the most about your party members in the main story … and not in the S-Links. Which tends to make the S-Links either more detail on what you already know, or a side issue that isn’t as important as the main issue is. In Persona 3, the main plot deals with some major issues, but the S-Link is a very important part of their lives, and one that you wouldn’t see during the main plot. The only advantage that Persona 4 has here is that you can have an S-Link with all of your party members … and P3P fixes that for a female protagonist. Advantage: Persona 3

Non-Party S-Links

Persona 4’s non-party S-Links leave me a little cold. There are some that are interesting that I might be missing out on (Ai’s and Saki’s little brother) but that’s because their presentation doesn’t make them interesting at all. The S-Links in Persona 3 — especially the obvious ones — are entertaining and full of really great characters. I’d take Yoko over Yumi or Ayane any day, and Kaz’s and Kenji’s are, overall, more entertaining than Daisuke’s and Kou’s. Which is not to say that they’re bad; I do enjoy them. It’s just that compared to the ones in Persona 3 they aren’t all that great. Advantage: Persona 3

Combat

Bosses

Persona 4’s bosses are more personal, but not necessarily more interesting. Persona 3 is full of bosses and mini-bosses, none of which are that interesting themselves. Advantage: Tie

Dungeons

Here is where Persona 4 really shines. Persona 3’s dungeons feel like a training ground. There’s no personal stake in them, and you’re only doing them because you’re required to reach the top of the stage before the next full moon and to make sure that you have a high enough level to beat the full moon boss. This means that they feel like a grind and as if they have no purpose beyond that. Persona 4’s main dungeons, on the other hand, are all tied directly into the plot and into the characters and so are very personal. You have a reason to do them beyond “Let’s get to the end and get some levels!”. You still have the bonus dungeons for simple grinding … but then, that’s the only reason you’re there and the only time limit is the time you want to take to gain more levels. Thus, Persona 4’s dungeons are fun, and Persona 3’s are the things you have to do to get to the fun parts of the game. Advantage: Persona 4

Mechanics

While the ability to give direct commands to your party members was backported to at least one version of Persona 3, Persona 4’s combat mechanics really do demonstrate an evolution, mostly for the better, for the combat mechanics. The biggest loss was how useless your support characters are until you level them up and work through their S-Links, but other than that the combat is easier to understand and play, and usually more fun. Advantage: Persona 4

Music

This category, to me, symbolizes the two games, and I’m mostly doing this comparison by recalling the soundtrack CDs I have and recently listened to. Persona 3’s music is, overall, better music. Persona 4’s music is far more relevant and directly tied to the game and what’s happening in it. When you listen to Persona 3’s soundtrack, you enjoy the music, but when you listen to Persona 4’s soundtrack, you think of Rise’s or Kanji’s dungeons. Advantage: Tie

Overall: Persona 3 should be the obvious choice for the better game. It does more of what I like better than Persona 4. The problem is that the dungeons kill the game, as you have to go through them and often have to go through them multiple times and they’re generally boring and feel like a grind. There’s a reason I had to pause my first playthrough of P3P even though I finished Persona 4 Golden, as the grinding in the dungeons was just irritating me way too much in P3P. Thus, on a purely subjective note, I prefer to play Persona 4 instead of Persona 3 … until I’m on New Game+ and can mostly ignore the dungeons most of the time.

Persona!

March 24, 2014

So, I started playing Persona on the PSP over the past few days. I like it better than Persona 2: Innocent Sin, mostly because the story is much better. I felt that in Innocent Sin the early story, at least, was a little bit ridiculous, and that they mixed in too much humour with the seriousness. Having humour around serious issues can be good, but it was far too intermixed in Innocent Sin. In Persona, there is some humour, but for the most part — at least early — the game sticks with a fairly serious overall story, which works fairly well.

However, I really hate the dungeons, and especially hate how it isn’t always clear where you need to go, and what level you need to be at to take them on. And I haven’t managed to get a spell card and so no new Persona yet, and to be honest that system bugs me in Persona, since it seems like most if not all party members can take on more than one Persona, and since early in the game it pushes the idea that you’ll develop Personas as aspects of yourself. I’d really like to see a Persona game where Personas come up as part of character development and the choices you make, instead of from negotiations with demons or as random cards given out for winning battles.

However, it’s not likely I’ll finish Persona any time soon, since after watching P4tA twice in about a week or so I really wanted to play Persona 4: Golden again, and so that’s what I’m doing now.

Persona 4: The Animation

March 19, 2014

It may not have come up here that often, but I’m a massive fan of the Persona series. I’ve probably put well over 500 hours into the various incarnations of Persona 3 (including FES and P3P) and Persona 4 (including Golden) each. Those are my favourite games ever.

I was browsing through TV Tropes during a slow time at work, and noticed that they’d done an anime series based on Persona 4. I went to Amazon and found the English translation there in Blu-Ray, and decided to buy it, and give it a try. And so for the past two evenings instead of writing on my blog or writing comments or doing, well, anything else, I sat down to watch it. And I have to say … it’s very well done.

If you’re a fan of the game, you’ll appreciate the little touches that make it look like the game. You see the calendar as days advance. The commercial break cuts are showing the status of the MC’s main attributes, and you see them go up and up over time. Those will look a little weird, however, to people who haven’t played the game, but only the calendar is really something that you’re actually supposed to pay attention to. One failing of the series is that what day it is isn’t really made important to the game, although the weather kinda is. But it’s very easy to completely ignore all of that information since it doesn’t directly play a role in the series, at least not as much as it did in the game, and the calendar is very obvious so it might be a bit confusing and annoying to people who haven’t played the games.

But, of course, this is a short anime series tracking a game that could easily have 40 – 50 hours of gameplay, so they were going to have to cut some things out and change some things to make it work. Now, this is the sort of thing that tends to ruin video game or book adaptations to movies or anime, since deciding what to cut and what to keep is actually really hard to do. Cut too much, and you end up leaving out what everyone actually liked about the original media. Cut too little, and you end up with something that might play well to the die-hard fans of the original media, but doesn’t work at all for those who don’t know anything about that and just want to watch a good movie/anime. That was exactly my problem with Watchmen. And you have to add to that that most writers and directors don’t want to just copy the original media. They want to put their own stamp on it and make it somehow different, something that reflects thought and artistic merit. So there are always going to be changes when you convert from one media to the other, and this is where most adaptations fail.

P4: The Animation makes a fair number of changes, some of which might be controversial. As an example, the introduction is greatly shortened, and leaves out one of the better scenes and one that, in hindsight, reflects the relationship between Chie and Yukiko better than almost any other: after Chie convinces the MC to walk home with her and Yukiko, she eventually asks him if he finds Yukiko attractive. This embarasses Yukiko, and the MC can react in many ways. This scene highlights what each get from the other: Yukiko is shy and reserved, and so wouldn’t approach or talk to the MC, so Chie’s boldness works to get her into the group, effectively. On the other side, Chie at least feels that she’s using Yukiko’s looks as an in: the MC might not want to walk with Chie, but almost everyone will want to walk with Yukiko. This plays out with their Shadows later who make it explicit, and is left out of the anime.

However, notwithstanding that, the things left out aren’t usually that important, and some of the additions are brilliant. In the game, I never really felt much sympathy for Yukiko; she seemed more whiny and in some ways at least obliviously mean. However, her Shadow gets a full episode, most of which is setting up her backstory more than the game did, and seeing her not only working really hard at the inn and the subplot with the bird she saves really shows her as someone who does care, but is frustrated and feeling trapped. The reference to the bird’s escape and the link to Yukiko’s realization works really well to bring it all together, better than the game managed. So it’s a major improvement over the game.

The protagonist is named and voiced, and that adds a lot to the anime as well, as it gives him a personality beyond the Stoic. He has a rather odd sense of humour at times, which adds to the humour of the anime overall.

The dungeon crawls are left out, which I don’t mind that much, except that they tend to add small scenes in the middle just to remind you that they happened, but which often feel like they’re facing overwhelming force rather than something manageable but that just wears you down. Also, the boss fights are much more action-oriented than tactical, which was disappointing to me. Yes, you can see the tactics involved if you look closely, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

But the key to the Persona games is the Social Links, which are also the things that it would be the hardest to adapt. And for the most part they get truncated a lot. In some cases, you can’t even recognize them if you’ve played the game. However, they are also all there, and the highlights do tend to get hit. More focus is put on the key relationships — with the party members and with Dojima and Nanako — but for the most part they get used as breathers from the major story events that end up as hopeful, funny and touching, often all at the same time. But if you watch the anime, you will really miss out on the S-links.

The story events get much more focus, which makes sense because they provide an arc and a focus that an anime really wants. And they work fairly well. The main murder mystery events are hit and sometimes expanded, and even the small side events generally get a decent treatment. This is the part that those who haven’t played the games should still be able to appreciate, while those who have will be able to see it a little differently and sometimes with a bit more depth, since in-game all the reacts of the MC are just yours, while in the anime they can play with the MC’s personality more and thus give you funny and heart-rending reactions that not only work, but also make sense.

And I really like Aika, and the small subplot of Aiya’s deliveries was interesting. And how the dungeon crawls were done eliminated any need to explain how they could get their weapons into the TV all the time.

Overall, it’s a very good series, and I recommend it. The biggest problem I had with it is that it’s a little expensive for the amount of time it runs, so if you aren’t a huge fan of the games you might have a hard time justifying the price. But it should be enjoyable both to those who love the games and to those who’ve never heard of them.

One More (Down) …

March 9, 2014

So, in a surprise move if anyone’s been following my list of games to finish to see what I’m currently playing, I finished Persona 3 for the PSP this afternoon, despite my list still saying that I was playing Dragon Age: Origins. What happened was, well, the Olympics. I was indeed playing DA:O, but figured that my evenings would be spent watching the Olympics and since I can’t — at least right now — play on the PS3 while watching TV (at least not easily) I needed to either give up on playing games or pick one that I could play while watching TV. And I’m finding that the PSP/Vita is ideal for playing while watching TV, as I can sit down in my comfy chair where I can see the TV and play at the same time. So I restarted P3P and played it during the Olympics.

But what was funny was that I didn’t watch the Olympics in the evenings all that much. I tended to get home early enough to catch the recaps of the day’s events, so I knew what happened, and the channel I was watching — remember, I don’t have cable — didn’t really show the events I wanted to see in the evenings anyway, even if they’d be fun to watch with my already knowing the results. Which it wouldn’t have been. So instead I watched DVDs, with A-Team being the one I watched the most (I also got a cold in that time period, and A-Team is a great show to watch when you don’t really want to have to pay attention [grin]).

The most interesting thing to me, though, is the power difference between the PSP and the Vita, especially as compared to the PS2. P3P is inferior in graphics and gameplay and everything else to the PS2 version, while the Vita version is arguably superior to the PS2 version, implying that the Vita might actually be more powerful than the PS2, despite being something you hold in the palm of your hand. It’s amazing how things have advanced in such a short time … well, a short time for anything other than technology [grin].

So, now it’s back to DA:O, and hopefully I’ll finish it off before I hit the year point on the list again.

How Not To Argue for More Female Characters in Games …

March 2, 2014

Okay, so I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s a bit of controversy over a new video game that’s in development called “Deep Down”. It’s by Capcom, and it’s not going to feature any female characters. Or female playable characters. Or something like that, since it seems that no one’s really clear on what’s in it, although it’s pretty clear that at least the last one will be true, and you won’t be able to play as a female in the game. And Brenna Hillier is really, really mad about that, and wrote a long article ranting about how bad that would be, to the extent that a game that she’s saying that she might not play “Deep Down” because of it, even though it is a game, overall, that she might find interesting. And I think this rant is a good example of how not to push for more female playable characters or protagonists in games.

Why? Well, let’s look at how she objects to it:

Why on earth would a game creator deliberately omit the entire female gender from its game? Because of the plot, apparently.

Don’t let this answer satisfy you. Capcom wrote the plot. There’s no reason why it had to write a plot that excluded female characters.

Now, she seems to accept that there may well be plots that work better if you exclude female characters. If she accepts that, then what she’s doing here is saying to Capcom — or, more accurately, the studio that’s making the game — that they shouldn’t have done the plot they wanted to do, but instead should have done a plot that allowed them to include female characters. Why? Because it’s somehow bad to have a game without any female characters. The idea, then, seems to be that just having a game that doesn’t have female characters is bad, and that this is, in fact, an indication of ingrained sexism. Except it isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with having some specific games that have no female characters, some specific games that have no male characters, and some specific games that have a mix. What indicates ingrained sexism in the games industry would be almost all games have no female characters, there being a small percentage of games with a mix of characters, and almost no games that have only female characters. But you can’t point at one game that doesn’t have female characters and say that it indicates ingrained sexism.

Now, you might be able to make a claim that Capcom is particularly bad and we should point that out. Except that she herself contradicts that:

It’s not hard to put women in games. Capcom’s done it itself, with the really rather excellent Dragon’s Dogma.

So … Capcom has, in fact, put in female playable characters, and in fact does it quite often (all of their fighting games do it, although that’s now standard for fighting games). For this specific game, they’re claiming that for plot purposes they aren’t including a female playable character. A company that isn’t particularly bad at, at least, including female characters says that for this specific game they aren’t going to do it. This is worth ranting over? It’s only worth ranting over if you argue that any game that doesn’t include female characters is a sexist game, and since that’s patently false …

Also, she writes out a lengthly conversation between a designer, a producer, and a female (her word, not mine), that she admits is a strawman, but mostly because it isn’t about individual people but instead about an ingrained social system. But if we accept that, then we have to accept that in most cases game designers and producers aren’t intentionally excluding female characters from their games, but are instead following genre conventions, going with the flow, or just not thinking about whether a female character would fit here because male characters always did. But if that’s the case, getting mad and ranting when a game doesn’t contain female characters isn’t the right way to go. It only makes them feel attacked for making the sort of game that they want to make.

So, then, how should one go about arguing for more female characters in games? Let’s look at how I think they should have reacted to this specific case:

1) Question, don’t demand. A game isn’t going to have female characters. As this isn’t in and of itself something bad, don’t demand that they add one or else they’re sexist poopyheads. But definitely ask “Why not?”. Definitely stand up in the gaming media and ask why there aren’t any. If the developers just didn’t think of it, this might get them thinking about it … if not for this game, then maybe for the next. Do remind them that a lot of people might appreciate having a female playable character and so it might help their sales. Again, just to get them thinking about it.

2) They reply with “Because of the plot”. Don’t rant. Don’t rave. Don’t talk about them writing in a different plot that would allow them to include female characters. Instead, wait for the game to come out, play it, and review the plot of it in a manner like, say, how Chuck at SFDebris tends to review the things he doesn’t like: by outlining the plot and showing how it could have easily incorporated female playable characters. Being willing, of course, to stand up at the end of it and say “They were right: this plot doesn’t really work for female playable characters”. Again, if you show how it could have been done better, more developers will try to do it that way, if only to make their games stand out and maybe make more money.

Ultimately, the main thing to remember here is that this isn’t supposed to be adversarial. The gaming companies probably aren’t an actual enemy. Think about things from their perspective and work to help them make better games that also give you what you want, and everyone should be happy.

What I Finished, What I Played in 2013 …

January 1, 2014

This year was even more of a “cup of coffee” year than what I’ve had before.  I played a number of games for brief periods and then moved on to something else.  And yet, I still managed to finish about 3 games from my list, and did a lot of finishing in one of them. So, let’s start with I finished:

The Old Republic: I finished my Sith Warrior’s personal story, and my Smuggler’s personal story. I also finished my Sith Inquisitor’s personal story, and am almost finished my Jedi Knight’s personal story, except that Belsavis is annoying me a bit with battles that can be beaten but are just being a bit annoying, especially since I’m not as incredibly overleveled as I ought to be at that point. I like TOR, and I like the personal stories. It went FtP in 2013, and with the introduction of Cartel Coins I’ve been kept in major experience boosts, helping me gain levels on the game and keep ahead without having to do Heroics or even play with people, at all.

Mass Effect: I got the PS3 compilation of all of the games, and played this one. I was creating a character based on Ivanova from Babylon 5, but while scrolling through the pre-made faces saw one that looked like Michelle Forbes, and so settled for Helena Cain. Mass Effect was a great game. While there were annoyances in it, for the most part everything worked, and it was a game that I liked playing and liked finishing.

Growlanser: Generations: A combination of two Growlanser games, I’m counting them as finished despite not finishing their final battles, but then that’s what I did originally to X-Men: Legends, eventually going back and finishing it fully. I’m not sure I’ll do that for these games; they were good and generally interesting, but can’t compare to later games in a similar style like the Suikodens and Personas. I didn’t mind the rather 2-bit representations, and in some cases the characters were really interesting, although the battle portions could be really interesting. For “The Sense of Justice’, there seemed to be a lot of grinding and the battle system made it hard to grind the characters that tended to get behind the easiest, while in “The Dual Darkness” the XP system worked better but it often was very vague about what you needed to do — and when you needed to do it — to solve the many side quests.

Now, on to what I just played:

Pangya: Very cute old PSP golf game with a story mode. I played it continually for a few weeks, got stuck on one of the stories, and then drifted away from it. I definitely found it worth buying and worth playing.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin: This wasn’t a bad game for me to play on the PSP, but it had the normal “Wander around and get jumped” style of combat and seemed to have a mix of humour and seriousness that didn’t work. I want to play it again at some point, but it gets lost in my list.

Growlanswer: Wayfarer of Time: Another PSP game, and another Growlanser game. I’d play it, but it started with my sister and father getting killed, and that’s a little dark for me, at least it was at the time. Another one that I want to play, but that has to compete with everything else I want to play.

Justice League Heroes: The DC version of the X-Men: Legends series, it’s also inferior to it, mostly because it doesn’t have any real breaks in the action, which made it a hard game to play at the times when I was actually willing to play games at that point. It’s not on my list because I may never finish it, but I keep thinking about playing it again sometime.

Nocturne: The tone was fine in this one, but I had a hard time finding save points, which meant that I ended up hiking all the way back to the starting area to hit the save point there, fighting monsters all the way in random encounters, just so that I could quit for the night. That was annoying. I’m sure there are more save points in more places, but I couldn’t find them easily, and it just made me nostalgic for Persona 3 and Persona 4.

Injustice: Gods Among Us: After having this sit in my closet for quite some time, I recently ran through the story mode on easy. It’s good, but nowhere near as good as the crossover between Mortal Kombat and Justice League was.

Mortal Kombat: The new, revamped version. Tried to do the same thing as I did for Injustice, and got stopped because I’m not used to having to hit a button to block. I might run the rest of it out at some point.

Dragon Age: Origins: The first time I played this, I missed Leiliani. This time, I haven’t. I like this game, and it’s a strong candidate for being the first game I finish this year.

Mass Effect 2: This game is a lot less fun than Mass Effect was. There seems to be more character in this game, but the rest of the game and mechanics are just annoying, from how you explore and mine planets to the fact that you actually have an ammo count now. I wanted to finish the entire series, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to unless I can stop spending all of my time mining planets dry and burning all of my fuel to get to them.

That’s essentially it; there might be one or two more that I played but they aren’t memorable and so aren’t really worth mentioning.


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