Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Short update on my first month of playing games …

March 9, 2015

So, I’ve gotten through my first month where I’ve reworked my schedule to fit game playing in. What I’m supposed to be doing is:

Weekday evenings: Board game, Sam & Max, Sims: Medieval, Star Wars: Empire at War
Weekends: Conception II, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2, Planescape: Torment.

Now, with it being winter there often tends to be things that interfere with my playing in the evening, so I haven’t played any game for the full four days that I count as “weekdays”. This led me to conclude that playing a board game in the evenings was not going to work, because in order to feel confident that I could finish the game I have to play all four days, and almost immediately we had snow or something that I wasn’t able to. So I’m thinking of moving that to weekends in place of Torment, and moving Torment to weekdays.

Torment, however, is the game that had the worst luck out of all of the games, and was the only video game that I didn’t play. On the weekend, it ran up against a couple of hockey games that I really wanted to watch, and so didn’t get played. I then moved it to the board games’ spot on weekdays … and then had both weather and work pressures push it out. We’ll have to see how it does the next week.

Out of the rest, I played all of them at least once, and generally enjoyed them all. Sam & Max was the most fun: I blasted through the first episode in one long, two-hour session and then played another night for a good hour. But the others were fun as well, and so far none of them have grabbed me so much that I regret not playing them the next week. So this is kinda working.

I’ve also managed to get in a surprisingly large amount of The Old Republic in over the past few weeks. That’s not that likely to continue once spring comes and I start doing more things early in the morning on weekends, which is when I generally play.

But I’m playing video games again, which is pretty good.

It never fails …

February 23, 2015

So, I’ve decided to make a push on video games by setting up a set of eight games that I play in a round robin over a month. Four of them I play in the evenings and so have to be games that I can play for a half-hour to an hour and feel like I’ve accomplished something, while the other four are games that I play on the weekends when I have more time and so are games that are best played for long stretches.

This weekend, Planescape: Torment was up for my weekend game. But there ended up being some hockey games that I wanted to watch, and I can’t watch TV while playing that game, at least right now, so I ended up not playing it at all. This upcoming weekend, I’m supposed to play Conception II, which is a game that is ideal to play while watching TV, so much so that I’m not sure I can face playing it without having something to watch while playing. And this weekend … there’s no interesting hockey on TV.

Yep, never fails.

Interactive NPC World …

February 20, 2015

So, I’ve started playing a number of games in a round robin, which include Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, and one thing that I thought of while playing Mass Effect 2 is the issue of NPCs in the world that you can interact with. Some of them will give you quests or items or other things, while some of them will just give you a little phrase or comment and then you can move on. The issue, of course, is that you usually don’t know which is which until you actually interact with them. Which means that if you want to get all of the quests and the like you have to interact with all of the NPCs, many if not most of which just say something and let you move on.

This can get very annoying if you have a lot of NPCs and the ratio of useful to colour NPCs is low. I’ve played games where I stopped interacting with NPCs because it was so annoying separating the NPC wheat from the chaff. But the flip side isn’t much better, as if you only create NPCs when they are useful the world can seem empty and unreal, only populated by quest-vending machines and the like. And filling it with people that you can’t interact with at all — like, say, most MMOs — reduces NPCs to background.

Which might, actually, be the best way to handle it. We don’t want players to have to obsessively interact with everyone, and we want populated places to seem populated, so making them non-interactive solves that, at the expense of, well, making them not seem like actual people. It’s nice to have NPCs that are people in at least some sense, but not good if we confuse them with NPCs that matter to the overall game plot and quests and so try to get them to interact with us outside of that. If you do go that route, you have to limit the number of NPCs or annoy the player by making them interact with all of them or else risk missing out on something interesting. And if there’s one thing that players hate, it’s missing out on something interesting.

Ultimately, though, this probably is a problem of balance, striking the right balance of NPCs that you can interact with in passive ways with the ones that open up interesting opportunities in the game world. It does enhance a game to be able to talk to NPCs and have them say things like jokes and give interesting tidbits about the world. It’s just that if you are getting that when you want to make sure that you’ve hit all the quests it will get annoying after a while if there are too many of those. We want to interact with people … but not all the time. Kinda like life, I think.

The Fridge (and Inadvertent) Brilliance of Save Points …

January 26, 2015

So, not long ago, I talked about how a crash when I hadn’t save caused me to stop playing a game. I’ve been thinking about this some more, and I’ve realized that most options for saving work against what a good game should be doing: engaging you in the game. Whether it be the story or the action or whatever, good games — like all forms of entertainment — should immerse you in the game so much that you forget that you’re playing a game. If you are that immersed, it’s unlikely that you’ll be thinking “I wonder how long it’s been since I last saved”. Doing that is usually a sign that you aren’t immersed in the game, or have been reminded that this is a game, often by seeing a long and tough fight coming up. You’re no longer swept along by the action or the story, but are instead thinking in game terms. Auto-saving avoids this, but has the problem that it yanks you out of the game and reminds you that this is just a game. The exceptions are games that did saving during loading screens, which already break immersion.

However, what is different about save points is that they are objects in the game world itself. Manipulating them is, in fact, manipulating an object in the world. Yes, it is an object that exists mainly to do game things, but it is part of the game world itself. Thus, it becomes an object just like any other object that is in the game, and so the impact it has on the game is generally no more than any other artificial game component that has to be there in order to play the game (using items, viewing an inventory, equipping, etc, etc). Because it’s part of the game world you can make saving simply a regular part of the game, something that you do as automatically as quaffing a potion when you’re low on health or reloading. So every time you come across a save point you just automatically save and go on, and it doesn’t take you out of the game at all, because it is an integral and constant part of it from your perspective.

This turns out to be the case for me in most of the console games I love. In “Lord of the Rings: The Third Age”, because save points also healed your HP and MP, I used to hit them every time I found one … and sometimes even backtracked to get the recharge. I was saving not to save, but essentially to rest. In Suikoden III, I so conditioned myself to save every time I came across a save point that when passing through the castle of the Zexen Knights I would save on both sides of the castle, even though all I did was pass through. I had to consciously stop myself from doing this. Because save points were spread out and often indicated that you were going to face something tough, it was generally easy to condition yourself to use them whenever you saw them, and thus make using them part of your regular practice of playing the game.

The problem with save points is, of course, that they aren’t always there when you need them, and so you can be using save points and still have to replay a lot of the game should you die or screw up. But by making saving part of the world and even trying to find in-game reasons for you to be accessing them, they remove the artificial nature of saving and so make the games more immersive. Not bad for something that consoles adopted due to technical considerations.

I Was Having Fun … Until It Crashed.

January 20, 2015

So, I started playing “X-Men: Madness in Murderworld” last night through an emulator, and was getting into it, and working my way through it, and then I went to change to Nightcrawler to teleport up to the previous floor … and the game crashed. Despite the fact that I was getting into the game — one of the reasons that I hadn’t saved, well, ever — I then pretty much immediately turned it all off, because I didn’t feel like redoing those parts and so didn’t feel like playing the game anymore.

The reason, it seems to me, is that the crash broke immersion. While I was playing the game, I was carried along from one room and one floor to the next, with the occasional fight, but was mostly exploring and having fun doing that. When the game crashed, I was yanked out of that immersion. And at that point, I could only remember the mechanics and that they weren’t that interesting, and might be hard to manage. And because I hadn’t saved, well, ever, I had a bit of a slog to get back to where I was, I just didn’t have the motivation to keep playing the game … even though I would have kept playing if it hadn’t happened.

This, I think, drives Shamus Young’s analysis of dying in survival horror games, or probably in most games. An atmospheric or action-oriented game will drag you along just by having you have to do something or having something else happen. You get immersed in the game and allow it to lead you to the next section … and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth. When you die, that breaks, and so you aren’t following the path anymore, and without some sort of compelling mystery or goal that you want to see resolved you may not have any reason to go back, at least not immediately. This is only made worse in games where you have strong penalties to overcome after death, like replaying a significant portion of the game or some kind of handicap or even just an onerous method for restoring a save: the more work it is, the more likely you are to simply stop when your immersion is no longer pushing you along.

I think this also works for Story Collapse. In those games, it is the story that moves you along and immerses you in the world, as opposed to the atmosphere or the action. When you hit the point where the story itself breaks your immersion, you are again pulled out of the immersion and returned to, well, playing a game. If the story collapse is minor, the rest of the underlying story elements give you the incentive to carry on; even with that minor problem, you still want to see what happens next. But if it’s strong enough, you find the story either confusing, uninteresting or just plain screwed, and so you lose interest in finding out what happens next. If there is nothing else driving your fun, you’ll quit.

Ultimately for any form of entertainment, people will only watch it if it is entertaining, which means that it immerses them enough for them to focus their attention on it and not on anything else. If you break immersion, then you stop being entertaining, and you have to leave enough reasons for people to think that they will still be entertained if they continue on. Sometimes, that doesn’t work, and the things I’ve talked about in this post are examples of that happening.

To Be Free to Be Evil Means the Freedom to Be Brutal …

January 16, 2015

In the same link dump, I came across this post talking about the brutalization of women in video games. I don’t even have to read in to the article to get that, because that’s the title. Essentially, Paul Fidalgo talks a lot about Sarkeesian, Gamergate, Quinn and, most importantly for this post, depictions of women in video games. I’ll add the standard disclaimer that I don’t think the rape and death threats are acceptable, and then jump right into the action:

A complaint was made that in a certain game where Sarkeesian shows player brutality against an NPC woman, it was not also noted that any object or person in the game could be treated the same way. In another, I was told that in the Hitman sequence, Sarkeesian had somehow “doctored” the scenario to allow for the brutal behavior of the player, and that it wasn’t a normal part of the game experience.

This seems an extremely flimsy thing to take issue with. Sarkeesian herself addresses this concern generally, saying that the mere ability to treat women (or anyone) in a violent manner, intentionally programmed by the developers (this isn’t in the game by accident, folks), is an implicit invitation to do those things, and that in the game world it’s acceptable behavior. Why defend the intentionally-added ability to brutalize women at all? Why not just call for the exclusion of such a capability? Why excuse it?

Because the key is that treating women brutally isn’t something that the game itself specifically advocates. If we take the first case, it’s merely a side effect of being able to treat everyone brutally. In that sense, women are being treated exactly like everyone else in the game. Isn’t that what feminists want?

It is a good question to ask, in general, if it’s a good thing to be able to brutalize innocents in a game (not just women). And my answer is that yes, it is indeed a good thing. It is a side effect of a very good and desirable trend in modern gaming to allow players the freedom to play as the sort of person they want to play as (not necessarily who they are or want to be). In Sith Lords, for example, you can force persuade someone to jump off the platform to their death, and the only consequence you get for that is some Dark Side points … which is what you want to get if you are playing as a Dark Side character, because maxing out your Dark Side points gives you various bonuses. But this does not mean that the game is implicitly inviting players to do that, or that players who do that really want to get people to jump to their deaths. Instead, the game is simply giving you the freedom to act either good or evil, and what you do is what the character you are playing would do.

Modern games are pushing these elements more and more, but are moving away from ethical judgements and consequences and more towards more “realistic” consequences. From my understanding of the Hitman case — I don’t play that game myself — what you have is some kind of notoriety stat, and if you kill innocents and indiscriminately it goes “down”, in the sense that you get a negative reputation. If you hide the bodies, then you get that back, presumably because it’s harder to trace the killings to you. So the game is essentially letting you decide how you want to act in the world. Do you want to be a clean, surgical killer, only killing those you absolutely need to? You can do that, and there are consequences. Do you want to be a brutal thug, slaughtering your way to your targets? You can do that, too, and there are consequences. All the game invites you to do is play the character you want to play in their sandbox.

The brutalization of women is nothing more than the consequence of those mechanics. The stripper scene follows from the idea that you can kill innocents and that hiding the bodies reduces your reputation hit. The GTA scene follows from the idea that you can interact with prostitutes for gain, and then kill and loot innocent civilians. None of these are, at least, necessarily, aimed at “Let’s hurt women”. It’s just the consequences where you can hurt people … including women. And the ability to be a bastard or a saint adds depth to games that have been sadly lacking for so long.

Wilson notes that television’s effect “is larger than any other single factor that accounts for violent behavior in youth.” And that’s just TV, a passive medium. TV is not participatory like games are, where this behavior is explicitly rewarded, it’s often the whole point. More on that later.

I’ve already talked about reasons why we might think that it being interactive doesn’t make it worse, but instead makes it better. A lot of this falls into the idea that you aren’t a passive bystander, and so the game doesn’t force you to do or accept something you don’t want to do … and when it does, it breaks immersion. So we need a lot more evidence than what he provides here, which is all about the impacts of passive media.

Several folks told me that the issue of women’s treatment in these games was moot because men get treated much more violently overall, as of course the vast majority of the violence in games is done to male characters, player and non-player alike. But again, Sarkeesian addresses this (it can’t be that her critics haven’t actually watched her video, can it???). She notes, correctly, men have the chance to be anything and everything in game worlds: yes they are the targets of brutalization themselves, but not exclusively. They also get to be heroes, conquerors, geniuses, villains, all-powerful warriors, etcetera, etcetera. Women are mostly relegated to background, prizes, sex objects, and targets for abuse. There are a very, very few exceptions to this, but clearly making an equivalence over the portrayal of male and female characters is ridiculous.

The issue though is that when men are treated brutally it’s often considered par for the course, while far, far more often when women are treated brutally it’s treated as a sign of horrible immorality on the part of the abuser. That’s why you see men treated more brutally than women, and so complaining that women are treated brutally and so the game encourages it when it generally encourages treating men brutally explicitly and constantly is a bit much … and the defense given here is not a complaint about brutality in games, but a complaint that women are under-represented. Fair enough. But then pointing to women being treated brutally is in no way an argument that defends that complaint; your better example is the lack of female protagonists, not that they are treated like everyone else in games. Also, it’s not a complaint that can be leveled at any specific game; you’d have to be talking about representation as a whole. So a bunch of clips about specific scenes in specific games is the worst way to make that point, if that is your primary point … and the retreat to it when faced with men being treated more brutally, to work as a defense, must make that your primary concern.

Who cares? I want attention too, and so does everyone else who publishes content online or anywhere else. Apologists for the games’ content have an agenda, and want attention paid to them. The people who expend enormous amounts of energy and time attacking her personally have an agenda. Spare me.

There’s a difference between someone who wants to write something so that they’ll get attention for themselves and someone who writes something that they want people to pay attention to. The criticism, rightly or wrongly, is that Sarkeesian is the former, not the latter, so this defense doesn’t work.

In modern civilization there is simply no excuse for manufacturing entertainment that holds up the brutalization of women as virtuous and worthy of reward. None. It’s not necessary even if the aim is to create the most suspensful, pulse-quickening adventure game. The only reason to do it is to titillate a certain demographic, and make them feel more powerful than the automata women placed in the games.

But they don’t. Let me back up a bit to the only example he gives of a case like this:

One fellow defended in particular a sequence from the game Red Dead Redemption in which a wild-west gunslinger binds a prostitute, throws her on his horse, takes her to the train tracks, leaves her there, watches her get squashed by a passing locomotive, and unlocks a game achievement as a result. He’s rewarded.

There is a general issue with thinking that getting an “achievement” means that you get a reward, and so that behaviour gets rewarded and so is encouraged as part of the fun, an issue that even most gamers have with it. First, there is no reason to assume that you earn achievements for having fun. In fact, a lot of achievements are things that are definitely and definitively not fun, but instead reflect persistence and grinding. Second, achievements tend to be the equivalent of trophies, and don’t add any material benefit to the game itself. Third, when they do provide some sort of benefit or bragging rights — like, say, unlocking all achievements — this turns the experience into one of mechanics rather than one of character. Someone on a full completion run does that isn’t doing it because they think it’s interesting, but to put another check in a check box. Thus, the people who achieve this achievement get it either because it’s something that they would want to do and the game is simply noting that their character, at least, would do that, or else they achieve it because the game “encourages” them to … but not as a character note, but as a mechanical note. So in either case, the game does not treat it as virtuous. It treats it as existent. And that fact pretty much refutes his entire point … and most of the reasons he gives against brutalization.

Games aimed at adults that allow them to be brutal and/of evil is an important addition to the depth of video games, which is what the people who want gamers to be over are supposed to be in favour of. Women being treated the same as men is also something that they are supposed to be in favour of. So, then, what are they opposing here?

What I Finished, What I Played in 2014 …

January 4, 2015

Last year was a cup of coffee year. This year seems to have been a “Don’t play games” year. I didn’t really do anything more than what I had done last year. The only new game that I can recall is Conception II. I did play .hack for a little bit, but dropped it. I did manage to play a full season of baseball again, and played a little more in The Old Republic, but overall I don’t recall playing a lot of games for any length of time. Hopefully, that will change this year … but considering that aside from baseball I didn’t really play any games at all over my vacation that may not work out.

A Dizzying Array of Options …

January 3, 2015

… makes me dizzy.

Okay, so I’m playingRecord of Agarest War Zero again, after picking it up and then getting stuck and giving up on it for a while because grinding was getting too difficult. And this time, I’ve actually paid attention to what options you have in the game, and what you can and need to do to build out really powerful characters and parties that can survive the grinding tactical combat of the game — so that I can get to the good part of figuring out who I’m going to marry and have a kid with (already picked out the name!) — and, well, there’s a lot of it:

*At the beginning, you have to choose your class from Warrior, Battle Mage, and Mage. That’s one of the simpler choices in the game, although I’m not really sure what the difference is.
*Then, you have to pick something like 5 cards that combine to give you a ton of attributes. There’s nothing in the game as far as I can tell that tells you what these things do, although I might have missed it.
*Then you pick something like three more.
*In the game itself, you have to choose six people out of your entire party set to actually participate in the battles. Characters that aren’t in your party don’t get XP, so you might have to switch them around a bit.
*For certain battles, enemies have different resistances. For example, crabs are vulnerable to magic and resist physical attacks, so you’ll want lots of mages pounding on them. Fairies, on the other hand, are weak to physical and strong against magic, so you want physical characters pounding them.
*You can earn adventurer titles as you do things in the world, which will give you goodies when you claim them.
*You can buy weapons from stores, although the selection can seem pretty slim because …
*… you can make new weapons by using the smithing books you can buy from the stores. Once you do that, then the store somehow knows how to make them so that you can buy them from them. Even old weapons can be useful because you can break them down to make components for new weapons. Some of the other pieces you get by killing things in the world.
*Through battles, you get "Enhancement Points", which you can use to enhance weapons and armour. You can only convert items into components if they have been fully enhanced.
*As you fight, eventually you will level up, and so get points to spend on your attributes.
*You also get “Power Points”, which you can use to further enhance your abilities.
*You also get “Training Points”, which I haven’t been able to use yet for some reason.
*You also pick up skills that you can sell(!) or add to your characters.
*You can also add skills into the skill slots of your weapons to give you another skill to use in combat. I actually liked this because it let me give one character his own Double Needle combo and a Double Needle combo with his sister Routier (again, I remember the female characters’ names but not the male characters’).
*And eventually, you get married which determines an awful lot about the character for the second part of the game. As does your relationship with the other candidates.

Now, I didn’t really enhance my armour much, but did for my weapons, and leveled up fairly far, and managed to get past where I had gotten before. I hadn’t done any of this the first time I played and, to be honest, had no idea what this stuff was for. So, this does seem to matter to the game. How much does it matter? Do I have to balance this perfectly or else I’ll be behind the 8-ball for the entire game? Can I focus on one or the other? How much of this do I have to do?

The options are staggering, and this is a trend that I’m seeing in a lot of games … but this one is, in my opinion, exceptional. There were a lot of things to balance in Suikoden III as well — level, skills, skill levels, weapon sharpening, armour, party, etc — but they seemed more, well, detached, in that you didn’t generally have to think about them all at once. In this game, perhaps because all towns seem to give all options, it seems more like you have to think about these things constantly and all at once. They’re more tightly intertwined than I’ve seen in other games, perhaps. That leaves me thinking that I have to spend a lot of time worrying about this, as every time I return to town I have to think about enhancement, titles, weapon changes, and the like, and at every battle I’m thinking about PP use and party composition and formation and what I’ve got to use.

I miss the simpler days, when all you had to worry about was your weapon, your armour, and your level. And your skills, and spells, and …

Okay, maybe those weren’t actually simpler days …

Feminist Moments in Video Games …

January 2, 2015

So, Anita Sarkeesian was asked to list some of her favourite moments in video games. She came up with five. What’s noteworthy about the list is that only two of them deal with what feminism is actually about — gender equality — and are examples that, reading her description of them, are essentially “And this game has a female protagonist”. The others are essentially about other forms of inclusivity, and while yes I have heard about intersection I don’t think that intersection means that you get to claim issues in those other areas as rightly being specifically feminist, especially considering the issues that feminism itself has had with inclusiveness wrt some of those areas. Anyway, the last two aim at LGBT issues that happen to involve female characters, while “Thomas Was Alone” seems to aim at general diversity in a manner precisely like we’ve seen over and over and over again in most cartoons, as by her description it’s essentially a “character is different and can’t do what the others can do but discovers that they have a different talent that becomes incredibly useful and saves the day!” kind of thing.

Suffice it to say that these examples are particularly impressive.

So, it got me thinking, and I decided that I, despite having only a casual interest in both video games and feminism, would create my own list. I’m not going to say how long it is, but it will be at least five and will have examples at least as impressive as hers, if not more so. These are in no particular order.

AD&D inspired games: Because they were based on the original PnP D&D system, pretty much from the start they allowed players to create female characters, and thus potentially all female parties. I don’t know if the Gold Box games ever got to the point where they dropped the difference between the genders in at least human characters (I think that went out in 3.5 or somewhere around there, but can’t track that down), but by the time Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate arrived on the scene for at least human characters the games were explicitly pointing out that the difference was cosmetic, not functional, meaning that you could put either a male or female character in any role you wanted, from front line fighter to fragile mage. Gender didn’t matter. And this was incredibly important for a number of reasons. The first is that because the popularity of these games had an impact on the other RPGs that existed at the time, and seems to me to be one reason why most of the other RPG series — like Wizardry and Might and Magic — went with the same sort of model. Even if they weren’t inspired by the games, they definitely were inspired in some way by the PnP system that created them. Thus, this inspiration and how dominant these games were as RPG series made it so that a Western RPG that doesn’t allow for the player to create their character(s) with the gender of their choice is considered limited compared to its companions, which would even extend to series like the Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age, among others. You can compare Western RPGs to either JRPGs or FPSs and see just how dramatic a shift in attitude exists there.

Bioware RPGs: While the AD&D inspired games created a fantasy world where the difference between a male and female character was merely cosmetic, Bioware, moving on from Baldur’s Gate, created fantasy and sci-fi worlds where the difference between a male and female character mattered, but not in terms of functionality. Female characters still didn’t have any mechanical differences from male characters, but the relationships they could have were different. Starting from Knights of the Old Republic, where a dark side female character that romances Carth could get an extra and potentially satisfying scene for those who hated Carth, through Sith Lords and into games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, female characters were not only seen as objects of desire, but were able to express romantic impulses of their own … and, more importantly, to choose to not do that. Which has carried over quite dramatically to The Old Republic, as those sorts of romances are a big part of the game and even was a selling point for at least some gamers.

Dragon Age: Origins, Female City Elf Starting Story: Essentially, in this story a woman rises up against an oppressive Lord who wanted to rape her and some of her friends, fights her way out of captivity, and rescues herself and them. No damsel in distress, this. Since Sarkessian was impressed by a game where a character was thrown a staff and told to free herself, surely she’d be more impressed by one that was thrown a sword and saved herself and everyone else. I talk more about this scene here.

X-men: Madness in Murderworld: This one is no where near as impressive as the others, but as it does feature the X-Men, it features two popular female characters, Storm and Dazzler, whose powers are necessary to advance in the game and who can easily engage in melee combat without being considered weaker in any way, as far as I remember. It also was a departure from the other Paragon games which didn’t feature any female main characters, which was also true of many of the other Marvel franchises, like Avengers.

X-Men Arcade Game: Which means I should add this one, as it had the same line-up as “Madness in Murderworld” which was a contrast to the Avengers arcade game that preceded it.

Fatal Frame series: A horror series that really promotes a competent, brave and yet still vulnerable female lead, which is a contrast to a game like Clocktower 3 which presented the female character as much more frightened and panicked. It also has more female protagonists than male by a large margin. I’ve gushed about the protagonist before.

Suikoden III: A playable female character that you can make the main character by giving her the main Rune of the game.

Silent Hill 3: The first playable female character in the series, it follows on from the original and was the inspiration for “Silent Hill: Revelation”, which is the movie that actually does, in my opinion, the lore of Silent Hill the best of the two movies.

Final Fantasy X-2: They’ve had female protagonists after and might have had them before, but putting aside the dress sphere system that made it seem like dress-up, this game features three strong and popular female characters.

Persona 3 PSP: The first game in the series to allow you to choose to play as a female protagonist, despite the fact that this required a lot of rework. And while people may criticize it for some of its changes and possibly for introducing the ability to save a male character through love — a typical female trope — I don’t find at least the last one problematic, because the notion was introduced with a male character in the regular game. In that instance, all the main character can do is encourage Junpei, and can’t do it directly, while in this case the main character can do it herself. It’s still landmark, especially considering that it was done to satisfy the requests of fans.

Ms. Pac-Man: Putting aside that Sarkeesian uses this as an example of a “Ms. Male Character”, at the time it not only was an instance of a female character, but even had more actually characterization in her model than the original Pac-Man had.

Note that, in general, it looks like Sarkeesian’s examples are of moments inside a specific game, while my examples actually aim at moments in the history of video games. I’d feel bad about that, except that the article itself is titled as being about the history of video games, and Sarkeesian’s examples often talk about the game overall and then grab one moment to highlight. Anyway, this post is about feminist moments in video game history, and are all about gender equality.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled.

January 2, 2015

So, lately I’ve been thinking about used games, which depending on who you listen to are either the banes of the gaming world or its last, best hope. Now, for the longest time I didn’t really buy used games. as I had room in my budget to buy new and stores that sold new games were more conveniently located for me than places that sold used games. But over the past couple of years I’ve found myself more and more often right near a place that sells used games and even game systems. I started stopping in there to look for old PS2 games since you simply can’t get them anywhere else. And then I started looking at PS3 and Wii games to see if I could find anything interesting, and I ended up picking up a few from them and other places. For example, I’m pretty sure that’s where I got Dragon Age: Origins and recently at another store I got both Overlords for the PS3. So, recently, I’ve bought more used games than I normally would, although I still buy more new games than used ones.

Now, a lot of gaming publishers will tell you that the used game and resale market hurts them, and their argument isn’t a bad one. After all, every game that someone buys used as opposed to new is money that could have gone to support the developers and the game itself, and given a direct indication of how good the game is and if it is the sort of game that was or could be a success. The counter to that is that, in general, people who buy used games simply can’t afford to buy games that are new, and so this isn’t an actual lost sale, and that the benefits to having a resale market outweigh that loss. There’s some truth to this, and I’ll get into those benefits in a minute.

The problem with the counter is that it actually isn’t true … or, at least, it’s not totally true. Many people who buy used games could, in fact, afford to buy them new, but find buying used more cost effective. In short, they’re just trying to save some money, and if they can get essentially the same product for less money then they’ll just do it. A lot of piracy, it seems to me, is driven by just that sort of consideration: if I can get the game for free instead of paying for it, wouldn’t I be an idiot for paying? And then the company line makes some sense, as it proclaims: yeah, but if you don’t buy the games new then you won’t get any new games at all.

Again, look at my specific case. While in general I tend to buy used the games that I simply CAN’T buy new, the fact that the games cost less certainly doesn’t hurt. And, in fact, there are often cases — DA:O being one of them — where it being cheaper is what encourages me to take a chance on the game. If I have to pay $60 for a game, then I have to be convinced that I’ll like it, and there are a few games that I DID pay that much for that disappointed me (Marvel vs Capcom 3, I’m looking at you here). If I can pay $20, I’m far more likely to take a chance on the game. In fact, I only finished Oblivion because I managed to find a cheap (new, though) PS3 version of it at Best Buy and thought that playing it while lying on my sofa might make it easier to finish it than was the case playing the PC version on my desk (and yes, it did work). So cost effectiveness — whether through used games, the bargain bin, or even piracy — can be a major factor.

But all of these cases involve the developer getting less money for their product. How can that be good?

Well, let’s look at other areas where the used market thrives, like books and cars. In theory, the same problem exists here, and in spades; used books and cars are far more common and, in general, the prices for at least used cars are dramatically lower. Buying used cars is a way of life, and buying used books is, in fact, fairly common. You see a lot more used bookstores or used car lots than you see used game stores, and you don’t all that often have massive used game sales as a way to raise money for charities. And yet, the industries survive, and even thrive. In fact, car dealerships actually get into the used car business themselves, selling both new and used cars, which is similar to what some game stores are starting to do.

So, what is it that allows these areas to embrace the used market without destroying themselves? It seems to me that it’s all about the future, and this ties back in to the benefits of having a used market. People will buy new books and new cars — and, therefore, new games — if they can get some money back for the things that they aren’t using anymore. In the gaming context, if I can sell off a few of those games that I’ve either finished and never want to play again or that I’ve decided that I don’t actually want to play, then that frees up money in my budget for buying new games. It also lets me try out games in a game series — like, say, Mass Effect — before splurging on buying the whole series. If I try a game from a company or that’s in a style that I’ve never played, if I really like it then I might start looking for their games new instead of waiting for them to get into the used market or the bargain bin, building brand loyalty. Also, there’s less of a risk in my buying a new game if I know that if I really don’t like it I’m only out $30 instead of $60, meaning that I’m more likely to take chances on new games that I’m not sure of.

Ultimately, a used sale does indeed lose some money for the developer, and that is money that they may never get back. However, having a strong used MARKET can be considered an investment, a way to get people interested in the games in that series or from that developer, with the hope that your products are good enough that the next time you release a game, they’ll want to run, not walk, down to their local gaming store to buy that new copy and get it right now, because they know that it’s worth the money and they don’t want to wait for it to get to the used market. So, trying to kill the used game market is, in fact, a really, really bad idea. But what I think publishers need to do is take a cue from automobile manufacturers and even some gaming stores and get into the used game business themselves. Take in used games, refurbish them, and resell them, while giving discounts on their new games to people who turn in old games. That way they can make money on the used market itself as well as from the sale of new games. It’s a win-win.

Now, the current situation isn’t as nicely set-up for that as it could be, and the increase in downloadable games is only making it worse. But as long as actual disks can be sold, publishers can allow for gaming stores to accept specific trade-ins towards their new games and have the stores ship them back to the company to be refurbished and sent back to stop the store’s shelves again. The nice thing about this is that you’d have a centralized distribution point, so that if in particular areas, say, Persona 3 sells really well the publisher can ship more copies there which a gaming store itself likely can’t do.

Well, maybe that’s not all that feasible, but one thing is clear: killing the used market is not going to magically solve the problems the gaming industry is having. In fact, it’s likely to make them worse.


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