Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Goodbye to Romance …

August 30, 2016

So, in this recent post by Shamus Young, he asks this:

Anyway, preamble over. The question Rutskarn presents is this: What do we think of games where your companions have player-oriented sexuality? People aren’t “gay” or “straight” but instead “attracted to whatever the player is”.

I came across this in Dragon Age 2, and my overall view of the concept itself is that it works when it’s seamless. If in general you’re playing the game and the character just happens to either be bisexual — and thus romanceable by both sexes — or just interested in your character — so hetereosexual if you are the opposite sex and homosexual if you are the same sex — then it seems to work okay. The problem is that if you replay the game with the opposing sex the spell will be broken and you’ll be able to tell that that’s what they did, and the former is actually pretty hard to pull off. For example, in Dragon Age 2 being bisexual worked for Isabella — she’d have sex with anything that moved, really — and maybe for Merril, but it was a little awkward for Fenris and, as some people pointed out, didn’t seem to work at all for Anders given the character that was established in an earlier DLC. And, arguably, if you could pull the latter off without breaking the spell on replays, you’d have a character that you might as well have just made bisexual in the first place.

But for me, it seems that I like my romances like I like my RPGs (everything louder than everything else!). What I really want in a romance is that if I act in accordance with whatever character that I’m playing, I’ll end up with the characters that should be interested in me interested in me, and the characters that should not be interested in me not interested in me. Morrigan, for example, would not — or at least ought not — have liked my Inquisition character, who was a simple and generally good person thrust into the role and not very comfortable with it, but DA Leiliana would probably have liked her. Arguably, if done really, really well — so well that no current game could actually pull it off — this could lead to naturally occurring unrequited love situations, where they like your personality but your character wouldn’t like theirs, and vice versa. Given how the current situations are structured, I’m not sure how much I would enjoy it, but if it was a) done well and b) not totally scripted, having that sort of situation emerge would be very, very cool.

So, having there be a character that I would like to romance but that I can’t romance due to my being the same or different sex as them isn’t a problem, as long as it is made clear in the game that they aren’t romanceable. In Inquisition, that didn’t seem to happen, and so you could flirt with characters that were not at all interested in that way, which was both awkward and I think triggered some disapproval, at which point my gripe was that if it wasn’t possible, why even give the option? It added nothing.

Anyway, as long as there are interesting options for the sex and sexual orientation of the main character, then I’d prefer them to let the relationships proceed “naturally”. If, for example, in ME3 Traynor is the only romance option my character is interested in and she’s not because the character is male, then for me the solution is to add more and more varied options, not make Traynor attracted to the PC just ’cause it’s the PC.

Elements of a Good Dating Sim

August 24, 2016

So I was musing while talking about Huniepop on what makes for a good dating sim … particularly, how you should tailor the dateable characters in order to make a great dating sim. And it seems to boil down to a very simple criteria: ideally, everyone who plays the game should have more than one favourite, but shouldn’t have most of the characters as, in fact, their favourites. And, given that people have a wide range in what they prefer in a date, ideally this means that every character you add has some players who have them as their favourites, and some players who don’t care much for them.

Arguably, Huniepop does this reasonably well. If we look at this poll at Gamefaqs, most of the girls get at least some love, with only Lola and Jessie being in the position of “unfavourite”, with percentages so low that very few players actually liked them. By contrast, there are 5 of them with over 10%, and the highest is my personal least favourite, Audrey, at 17% … only 2% higher than Aiko, who’s probably my favourite. Given that and my own personal experience, it’s also likely that there are a number of people who strongly dislike all of the favourites as well.

The reason you need this in a dating sim is that it should become clear which dates the player wants to focus on relatively early, so giving them clear personalities and looks allows the player to quickly decide where to focus their time, since any good dating sim — and, yes, Huniepop isn’t that great as a dating sim — won’t let you get all of them in one playthrough … or else will have that have … consequences or be a special ending. So players should really want to get a couple of the characters in order to foster player choice, and not want to get a couple of the characters so that they can start ignoring them in order to focus on the ones they like. Also, giving more favourites allows for replay, but if all of them are equally desirable then that could make the game overly repetitive, but leave the player unsatisfied; they’re tired of playing the game, but haven’t maxed out all of the dates they want to max out yet.

Note that this is a different model than that of romances in RPGs, where if there’s only one character that you want to max out your romances with that’s perfectly okay, and players are likely to not be terribly offended by romancing the same character in every playthrough. This is because the main plot and the choices in that are what the players want for variety, and if they have a clear favourite romance it can, indeed, provide an island of stability for each playthrough, unless they decide that they want to change it up or that this character wouldn’t find that romance appealing. Dating sim players are not likely to replay a dating sim just to date the same person, however.

Thoughts on Huniepop

August 17, 2016

Okay, so it’s probably not much of a secret that I actually like dating sim games. The first dating sim game I ever played was a game labeled as — but might not have been called — “True Love”, where you go around an anime life trying to, well, find your true love. While I greatly enjoyed that game, it was only with “Persona 3” that I realized my love for the dating sim elements/genre, and then starting seeking out games with those elements, although disappointingly I don’t have a lot of actual pure — or mostly pure — dating sims.

To me, these games and these elements, if done properly, provide as ideal a role-playing experience as you are likely to get from a game, because even if you have a railroad plot, the whole point of the dating sim, in general, is that you decide what traits you want to improve, what you want to focus on, and who you want to spend your time with. If you do things properly, hopefully you’ll end up with the person who best suits you … or, rather, the character that you’ve decided to play. Sure, “completing” the game by seducing or getting relationships with all of them is entertaining, but ideally you want to focus on the one or ones that you like best, and hope that you can get one of them, as I tried and failed to do in “Conception II”.

So, there was this recent comment thread at Twenty Sided Tale talking about games with dating sim elements, most of which I already had or wasn’t going to be able to get for a while. And then I remembered that someone gave the game “Huniepop” to Shamus to try out, and from various comments it seems that his really big problem with it was the naked/semi-naked anime girls. Since that doesn’t bother me, I went to see if I could get it from Good Old Games. I could. I did. I played it and managed to finish all of the regular girls — including Venus — but not the two hidden girls.

So what did I think of it? I think that it’s designed primarily as a puzzle game with dating sim elements — I remember reading that somewhere — and that means that the dating sim elements are much more shallow than I’d like. Essentially, there are two main stages to the game. The first is the dating sim part, where you interact with the women and try to find out things about them, and try to remember both what you’ve asked before and what they answered before. This is because interacting with the women gives you “Hunie”, which you can use to increase your traits which makes you better at the matching puzzles. If you ask them questions you haven’t asked before, or answer their questions in a way they like, or remember what they told you when you asked them questions, you get a Hunie bonus in addition to what you get just from talking to them.

The second part is the puzzle part, which is a pretty standard Match 3 type puzzle game. This is presented as a actual “date” with the woman, and you are trying not to screw the date up. You have to hit a certain score in 20 moves, and if you do the date is a success and she gets an extra heart (ie you level up). If you hit level 5, if you succeed at a night date she’ll go home with you for, well, you can imagine. This is done with another Match 3, with unlimited moves, but the points level drains quickly, and so while the first puzzle focuses on planning and the use of special items, the second focuses on lots of big moves quickly to keep the points level high.

Every time you succeed, the points required for success increases. This is not per woman, but instead is across the board. Thus, if you went on a successful first date with all of the women, it would be harder to, say, succeed at the second date with Nikki than it would be if you had just done the second date with her first and ignored the others. For me, then, this encouraged me to max out the women I liked better in case it later got too difficult for me to complete the puzzles.

If you manage to succeed, you also get something that works like money, so you can buy gifts for the women to gain affection levels to get more Hunie and that will get you an item to use in the puzzles if you give her something she loves, and also to buy food and drinks to extend the conversations or to “loosen them up”, which does … something. I never actually managed to give one of them a drink.

The interaction with the women is pretty shallow. You can ask them about a set of traits that get stored in their profiles — things like hobby, job, height, and cup-size — and can answer some standard questions that repeat, but you don’t really get to find out much about them … and more importantly you can’t actually really have any impact on their lives or grow their characters. Both Aiko and Nikki hate their jobs, but you can’t really get them to change that or get them to accept that those are the jobs that they’re good at. They just keep complaining about their jobs. Belli has body image issues, but that doesn’t change for the entire game despite one of the proper responses being to call her out on that.

The personalities are a little odd as well. Despite my liking both the looks and general personalities — in some ways — of Nikki and Aiko, both of them are too rude and aggressive for me to really like them. This is especially bad for Nikki, as she’s the main introvert in the game and is generally presented as someone who simply hates people. On the other hand, Tiffany and Belli are probably the two simply nicest women in the group, but come across as bland because they don’t really seem to have anything else. And they have, as the game itself describes her, the “mega-bitch” in Audrey, while the others didn’t really suit me that well.

The voices, however, are actually done pretty well. Each woman gets her own voice that suits the personality, and the inflections often work, especially with Aiko. I just liked listening to Aiko talk a lot of the time.

Ultimately, I think the dating sim elements aren’t prominent enough for dating sim fans and are too prominent for puzzle fans. You have to spend a lot of time gathering Hunie and buying gifts and food so that you can improve your traits and be better at the puzzle portions, which will likely annoy the puzzle fans. On the other hand, the dating sim fans will be annoyed by how shallow the interactions are and the odd mix of personalities, and also the fact that there’s no story or character progression to speak of. If I had been doing a game like this, I would have made it so that instead of the difficulty going up across the board, it went up only for each woman, and then ranked the women in terms of difficulty. You would increase your traits with the XP earned from interacting with the women and from how well you did when you solved the puzzles. That way, puzzle fans could focus on one woman and go up to higher ones only if the first one was too “easy”, while dating sim fans could still pick which ones they wanted to focus on without feeling as much pressure to do all of them. If someone was great at the puzzles, they could jump to “more difficult” women directly and start with harder puzzles, and yet still get the progression.

Of course, if I was really doing it I would have made it a dating sim with puzzle elements, but that’s not the game they were trying to make.

Overall, it was quick but enjoyable. However, as U2 opined, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

Social Justice vs Games: FIFA 16

August 12, 2016

So, Anita Sarkeesian has put out her latest video, and I do intend to comment on it. But, as has happened before, I need to comment on something else first, because it needs to be addressed and if I tried to do it as part of my commentary on the video itself it would kinda overwhelm it. So, let me talk about one of Sarkeesian’s examples of a company finally adding women into the game:

The FIFA soccer game series, which had its first entry in 1993, took over 20 years before finally introducing female teams in FIFA 16.

Now, I knew that FIFA 16 had done this, because it was a key part of the advertising here in Canada, highlighting Christine Sinclair. However, I have never been a huge fan of soccer sims — particularly the more realistic ones; “Superstar Soccer” was fun, though — and don’t particularly enjoy the latest sports sims in general, so I didn’t bother to look up how they did the player ratings in a game that mixes male and female players. Are you going to give the female players ratings measured against the men, and so have even their superstars at about 50 – 60 ratings at best? Or are you going to give them high ratings but then it be the case that, say, Carli Lloyd is considered, under that ranking, to be a better player than Luis Suarez. It’s a tough issue, so what did they do?

Q: How do player ratings work for women in comparison to men?

A: The player ratings will be relative for each gender. We will be assessing female athletes against other female athletes which may mean that an 85 rated female player may not perform the same as an 85 rated male player.

They ranked them relative to other women — thus Carli Lloyd is a 91 and Suarez is a 90 — but if you actually play them Lloyd won’t play as well or pull off the same tricks as Suarez does. This could be problematic except that they also don’t let the women’s teams play against the men’s teams, so essentially the women are boxed off in their own little area, and so their rankings don’t really matter when compared to men. Thus, an 85 woman plays as well as an 85 woman would, which is not as good as an 85 man would.

And here’s where we get into the “Social Justice vs Games” part, because while EA says that this was a requested feature — and I have no doubt that it was — the push for Social Justice and inclusion is probably a major factor in why they decided to do it after 20 years, and why they decided to implement this awkward system to get around the obvious issues. But I don’t think that it will satisfy Social Justice advocates for women to simply be in the game, but that you can’t play as women players in male leagues, or run female teams against men’s teams at all. So, now, if they want to actually allow mixes, how do they get from there given this starting point?

Well, they can leave things as is and just move the women’s teams over. The problem with this is that then Lloyd would have a higher ranking than Suarez, but play a lot worse, and the Canadian national women’s team despite almost certainly having a higher ranking than the Canadian men’s team would lose to them almost every time they played, probably badly. That’s bad.

So, they could redo all of the rankings to make a mixed ranking, where you take all players into account, male and female. This means that Lloyd’s ranking would drop to somewhere in the 60s at best. That’s probably not going to satisfy the Social Justice crowd, and would also mean that female players won’t get selected for men’s teams and women’s teams won’t be put into leagues with men’s tames. So that’s bad, too.

Okay, well then they could leave the rankings alone and just make the rankings “objective”, so that an 85 woman plays the same as an 85 man. This creates the inverse problems of the existing method, as Suarez is now a worse player than Lloyd is in the game despite actually being better in real-life, and the Canadian men’s team would always lose badly to the women’s team despite the fact that they’d almost certainly beat them handily in real-life. As these games at least bill themselves as serious simulations, that’s bad, too.

Or they could just give up and insist that women can’t play against men, which is bad because, well, people will probably want to do that.

If I had been designing it, the first focus would have been on allowing female players to be created in the “Create-A-Player” modes, and then assigned to any team that that mode can assign players to. Then the rating would depend on the person playing the game. If people wanted to create them accurately, they’d do that. If they wanted to create them as being equal or better than men … well, that’s no worse than my putting myself and my co-workers, friends and acquaintances into the game with really high scores when none of us are going anywhere near a playing field. If the player wants some fantasy in their sports sim, who am I to complain?

If they had to put the women’s national teams in, then I’d rank them objectively in relation to the men’s teams … but add an option to allow the player of the game to “convert” them to a men’s team, which would be done by adding whatever rough score you’d need to treat, say, the best women’s player as if she was a man, and the best women’s team as if it was a women’s team. So, when adding a female player to a men’s team or a women’s team to a men’s league, you have an option to say “add 30 to the score to make it competitive”. Again, as this is an explicit option if the player of the game wants to fake it that way, what does it matter?

As it is now, though, it’ll be a rough road to get women players into the men’s teams and leagues.

DRM and Personal Preference

August 10, 2016

So, I was re-reading some of the posts at Shamus Young’s site, and re-reading some of the discussions on DRM, and what interested me the most was whenever better or ideal or even worse DRM systems were discussed there was a lot of disagreement over which systems were worse, better or even good. And it struck me that game companies, with respect to DRM, really do want their DRM to work in this way: they want to maximize the amount of piracy it stops while minimizing the inconvenience of their actual paying customers. Different companies will prioritize one part or the other, but for the most part they want to inconvenience their paying customers only as much as required to stop piracy. And the problem is that while it’s relatively easy to figure out how pirates pirate copies — and, therefore, how to go about trying to block that — it’s no where near as easy to figure out what will annoy your customers, because there is a wide variety in what actually annoys customers.

Take some standard methods as examples:

1) You have to have the CD in the drive. Since I generally play on my desktop — and keep most of my CDs out — and when I play on a laptop it’s easy for me to just leave the disk in the drive itself, as I’m generally only playing one game at a time. For others, who play more games, this is more annoying, and harder for them to manage.

2) Dongles. They have the same issue: if you only play one game at a time and have a place to store and label the dongles, they’re not an issue … but if you don’t, then they’re really, really annoying.

3) Enter a CD key on installation. This is a bit more annoying for me as it’s both annoying to enter it and it’s annoying to have to make sure you have or find the packaging where the key is, but many people just want to ditch that packaging, and so don’t leave it out like I do.

4) Code books/code wheels. The nice thing about, say, reading something from a journal and entering a code word is that, well, you actually get a journal. But, again, if you don’t keep it then you can’t look it up, and if it’s not a physical copy then you potentially have issues if you go to the desktop to launch it (I’ve had issues with the GOG Gold Box games with that, as when you switch out it drops out of full screen mode, although at one point I figured out how to get back there again).

5) Online activation. Aside from the “limited number of installs” part, why am I going online to play a single player game? And the laptop that leaves the house also doesn’t have Internet access. But if you have ready Internet access, this wont bother you at all.

6) Always have to be online. See 5.

The thing is, the same thing can be done for pretty much every form of DRM you can think of. And the main issue is that if these things aren’t part of or necessitated by the game itself, you run the risk of tacking a DRM scheme onto a game that happens to annoy a significant part of your player base. For example, 5) and 6) aren’t issues for MMOs and mainly online multiplayer games, because pretty much all of those players accept that, well, if it’s primarily an online game you have to go online with it. But many of them will balk at having to keep the disk in the drive for an online game.

Ultimately, I’m still of the opinion that the best way to deter piracy is to include things in the game that is hard to copy and that people want. Soundtrack CDs. Art books. Plush toys. You know, the things people stick into Collector’s Editions to get people to buy them. Or else make registration have benefits, like FTP MMOs do. At the end of the day, the way to deter piracy while not inconveniencing your real customers is to make it so that anyone who would actually buy the game really wants to buy it. But if the free game is as good or better than the game you pay for — even if it’s just that the free game removes annoyances — then, yeah, people will definitely take the free, pirated game over the one they have to pay for.

Early Thoughts on “Bloodlines”

July 27, 2016

So, I’ve started playing “Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines” over the past few weekends. I had bought the game quite some time ago, and played it a little, getting as far as the final mission in the first area before getting completely confused over how to escape the warehouse before the bomb went off, getting frustrated, and quitting. Which was a shame, because it meant that I never did manage to meet Heather Poe and get her as a ghoul despite my having done the quest that kicks that off.

This time, I used a walkthrough to try to get past the warehouse … and still failed. But I simply walked through the warehouse over and over and over using a save from before I set off the bomb to figure out the way to get there, and so after an hour or so of doing that was able to trigger the bomb, beat the two vampires who were going to come after me, and then escape. So I finally made it to Downtown, and finally got my ghoul.

So far, what I have to say about this game is that the non-combat — although not necessarily non-violent — parts of the game are the most fun. I’m not much for stealth games, but sneaking through the areas to get what you want instead of killing people is, in general, a lot more fun than trying to take them on in combat … at least, when that’s possible and you have access to walkthroughs to explain how to get through it (and even then things can be tough). But what’s even more fun is wandering around the areas and using persuasion and seduction — and possibly even Dominate and Dementate — on people to get what you want. I’m playing a female Toreador and my seduction and persuasion skills are high enough to both pretty much get through any option that allows them, but also to seduce the street walkers for a free fill-up of blood (Anita Sarkeesian would likely not approve [grin]). The use of stealth and disciples and skills in dealing with everyone is, in fact, so much fun that I really wish the game was all about that, and so the story missions — which tend to be combat-heavy — are kinda boring to me, although I liked the haunted hotel quest — although not as much as I did the first time — but really liked Grout’s mansion, up until the point it caught on fire.

I’m running with the latest unofficial patch, but don’t think I’m running with the one that makes things really, really hard. The controls are terrible and there are some … interesting bugs, and all of this is made worse by the fact that the game is at times so dark that you can’t even see where you’re going. This only makes the combat even more difficult, and there are no difficulty levels. However, I seem to be getting better at it … except when fighting humans that are on fire. Fortunately, careful blasts of a shotgun managed to get me through that part.

So far, it’s entertaining, and I hope that I won’t hit a combat wall where I’m not tough or rich enough to get the equipment I need to win a fight to advance the game. If that doesn’t happen, then I plan to play it a second time as a Malkavian, because from what I’ve read you really should play it as a Malkavian at least once.

The List – Year 5

July 6, 2016

So, it’s been five years since I posted my list of games to finish. This is the first full year with the updated list. So, how am I doing?

So far, counting Inquisition — which just made it in time — I have finish 21 games out of 46 that I’ve either finished or am planning on finishing, for a 45% completion rate, which is much better than the 33% I had last year. Even calculating it against all games including the ones I dropped from the list, my percentage is 33%, which is a lot better. A large portion of the credit for the increase probably has to go to Bioware, with Mass Effect and Dragon Age driving the increase in the number of games I’ve managed to finish.

Let’s see how well I do in the next year.

Final Thoughts on the “Dragon Age” Series … So Far

June 29, 2016

So, let me talk about my overall thoughts of the “Dragon Age” series so far: as a fantasy RPG series, it’s … good. I’m not sure that I want to replay the series again — especially since I don’t think I ever want to replay “Inquisition” again — but it was worth playing. And while I’ll do a full comparison later, I think there are some parallels between it and the “Mass Effect” series: an excellent first game with a deep and engaging story, a second game that takes things in a different direction and gets more personal, and a third game that tries to bridge the two … and fails. I think Inquisition suffered more from the move to an open world game than it did in trying to make a personal story inside a deep story, and it had the benefit of having no need to actually wrap up a long story arc, but the simple length of the game hampers its attempts to, well, do anything. It’s hard to feel a deep and personal attachment to what’s going on in the world while you’re searching for shards and running errands, and it’s hard to really get into the story when most of the time you spend in the game is spent doing things that aren’t directly related to that story at all. The story and the characters get buried under the weight of all the things that you can and maybe even need to do to be able to beat the game.

Dragon Age: Origins, then, has the best story out of all of the games, and it is no coincidence that it also seems to have the most interesting choices to make … even if many of them don’t seem all that momentous, and thus seem like tough personal choices. Ultimately, though, I think I like Dragon Age 2 the best, but that’s mostly because its gameplay fits exactly into my preferred way to play a game: run through all available side quests and then advance the next story quest secure in the knowledge that I’m at the right level to take it on. Inquisition just has too many side quests for that style of play to be fun, but also encourages you to do just that to ensure that you have enough levels.

I also strongly dislike the move to Dragon Age Keep, and hope that in the next games they rip that out and move instead to an in-game way to configure the world. But I think that’s a lost cause.

Anyway, the series was good, and I’m just more happy to finish the latest game than I am disappointed in how it ended.

Final Thoughts on “Dragon Age Inquisition”

June 22, 2016

Dragon Age: Inquisition is probably the least casual-friendly game that I have ever played.

(more…)

Tropes vs Women: Lingerie is not Armor

June 17, 2016

So, Anita Sarkeesian has posted her next entry in the “second season” of “Tropes vs Women”, which is an odd way to put it since she’s completely redone her approach to the series, mostly because as she herself has said she doesn’t really have the time to do what she said she’d do in what was supposed to be a “single season” series. It also implies that there might be a third season, although given what she says in her explanation of the format change that doesn’t seem all that likely, as at least originally there is was implied that the change existed solely to allow her to, well, get the series actually finished at some point. But that’s all an aside anyway.

At any rate, this video talks about “Lingerie is not Armor”. If you’ve never heard of that trope before, the relevant trope on TV Tropes — and, warning, this is a link to TV Tropes — is “Stripperific”. Essentially, it’s the idea that especially female characters are dressed in outfits that aren’t practical for the role they play in a game, but are instead inordinately sexy, highlighting their … ahem … attributes more than you’d expect for someone doing what they’re doing. The most well-known example of this is, in fact, the “Chainmail Bikini”, so it’s been around for quite some time. Now, Sarkeesian, of course, needs to do more than simply point out that the costumes are sexy, because for her feminist arguments to work — meaning, her specific ones — she needs it to be the case that the characters are, in fact, completely sexualized and objectified by such outfits. If they are characters that also happen to be sexy, her arguments mostly fail.

At any rate, let’s start by looking at her first example. She talks about a ad for “Perfect Dark”, that definitely is highlighting the attractiveness of Joanna Dark and does play on both that and her femininity — with the “What are you going to wear?” line — in order to sell the game. But as I’ve said before, it’s going to be the case that even female players want a character that’s competent and confident as well as sexy and attractive and maybe even feminine. So that in and of itself isn’t a problem, and the text itself really sells that she is, in fact, strong, capable and confident:

“Welcome to 2023. Big businesses now merge with alien nations. An ancient war is being fought under the sea. The president is about to be cloned. And it’s your job to try and save the world. So you’ve got an important decision to make: What are you going to wear to work?

From the team you brought you GoldenEye for N64, meet special agent Joanna Dark in Perfect Dark, where you’ll find out that the only person man enough to handle a job like this is a woman.”

I won’t say that this description isn’t problematic — it is — but it does definitely highlight how capable Dark is. Contrast this with Sarkeesian’s “translation” for a male character:

Welcome to 2016. There’s a war out there…somewhere. You’re not sure where, exactly. Anyway, the important thing is, you’re Special Agent Jake Grimshadow. It’s your job to save the world. The only question is: What are you going to wear? …. WAIT… WHAT??

Sarkeesian says that this would never happen, and that it shouldn’t, and she’s right … because this is a commercial that relies on portraying the character as an utter moron who knows nothing and might even be someone who’s simply looking for an excuse to kill things (which seems to be Sarkeesian’s default interpretation of, at least, male game players). The only thing it keeps is the “What are you going to wear?” line, which can easily be interpreted as a line mocking that stereotype of women … one that, however, many of them actually live up to. The problem I have with that line is that that line, specifically, might undermine our faith in the character, making her seem shallow and uninterested in the actual mission, but it’s important to note that since that add was almost twenty years ago that’s based on a modern interpretation. Now, we expect women to not care about what they’re wearing that much, especially when going out to save the world. Then that sort of shallowness was more common, so common that it didn’t seem shallow at all.

In contrast, Sarkeesian leaves out anything that establishes the male character as being confident or capable, adds a line that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes of men, and then tries to get us to see how ridiculous this really is. Yes, what was done there was problematic, but when you use examples like that and that sort of gender shifting what you really want to do is keep the translation as close to the original as possible in both form and intent so that you can highlight the problem. If, for example, Sarkeesian had kept it the same but instead replaced the “What are you going to wear?” line with “Which guns are you going to bring?”, would it have had the same impact?

At any rate, the question you need to ask is “Is Joanna Dark sexualized and objectified here, such that she is or is to be seen as nothing more than a sexual object for the enjoyment of the presumed male player?”. And the answer, I think, is “No”. You are supposed to see her as confident, capable and sexy, not just sexy.

Part of the issue with this video is that Sarkeesian wants to use fighting game examples to prove her case, which is that female characters’ outfits forgo reasonable protection in order to highlight their attractiveness and sexiness, but this assumes that the outfits in fighting games are, in fact, designed primarily for protection. So, for example, she highlights Cammy from Street Fighter:

Cammy from the Street Fighter series is a British special forces operative whose thong leotard does a better job of calling attention to her butt than of offering any kind of protection.

So, let’s compare Cammy’s outfit to that of the male characters in the original Street Fighter II game (because I haven’t kept up with the variants). Like, say, Sagat, who pretty much only wears trunks. The same is true of Dhalsim. And E-Honda, who wears the traditional sumo outfit. And Zangief. Even Ken and Ryu, who are mostly covered up, wear karate gis that, well, don’t provide a lot of protection. The only character who wears any kind of actual armour is Vega, because in character he wants to protect his pretty face. So, based on this, protection is not in fact a main priority in the Street Fighter series. So about the only complaint she can have when comparing her to the male characters is that her outfit and her stances show off her butt a lot. The latter doesn’t fit into a “Lingerie is not Armor” trope, and my reaction to the former is “Just what is your obsession with butts anyway?”.

Later, Sarkeesian talks about more practical outfits:

It’s not hard to imagine what more practical clothing options might look like for some of these characters. But if you’re having a hard time envisioning that, I will let you in on a little secret:

For those of you who aren’t familiar, there is this thing called a sports bra. Sports bras are designed to keep breasts held in place to better facilitate athletic activities. In other words, they are used to prevent “jiggle physics” in real life. In the real world, there are many female martial artists, athletes, and women in combat roles that developers could use as inspiration when designing and dressing their female characters.

So, then, we can look to an example that she missed, which is Sonya Blade from the original “Mortal Kombat”. Sure, her outfit bares her midriff, but is pretty much exactly what women wore while doing, say, aerobics at the time, and thus what people actually wore doing athletics. If Sarkeesian complains about how it doesn’t provide protection for someone who is actually fighting, then we have to look at Liu Kang and Johnny Cage who aren’t wearing any kind of armour either, and fight in what, well, martial artists wear, as seen with Sub-Zero and Scorpion as well. In general, in fighting games characters are dressed to, well, demonstrate their character more than being dressed for protection, mostly because if you try to introduce armour — and “World Heroes” did this with Jeanne — you either have to give it to all of the characters, give that character a huge advantage (because the armour would absorb blows that the other outfits wouldn’t) or else make the armour cosmetic only. The latter is usually what’s chosen in fighting games, which is why we have Jeanne because she’s clearly modeled on Jeanne D’Arc.

Thus, the outfits in fighting games tend to be modeled for character expression, not for protection, and thus also, in some ways, to provide maximum movement, which is why characters — male and female — often don’t wear all that much. In fact, in the Mortal Kombat movie, it’s actually a bit jarring that Johnny Cage fights in a shirt and dress pants, because fighters generally wouldn’t wear that (although, arguably, Cage is more used to that because in the style of movie he acts in that’s what he’d normally wear) because it’d be too restrictive. No, it’s in RPGs that we typically note the issue, because armours are supposed to actually provide protection, and the stereotypical “Chainmail Bikini” leaves critical areas exposed. Sarkeesian’s focus on fighting games, at least initially, hurts her case. Even focusing on first-person shooters runs into the issue that if one is going up again people with guns, until recently armour was not exactly likely to help much.

That being said, when fighting zombies where one bite can infect you and turn you into one, people should wear more clothes. Of course, again, regular, non-feminist gamers have already pointed that out:

I’m not trying to be a puritanical busybody, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s vacation here, but maybe if zombie bites are that much of a concern we should think about putting on some shirts and pants? The plastic sheen on your skin tells me you’re laying on the sunblock really thick. Maybe that’s good enough, but I’m just saying that having a layer or two of cotton and denim between your flesh and their teeth wouldn’t hurt. Just a suggestion.

Sarkeesian highlights the “hyper-sexualization” angle:

Because clothing can shape our first impressions of a character and has a tremendous influence on our sense of who they are every time they are on screen, sexualized outfits can contribute to what’s called the hyper-sexualization of female characters. Hyper-sexualization in the media occurs when a character is designed to be valued primarily for their sexual characteristics or behaviors. In hypersexualized characters, these attributes are highlighted above all else and made the center of attention, while everything else about the character is made secondary.

But the question then becomes: in any of her examples, does hypersexualization actually happen? Are these characters really seen primarily for their sexual characteristics, which everything else secondary? Is Cammy’s leotard, for example, seen as more primary than her being a British Special Forces agent? Sarkeesian, throughout the entire video, simply points to the outfits and says that they’re bad and the problem. She doesn’t examine the characters in detail to see if it fits or works for them, or if they are presented as characters that are competent, capable and sexy. In short, Sarkeesian doesn’t examine whether the sexiness is a defining trait, or a secondary attribute, while insisting that the problem with the outfits is that they, in fact, make the sexiness a defining trait.

Which is where she gets into trouble with an actual feminist theory:

Games and other media often work to frame this sexualization as a positive thing for women. They blur the distinction between female sexualization and female power, and as a result, sexualized female characters are sometimes celebrated for being perceived as “owning” their sexuality in a way that is empowering. But it isn’t actually empowering because the sexuality these characters exude is manufactured for, and presented as existing for, the presumed straight male player.

Sarkeesian has to ride that last part about it being designed for a straight male player very hard, because otherwise she runs the risk of being charged with “slut shaming”. The feminist theory is this: patriarchal society has always put strict limits on women and how they express their sexuality, which mostly meant that “good” women didn’t dress revealingly or sexually at all, and only to the extent that it was required in order for them to do what they needed to do. A woman who would dress “impractically sexily” was seen as, well, being a slut, and being openly available for sex. Thus, as soon as you saw a woman dressed like that, you were encouraged to think of her as, well, primarily a sexual object. The feminist response to that is, in fact, that women have to be able to dress sexy without having it be seen as in and of itself making her into a sexual object. Sarkeesian later references this point when she tries to talk about healthy sexuality:

The sexualization of female characters is about designing them, dressing them or framing them in ways that are specifically intended to be sexually appealing to presumed male viewers or players. Women’s sexuality, on the other hand, exists for themselves, and for those they care to consensually share it with. And sexuality can be expressed or experienced in any kind of attire.

But even here, she implies that women shouldn’t need to dress in sexy outfits in order to express their sexuality, implying that a woman willingly dressing in the way these characters dress is framing themselves as being appealing to men, not for themselves. But this is, in fact, the essence of slut shaming, which is the idea that a woman who dresses a certain way is to be seen as a sexual object for the pleasure of men, and nothing more. Thus, it is a perfectly valid feminist criticism of Sarkeesian to say that all she does is look at the outfit a woman is wearing and immediately concludes that, given that outfit, we should all consider her to have “sex” as her primary attribute, which means that she’s doing exactly the same sort of thing that the patriarchy does.

To settle this, then, we need to find a way to look beyond the outfit and determine if this is a character that wants to wear this outfit and one that is just wearing it because the game designers want to engage in some Fanservice. And the way to do that is to, in fact, look at the character herself and see if the outfit is something that that character would wear. Sarkeesian, unfortunately, has blocked herself off from this way of going about it:

Out of all the arguments that are tossed out to defend the impractical and objectifying clothing that women are made to wear in games, there is one in particular that I hear the most often and that is perhaps the most pernicious. That argument is: “Maybe that’s what she wants to wear!” Which is ridiculous. These women are fictional constructs. That means that they don’t dress themselves or pick out their own clothing. I can’t believe I have to say this. All these visual designs are deliberate choices made by the developers …

She also contradicts herself, however, when she talks about good expressions of sexuality:

These moments aren’t presented as titillating morsels of sexuality for players. Rather, they function as expressions of the characters’ sexuality that deepen our investment in the characters and their relationships to each other.

Except … how can it be an expression of the character or, rather, how can it be more an expression of the character than the former is, that she just wants to wear outfits like that, or has a reason to? In both cases, you have a fictional construct and are trying to derive its wants and desires from that construct, which is done by the designers. So if you can’t derive a “This is an outfit that that character would want to wear!” argument from that, you can’t derive a “She’s expressing her sexuality!” from that either. So Sarkeesian ends up being limited to either arguing that the former argument is invalid and the latter argument is valid only because it aligns with her own thinking on those issues — and thus, all female characters have to align with what she thinks is reasonable, even if other women wouldn’t think the same way — or else she has to rely heavily on the “Well, games are designed with men in mind!” argument which leaves us unable to determine how a game aimed at a general audience ought to work, and ends up being nothing more than an argument of “Don’t just design games for men!” with no real guidance on how to design it for women, too. Neither of these are options Sarkeesian should want to take.

So it seems to me that what we really, really want to do is focus on the characters and not their outfits. Thus, as I said before, Catwoman gets a pass because the character archetype she’s playing would indeed highlight her sexuality, even as a deliberate distraction. Miranda Lawson gets a pass for the outfit, but the game doesn’t get a pass for the camera angles that overly highlight it. More demure characters ought to dress more demurely, and more, um, sexual characters should dress more sexily, according to the overall standards for the genre that it’s in. Even in RPGs, there are definitely going to be some female characters who wouldn’t want to wear armour that’s generically male; they might still want to look like a woman even while totally protected, and thus might wear more form-fitting and feminine armours. But the Chainmail Bikini ought to be right out, since it couldn’t provide the protection a woman in that setting would need.

So, great, we can do this if we can justify it from the character. But then we run into the problem of Ms. Fanservice, which here is more the issue of a character that, it seems, is designed with the idea of being Fanservice first and foremost, and has nothing else beyond that. This, it seems to me, is what Sarkeesian is really annoyed about here, even if she can’t identify it, because it is only here that the character has their sexiness as their primary attribute. Fanservice itself isn’t a problem with a character that is loved for more than that; a shower scene for the character that you most like for their personality is a bonus, not a defining trait. But here, arguably, the character is built to provide fanservice, and the most interesting traits of them are the ones that justify — even if weakly — the fanservice that they provide.

If we look at Sarkeesian’s examples of failed attempts to justify the costumes, it really looks like this is what she’s aiming for. I don’t want to talk much about Bayonetta because she’s arguably justifiable in terms of powers and personality and I don’t know enough about the game to say one way or another. But Cortana and Quiet can provide us with an interesting way to try to assess the situation. Cortana:

The superintelligent AI companion Cortana from the Halo franchise has always been depicted as naked, and when asked about why this is, franchise director Frank O’Connor said, “One of the reasons she does it is to attract and demand attention. And she does it to put people off so they’re on their guard when they’re talking to her and that she has the upper hand in those conversations. It’s kind of almost like the opposite of that nightmare you have where you go to school in the nude, and you’re terrified and embarrassed. She’s kind of projecting that back out to her audience and winning intellectual points as a result.”

Meanwhile, male AIs in the Halo universe do wear clothing; the idea of them trying to “win intellectual points” by walking around naked is ridiculous. But we rarely question the extremely widespread association of sexualization and power when it’s applied to female characters.

And Quiet:

So you see, she can’t wear clothing because she breathes through her skin! These ludicrous narrative justifications don’t “make it okay.” Regardless of whatever absurd explanation a game might provide, it should go without saying that the only real functionality of outfits like this is to titillate the presumed young straight male player base.

But is that the case with both of these? How can we tell? Again, fanservice in and of itself isn’t a problem, and a female AI that’s learned that it can seduce or bemuse men by presenting itself naked seems more sexist towards men than women (ie “Show some skin and men fall all over themselves for you!”). As for Quiet, the idea that she needs to absorb oxygen (ie “breathe”) through her skin is an interesting one and has that implication (it would be a plot hole if she was still fully clothed). So how can we tell how to interpret the character and these reasons without doing what Sarkeesian does and dismissing them out of hand?

Remember, the idea is that the “Ms Fanservice” character has those traits only or primarily to provide an excuse for the fanservice. So if that trait isn’t just for that, it should matter to the character for important reasons beyond that. It should become a character point and, ideally, a plot point. So, for example, for Quiet there should be a scene or scenes where you can’t take her along or where you have an issue because you can’t have her swim out because she’d be submerged in water and thus would drown, even with a breathing apparatus. Or, alternatively, you can have her complain about how men don’t take her seriously because she can’t dress more modestly. In fact, you can pair her with someone who dresses modestly and discuss the differences in attention they get from men for that. There are numerous ways to make the point be important to the character more than it just being something that lets then dress sexily, and this is arguably precisely the sort of thing that Sarkeesian wants in how characters in games are built, thought about, and characterized.

I say “arguably” because when Sarkeesian gets into talking about sexuality she seems to kinda miss the “characterization” part:

The Last of Us: Left Behind features female characters who express romantic feelings for each other, rather than exuding a sexualized energy that is directed outward at the player.

And in Firewatch, though it’s only heard and not seen, Delilah expresses sexual desire for the player character, Henry.

Now, I originally had a throw-away point about Sarkeesian potentially treating workplace sexual harassment as healthy sexuality, since Delilah and Henry were co-workers. And then I went to look it up, because I wanted to make sure that I was right and discovered two things: 1) Delilah is Henry’s supervisor and 2) Henry is married to someone who is not, well, Delilah. Thus, one of Sarkeesian’s main examples of healthy female sexuality, in fact, fits the paradigmatic definition of sexual harassment and encourages adultery (because there’s no indication that Henry and his wife have an open relationship). How can she think that that is a reasonable and good depiction of sexuality?

So, even interpreting her charitably leads to a conclusion that Sarkeesian does not consider a supervisor suggesting a sexual encounter to an employee to be sexual harassment … if it’s a woman doing it to a man. After all, she constantly exempts cases where men are put into similar positions to women in her tropes analysis on the basis that given the social context it’s not an issue for men as it is for women. But here, the reason that a supervisor approaching an employee for sex is seen as always being or at least risking harassment is because of the power imbalance; the employee always has to worry if this will impact their job. Sarkeesian can try to claim — a la the sociological definitions of sexism and racism — that men have power and women don’t, but here it is the woman who definitely has power here. She could try to use the idea that the man would never turn down an attractive woman in this situation and so doesn’t this should be seen as always welcome (and so we should ignore the general case that even if welcome it’s a bad idea) but this is just fostering the idea that men want sex with all women all the time, which is as harmful as many of the attitudes she decries. She could argue that because of the way society is he needs to fear losing his job less than a woman would, except that female supervisors can still retaliatory fire and a man that’s out of a job is looked on more negatively than a woman would be. About the only argument that’s left is that he could get a job easier than a woman could, which isn’t true in this economy.

And none of that would justify the encouragement to adultery.

Fortunately — or unfortunately — it’s equally consistent with what Sarkeesian has shown in the past to conclude that she didn’t really play or understand the game when she used this as an example, or that she didn’t think of the implications of the scene. Pick the one that you like the best.

Now, moving onto the examples, what Sarkeesian gripes about in other examples is this:

But sadly, when consensual sex does occur, it’s often presented as a transaction or as a reward for player accomplishment. Whether that accomplishment is completing quests, or just choosing all the right dialogue options to get the sex cutscene to play.

So, returning to “Firewatch”, we note that in that game you can choose how to react to Delilah, including ignoring her. So, presumably, if you ignore her, this scene won’t happen. Thus, you’re going to have to choose the right dialogue options to get that scene. Otherwise, she’ll offer to have sex with you no matter how you treat her, which isn’t healthy sexuality at all. Thus, it is just as much a transaction as anything else she talks about. Also, this implies that in her first example that relationship occurs no matter what you do, which takes away player agency and so in allowing them to create the story to their standards. That’s a huge step backwards for games! Modern games are improved by allowing the player to decide who the PC loves or doesn’t love, hates or doesn’t hate, kills or doesn’t kill. For some reason, Sarkeesian wants to take huge leap backwards in order to prevent, it seems, straight male characters from having any fun she doesn’t like. Okay, okay, that’s too harsh, but she wants to take away something that I really like: the choice of romances and the quests and dialogues that lead to them.

But even as a point of female characters expressing their sexuality, the point fails miserably. See, those quests and dialogue options consist, in most games — Bioware being the leader in these sorts of interactions — of you picking the dialogue options that are right given the character that you are talking to. Heck, even the dialogues are tailored to the person you are interacting with. In Conception II — a game that Sarkeesian will dislike intensely — your interactions with the characters that build towards getting a relationship with them are in conversations that relate to specifics about the characters. You have to help Miss Chloe balance singing and being a teacher, Fuuko with her confidence (and with a ghost), Narika with her fear of public speaking, Torrii with her odd inventions, Feene with her photography and loneliness, Serina with her, sigh, A-Cup Angst and Ellie with the fact that she’s not quite human. Even the thinly veiled analogy for sex — so thinly veiled that it might as well not be there — is actually critical to advancing the relationship, which is why I, myself, never managed to get a relationship in that game when I played through it, because I stopped doing the “Classmating” because I had enough Star Children and wanted to save the Bond Points for combat. Sure, you’re “choosing the right options”, but the right options depend on the person you’re dealing with, and you have to also spend time with them to increase the bond with them.

Also, in Dragon Age, in order to build your relationship with someone you had to give the right responses to other people based on what that person wanted you to do. This is what drove my character to move from a bitter, cynical City Elf to a much better person because of the love of Leiliana, as she had to act nicer to others to keep that relationship up. Again, it’s choosing the right options, but the right options for the character you are dealing with, meaning that it forces you to think of them as more than just an object for sex.

And the quest that I had to do to get the relationship with Josephine in Dragon Age: Inquisition? Challenge her arranged suitor to a duel that I, as a mage, was going to lose and then when asked why I did it say that it was because I loved her. That’s definitely thinking of that as more than simply for sex.

Maybe Sarkeesian doesn’t mean these sorts of things when she talks about only choosing the right dialogue options, but we don’t know because she laments how rare “healthy sexuality” is and then never mentions these as examples. So does she know about them and hate them for some reason, or does she not know about these examples from, well, relatively well-known games that follow the model she’s criticizing? Who can say?

In conclusion, Sarkeesian does a more shallow analysis of the “Stripperific” trope than has already been done. We need to look more at how the outfits fit the character than simply say “Look, boobies!” and think that that reflects some kind of interesting meaning, and Sarkeesian fails on multiple levels to do that, ironically leaving herself open to criticisms from feminists, non-feminists, and gamers in general. A quite astounding achievement for one small video to pull off …


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