Saturday, March 26, 2011

Break Out Your Tiny Violin

It’s certainly a regular thing for upset fanboys and girls to go on forums of their supposed favorite games and bitch and moan about certain aspects of the experience that they didn’t like. It seems that no matter how good a game is or how much someone claims to love it something always has to rub them so hard the wrong way that they feel the need to express their disapproval on the game’s official forums.

99% of the time I totally and completely ignore it. Haters gonna hate.

Truth be told, I would never have even known about forum poster Bastal’s complaint about the Dragon Age 2 romance options had lead writer David Gaider not taken the time to personally respond.

So what was so horrible about Dragon Age 2 that Mr. Bastal felt he needed to vent? In his own words, “Bioware neglected their main demographic: the straight male gamer”. He feels that because the majority of RPG gamers are straight and male and that the small amount of women who game stick to casual titles like The Sims the development team should have been much more concerned with making the straight men who play Dragon Age 2 happy. And how does one do this, you ask? Put in more hot, white, blonde, buxom chicks that want to rip your armor off it seems.

He feels that because Fenris and Anders can be romanced by both male and female Hawke that they were created specifically for female players and “the gays” which he estimates make up a staggering 5% of Bioware’s total fanbase. In addition, the two female romance options (which can also be pursued by both male and female Hawke) are “too exotic” and therefore were not created with the desires of the “straight, male gamer” in mind. I continue to be confused as to what he exactly meant by this. I guess Merrill’s tattoos and Isabela’s . . . erm, tan skin are intimidating? Honestly though, how anyone could think that Isabela wasn’t created purely to satisfy drooling adolescent boys is beyond me:

Whatever. I’m not going to say much in response to what is obviously a homophobic male teenager’s refusal (or lack of desire) to acknowledge the world around him. I did want to point out a few erroneous assumptions and hypocrisies in his argument however:

1.) His statistics. Yeah, it’s an easy one to go after but it’s just so damned irritating. The fact that this guy thinks the estimations he admittedly pulled out of his head are fact is just hilarious.

2.) He claims that the vast majority of women who game spend their time with pick up and go games like The Sims and yet he believes that Aveline was specifically created for women “given the lack of strong female characters in games”. If you think women don’t game, why would you possibly think this about Aveline? Also, why not mention Hawke as a strong woman that female players can identify with?

3.) He argues that there should be a “no homosexuality” option to prevent Anders and Fenris from making passes at male Hawke as that’s awkward. Somehow I have a feeling however that if he played as female Hawke and Isabela or Merrill hit on him he would not only not find it awkward but would probably peruse the relationship. After all, we as a society generally don’t have a problem with the idea of lesbianism so long as the chicks are hot and we can watch; it’s just the idea of dude’s kissing that’s offensive, right? Being a straight woman, I was not interested in pursuing a relationship with Isabela so guess what I did when she hit on me? I told her no thank you and we moved on. Shocking.

Urgh. Sorry. I know I just said I wasn’t going to spend too much time on a response to this doofus but my fingers got away from me. The level of entitlement and ignorance in this post infuriated me, especially the admission of being uncomfortable with a male character hitting on him while claiming he’s not homophobic. This was a recurring theme in the comments as well. Lots of players claiming, “I’m no homophobe but” and then proceeding to say something along the lines of it breaks Hawke’s badass persona to have him jumping into bed with Anders and/or Fenris. Gentlemen, once again, just like you would do in real life if a woman you weren’t interested in hit on you, just walk away. Don’t get all pissy that gay people can exist in your fantasy game and pretend it’s not your homophobia breaking your immersion.

Breaking your immersion. Oh yeah, this entire post is about a game. A GAME. A fantasy, role-playing game which is meant to allow people to explore and do things they never would in real life. Guys, it doesn’t make you any less butch to love on these fine assortments of pixels:

They’re not going to come out of the TV and change your orientation and as soon as you're done with Dragon Age 2 you can go back to ogling women in order to re-affirm your masculinity.

Okay, okay. I’m done now.

The entire reason I started this post was to share Mr. Gaider’s response to this guy. It’s a rather lengthy post so allow me to paraphrase here while pointing out my favorite points in bold:

"The romances in the game are not for 'the straight male gamer'. They're for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention. We have good numbers, after all, on the number of people who actually used similar sorts of content in DAO and thus don't need to resort to anecdotal evidence to support our idea that their numbers are not insignificant... and that's ignoring the idea that they don't have just as much right to play the kind of game they wish as anyone else. The 'rights' of anyone with regards to a game are murky at best, but anyone who takes that stance must apply it equally to both the minority as well as the majority. The majority has no inherent 'right' to get more options than anyone else.

"More than that, I would question anyone deciding they speak for 'the straight male gamer' just as much as someone claiming they speak for 'all RPG fans', 'all female fans' or even 'all gay fans'. You don't. If you wish to express your personal desires, then do so. I have no doubt that any opinion expressed on these forums is shared by many others, but since none of them have elected a spokesperson you're better off not trying to be one. If your attempt is to convince BioWare developers, I can tell you that you do in fact make your opinion less convincing by doing so.

"And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as 'political correctness' if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They're so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don't see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what's everyone's fuss all about? That's the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want”

Thank you, David Gaider.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to this absurdity while simultaneously renewing my faith in the gaming industry as an entertainment outlet that deserves to be taken seriously.

Monday, March 21, 2011

To Chew Gum and Slap Asses

An interesting bit of news came out today regarding a previously unannounced multi-player mode for the upcoming (and long awaited) Duke Nukem Forever. It would appear that the developers have taken a new spin on the classic "capture the flag" and replaced it with "capture the babe".

Players will run around and attempt to capture a woman who "will sometimes freak out while you’re carrying her (somewhat understandable we’d say) at which point you have to hit a button to gently give her a reassuring slap.”

That didn't go over too well.

So the game's PR reps clarified toady that Duke wouldn't be slapping the women in the face. Oh, good. Rather, he'd be hitting them in the ass to get them to calm down, presumably as they're being carried over his shoulder. Now, when I first read this I literally rolled my eyes and said a few choice words outloud. Then I remembered what game I was reading about:

If any game on the face of this earth could get away with something like this, it's Duke Nukem. I've never played any of the games in the series but I know enough about the franchise to understand it was originally created as a satire to the action movie heros of the late 80s and early 90s. I also think it's incredibly obvious that it remains a gargantuan parody of hyper masculinity and machoism. Whether it's effective or not (read stupid) is a matter of personal opinion.

Does that make this any less in poor taste? No, not really.

To be honest, I'm really not sure how I feel about this. It reminded me of the Bioshock 2 multi-player "capture the sister" mode where you ran around trying to grab screaming little girls. More specifically, I remember thinking that it was funny but that an outsider would probably think I was playing a seriously sick and demented game.

Is that applicable with our buddy, Duke? Did the developers cross a line or is it all the name of parody? Just because a game like this can get away with it, should it?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mages, Templars, and Kittens

Well folks, after about 25 hours of gameplay I have finished my first playthrough of Dragon Age 2. After being thoroughly impressed with the demo I was crazy excited to finally sit down and play the sequel to what has since become of my favorite games of all time. Was I a tad nervous? Of course, but the overwhelmingly positive reviews of Bioware’s other big sequel – Mass Effect 2 – left me feeling more optimistic than anything else as I started the game.

Perhaps that was a mistake.

Not the kind of mistake that makes me wish I hadn’t played it – not at all – but the kind of mistake that makes me think I was a little blinded by expectations.

Dragon Age 2 is a great game. It really is. It improved on some of the weaker aspects of Origins like endless quests in never-ending areas (I’m looking at you Orzammar) and clunky controls and replaced them with (mostly) fresh and crisp surrounding and gameplay mechanics that shine on the 360. Playing as a mage in Origins could be little boring; I’d find myself just staring blankly as the Hero of Ferelden would pew pew her way through battles. Hawke the mage, however, was every bit the badass she deserved to be. I never, ever got sick of watching her slam her staff into the ground to send an enemy reeling. I also adore the re-design of the Qunari:

There is no arguing that Dragon Age 2 looks and feels better than its predecessor but does that make it a superior game?

For me, the biggest draw of Dragon Age Origins was the story. I completely fell in love with the lore of the world and the lives of characters I met. Even the companions that I didn’t spend too much time with like Sten and Zevran managed to endear themselves to me in the quiet moments of camp. Although it took me a few playthroughs before I truly grasped the depth of everything that was happening in Ferelden it only made me care about the place far more than I ever would have expected.

When all was said and done within Kirkwall I cannot say I felt the same, which is especially interesting considering you spend a decade within the city. This isn’t to suggest that I was apathetic to the problems facing me and the city, only that I never really got the feeling that the world around Hawke was really being influenced by her presence. In Orgins, you greatly impacted the lives of almost everyone you met while Dragon Age 2 kind of goes out with a whimper. It’s set up nicely for a sequel but I found the ending of the game to be very sudden especially considering that several key issues didn’t really seem to resolve themselves. Again, you could chalk that up to the preparation for Dragon Age 3 but I was really disappointed with how certain circumstances – including one very large one from Origins – never played out or hell, were even really mentioned. Considering the scale of your actions in the first game, I really expected the second to touch on it far more than it did.

That being said, Dragon Age 2 is littered with little references and cameos from the first game and I adored every single one of them. From a bartender telling me about the declining pigeon population in Ferelden to Anders talking about Ser Pounce-a-Lot and Merrill’s desire to mend the Eluvain, so many cool moments are dependent upon the player having completed Origins and Awakening before this. Which is really awesome but still leaves me scratching my head as to why larger events in the previous games were hardly referenced or brought up at all.

On the whole, Dragon Age 2 is much less complicated than the original. Party members cannot have their armor changed (though it can be upgraded), conversations with companions are limited to specific times and locations and you never spend too much time in one area though you will travel back numerous times. Funny how all the caves on the outskirts of Kirkwall look exactly the same inside, huh?

While I miss some aspects of the above overall I think the changes work well for the sequel and help the player stay focused on the actual game itself rather than getting caught up in the more menial tasks listed above.

To sum it up, Dragon Age 2 is a great game. It really is. I’m planning on starting my second playthrough as soon as I get this posted but I do feel that it was a step back from Origins; no amount of improved graphics and mechanics can make up for a weaker story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

PAX East, Day 3

Well friends, after 3 long, glorious days PAX East 2011 has officially come to an end.

Learning from our experience with panels yesterday, Lynsey and I headed right to the theater for the “One of Us” panel that featured our fellow blog buddy Alex.

Check her out, folks. She's awesome.

After a few uncertain moments the ladies and gentlemen of the panel really got rolling on the issues facing minority gamers, specifically the differently-abled, non-heterosexual and female gaming population. Although the entire panel was very interesting there was one thing that really stood out to me. The panelist from (who’s name escapes me, please forgive!) tackled exactly what it is that you should do when you come across the inevitable hostile player in the virtual world who aren’t too keen on the fact that you’re not as they are.

The answer: stand up for yourself.

It actually reminded me of a conversation held on a recent episode of Analog Hole Gaming where Christy talked about a young boy in World of Warcraft asking her to send him pictures of her tits. Instead of rolling her eyes and ignoring him, she called him out on the absurdity of his statement and shamed him into stopping. It made me think back to the times were I’ve been harassed on-line and how I blocked them and moved on without letting them know.

And it bothered me.

After all, how can we expect things to change if we remain passive when someone’s throws the word “fag” or “dyke” or “bitch” around on-line?

We can’t and we shouldn’t - complacency is not the answer.

It really was a great panel.

Afterwards, we headed back to the show floor but upon finding 2-hour plus waits for the other games we were curious about we opted to watch from the sidelines for a few minutes before heading out exhausted but satisfied. This was my first time at PAX East and I can certainly say that I plan to return next year. Yes, the lines were long, the food was expensive, and there was a lot of confusion that first day but overall it was a terrific, nerdy experience.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

PAX East, Day 2

So day two at PAX east ended up going a little differently than we intended.

We arrived back at the convention center a little before noon and after finding out that the wait time for L.A. Noire was about an hour and a half with the demonstration itself being 30 minutes we decided to kill some time in the freeplay areas since the “Females on Female Characters” panel was at 3. After an always-pleasing game of Left 4 Dead 2 we headed over to the theater only to find an enormous line waiting to get it.

I’m talking, HUGE.

While we were pretty bummed that we couldn’t get into the theater we were also pretty excited that such a topic would elicit the response it did. I’m curious to see if similar amounts of people show up for the “One of Us” panel tomorrow, which has a similar theme – gamers who break the gamer stereotype. Regardless, perhaps we’ll be treated to more “minority” panels at future conventions considering how well the one today did.

Slightly downtrodden, we headed back to Rockstar’s booth and got in line for the L.A. Noire demonstration. After waiting for 90 minutes we walked into their closed off booth and were treated to a fantastic preview of the game’s mechanics, plot devices, graphics and overall theme.

The level of detail in this game looks incredible. We watched the protagonist kneel over a dead body and meticulously examine it – from a head wound to broken fingernails to a cut on the arm – and the surrounding crime scene. A flick of the analog stick would cause you to turn the victim’s head to the side or even gently move a bloodied wrist. Every little action is put in control of the player.

We saw the main character interrogate suspects: asking them questions and judging the truth behind the answers from the way the character acted and spoke. I really enjoyed that in order to successfully accuse someone of something malicious you had to have hard evidence - not just a hunch - or things could go quite bad for your character.

Overall, the demo left the kind of impression that we’ve all come to expect from Rockstar: I went in knowing little about L.A. Noire and left thinking that I’m probably now going to pick it up day one.

Shortly after we left Rockstar’s booth (with two free posters and two t-shirts) we decided to head out to appease our growling stomachs but not before we caught a good long look at the Duke Nukem Forever booth and its rather interesting promotional tools:

Enter the booth babes.

What I find the most curious about this is that following PAX East last year the guys from Penny Arcade decided to enact a ban on scantily clad models at their conventions and that this ban was met with overwhelming support from the 6,313 attendees surveyed. It would appear as though a large amount of men as well as women didn’t really care for watching half-naked women who know nothing about the product their bodies are advertising prance around. However, it would also appear that despite the ban on these types of models being used to promote games, Gearbox got under the wire.

Which, yeah, on one hand it’s obnoxious and sexist. I mean, why not have a shirtless butch dude who resembles Duke standing there to take pictures with people?

But on the other hand, I saw plenty of female attendees cosplaying in less than what these women were wearing and those women were dressed the way they were because they were pulling from the female characters currently appearing in video games. Hell, I’ve put in about 10 hours so far with a Dragon Age 2 with a main character looks like this:

So while at first I was pretty annoyed with the Duke Nukem booth, I have to say that on reflection I find that the majority of my irritation stems from what has always bothered me about video games and that’s that female characters generally aren’t taken seriously and are hardly ever presented as a character first and an attractive, sexual woman second.

Man . . . I really wish I had been able to attend that panel.

Friday, March 11, 2011

PAX East, Day 1

Today Lynsey and I woke up early, ate a quick breakfast and hopped on the T headed toward the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for the first day of PAX East 2011.

Now, the profuse rain certainly didn’t help but I have to say that our very first impressions weren’t great. The venue is huge and while it’s great for making me feel like there is room to breathe working your way around the place proved to be quite the challenge and no one working the event seemed very sure of where things were. However, seeing as how the “staff” is largely comprised of gamers volunteering I really can’t give them a hard time.

The first event of the day was the keynote speech by Jane McGonigal who, in addition to welcoming everyone and getting the crowd excited for the events to come, did a great summary of her book “Reality is Broken”. Having not read the book myself I can’t really critique her material too much but I will say that it certainly piqued my interest, even if it did seem a bit idealistic at times. McGonigal herself was energetic, comfortable, and confident and did a fantastic job getting everyone pumped up.

First up on the show floor for us was a look at Nintendo's 3DS. While I’m generally not a handheld gamer I was curious as to how the technology of the device works and I have to say I was pretty damned impressed with it. After a few seconds of letting my eyes adjust to the screen I found the 3D effect to be surprisingly clear, clean, and effective. It honestly looked and felt fantastic and though I’m still not convinced my life would be incomplete without one I found myself thinking about it the rest of the day.

Well, until we hit the Portal 2 booth.

After grabbing some free Aperture Science t-shirts we headed inside a wall-up room and saw new footage from the upcoming game including a PAX East exclusive look at the character Cave Johnson, creator and CEO of the aforementioned company. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m more excited for the actual game or the hilarious and smart dialogue that comes with it. Speaking of amazing writing, it was a pretty awesome moment when Lynsey looked at a man by the booth and said, “I know I’ve seen that guy before” and me going, “Dude! That’s Chet Faliszek!”.

Valve fangirls to the end, friends.

After the Valve presentation we went in search of food and after paying $12 for a small sandwich, chips, and a soda (expected but still annoying) it was back to the show floor for a quick look around before we headed to one of the many free play rooms for a relaxing game of Left 4 Dead.

Tomorrow’s plans include the panel “Females on Female Characters” as well as checking out Rockstar’s L.A. Noire and Projet Origin’s FEAR 3 as well as some others.

See you then!