Girl in the Machine
Friday, August 31, 2007
A Look into the Industry's Perception of "Girl Games"

Since I had offered my opinion of the notorious Imagine games as well as reading Bombergirl's take on the "girl games" phenomenon, I decided to do a little research of what some video game company's are really saying about the "girl" market. I came across an article off of Yahoo that did little to alleviate my dread. The title? "Videogame industry hopes to harness girl power." Guh. Well, let's take a look, shall we?

Can "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana" finally take girl gaming to the next level?

Uh, what? Considering the mindless "girl games" we've had in the past, I guess just about anything with skill would take it to the next level. I'm going to assume they're referring to tweens when they say girls, because otherwise I would be very depressed right now.

"The demand for both the 'High School Musical' and 'Hannah Montana' games has been enormous among retailers," Disney Interactive GM Graham Hopper said. "I think the industry is starting to wake up to the fact that girls play games."

Why are "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana" the Holy Grail of girl videogames all of a sudden? Do they think only boys play Mario games or something?

The problem has been that girls and women tend to be among the most casual players, interested in easy-to-pick-up social games but not consistently shelling out $30-$50 for more complex fare.

Okay, I can't be charitable with this one because the quotation says both girls and women; this is wrong on so many levels. I could maybe let it slide if it just left it at not spending $30-$50 for a game (even that's a stretch--I know several female gamers who would readjust their food budget to snag a new release, me included), but for more "complex" fare? Did we just discover why most "girl" games have been drivel? We'll get back to this later.

"The real key is to get girls to begin obsessing over games the way they might obsess over a boy band or shows like 'High School Musical,"'

Boy bands? Who even listens to boy bands anymore? They were popular when I was in middle school, for chrissake. I didn't get sucked back in time, did I?

Other companies, most notably the now-defunct Acclaim, had some solid sales in the past with games based on the Olsen twins. But they also might have done more harm than good because many of those properties lacked the thing that keeps girls coming back, which is good gameplay.

We finally get to something I can congratulate this article for: they realized that all the "girl" games that existed when I was young were, under the surface, really shitty games. If they really want to snag the younger female market, they can't just slap a bunch of shoes or glitter or whatever into a cartridge and call it a game--it actually needs something to keep a player coming back. It needs to be engaging and fun. And yes, you couldn't make me touch those Olsen twins games with a fifteen-foot pole.

Hopper said the "High School Musical" game for the Nintendo Wii will be among the first to feature a microphone, while the upcoming "Hannah Montana": Music Jam" for the DS will allow up to four players to play various wireless instruments together.

I can't tell you how nice it is to see games directed at young girls that aren't about shopping. It's good that they've added all these interactive elements as well, especially with the different instruments.

As Bombergirl stated in her article, vapid "girl" games can lead to a deadly stream of thought from "Girl games are stupid" to "Girls are stupid." While I've mentioned that I disagree with marketing games to a particular sex, I am happy to see companies focusing more on the gameplay than just slapping a television show character on the cover and hoping a few girls will pick it up.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 11:16 AM + Link to this post

Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The Scale of RPG Heroines III

Part Three

Welcome to the finale of our special three part series on heroines in role playing games. We’ll be exploring the highest points in this post. Keep in mind that this is a scale, not a “top ten” list. For example, Yuna's place in the ten spot indicates that she’s not exactly our role model here. Our mysterious woman in the number one spot is, by contrast, a video game messiah and everything you could ever hope your children might be.

Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, okay?

3. Celes
Celes is a strong woman—as a general within the Empire, she has proven both her strength and her wit. In combat, she is a competent fighter and a skilled magic user. Her Runic ability is not only defensive, but the MP she regains from absorbing enemy spells fuels her own. In other areas, she acts with kindness and compassion, resolutely working for the forces of good. And she can sing an aria pretty damn well, too!

Celes most noteworthy characteristic comes from her realistic reactions and inner strength after Kefka rises to power. Cid revives her in the World of Ruin, she finds him sick and weakened. Reversing roles, she then cares for her new uncle and does her best to nurse him back to health. If the player does well, Cid survives to reveal that he has built a raft and sees her off as she begins her journey anew.

More interestingly, if the player fails to heal Cid, he dies. Celes, believing that she may be the last person alive in the world, casts herself from a cliff in her despair. I’ll never forget seeing that teardrop glitter as she stepped over the edge—I mean, here I was in the third or fourth grade, and I was playing a character who just tried to kill herself! When she washes up on the beach and finds the seagull with Locke’s bandana, she realizes that she is not truly alone. Hopeful and inspired, she then takes Cid’s raft, setting sail into the unknown; after landing, she gathers the adventurers together for an assault against Kefka. It is through her force of will and determination that the part reunites for the final confrontation.

And this is just a small thing, and totally my own opinion, but I’d argue that Celes is far more important than her love interest, Locke. I mean, you can beat the game without even getting Locke back in your party. And Final Fantasy XII’s “History of Final Fantasy” feature claims he was the protagonist! What? Maybe they should’ve taken a closer look at…

2. Terra
Terra has to be one of the most interesting women in RPG history to date. Her journey for self discovery moves me every time I play the game.

Even as a young lil’ gay boy, I identified with her outsider status. The human world tries to manipulate her at every turn, whether it’s the Emperor Gestahl or the leader of the Returners, Banon—Terra becomes their tool. The esper world cannot truly accept Terra, viewing her as tainted by her human mother. Despite the cruelty she has endured throughout her life, Terra overcomes her past. She not helps to raise the orphans of Mobliz but also protects them from invading monsters. When Celes & Co. attempt to recruit her, Terra initially refuses. She insists on remaining in her new home, perhaps the first place where she has felt welcome.
For BomberGirl’s feelings on Terra, check out her article, “Some Words on Terra Branford.” She has expressed Terra’s virtues far more eloquently than I can.

1. Lenneth Valkyrie
I adore Lenneth. She’s my videogame idol. Where to start? I love everything about her: her armor is appropriate for battle, providing a combination of protection and mobility. Because she can equip both swords and bows, she has tremendous versatility on the battlefield. Her voice actress is strong and beautiful.

Initially cold and subservient, Lenneth makes a remarkable turnaround as the game progresses. Once a tool to the gods, she rebels against their plans, survives Ragnarok, and ascends to the top of the pantheon. Rising from an enslaved seventh-level goddess to All-Mother and Creator is quite a feat! Also, when Lenneth combines with Lezard’s homunculus, she becames part elf—this means that, unlike the other gods, she has the potential to grow, and so her status at the end of the game is only the beginning of her power!

Conclusion? I’d go straight for Lenneth. She's practically perfect.

Each woman’s placement on this list was a collaboration between BomberGirl, PlasmaRit, and me. The highly subjective opinions, however, are mine alone. If you just can’t accept what I said about your precious idol, I regret to inform you that my opinion probably won’t change. Sorry—but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to listen to you! Do you think this scale is totally out of balance? Right on? Let us know!

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 Posted by Calabar
 4:59 PM + Link to this post

Monday, August 27, 2007
Femininity: Whose Problem is It?

So I wandered into my local EB Games the other day and found myself distracted by an unusually large shock of pink that stood smack in the center of the store. "GAMES FOR GIRLS" screamed the bedazzled display in metallic pink lettering, showcasing such prime choices as Bratz, Barbie, My Little Ponies, and even Cooking Mama (which did not deserve to be there). I had to take a step back for a moment to drink it all in. Somehow, I felt I had to appreciate this sight in all its audacious glory.

"Games for girls." That phrase stuck in my mind. Not that it was a terribly unfamiliar sight -- overprettified, cartoonish games with difficulty levels that a three-year-old could master. As if, over and over, game developers were hit by the earth-shattering idea that humans of the female persuasion are suddenly playing games, gathering in masses of uninitiated, credit card-waving, pony-riding, lipstick-smeared frenzy. Eureka, indeed.

Yes, the concept of "girl games" has been around for quite a while. I recall my mother renting Barbie Supermodel for me as a child, and I also remember abandoning it quickly for Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo. It's nothing new for "girl games" to exude consumerism with shopping adventures or puzzles involving cosmetics. It's timeless, really, for them to treat female gamers as nescient and wide-eyed with a narrow range of interests. Compared to "normal" games that involve saving the world or beating the bad guys, "girl games" are a thousand times more frivolous, more full of fluff and dusted with glitter.

And that's what I find interesting. When game developers deign to market toward women, they specifically -- almost purposefully -- target young girls while completely ignoring the 18 to early 30s demographic, which is the target male audience. These are the people, myself included, that have grown up with video games since the beginning. So why do they pretend we don't exist?

Let's take a moment to examine how these "girl games" hurt female gamers by taking a look at the bigger picture. Masculine hegemony characterizes femininity as frivolous, idiotic, weak, and ultimately different. Now, most of us who call ourselves women may come to despise traditional femininity because of the aforementioned prejudices, which have become part of the mainstream attitude. And if the patriarchy makes femininity what it is, why not?

To combat this, it's imperative for us -- for all women -- for everyone -- to change our own perceptions of femininity so that they aren't tainted by prejudice and to make of ourselves based on our minds. The goal here is to spread knowledge, critical thinking, awareness, and choice. In a perfect world, one could ride ponies covered in glitter all day with reckless abandon.

And what does this have to do with video games? We sneer and recoil at these "girl games," designed by men for women. These are stupid, we think, and by extension: those who play these games are stupid. Therefore, women are stupid. Rarely do we automatically separate intended audience from the motivations and attitudes of the creators themselves. Therefore, our own prejudices arise, and the separation of "girls" from "the rest of the world" feels unfortunately familiar. It's a social construct that molds our personal opinions in a million subtle ways until we accept things such as sexism as normal. Stereotypes formulate: Barbie, the blond-haired bimbo who loves to shop. And so, in the modern mind, women are no more than a consumerist society with nothing better to do than shop or cook or do their makeup all day.

Awareness prevents this. Progressive thought prevents this. And feminism is, indubitably, the key.

So what would a proper "girl game" be like? Mere female presence isn't enough, as we've all come to know. A female spirit is necessary, a sense of familiarity, or humanity. It's a concept that's both difficult and easy to picture at the same time: easy because the same has been done for men a million times before, and difficult because mainstream attitudes have made women strangers, even sometimes to each other.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 1:06 PM + Link to this post

Friday, August 24, 2007
Countdown to Corruption

Over the past few weeks, life at chez Plasma has been full of Metroid goodness in preparation for Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. I've played through Metroid: Zero Mission again, restarted MP 2: Echoes (for sadly, I lost my original memory card), drooled over Samus statues (thanks a lot, Brinstar), and of course downloaded the Corruption Preview channel on my Wii. It's been a while since I've been reduced to a giggling school girl this often.

Of course, these videos aren't helping my situation either. While we wait the agonizing three days for the game to be released (August 27th, people! Mark it!), I leave you with these breathtaking glimpses into the game. Enjoy!

Title Screen:


Aurora Units:

E3 2007 In-Game Footage:

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 12:37 AM + Link to this post

Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The Scale of RPG Heroines II

Part Two

Welcome to a special three part series on heroines in role playing games. We’ll be exploring the high and low points together, hopefully appreciating the humor and seriousness that each candidate has to offer. Keep in mind that this is a scale, not a “top ten” list. For example, Yuna's place in the ten spot indicates that she’s not exactly our role model here. Our mysterious woman in the number one spot is, by contrast, a video game messiah and everything you could ever hope your children might be.

Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, okay?

7. Karin
Karin may not be the lead character of Shadow Hearts: Covenant, but you do begin the game playing as her (Yuri doesn’t even appear until after an hour or so of game play!). From the beginning, we become aware of Karin’s most noteworthy accomplishment; she has risen in the ranks of the German army during 1915—not an easy task for a woman in any era! She is also the only female leader we see in the game (Veronica serves Rasputin, Anastasia is too young to lead Russia). She is a competent fighter wielding her rapier in battle, and she utilizes crest graphs with equal ease.

Sadly, like many of her fellow heroines, Karin falls victim to “I’m in love with the hero” syndrome. She’s hooked on Yuri. Never mind that the ambiguous ending suggests incest… it just leaves me wondering if she would have been as dedicated to saving the world if, say, Gepetto were the leading male. Also, Karin seems to lose it at inappropriate times, especially considering her status within the German military. That and her teeny-tiny refurbished puppet cloths are not “adventure appropriate.” Don’t even get me started on her bonus costume, which is actually even less than she normally wears. Damn micro-miniskirts.

6. Peach
Peach appears in multiple games, series, and genres—we’ve seen her in side-scrollers, RPGs, sports games, racing games, and fighters. She can play tennis, golf, drive a go-kart, fight with a frying pan, levitate in midair, and all sorts of wondrous things.

With her collection of games comes a vast array of portrayals. For example, the competent princess in Super Mario RPG stands in stark contrast to the bimbo from Super Smash Bros. Melee—I can hear her voice ascending in pitch with every word as she gasps, screeching, “Did I… wiiin?” Moments like these present a degree of saccharine sweetness that could kill diabetic players. It’s not the sweetness and niceness that’s the problem; however, hyper-sweetness contributes to fluffy, empty-headed stereotypes which rarely become applied to males.

Of course, being burdened with the princess archetype, Peach gets captured a little too often and usually has to be rescued by Mario. At the same time, during other games she offers invaluable aid to Mario throughout his quests.

Peach represents the standard because of all the different portrayals of her. She’s a fulcrum for the scale because we can’t point to a single game and say, “This is Peach.”

5. Lin
A competent officer within the rebellious Trinity organization, Lin was trusted with mission to obtain Nina from the BioCorp labs. She represents a well rounded character with a sense of loyalty to her organization, a realistic fear that the sky no longer exists, and compassion for genics like Nina. She aids Ryu in taking Nina to the surface world, opening access to a place those in the underground considered a mere myth.

For me, Lin has no particularly bad points. Her placement here in the middle of the scale is largely due to the nature of Breath of Fire IV: Dragon Quarter and her supporting role within the game. Because character development is spread out between occasional cut scenes at the beginning and end of the dungeons, we only have a few glimpses of Lin and her hopes, fears, and motivations. This problem is compounded by the fact that Dragon Quarter has a huge cast of characters. While we simply don’t know Lin that well, she still represent a balanced character with the potential to become someone great.

4. Koudelka

Koudelka may present a hardened exterior to her allies, but she began her adventure in response to the call of a stranger in need. During her quest through the Nematon Monastary, she liberates the souls of the damned and puts angry spirits to rest. Even after her story is completed, she aids Yuri from a distance throughout the majority of Shadow Hearts. Particularly strong willed and independent for a woman in 1898, she is also the active leader of her group of adventurers.

One strike against Koudelka comes from looking like goth Karin… Just kidding! But it’s eerie, isn’t it? Just like Karin, though, Koudelka is dressed poorly for an adventure with her short leather skirt and lacy bustier. Bad choices, Koudelka.

Also, I feel as though in an effort to make a strong lead female, the game designers wanted to move away from a hyper-feminine heroine, resulting in an occasionally angry, heartless Koudelka. For me, the upside is that it’s refreshing to see a heroine stepping out of her usual roles.

Each woman’s placement on this list was a collaboration between BomberGirl, PlasmaRit, and me. The highly subjective opinions, however, are mine alone. If you just can’t accept what I said about your precious idol, I regret to inform you that my opinion probably won’t change. Sorry. But feel free to defend your favorites or bring up points I forgot in the comments section! See you next week to discuss our top three!

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 Posted by Calabar
 6:00 AM + Link to this post

Monday, August 20, 2007
Oh Mii, Oh My.

As much as I enjoy plot-heavy games with concrete characters and fixed events, I adore customization. MMORPGs and games similar to The Sims 2 let me inject a little bit of myself into the game, making it a much more personal experience. Much to my delight, the Mii channel of my newly-acquired Nintendo Wii has allowed me to do just this, and more.

Not only can the Miis you create resemble you and your friends to a T, the Mii channel's customization options let you create a representation of almost anyone you want, even a poor sap with an upside-down head. The amount of freedom the player has allows for some great diversity amongst your Miis.

I was particularly pleased to see that none of the options -- such as beauty marks or short hair -- are closed off once the player chooses her Mii's sex. In The Sims 2, it was disappointing for me to discover that I couldn't give any of my male sims long, flowing locks or full makeup without resorting to third party downloads. On my Wii, I can slap a kick-ass handlebar mustache on any female Mii or some ruby lipstick on their male counterparts.

Race is given the same free-for-all treatment with all hair colors, skin colors, and facial features open to your imagination. I only wish there was something beyond the natural shades such as ice blue hair or slimy green alien skin.

What the Mii channel doesn't deliver is an option beyond the binary gender system. Of course, it's not unusual to be given only two choices when it comes to picking the sex of your avatar; the concept of gender fluidity hasn't exactly penetrated popular opinion just yet. However, I find it interesting that male Miis have basic, cylinder-shaped bodies and female Miis have itty bitty skirts curling from their middles.

Now, this wasn't a problem with my Mii of Lulu from Final Fantasy X. However, it looked a little off on Zero-suit Samus. It bothers me to see that, once again, despite so many vastly differing customizations, the male sex is presented as "Default" and the female sex as "Other," with zero choice for anything otherwise. Just as with your generic restroom signs, the unadorned stick figure represents Men, Male, Humanity itself. Slap a skirt on it, and you have Woman, Female, Different.

It's an oversight that affects all games that offer customization, and in truth cuts off a significant number of players. While those of us who identify strongly as one sex or the other can make an avatar twin of our very own, the genderqueer, transsexual, cross-dressing, and even tomboyish gamers are left high and dry. From World of Warcraft to the little guys running around in our Mii parades, only some of us have the opportunity to truly represent ourselves while others end up compensating, negotiating, and, in a way, passing.

While I don't feel that this was done on purpose, I do see it as a clear result of heteronormative social conditioning. It may be just a game, but it's also another way, no matter how small, to alienate real, actual people in our society. The subconscious nature of these things only exacerbates such a heteronormative attitude, and even the tiniest example of more progressive thinking -- such as, say, the ability to make a Kate Bornstein Mii -- can only do a world of good.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:28 AM + Link to this post

Monday, August 13, 2007
We'll be back after this short break.

Hey-O! This is BomberGirl popping in to let everyone know that we at Girl in the Machine are taking a short holiday this week, so, unfortunately, there won't be any updates until next Monday. However, we'll all be well-rested and readjusted enough to keep some new content coming when we start up again. Thanks to everyone who keeps up with us on a regular basis, and we'll see you next week!

 Posted by BomberGirl
 1:10 AM + Link to this post

Friday, August 10, 2007
Ubi Says: "Them's Woman's Work!"

A new line of games created by Ubisoft is sending the blogosphere into a tizzy: the Imagine™ series on the Nintendo DS focuses on a market that Ubisoft believes to be "relatively overlooked," according to their press release. But before I get into that, let's take a look at these games: the first of them to be released in October 2007 include Imagine™ Fashion Designer, Imagine™ Animal Doctor, Imagine Babyz®, and Imagine™ Master Chef. What does Ubi say about them?

Imagine™ Fashion Designer
Imagine™ Fashion Designer invites players to become hip Manhattan designers handling all aspects of the fashion business, from creating their own line of clothing to directing photo shoots. Online gameplay allows players to share their designs and ideas with friends and fellow aspiring young fashionistas.

Okay, a fashion designer game. Calabar and I like making clothes, so maybe we could find something we like in it. There seem to be a lot of features than just designing a clothing line, so it could be good.

Imagine™ Animal Doctor
Imagine™ Animal Doctor puts young players in the role of a veterinarian, not only by treating and curing all types of animals, but also by creating new facilities to expand the veterinary hospital.

Well, there hasn't been any vet games for the DS (the closes being Nintendogs and its knock-offs), so it's something new [Edited to note: Turns out there has been at least one vet game for the DS--my bad. Thanks, Darius!]. It's also interesting that you can add onto the hospital too.

Imagine Babyz®
Imagine™ Babyz® is the first simulation game focused on caring for babies. Players take on the challenges of raising a baby throughout all stages of development and will also be able to take photos and exchange tips and clothing through a unique online component.

Um, "Babyz®?" Oookay. Anyway, I guess it would be like Nintendogs, but with babies. Or babyz. Or whatever.

Imagine™ Master Chef
Imagine™ Master Chef allows players to create recipes from all over the world using the stylus to prepare, stir and cook ingredients. Players can customize their kitchens with utensils and appliances. Fun mini-games include cooking quizzes and kitchen challenges.

It sounds a little familiar, but hey, cooking is fun. Maybe Ubi added a little something new.

These all sound like pretty harmless games, so why has there been such an outcry about them? Maybe taking a peek at the box art will shed a little light on this conundrum:

And if there was any doubt of the target audience for the Imagine
™ franchise, Ubi states in their press release that these games are for "girls ages 6 to 14 years old." And this is where they hit a snag with a few feminist bloggers.

Now, some are claiming that these games seemed to have been designed to put girls in their place while they're young. While it is suspicious that this line includes cooking and taking care of "babyz," that's not my beef. What I am unhappy about is that these games are marketed exclusively to girls. The fluffy design with a preteen girl emblazoned upon every cover may as well have been branded with a "No Boyz Allowed" (to continue with the "grrlz" theme). My main question is: why exclude one gender in favor of another?

While far from equality, feminine, domestic, and/or nurturing men are slowly becoming more acceptable in society today. Male fashion designers are a common sighting, and the patriarchy is finally beginning to see that men can take care of babies as well. However, while this is becoming acceptable behavior for men, it is still very taboo for young boys to express interest in these ventures. Just take a look in any toy store: children's toys are still severely gendered, and these games aren't helping the bias. Looking at the game descriptions themselves, they seem fairly gender-neutral, and yet Ubisoft feels the need to exclude young boys. If these games were designed around young girls' "favorite interests and hobbies" as Ubi claims, wouldn't the subject matter alone draw their target audience in? Of course, the answer is no young boy would be interested in learning to take care of babyz and animals, to cook, or design clothes.

After all, as Ubi seems to think: them's woman's work. Why would a boy ever be interested in that?

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 10:26 AM + Link to this post

Wednesday, August 8, 2007
The Scale of RPG Heroines

Part One

Welcome to a special three part series on heroines in role playing games. We’ll be exploring the high and low points together, hopefully appreciating the humor and seriousness that each candidate has to offer. Keep in mind that this is a scale, not a “top ten” list. For example, Yuna's place in the ten spot indicates that she’s not exactly our role model here. Our mysterious woman in the number one spot is, by contrast, a video game messiah and everything you could ever hope your children might be.

Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, okay?

10. Yuna
If we looked at one aspect of Yuna, she might have scored higher, but the combined effects of her two distinct personalities have landed her in the ten spot. In Final Fantasy X, she has a heart of gold, if nothing else. She’s accessible to the average player, and she’s a bad ass with her aeons. Unfortunately, as the folks at Wing Heart Productions have pointed out, apparently Yuna is part Siberian husky. She blurts out everything, bows spastically, and is otherwise constantly overeager to please. Her resolve towards her quest is strong, but in general she lacks a backbone. Every time she gets that dejected look on her face, I want to shake her and shout, “Speak up for yourself!”

That’s all in the past now, though. In Final Fantasy X-2, she’s toughened up a bit and has learned to stand up for herself… sometimes. She’s still the same sweetheart, and I can’t lie--some of her Dresspheres are exceedingly fabulous (Floral Fallal, anyone?). It’s a shame we have to stare at her skanktastic Gunner Dressphere through all the cutscenes. Perhaps the Garment Grid and Dresspheres were developed to save Yuna from this tragedy? We may never know the truth. But really, isn’t this supposed to be a so-called “girls’ game?” Who was this character designed for, then? That, and things like “disasteriffic” and “oh poopie!” make me wanna hurl. More than anything, it’s Yuna’s motivations that make me squirm. The entire game is primarily motivated by her search for Tidus (Dismantling Vegnagun is hardly a priority until the end of the game!).

9. Colette Brunel
For some reason, few people have played the Tales of Symphonia series. Let me give you a quick rundown of Colette’s story. Ahem… “I’m the daughter of an angel! I’m going on a quest to martyr myself and regenerate the world! I love doggies!” … and that about sums it up. Yes, she really does get a bonus “title” if you talk to all the dogs in the world.

What’s Colette got going for her? I love that her design is appropriate for her pilgrimage. She has a modest coat that looks like it would keep her cool in hot climates and warm in cold ones. Like Yuna, she’s kind and has a good sense of loyalty. Other than that, I have to wonder what goes through her head. She’s excessively ditzy and klutzy. I’m shocked that this is the best Sylvarant’s education system can muster for its Chosen One. She knows her hymns, prayers, and a few myths here and there. The clumsy girl literally crashes through walls on multiple occasions throughout the game (in the classroom where the game begins, for instance). At least the other characters don’t accept it as completely normal. She has some bad ass spells and fights with a pair of chakram, but for some reason her special attacks involve sqeaky piyo hammers. That certainly takes the edge off.

Some of her titles (a system used to modify stat bonuses when leveling up) from the game include: Klutz, Maid, Turbo Waitress, Ironing Board, and Oblivious.

8. Shion Uzuki
Shion’s got a few good things going for her: she has compassion, and as head of the research and development department at Vector Industries, she’s a genius. Shion’s greatest strength lies in her refusal to budge on issues concerning Realian rights.

Concerning Shion’s intellect, the “oblivious genius” thing really annoys me. It’s a poor reflection on smart people--as if their intelligence automatically makes them ignorant of romantic advances. Granted, Allen isn’t exactly the best at expressing his feelings, but damn. I’m pretty dense, and even I would’ve figured it out before she did. It doesn’t help that her space cadet quality is further enhanced by her voice actor and the way she dramatically swings her arms from side to side as she runs.

Each woman’s placement on this list was a collaboration between BomberGirl, PlasmaRit, and me. The highly subjective opinions, however, are mine alone. If you just can’t accept what I said about your precious idol, I regret to inform you that my opinion probably won’t change. Sorry. But feel free to defend your favorites or bring up points I forgot in the comments section! See you next week to discuss spots seven through four!

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 Posted by Calabar
 7:15 AM + Link to this post

Monday, August 6, 2007
I have a crush.

Let me just make this clear: I love Heather Mason.

But then, what girl gamer couldn't? As Silent Hill 3's primary character, it's already refreshing to see someone of the female persuasion in the SH universe that isn't (a) spooky, (b) crazy, or (c) dead (although Cybil Bennett does come damn close to achieving such an ideal). On a larger scope, her overall capability and more or less realistic behavior in the face of danger also earns her a gold star from me.

And isn't that precisely what makes her so likable? Her personality is extremely well-written, granting her a range of emotions not often seen in video game characters. She's a smartass, she's tough, she's humorous, she gets pissed off, and she even (gasp!) expresses genuine fear. And even though she's been thrown into an extraordinary situation, she still acts like a realistic teenager, and at her age (seventeen) I was easily able to identify with her.

One of my favorite things about Heather is her love for her father. She shows it without it being sappy or overdone. One of my favorite cutscenes is at the very beginning of the game when she gets ready to leave the mall. She calls Harry on a pay phone and ends the conversation by saying, "I love you, too, Dad." Because of the grisly events that take place during SH3, there's very little opportunity to show this side of Heather.

Even when things seem completely out of control, though, Heather stands firm. I also love this scene when she comes to Harry's defense during her first meeting with the crazy-ass Vincent (another favorite character of mine):

As I've said before, Heather is the sole female lead of the Silent Hill series. I have so much respect for the game developers for not making her offensively girly because of this fact. Again, she's more like an actual person than a caricature of a girl: she's tomboyish, wears a thick padded vest and a denim miniskirt, dyes her hair blond but doesn't wear makeup, and official sources describe her as "a normal girl who loves shopping." It's a perfect balance of character traits that round her off without making her boring or offensive.

Throughout her story, we come to root for Heather. She's not perfect; she has flaws, from her short temper to the freckles on her face. She stands as my most favorite video game character of all time (just take a look at my icon!). And here at Girl in the Machine, game developers hand us so much to be negative about, and it feels wonderful to celebrate the positive aspects of women in games.

So, here's some homework for our readers! Leave a comment and tell us about your favorite female video game character. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:09 AM + Link to this post

Friday, August 3, 2007
First Friday Drinking Game

It's the first Friday of the month, and you know what that means: another round of First Friday Drinking Game! Today we'll be hooking up the multiple controllers to bum rush the ever-popular Fighter genre. We've all seen it--those crazy, nonsensical, and downright cheap elements of Fighters that make us want to resort to beating each other in real life instead. Take the edge off by following these simple rules, and get ready for a night you may or may not remember:

1 drink for every self-ringout; add one more for every repeat offense
1 drink for each fighter out for revenge
1 drink for every juiced-looking male fighter and overly-cutesy female fighter with no opposite sex counterpart (try not to stay on the fighter screen too long for this one)
1 drink less for every fighter who breaks these stereotypes
1 drink for every move that refuses to execute (Warning: forceful button-mashing doesn't help)
1 drink for each ridiculous, cutesy/hypermasculine post-battle catch phrase
1 drink more if she struts her/he flexes his stuff while saying said catch phrase
2 drinks for every "kama sutra" style attack (play Rumble Roses at your own risk)
1 drink every time a fighter produces a weapon from some dubious point of origin
2 drinks each time breasts defy the laws of physics
1 drink more if said breasts go in opposite directions
1 drink more if you are still sober enough to consider that, in a sport like fighting, a little support for the girls might be a good idea
2 drinks every time button-mashing wins over strategy
1 drink for every phallic weapon (hello, pole!)
2 drinks for every unnecessary panty shot

And finally:
Finish your drink when a (more often than not female) fighter apologizes for fighting

Warning: Excessive drinking during gameplay may increase chances of self-ringout and thus the perpetuation of and endless cycle of public drunkenness, very bad fighting tactics, and the realization that you are not, in fact, a drunken master. Play with caution!

Think I forgot something? Suggest a rule in the comments section!

What drinking games do YOU want to play every month? If there is any genre or specific game you want featured in FFDG, drop me a line at PlasmaRit at gmail dot com.

Plasma out.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 1:55 AM + Link to this post

Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Healers: A Female Dominated Profession

It's nice to be back at Girl in the Machine. I'd like to apologize for my long absence--my real life job had a relentless grip on my (non-existent) free time, then moving back home again left my head spinning. I feel like I've missed so much in only seven weeks, but now that things have calmed down, I'm back! Anyway, on to my musings.

I’ve always loved role playing games for the magic. As I traipsed through my typical "I wish I was was a black mage" daydream, I found myself wondering why I’ve rarely seen any male healers in role playing games. I tried to name some from the top of my head, but nothing came to mind. I figured there had to be a few, and so I decided to compile a list with a random sampling of games thanks to my mp3 player.

Let me say that I was pleasantly surprised. Before I even began, I feared that I would find the healer population to be overwhelmingly female. I soon learned, however, that over half of the games I examined allowed the player enough customization that practically any character could be the healer. Here are a few examples:

Baten Kaitos I

Final Fantasy Tactics

Chrono Cross

Genso Suikoden Series

Digital Devil Saga



Phantom Brave

Final Fantasy II

Shadow Hearts II

Final Fantasy III

Shadow Hearts III

Final Fantasy V

Valkyrie Profile

Final Fantasy VII

Valkyrie Profile II

Final Fantasy VIII


Final Fantasy XII

These games employed various methods to allow any character to utilize healing spells, ranging from equipped tools like materia and crest graphs to game systems like job classes and mantras. Both the men and women can be powerful fighters or defensive spell casters. Personally, I love this degree of adaptability. I think it’s good to see the characters are not being limited by their sex.

Out of the thirty-one games I examined, nineteen of them were sex neutral. I still found a dozen games where healing powers are assigned to specific characters, though. Let’s take a look:


Crono Trigger



Final Fantasy IV


Final Fantasy VI

Terra / Celes

Final Fantasy IX

Garnet / Eiko

Final Fantasy X


Shadow Hearts I

Alice Elliot

Tales of Symphonia


Wild ARMs

Cecilia Adlehyde

Wild ARMs II

Lilka Elenaik / Tim Rhymeless

Wild ARMs IV

Yulie Ahtreide


Citan Uzuki / Billy Lee Black


Shion Uzuki

Before you get flustered with me: in the case Final Fantasy VI, Terra and Celes are the only characters with “natural” magic, and they both begin with the Cure spell. In Final Fantasy X, anyone can learn white magic, but Yuna starts off in the center of the white magic portion of the sphere grid (and other characters have to overcome locked barriers to gain access to her skills).

So out of twelve games and sixteen healers, three games have three male healers. Many of the female healers are heroines in their respective games, and I see two possible reasons for this:

First, a female healer serves as a counterbalance to the (more than likely) male warrior figure in the RPG. It’s almost romantic. The warrior fights to protect the healer, and the healer supports the warrior. Sounds like a good ol’ fashioned marriage, huh? From the examples above, just look at Crono and Marle, Cecil and Rosa, Zidane and Garnet, Tidus and Yuna, Yuri and Alice, and Jude and Yulie. They all have that tender connection--it’s the knight protecting his priestess.

Second, women are often portrayed closer to nature. This supposed connection to the earth and its mysteries would account for a woman’s mystical abilities. I’m not claiming that this explains the origins of the female healers’ powers; I do believe, however, that subconsciously accepting this hypersensitivity as naturally “female” makes it more acceptable for a woman to play the role of a healer. Some might see a male in that position as emasculated. After all, shouldn’t he be leading the charge from the front row? Xenogears “avoids” this problem with its healers. Citan the doctor and Billy the priest are both employed in acceptable male positions, and it makes sense in a fantasy setting that they’d also have knowledge of healing magic--a justification for their feminine arts. Both of them receive compensations, as well, in the form of a katana for Citan and pistols for Billy.

These kinds of situations perpetuate stereotypes about male and female behavior, though. They suggest limitations for the sexes and impose notions of exclusively violent masculinity and nurturing femininity. This is harmful to both sexes; denying women’s fury simultaneously prevents men from expressing sensitivity.

I’d like to see more male healers in video games, as well as more female warriors! Or, if the man is going to be the leading warrior, perhaps his idea of support could extend beyond hack-and-slashing enemies to the ground. Of course, the woman would step into the front row and prove she doesn’t exactly need someone else to protect her… she just likes having him around.

(Image from page seventy-nine of the Heroes of Horror Dungeons & Dragons supplement)

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 Posted by Calabar
 8:04 AM + Link to this post

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