Girl in the Machine
Friday, February 29, 2008
I Can End Discrimination

Browsing through GamePolitics, I read an article about a unique PC game called ICED, or "I Can End Deportation." Created by the human rights organization Breakthrough, the game is meant to "spark dialogue and create awareness of unfair U.S. immigration laws on detention and deportation." In the game, players follow the life of one of five teenage immigrants as they are pursued by U.S. immigration officers. The object of the game is to avoid being deported and become a full citizen of the United States.

I read through Dennis's post excited to see that such a game had been created; even better, it's available for free download on the Breathrough website. Aimed at high school and college students, ICED is providing a valuable source of information for those who may not be aware of the problems immigrants face in America. ICED has already faced scathing attacks in the media, such as on the website InfoWars:

"An Indian woman, Mallika Dutt, has released a video game that essentially trains illegal aliens how to sneak across the border and avoid border patrol agents and cops…

As the average Mexican or Latin American does not have access to a video game console, let alone a television, the game is more practically geared toward an effort to inculcate middle class Americans into the belief that illegal immigration is a human rights issue, never mind open borders and the influx of third world people is a globalist plot to turn the United States, soon to become part of a North American Union, into a feudal slave labor gulag based on the China model. It has absolutely nothing to do with human rights."

The paranoia, the stereotyping, the viciousness of the post is staggering. Even more alarming, several comments on GamePolitics's post about ICED are not much better:

"I’ll consider this once the immigration officers are playable. Immigrant youth need savage beatings."

"That sounds like a very stupid game If you’re not a citizen of the US, come here legally and wait 7 years and then you can become a citizen, it’s not that hard. If you come here illegally, then you should be beaten or deported immediately."

“Whats next a game where u play as an al-qaeda member in america and u can kill americans? "

It's obvious what all of these people have in common: they simply can't read. ICED is not about illegal immigrants, and the game has nothing to do with sneaking across the border. The focus of the game is how fucked-up immigration laws can kick an immigrant out of the country for practically no reason, illegally here or not. Playing the game or even reading the post completely would tell you that.

Comments like the ones above prove how important a game like this is in our judgmental society--the very word "immigrant" can send the masses foaming at the mouth in hatred, and the vitriol practically spills out of the computer screen. Access to information is vital if we can make any kind of change, and I think this game is a very important step in that direction. Immigrants (especially illegal ones) have nearly no voice, and they deserve to be heard.

Read GamePolitics' follow up article for Dutt's amazing response to InfoWars.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 2:30 PM + Link to this post

Monday, February 25, 2008
Two things about fighting games.

One that pisses me off and one that leaves me pleased as punch.

Pissy item first: Dead or Alive is infiltrating Smash Brothers Brawl. It ain't exactly breaking news anymore, but the developers over at Nintendo decided to lovingly render upskirts for both Peach and Zelda. I won't be posting any of the videos or images here to prevent myself from having an aneurysm. Please excuse me while I go vomit my breakfast.

Okay. Now for the neat stuff. Street Fighter IV news has been all over the gaming blogs with new character art, screenshots, and trailers. I'll treat you to one here.

I've been a huge Street Fighter fan ever since I was but a little Bomber, and Chun Li (silver Chun Li, to boot) is always my fighter of choice. There's been a bit of a brouhaha in many blogs (such as Kotaku) over how big and beefy she's become. Most comments tend to follow the vein of, "Oh my God, her thighs are so huge and disgusting!" I'll let you make your own decision first.

Am I really the only one who doesn't see a problem here? Nobody's bitching about Guile's inflated pecs or Zangief's hairy gams, but when Chun Li comes spin-kicking in with thighs like a brick wall, gamers get up in arms. First of all, doesn't anyone remember that she never originally had toothpicks for legs anyway? In a game that's already bulging with muscle from 98% of its characters, there should be nothing shocking about this at all. And need I mention that she's still on the leaner end of the scale?

The lone fact that there exists a lady fighter who actually looks like she could, you know, kick ass is a huge plus for me.

I am also very pleased about Street Fighter IV's newest female character, Crimson Viper, who also looks like she's going to hold her own in some brutal combat. As well, something about Guile's very feminine pose in his character art really tickles me pink for some reason.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:56 AM + Link to this post

Friday, February 22, 2008
Turok's Gay Agenda

The simply-named Turok, released at the end of January, is the latest in the first person shooter series of the same name. The game itself has nothing to do with the plot of any of the past Turok games (or the comic book, for that matter) except for the protagonist's name, Joseph Turok, but nevertheless has been seen as a worthy addition to the series. That, and the whole shooting dinosaurs thing.

Looking at the cover of this game, one thing comes to mind: macho man shoot 'em up. Turok's standing in the shadows of a dark jungle, packing some major heat, ready to take down whatever's going to come at him next. The typical targeted demographic for Turok games is thus fairly obvious--guys who wanna shoot shit. Like dinosaurs, as I've previously mentioned.

Imagine my surprise when I got a load of this via Gay Gamer:

Yes, that would be Turok laying one on his man partner before racing off to battle.

What could this mean? It's an official story board from the game, after all, of a scene that didn't quite make it to the final product. Several theories are running rampant online:

First, some believe this was a legitimate story plot that was taken out of the game last minute. If this is true, it was either included simply for shock value or as another facet of Turok's character. The more cynical of us consider this a joke the creators put in the story board for shits and giggles--a sort of "Wouldn't it be hilarious if he did THIS" kind of deal. They refer to the "Panel omitted from game" comment below the panel in question as evidence.

My thoughts go two ways. First, I would like to believe this was considered a legitimate side story in the game. Turok is the perfect candidate to help dispel the stereotype that all gay men are fruity and femme-y, which is still a common misconception. I think it'd be awesome for this super-tough shoot 'em up manly man to love the cock, too. I don't think the comment below the panel is sufficient evidence against this because to me, it looks like someone else could have added it in, although I can't say for sure. However, I can't deny that using Turok's potential homosexuality as a joke wouldn't be below some game developers of macho FPSs such as this. And if it was put in as a joke, it's not in very good taste to imply the thought of Turok being gay is so far-fetched that it's funny.

I suppose all we can do is play the game and imagine what could have been. Sure, the man love didn't make it in this game, but perhaps this is one step closer to macho gay FPSs in the near future. Yes, one can dream.

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

Monday, February 18, 2008
Underneath the surface.

Now this is certainly something to watch out for. Lila Dreams is a macabre, Flash-based indie MMORPG being developed by Creatrix Games. The game takes place inside the mind of a young girl, and players take on the roles of "memekins" that protect her psyche from the danger of apathy. An interview from explains:
The "Big Threat" is a darkness which literally surrounds the world, constantly encroaching inward and eating away the landscape. But there is also going to be an array of strange creatures from Lila's thoughts and nightmares with which to contend and befriend. Different areas will provide different challenges.
The memekins themselves can be aligned with eight different emotions, each receiving benefits when Lila's mood changes to match. Instead of grinding for levels, players customize items to optimize their power in combat described as a 2D platforming style with "RPG mechanics." In order to gain these items, a unique crafting system lets your memekin grow them like plants. Jason, one of LD's three -- yes, three -- development team members assures us that in this surreal world, "plants are not just plants."

Creatrix is teaming up with publisher Kongregate to get their game onto the Internet. With such a small team, strange premise, and unusual execution (World of Warcraft this ain't), Creatrix needs a big name like Kongregate to reach MMO-loving gamers with a thirst for something fresh. While LD will be free, Creatrix first plans to release a small amount of polished features that will hook players and hold their attention. As the player base grows, hopefully funds will as well and then the game's content will grow.

Lila Dreams is a crazy, risky, unique game that aims to push the boundaries of more traditional MMORPGs. The premise blends science fiction, psychic powers, and psychology to fascinating effect, taking us into the illustrious mind of an eleven-year-old girl. The game's developers hope for a release by Halloween of this year. In the meantime, you can keep tabs on their progress and check out some cool concept art over on the official Lila Dreams blog. As for me, I plan on sneaking into the beta as soon as it's available.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:58 AM + Link to this post

Friday, February 15, 2008
Pseudoscience Strikes Again: It's Biological!

GamePolitics has found another wonderful study that pseudoscience-loving types will eat right up: that men are more likely to become addicted to video games than women are. Through a "first-of-its-kind imaging study," these scientists have found that the reward-portion of the brain typically associated with addiction activated more in male subjects than female subjects while playing a video game. According to Dr. Fumiko Hayft, "this may explain why boys and men are more attracted to video games than girls or women." Imaging study, you say? The men's brains lit up more than the women's? I don't need more information than that--after all, those smart scientists know what they're doing. That's all I need to hear! Why, it's bullet-proof!

Did you see that? I just visited the minds of all the people who are convinced by this article. So many folks assume that, because the study was conducted by smarty-pants scientists, they don't need the details of the study to trust that it's true. This type of thinking is flat-out wrong, and trusting swiss-cheese studies like this one can become very dangerous.

Why don't we take a closer look at this "study":

Who were the Subjects?
The study consisted of male and female subjects. And that's pretty much all we know. Aren't there important details about these subjects that we should know? What about if they've played video games before? And if they have, how often? Hell, how many subjects participated in this milestone of a study?

What was the Equipment?
According to the article, scientists had an unspecified amount of men and women play a game while hooked into . . . something that shows brain images. What kind of brain-imager? Are we talking about an EEG, an MRI, an fMRI? One can only assume that, because it isolates specific images of the brain, it's probably an MRI or fMRI. While not a huge problem for the less neuroscience-savvy among us, this detail would have still been useful.

What was the Subjects' Task?
Anyway, the subjects played a game. What kind of game was it? After all, if the study plans on using just one game to represent all of video gaming, this element should be important. While the news report does not specify the game (although it was a PC game), the "implicit" goal of the game was to "gain more territory," which the male subjects "were able to learn faster and eventually gain more territory than females," which was apparently factored into overall attraction to the game itself.

As a reader of this blog, I'm sure you're aware that there is a huge variety of video games out there, and a single PC game about gaining territory will probably not cover all addictive elements of video games in general. The focus of rewarding, enjoyable behavior in this study is mind-numbingly narrow--and stinks of the Western perspective of victory. What about the subjects who would rather explore the area. As I mentioned before, the subjects were not explicitly told that the goal of the game was to conquer. Personally, if I were told to play a game without any clear goals, I would run around and explore as much as possible--something I find really enjoyable when I play video games. I'd begrudgingly get to conquering when I had nowhere else to go.

What are the Results?
Hayft bases her conclusions on the results received from the mysterious brain imaging, which showed that "the part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings is more active in men than women during video game play." This part of the brain, according to her, "[overlaps] with the regions that are related to addiction." Are we really basing our conclusions off of this finding? That the pleasure part of the brain that is related to addiction is activated? I would like to see an example of someone engaging in an activity they find pleasurable that stimulates the brain in an area not related to addiction. Just because an area related to addiction is stimulated in the brain does not an addiction make--hell, I'm sure that part of my brain is activated when I chow down on fried eggs. I freaking love fried eggs, but I'm not addicted to them.

What's more, Hayft conducted no follow-up sessions with these subjects to see if they were jonesin' for more of this game or any other video game-playing. This is no evidence to connect a specific sex with more of a predisposition for addiction to video games than the other.

What was the Point?
Seriously, what good could this study have done to society? It's nothing more than an attempt to back up the sexist notion that boys like video games more than girls with biological "proof." The celestial teapot has more proof than this study.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 2:19 AM + Link to this post

Monday, February 11, 2008
Half-Life's All-Woman Hazard Team

In 2001, Gearbox Software released a Playstation 2 port of the much-beloved FPS, Half-Life. Bundled with the game was Half-Life's third expansion, Half-Life: Decay, a co-op experience designed for two players on a split screen. Unfortunately, though a PC port of Decay was made, Gearbox was never able to release it, so the true core of Half-Life's fans -- the PC gamers -- never even got to play it. Which is a shame, because Decay rocks.

Just like its predecessors, Blue Shift and Opposing Force, Decay's sequence of events coincide with those of the original Half-Life. Two Black Mesa scientists, Dr. Gina Cross and Dr. Colette Green, are the monitoring team for Dr. Gordon Freeman's experiment that causes the resonance cascade (in fact, Cross is the one to deliver the cataclysmic GG-3883 test sample). When the shit hits the fan, as it is wont to do, Cross and Green grab their HEV suits and find themselves fighting to survive the onslaught of Vortigaunts, headcrabs, and zombies.

Decay is rife with two-player puzzle action throughout its ten mission-based chapters. While single players can get in on the excitement by switching between Cross and Green, the gameplay is definitely designed for the buddy system. (And don't tell me that finally getting the opportunity to crowbar headcrabs with your best pal isn't a treat.) And Cross and Green aren't just side characters, either: like their buds Shepard and Barney Calhoun in their respective expansions, their actions have a direct effect on the original Half-Life's plot. Specifically, they launch the satellite used to weaken the resonance cascade and prevent another dimensional rift from forming, an event that Freeman witnesses.

Of course, I noticed right off the bat that Decay features -- shock! and awe! -- not one, but two female protagonists. This is quite unusual, particularly when the most I've come to expect from games is the age-old Male Character 1 and Female Character 2 combo. Cross and Green are on the same playing field as Half-Life's other protagonists, and they don't fall victim to cheap shots like unusually sexy HEV suits or watered-down combat. It's also great to see women as scientists (particularly physicists kicking ass) instead of damsels in distress or hapless girlfriends. Cross herself has cameos as the holographic guide in the HEV training course in both Half-Life and Opposing Force, and she can also be seen delivering the test sample in a security video in Blue Shift.

Unfortunately, the fate of Cross and Green is up in the air as the game never discloses whether or not they survive the nuking of Black Mesa, so cameos in future installments are unlikely. However, Alyx Vance and Portal's Chell continue the trend of excellent female characters in the Half-Life universe, and FPS gamers everywhere are on the edge of their seats to see what Episode 3 has in store. In the meanwhile, you can support Decay by visiting the fan-made effort to port the game to the PC, which is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2008. You're welcome.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:54 AM + Link to this post

Friday, February 8, 2008
Aggression Toward Video Games

A couple of months ago I talked about my belief that video games are scapegoated by the media as the downfall of our generation. Through KillerBetties I found the blog of a licensed psychologist who agrees with me:

In 1955, the U.S. Senate blasted comic books, deploring their depiction of every horrible thing from murder to cannibalism ... Half a century later, violent video games are the comic books of our day.

Gaskill and Verhaagen are absolutely right to compare comic books in the 1950s to video games today. With every new generation, some new form of entertainment is the source of society's doom and inevitable downfall--ironically, the accusers turn out to be the doomed young generation before. If it's not comic books, it's rock and roll; if not rock and roll, it's movies; and the list goes on.

One frequently cited research article criticizing violent video games includes several studies. One of these studies was a "correlational study" from which the authors concluded, "Playing violent video games often may well cause increases in delinquent behaviors, both aggressive and non-aggressive." However, in a remarkable moment of self-contradiction, they later said that making such causative statements with a correlational study is "risky, at best."

Gaskill and Verhaagen go on to point out that correlational studies are often used quite erroneously to make concrete conclusions. This is because the point of a correlational study is to compare two different occurences and see if they have some sort of relation to eachother. In the case of this aggression and violent video games study, the authors found a correlation between the two--but, now everyone say it together, correlation does not equal causation.

What does this mean? It means that just because two occurrences may correlate together (such as aggression and violent video games), it does not mean that one caused the other to occur in the first place. An example that is particularly close to my heart is the positive correlation between ice cream sales and murders. If one were to follow the same logic that many politicians do concerning video games, one would conclude that buying ice cream makes you more likely to be a murderer. It turns out that there is a third variable that affects these two occurrences--summertime.

In other words, just because aggression and violent video games may correlate does not mean that violent video games cause aggression. Being a Psychology major myself, I've been recently studying aggression and its causes, and according to the American Psychological Association, violent media can have a long-lasting effect on a person only if it is viewed heavily and consistently over a long period of time.

So as long as you're not hooked into Grand Theft Auto six out of seven days of the week, you should be fine.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 1:10 PM + Link to this post

Monday, February 4, 2008
G4 Casting Calls for "The Ultimate Gamer Girl"

Via Killer Betties, GotCast.Com and its partner, the G4 network, are actively searching for a new female host and correspondent for some of G4's upcoming programming. From GotCast's casting page:
We're looking for young females that live and breathe the world of video games. We'd like them to be able to play games as well as talk about the gaming industry. On-camera experience isn't necessary, but it's definitely a bonus!
In their application requirements, they specifically request a video showcasing both "personality" and "knowledge of video games," two things that in my cynical nature I wasn't expecting. As worded, the hunt for "the ultimate Gamer Girl" made me raise my eyebrows a little but, as far as I can see, G4 is genuinely interested in getting some authentic female talent for their network. And for that, it's awesome that they're looking to recruit young women for an industry that so often ignores us.

The casting ends on February 29 at midnight, so, to all who are interested, definitely take advantage of this opportunity to get the voices of women gamers heard!


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

Friday, February 1, 2008
First Friday Drinking Game

The beginning of February signals something in the hearts and minds of corporations everywhere that Valentine's Day is just around the corner. And while our retinas are being mauled by hot pink hearts and blazing red kisses, it's also nice to think of how to spend the most romantic of days with our loved ones. Really, if you ask me, there's nothing more romantic than a fine wine, dimmed lights, and the sounds of laser beams and barrel rolls wafting through the air.

That's right, bitches--it's the First Friday Drinking Game, and we're making sweet, sweet love to the Star Fox series.

1 drink each time the characters interrupt each other in game
1 drink whenever Peppy tries to tell you what to do
2 drinks if he tells you to do a barrel roll
1 drink for every instance of Panther referring to himself in the third person
2 drinks every time Panther opens his mouth
1 drink each time Slippy needs saving
2 drinks when Falco finds a way to insult you after helping him
1 drink whenever Falco sounds overwhelmingly like he's from New Yawk
1 drink whenever someone mentions James McCloud (warning: avoid Peppy and Pigma scenarios)
1 drink for each not-so-ambiguously-gay moment between Fox and Wolf
1 drink every time Fox is able to stand on the wing of a flying space ship with no problem
1 drink for every "this character just died--psych!" moment in SF Assault
2 drinks if that moment actually does end with someone dying

And finally:
Finish your drink solely for the comedy gold that is "Faather?" at the end of SF 64

Warning: Excessive drinking during game play may result in erratic steering of the Landmaster and subsequent destruction of massive buildings and teammates alike. 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.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 4:20 PM + Link to this post

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