Girl in the Machine
Monday, March 31, 2008
The Flower Girl

Playing Crisis Core has got me all nostalgic for 1997's Final Fantasy VII (but then, any story-butchering pre/sequel tends to do that to me). It always tickles me pink to see my favorite characters in action again, and I couldn't help but pick up the old classic just to see how it's aged. I was pleasantly surprised, poor translation and all, and glad to see that one of my favorite characters, Aeris Gainsborough, is still as great as ever.

It's true that Aeris has a huge fan following. Hundreds of gamers in Japan even sent a petition to SquareSoft asking for the ability to revive her after her iconic death. There are plenty of reasons to like her, but I want to concentrate on what makes her such a strong female character. Stereotypes and stock characters run amok in role-playing games, especially of the female persuasion, and it's good to see a leading lady that passes muster.

I'll start with the basics. While FFVII doesn't have a job system per se, Aeris is clearly the party's standard white mage, complete with staff and restorative Limit Break. While the conventional female character locked into the healer role tends to annoy me, this works in context. Aeris is balanced out by not one but two other women, neither of whom are magic users (Tifa as a monk and Yuffie as a thief). This is rarely seen in other Final Fantasy games wherein white mages like Rosa, Garnet, and Yuna also have magic-using female compatriots. More importantly, her "job" as a white mage works in tune with the plot. To rescue the Planet from Meteor, she uses the White Materia to cast Holy, a well-known high level spell in white magic.

A character's appearance plays an important role, as always, and it's great to see Aeris is not afflicted by a cheesecakey design (something that's admittedly relegated to black mage women like Lulu or Fran). I've always liked her Dress And Hiking Boots combo, showing a measure of function over form. Personality-wise, she's flirty and somewhat childish, but it works because she's not limited solely to these traits. Her relationship with her adoptive mother is poignant, adding to a display of genuine maturity that runs through her character.

In much of fictive media, the death of a female character is typically used as a simple plot device. The brave protagonist falls in love with Stock Woman A, she's killed off by the merciless villain, and the brave protagonist is spurred on by his love's death to ultimately defeat the merciless villain. Aeris's death works quite differently. While she can be seen as a love interest for Cloud, her flirtations never seem serious, and her death comes so early in the game that there's little time for a romantic relationship to form. She leaves the party and goes to the Forgotten City by her own choice, even though it would have been easy for the game designers to have her kidnapped in some way. She doesn't sacrifice herself for Cloud, and her death is so sudden that it doesn't feel forced or played-out (and, thankfully, the violence done to her is not sexualized in the least). She's still vital to the plot thereafter, and saves the Planet in the end. Arguably, she can be seen as a driving force for Cloud to destroy Jenova, but her purpose extends beyond this, and Cloud himself has a lot more to fight for.

I'll always be partial to games I played when I was younger, and it pleases me to say that Final Fantasy VII is still an enjoyable game eleven years later. Aeris is a wonderful example of those rare "strong female characters" you've heard so much about. She shows that, when done right, a character can be girly and swathed in tons of pink and still be a great representative of feminism in games.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:57 AM + Link to this post

Friday, March 28, 2008
The Great Debate

I've always been a console kind of girl. While I have cheated with a fair collection of PC games, in the end I always find myself crawling back to my first love. Sure, there are lots of really great PC games out there, and it's not the games I have a problem with. It's the PC itself.

The biggest problem I have with PC games is compatibility. Having a three year-old laptop, it's simply not able to play a majority of the new games out today. I learned this the hard way when I received Neverwinter Nights 2 for Christmas two years ago--even with the graphics at their worst, the game was slow and jaggy as hell. It was pretty much impossible to play. Most new laptops are being created with a graphics card that is not compatible with Neverwinter Nights 2 as well as most games I already own, and if I want a Mac, I'll also have to kiss all my old games goodbye. Sure, I could always go with a desktop for ultimate PC gaming, but a travel-ready computer is vital, and I don't have the cash to have both, let alone a brand spanking-new laptop. I'm dreading the newest WoW graphics upgrade for fear it will render my account useless.

Consoles do not have this problem. Sure, the games are only compatible with the consoles they're made for, but you are guaranteed that they'll continue to work no matter how long you have the console. Plus, they're significantly cheaper than buying a souped-up desktop that needs to be updated every year. Games made for the Playstation 2 at the end of its life have breathtakingly beautiful graphics compared to the PS2's debut games with zero mandatory upgrades.

Of course, there are a few things PCs can do that I wish consoles could, the most important being patches. In a PC game, if a level's screwed up in any way, the company can release a patch to fix it. Patching also gives the players themselves the freedom of creating their own patches and mods that can transform a game from typical to sexy to completely insane. The gay bar mod for Oblivion is a great example of this. If a console game is glitched, however, you're pretty much screwed. Primal, unfortunately, has quite a few glitches that can make gameplay maddening; patching could have made it a much more enjoyable game. Now that newer consoles have internet access, I hope it's only a matter of time before developers create patches for their future games to solve this annoying problem.

There you have it: my completely biased ruling that console games are better than PC. What kind of games do you prefer, and why?


 Posted by PlasmaRit
 12:51 PM + Link to this post

Friday, March 21, 2008
Zero Suit Scandal

Super Smash Bros. Brawl was finally unleashed to the public last week--and to my delight, right smack in the middle of my Spring Break. And for that week I experienced the peaceful life of a hermit, serenely kicking ass in front of my Wii with little food, drink, or sleep. So deep was my meditation in front of that glorious flickering screen that, alas, there was simply no time for updates last Friday.

Adventure mode in particular is fun and engaging, and being the Nintendo fangirl that I am (hell, I grew up on the stuff), each cheesy cutscene left me in giggles. After a few stages, I arrived at the research facility, and I finally got to see Zero Suit Samus in motion.

Guys? Remember, a few months ago, when I expressed the reservations I had about how Zero Suit Samus would be treated? Christ on a cracker, I was right.

Practically every cutscene Zero Suit Samus is in, it seems there's a camera stuck to her boobs or her ass. They seemed inescapable, thanks to her exaggerated proportions. I felt like Lewis Black was behind me with every cutscene, shouting "Ass-ass! Titties-titties-ass-ass!" I couldn't wait to get her Power Suit so I could stop speculating how uncomfortable it would be to wear such a frighteningly vaccumm-sealed suit. But it wasn't just the creepy camera-ogling, either; Zero Suit Samus has a distinctly more feminine air to her, even if she's just standing in one place. The body language she emits before and after she obtains her Power Suit are jarringly different.

As a fighter, Zero Suit Samus isn't too bad. She's much faster out of her suit, which is nice, but as a hardcore Metroid fan I feel I must nitpick here. Isn't her Power Suit supposed to make Samus faster and more agile than the average human? I would understand if Zero Suit Samus were easier to knock off screen, but I'm not convinced she would be faster without her suit. The laser whip thingy she carries isn't as SexySexy Danger as I had anticipated, thank god, but it is significantly girlier than Power Suit Samus's grappling beam. Overall, Zero Suit Samus is certainly not a downgraded version of Power Suit Samus, in spite of her cheesecakey tendencies. For that I applaud Nintendo.

However, I am still disappointed in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for confirming my fears about Samus. She was the only human female of the Smash Bros. series who wasn't superfemme, but now Nintendo, like Activision did with Guitar Hero III, has succeeded in feminizing all of its female characters.

Ugh, I'm going to go beat up some Waddle-Dees.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 2:46 PM + Link to this post

Monday, March 17, 2008
Tempting the snake in the Garden of Eden.

Warning! MGS3 spoilers follow!

In 2004, Konami released Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the prequel to its stealth-action Metal Gear series. Snake Eater sets itself apart from the rest of the series by moving the action from urban environments into the heart of the Soviet jungle, requiring players to utilize camouflage and various survival techniques. The game's Cold War era setting also imbues it with a James Bond feel, complete with a kitschy theme song and opening. With every Bond movie, there is also a so-called Bond Girl, and Snake Eater's irritating symbol of sexism is a frisky lady named EVA.

Our pal EVA is a KGB spy working alongside Snake in his mission to destroy the Shagohod, a nuclear-equipped ancestor of the first Metal Gear. She poses as a Russian woman named Tatyana to infiltrate the traitorous Colonel Volgin's forces, feeding Snake information from her position as a mole. She also repeatedly takes her clothes off (guess her boobs need some air), flirts with Snake in literally all of her scenes to the point of sexual harassment, and gets groped by male characters no less than three times over the course of the game. Oh, but she's tough, though! Tough and she wants to do you.

Yes, she's one of those characters: the tired "Beautiful but Deadly" stereotype we're all sick of. EVA fairly jiggles her way from scene to scene, pausing only to unzip her motorcycle onesie down to her crotch for no particular reason, and the more voyeuristic gamer can take advantage of Snake Eater's first person cutscene viewer to join Snake as he repeatedly ogles the goods. I have to admit, I laughed the first time, but does our intrepid hero really have to stare at her tits in every single scene as if they contain the meaning of life?

It's no surprise as well that EVA is boring as all hell. She's a tough chick, blah blah, she rides a motorcycle and can apparently fly a plane as well, she's a super spy with a kickass gun, whatever. In a series known for characters who are interesting (sometimes to a fault -- especially when you're covered in bees!), EVA is predictable and stale. Her lines are generously peppered with double entendres, she's a master of charming any and all foes with her smoldering good looks, and she falls in love with Snake at the end . . . even though she's not supposed to! How shocking.

Unfortunately, things get worse. While oversexed leading ladies are no strangers to all sorts of media, EVA's case is made more disturbing by the sexual violence inflicted on her. While posing as Tatyana, she is repeatedly raped and tortured by the sadistic Colonel Volgin over the course of the game. Fortunately, these scenes are never shown, but Snake does observe a number of scars caused by Volgin during one of EVA's "skip around in my underwear" scenes. Rape is not often addressed in video games, and the way it's presented here is cringe-worthy at best. While the act itself is (thankfully) never sexualized, EVA endures it as part of her mission -- something that no male agent would ever be expected to do. As well, EVA was trained to seduce her foes, a technique that places her in this victim's role intentionally. It's horrifying and sick, and treads dangerously into "She was asking for it" territory.

After all is said and done, she's also a centerfold in a men's magazine the player can obtain in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops.

Metal Gear Solid 3's female lead, EVA, is one of the worst examples of a female character I can think of. Two-dimensional and stereotyped, she's the Sultry Vixen With a Gun that we've seen thousands of times. Even more problematic is the sexual violence she repeatedly suffers, the effects of which are never even mentioned. I love the Metal Gear series, but EVA's design and presentation severely soured my experience with Snake Eater. I can only hope that her return in MGS4: Guns of the Patriots doesn't make things even worse.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 8:08 AM + Link to this post

Saturday, March 8, 2008
First Friday Drinking Game: Saturday Edition!

The beginning of March signals the coming of many wonderful things. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, spring is just around the corner; for students, Spring Break looms tantalizingly close. But for American gamers, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is coming to our shores! In celebration of this wondrous event, we'll be raising our glasses to the Smash Bros. series for this month's First Friday Drinking Game!

. . .

. . . what? Okay, I know it's technically Saturday, but I'm not changing the graphic. Moving on!

1 drink for every Snorlax that smashes you to oblivion
2 drinks for reaching a death match
3 drinks if you lose said death match
1 drink if you are a Sheik whore
1 drink each time Jigglypuff/Mr. Game and Watch kills you
2 drinks if a random Arwing blows you away
1 drink for dying from a Bob-Omb
2 drinks for stepping on your own land mine
1 drink if you KO the wrong Ice Climber
1 drink each time you miss a player with your hookshot/grappling beam
1 drink if you KO yourself because you're too distracted by the look of the stage
1 drink for choosing any stage that includes water
2 drinks if that water is a fast current

And finally:
Finish your drink if you plan on trying to upskirt Peach or Zelda when Brawl comes out. Seriously creepy and gross.

Warning: Excessive drinking during game play may result in an inability to find your character on the screen and may result in suicidal KOs. 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
 1:30 AM + Link to this post

Thursday, March 6, 2008
A note from Bombergirl.

I will be on vacation for the next week, so, unfortunately, there will be no update from me on Monday. But fear not! I'll be back on Monday the 17th, so I will see you all then!

 Posted by BomberGirl
 11:00 PM + Link to this post

Monday, March 3, 2008
I Left my Heart in Nova Prospekt.

Warning! Half-Life series spoilers follow.

I think we can all agree that 2004's Half-Life 2 came as a huge surprise to fans of the original game. Valve Software took us from the isolated, alien-infested corridors of Black Mesa to a full-blown apocalyptic Dystopia rife with new locales, vehicle portions, a very prominent physics engine, and scores of NPCs both old and new. Alyx Vance is one of the newcomers to the series, joining Gordon as part of the rebel forces that oppose Earth's new rulers, the Combine. She was just a child during the events at Black Mesa in the first game, and grew up under the Combine's reign. As players battle through armies of manhacks and headcrab zombies, Alyx is often along for the ride.

Alyx is the daughter of Dr. Eli Vance, who briefly appears at Black Mesa in the original Half-Life. She's a proficient hacker, adept with both machines and firearms, and wields a unique automatic pistol when fighting alongside Gordon. Her "pet" robot, Dog, also helps out with a lot of the heavy lifting. Awesomely enough, and something that's definitely not seen often in games, she's not only a woman of color but of mixed race as well: Dr. Vance is black, and his late wife was East Asian.

I adore Alyx Vance. She's another rare (but appreciated) example of an awesome female character. Her presence is neither forced nor stereotypical: she plays a major role in the plot, has a scientific mind, and doesn't fall into the pitfall of being of The Girl. She actually has a fleshed-out, fully-realized personality, with a sense of humor and everything! Seriously, though, she often provides a "voice" (both literal and figurative) to play off of Gordon's trademark silence, and she's also a source of comic relief to complement the tension of the plot. Though she sometimes finds herself in a pickle and needs a hand, she also rescues Gordon more than once, making her more capable companion than damsel in distress.

Alyx also has a great relationship with her father. Having well-written, fully-realized characters in a video game is a rarity, and both women and minorities are often underrepresented and stereotyped in an unfortunately typical fashion. However, such is not the case here. Alyx resembles an actual, you know, person, with emotions and relationships and stuff. Her interactions with her father are natural and sweet, making it even more heartbreaking when she witnesses his death at the end of Episode Two. And though she is the series's Love Interest, her connection with Gordon isn't shoehorned or condescending in a "Hey, she's a chick and he's a dude, they totally hook up at the end" sort of way. She even interacts with another woman, the perfidious Dr. Judith Mossman, who betrays the rebel forces in favor of the Combine. However, when Mossman has a change of heart and aids humanity once again, the two reconcile. It's not much, but it definitely passes the Bechdel Test, and with the state of games today that's good enough for me.

I'm as eager as anyone to see what becomes of Alyx in the concluding Episode Three. Both the prescient Vortigaunts and the G-man insinuate that Alyx and Gordon are somehow fundamentally linked, and I'm waiting for Episode Three to blow us all out of the water. Perhaps there will be a Half-Life 3 at some point, but I have a feeling that this final episode will be the last we see Alyx in such a significant role, and I can't wait for Valve Software to wow me at least one more time.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:49 AM + Link to this post

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