Girl in the Machine
Monday, July 28, 2008
Diversity and Mass Effect


I've recently been replaying Mass Effect, Bioware's 2007 action RPG, and I'm totally in love. Though there's plenty of things I could babble on about, I want to discuss the first thing I noticed when I brought the game home back during the holidays.

Women and people of color. They aren't invisible . . . in fact, in this game, they're all over the place! Just like, you know, real life! Way too often, sci fi falls into the trap of showing us a universe where PoC and women have been sucked into a black hole or something and no longer exist. Mass Effect introduces a galaxy that's truly diverse, an experience we don't often get in video games.

An interesting facet of Mass Effect's immense cultural salad is the absence of racial tension among humans. Humanity's discovery of advanced Prothean artifacts is only quite recent; their technology jumps two hundred years, and thus all contact and interaction with alien races is relatively sudden. These aliens all look down on the human race and treat them as lesser beings. As the first human member of an elite agency called Spectre, the protagonist Shepard must combat prejudice and bigotry as well as your typical monsters and other foes.

Mass Effect pitches humanity into a situation where all racial tensions seem to vanish in order to unite against the prejudice of the alien races. Now, I realize that Bioware did not craft this game for the purpose of social commentary, so I don't blame it for not directly addressing human racial interaction along with the new problems presented by alien prejudice. It's a fascinating thought, though: could humanity put internal racism aside when all of us, collectively, face the same from an outside source?


Mass Effect's major hub of human-alien interaction is the Citadel, a massive space station in the Serpent Nebula. As Shepard, you're let loose there after the game's prologue, free to collect sidequests or continue the main storyline. Sidequests have always been my favorite part of role-playing games, and so I was thrilled to see the sheer variety of characters that seek your help. There's eldery crime boss Helena Blake, who sends you off to take out her competition. A mourning widower named Samesh Bhatia pleads you to retrieve the body of his wife, a marine who dies during the prologue. Reporter Emily Wong needs you to dig up some dirt on an organized crime syndicate. And there's many, many more.

So we have some pretty great diversity going on in this game -- with the special bonus of none it feeling forced or patronizing -- along with a springboard for racial discussion due to alien prejudice. However, Mass Effect takes things a step further.

It would have been easy to treat prejudice in a two-dimensional fashion with snarling, discriminative aliens and cowering humans, but many alien characters find such prejudice deplorable and many human characters despise aliens as a whole. Notably, two human members of Shepard's squad deal with their own race issues.

Ashley Williams begins the game with a deep mistrust of all alien races and often confesses to Shepard that she doesn't think the nonhuman squad members should go unsupervised. As Shepard, you can bring two squad members with you on your quests, and if you pick Ashley and a nonhuman member, such as Tali the quarian, they have some interesting conversations during the game's many elevator rides. In Tali's case, Ashley points out that the quarian's strange dress makes many humans think of the evil geth, and admits that she shares this opinion. As Tali answers her questions, Ashley displays a growing understanding of alien differences and slowly overcomes her prejudices.

Kaiden Alenko is a biotic (Mass Effect's "mage" class) who was subjected to Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training, or "Brain Camp," as a child to temper his powers. He describes the experience as particularly brutal, staffed only by aliens since humanity had yet to fully understand biotics. Kaiden had a violent run-in with one of his instructors, an ex-military turian named Vyrnnus who loathed humans. After tragedy strikes and all is said and done, Kaiden points out that Vyrnnus, though terrible, was just one turian, and not representative of an entire race. Despite his traumatizing experiences at the hands of this instructor, Kaiden does not allow them to slant his own views of an entire race.

Over all, Mass Effect does an exceptional job on many accounts. Women and people of color share important roles and characters tangle with race issues that are relevant to us in the real world. Though the game is far from perfect (expect a post about the asari Consort in the future), it's a solid effort from Bioware and addresses many topics that most games won't even touch.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 10:11 AM + Link to this post
  5 comments

 
Friday, July 25, 2008
Linkfest: Fat Princess Edition


There's been a lot of talk about the new PSN game Fat Princess that had been announced at this year's E3. Check out these sites to read all about it:

Feministe - Well, that was bound to happen

Feminist Gamers - Fat Princess

Shakesville - I Write Letters

I especially like the alternative ideas Might Ponygirl and those in the comments have suggested to reduce the tiring stereotypes in the original game. What are your opinions?

Happy reading, and have a good weekend!

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 10:55 PM + Link to this post
  4 comments

 
Monday, July 21, 2008
Expectations: Sheva Alomar


There's been a veritable dry spell in survival horror games as of late, and I've definitely been suffering. Dementium: The Ward for the Nintendo DS was a huge disappointment, and Silent Hill: Origins left me with only a cynical apprehension for September's Homecoming. This year's E3 provided a smattering of goodies for gamers to ooh and aah over, and we were fortunate enough to get a preview of some sorely-needed survival horror titles. Probably the most notorious is Capcom's Resident Evil 5.

I enjoyed RE4, although I'm more of a Creep Around And Get Scared Oh Shit What Was That? kind of gal, as opposed to Mow Down Hundreds Of Zombies And Jump Through Windows action-star wannabe, so it wasn't entirely my cup of tea. It was a wonderful game regardless of my personal preferences, so Capcom is clearly sticking close to that formula for its sequel. Also part of the formula is the good old survival horror hallmark, the secondary character, this time in the form of a woman named Sheva Alomar.


I'm as shocked as anybody that not only is one of the main characters a person of color, but a woman of color, to boot. Sheva comes to protagonist Chris Redfield's aid as a member of the West African BSAA, or Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. In another shocking twist, she's not a squealing, floundering idiot a la RE4's Ashley, but a competent, well-trained agent who does her share of the combat. Be still, my heart!

I have talked before about the differences between your average male and female survival horror protagonists, and while Leon and Ashley fit my observations quite snugly, Sheva appears to defy most of them. All I can do is speculate, of course, but look how badass she is with that gun! A woman? In a survival horror game? Who's got everything under control? Is well-equipped for the job and knows what she's doing? Now that's some shock and awe, and I'm very pleased.

I'm hoping Sheva is a step up from the ridiculous Ada Wong, whose exoticized Femme Fatale nature stands in entirely for personality. Every one of her scenes in RE4 had me rolling my eyes. Trussed up in an unwieldly Chinese dress, four-inch heels, and a fucking garter for a gun holster, she's just as easy to take seriously as squealy Ashley. Ada is simple pinup material, a Hot Asian Chick flourishing a gun, and with any luck Sheva will make me forget all about her.

Now, this game won't even be out until March 2009, so perhaps it's a bit early to celebrate too much. However, in the world of female video game characters, it's quite nice to have something positive on the horizon. Sheva's existence does not cancel out the ugly racism depicted in the RE5 trailer, and I am quite interested in seeing what the overall story and gameplay offer when I actually get the chance to play it.

The Resident Evil series has been around for a good twelve years now, and it's an obvious fact that its cast of playable characters is totally whitewashed. As diverse as the US's population is, every Umbrella-opposing RE protagonist has been sparkling white. It's unfortunate that it took a change of scenery to an African country for any people of color to share the spotlight -- and even then, it's Chris who's prominently featured in the trailers, screenshots, and previews, while Sheva takes up the support role. However, it looks like a step in the right direction, no matter how small, and I'll be sure to report back to you as soon as I get my hands on this game in early 2009.

(Go check out some more kickass pictures of Sheva at Gaygamer.net's E3 '08: Hands On With Resident Evil 5.)

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 10:00 AM + Link to this post
  6 comments

 
Friday, July 18, 2008
Women Worshipers


There are a lot of different flavors of sexism out there, and very much like garbage, they each have their own unique stench. Some are so obvious you can smell them from a mile away, while others you don't notice until you get right up close to them. There is a type of sexism that I liken to the smell of mold--perfumey sweet, with a curl of nausea about it. That would be the Women Worshipers.

To the untrained eye, Women Worshipers may not seem sexist at all. They proclaim their love for women, going so far as to say they're better than men, even if said Women Worshiper is a man himself (which many of them are). And while loving women isn't the problem, it's the reasons they have for loving women: because women are naturally so pure, so chaste and nurturing--so much better than violent, aggressive men. Women have a natural instinct for being caring, peaceful, and selfless, according to them.

Okay, some may ask, so what's wrong with that? Isn't it nice that people think of women as being so great? Women Worshipers think of women in such a way that it puts women on a pedestal from which we can't budge. It reduces women's humanity and turns us into an unrealistic symbol of All That is Right in the World. I see this attitude often when it comes to female characters in video games.

For example, when I was doing research for my article on the character Krystal from the Star Fox series, I came across a similar attitude toward her: many of Krystal's fans love her not only because she's a pretty blue fox, but also because she is "kind," and "caring." Which is all true: Krystal goes out of her way in both Star Fox Adventures and Assault to save planet Sauria. However, those same fans were dismayed about her character development in SF Command. In my article "There's Something About Krystal," I talked about how I love that Command revealed Krystal's stubborness and desire to get even after Fox unfairly breaks her heart; I love that it gives her flaws and makes her more than just a 2-D love interest and sex appeal for the Star Fox series. Those fans who were dismayed about Krystal's newly-revealed traits because she was no longer a perfect ambassador for peace and love. They were putting Krystal on a pedestal, unhappy that she was showing her selfish side. There are many more female video game characters treated this way by some fans, such as Shadow Hearts's Alice and Xenosaga's MOMO.

Women Worshipers can be trouble in many ways. For instance, because they expect women to be perfectly good and peaceful, if a woman displays aggression or selfishness, for example, she is being un-womanlike, and the Women Worshiper may be hostile toward her. However, one of the most troubling aspects about Women Worshipers revolves around the subject of sex. Women Worshipers tend to think of sex as a sinful thing--something a woman would never actively want and should protect herself from it, acting as a gatekeeper to men. If a woman does want to have sex, she is labeled a slut. Extreme Women Worshipers may take the Goddess Image of women to such an extreme that they justify rape and/or are turned on by it; after all, women are naturally chaste, so a "proper" woman who has sex before marriage is one that is raped, not one that consents. This keeps the woman pure while still making her sexually available.

I consider Women Worshipers to be one of the most dangerous kinds of sexism: they effectively dehumanize women and reduce them to symbols of virtue and objects to acquire. To make mistakes, to get angry, to have flaws is human, and those who want a woman who is flawless do not want a woman who is human.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 9:22 PM + Link to this post
  10 comments

 
Monday, July 14, 2008
Mrrow?


I've always been a huge comics fan growing up. It's perhaps the geekiest part about me besides my love for video games. Not only did I happily collect Wonder Woman and Spider Girl, I obsessively followed a bunch of superhero cartoons as well, including Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, and Spider-Man. Ahh, the good old days.

Of course, when I heard about Midway's upcoming Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe fighter, I was thrilled right down to my toes. A chance to beat the crap out of Liu Kang with Wonder Woman? to watch the Flash run circles around Scorpian? to really kick some ass with Catwoman --

Catwoman?


Oh God, Selina Kyle, what have they done to you?!

This has become quite the chorus for me: shock and disgust followed by the sinking realization that I'm not at all surprised. This is how it's going to be for every fighting game ever in existence, isn't it? Just check out the newest crop of screens from the game. All of the dudes -- Batman, Flash, Shang Tsung, Scorpion -- are all badass and muscley and tearing shit up. However, Catwoman and Sonya Blade (complete with a very classy thong tan line) are flickering around hitting themselves in the eye with some fresh boob jobs. As usual.

Okay, I get it, video game designers. Boobs are going to keep inflating and costumes are going to keep shrinking with every new fighter that gets made. It seems I can't enjoy some good old-fashioned video game combat without staring down all the shameless nerd masturbatory material. Quite frankly, I don't know how many times I can complain about the objectification of female characters in these games, because it's the same old song and dance. There's nothing out there that's different, there's nothing out there that's fresh or inventive. There's simply new physics engines for boob movement and slavering fanboys waiting in the wings.

Here, as always, is the deal. This hypersexualization in such a gross majority of fighters is nothing less than flippant misogyny. The exaggerated appearances actively distance these caricatures from the possibility of female combat prowess. Rather than competent fighters, these women pout and thrust out their jubblies like porn stars. The character designers are laughing at the thought of an intimidating female fighter and churning out nothing but wank material. At this point, every fighter is starting to mimic Dead or Alive, and I'm sick of it.

It doesn't help that female superheroes / supervillains already have a bad rap in the comics universe. Now we have everything that's wrong with video games making things worse. Poor Selina Kyle. I mean, she's already in a freaking cat suit, and she already wields a freaking whip. What a disaster.

I'll just put it this way: at this point, I don't have high hopes for Wonder Woman's splashy new design.

(If you're a comics fan like me and you're interested in feminist commentary about superheroes, go check out Girl-Wonder.org.)

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 10:10 AM + Link to this post
  7 comments

 
Friday, July 11, 2008
Chipping the Glass Ceiling


One of the main issues in the gaming industry is that there are relatively few women in it. Many folks would claim that this discrepancy is because women just aren't interest in video games, but we've learned that the real culprit is the difficulty women face trying to break into such a male-dominated industry. Fortunately, there are scholarship programs out there that are designed to help even the odds--and two of them have just found winners.

2007's Game Career Guide shows that only 9% of game artists are women and make on average over less than $10,000 per year than male game artists. In light of this information, Notes on Game Dev started the Aspiring Women Game Artists Contest--a contest that was judged by such female leaders in game art and education as Heather Kelley, Sheri Graner Ray, and Christin McKee. Last week, the winners were announced: Amy McDonough Jones and Erin Robinson will receive a fully paid grant for the Accredited Game Art Certificate Program at Sessions Online School of Game Art, the right to use the NoGD Grand Place Award Winner digital seal in their future portfolio, a one-year membership to the International Game Developers Association, and a one-year subscription to Game Developers Magazine. Runners up Elise Motzny and Lesa Wilcox will also receive the right to use the NoGD Grand Place Award Winner digital seal and the Game Developers Magazine subscription.

Just a few days ago, Sony Online Entertainment announced the winner for their G. I. R. L. Game Design Competition. Contestants were asked to submit an in-game design, original concept art and two essays. Winner Julia Brasil will receive a $10, 000 tuition scholarship toward her education at The Art Institute of California -- San Francisco and a paid internship of up to 10 weeks at the Sony Online Entertainment studios of her choice in Austin, Denver, San Diego, or Seattle.

I hope programs like these can help women break into the gaming industry with a little more ease, but we still have a long way to go. Keep it up, everyone, and congratulations to the winners!

via Women Gamers

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 1:37 PM + Link to this post
  0 comments

 
Friday, July 4, 2008
First Friday Drinking Game


It's July, and it's gettin' hot--and we also have the benefit of this month's First Friday Drinking Game falling on the Fourth of July! And by the magic of the internet, I have ninja-posted this article on Friday before your very eyes! Whoooosh!

And to go along with all of that Independence Day-partyin', why not throw a little Guitar Hero in there? It goes great with ribs and beer, the likes of which will get your friends pumped up all the more while you rock out for them. Add a little twist to the party with this month's FFDG and your friends will proclaim you the Goddess of Rock before asking to crash on your couch for the night.

1 drink for every bad cover song you play
2 drinks if you couldn't tell the cover song was a cover
1 drink for every blatant corporate advertising you see
2 drinks if said corporate advertisement is on a dancer chick
1 drink if one of your friends tries to break out GH: On Tour
2 drinks if s/he tries to look cool while playing it
1 drink whenever your wrist starts hurting from all the badass jamming (to dull the pain)
1 drink each time Lou kicks your ass
2 drinks each time you attempt Dragonforce's "Through the Fire and the Flames"
1 drink each time one of your friends just then notices the animations were done by that Gorillaz dude
1 drink every time you fail to initiate your Star Power and end up just flinging your guitar around
1 drink for every song that has long periods of time without any guitar-playing
1 drink for each song you play that is sung by a woman (if you don't want to drink much)
1 drink for each song you play that is sung by a man (if you want to get smashed)

And finally:

Finish your drink for every song you play by a band/artist who isn't white--'cuz there ain't that many in GH

Warning: Excessive drinking during gameplay may result in wild guitar domination and impromptu mosh pits. 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
 11:59 PM + Link to this post
  0 comments

 
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Girl in the Machine
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PlasmaRit

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Farewell from these three.
First Friday Drinking Game
Diversity and Mass Effect
Linkfest: Fat Princess Edition
Expectations: Sheva Alomar
Women Worshipers
Mrrow?
Chipping the Glass Ceiling
First Friday Drinking Game
How can Dissidia avoid a sausage fest?

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