Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Decorum of Hacking a Game to Add Female Leads

So the idea of changing a game’s content is nothing new. There are modding communities for several games (The Sims being probably one of the more notorious). Usually this is limited to skinning, i.e. where you change the appearance of a character, or adding bonuses to your characters, or even cleaning up backgrounds to make them less pixilated. But the recent swell of people hacking classics to change out the heroes is causing people to take notice. Nintendo for example? Not a big fan of the dad’s that remade Donkey Kong and Super Mario. They like the message! Just not the fact that their content was changed. (I am amused at their response in the article that they will be featuring a female lead in Bayonetta 2. Guys..that game is NOT kid appropriate. Try again. Also the wording of the story, Bayonetta is way more than a witch that shoots guns. But now I’m getting off-track.)

As we begin to see more of this taking place, we have to take into consideration the social implications. Many of these changes are with the intent of giving young girls heroes to look up to when they game. These fathers want to show their children that women are just as strong, just as determined, just as important as men. Princess Zelda doesn’t always have to be saved. Peach doesn’t have to be kidnapped by Bowser. They can fight for themselves. Which is a great message! We need more of that. Girls don’t have many options when it comes to games that contain female leads. In the E category, just off the top of my head, I can only think of Cooking Mama. Lara Croft, while much more toned down in the sexuality, is still an M title. RPG’s are still in the T to M range due to violent content. The options are limited, and having some of these classic female characters flipped and taking the lead is empowering to young girls.

At the same time, do these people have the right to make such adjustments to these games? These aren’t simple mods that add new textures. Now the entire story is changing because Princess Peach is no longer the one being kidnapped by Bowser. She’s saving the man in distress. The dynamic of the game completely changes by making that switch. (And yes, it is sad that we have to do this just to get more female leads in games. Maybe this is a needed wakeup call to developers.)

It’s the same conundrum that I find myself with movies, books, and television shows. At what point does the work no longer become the author’s property and becomes a part of the fandom? That’s essentially what modding a video game is: expressing yourself as a fan. Because no one would spend weeks creating a skin for Skyrim if they didn’t care about the game. But you are defacing that original work by implementing that skin. Does that make you less of a fan or more? Does the author ever truly loose ownership of their work once it is released to the public?

The People vs. George Lucas and Star Wars fan films are a great example of what’s going on in video games. But the content is so pervasive and immersive that it is actively changing the dynamics on how we view gaming. That’s a big deal.

It’s something to think about for today. Personally? I’m in a wonderful catch-22 scenario. I support the fan’s right to express themselves and modify content. But I’m also a film maker. When my piece is sent out to the world, that’s the vision that I have created and I don’t want others to change it. Yeah…it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Case by case basis: changing lead characters to women-I like the idea and that it’ll help empower girls. I dislike that we have to do this to classic games because developers just won’t listen or pay attention to the majority at large that buys their products. Too many people are focused on “well this sells so we have to make this.” No you don’t. You don’t “have” to make anything. Be unique and original and see what wonderful things happen.

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