Thursday, August 29, 2013

Choice: Texas – Games Can Be Used For Something OTHER Than Fun

Concept for one of the character's in the game.

I first read about the game Choice: Texas through an article on Life News, a pro-life website that, well, focuses on life affirming causes and what not. It led me to MRC.com (the Culture and Media Institute that focuses on advancing morality and virtue in the public eye). Okay now I’ve used the MRC in the past to cite as a resource for media-oriented papers because they do, on occasion, have some pieces that are logically well-thought out and provide unbiased opinion.

Not on Choice: Texas.

The article pissed me off mostly because it focused so much on this unrealistic aspect: “the joy of infanticide.” Wait, what? Where the crap does it say that in the game’s infanticide description?

Choice: Texas is an educational interactive fiction game which will be freely available on the web. Players will explore the game through one of several characters, each of whom reflects specific socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic factors impacting abortion access in Texas. Although billed as interactive fiction, Choice: Texas is based on extensive research into healthcare access, legal restrictions, geography, and demographics, and is reflective of the real circumstances facing women in the state.”

I see nothing in that statement which glamorizes abortions (and we’re not even going to get into the use of infanticide instead of abortion. Those are two entirely different words with unique meanings). Based on the reading material and the video posted by the two developers, the game is meant to make people aware of just how backwards our health care laws and the lack of focus on women’s health really is; not just in Texas but throughout the country. Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster back in the June legislature session regarding a bill on abortion and women’s health is just the tip of the iceberg. Most people will focus on the fact that she was arguing for abortion, which is partially true. But very few people dove into the details of the law: which in essence is going to close all but 2 abortion clinics in the state of Texas because the state is going to require every facility to have extensive medical licensing on the level of a hospital, and be expected to perform any and all types of procedures. Basically: abortion clinics need to be licensed like full-fledged hospitals. I don’t think people are aware of this but most abortion clinics don’t spend all day, every day performing abortions. Know what most of them do? They provide basic health care services to women without insurance (Texas has at least 40% of women without insurance due to cost and, well, lack of giving a damn) which includes mammograms, OBGYN and cancer screenings. Now that these facilities needs to be licensed like hospitals, they can’t afford to keep the doors open. The ones that can stay open, all two of them, are the high-end clinics; the ones that don’t treat low-income and non-insurance holders. The filibuster was done to keep the facilities open not for abortions but for the 40% of women in this state who don’t have insurance. For the 70% of women that live in low-income or poverty level earnings and can’t afford to visit a regular doctor for life-saving basic check-ups. That is the issue. And because that law was signed into action in July, after a few people made changes to prevent another filibuster, most women in Texas are no longer receiving the bare minimum of healthcare assurance, a right for every person in accordance with the laws of this country.

So to claim that Choice: Texas is glorifying abortions is not only arrogant, but ignorant. The game allows players to choose a character and follow through their story, ranging from a women in her mid-thirties, with a good life, but decides she doesn’t want any children, to a young adult living at the line of poverty who can’t afford to have a child (oh, BTW Texas Legislature, for every child that is born now, guess who gets to foot the bill? You and the rest of the citizens of this state: keep that in mind when more people go on welfare).

And a game does not always have to be fun to be a game. I know a number of games that are enjoyable but in no ways “fun.” Gaming is a new medium for telling a story. Would you say that the movies Inglorious Bastards and 2001: A Space Odyssey are fun movies? Most likely not, but they are powerful pieces of cinema that will remain for generations to come. Games are in that spectrum as well. So to lump game and fun together is a misnomer.

I have a lot of respect for these women for wanting to develop such a game, and applaud their courage, particularly for living in Texas when we’re all ready to pack our bags and leave for a state that might at least give a 10% “We give a damn” attitude. I hope they reach their goal. We need more games that push the issues and allow us to think, possibly change our world.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Little Weekly Pick-Me Up

PBS, the official governing body of PBS, not one station/area in particular, has begun a weekly web series: Game/Show. The weekly show produced by Kornhaber Brown, known for other geek related web series, will be focusing specifically on video games and a wide variety of topics. The first episode is aptly titled: Will Mario, Link, and Sonic Last Forever?

This seems to be in the vein of most web videos were episodes won’t go over 5 minutes, maybe 10 at most, and are quick snippets of answers to ever expanding questions. Not deep critical thinking, but enough to get the juices flowing. So I’d imagine they will tackle such topics as violence in gaming but with a quick glance instead of the in-depth review we were hoping to see. The first episode is very bland and broad in scope, nor does it really answer the question that it proposes. While the games in question are very much re-writes on The Hero’s Journey, it doesn’t completely explain their lasting power on our culture. We still play Mario, Link, and Sonic games for reasons beyond the story. Much like we still watch Star Wars and care about the franchise beyond the characters.

So while I commend PBS for becoming more involved in the gaming community, I don’t expect much past the 5 minute time window to really develop. But hey, if it helps critical thinking…

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Linking Roundup

Good morning kids!

Well today I'm completely blogging it in. I'm busy. And I'm sure you're busy. So here is a link roundup.

If you want to feel smart, Gamasutra's weekly Video Game Criticism post is up.

The Christian Science Monitor explains why GTAIV is NOT the reason that 8 year old shot his grandmother. I have to use this quote, because it probably best explains the entire situation regarding politics and media vs gaming: "It's just not as politically sexy as claiming that GTA is murdering children."

 There is a Japanese Horse Racing game that is confusing the crap out of this guy.

Kotaku shows a few pieces that will be at this years PAX Prime Art Show. (Loving the Phoenix Wright as Superman pose.)

And the Motley Fool looks at Disney Infinity.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Changing Voices

SNAAAAAKKKKE!!!

Reading the responses to the new voice actor for Splinter Cell has had a mix review. This one from Stuff.co seems to be the best, in-so-far as the blogger even apologized to the new guy and can see how the actor put his spin on the character for the next generation of gamers.

Voice acting has become an integral part of the gaming scene. When an actor makes a big leap to leave their mark on a character, we want to see that person in each iteration. Halo was at the forefront of this concept with Master Chief and Cortana’s actors surviving four games, and they are legendary. We develop this relationship to the characters and part of the immersive aspect is to keep the voice acting consistent. So when a well-known character has a major voice shift, we take notice, and yes, freak out.

Just like Snake will always and forever be David Hayter. No if’s, ands, or buts. Or coconuts. It doesn’t matter that they are changing to actor to Keifer Sutherland (and not Snake will sound like Jack Bauer, what?), it will no longer be Snake. Sutherland is a phenomenal actor. He’ll put his spin onto the character and it will probably be pretty great. But I know what Snake sounds like and no one can replace him. For me, it will be an awkward experience playing through MGS5. I won’t be able to see past the voice of Snake. But for many others, it’s a sign of the times. Things need to move forward, not backward. A lot of people will probably really like the change. And then you have the ones like me, stuck in the mud, who won’t relent. *shrugs* What can I say? I love Snake just the way he is.

So what’s your take on the changes in the voice acting lineup for games these days? For or against it?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Make A Cake Boys!

I’m in the mood for a silly game story today, so we’ll go with this. Hate Plus, a visual novel type of game is pushing the envelope on immersion. So much so that it wants you to bake a cake and send a photo in order to receive an achievement. 80 people have done this so far, so apparently it’s working. You can read Patricia Hernandez’s write-up about this on Kotaku, but I feel this says a lot about our gaming habits today. That some of us are so involved in reaching trophies and achievements, that we are willing to reach them. If that means baking a cake, then so be it! It also opens up different possibilities of gameplay. What if part of a Final Fantasy quest was to volunteer at a food bank for 2 hours? Or to pick up dry cleaning for a friend for a Grand Theft Auto perk? It’s immersion on a new level.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Supreme Court Justices Studied Their Games

Now this is interesting: in order to educate themselves about video games, several of the Supreme Court Justices, Elena Kagan named in particular, played a few before their ruling over Brown vs. EMA regarding the California Law limiting the sales of games to minors   

In 2011, a few members from the gaming industry, not listed in the original article, sent some of the products that were defined in the California law as being “extremely violent” such as Resident Evil 4 and Medal of Honor. The Justices reached out to their younger colleagues and clerks for help to better understand the gaming community and growing technologies. Kagan found it funny, though didn’t mention if they played the games provided to them or something else entirely.

But hey, it goes to show that some politicians and the upper echelons of government do care about us and want to research a topic to ensure that their decisions will be, what they feel, is right in the eyes of the law. And in this situation, they struck down the California law in a 7-2 ruling earlier this year. So hey, more power to the research of playing games!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beefing Up Sim Emotions

Gamescon, one of the largest public gaming trade-shows globally that draws hundreds of thousands of people, is this week! And it comes with a flurry of announcements such as a new Sims game (The Sims 4) and The Terminators (based off of the movie franchise). 

So what’s different about the Sims in the new game? Maxis and EA are focusing on the feelings of the Sims. Emotions will drive the game much more than previous versions. If a Sim is angry, you can no longer force them to talk to someone. If a male Sim just broke up with his girlfriend, he might become a couch potato and gain 20 pounds. These are the schematics that will drive the gameplay.

There are other little tweaks, such as a more in-depth character creation system that some developers have remarked will allow you to “sculpt” you Sim. Instead of pre-set body sizes you can adjust height, hip size, muscles, etc. by moving your mouse over the Sim body to create realistic Sims. The key point that Maxis is harping on is making these digital beings more alive. Which is also…a bit creepy. Even mundane aspects such as walking and talking at the same time are being taken into consideration.

I will not lie, some of the joy I have out of playing The Sims is to get them to do things that would be impossible to coerce others in the real world. Playing pranks, drowning a Sim, making green dogs and purple cats, walking around in your underwear to work, all of these aspects are why so many of us enjoy The Sims. We get to play though an imaginative life without consequences. With the addition of these “emotional systems” that fun is going to be stripped. Send a Sim to work in their underwear and they may freak out, causing internal distress, and that Sim may spend the rest of their life locked up in their home. That, is not fun, and none of us want to subject the poor Sims to that kind of state. Walking around in your underwear to work or to get groceries is suppose to be funny. It’s a game. Not reality. By injecting the reality into a make-believe world, it can potentially remove the joy from playing.

So I don’t know where to go with this. Then again, I still can’t get The Sims 3 to work on my overpowered PC that has no trouble running Crysis at max settings. So go fig! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Online Harassment: Yell On Twitter. Then They'll Listen.

I know that this issue has taken over the internet over the past week, a woman who was harassed through a game on XboxLive, reported it, and received no response back. The intensity of the threat by the male gamer was pretty extreme, and it does raise a lot of questions about the strength, or lack thereof, of the support systems in place to submit online harassment requests. It’s even more appalling that Jenny Haniver, the female gamer in this situation, recorded the voice messages and screen capped the game text, and Microsoft’s response system didn’t budge. It wasn’t until she yelled loud enough on Twitter and got people to rally behind her that they started to listen.

This is just one woman with one issues. Imagine the thousands, tens of thousands, even possibly hundreds of thousands of online harassment that happen daily under the same circumstances that are never resolved. I know I have reported dozens of people through XboxLive in my first month for sexual comments and vulgarity that would make Rob Zombie blush. I never received a single response back that action was taken, or that my complaint was heard. I don’t need to know what was done, but here we are, 5 years later, and I still see these people online.

The only response left to any of us (men and women, because men do get harassed as well) is to block and mute. But does that really help anyone? It just pushes the person onto the next target/victim to abuse.

And this isn’t  a Microsoft problem. This is with every console, every developer, every game with an online system. New methods need to be created to not only prevent harassment, but to respond immediately with consequences. Let gamers know that you, the game companies, take this issue seriously. If we knew that we could be banned instantly from a game if we harassed someone, people would think twice to do it.

I am, sadly, use to these messages. Microsoft never
settled my harassment claims. As such, I'm no longer an
XboxLive Gold subscriber. Maybe one day, the system
will change and grow. Maybe. Hopefully...
No system is perfect, and insta-ban will have it’s drawbacks. People who were falsely accused will need to be reinstated, and refunds may need to be issued. But the systems we have in place now are completely ineffective. When the only recourse is to block, mute, or to shout on social media until SOMEONE responds, then something is clearly wrong with the system of reporting and consequences.

It also doesn't help that Haniver is getting harassing comments on her article about the entire situation. Are we really this asinine? Gamers...who became the grand master of the universe and decided that it was only for men? No one, that's who. We live in a world where this type of harassment and abuse is not tolerated nor celebrated. A real man wouldn't harass others. Truthfully? It makes you look weak that the only way you can resolve a "concern" is by lowering yourself to the level of an amoeba.

Time to grow up gamers. We are all much better then this.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How do you play?

It has been quite some time since I discussed the aspects of play styles and the physical act of playing a game, but I began to ponder this weekend as more people are gearing up for the re-release of FF14, and the slew of new products coming out (Saints Row 4, Splinter Cell Blacklist, Madden 25, and yesterday Disney Infinity). Our world of gaming has really grown just in the past 5 years from the home to our phones, 3D, and well heck even the Wii-U is a cool idea (even though we still don’t know if it’s an accessory or a console). More importantly, I reflected on the type of gamer that I am and how I approach playing a game.

As we see more people moving towards the mobile market, I find myself sticking to my roots. I have been a console gamer since birth. It’s difficult to swap that identity to a phone or tablet when you have been ingrained to play with a controller. That’s not to say that phone games are bad, it’s just not my preferred style of play. And while they are making controllers for phones, like the MOGA, it still doesn’t feel quite right to me. But that also speaks a lot to the type of games that I like to play.

Quick 5 minute runs of Angry Birds or Bejewled can keep my attention once or twice, and that’s about it. I’d much rather flip to my eReader app and read today’s New York Times or a book I have saved. When I play a game, I want to PLAY a game; meaning I sit my butt down for an hour or more to run quests, build up stats, find rare gear, and journey into the deepest of dungeons. I’m not a casual gamer, and that is not to disrespect those that are. I know some people thing “gamer, hardcore, you must hate the mobile games.” Not at all. I think they serve a great purpose and are giving a newfound creative freedom that our industry is desperately needing.

They’re not for me.

I need to sit down to play a game. I need to have a few hours free from my schedule. And I need to go on stupidly long ass quests to get the golden sword. That’s how I game! I have never been a fan of quick hack and slash modes, getting from point A to point B in under 5 minutes before moving to the next level. I would much rather spend hours enveloped in the space doing…whatever. This is why I love GTA so much: it is in a persistent world that requires you to be involved, but you don’t have to follow the main plot lines if you want to blow through a few hours. There is so much to explore in those GTA lands. Everyone remembers shooting the pigeon’s in GTAIV, or looking for the dragons in Chiantown Wars. Completely mindless and had no effect on the game itself, but we dove into them in order to be a part of the world.

Those are the aspects that I love about a game, and what compel me to keep playing. A mobile game can’t provide me with those experiences. I know that some classics from the RPG realm are now on cell phones, but that still seems so weird to me. Play 5 minutes, pause, let the game suck up all of my battery life, and I’m out for the rest of the day. No thanks. I want to sit down and play for hours. I need that experience. Maybe it’s because I want my games to help me escape from reality, and I can’t really do that with a phone that could be interrupted with a call or a text message at any moment. Or maybe it’s just me being an old-school gamer that wants to hold a controller, not a touchpad screen.

Take this moment to think about the type of gamer you are. How do you play your games? And don’t be afraid to experiment! Try new things, and figure out why you like or don’t like something. Open up your mind to possibilities, you might be surprised at what you find.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Boobies!

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the double standard that we all live by. Boobjam. It’s an ongoing contest started by game critic Jenn Frank about opening up discussion about women’s bodies. This isn’t about the breast physics in Dead or Alive or the changes to Lightning to FF13. This is about confronting the reality of being a woman. Some game suggestions include “what would happen if Wonder Woman left the house without a bra?” or “Game heroines going to get a mammogram.” This is part of the feminist and gaming movement that we need to see. Yes it’s a bit satirical, because who really wants to see Lara Croft talking to her doctor about her reproductive organs, but you know what? It’s necessary if we want to move forward and create more dynamic games.

But the cause also serves other purposes, such as bring to light the “over willingness to police women’s bodies” fictitious or otherwise. You see this with health care legislation in this country and with how trans-gender individuals are treated. One benefit that was glaringly obvious to me but not discussed in the article is getting women to be more open about discussing their bodies.

Look it’s no great secret that we tend to be quiet about things. While men enjoy discussing belching and bowel movements, women have been told, trained even, to keep quiet about these actions. Why? Because we’re women. We’re viewed as dainty and pretty and we shouldn’t be allowed to discuss such disgusting things! For shame! And in many ways, that is what hurts us. So many of us are afraid to go to a doctor for a yearly mammogram and OBGYN check because we’re told by society how wrong it is. Free or low-income health clinics are being shut down for trying to help women for providing ‘family care,’ which many people feel is a code-word for abortions and birth control. When really, they are providing life-saving screenings for all women to stop serious diseases and viruses, such as cancer. That’s pretty important in my book.

Boobathon is a way for people to express what breasts mean to them, and to openly discuss the issues of gaming, sexism, and, in many ways, the important health aspects that come along with having them. Thanks Jenn! I hope this project spawns not only creativity, but a movement for women to not be afraid to discuss their bodies.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

EA, Being All Humble

EA has decided to give back to the people and are offering The Humble Bundle. That sounds like a terrible name, but let’s continue. If you purchase the bundle through Origin or the website, you will have access to 8 games, including Dead Space 3, Crysis 2, the latest Medal of Honor, Mirror’s Edge, and more. All together the package is worth $215 bucks but you can purchase it for as low as $1.00. How? Well it’s a pay what you want program.

Basically it works like this: EA has a minimum value of $1.00 and you can pay as much as you’d like to have the money contributed to charity (after transaction fees and the small amount EA takes out to pay their employees). If you think the bundle is worth $500, then go for it. If you think it’s worth $10, that’s fine too. Whatever fees EA does not take out will go to charities such as the Red Cross, American Cancer Society, and Human Rights foundation. You can also select where your money goes to.

For those who pay more than the average amount after the Bundle is no longer available, will receive The Sims 3 and Battlefield 3 for free as a thank you for your generous contributions. Their soundtracks are included no matter how much you pay.

The current average value is $4.74. Not great, but there are a few people that have donated over a grand, $3 million in sales, and nearly 800 thousand purchases. And while the comments regarding EA’s sudden random act of kindness are amusing, you’ve got to give them some credit. They’re at least TRYING to do something good for their customers and humanity. It’s not all bad. Yeah, even me with my EA hate-fest is supporting this. It's good to give.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Up Heroes of Cosplay?

My write-ups are finished for Heroes of Cosplay, the new SyFy television show that aired last night after a new season of Face-Off. I was asked by a few websites, costuming and geek related, to provide my opinion and analysis of the show. So consider this the full write-up because I have no limitations! It’s my personal blog. :D

I’m going to start out by saying the following: Reality television is not true reality. I made a similar statement about 2 years ago, but when it comes to “reality” tv, you might be amazed to find the number of producers, writers, and editors. Take for example, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List that she even calls her "dog and pony show" of a low budget reality series. The crew of producers, operators, and editors is quite extensive. By no means as crazy as The Real World credits, but for as much “reality” as we tote these days, the bottom line is that this is a business. And what sells? Drama and people doing stupid things. That is what viewers will tune in to watch. To get a real day-to-day experience of a person on the Real World would be boring. No one wants to see a person making their lunch, going to the bathroom, or reading a book. They will only highlight the interesting events. And as our culture has become more focused on “reality” programming, we have come to expect fights and extreme performances. We are at that point where we expect the individuals on a show to act a particular part versus being their natural selves. The “reality” in reality television is no more than a sliver of life at its most extreme, and because we expect it, people make it into a much grander spectacle.

The bottom line is what Heroes of Cosplay showcases is a very tiny, tiny, tiny segment of the truth. Some of it felt fictionalized and overdone in order to play up for the cameras. Whether this was an editing choice or something that the individuals were directed to do, I can’t say. I have heard from others at the conventions where SyFy was filming that they requested certain actions be done, lines said, and what not. But it’s difficult to know for certain without having been there myself in person to experience it. I’m fully aware that a number of “reality” shows are scripted, on top of the heavy editing.

At the same time I’m trying to be respectful to all parties involved. There were two people that I knew in the premier episode that were featured and I truly believe they would have wanted cosplay and cosplayers to be exhibited in a positive light.

The truth is that yes, there are some cosplayers who are heavily involved in the competition scene and make it an important aspect of their cosplay hobby. Some are so involved that real-drama does happen. And there are quite a few people that I know personally who wait until the last minute to finish their costumes. Some people thrive on the pressure to complete something a week before a con. Others, like myself, would much rather spend 2 months on a costume and rest that week of a con so I’m not there scrambling. Personally, I don’t see the allure in spending 3 days on a costume and working on it at the hotel for a contest instead of walking around the con and having, well, fun. Because I paid for the fun, not to stress out over a costume. Again, that’s just me. There are a few people that love to do this so hey, if that floats their boats then that’s their deal. I won’t judge them for how they want to spend their time.

The “reality” aspect of Heroes of Cosplay that centers on competitions and people scrambling days before a contest to finish their pieces is true to form. It happens a lot (way more than any of us are willing to admit.) But that is just one tiny segment of the community. So let’s break down what the show is about. The focus on the show is on “top cosplayers” i.e. the people that are well known to other cosplayers or have a business revolved around this geeky hobby of ours. They enjoy something out of the contest scene that compels them to keep moving. And like any good business-minded person, why not use television exposure, good or bad, to help promote your brand?

From the first episode, it was made pretty clear that the show is going to center on people considered to be “the best” in cosplay because of their social networking fame, their notoriety in the geeky community, and are compelling to watch. You won’t see hours or days of people sewing. You won’t see people spending 3 hours at a fabric store comparing chiffons (been there!). You will never see the months, sometimes years, of planning out every costume detail. You won’t follow someone in the prop shop to make a staff from start to finish. You’re not going to see the weeks of heat forming Worbla to make armor. And you certainly won’t see convention floor hijinks unless it involves the people being featured and causes 1) interest 2) damaged costumes and/or 3) excess drama. This is strictly going to be about contests, watching people scramble to finish their costumes, and the fallout from the stress.

Now, having said all of that, I do feel that this isn’t properly portraying cosplay. From the opening credits, I was already shaking my head. There are a lot of misconceptions that were thrown out that need to be cleared up.

1.) “Cosplayers compete for top cash prizes for thousands of dollars at every convention.”
 
False. This was a statement made in the opening title screen. Most conventions have a prize that amounts to a title and maybe a physical item. That physical item is 9/10 of the time a dealer’s room leftover. When I won a Best Master’s award I received an ecci beach towel. I spent over 120 hours hand embroidering my costume and I got a towel for it. On the flip side, I have won some pretty cool stuff at other conventions. WonderCon was by far the best with my Star Wars package of posters, limited edition items, and a watch (only 5,000 were made and I have one!). Which was made even cooler once I had Ray Park, Darth Maul himself, signed one of my posters of this really cool Japanese scroll of his character in the film franchise. While a cash prize is amazing, most of us do not do it for the prizes. Because most prizes suck. We do it for the recognition and to test our skills. A lot of us just have fun with competing and it doesn’t matter if we win anything. We just want to show our stuff! 

2.)  Cosplayers spend thousands of dollars and years for a chance to compete.”

Not really. Most people in the community don’t like to be on the stage. They want to walk around a convention for fun. Very few cosplayers compete and even fewer are recurring winners. The competition aspect is a small subset of what cosplay is all about. I also found it amusing that “years” ended up being juxtaposed for days with the people they were following.

Aside: I’ve made costumes for less than $50. I just finished one where I’ve spent a grand total of $30 only to cover the cost of the wig. The fabrics were all remnants and you wouldn’t be able to tell until I pointed it out.

 3.)“Where contests can make you famous.”

Yaya Han is infamous in our community and she did use to enter a number of contests and win. But you know what? She’s one of the very few cosplayers that has gone through this route to create a business and a brand based off her winning status. Most others such as Jessica Nigiri, Vampy BitMe, and prop makers, like Vorpal or Repercussion, are not cosplay competitors. They are models and sculptors that embraced their hobby and have turned them into a business. They don’t enter their pieces into contests. Instead, they act and treat themselves like a brand and market where they can. Word of mouth and social media has pushed them to secure home businesses following their passions. They don’t need, nor ever needed, to be famous on a costume stage. General marketing techniques outside of the contest room have proven to be very effective for them.

Here is the truth: No one really cares about who wins a contest at the end of the day. I’ve won a number of them and if you ask anyone “hey, who won that contest at NakaKon in 2011?” they won’t remember my name. I am only known to friends and a few fans that follow my zaniness on Facebook and DeviantArt. Contests are about the costumes and the performance. Most spectators file out after the runway show. Very few actually stick around for the awards presentation. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stood on a stage and have seen a nearly empty audience staring back at me during the ceremony, when the place was packed just an hour ago for the stage walks. Trust me. There is no glamor in competition.


So that was just the opening credits and I found three issues right off the bat. Does not bode well for the show!

For as much hate as the Twitter and Facebook sphere have been throwing around about Heros of Cosplay, I do want to say that there are a few real things to take away from it. Body image, for example with the Merida cosplayer. She spent a portion of the episode concerned about her weight and taking the time to exercise to fit the character. That is a fact that many cosplayers face. In accordance to everyone else out there, we need to look a certain way: be thin, pretty, and busty. Very few cosplayers embody that image, but that is something expected of us. And honestly? I thought she was beautiful long before she started to focus on her weight. It’s an important message to all cosplayers out there is that your size does not matter. Anyone and everyone can cosplay. The discussion of body issues didn’t really delve into it too much with the show, and I do appreciate the fact that this particular female cosplayer went the healthy route by exercising and dieting, but not on a crash diet system. But it should have been equally important for others to say that anyone can cosplay. Size, shape, color, religion, it doesn’t matter! (It was good to see that Futurama group, who had no affiliation with the SyFy show, win a prize at the first contest showcased because they had cosplayers of different body types.)

Another positive: Cosplayers have each other’s backs. For all of the “cattiness” real or fake that the show displayed, we did see a few instances of cosplayers taking a moment to help each other out. When Scruffy Rebel decided to take a break for a night out and a bit too much drinking, the Merida cosplayer stepped in and helped her out of a potential bad situation. We are a group that watches out for one another, friends or not. I know of very few other communities that are willing to help a person in need. This may be small thing to have noticed, but it says a lot about who we are.

There is so much more that I could discuss, but I don’t want to ramble on for too much longer. Yeah, it’s my personal blog, but we’re recording an episode for CosPod about this topic over the weekend as well. I need to save SOMETHING for the show. :D

If there is anything to take away from Heroes of Cosplay, it would be the following: Don’t take it at face value. There is so much more to the hobby then what is shown on television. Remember that they only focused on a small facet of  what these cosplayers went through. All of the normal, mundane, and sometimes boring times (because how long can you watch someone sew a straight seam?) are not going to be seen on television. They will focus on what tells the best story. More often than not, that will be the “drama.” But don’t dismiss it for being so narrow-minded. There are other things that have crept in that do bring up some good points and concerns that our community faces such as body image and the impact social media has had.

What you will see with this show is just a fraction of cosplay. So don’t completely dismiss it nor the people being highlighted. I’ve met and worked with some of them in the past and they are amazing to be around. Maybe not so much under stress, but that was the point of this show though: to see what happens when you are frantically sewing and crafting before a deadline. I’ll be watching for the rest of the season. The context won’t change, but I will be curious to see what else manages to work it’s way in.

Repercussions: Well we'll just have to wait and see. The responses I have seen on Twitter seem to fall into the following categories: Needs more Boobs. This isn't how cosplay really is. And, is that what cosplayers really do?


If you’re looking for an alternate take on cosplay, PBS Atlanta has released their documentary Cosplay! Crafting Secret Identity on their website. This aired on their station just about a month ago and has been promoted by a few of us crazy cosplayers. The focus of the documentary is on the Atlanta cosplay scene and DragonCon. When they released a 5 minute excerpt a few weeks back it made me smile. This is something that gives the reality of cosplay; the good, the bad, and everything in-between and it shows real people not just the models we idolize. I’d strongly recommend watching it (just under an hour long) if you are looking for a more accurate depiction of cosplay.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Million Dollar Collector's Edition - Pimping Not Included

Announced last week, it has been confirmed that the crazy ass Saints Row IV Special Edition, also known as the Super Dangerous Wad Wad Edition (or Million Dollar Pack) is legitimate. And only one will be made available, but with the goodies included, it makes sense why there would only be 1, should someone buy it.

So what do you get out of a million dollar game? Well you have the most special SR4 copy available. A trip to space. Plastic surgery, what that covers it does not describe in the promo but I’m sure it’s pretty extensive, a Lamborghini, a first class stay at a luxery hotel in DC for a week, and in Dubai. A Toyota Prius with a year of insurance. And a few other things, like a personal shopper, a capsure wardrobe, spy training, and what not.

It sounds ridiculous. But hell, if you’re a fan and you have the money, then why not? The trip to space might be worth it. I wonder if the cars are customized. See, that would be the kicker. I don’t want any ol’ Lamborghini. I want it Saints Row pimped out. Dildo and all!

Monday, August 12, 2013

LoL Pre-Pay Card

AMEX is going to capitalize on the League of Legends craze. This Wednesday they will announce a partnership program with a pre-paid debit card that will allow card holders to obtain Riot Points instead of the traditional rewards points with credit cards. What are Riot Points? Well they are points that can be used in the Riot store, Riot being the developer of League of Legends. Users can receive 1,000 points for signing up for the card, and an additional 1,000 points for the first $20 loaded. Additional points can be earned for the first 10 purchases, and 10,000 points if the card is linked to a direct deposit account.

Much like current pre-pay cards, there are no credit checks, no activation fees, and no minimum balances. It’s loaded with the customer’s money in lieu of cash in your pocket.

It’s a good marketing campaign for AMEX, always trying to get that 18+ market. With the recent downturn and upturn of the economy, more people have educated themselves about money and fewer are getting credit cards. With a pre-pay card program like this, AMEX has a good chance at succeeding in this endeavor. 32 million players with over a billion hours logged each month is not something to scoff at. And while League of Legends is free, some of the bonuses, character features, and what-not can only be accessed with a purchase through Riot via Riot Points.

The cards will also have pictures of League of Legends characters. Because, you know, that’s important too.

Not a bad deal if you are a LoL gamer. But do keep in mind that there is always fine print. There may be ATM withdraw fees much higher than a debit card, or inactivity fees, or even account closure fees. If you are seriously looking into this program, take the time to read the contract so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. And while the pre-pay market has been going up in recent years to avoid bank fees, there are still hidden charges to be aware of. If you’re a Leager, this could be a good hit.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Those Darn Used Games Cost Me More!

A federal lawsuit against GameStop in New Jersey has been okay-ed by a judge to proceed. The case? Some customers feel they were ripped off for buying a used game without knowing that the “downloadable content” wouldn’t come free with the purchase as if it were a used game.

Honestly…I don’t know where to go with this. I understand the customer’s concerns that there was nothing on the used game package that stated that any and all downloadable content would not be available-they would need to be purchased separately. But at the same time, there’s a huge “no duh” moment in all of this. With DRM regulations (3 of the games listed with the court documents were EA products, so there you go), and how prominent the Used game market, you would think these customers would have researched and known better. Since when has it become the obligation of the employees to notify customers of every single download restriction, and every price point outside of their control? EA, Ubisoft, and the developers are responsible for how downloadable content is distributed, not the retailers.

But this is also assuming that these individuals are logical beings and, well, that’s why we have warning labels for absurd things. Such as the Segway “Caution: This item moves when in use.” Well no kidding. I wasn’t aware of that!

So that’s what this lawsuit boils down to. Customers who did 0 research and expected to be told everything at the point of sale. Technically, they did get the game cheaper at GameStop by purchasing it used. It was $10-15 less than if they paid for the full price of the game. However to play online or to use other features, it required purchasing a code, all handled by the developers. That’s something GameStop has no control over. The lawsuit is not that the Used Game was more expensive at the point of sale, but afterwards when the developers got involved. When you buy a Used game, it’s Used for a reason. Someone else played it, took the codes and things are no longer valid. It’s like buying Monopoly at a garage sale. You know it will be missing pieces, but you bought it because it was $.50 cents instead of the full-price $12.99 version. You make do with it. Video games work the same way. If you want those missing pieces, you have to write the company and pay for it.

It’s a frivolous lawsuit. I don’t know what GameStop offered the customers, if anything at all, but you can bet that soon every store will have a sign about Used games. /sigh Common sense. People don’t have them anymore. Everything needs to be spelled out  and come with a million labels which, more often than not, people don’t read. Most of us in this country don’t read any of the manuals. I do. That’s how I know my USED GAME won’t come with the same content as a new game. Just saying…reading is a good thing kids.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Masculinity In Gaming: That Other Side of the Discussion We Don't Really Talk About

The image of the manelist man, who looks
somewhat real...more real then Duke Nukem.

For the recent run of discussing sexism and feminism in games and the gaming industry, we haven’t been talking as much about masculinity. I brought it up briefly in conjunction to one of the Tropes vs.Women in Video Games pieces, but other than that, I have been focusing a lot of the female aspect. The problem is that many people who go down this path tend to take it from a satirical standpoint and/or with the intent to bash women. It’s difficult to make a case for men when you see the industry and the fan base saturated with comments that dismiss women. The E3 Microsoft demonstration of the XBoxOne was a painful reminder of how far we still have to go before we can see more equality not only in sex, but race, religion, and the like.

I have wanted to write an article like this for a while, but didn’t know where to begin. While we have been focusing on feminism and sexism from a female standpoint over the past year, men are sometimes subjected to the same type of glamorization of their video game counterparts.

This article from the Boston NPR station Cognoscenti helped spawn this piece. In it, the writer discusses again all of the things that we have known about since the feminism in gaming series kicked off. It discusses Anita Sarkeesian’s video series and the backlash women face on a daily basis from playing a game. How the demographic of who is buying games has changed that we’re nearing a 50/50 of women to men ratio on the purchase power. And the article ends with a nod to a movement by a group called The Doubleclicks, which has started a campaign to stop the need to “prove geek cred.” The intention behind these articles is fine, but we have come to a point that we need to be honest with ourselves and discuss the other issues that have been a part of the industry for decades Racism is a prime example or sexual identity (the latter mostly reserved to chat room antics).  This feels like an appropriate time to discuss masculinity in the gaming world.

True. But every one of those leading men has a
"normal" gaming counterpart. How many women
can you name that are "normal" in a game?
More often than not, male characters are personified versions of themselves. Men are typically going to be depicted as strong, rugged, muscular, and their ideal of handsome. This isn’t a new phenomenon and has been occurring since we were drawing pictures on cave walls. Humans have always been depicted in all forms of media with exaggerated features that we considered “perfect” at the time. Ancient Greek and Roman’s loved pale skin, fuller figures, and defined arm muscles. Egyptians preferred tanned skin and petite bodies. The Chinese believed boxy feet were attractive for quite some time, and women would wear painful shoes to adjust the bones in their feet to replicate it. Our visions of beauty have changed over time, so it’s no surprise that in a fantasy setting we want to see attractive men and women. I’m not surprised to see ripped muscle men in Gears of War or God of War, just as I’m not surprised to see half naked women in World of Warcraft (…I swear to Bob I did not intend to use the War titles). Here’s the difference: For every Kratos, there’s a Mario. For every Duke Nukum, there is a Leisure Suit Larry. There are counterparts to the “ideal” that are more prominent with male characters versus females. While the concept of the ‘everyday Joe’ is still uncommon in comparison to the ideal, it is seen as part of the norm when compared to women. It’s difficult for me to name female characters that fit into this pattern that are either primary or secondary to a story. Background and side characters do not apply. Left 4 Dead is one of the few examples that I can think off-hand that utilizes the “normal Joe” for both men and women in a thoughtful manner. None of the characters are particularly unattractive, nor are they overtly sexual: they are the types of characters that you can see walking down the street.

I’m starting to get away with my thoughts, so rounding back to the first point that I’m trying to make: This concept of “male characters as sexual objects” is real, but not AS apparent as with female characters. Chris Redfield in Resident Evil 5 and 6 is a prime example of this. He was seriously beefed up and looks to be pressing hardcore into steroid-land. His image sets the tone for the game that looking hot is part of the job. By the 6th game, it’s standard procedure for male characters. Were the muscular improvements necessary? Not at all. They were part of the eye candy that is Resident Evil.

(Now I’m not going to gloss over the fact that Jill Valentine was given a complete makeover from a logistical cop-like uniform to a skin-tight bodysuit with a plunging neckline. Or the other villain Excella is weird a short, tight, ridiculously low scoop-necked dress. Or Sheva running around with a tank-top, with an alternate outfit of a bikini and minimal butt coverage. Obviously, all of these examples showcase how much more sexually idealized women are compared to men, but it needed to be stated that in the context of the universe, both the lead male and female characters underwent this transformation.)

This does happen to men too, just
not as often. And usually it degrades
back to referring to them as "women,"
"gay," or a racial slur.

Resident Evil 5 is one example of the myriads that exist. What women are concerned about is the concept that females in games are sexualized. It’s how much and how often it happens. Even for something as simple as Super Mario, the few female characters in the game are pretty. Peach, Daisy, and Rosalina are all very feminine characters with lovely faces and bodies. Compared to the male characters who are not what we consider typical “heroes.” A short, overweight plumber, and his taller, lankier brother with bulbous noses and mustaches. The villain isn’t attractive either; a boorish spiky monster by comparison. As I’ve stated before, for every ‘ideal’ male character we can easily found a counterpart of the ‘normal Joe.’ It’s difficult to do so with a female character. And before you all say Laura Croft, even in her new iteration of Tomb Raider she is a beautiful character and sexualized by the world around her. That’s the problem women have with games: we can’t find a normal woman. Plenty of normal men, not so much women.

I don’t want to dismiss the fact that a number of men are intentionally made handsome in games. And yes I’ll concede that the concept of “it’s a fantasy, it’s not real” is a good justification for allowing it to occur. What seems to be overlooked is that men are not the objects of desire in the game. Very rarely do we see a man being rescued by a woman, killed as a plot device to propel a female character forward in her journey; the male character is never the trope but the primary proponent to the entire quest. When you review games from this perspective, the handsome man becomes an after-thought. Our focus is more on what is the goal, and what does ‘she’ look like.

What this boils down to is mental perception (my next point, finally!). It’s a gender stereotype that has been played for centuries that women are weak and are in need of rescuing, especially if the maiden is beautiful. Men are expected to be the rescuers, and while they may not always look handsome, they are strong and capable. It’s an easy, overused plot device that every medium abuses. On the flip side, as a man it is considered demeaning, even stripping ones masculinity if he is the one in need of rescuing. The man is perceived as weak and in many cases feminized because of it. These stereotypes on gender are what prompt us to follow the same plot lines over and over again. Because we have difficulty accepting that a man can be weak and a woman can be strong, the social constructs are going to replay constantly. And yes, that is a problem. It’s okay for a man to cry, to show emotion other then anger or joy, and to be helpless in a situation. In fact, that makes the man even more masculine and REAL when we see them vulnerable, because no man is a manly man man (even the most interesting man in the world has a commercial where he cries-so it’s okay!). We have to remove ourselves from both male and female stereotypes if we want to progress forward in gaming and with the media industry as a whole.(I could go completely overboard regarding the way people are treated in online chats via a game and the use of derogatory terms and sexism stereotypes, but it could take me years to get through it all.)

Sexism is not new. It’s not limited to just women and it’s not uncommon. But in the gaming industry it is rabid. It’s easily accessible and glorified. Lightning from FF13 has been given a full breast cup size increase for no reason other than to pander to the male audience. Just as Chris Redfield got a few more muscles to beef up against the infected/undead population of the world, the reasoning behind these changes is flawed and unacceptable. Just because sexism has existed does not mean it should continue to be acceptable. Both men and women are victim to this, and if we expect our medium to grow into an art form, we need to start making better decisions about our games and our characters.

Cyberpsychologists! It's a Thing!

Since the universe is decided to be a jerk-wad today and not allowing me even half a minute to write out the piece I had in mind, I'm keeping this short for now. Hopefully I will have my full article up this afternoon.

If you’re looking for some thoughtful gaming reading, here is an interesting article about a cyberpsychologist take on games. Cyberpsychologists look at the relationship o technology with the human brain and emotions.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

What Is Your Perfect Game?


I had this piece written for about two weeks now, but other stories kept popping up and I felt that describing my perfect game would be a good filler for an off-days on the news reel. Whelp. Lost that chance! So we’ll just go with the crowd and stick it here. Today. Enjoy!

For all that gaming fans and reviewers discuss the “Citizen Kane of Video Games” none of us feel that we have achieved that moment yet. I hope we don’t because, well I don’t like Citizen Kane and I fell it’s a stupid analogy. It’s a movie that is great technically, but not well crafted from a story/character perspective. This led me to think about what I felt would be the perfect game. But what is perfect to me may not be perfect to someone else. For example, I see Princess Mononoke, ChinaTown, and Blade Runner (Director’s Cut, of course) to be some of the best movies cinema has offered and have yet to be challenged. And I know a number of people that will argue with me tooth and nail that I am wrong. So really, this game that is perfect is just for me. I doubt few others will be willing to agree with me, and that’s okay. The concept is to help promote creative thinking. Maybe you’ll come up with the next big hit just daydreaming about your perfect game.

I can admit that a lot of the qualities that I look in a game are going to be similar to other reviewers, but I also look for that extra special ‘something’ that sets the game apart from everything else. I like feeling that a game was made unique to me, even if it’s a mass market product. And I want a game that caused me to smile, laugh, get angry, frustrated, and nearly cry. On to the game itself:


It took me 20 hours, but I did it.
A golden bird at every stable. Who wants chicken wings?
I am a completionist.

One thing that annoys the crap out of my friends is that when they are off trying to get the next bad guys, I’m sitting here, in the corner, working on this fetch quest. I have to complete everything in a game. No exceptions. I feel that the best way to be truly immersed in an environment is to experience everything that game has to offer, which means doing every damn quest possible. You should see me in Final Fantasy VII. I needed to get every Materia. I wouldn’t rest until I had a stable full of golden Chocobo’s. I HAD to defeat all of the Weapons, achieve all of the Limit Breaks, before I considered going after the final boss. Or Mass Effect. God I hated those quests. But I did it. I searched every damn planet to pick up all items, maxed out my team, obtained every weapon, every upgrade, every armor.

And it pisses me off to no end when they make a challenge so obscene and ridiculous. “Walk 5 billion miles for a trophy!” No. I really don’t want to do that. I still do, but it’s arbitrary. My character is going to do a lot of walking for the other quests, so if I happen to get it, then great. What I want is a game where quests are reasonable, plentiful, and worth the reward. I don’t want stupid Xbox Achievements or PSN trophies. What good do they do me? They’re an arbitrary stat without a purpose. Give me more in-game rewards, and I’ll be sure to play for years. But reasonable ones. I’m not walking 5 billion miles for your amusement.

Loot Master

And here is what I mean by this: when I play Borderlands 2 with my boy, he and his friends will typically run ahead and find the next group to fight. I’ll typically sit back and pick up all of the loot. Why? Because that’s what you do. I have such an RPG mindset in my brain that I know you are suppose to look in every corner, open every chest, scour every box because you might find that one rare item. And then you get to gloat that you found it before anyone else. Not to mention MONEY! I mean seriously guys…I sold these 10 weapons and made bank while you all are trying to get by on a weapon that’s 8 levels below your skill.

I also like obscene loot. Like getting a light saber attachment to your weapon or having a weapon mod that talks to you every time you use it. “Enemy down, Meatbag.” “Did your gun just call you a Meatbag?” “Yeah…got a problem with it?” I love how ludicrous the items can be in games like Saints Row. You can use a giant dildo as a weapon. It is not only beyond the realm of insanity, but hilarious.

I dare you to make me cry.

I have never cried at a game, but I will admit to tear-ing up. Those are the games that transcend traditional narrative into something more powerful then we could ever imagine. I want a story to challenge my emotional state. To contest what it means to be angry, to be afraid, and to be happy. There is a quote from GameTrailers on a series about the Final Fantasy games regarding stories in gaming. “Steven Spieldberg once said, you can never cry at a video game. Clearly he’s never played a Final Fantasy game.”

To me, no story will ever beat a Final Fantasy story. You can complain all you like about the current direction of the series, but I have never once felt moved to cry like I had with Final Fantasy IV. When Tellah was killed off, I dropped the game and left because I knew I was going to have an emotional breakdown. I didn’t pick the game up for a week when I felt that it was safe to do so. For as much as I love movies, I have never once felt compelled to stop watching because it hit that nerve to make me want to cry. Not like a game.

Seriously....gorgeous!
The perfect story is one that requires me to have an emotional investment. Not just in the characters, but in the realm they live in. I need to care about their homes, their families, and their livelihood. This is where games like Mass Effect and BioShock work so wonderfully well. They ask the gamer to be a part of the journey by absorbing them into the universes. And why so many of them got pissed off when ME3 ended as abruptly as it did without a conclusion for the other characters (hell I’m still pissy that I don’t know what happened to Garrus, Tali, Javik, Liara…well sh*t anyone on my team. Only the ME2 companions got their say in how they lived post the beam of doom).

I want a game that gives me an emotional investment. And yes, anger is an emotion. If you can give me the story of a Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, and then throw in Ninja Gaiden difficulty, we’re golden.

Customize, customize, customize!

Another Final Fantasy example, but get over it. It’s a fantastic example. In Final Fantasy XI you get a Mog House that you can decorate. Anyone who has played with me can tell you that I was redecorating it at least once a month; rearranging and assorting items to fit my mood. I spent way too much time doing that.

Everyone wanted to be a dancing Wookie. EVERYONE!
But I’ll do this with a lot of games. I won’t swap armor in Elder Scrolls until I have a full set that matches, or in World of Warcraft, or in any RPG you can name. I LOVE the Star Wards Galaxies character creation system. It is by far one of my favorites for any MMO and non-The Sims game out there because it allowed for so much variety that you could guarantee that no two characters looked the same. And it was awesome. Star Wars worlds were also so immersive. I loved the originality of each realm. Galaxies, before the Sony patch of doom, did so many things right in terms of gameplay, character creation, and a unique leveling system. And no class/character restrictions. Want to be a Wookie Entertainer? Okay! Go forth and dance your furry butt off.

Speaking of the Sims, I modded the crap out of Sims 2. Legally. The game came with a pattern creation program to allow you to import whatever mods you like. I made hundreds of floor, wallpaper, and clothing patterns, thousands of new shirt syles, and who knows how many different odd-colored cats and dogs I had running around the neighborhood. Some looked like they were infected by Slimer from Ghostbusters. But I love being able to go crazy on customization without it overwhelming my gaming experience. It needs to be just enough to leave me wanting more without destroying the story. APB (All Points Bulletin) for example had a ridiculously robust customization system that even allowed you to import your own images for shirt designs but the story was virtually non-existant.

Based on the above, my ideal game would be a Final Fantasy, BioShock story with Mass Effect characters, with a Star Wars Galaxy interface, Sims customization, and the difficulty level of Ninja Gaiden. Add in Claptrap and I’m okay with this weird ass concoction.

I have issues.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Final Fantasy Isn't Dead. It's Tropes Are.

Wired is getting so much backlash from the article they posted regarding Final Fantasy being dead. Or on the brink of death. New images of FF13-3, aka Lightning Returns, and the introduction of a bustier heroine with boob physics, well a lot of us flipped a table. (And then the next day they showed Lightning in Yuna’s FF10 yukata as an alternate outfit just to screw with our heads some more.) 

As a Final Fantasy fan and a feminist, I do think the change to Lightning is appalling and disrespectful not only to FF13 but to the franchise as a whole. What made FF stand out from so many other games on the market were the strong female characters that didn’t prance around in their underwear and act helpless, ditzy, or were purely there for the male gaze. Tifa from FF7 may have been busty, but she was covered. Even her mini-skirt didn’t allow for panty shots. And she was still one of the best characters overall when it came to battles with her brand of Limit Breaks being able to cross all types of monsters (fire, water, earth, it didn’t matter, Tifa could handle it). The only thing skimpier I can think of prior to FF13-3 would be Leila from FF2. Not many people have played this game in the state or know of this character so I’ll lay it out for you. Leila is a sky pirate captain who wears a bikini top, a skort, and a head scarf that goes on for days. She is also incredibly strong willed and focused. She doesn’t allow herself to succumb to the pressures of the world around her to be a prissy woman who has to find a husband. She defy’s those stereotypes and does things her way. And while yes, she does want love, she doesn’t fall into the damsel in distress mode where she falls all over herself just to get a man. Nor does she wait on fate to do it for her. If she likes someone, she’ll march up to them and tell them so.

Lightning in 13 and 13-2 did wear a skirt and had some short shorts with her armor, but she still carried herself in a manner that we respected. But the teaser image SquareEnix released of her in her new outfit, hand on the hip, butt up, chest out (we call it the “hoe pose” in photography) her entire demeanor has completely changed. No longer this hardened warrior, she has been reduced to eye candy. This isn’t a rant against fanservice. I can enjoy boobs and butt shots/jokes as much as anyone else when it’s done in an appropriate manner. But in Final Fantasy it feels as though everything we loved about the franchise is being taken away. “Fanservice” for an FF game can be appropriately seen in the Final Fantasy 14 reboot. The game is bringing in elements of past FF products, such as armor, magitek, and memorable phrases, all to pay homage to the series that bears it’s name and to give fans a “thank you” for sticking with them. FF14 has developed into a fans game with fanservice of its own kind. Final Fantasy never needed to stoop to boob physics to get our attention.

Unfortunately that is what it’s becoming. What I hate about all of this is that it’s continuing to happen: i.e. the focus is on the women as an object and not as a character. No one at SE stood up and said “Hey guys. There’s this huge movement going on with people back-lashing at developers for not creating strong female characters. Maybe we shouldn’t slut-up Lightning.” But they did and they spent an entire Q&A session discussing it because people wanted to know about the jiggle physics. It’s disgusting and appalling.

I don’t believe Final Fantasy is dead. The franchise is going to continue for years to come, possibly decades. But what is fading is the nostalgia factor. The series is moving away from are the tropes that made the series what it is. Final Fantasy is adapting to today’s culture and this need to be “more Western.” I know a number of people look to FF9 and FF10 as the last “true” Final Fantasy titles. I’ll still argue that FF13 is part of the series and is the last “true” FF game that we have seen to date (FF14 hasn’t "technically" release yet). It exhibits a lot of aspects, such as character development, persistence of vision, etc. that we want from an FF game, while still propelling the series forward with innovation (not in gameplay or graphics, but in story telling as well). What we’re seeing with 13-3 and 15 is that the series is no longer sticking to its guns. We’re finding ourselves longing for a past (have you seen how well the FF old-school releases on PSN have been doing?) that is starting to fade out. What is dying is the old Final Fantasy. The series itself is going to continue. But we also change as gamers as we grow older. Our tastes and styles evolve over time. Some people love the direction FF13-3 and 15 are going. Some of us don’t. Maybe it’s time for us to move on to new games, new series, new franchises to find our happy place.

Monday, August 05, 2013

It's Okay To Complain About Games

I had a topic in mind today before I began playing catch-up on the morning gaming news. Aussie-Gamer required me to change my blogging with this: Hey, Video Gamers. Stop Complaining.

Yep. One writer for the website, Tynan Muddle, is tired of gamers complaining about everything. From consoles, to new releases, to even the frame-rate. Yeah. The frame-rate. Muddle cites an example with the latest CoD: Black Ops 2 for the Wii-U that boasts a 60 frames per second on the non-consoles, console. Sometimes it drops a few frames here and there because, well, sh*t happens. It’s a lot of crap to process. Muddle wasn’t happy at how much people were complaining over 3 dropped frames and that the culture of the gamer has turned into a bunch of brooding, whining teenagers.

So the article is basically complaining about people complaining too much.

Alright maybe I’m being a bit harsh there. Muddle does bring up some good points regarding when it is and isn’t appropriate to complain about a product and a friendly reminder that developers are humans too. They have feelings, and hopes, and dreams, and need a paycheck like the rest of us. Threatening any of them with violence is not only childish, but illegal. And stupid.

Here’s the thing about the internet: It is an ocean of complaints. People feel less restrictions and consequences by voicing their opinions online because of the beauty of anonymity. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Working conditions, the quality of a product, all of these things are understood through public discussion, like the internet. The consequences of speaking up for ourselves are almost non-existent because we don’t have to put our name or face out there. In many cases, those online complaints are a good thing. Does anyone remember when Family Guy went off the air? Yeah. It really did happen. After a few short seasons on Fox, the show was cancelled. It was picked up in syndication for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup, and after a flurry of internet complaints and petitions, the show returned. The same situation occurred with Futurama, though it did move to Comedy Central upon its contract renewal. For something game related, how about Mass Effect 3? Yeah.
We all know the internet uproar that followed the ending that left many gamers a little more than unhappy. And they flooded the internet letting BioWare know their true feelings. If you ignore the threats of violence and death, there were a lot of very valid concerns and well-thought out responses. Gamers can be civilized in their complaints. It prompted BW to create an extended cut of the ending, and they have been more than making up to the “fan-rage” with the DLC content released over the past year.

Having an outlet like the internet to have your voices heard is not a bad thing. The manner in which you direct your complaint and how you word it can make a big difference. “You suck. You all can die. You destroyed the game with the frame rate drops!” is not going to even float through a developers mind. Whereas this will more likely garner a response: “My recent experience with [this product] left me a little concerned regarding the dropping of frames in cutscenes and action sequences. In particular the ones at [list mission names here] there seems to be a significant frame rate decrease, thus interfering with the experience of the game. Will there be a patch in the future to correct his issue?”

Voicing a complaint online is not a terrible thing. Do we complain a lot more because of it? Absolutely. Being able to hide yourself online does make it easier to be honest because the repercussions are limited. No one knows your face, or your voice through a phone call, or your handwriting if you write in a letter. So there will be times where some complaints seem unjustified, for example the 3 dropped frames in a 60-fps scene with high action. Yeah your eye is not going to be able to register that unless you are pausing it frame by frame. The human eye only really needs 24 frames per second in order to see an image. The rods and cones in your eye can create the rest of the image without the need for the other 36 frames. Movies are generally played at 24-28 fps, very rarely over 30. The fact that the Hobbit was at 48 fps was…kind of annoying actually. It gave a more “video-game” quality to the image and allowed for crisper details. In doing so, it also provided a lot of headaches. With digital characters the images have a smoother rendering. You can’t really do that with humans, even with a digital camera. In many cases characters on the screen in The Hobbit felt jittery, even jumpy because of how smoothly they moved. Our eyes weren’t able to process the information as readily as it could with a game. Even myself, as a gamer, came out of the theater with the headache. I found myself having to stare at a wall or something else just to get my eyes to focus again.

TLDR: You don’t need 60 FPS for a game, and 3 dropped frames here and there is not the end of the world.

So back to the topic at hand, complaining online isn’t bad nor should we be discouraged from doing so. But there are a few things to take into consideration before voicing your concerns that everyone, gamer or not, should take into account:

Fully use or play through a product before making an opinion. This happens a lot with games where you play for a few hours and decide it sucks, so you toss it aside. Some games are actually fantastic after you get back hour 5. You need to put the effort into actually TRYING the product before you voice a concern. It will also allow you to be better informed about concerns and you won't come off as an annoying consumer because you didn't give the product a chance.

Don’t jump on the hate bandwagon just because it’s popular. (Unless it’s about hating EA. That’s a universal thing at this point.) Just because your friends hate it, doesn’t mean that you should too. Be honest with yourself and love things because you love them. Dislike things because you dislike them. Friends shouldn’t influence your opinion.

Think before you write. Most complaints can be whittled down into the following categories: death threats, sue threats, and legit concerns. You want to be in the third position because that will garner a response compared to the others. Be honest with what the problem is. Why didn’t you like the product? What happened when you used the product? What can be done to improve the product? Take the time to really sit down and elaborate on your issues with the product. Write it out in a word document then read it. Re-read it with an editing eye. And then read it one more time. You don’t need to sound professional in your complaint, but you shouldn’t be coming off as a spoiled kid either. Be honest. Be sincere. And don’t threaten violence, death, or lawsuits.

Remember that the company is full of humans too. Okay that sounds weird, but it’s a valid point that I agree with Muddle. Developers are people too. They make a product that they have invested a lot of time and money into on the hopes that they can at least make enough back to start the next project. When you threaten someone with violence, you’re not talking to a nameless corporation, but a real person. Someone with a family and friends. How would you feel if someone sent you an angry Twitter message that they were going to find your address, post it online, and send criminals to get you and your family. It’s not cool, so don’t do it. Remember that people do exist on the other end of the complaint mail and they deserve to be treated as humans.

So hopefully those few tips help out. An article complaining about the complainers, and now I’m complaining about it. It’s the cirrrrrrrrcle of liiiiiiife!Complaints are going to happen. It's the culture of the internet. How you voice and respond to those complaints will set you apart from the mess.