Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks
Welcome back to your weekly curated list of deep gaming thoughts. Two of this week's articles deal with representation in games: people who have been happy to find characters that resemble them in an unexpected way appear in a game, and people who have been disappointed when that doesn't happen. It's something that gaming folks have been talking about a lot recently, but that's largely because their medium of choice ignored so many people for such a long time.
The other two articles don't address representation - there's more to games than what type of characters appear in it, and nobody's lost sight of that. That being said, if it ever gets annoying to hear about other people's problems with video games, try to take their perspective for at least a little bit and you'll find they might become problems for you, too. If it's still annoying, then, uh, sorry--at least there's two strange and inventive games you can play from your browser at the end.
Read A Character Like Me: the lead writer of Dragon Age on inclusive games
"We make roleplaying games, which means that the character you play doesnt have to be yourself, but I believe theres an element where having a game acknowledge that you exist can be validating in a way most people never consider--no doubt because they have no need for validation, and thus no knowledge as to what the lack of it can do to someone."
David Gaider is the lead writer of the Dragon Age series, a position that's attracted him significant praise and more than a little scorn. He's also gay. Thus dreaming up Dragon Age's socially progressive stories and character relationships is always a balancing act between including people not typically represented in games - like himself - and not being pigeonholed as "that gay writer who makes all those gay characters," as he describes in an opinion piece for Polygon.
Gaider's column has the all the deflections and qualifications you'd expect of someone used to being criticized at every turn, but it's sad that this, of all things, is what he has to worry about. Anybody whose experience of a game is significantly worsened because some elf who happens to be the same gender as you starts making bedroom eyes needs to grow up. I'm not saying BioWare does romance and sexual representation flawlessly, but it's miles ahead of most other big studios.
Read Bioshocked the meaning of Ken Levine's Irrational decision
"As it is, Ken Levine has come forward to take the slings and arrows of outraged gamers. But his statement acts as something of a distraction from the fact that 2K is firing up to 200 people (based on figures from 2012) who made one of last years most successful games. No matter how you cut it, it is a damning indictment of a blockbuster culture where budgets are spiralling into the hundreds of millions Its impossible to miss the connection between the studios increasing scale and this unexpected end."
So many biting conclusion can be drawn from the strange and sudden demise of Irrational Games. Was it Ken Levine's auteur hubris? Was it a history of unfulfilled promises from a studio with troubling turnover? Was it an incompatibility between narrative complexity and mainstream success? That's why it's good to see this measured look at the cause and effects of the closure from The Guardian's Rich Stanton.
It might seem like Stanton spends a little too much time dwelling on Levine's future when the man seemingly just put hundreds of his employees out of a job. But we don't know what happened at Irrational owner 2K and it's not fair to assume that Levine gladly laid them off to pursue his fancies - though, to be fair, his letter does make it sound like that. There is more to it, even if we may never know how much.
Read Deep Down the rabbit hole of ingrained games industry sexism
"I had been really, really looking forward to Deep Down. I would like to wake up tomorrow and find a statement from Capcom saying the translation was bungled somehow, and that playable female characters will be included in the game Ill be waiting by my inbox, Capcom, in a spirit of optimism, because I cannot believe that you--lumbering dinosaur of a publisher as you are--can seriously expect to keep me, and literal millions of other like-minded female-identified gamers, on board with this bullshit, nor that you are so lost to all sense that you cant see why you ought to have us on board."
I (a man) wouldn't be upsef if I found out a game that I was looking forward to didn't have any playable characters that were men. I wouldn't even be that mad if I found out two or three didn't. But if most games with gendered protagonists ever published didn't have men as playable protagonists, and I suddenly realized that said much-anticipated new game was pulling the same old no-dudes B.S., I'd feel a little underappreciated.
Brenna Hiller is feeling a little underappreciated in this VG24/7 response to Deep Down. Last weekend it was revealed that dungeon crawler Deep Down will not let players create female characters for "story" reasons. Frankly, it would have been better if Capcom just said "we didn't wanna" and left it at that, because Deep Down's story of virtual reality time travelers clearly could have been stretched a bit to let some ladies in without asking for too much suspension of disbelief.
Read Jacking Into The Matrix: EVE And Oculus Utopian Dreams
By using more multi-frequency options, more of our minds, voices, eye contact, gestures--all these things--I think we will have a happier mankind if we can use more of that without having to go and fly all over the place all the time. With VR, 3D spatial sound, the awareness of your own body, that projected through a networked simulation onto somebody else--then we have interaction patterns that connect to our brains on multiple levels. And at some point, youre just in The Matrix.
Up til now, everybody's been trying to keep their optimism for the new wave of virtual reality to a reasonable level. "This will be great for video games," Oculus said in its Kickstarter for the Rift. "Oh hey, that is great. We'll make a video game about starship battles using that headset," CCP said when it started work on EVE Valkyrie. But Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Nathan Grayson gets both firms' CEOs to gush all over virtual reality as a way of life like teenagers who just finished Snow Crash while waiting in line to see The Matrix for the twentieth time.
CCP CEO Hilmar Ptursson naturally couched the ideas as an avenue of growth for EVE Online; just a slightly more ambitious addition to game that has grown in nearly every way after a decade of existence. I wouldn't mind if the business meetings of tomorrow were held on the virtual bridges of massive capital ships, now that I think about it.
Play Find the Invisible Cow
click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click Click! Click! Click! Click! Click! Click! Click! Click! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! CLIIIIIICK!!!! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! Click! Click! Click! Click! click click click click click click click
Play Sesame Street Fighter
Some games are so great in concept that questionable execution just makes them all the more lovable. Sesame Stree Fighter, which transmogrifies Street Fighter II's cast into Jim Henson's fuzzy gang, definitely qualifies. Is typing out the names of Russian cities to make Grovka do Electric Thunder fun? Not really. But am I still so very happy about it happening? Yes.
Lather, rinse, represent
This week's selection might have been more of a downer than usual, but it's still damn cool that these are issues being raised to begin with. Imagine, all of these people making and reacting to games could be doing anything else (like their taxes or something), but here they are, expanding and refining the medium we all love - even if their vision doesn't match your own, it's awesome to see. Be sure to share your own reactions in the comments below.
Miss the simpler days of gaming? There's little simpler than the most obvious weak spots to attack for massive damage. Need cheering up? At least you're not trapped in the GameBunker with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.