Month: September 2012

A Serious Topic

I’m going to embark upon a very scary topic that is very dear to my heart, I ask only that you keep an open mind and an empathetic heart throughout. The topic is one that’s getting a lot of attention recently in the feminist circles I run in and is something I personally find disturbing and aggravating. Sexism. More specifically, how video games (and comics and movies) can contribute to our society’s sexist ideas when they could well be doing the opposite.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Elise, Feminists are crazy, bra-burning nutsos who hate men.” And you wouldn’t be exactly wrong in thinking this because that’s how the media has painted women like me. I love the men in my life dearly. So, before I embark on this further, let me clear up that a feminist is simply someone who wants men and women to be equal. Like LGBT allies, you do not have to be a part of this group to support those who suffer from oppression. The easiest way to become a supporter of women is to apply the situation to your own life and go ‘would I like this if this were me?’ Because the big secret of women is this; we’re human, just like the guys. We want the same things (at least the ones of us who are sane) as men do.

Since I was a child, I never considered myself a ‘girl’ because being a girl was BORING. I hated the color pink, I hated being shoved into a box and being told “you have to be this way”. This condition of independent thought was only exasperated by having two loving parents who told me, in no uncertain terms that I could be the world’s first female quarter back in a major league if I wanted, that it was ok to play video games and like Star Wars and want to be Qui-Gon Jinn when I grew up.  The reason I wanted to be a boy?  The women I was told to look up to and to emulate were not people I wanted to be.  I wanted to live with honor and be respected.  These are not things fiction often gives to women.

For me (just like you, I’m sure), as a child, video games were an escape from the mediocrity of modern living. I still remember the feel of the old brick black and white game boy in my hands. I rememberI remember THIS guy.playing Legend of Zelda until I couldn’t see anymore. I remember the Pokemon games. I remember getting a PS2 for Christmas. My excitement and love of these things was in no way diminished because of my genitalia or my gender. Imagine being told, since birth, by nearly every media source you run into that you should not love the things you love.

Now, this wouldn’t be SUCH a problem if the men within these fandoms weren’t so blatantly and obviously oblivious to this even being a problem. I am aware this is a blanket statement, but in this recent article from the New York Times it talks about professional gamers heckling another professional gamer right out of the game because she happens to have breasts and a vagina.

How can you help?

Stand up for women. It’s as simple as that. We are not outsiders, we are everywhere. We are mothers and sisters and friends and we deserve better. Do not let women suffer in silence for something they have no control over. Video games are meant to be fun, and they’re meant to be for everyone.

Some of the ways video games (and movies etc…) are sexist are pretty obvious; women with large breasts and tiny waists and perfect faces. This, I am willing to overlook because I happen to think Ezio in Revelations is a damn fine piece of man-candy. But the armor differences are pretty drastic in most cases. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that I know of that does not indulge in this practice and instead makes women who have some sort of personality instead of breasts out past their chins. Now, I like looking at the female figure as much as the next guy…er…gal, but when the armor is impractical, it ruins my immersion. This isn’t something that WAS happening, it’s something that IS happening. The God of War people were recently asked why they have no choice to play a woman and their answer was that they couldn’t make a woman look good in armor. The article (which was in Game Informer), went so far as to say that this was insulting to their art-team as well as to the public.

Now, you may still be thinking, “I’m still not seeing how this effects me, as a man”. Objectifying women contributes to rape culture, which is the idea that the victim of rape should be the one who prevents it, instead of men simply NOT RAPING, which seems a simpler solution. Objectifying a woman teaches men and women in our society that this sort of behavior is really ok because ‘she should have stopped him’, or ‘he wouldn’t do something like that’. And if you didn’t know, most rapists know their victims. The upshot of which is that as a woman, I have to view EVERY SINGLE MAN I MEET as a potential rapist. And it’s not just me. Women everywhere within our ‘modern’ society live with the knowledge that they have to be on guard against NEARLY EVERY MALE IN THEIR LIVES 24/7. Now, you might not BE a rapist (I hope that you aren’t), but that doesn’t matter.  And that’s how sexism hurts you.  You are getting judged for other men making horrible decisions and choosing to hurt someone.

Video games are not a place women should have to worry about being treated differently. I can assure you we play just as much for our games and equipment.  Why I love the games I do is irrelevant, I am allowed to exist within the franchise and not just because I’ve been playing video games for as long as I could hold an NES controller.

The other (off topic) concern this brings up is this idea of the fandom vet vs the new player. You have NO RIGHT to tell someone why they like or do not like something, even if it’s for different reasons than you. You enjoy a fandom for certain reasons, and perhaps you’ve known about it for your entire natural life, that does not make you special. It does not set you apart, except that your experience is unique and you were allowed to have that. Do not go out of your way to take this away from others.

Video games are the way our generation expresses itself. They are our lives we live outside ourselves. They are so extremely important. They are the new frontier. Why are women being excluded from this? I feel like fantasy is the perfect place to empower people who don’t usually get a chance to be empowered. Assassin’s Creed recently made the decision to make a black female assassin as a main character in one of their hand-held games. I am pleased with this, but I would have been even more pleased with a female assassin within main gaming platforms. However, I have to give Ubisoft credit for trying to make people instead of sterotypes and this goes for men too.

So please, next time, if you see a woman being bullied because she is a woman, step in. Stand up. It’s bullying and we are better than that. We are the dreamers of dreams. We are the defenders of realms. Stand up for your fellow gamers, do not let your gaming comrades suffer in silence and be a real life hero.

I believe in you.

-E

Dark Souls: A Newb’s Journey

Thinking that if I was going to write for a gaming website I had better pick up a ‘real’ gamer game, I did go out and purchase Dark Souls.  Granted, it sat on my shelf for two days, the title staring at me like two great, glowing eyes in the darkness.  The inexperienced gamer in me quavered at the prospect of it, though my friend, and primary gaming council, Benjamin was adamant that I play.  I was barraged by friends warning me about the high death rate but armed with a lengthy email of advice from my own gaming Ben(jamin) Kenobi, and a can-do attitude I waded, undeterred into the blackness to face my fears.

I picked a Pyromancer (at the advice of Benjamin, of course), and played my way through the first level.  I was astounded and impressed with the graphics, though having not played Demon’s Souls (and let’s face it, being rather incompetent) I was at a loss for how to even basically grasp the leveling system.  Surprisingly, I didn’t find the dying over and over and over aspect to be a deterrent.  Of course, I’m in my mid-twenties and even children’s games when I was a kid were difficult.  I am finding myself quite enjoying the challenge of not being able to stroll through the levels.

That being said, SOME tutorial or explanation of any of the game play systems would be helpful, even if it was optional for newbs like me.  I do understand that the learning curve for these games is steep and that they’re counting on the gamers not being…well…Katamari enthusiasts like I am, but I still think that the 360 users would have appreciated some explanation.

Having gone target-lock happy after Benjamin explained to me how to do THAT, I accidently killed a merchant and now have to start the game over from the beginning.  I’m really ok with this as I feel more prepared to start now and I DO enjoy that once you do things like this, you can’t undo them, it’s very realistic, but also exceedingly annoying to a new player.I did enjoy the free-flowing battle system.  It feels much more natural than, say, Assassin’s Creed.  Though I am only starting on my Dark Soul’s journey, I am looking forward to continuing my quest and dying many more times in pursuit of gaming greatness.

How the Wii U needs to Wow.

In a few days’ time, in the city of New York, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime will take to the stage and hopefully show the world exactly what they can expect from Nintendo’s newest console.

Following its announcement at E3 2011 the Wii U hype machine went into over drive in the lead up to E3 2012, but Nintendo’s E3 presentation failed to live up to that hype, (as a long time Nintendo fan I was actually near tears due to the disappointment of E3!),  and since then opinion on the Wii U has slid.

Comparisons of the hardware to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, talk of ports of year old games, major publishers still not ‘on board’ with the device and a shrouded release date/price have all damaged the Wii U and now we’re only a few months away from the potential release period. So what do Nintendo need to do on Thursday to show they mean business?

Price:

It’s nearly been 18 months since the Wii U was first announced, since then there have been various rumours as to when the device would finally hit stores, and more importantly how much it would cost.

Nintendo have said they will expect people to be surprised at the cost of the Wii U with Reggie previously saying “Nintendo believes in being a mass market product, so unlike our competitors when they’ve launched historical systems to maybe start at a really high price and work their way down, we don’t believe in that.”

One factor to take in may be the release of the 3DS. Nintendo ended up pretty battered and bruised following the release of their newest handheld; so much so that within a few months of the devices release they dropped its price. This was a massive blow to the systems credibility, and it showed that consumers aren’t currently willing to spend huge amounts of money on technology, Nintendo need to find that perfect price point.

Prices have ranged from $200 all the way up to over $400. A $400 console would go against Nintendo’s culture; they usually use older technology to keep the cost down. In the past few weeks there have been stories of retailers listing consoles and bundles which put the Wii U on its own at $249 and bundles going up to $349.

This would fit in again with Reggie’s comments at this year’s E3 “We want to launch at a price that’s going to represent an ongoing great value. If you look at the Wii, we stayed at $250 for a really long time, so we’re going to give that same level of thought to Wii U.”

Release Date:

Once we have the price we need to save, we need to know how long we have to save for it. Nintendo have always said that the device will be out by Christmas this year and most of the signs are now pointing to an American release in November, just in time for the Thanksgiving Holiday which is usually a bigger selling period in the US. Unfortunately the rest of the world might not be so lucky.

A few months ago a rumour surfaced that said due to ‘manufacturing issues’ the European release of the Wii U would be delayed. Nintendo apparently want to give America as many Wii U’s to sell as possible which means that Europeans may not see the Wii U until December. The Nintendo event on Thursday is happening in New York and is likely to be very focussed at the American market, but with a statement being released stating that there would be no European presentation we have to hope that Nintendo don’t forget that they are talking to the world and not just US Citizens.

What’s in the box?

You have paid X amount on X day now you get home to open the box and what will you find inside?

Well we know that the device will ship with one GamePad, but other than that we have no idea what to expect.

Again we can look to the 3DS release as a hint or more recently the release of the 3DS XL. Outside of America Nintendo did not ship the 3DS XL with an AC adaptor saying that it helped keep the cost of the updated handheld down. Could we see something similar with the Wii U?

As we know the Wii U will work with the Wiimotes so will we see one packaged in with the console? Probably not as that would also mean including the Wii sensor bar. Another questionable feature is the HDMI cable; will Nintendo ship the console ready for High Definition play or expect consumers to buy one separately?

And in the age of downloadable games hard drive storage is King, Nintendo has already released specs for the Wii U showing a measly 8GB flash drive so expect to have to fork out for an additional external hard drive.

Online:

It’s no secret that Nintendo have never been big fans of the internet on their devices. The Wii’s online functionality was famously dire but for the Wii U Nintendo seems to be a bit more relaxed.

When players first switch on the Wii U they will see the Miiverse, a social gaming hub for Nintendo where you will see people playing the same games as you, friends and Mii’s connected with the hard drive. No news on how you will be able to add friends but we can hope that Friend Codes have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Nintendo need to show that they are committed to online functionality not only within their hub but within their games especially if they still want to keep favour with the bigger developers whose titles rely heavily on multiplayer capabilities.

You can also expect to see a raft of on demand and streaming services from places like LoveFilm, NetFlix, BBC iPlayer etc.

Launch Titles:

Now we come to the final point and possibly the most important. The titles that the Wii U launches with need to make consumers sit up straight and want to go out and buy it, unfortunately at the moment the list isn’t astounding.

The only confirmed launch titles are from EA, Mass Effect 3 and FIFA 13. We can assume that the Wii Sports-esque Nintendo Land will also be a day one release, but Nintendo have remained tight lipped as to what to expect on release day with many titles being listed for the “release window”.

Again, we can look back to the launch of the 3DS for some lessons Nintendo may have learnt. The 3DS launch line up was weak; asking consumers to pay over £200 for a handheld without the ‘must want’ software was one of the major reasons for the sudden price drop. Nintendo has to have learnt that in order to get the Wii U flying off shelves it has got to gain the attention and continue that momentum.

New Super Mario Bros. U is a potential candidate for day one release although it could be too soon after the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS for it to really stand out. Assassin’s Creed 3 is one of the biggest titles to be confirmed for the Wii U but that has a release date of 30 October so it may already be too late to champion that for the Wii U weeks after release on the PlayStation3 and Xbox 360.

Nintendo will need to announce more than karaoke and dancing games to keep the hard-core fans interested, one potential glimmer of hope are the amount of games that have been delayed until Q1 next year. This year more than any other, games are being pushed back past the Christmas period, could developers be working on potential Wii U ports for some of the biggest games of 2013? It’s a straw and I’m grasping at it but you can dream.

No matter what Nintendo need to come out fighting on Thursday, they need to really wow the gathered gaming media, they need to appeal to their most dedicated fans and they really need to keep any Nintendo Land showing to less than 2 minutes.

 

Assassin’s Creed II (Spoiler Free)

I was told to review my favorite video game and a few came to mind, Katamari Damacy, Star Wars Lego, Podracing (PS2), Legend of Zelda; Twilight Princess… And I know what you’re thinking; these are all really easy games, and yes, they are. I’m a gamer who enjoys simplicity, but all of these games but the Zelda title lack what I’m really looking for in a game, and that’s a good, solid story.

I’m a fiction writer by trade and choice. The intricacies of a good story that’s told well are all I require to stay engaged in a game. I’m willing to sit through much faffing and fluff to get to the heart of the plot. This is the only real reason I can think for loving the Assassin’s Creed franchise as much as I do.

What first drew me in was the fantastically rendered settings. My mother being a bit of a Medici nut and passing that love of all things history on to me, I first saw my room mate playing it and was blown away by the stunning ability to go ANYWHERE in 15th century Florence/Venice/Tuscanny. I wanted to play, but (being a bit of a story purist that way) I was determined to play Assassin’s Creed I before I embarked on a quest with Ezio.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the franchise, the idea of it is this; you play Desmond, a man who is using a machine called the Animus to use something called ‘DNA memory’ to relive the days of his assassin ancestors (So far Altaïr and Ezio), who are battling the templars. Basically, you’re playing a video game of a guy playing a video game. So within the first game you have two stories to handle, Desmond’s in our time (or near to it), and the one of his ancestor.

The main story line has to do with the age old battle of Assassins vs. Templars. The Assassins wish to have the world live by the code “nothing is true, everything is permitted”, the idea of which is that each person is responsible for his or her own actions and things like the law are illusions. The Templars believe that humanity needs a firm hand to rule it or life will dissolve into chaos. There are some interesting lessons to be learned here and I, for one, am still completely entertained by the idea of the anti-hero. The men you play as are not on the side of the law. They are, in fact, ‘bad guys’.

The historical context adds another twist. Setting itself up amidst real life political intrigue of the time, walking away from playing these games you feel smarter for having played them. Beyond that, it made me look up documentaries on some of the historical figures that play key roles and even purchase a couple of books on the subject. It’s a subtle, but effective learning experience. To give these men and women faces and voices and lives makes the whole thing more real. It makes history not seem like a distant memory, but something that you are living and creating yourself.

Assassin’s Creed II’s finale brings with it another layer beyond the two main story lines, one that is further explained through Brotherhood and Revelations but seems more enigmatic than ever.

Beyond the story and the game mechanics, it is genuinely fun to play.  The map is relatively free, and though you can start to feel lonely if you spend too much time wandering off by yourself, there’s plenty to climb and to see.  Breath-taking sights and delightfully gravity-less free running are key elements to the story.  Without them, gameplay would feel stiff and incomplete.

Finally, as a woman, I sincerely appreciate the way this game handles women. Ezio is a bit of a ladies man, but the even the concubines you use to hide from and distract guards, are humanized. The women are allowed to be sexual without being sexualized. It is a breath of fresh air from a game about revenge and shanking guards from rooftops.

I will grant there are many things not right with the game mechanics in this game. It lacks certain elements, and has the ability to make be blindingly angry at the controls and sometimes the missions, but it holds a very special place in my heart. I have enjoyed watching Desmond and Ezio grow and I look forward to Assassin’s Creed III.

Have Online Features Dampened Our Gaming Experiences?

Online capabilities for games have just become the norm for us in recent years. It’s a strange time for a game not to have it in some shape or form whether it’s online multiplayer, co-op or leader boards, and why not? We’re living in an age where most of us are tweeting random stuff we’ve seen whilst on the bus going into work, complaining about hangovers of the year on Facebook and interacting with hundreds if not thousands of people without even realising it. The question I’m asking everyone who reads this is has these online features that we’ve gotten so accustomed to affected the way we play games compared to 10-15 years ago?

The first point I wish to raise is that it’s clear some publishers are concentrating on the online features of the games that they’re releasing and yes, I am meaning the Call of Duty’s and Battlefields. It’s clear Activision and EA are getting most of their money from people wanting to go online with these games and shoot the hell out of people across the globe. I’m not denying that this isn’t somewhat enjoyable in its own right but as a person that enjoys a good single player experience, I’m definitely not slamming down £40 on release day for an adequate, less than ten hour campaign experience that I will have no interest in going back into to play through once I’ve finished.  With this in mind, are we perhaps paying too much money for games that we’re not exploiting to their full potential? I remember when I was much younger and was relying on the parents on feeding my growing gaming addiction and I would forever hear the phrase “don’t play this for a day and throw it to the side” and I rarely did. If I got a new game, I would be playing it until the disc was saying “No, I’ve had enough!” Trying to complete every mission, find every collectible and still even after doing that, going back through it and doing it all over again was something that I done on a regular occasion. Looking at the way people play games nowadays, I hear a lot of people either ‘racing’ through the single player campaign just to play the multiplayer aspect of the game or skipping the single player all together and diving into the multiplayer which, if you’ve paid the £40 price tag for that and you know you’ll be spending a lot of time on that – fair play to you sir or ma’am but are you not missing out on some of the experience the game is meant to provide to you as a gamer by skipping over the single player campaign?

Continuing on with the online multiplayer, you have the community that follows these big game franchises to cope with. Now, as we all well know, it’s a dangerous and hostile place sometimes. For girls, they can sometimes feel intimidated to even speak in case of gaining the wrong kind of attention. Sometimes, you can feel unsupported by your ‘team’ members. Tell me if I’m wrong but you go online to have fun and a bit of friendly competitive banter no? In my past experiences, I have found somewhat little joy in being harassed by people younger than me or the constant hearing of ‘your mum’ jokes being thrown about the lobby to the point I’m muting everyone which, in my eyes, I’m basically limiting the multiplayer experience by shutting myself off from everyone.   I feel that unless you’re part of a clan or a group of friends that you know you can rely on, there is little enjoyment in playing these kinds of online games which require team work thus defeating the purpose of going online to play in the first place. Least ten years ago – you could play with friends that you know that even if a little bit of smack talk was dished out, it was all in good fun and not meant to cause any upset or hard feelings between one another.

As well as the online multiplayer, a lot of games offer co-op and leader boards. Rewind back ten years and I remember having to go round to a friend’s house, Playstation 2 crammed in a school bag with the various wires and at least two controllers just to even get this experience from a game. I enjoyed it though. Spending an afternoon on a game with said friend having a bit of a friendly competition on who could beat who on the race or trying to beat that level you’ve been having nightmares over for the past week was a good experience not only on a gaming level but a social one as well – you could make nights out it! Albeit with the online functions nowadays, you don’t have to carry an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 outside and you can enjoy the social and gaming experiences within the comfort of your own living room or bedroom, but I do feel like some of the social experience can be lost.  There’s no tension in the room whenever your friends about to beat the score that you’ve worked all night on getting whilst throwing back some beers and munching on the takeaway food that you’ve just gotten delivered. Call me old fashioned but I will always find having group gaming nights at a house better than playing online with friends.

Recent games that have tried to introduce the friendly competition between friends would be NFS: Hot Pursuit and SSX to name but a few.  Trying to beat each other’s scores and having them pop up in game as a constant reminder can be handy if you are actually setting out to beat their scores, but what if you’re not? I remember playing through Fable 3 – one of the last games where I was considering comparing things with friends – and whenever I killed a monster or got gold, I had a pop up to say who had killed/received more than me and where I was ranked within my friends list. It was an annoying feature that I felt was unnecessary and I couldn’t exactly give two craps about if Friend1097 had defeated 10 more monsters than me!  Another feature of the leader boards that I’ve never quite understood – why compare me to the rest of the world? With thousands if not millions of people playing games, it’s very rare you’re going to find yourself breaking out of the hundreds if not thousands when it comes to leader boards. After recently starting to play Little Big Planet 2, I found the leader board comparison at the end of each level a bit of a pest. Is it meant to make me feel better when I come in at place 170,938 within the world? No, it doesn’t affect me one bit. I feel neither accomplishment nor disappointment that I’ve attained this level of an achievement. I’ve completed the level – I’m happy enough with this, please just let me progress on!

You’re probably thinking now “Whoa, that’s a lot of negativity for one article!” Don’t get me wrong, I think that the online capabilities have allowed us as gamers and as a gaming community to evolve and allowed us the opportunity to experience the joy of playing with friends that we’ve met via social networking sites and online gaming forums.  As part of the Zero1Gaming team, I frequently enjoy the odd stream with fellow team members playing Worms Reloaded and have also played the odd game with members of other online communities.  Also, where else would we have been given the chance to dive into a game with around fifteen other gamers from around the globe to go into an 8 VS 8 TDM just to see who wins without the use of a massive LAN party being set up?

In conclusion, I feel that online features in games have somewhat dampened the joy and experience we can get from games, especially for those who, like myself, enjoy the single player aspect of the games more than the multiplayer side. Paying a load of money on a game where there’s more replay value in the multiplayer than there is in the single player is something that’s becoming a burden for me as a gamer and I still stand today that the online functions that our gaming hardware is offering us is to blame for this. Question is, where will it take us in another ten years time?