Saturday, August 20, 2011

Your Somewhat Weekly Gaming Digest: August 20th, 2011

Some of my thoughts on Bastion were echoed in the Moving Pixel team's podcast, "Exploring the Alien Frontier of Bastion." If anyone is still skeptical about whether or not they should give the game a try, this conversation will most likely dispel any of your worries. They, mostly Kris Ligman, associate the game with a western, or at least the themes of a western. I noticed through my play-through topics such as xenophobia and ideas similar to manifest destiny, as well as 'local color' type narration. They go on a lot about what Bastion did right, as did much of the gaming community, but with this podcast, you get a little anecdotal embellishments instead of an impersonal review.

Bastion is also mentioned within a great article over at Your Critic is in Another Castle, On Gaming Death. Kate Cox reminds us of a game mechanic and narrative device that is commonly over-looked: death. The analysis spans over different games and why the game over for one character creates vastly different feelings, if any, than another. I noticed with myself, I cared very little for the main character of Bastion, because the main mechanics allowed me to. The story would go on and he would make it to the end, it just takes Rucks getting the story right. It also revealed to me a big inconsistency with Mass Effect 2; Shepard dies in the very beginning, but whenever they die later on in the game, it's game over. Because I play on ez-mode I never died during Mass Effect 2, so I didn't really think of this, but Shepard and death has a strange relationship stylistically. Cox mentions how there's little anxiety over Chell dying in Portal 2 because of the quick reloading time, and squat consequences, which raises the question if players would care more about Chell if there was an involved death scene. You can find a couple of my comments on the article's discussion below to find it more about what I think on this topic.

The last mention of Bastion for this week is over at Yahtzee's Extra Punctuation column in the article "Game Stories Demand Focus." As it could be inferred from my last post, I don't find Bastion to be that much of an exemplar of good storytelling in a video game, and I also don't think that the character-centered focus Yahtzee suggests is really the right answer. Bastion did a neat and well done trick with the nuance-filled narration, and it was cute when it brought the meta-story to the center. However, only Rucks was at all a fully-fleshed character; I really think Zulf should have stolen the show to make a really awesome 'villain,' but he was just used as an antagonist rather than a compelling character. Zia, as well, was completely flat and stereotypical; it seemed like she was only there as a random connection between everyone rather than a unique character on her own. And the kid is honestly forgettable, as there isn't anything about him other than your actions. What I actually found interesting about the article was presenting the problem of having an interesting, flawed character (which is the overall go-to idea for when you write characters in fiction) when the mechanics can't be flawed. That section used as a thought experiment is worth it enough to read.

Speaking of meta-story, The Stanley Parable has quickly made its way across blogs and into hearts this past week. I am definitely among its fans, despite the bit of run-around I had to do to obtain it. It's a short and sweet freeware mod of Half Life 2 that presents the complications of storytelling in a video game in a very entertaining manner. If you haven't played it, definitely try it out or watch a YouTube video of the walkthrough, it'll be worth it. I especially liked another article from Moving Pixels, "Even Winning Feels Bad: Agency in The Stanley Parable," but won't get into it here to avoid spoiling. Definitely give it a read and give your thoughts in the comments here.

I've encountered a lot of articles talking about morality systems in games, but if you haven't read one, Brandon Perdue's "Ethical Dilemmas and Dominant Moral Strategies in Games" is a nice go-to for an exhaustive detailing of the majority of the analysis out there. They outline the problems of the way games have been trying to establish morality within their design, but the largest flaw has been attaching morality to winning. Because a lot of morality systems reward players for going into extremes, which fails to represent morality as we know it (not black and white all the time).  Predue also uses the example of the decision on Virmire in Mass Effect to save either Ashley or Kaiden to show the detachment of morality and succinctness with the narrative for game purposes. Because the two were the least interesting of all your team members (from Perdue's observations of polling and my personal opinion), it came down to the usefulness of each to decide who to save; factors like who you could romance, since you can only romance one, or which your party needs more in term of skills. Speaking from my experience, I kept Kaiden around in my original play-through because he was romance-able, not that he was anything more interesting than Ashley, even though I was totally mackin' it with Liara anyway. So there was little emotional weight to the decision, more like just efficiency. 

Along with poorly implemented morality systems, another Moving Pixels article came out about Catherine (busy folk, aren't they?). What I liked about "Sheep Men: Choice and Individuality in Catherine" was its focus on the game's portrayal of men. The community can be quick to pick a game apart for its misogyny (and heck, there's a whole bunch in this game), but I'm glad there's someone writing about the awkward men of this game. Jorge Albor also mentions how the morality meter doesn't work in the game as it contradicts many of the mechanics it's supposed to be measuring. The idea that Vincent is choosing Freedom vs Order perpetuates the stereotype of men either fleeing from commitment at all costs until they eventually wise up and settle down with a woman.

However, at the Border House (I gush knowing that a wonderful place like this exists), bullshit is thrown out the window at Catherine's claim at being a 'mature, adult game.' Gunthera1 did a great job on making sure "Catherine: Is this Mature Rated Game More than Just Sex?" didn't rely on old, hackneyed rhetoric that would demonize all men, but called out how much Atlus' game relied on stereotypes to tell its story. I've noticed that most people who wrote about Catherine casually mentioned the horrible use of sex stereotypes, kind of not wanting to open the topic because it's just so obvious, but this article really sums it up and was needed. A great read if you are unsure of how someone could find fault with Catherine's story about gender; I remember mentioning some points this article makes a week or so ago on a Catherine article, and a poster had no idea anything amiss was going on about gender stereotypes. So please, give this piece a shot!

And to wrap things up, part 2 of the ever controversial contest for Mass Effect 3's default FemShep. This time, everyone gets to choose her hair color since there was such an uprising about her being a blonde. I have many issues with this event as a whole. I found nothing wrong with the original default FemShep, so I'm skeptical as to why BioWare has decided to change her. As well, I didn't think that the voting process was really at all a good way to go about getting the fans involved, especially the ones that wanted a more recognizable FemShep in advertising. And while I can understand the frustration of a very predictable outcome to that poll (the model that was the closest to the typical standard of beauty for women), I felt the comments against blondes were as damaging as the marginalization of other the groups not represented in the model chosen. Blondes go through life facing their stereotypes and are often objectified, even by those looking to battle the currently held standard of beauty. I just think the whole thing is a big mess. But if you want, you can go vote on the Mass Effect's Facebook page.

Until next time, happy gaming!

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