Saturday, August 27, 2011

Your Somewhat Weekly Gaming Digest: August 26th, 2011

First, I'd like to give an overall shout out to The Border House, who have accepted me into their ranks. If you are thus far unaware of its existence, head on over and check it out! My previous post is now there, though now with a considerably wider audience to chat with :)

We'll open up in comfortable territory for me; Altug Isigan breaks down what parts of a video game's narrative is interactive in "Game Narrativity and Interaction". Isigan gets major points from me for providing graphs, 'cause I love a visual mapping of a concept when reading (or listening to) theory. It was a creative writing way to go about organizing game narratives, which might be why it synched so well with me, but it seems like this would be a good read for anyone interested in interactive narratives. Isigan also posted a companion graph, "Mediation, Play and Narrative in Video Games," which shows the process of how the player interacts with both the game and the author. It will be familiar to anyone who has knowledge of cybernetics or literary theory, however the graph makes it accessible to all. The discussion started there is also interesting!

Related to narrative's place in gaming is a sound-off-like article at Kotaku assembled by Mark Serrels, "Do Video Games Need to be Fun?" I personally thought this was a moot conversation, similar to "are games art" topic, because it depends so much on the definition of games. What is a game, much less a video game? And, as you'll see in this article, should we really be saying videogame? The piece is organized from one end of the spectrum to the other, though I left the article with a little bit from each respondent. As for my opinion, I don't think 'games' have to be 'fun,' when those terms are defined in the manner they are most widely used. It's like saying movies all have to be enjoyable to watch, though you feel kinda strange when you say you 'enjoyed' Schindler's List. I found that a useful perspective to have is that we look at things as art or as games, not that they necessarily are such inherently (this is trickier to hold up in concern to games). I can look at an upside-down urinal and see it just as that, and that a maintenance crew should get on that pronto; but if I decide to look at it as art, then another conversation starts. Same with video games; I am going to have a different relationship with TRAUMA if I view it as interactive fiction versus a video game. Games can invoke more than one feeling, and has been trying to do such for a long time (though, maybe we're turning around?).

Speaking of fun, Lars Doucet's blog post on accessibility (somewhat about disability, more about the general audience) really needed to be written. "RPGs, challenge, and grinding" is a misleading title, as the article is about a much larger topic. Doucet writes about how games can still be challenging for those who want it to be, but also can accommodate those who either don't like the challenge or don't have the skill. The article sites games, as well as his own, that provide difficulty control as to have the most inclusive game for all tastes; the idea of extending this to the disabled is only slightly broached, but the overarching idea speaks to a battle against ableism in gaming. If there is something that turns me off from games, it is the developers' need to punish me; I imagine there is something deeply gendered at work and I hate games that are going to squash out fun because I don't have the skill to go on. As well, I despise it when others rationalize my distaste for certain games (I'm looking at you, legion of military-themed FPSs) because I lack the skill, as if the difficulty and need for skill are the only reasons to play a game. I politely disagree.

Along the line of fighting ableism in gaming, a game project caught my eye; Voices in the Dark. It is a Chilean project that is making a game that doesn't require eyesight to play, and reminds me of some cool audio projects I've heard of in the past. However, there is a tactile feel that the demo gives you, as you have to do actions purely on the sound of your environment. Unfortunately, this excludes those who can't use hearing in the gaming community, but I hope games like this sets a bar and gets more interested in making games inclusive and especially for disabled gamers.

Moving from one diversity issue to the next, an article on Kill Screen deserves notice in exploring the topic of gender-bending in video games. Having done research on video games and gender, this topic comes up a lot, though "Walk on the Wild Side" might be the most exposure some will have to the academic side of the issue. Michael Thomsen explores how women avatars are treated differently than men ones, and that the majority of answers (especially the particularly popular "I like staring at a female's behind") are a defense to their gender rather than the complete answer. What I found particularly interesting was this particular case's findings on the the representation of healers in World of Warcraft; while there is an even distribution of men and women playing as healers, way more women avatars heal than men avatars, implying the typical hijinks of gender roles at work.

On the other end of that topic are girls being girls, or, geek girls being the girls geek guys want. Courtney Stoker starts off with the usual tense question that feminists don't like to talk about (or maybe like too much...): Are women who flaunt sexiness to men empowering or demeaning themselves? "'Geek girls' and the problem of self-objectification" does a good job of arguing the former without being insulting, which is rare. I also liked it for looking at the larger picture of gender dynamics rather than slut-shaming, and Stoker's case is hard to argue against when there are so many other manifestations of in-group/out-group the men in gaming commit. Why does Fat, Ugly, or Slutty sum up all of the competitive language towards women? Where is a "Hunkology" column and how come I don't see recruitment for booth hunks? I have to share the best lines here in case people decide to skip this article: "The problem is that women who dress sexy, who frame themselves as sex objects, are rewarded by geek culture for doing soThey get attention, approval, and recognition from the culture when they dress as sexy Leia (or any sexy geek thing) [...] The problem, then, isn’t what women do, but a culture in which the only way that women can be recognized as a desirable part of the culture is when they participate by making themselves consumable sexy objects for geek men."

Wrapping this up is Moving Pixel's podcast on Catherine, "Misogyny, Misandry, and 'Catherine,'" featuring G. Christopher Williams, Kris Ligman, and Skyler Moss. I enjoyed listening, as always, however the title is much more combative than the conversation, so listeners not looking for more lessons on gender shouldn't turn away from this talk. There is more focus on the male characters and how the narrative and gameplay worked together, and any conversation picking apart this game is a good thing. Kris inspired me to take back up writing about transgender characters in Atlus games (mentioned in the podcast) that I found in my research on gender and sexuality in games, so look out for that in the near future!

Until next time, happy gaming!

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