What about our fans? Are they privileged? Let me tell you about Anders. He was one of two male love interests in Dragon Age II, and the only one of the two that would actually make his intentions known to the player without the player expressing interest first. If you were nice to him, he would make a pass at you, and you could turn him down, and that would be the end of it. And some fans REALLY did not like that.
Some of them asked for a gay toggle; because in a game where there’s mature themes, slavery, death, and none of which we offer toggles for, encountering a gay character? OOH, beyond the pale. They didn’t want to be exposed to homosexuality.
And this one fan on our forums posted that he felt too much attention had been spent on women and gays and not enough on straight male gamers. For all of whom he personally spoke, of course. ‘It’s ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamers, when in the past I would only have to say fans.’ The purpose of the romances in Dragon Age II was to give each type of fan an equal content. Two romances whether you’re male or female, straight or gay.
How upsetting for this particular Straight Male Gamer to realize he wasn’t being catered to. This was not equality to him, but an imbalance; an imbalance of the natural order. He did not want equality, he’s not interested in equality. To him, from his perspective, equality means he’s getting less. Less options? Actually, no, the number of options we had in that game was actually the same number of options that he would have received earlier. What was his issue was the idea that there was attention being spent on other groups, which SHOULD have rightly gone to him.
Do ALL straight male gamers feel exactly the same as he does? Absolutely not. In the thread where this came up in fact, there was quite a few guys who came in and identified themselves as straight male gamers and said ‘I actually don’t have an issue with that, as long as I receive an experience I enjoy, I think other people should be able to enjoy that too.’ But if you think that Straight Male Gamer Dude is an outlier among our fanbase, you were not paying attention.
This is Anita Sarkeesian, she’s the author of the Feminist Frequency, a blog which examines tropes in the depiction of women in popular culture. You’ve probably all heard about this, it’s a matter of public record, she announced a Kickstarter to start a web series to look at the tropes in video games and she was subjected to a campaign of vicious abuse and harassment by male gamers. Why? Well, because she represents to these guys the loss of their coveted place in the gaming audience. Never mind that well all know Goddamn well that they’re still at the top of the totem pole. What they see themselves losing is sole proprietorship over their domain. That’s what it is.
Everything that is changing about the gaming industry to accommodate these players, to them, is diluting the purity of gaming which has belonged solely to them. That’s what this is all about. And here’s the thing, I’m pretty certain that our industry fears the scrutiny of those guys way more than the scrutiny of everyone else. Because those are the guys that scream at the top of their lungs, they spend their time on every internet forum, they spend their time making Metacritic reviews. Infuriate them, and you become a target. It’s so much easier to say “Well, that’s what our fans are like. There’s nothing we can do.” And that’s bullshit.
They didn’t set the tone, did they? We set the tone. What we put out there, what we permit, whether it’s on our forums, whether it’s on Xbox Live, the things that we permit we are in effect condoning. What happened to Anita, we the industry, are partly responsible for. We’re in part to blame. And if the idea of moral responsibility doesn’t phase you, consider the idea that the time will probably soon come that this will also amount to legal responsibility.
also known as “Why I Love And Support BioWare Games”
Bioware ain’t perfect, but good gosh it does give me the warm fuzzies when one of their crew knocks it out of the park.
So I picked up Dragon Age: Origins again this week on one of those Steam sales so ridiculous you just can’t help yourself. Seven dollars for what was originally ~$100 worth of content? Why not! (which may as well be the Steam sale motto.) I’d played it years ago on the 360 but I returned it after a few days because it just wasn’t doing it for me.
Now though? Now I’m enthralled. I suspect part of it is the PC vs. console difference. On the 360, Origins played like a slowed-down Mass Effect with swords (which, I mean, it kinda was). But now, playing on PC, I find myself playing from above, using the isometric view pioneered by games like Neverwinter and Baldur’s Gate, and it’s incredible.
But something else has happened since I played Origins on the 360 years ago: I’ve learned to play isometric RPGs. The Torchlight twins taught me the glories of the Diablo-like with its hotkey abilities and loot-finding tendencies, and I’ve discovered, playing Origins again, that Origins is much closer to Diablo or Torchlight than Mass Effect. Now that I have a schema for the game, I’m tearing through it, maximizing my use of skills, switching constantly between active party members, positioning characters carefully, etc.
Something similar happened a few years ago when I rediscovered Fallout 3. Like Origins, I’d played it years before and quit a few hours in. It had felt like work, and I died constantly. But then I picked up Skyrim and spent a few hundred hours learning the Bethesda-style. When I went back to Fallout 3, it was like playing a totally different game. Skyrim had trained me to play Fallout.
In the pedagogy business, we call this phenomenon “transfer,” and it happens when students take something they’ve learned in one class or discipline and apply it in a different class. It’s kind of a holy grail for a lot of educators, and as it turns out, games teach transfer ridiculously well.
Now think of how many of those female characters and protagonists are oversexed, created for the male gaze, or put in an inactive damsel role for the plot of the game. Representation matters. A Study last year proved that exposure to tv shows increased the self esteem of young white boys and markedly decreased the confidence and self esteem of girls across the board (and we haven’t even started on the representation of characters of color and the effect it has on children’s self perception).
Video games are a different media, and even more concerning if representation metrics are changing how our kids think of themselves. Especially knowing that 67% of American Households have video game consoles and 91% of Children play video games regularly, how do you think the portrayal (and lack of portrayals) of women and girls in these games is affecting little girls – or influencing how little boys view their importance and/or influence over them?
— Comics. Movies. Lit. Pop Culture. The Smash Survey is an upcoming podcast project that will critically explore the representation of race, gender, and queer identity in media and pop culture in a fun and engaging format.
Addendum to my last post: when that klaxon starts… klaxoning, its not like I hunt down every guard in a fit of rage. No, they pretty reliably come to me. Every guard in every level of the game has to come hunt for the intruder, since they’re just doing what the klaxon tells them to. And since the intruder has nowhere to hide, the intruder keeps taking headshots and feeling progressively worse with each one.
I mean, these guys aren’t guards all the time, right? They have imaginary wives and maybe an imaginary child! Maybe their wives are trying to talk them into a second imaginary child, but the Shadowy Corporation just isn’t giving them enough guard hours to make that even remotely feasible. Plus, have you seen health plans for your standard “pistol and a flashlight” guard? It’s like, “sure, yeah, you patrol this dimly lit warehouse and hope a heavily armed mercenary doesn’t shoot you in the neck, but the moment you get tranq’d for an hour and go to a hospital, sorry, no coverage for you.”
Not like the heavies—the ones covered in armor carrying miniguns—their health plans are golden, lucky bastards. Figures, right? They’ve got armor three inches thick and their deductibles are, like, $100. Mr. Pistol-and-a-Flashlight spent $4,000 getting himself checked after being unconscious for an hour (which is, by the way, super bad for you, even if Heavily Armed Mercenary properly calibrated his tranq load for your specific body weight and med tolerance, which—in today’s Heavily Armed Mercenary climate, doubtful.), and ShadowCorp’s plan wouldn’t even cover it! Whatever.
I guess it’s almost better if Heavily Armed Mercenary just shoots him. At least then he doesn’t have to go to Imaginary Mother-in-Law’s house and make nice next weekend. She’ll give him that talk again, and she and his wife will share that look, and he’ll get agitated and put his hands on the table and look at the placemat really hard, and try to be even and calm, even when even and calm turns into a growled monotone. He knows ShadowCorp doesn’t promote from within. He’s looking, okay? Just—this isn’t what he thought he’d be doing. He only started doing the guard thing to pay for that electrical engineering degree, but walking all night every night—that same little loop around those crates—got so tiring that he quit the engineering program. It would be there later, right? He just has to find another job that offers better hours with less strain. So yeah, he’s trying to quit ShadowCorp. But it’s not as easy as you make it sound, Susan.
So do it, heavily armed mercenary. Shoot him. Just end it. A funeral would be cheaper than what another neurologist visit would cost.
Wait—wait a second—didn’t they announce through the ShadowCorp listserv last week something about the terms of their life insurance policy changing? Something about payouts not covering workplace-related homicide?
Oh no. No no no—
Anyway. That’s why I feel bad about killing the guards.
Instructions for playing stealth games like me: