Brole-Playing Game

Final Fantasy XV bromance

Ashley reed shows up on Games Radar to argue that Final Fantasy XV’s all-male cast may be exactly the kind of gender-dissection that major games lack. Although some poorly-worded comments from development staff might make it seem like the game dismisses women entirely, Reed hopes that it might be a rare look into male bonding and relationships honestly and intelligently:

The characters don’t have a problem sharing a tent, offering each other compliments, or manhandling one another out of bed in the morning without feeling like their friendship is weird or emasculating. They also take care of each other in both direct and subtle ways – while Prompto might express concern for Noctis and heal him on the battlefield, Ignis manages to cook dinner and keep the team healthy without it being an assault on his masculinity.

Linking to the Past

The Legend of Zelda ocarina opening

David Jagneaux, writing for Pixelkin, pens this brief article on how growing up without knowing his father changed his experience with The Legend of Zelda. Among other things, Jagneaux’s article discusses how he, and the games, deal with maturation and time, while also reflecting on how much his life has changed since he first explored Hyrule.

 

Evil in Hyrule

GTA iV's Niko Bellic (centre) and a couple of the game's virtual prostitutes.

There are some essays that I keep returning to as sources for my own writing. One such piece, written in 2011, comes from Stokes, a contributor at Overthinking It, who discusses the problem of evil in the Grand Theft Auto and Legend of Zelda series. The problem of evil is basically what it sounds like: if God is all powerful and good, than why is there evil in the world? The theological solution to the problem of evil is free will, people choose to do evil. Goodness is a choice as much as evil. In most videogames, The Legend of Zelda being the template here, the problem of evil is quite tricky indeed, because the player can’t choose to be evil or not. Oh, sure, a player can choose not fight back against the monsters, but in many cases that makes progress impossible so that isn’t really a viable option. Moreover, if the player saves the world, they aren’t choosing to do so because they haven’t done anything other thant what the game has made necessary to progress. Evil should not exist in Hyrule, but it does, hence the problem. Grand Theft Auto, on the other hand, for all the controversy around it, solves the problem of evil with free will. The player can go on murdering sprees and turn the city into a war zone, but to do so they must choose to create evil. In the world of Grand Theft Auto, the player always has the choice, and the presence of evil is a consequence of their choices.

To be honest, I’m not completely sold on Stokes’s argument but like I said, I often bring it up in my own writing because it re-frames the perspectives we take on violence, choice and ethics in games. It’s a different take on some ever-relevant issues in games and I hope that it sticks with you the way it’s stuck with me.

Mod Money

Skyrim gold chest

George Weidman, host of Super Bunny Hop, wrote and produced an episode covering Valve’s recent decision to monetize game mods. Weidman goes over the company’s plans and the many layers of greed and exploitation behind the now scrapped project. It’s a good watch for those unfamiliar with the debacle and also something to keep in mind for what will likely be the next time a distributor tries to pull something like this on its community.

Community Making

World of Warcraft Warlock

Catherine Thériault guest posts her thoughts on The Belle Jar about the limitations and possibilities of videogame communities. Thériault’s article neither apologizes nor glosses over the problems found in gaming communities but it urges those unfamiliar with games to give them—or rather the people who play them—a chance. In her own words:

What you don’t hear about on the news are the average people who play video games. They have families, jobs, and lives outside of the game. I have a job. I go to college. I have a successful relationship. I also have a level 100 warlock that I use to kill in-game monsters and sometimes other players who have signed up for a fight against me.

On Cart Life

Cart Life everything will be fine

Carolyn Petit pens a brief and personal reflection on how Cart Life reflects the instability and anxiety of living pay check to pay check. This is the kind of thing I don’t want to intrude on too much so I’ll just leave you with a hearty recommendation that you give it a read and reflect on things for a few minutes or more.

Calling Reinforcements

Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero fatality

On her blog, Geek Essays, Jenni Goodchild writes a geek essay explaining the concept of reinforcement in media. When someone says that violence or attitudes are reinforced by the media, they aren’t saying that Mortal Kombat will cause someone to pull someone’s head off, rather that Mortal Kombat has certain attitudes about violence that reinforces attitudes found in real life. It’s an important distinction that Goodchild summarizes effectively in a very readable essay. Worth a bookmark.

Silence is Golden

Golden Sun

Devon Carter muses on the silent protagonist trope in RPGs and wonders if it’s time for our roleplaying heroes to speak up a little. While Carter discusses what silence contributes to storytelling, ultimately the silent protagonist feels artificially separated from the world they’re trying to save:”Silence should be an event, not a character trait, unless it is using the character’s muteness wisely and not as an excuse to neglect their characterization.”

I’d like to counter with a piece by Kevin Dickinson from a few years ago, which argues that silent protagonists are not blank slates, their communication just exists outside of spoken language. Dickinson’s approach to understanding the silent protagonist is to take cue from the ways they reveal characterization beyond language.

There are more than these two sides, of course, and whether or not the silent protagonist works in a given game or not is another matter entirely. But the silent protagonist is a narrative trope unique to games, one worth teasing apart a little. I hope writers keep exploring this topic.

A Long View

master.img-001

Wai Yan Tang has been so kind as to summarize and review the findings of a study by Johannes Breuer of the University of Cologne. Breuer’s research—co-authored by Ruth Festl, Thorsten Quandt and GGW featured Rachel Kowert—explores the long-term relationship between general videogame playing and the development of sexist attitudes and finds that sexist attitudes remain stable over the course of the three-year study. That said, Tang reminds the reader that this is a broad study, not a specific one, and that there are a number of limitations to bear in mind before declaring these findings as gospel:

IMO, this study is analogous of taking photographs from a tall skyscraper down into the streets at three different time periods. You get a beautiful view of a lot of things, but not very clear if you try to focus on a single thing. This means we need a high resolution camera focusing on the most relevant aspects for sexist attitudes.

Still, it’s a worthwhile read if you’re interested in the formal study of psychology and if you’re interested about where the conversation stands right now.

Retr-oid-vania

Axiom Verge flamethrower

In the future all our words will be portmanteaus. Jed Pressgrove, perhaps one of the more scathing reviewers out there, has recently turned his attention to the NES-era inspired Axiom Verge, teasing apart not only the game itself, but its genre and its conventions. It’s not a ringing endorsement nor a brutal takedown of anything, rather it’s a look into the complex successes and failings of how a game works the past into the present.