Category Archives: Uncategorized

Diary of a Western Videogame Protagonist

Joel, the protagonist of The Last of Us. He has a scruffy beard and a furrowed brow.
Day 1 – I got a haircut today. It’s a lot shorter now but not working class short, not army short. Back at home, Sarah said that she liked it, that she could see herself playfully gripping tufts of my hair during sex. I said, “Why don’t we test that hypothesis?” and she obliged. God, I love her so much. If anything were to happen to her, I swear…

Day 2 - Sarah’s dead. And just one day after our scene of mildly erotic domestic bliss, too. To mark my loss, I refused to shave today. Shaving would somehow cheapen her passing. And besides, revenge is a dish best served scruffy.

Day 3 - I know who did it and they’re going to pay. Before they took Sarah, my rage was just barely contained, like the infinitely dense point of matter that gave birth to this whole goddamn universe. It’s not that I didn’t have access to a wellspring of manly anger before her death, it’s just that there was no need to unleash it on an unprepared world. But now that she’s gone, there’s nothing standing in my way. Get ready for my big bang.

Day 4 - Killed my first enemy today. Afterward, I looked down at the blood on my hands and thought some deep thoughts about the consequences of my actions, about the effects that this act of violence might have on my character. Would I become just like them? Would revenge fill the void of Sarah’s absence or would it leave me feeling hollow? I didn’t have answers to these questions but I felt in my gut that the only way to resolve them was to pick up a gun and press onward.

Day 5 - My enemies speak with an accent I can’t identify. I’ve been puzzling over it since the start of this whole affair. It’s really starting to bother me. Where are they from? Central America? Eastern Europe? South Asia? Should I ask one of them? I mean, I can’t exactly engage in conversation during the middle of a gunfight but maybe if I carefully incapacitate one of them with a non-mortal wound, I can ask him about his ethnic background before delivering the death blow.

Day 6 - Thought a lot about Sarah’s death today. It was snowing when I found her. I stared in horror at the ground where her body lay, at the painful contrast of blood red and snow white. Something about it made me think about the purity of femininity, about that ineffable, unattainable, effortless quality that Sarah had about her, an aura that seemed irrevocably tied to her downy white breasts and her long, flowing hair. Sarah was my redemption, my one chance to soften the rough edges of my life with something soft, sweet, aromatic. And now she’s gone forever, the most precious woman in the world unceremoniously slain by a group of vaguely ethnic mercenaries.

A gravestone from Max Payne 3.

Day 7 - It’s getting easier to kill people. The first person I killed presented a staggering moral and physical challenge; the most recent person I killed was like an ant beneath my boot. The more people I kill, the better I get at killing people. The quantity of people I have killed and my skill at killing them are positively correlated variables. Killing people is like riding a bike: once you learn how to do it, you’ll never unlearn it. Killing people? It’s like having sex: you never forget your first time and, once you’you’ve tried it, you’ll want to do it over and over.

Day 8 - Thought about giving up today. Sarah’s dead. I’ve killed six dozen people which seems like a lot, come to think of it. And I haven’t changed my clothes all week. But then I looked at the folded picture of Sarah that I store in my wallet. She would want me to keep going. She wouldn’t want me to stop until they’re all dead. I can hear her whispering to me now from beyond the veil: “If I have to be in heaven without you, I want you to send them all to hell.”

Day 9 - I lost track of how many people I’ve killed. Sobering. But I also got my first headshot today! Excuse my exuberance. Killing is wrong, of course, and it’s only justified in my case because of Sarah’s death. Sure, the explosion of viscera that accompanies a perfectly precise pistol shot has a certain aesthetic appeal. The way in which that single perfunctory bullet triggers such a sudden display of grotesque bodily excess is, I’ll admit, nothing short of remarkable. If I have to shoulder the unpleasant burden of vengeance, is it really so bad if I take a little pride in my necessary labor?

Day 10 - Food is starting to get caught in my scruff. Sometimes it’s gross, other times it’s tasty. I’ve been thinking that even after I avenge Sarah, I might keep the beard. More on that later.

Day 11 - I remember reading some Walt Whitman in high school. I had to memorize one of his poems once, the really famous one: “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.” I think I’m starting to understand how Whitman felt when he wrote that. Sarah’s death has defined me or, rather, it’s unrefined me, putting me in touch with a part of myself that is wild, independent, even triumphant. In a funny way, this quest for revenge might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Day 12 - Passed the fifty headshot mark today and rewarded myself with a stiff drink. I have the strangest notion that something good will happen when I reach one hundred. I don’t know why, I don’t know what, but somehow I just know that when I pass one hundred headshots, I’ll be able to feel like I’ve achieved something concrete and real.

Lazarevic from Uncharted 2.
Day 13 - Finally avenged Sarah’s death today. As the leader of my enemies lay dying, sputtering bright red blood with each syllable of accented English, he assured me that I was just like him, that I too had murdered hundreds of people without remorse and without purpose. Whatever.

Day 14 - Wasn’t expecting this. My victory didn’t bring Sarah back. What’s more is that I’m starting to feel a little guilty about what I’ve done. Now that I’ve had some time to catch my breath, I’m beginning to think that I should not have spent the last two weeks systematically eliminating hundreds of people to no practical effect. I just got so carried away when they killed her, you know? I’ve got to be honest, diary. I’m pretty down. I even thought about shaving once, going so far as to lather up my face. But I had used my last razor to stealth kill someone last week so I just sat down and cried, my tears softly rinsing away the shaving cream.

Day 15 - Feeling a lot better today. Sure, Sarah’s gone. But I’ve learned a lot about myself these past couple of weeks. I’ve learned a lot about the futility of revenge, the hollowness of violence, the depth of loss. There was no other way for me to learn these lessons, was there? It had to happen just like this.

Day 16 - Yup. Keeping the beard. It looks awesome.

On The Border: An interview with Jill Murray

Ubisoft scriptwriter Jill Murray.

Ubisoft scriptwriter Jill Murray.

The Border House recently sat down with Jill Murray, a Scriptwriter for Ubisoft Montreal whose most recent shipped title is Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, and is currently working on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Murray got into games at the tender age of 5 years old with games like Lemonade Stand and Jump Man on the Commodore 64. She has always been a writer, and had two published works of young adult fiction under her belt before coming into the games industry to work as a game writer. She will soon be moving on to Ubisoft Quebec to commence her new position as Director, Narrative Design.

The Border House: Did anything in your early life spur your love for writing and your choosing it as a career?

Jill Murray: My mom taught me read shortly before I emerged from the womb. I came into the world at 11:43 on a Monday, correcting my own grammar and looking for writers to lunch with. Growing up I was more into art and music. But I’m pretty sure it was all the reading that turned me in the end.

TBH: What was the toughest thing switching from traditional forms of writing like plays and novels to game writing?

JM: Managing expectations. I hear a lot of “BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR NOVELS?” And I have about 400% more events I feel like I have to attend, and then forget to, and I’m always behind on both reading and playing games now.

Screenshot of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Picture credit: assassinscreed.ubi.com.

Screenshot of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Picture credit: assassinscreed.ubi.com.

TBH: Your official title at Ubisoft is Scriptwriter. Can you tell me a bit about what that position entails?

JM: It’s meant a lot of different things so far. Narrative design and writing, for sure. Also a lot of coordinating things and talking to people, and increasingly, jet lag. On Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I work with four different studios, and three of them are not in Montreal, so I’m really getting farther and farther away from that presumed ideal of “solitary writer” all the time. Continue reading

So, Who’s Going to Buy the New Xbox One?

The hardware of the Xbox One is shown, disassembled to break it into its bits.  It's black.  It doesn't look at all distinguished from any other electronic equipment.

Basically the entire internet (or at least every person I follow on Twitter) was tuned in to Microsoft’s live Xbox reveal press conference in which precious few details were released about the new Xbox One.  Not to be confused with the Xbox 1.  Yeah.

Some things we know:

  • It’s not backwards compatible with the 360.  Boo.  Not unexpected, but it would have been nice.
  • If you want to play a secondhand Xbox One game, you’ll have to pay a fee.  Disappointed in this, because used games are a great way for low budget gamers to be able to enjoy great titles.
  • The controller got like “40 new design changes” which mostly means it’s a bit more refined and smoother in all the right places.
  • There’s going to be a Halo TV show.
  • The new Call of Duty: Ghosts promises to deliver us more emotion while we’re shooting other humans on the battlefield.  The technology looks pretty sweet, in case you need to see every single pore and hair on a man’s arm.  There was a pretty cute dog though, who already has his own Twitter account.
  • It has 8 times the graphic performance of the 360.
  • All downloaded and installed games will be synced to the cloud, so if you sign in on your friend’s Xbox One you can play any games that you own.
  • The Kinect technology is getting a full retooling, with a 1080p camera with a larger field of view, 60 fps video capture for Skyping with mom & dad, and you can walk up to it and say “Xbox On” and it will turn on for you.
  • You’ll be able to connect your cable box to the Xbox One and watch TV through the console instead.  You know, in case you want all your friends to know that you’re watching the “Dance Moms” marathon.
  • It’s going to be releasing later this year.

So there you have it.  More details should be released by E3 time, but if you want a pretty good rundown of information check out this article on Wired.  So, let’s discuss this piece of machinery. Impressed, underwhelmed, blown away?

Lara Croft, Bravery, and Humanity

The following is a guest post from Daniel Bullard-Bates:

Daniel Bullard-Bates is a feminist and an ally with a degree in religious studies. He works at the American Civil Liberties Union and writes fiction when he isn’t playing video games and writing about them. He previously wrote and edited Press Pause to Reflect, and he can now be found on twitter

Lara Croft has become the most sympathetic, charismatic protagonist in action gaming. Admittedly the bar isn’t set very high – most first-person protagonists are ciphers, and the very nature of any gun-oriented franchise turns its hero into a mass murderer. A few of these sociopaths are made more charming by a talented writing staff: Nathan Drake of Uncharted springs to mind, and John Marston of Red Dead Redemption is charismatic and self-effacing enough to be in competition with Lara, but Lara Croft comes closer to being a real human being and a believable action hero.

An illustration of the new Lara Croft. She is shown in a gray tank top, wind blown brown hair.  She is staring at the viewer, standing in front of a rough looking sea with sinking ships.  She has a bow/arrow strapped to her.

One of the greatest successes of the new Tomb Raider is its redefinition of bravery. In most action games, bravery is depicted as either nonchalance or wrathful determination. Nathan Drake quips and snarks his way through armies of mercenaries and supernatural beings. Kratos of God of War fame just seethes and snarls, hurling himself into battle with no regard for his own life. But Lara responds more rationally: when she is being hunted, when she realizes the terrifying thing she has to do, she shows trepidation and fear. In the midst of a firefight, she breathes heavily and sounds appropriately stressed out. In other words, she responds more like any one of us might in similar situations.

Showing fear is not a sign of weakness, and Lara Croft is no less impressive for being emotionally affected by her dire circumstances. In A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, young Bran witnesses his father executing a criminal, and the following conversation about the nature of bravery follows:

“Robb says the man died bravely, but Jon says he was afraid.”
“What do you think?” his father asked.
Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”
“That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.

Obviously the same is true for a woman. By showing her fear, Lara shows herself to be human, to be rational, to be actually experiencing the traumatizing events of the game. Even better, she offers a model of bravery that can teach us something about ourselves and our lives: we may not have superpowers, we may not have trained since youth to fight crime or have adventures, but when we are afraid we can recognize that as an opportunity for bravery. This makes Lara a more impressive and realistic character than most action heroes, and it also makes her a better role model for women and men alike.

It is also a great relief to me that Lara never seems to enjoy killing. She doesn’t gloat when she shoots a man in the head, she doesn’t cheer when she sends an explosive into a group of enemies, and she rarely takes the time to speak or taunt enemies in the middle of combat. When she first kills someone, she has a violent physical reaction. There is a bit of a disconnect that comes from her swift transition into a killing machine, as this scene is followed by a series of deadly encounters, but she never stops sounding upset and stressed out as she is forced to fight for her life and kill over and over again. It’s still a very violent game, and the mechanics encourage a sense of pride in the player’s and Lara’s combat skills, but Lara herself is only doing what she has to do, and she never expresses excitement or joy that this is what her life has become.

While Tomb Raider is well ahead of its competition in the realm of video games, it still lags behind other forms of popular entertainment. The game humanizes Lara by showing her being injured repeatedly, taking a page out of 1988’s Die Hard playbook to show that an action hero isn’t just an invulnerable killing machine. And despite the advances made in her characterization, she is still an impossible superwoman – more human than most, certainly, but she has no clear flaws that are not universal to the human condition, and she seems to be capable of any incredible feat. And, unfortunately, she is largely defined by the men in her life: her father’s teachings, her mentor’s training.

In many ways, the game is a conventional action story, filled with gunfire, explosions, and set pieces. It shows an over-reliance and fascination with gore and extreme violence, especially in one scene that completely beggars belief. (How many people must have been on this island in the first place for such a vast quantity of fresh corpses to be lying around?) Most of the other characters are completely sidelined in favor of Lara’s story. There’s even a damsel in distress, subverted only by the fact that she is being rescued by a female friend instead of a male lover. But between the female lead and the advances in characterization, Tomb Raider feels fresh and exciting.

We’ve seen evidence that many mainstream video game publishers are afraid to release games with female protagonists. This seems to stem from an outdated idea of the audience for video games; publishers believe that video games are still predominantly a pastime for straight young men, and those same straight men will not be able to identify with a female avatar. But the video game audience just keeps getting broader, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to identify with a character as much as I could with Lara Croft. Let Tomb Raider be a challenge to other game designers. While the majority of the industry is wallowing in adolescence, Lara Croft is growing up.

Briefly: The News

A bunch of interesting things have happened today, so I thought I would throw together a brief post.

The Good:
New Dreamfall from Ragnar Tornquist’s new studio - more info at Kotaku and an interview at Rock Paper Shotgun.

Halo 4 Creators Introduce Lifetime Ban For Sexism - An awesome initiative, and we can all agree that Kiki Wolfkill is an awesome name.

The Bad:
Chivalry Dev said adding women to their game would be “degrading”, with bonus “missing the point”.

The Headdesk:
The Vita is like a lady with 4 boobs.

Anything else going on that we’re missing out on? Comment away!

Assassin’s Creed III Open Thread

The Assassins Creed III Liberation logo; it shows concept art of Aveline, an African American woman in Assassin gear, looking straight ahead, with the title of the game superimposed on top.

Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation both released today for consoles in North America, and will launch tomorrow in Europe. These games are notable since they are major titles starring Native American and African American heroes, respectively, something that is still shamefully rare in the game industry.

Is anyone playing either of these games? I know the marketing for the main game in particular has put some people off with its jingoism; Stephen Totilo at Kotaku seems to think the actual game is more complex than that, but if you’re playing it, what do you think? Is Aveline an interesting character? How is the issue of slavery handled in the games? Discuss!

Riot Games confronts their problematic female character design

The logo for League of Legends with a variety of male champions standing behind it.

League of Legends is just about everywhere nowadays and the e-sports phenomenon is becoming bigger and more legitimate with every tournament.  We’ve been critical of the game in the past, but only because we’ve had some pretty devoted League of Legends players who really would love to see their game become more inclusive.  I’ve played more hours of LoL than I would like to admit, though I’ve taken a long hiatus because I grew too frustrated with the way I was treated as a player.  It’s clear to me that in order for e-sports to grow more mainstream, it’s going to have to take a step back and look at not only the toxic environment the players experience (which is being addressed) but also the sexualized female character design.

Another player felt the same way as I do, and started a thread pleading for Riot Games to pay more attention to how characters are designed.

If Riot seriously wants to attract more girls to their games, then I suggest they listen to what the few girls who do play League of Legends have to say. Have a real conversation with them. Entertain the idea that there really is a problem with how women are treated by the players, and how female champions are treated by Riot. I’d find it refreshing if a Riot employee could actually admit that there is a problem, or that I at least raise some valid points. My friend knew Pentakill Olaf was going to be used as a counterpoint to “male champions aren’t sexualized” the second she saw him. But Olaf is not aesthetically pleasing to most women. His physique still caters to the same people that Miss Fortune does. I see the argument that “This is a game. Who cares if a champion is sexy?” That’s not the issue. The problem isn’t that there is no mancandy for women to oggle over. The problem is that champions are treated differently based on whether it is male or female. Riot is completely comfortable sexifying female champion, even in cases where it isn’t actually appropriate for the character.

And Riot have responded in a big way.  There are 59 responses in this thread alone from a Riot employee addressing the player’s feedback.  Not once did I read a dismissal of the concerns.  Instead it seems like there are some real ambassadors inside the Riot studio who are fighting for a more diverse character design across the board.  From softer male characters like Varus and Vladamir, to strong female characters like Kayle.

Continue reading

Community Tuesday #13

The previous week has been slow. I blame the summer, although it’s always summer where I’m from.

Llamaentity will no longer be running Left4Dead 2. If there is anyone who would like to take over, leave a comment or tell me in the IRC.

If you wish to request a game for multiplayer sessions, comments and IRC as well.

To join our IRC, Mumble, Steam, or anything else – the server connection details are on the initial post.

Events for week beginning 28th May 2012

Organizing cross time-zone is very confusing, so we’ve made an iCal feel you can add to your Google Calendar/iCalendar. If you’re signed into Google, it should convert all times to your current timezone – I recommend “agenda” view. We’ll post the events on Steam as well if you join our group.

View our Public Events calendar on Google

Here’s a list of these event times, but the calendar is the gold standard – check that for updates.

  • Wed 30 May: Mass Effect 3
  • Thur 31 May: Diablo 3
  • Fri 1 June, 23:00 GMT and,
  • Sat 2 June 04:00 GMT Guild Wars with SerCorbiuGeisha and Dee.

For Guild Wars, join the IRC and we will add you to the clan guild as soon as possible.

For Mass Effect 3, join the IRC or share your Origin ID below!

For Diablo 3, join the IRC or share your battle.net tags below!

These boots are not made for walking, but I would anyway.

The Type of Woman I Want Others to See: Why I Wore Heels to PAX East

A black and white photo of Aldo black heels, taken from ground level and behind.

A black and white photo of black heels, taken from ground level and behind.

It was probably 40 degrees American and windy. Being from South Florida, I tend to lose track of how different the temperature feels after I get goosebumps on my knees. I spent my first night in Boston clinging to the inside of my detective coat, which was apparently poor at insulating heat. The air felt more brisk as the night went on, as if the energy of all the fans and artists of the game industry dispersed in the atmosphere. In my own room, I went through my meticulously rolled and sectioned outfits in my luggage, choosing which would be the first casuals and professionals alike would gain their initial impressions with. Cue my horror when I notice all of my leggings missing, forgotten on a dresser drawer, from my dresses-of-rather-courageous-length-only wardrobe.

I decided to take a trip to Harvard Square in the morning with the set of casual attire no one would ever see me in- comfy jeans, fluffy yellow hoodie, and feminine flats with a famous checkered pattern. Being a recent admirer of Esperanza Spalding, I decided to let my hair go free, messy but weightless. I figured a quick trip to Urban Outfitters wouldn’t be criminal, since the majority of the gaming community seemed to own everything plaid anyway. I remember enjoying the feeling of being lost in a city crowd, until I was called sir.

At first, I didn’t think the person was talking to me, because I’d first have a panic attack before entering a public space without makeup. It wasn’t until they mentioned a resemblance to Lenny Kravits that I turned to a man staring at me, since I was the only person of color within a few yards radius (something cities like Boston made me extremely sensitive about). Despite my pointed flats and twice-mascara’ed lashes, this gentleman felt it necessary to remind me that everyone saw who I ‘really’ was. That I wasn’t fooling anyone. On the train back to my hotel to change before the convention, I told myself I’d never dress like that again.

There’s two sides to these mass gathering of gaming folk, one being that I can talk with anyone about my interests, but I must also appear professional at all times. An unfortunate part about being a professional who is transgender is to be convincing. Whether my new acquaintance or I likes it or not, they will make a snap judgment of me, that I’m a woman, or I’m obviously not a woman. In an industry dominated by heterosexual men, my appearance is closely tied to any form of success. I have to battle with the implicit tension of possibly threatening their sexuality, or just their reputation with being associated with someone like me. You see, people don’t believe that I’m a woman because I say so; even self-proclaimed liberal and open-minded individuals will backdrop my identity thinking that I wasn’t always a woman, and that it’s perfectly okay that I made this ‘choice.’ What’s worse, just wearing clothing from the women’s section isn’t enough. In order for men to feel comfortably heterosexual around me, I have to be near porn-star grade in appearance, as if to make up for what’s different about me. Everything may be unintentional and reasonable considering the unlikelyhood they have experience with people who are transgender, but it is far from innocuous. This is why I wore heels every day at PAX East.

About 17 minutes after I read Leigh Alexander’s “Types of Women Men Like Better Than Me,” I cried. I cried because it prompted a good string of tweets about how insecure I felt over managing my image in a professional space. I try to make it a policy to not say depressingly self-conscious things in public, but it was a needed catharsis. I was also tired with the amount of effort it took just to appear average, to have a fair shot as just being a person. I lied to all of my friends who expressed concern over my heeled travel methods; I shrug and smile until I go home and tear up in pain because that’s what I have to do. There, I said it.

These boots are not made for walking, but I would anyway.

These boots are not made for walking, but I would anyway.

I wore knee-high laced up leather boots to the “Death of Vox Games” panel, where the group metamorphosed into Polygon. Standing in line during Q&A, I was anxious because I was only woman going to engage the panel. I wondered if my dress was too short, if my hair was okay, and if I was legitimate enough to press the Polygon staff on their growing but still lacking diversity. This isn’t unique to Polygon, but most publications both paid and hobbyist. They took a bold step of attempting to set a new standard for writing about games, and are self-aware about the precedent they should be taking on this issue. What shocked me about their response was the small amount of women that applied to write for them. Upon memory, out of about 650 applications, 12 were women writers. Doing some quick calculator work, that’s not even 2%. Assuming their newest recruits were headhunted, I was in the physical presence of a quarter of the women applicants that very day (I included myself in that). Why is this? Obviously, since there was a mess over Polygon’s opening line-up, people would aim to fill this need they have, right?

It wasn’t until I went to another panel that day that someone recognized me from my question. She told me that she aspired to write about games but, after her foray into the scene, bowed out because of the homogenous mastheads of online publications. Since videogame culture started from an angle that marginalized minorities, she found staff that didn’t explicitly support diversity issues to be the ones to hand wave these sorts of concerns. Having now personally met some of Polygon’s staff, I’m confident that their representation of diversity is definitely a concern. However, I can see how their involvements with past publications show they stayed either silent or blissfully unaware of minority concerns.

She made me realize that not everyone is like me, that not everyone feels like they have to contort themselves in order to fit in. Some people give the system the finger and move on with their talent elsewhere. Polygon limits its diversity by being a super team of established writers, because minorities are still catching on that there’s a need for their voices in the industry and that not everyone in gaming excuses discrimination with all of the usual flawed arguments. I was part of the rarity that came knocking on their door; most minority talent needs to be discovered for the first time and cultivated. It’s not until minority voices are valued on teams such as Polygon’s that people like her would take a risk and apply. She made me reflect on the example I’m setting for other writers, and that possibly one day, others would look to my path.

I’m not quite sure what to change yet, but I figured I should be candid. That while I love the things I do and try to love the person I am, there’s an incredible pressure to be attractive just to have a chance. Past this ramble, I will continue to wear heels and be incredibly conscious of my appearance. This is my personal path that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, but there needs to be stories of transgender experience in writing about videogames. About being a woman in videogames. I wonder, with the next person I meet, will they see the woman I want them to see?