What Are You Playing Wednesday

Mario Kart 8 with Princess Peach on a dirt bike.

Mario Kart 8 with Princess Peach on a dirt bike.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

  • What games are you playing this week?
  • Would you recommend those games to other Border House readers?
  • What games have you ranting?
  • Are any of those games listed ones that you want to see covered on the site?

I have not been playing anything recently. Work has been really busy and I just haven’t had a lot of free time. But, Mario Kart 8 arrived today so I am looking forward to trying that out with some friends.

What have you been playing?

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What Are You Playing Wednesday

Belfry gargoyle from Dark Souls 2

Belfry gargoyle from Dark Souls 2

Happy mid-week everyone!

  • What games are you playing this week?
  • Would you recommend those games to other Border House readers?
  • What games have you ranting?
  • Are any of those games listed ones that you want to see covered on the site?

I played a lot of Dark Souls 2 this week. Currently, I am stuck on the Belfry gargoyle battle. Though I like the call back to the previous game, this battle is really difficult for me!

What have you been playing?

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Gender Neutral Cover Art

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

Cover art for the upcoming Dragon Age Inquisition features a fully armored character as viewed from behind. The gender of this character is not telegraphed because of this artistic choice.  The original game and expansion pack, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, also featured a fully armored gender neutral character. The second main game, Dragon Age II, had a cover that showed a male Hawke (protagonist).

Cover art that displays gender neutral characters seems to be logical in games where you can create either a female or male character. The cover art is the first impression that players get of a game. For good or bad, they will make assumptions based on that image.

While it is true that the text on the back of the box can clarify character creation options, it sometimes fails to do so. For instance, in another BioWare game (Mass Effect) the cover shows a male Shepard.  The back of the box states: “As Commander Shepard, you lead an elite squad on a heroic, action-packed adventure throughout the galaxy. Discover the imminent danger from an ancient threat and battle the traitorous Saren and his deadly army to save civilization. The fate of all life depends on your actions!” A bullet point states: “Customize your character and embark in an immersive, open-ended storyline” Customizable does not always mean gender options. Nowhere on this box is it evident that Commander Shepard could be a female character. From the box art to the text, one could easily assume that Shepard is only ever male. A gender neutral cover would not have made this customization option explicit, but it could prevent the initial impression of the game as being only male protagonists.

I am glad to see that BioWare is going back to the gender neutral covers (at least for this game). I hope that this is a trend in gaming. But, I also want the text on the back of the box telling players that customization also included gender options. This is a selling point, please make it more visible.

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What Are You Playing Wednesday

Madjula in Dark Souls 2

Madjula in Dark Souls 2

Happy mid-week!

  • What games are you playing this week?
  • Would you recommend those games to other Border House readers?
  • What games have you ranting?
  • Are any of those games listed ones that you want to see covered on the site?

I started Dark Souls 2 yesterday and ended up playing for several hours both yesterday and today. I just got to Heide’s Tower Of Flame and I love the game so far.

What have you been playing?

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Nintendo Updates Their Statement on Tomodachi Life

A red Nintendo 3DS with a  rainbow stylus assortment.

A red Nintendo 3DS with a rainbow stylus assortment.

Yesterday I lamented Nintendo’s original response to fan led requests for same sex relationships in the 3DS sim game Tomodachi Life. But later that same day Nintendo issued a second press release:

We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.

I am disappointed that this was not included in the original game. I am angry and hurt by the words of that first press release.

But, I am hopeful for the future. This new statement shows that Nintendo realizes that lesbian, gay, and bisexual players ARE their fans and that their representation in games (or lack thereof) does matter. My hope is that this realization spreads within Nintendo and into the mindset of other companies. This is a matter that goes beyond Tomodachi Life and into all games.

Representation matters! It matters for sexuality, gender, race, class, disability. It matters for all people. We want to see ourselves reflected in our media. I am hopeful that the fallout from the original press release can act as one of a series of wake up calls to development teams.  The player base is and always has been diverse, so let’s work to create more diverse and inclusive games.

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Nintendo’s “Tomodachi Life” Decision IS Social Commentary

tomodachi

Nintendo’s recent statement regarding the lack of same sex romance options in their game Tomodachi Life has been making waves. Tomodachi Life is a life simulator game on the 3DS. It allows players to create Miis that interact with other players. The game allows flirting, romance, and marriage. That is, if you are playing your Mii as straight.

Fans asked Nintendo to allow same sex relationships within the game. Tye Marini started the #Miiquality campaign to let Nintendo know that fans want to see more diversity in  games. LGBT players want themselves to be reflected in the virtual worlds that they visit.

So, let’s look at  Nintendo’s response to these requests:

Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of ‘Tomodachi Life’. The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that ‘Tomodachi Life’ was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.

 

The game’s tagline for US release is: “Your friends. Your drama. Your life.” I suppose that is only true if you are straight.

As Samantha Allen says in her piece over at Polygon (which you should all go read) “Nintendo made its choice today. And while the words in its statement distill down to the most basic form of hatred, the assumptions that inform that hatred are more troubling still. It’s time for Nintendo to live up to its reputation for innovation and choose differently.”

Nintendo saying that they never wanted to make any social commentary misses the point. They are creating a virtual world. Within the mere act of creating that world, they made a social comment. They chose, from the ground up, what would and would not be included. Romance and marriage were seen as important interactions. They were coded into the game. A neutral decision would be making that option available to ALL the Miis. Instead they coded it to be only opposite sex couples. Whether or not Nintendo admits it, that exclusion is a social comment.

They decided who is included and who is excluded.

Everything in a game is deliberate. Every decision is made by a real person: the color of a flower on the side of the road, the sounds a character makes, the birds flying in the sky . If the colors of an object are randomized then that randomization instruction (and the parameters of what is possible within that set) is coded by a person. Every single thing you see in a game was put there by someone.

Games are art. Games are meant to be fun and play, but they are also creative works. As art, they are part of our cultural narrative. The games we create as a society say something about us. Like other media (movies, TV, books) they tell us about our dreams, our goals, our fears, fantasies, what we find funny, and what we find scary.

Nintendo is simply wrong to say that this decision doesn’t provide social commentary. Excluding an entire group of people from this game says volumes. They have told a group of us that we don’t matter. Our relationships don’t matter. Those relationships do exist in the real world, but in a fun alternate world of Nintendo’s making they are erased. That IS social commentary.

Thank you, Nintendo, for telling me that my erasure is your version of a playful alternate world.

Posted in General Gaming | Tagged , | 5 Comments

What Are You Playing Wednesday

Hunting a Lagombi. It looks like a giant monster bunny living in a winter climate.

Hunting a Lagombi. It looks like a giant monster bunny living in a cold climate.

It is late on a Wednesday and time for What Are You Playing:

  • What games are you playing this week?
  • Would you recommend those games to other Border House readers?
  • What games have you ranting?
  • Are any of those games listed ones that you want to see covered on the site?

Sadly, I have not playing much this week. I did, however, play a slight amount of LEGO City Undercover and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. I’ve been working on getting the G-rank rathalos armor.

What have you been playing?

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Samus Sings: Talking to Maddy Myers about Peace in Space

A blond woman standing in front of a microphone playing the keytar.

Maddy Myers, assistant editor of Paste Games and singer-songwriter for The Robot Knights

“Let’s Players” record themselves talking while they play games; Maddy Myers of Paste Games prefers to sing. Last month, she released her first solo project Peace in Space, a three-song EP written and sung from the perspective of Samus Aran in Super Metroid. As Myers puts it, the EP is “fan fiction set to music.”

I checked in with Myers shortly before the release of Peace in Space to learn more about the inspiration behind her “Metroid musical” and to ask her what it was like to write from the perspective of one of gaming’s most famous female protagonists.

Peace in Space, I learned, has had a long incubation period. Although Myers recorded the songs fairly recently, she first wrote them three years ago. Returning to them now, she says, is like “uncovering the artifacts of my old life.” The fact that Myers compares this process to Samus scanning artifacts in a Metroid game is indicative of Myers’ deep identification with the character.

The “old life,” for Myers, is a time defined by solitude. Three years ago, Myers was living alone for the first time: no family, friends, or roommates. It was during this time that she was first introduced to the Metroid series. She first played the Metroid Prime games before seeking out and completing every other game in the series.

In Super Metroid, Myers found a female hero who “lives alone and works alone.” Peace in Space, Myers says, is “what I felt while I was playing,” a direct translation of Myers’ experience of the game into song. But, because her experience of the Metroid series is inextricably bound up in her experience of striking out on her own, Peace in Space is also a deeply personal album.

“It’s theoretically about Metroid,” Myers says. “But it’s also egotistically about me, about my life, about reevaluating it. Samus is the metaphor that I held onto during that process.”

During this pensive time in Myers’ life, she filled in the space left by Samus’ silence with a combination of Metroid “head canon”and her own feelings about living alone.

“If you spend too much time by yourself, you start to lose your mind,” Myers observes. “You have to go through patterns to remind yourself that you’re still alive.”

The songs in the Peace in Space EP each repeat these patterns in different ways. The opening number, “Varia” slowly builds from a contemplative mood to a determined one as Samus discovers the tools that the Chozo have left behind to help her complete her mission.

“It’s like going back to your old bedroom,” she says, “and finding something that you’re really touched by.”

“Varia” follows Samus as she suits up and defeats her enemies. She sings: “I’m getting stronger every second / And I’m going to survive / I’m gonna wade into liquid fire and come out alive.” “Varia,” Myers summarizes, is about Samus’ mission but it’s also about “finding and rebuilding yourself.”

The cover art for Peace in Space.

The cover of Peace in Space.

The second song, “Ridley’s Theme,” finds Myers breaking from traditional conceptualizations of Samus as a wounded woman who will never be able to overcome her childhood trauma.

“I wanted to make her human without making her irreperably damaged,” Myers explains. “I’ve always had a problem with the idea that Samus is extremely psychologically damaged from this trauma and she’ll never get over it. There’s probably a good way to write her tragedy, but maybe a woman should write it.”

“Ridley’s Theme” presents a strong, confident Samus unfazed by her past. The defiant tone of the song, Myers notes, is an intentional counterpoint to the sexist way in which most narrative media depict psychological trauma as an insurmountable obstacle for women. Metroid: Other M controversially indulged in this bad habit, presenting the player with a weaker, more vulnerable Samus. But Myers’ Samus is ready for Ridley.

“I knew you would find me,” she sings. “And now I will waste you.”

“Meditation,” the third and final song on the EP, is the heart of Peace in Space. The song features the lyric, “Everything is gonna be okay,” sung over and over again.

“This is the sort of thing that Samus would have to tell herself all the time,” Myers explains.

But “Meditation,” like “Ridley’s Theme” respectfully toes the line between self-doubt and complete breakdown. Samus gives voice to her fears (“What if I’m caught off guard, and I’m not prepared after all?”) but ultimately overcomes them in a quiet moment of self-assured triumph (“I am always my own hero”).

For Myers, “Meditation” is about accepting your weaknesses without losing sight of your strengths. The Samus of “Meditation” expresses trepidation but knows that she “actually has to do something in her moment of truth.” Samus, like Myers, finds a hero in herself during a difficult moment.

“In Super Metroid,” Myers recalls, “Samus is just investigating the situation independently. It’s all about her own journey. She’s doing it because she wants to know what’s going to happen. It’s her own life. And that really intrigues me: people doing things for their own benefit and thinking, ‘I’m worth it.’”

As a whole, Peace in Space serves as a brief but ambitious exploration of loneliness, determination and self-worth told through the lens of Super Metroid. Over the course of three songs, Myers constructs a compelling version of Samus: a solitary woman who intimately knows both her limits and her capabilities.

But Myers is not content with the songs in the EP alone. In the future, she would like to expand the project to include songs performed by other characters: Mother Brain, Ridley, perhaps even a baby Metroid. Although her dream of a stage play might be impossible to license, Myers still envisions a Metroid musical concept album in her future. Like Samus, she has some work left to do.

Peace in Space is available for download for $3 USD on Maddy Myers’ Bandcamp.
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Welcome to the Machine: the ambivilent tone of The Last Story

After introducing her topic in an episode of “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” Anita Sarkeesian begins with some variation of the following: “It’s both possible—and even necessary—to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while also being critical of its more pernicious aspects.” I sense the phrase is meant as at least a partial vaccine for the notorious levels of harassment she faces but it’s nonetheless useful to keep in mind in approaching the things one is drawn to. That said, it’s also important to address problematic content without making excuses. Sometimes it’s possible to reconcile the value of a game with its uncomfortable material and other times it’s not. Right now a lot of writers are expressing disappointment and anger toward Metal Gear Solid V over this very problem (trigger warning for discussions of sexual violence).

A major problem with self-professed gamers is that they seem unwilling to parse the more nuanced avenues of pop art: they want games to be appreciated but Anita Sarkeesian is doing it wrong; Zoe Quinn is harassed for making a game about depression but Tetris is a miracle cure for PTSD. I’m preaching to the choir now but I bring this up because games reflect and comment on the cultures they come from: players take these experiences with them so it’s worthwhile to evaluate how these experiences might impact a person. It’s also important to know when a game’s problems outstrip its value. For about 20 of the 25 hours it takes to beat The Last Story, the game weaves an elaborate anti-authoritarian tale about the corrupting influence of power. Just before it resolves the plot, however, it snaps back and validates the status quo.

The Last Story was developed by Mistwalker studio, brainchild of Final Fantasy creator and thesaurus owner, Hironobu Sakaguchi. The Last Story initially seems to have a lot going for it: it presents a racist, totalitarian class structure and the downtrodden people trying to get by in it. The deeper into the game, the more influential the hero becomes and the more damage his behaviour causes. As stakes get higher it becomes clearer that the kind of political power he comes to command cannot be used for good because it is engineered to harm those unable to defend themselves: just power must come from outside to overthrow the current system. Then in the last few hours the other shoe drops and The Last Story reinforces the hierarchy it appeared for so long to revolt against.

Continue reading

Posted in Console Games, General Gaming | Tagged | 10 Comments

What Are You Playing Thursday

An enemy from the 4 kings battle in Dark Souls.

An enemy from the 4 kings battle in Dark Souls.

I am glad to say that Border House is back! Let’s celebrate with a What Are You Playing:

  • What games are you playing this week?
  • Would you recommend those games to other Border House readers?
  • What games have you ranting?
  • Are any of those games listed ones that you want to see covered on the site?

In the last few weeks I have mostly played World of Warcraft. But, I did spend some time with LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and Dark Souls. I cannot seem to defeat the 4 Kings in Dark Souls right now. Finally, I started Moebius Empire Rising.

Hopefully I will be getting more gaming time in soon.

What have you all been playing?

Posted in Off-Topic | Tagged | 14 Comments