Tag Archives: PS3

Infamous 2: Using women’s bodies to tackle morality

The above screenshot is a compilation of two images from the upcoming PS3 game, Infamous 2.  On the left, a darker skinned scantily-clad women wears tight leather (or is it pleather?) pants, what appears to be a tribal coif of sorts, tall combat boots, and a piece of draping fabric barely covering her breasts.  Her tightly-toned midriff shows and she stands with a pose that conveys confidence.  On the right, an Asian woman with short (or slicked back) hair wears a black pantsuit with a white button-up shirt underneath.  Aside from her lower forearms, hands, face, and neck, no skin is showing.  She stands calmly, looking approachable.

Two very different women here, both of them with a motive in the plotline.  The woman on the left, Nix, is a “”hedonistic guide that coaxes Cole into not thinking about the consequences of his actions.”  Kuo, the woman on the right, a “NSA agent working to help Cole defeat the Beast.”  In other words, evil = barely dressed temptress, good = fully clothed businesswoman.

There are a few things wrong with this.  The biggest issue that I have with it is how a woman’s clothing is used to determine her moral standards within the game.  If we took the same situation but used male characters, would the evil character be any less dressed?  How often is the quantity of clothing that a man wears used to determine whether he is evil or good in a game?  Never.  You would know a man is evil based on his interaction with the protagonist, his dialog, his place within the story, his facial expressions.  However, the easy way out for a woman is simply to dress her with the male gaze in mind.  It’s a lazy way to make shallow female characters.

We’ve also talked on the Border House about how a woman’s sexuality is so often used as a plotline and a major indicator of the character’s personality and role within games.  The woman who coaxes the protagonist into ill circumstances is the sexual character, using her body as a weapon.  The woman who is deemed “good” by the plot is fully covered and modestly dressed.  This does nothing but reinforce stereotypes that women who protect their sexuality by hiding their femininity are chaste and pure, and women who choose to be sexual are inherently evil.  Your thoughts?

(Source: Joystiq)

Ar tonelico Qoga: Another game to skip over

The PS3 box art for Ar tonelico, showing two female anime-styled characters (Saki and Finnel) in tight clothing standing back to back behind a male character (Aoto).

Ar tonelico is a Japanese RPG series developed by Gust (makers of the Atelier series as well, which we’ve commented on before).  Its third installment Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel has just been reviewed by the ESRB and rated M due to the following:

“Some power moves cause female characters’ clothes to vanish in layers,” the ratings board says. “The characters are often depicted holding (covering) their breasts, wearing only underwear, or standing behind strips of light that obscure their genitals.” Other described scenes feature “male characters [encouraging] a woman to strip” and a scene in which a male character removes a magical crystal from a female, accompanied by what the ESRB calls “suggestive moans and comments.” How suggestive? “Aoto’s putting his hand inside Soma,” for example, and “Fumble around every inch inside of her . . . you will find what you’re looking for . . . !”

(Source: Joystiq)

This is so bizarre that I’m almost not sure it needs commentary.  Disappearing clothes on the women?  Barely obscured genitals?  Reaching inside a woman’s vagina to pull out a magic crystal?  That’s pretty impressively terrible.  The game is launching in Japan on January 28th, and coming to the U.S. sometime in Q1 this year.

Thank you once again ESRB for letting me know which games I should buy and which ones should stay on the shelves.

It’s a Love-Hate Relationship: Kaine

The following is a guest post from NonCon.

Reviewer for the gaming website Gamepad Dojo. Gay gamer, loves games both “casual” and “core,” and hopes to help make the gaming community a more inclusive, friendly one.

I doubt that characters of mixed quality are new to anyone. Far too often, players encounter a character that brings out the predictable response of “So-and-so is a good character, except…” This seems especially true in regards to representation of underprivileged classes. As I encounter more characters like this, I hope to do more write-ups about my love-hate relationships with them.

Kaine, from 2010′s Nier, is a perfect example of the relationship I’m describing. She’s a strong, female character who kicks giant monster ass and doesn’t tolerate people getting in her way, but she’s still a kind person at heart. She hides it behind a callous exterior, but she cares about the rest of the group, and when one of the characters dies, she takes it out on another violently as a way of coping with her grief. A bit of an odd way, but it fits the character, since she’s a violent person to begin with. That she’s the most violent and arguably the most skilled fighter says a lot when the male protagonist looks like he dual-classed and both classes are barbarian.

Yet somehow it gets even better, because Kaine is actually an intersex individual who identifies as female. Her backstory is that she was born that way, and mistreated by her backwards thinking village because of it. They thought she was cursed and would bring bad luck. Parents encouraged their children to beat her up. It’s an awful childhood, and very depressing to learn about, because while it might not always be that bad, intersex people face a lot of ridicule in modern society. However, Kaine’s grandma protected her, taught her to protect herself, and, most importantly, told her she was pretty.

That really stood out to me, because it’s a very positive message. Intersex individuals generally don’t get any video game representation, and not only is Kaine one, but her role model makes sure to specify that Kaine’s beautiful. As I said, Kaine identifies as a woman, so having a character in-game reinforce that that didn’t make her any less beautiful was incredibly important to her, and is a good message for players as well. This game lets players know that an intersex woman can be just as pretty as any other, and for that I applaud it.

Brace yourselves, though, because it’s all downhill from here.

 

My first complaint is that Kaine being an intersex woman isn’t brought up clearly, at least in the English version of the game. It’s alluded to in a short story segment in Nier’s New Game+, but never stated outright. This short story segment is also the only place the players are exposed to those better aspects of inclusion I mentioned before, like Kaine’s grandma. I’m glad they were inclusive, but many players weren’t even aware of this part of Kaine, because the game isn’t brave enough to tell it to them clearly.

Then there’s a bit of a problem regarding a short story of questionably canon nature. A collection of short stories, art, and the like was released around the same time as Nier. This collection is titled Grimoire Nier, and seems to be official merchandise. As such, I’m leaning towards the accompanying short stories being considered canon, even if they weren’t release in the US. One such short story includes a scene where someone walks in on Kaine masturbating after having recently killed some monsters, because she can’t help herself. There’s some lazy story reasons for this, but this is just incredibly awful, and ties into the fetishization of intersexed people, which is nothing new to Japanese porn culture. I’m not sure whether fetishization is worse or better than not including an intersex character at all, but hearing about this short story made me feel like the developers didn’t respect Kaine’s character as much as I did.

Kaine’s character design reinforces this feeling.

On the left is a rear shot of Kaine. She wields two swords, and her left leg and left arm are bandaged. She wears high heels, a white nightie, and panties, which are easily visible. The rear of the panties is done up with black string. There are revealing holes in the panties on both the left and right of the rear. On the right is a similar image of Kaine, but from the front. Slits are visible in the cups of her nightie, partially revealing her breasts.

Let me delve into all the reasons I hate this outfit. The high heels make no sense for someone whose life goal is to kill a giant monster and is very good at killing monsters. The nighty makes no sense for similar reasons. The running around in her panties is awful fanservice to begin with, but then they cut holes in the back to show off as much of her ass as possible. Then, to top it all off, there are slits in the cups of her nighty. Why? Because it’s fanservicy fetishization. I have a hard time seeing how anyone could write a character like Kaine and then dress her up like that.

The reasoning of the developers is supposedly that she does it to accentuate her femininity, but that makes no sense for Kaine’s character. In speech and behavior, she defies conventional stereotypes about femininity. She’s possibly the most stereotypically masculine character in the party. If she wanted to “accentuate her femininity” she’d do that with how she acted, not by running around half-naked in a ridiculously impractical outfit. She doesn’t try to act stereotypically feminine, which leads me to believe she doesn’t care about that, which is awesome and perfectly fine, but that means that her design is nothing but offensive fanservice, and it’s a shame to see that done to who could have been one of the best characters I’ve ever seen in a video game.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Marie in a Refrigerator?

Marie Belmont: A white, brown-haired woman wearing a pale pink medieval style dress turns her head to the side sadly, with her eyes closed. She holds a blue rose at her side.

Marie Belmont: A white, brown-haired woman wearing a pale pink medieval style dress turns her head to the side sadly, with her eyes closed. She holds a blue rose at her side.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was released last week, and I’d like to share some first impressions about the story from roughly the first 30 minutes of play. Specifically, I want to discuss the only female character introduced in the game thus far.

The story, a reboot of the Castlevania franchise, is pretty typical of a lot of videogames: you are Gabriel Belmont, a (presumably) straight, white male, whose love interest, Marie (a (presumably) straight, white woman), was murdered by evil monsters. She’s dead and you’re really sad. What’s really sad is that before the plot even has an opportunity to start twisting, the first woman introduced in the story (via a dream sequence) is in a refrigerator (well, she’s technically between life and death, however she’s sufficiently incapacitated enough, given that only Gabriel can save her, that I think this counts as a fridging). Also, you are so angry that the evil monsters killed your wife, you want revenge. Apparently being a member of the Brotherhood of Light (warriors who fight against supernatural evils in the land), and being against evil monsters in general is not enough motivation to go kill those monsters.

I haven’t played a Castlevania game since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and like Lords of Shadow, the protagonist in Symphony of the Night, Alucard, is motivated to destroy Dracula because of the death of a loved one (as corrected in the comments). The other two Castlevania games I’ve played, Castlevania and Castlevania: The Adventure, were also not particularly strong in terms of storytelling, however Simon Belmont and Christopher Belmont, respectively, were motivated to fight evil (Dracula) because evil is bad and causes suffering in lots of people. I wasn’t expecting an innovative plot from Lords of Shadow, but the women in refrigerators trope existing in this game still deserves a call out whenever possible because it is annoying, and maybe someone will get a clue, so in the future they may stop annoying people with this boringness if it gets called out enough times. Creators need to find other ways to add depth to a lead character and to make him or her more interesting than killing off or seriously injuring their significant other or loved one. This shit is getting old. That said, I’m holding on to a shred of hope that Marie turns out to be more than Gabriel Belmont’s reason for character and personality development.

[This post was excerpted from a longer post covering broad game play first impressions on my personal blog.]

Atelier Rorona – no escaping from sexual harassment

Image inside the Sundries store in Atelier Rorona. In the foreground are three man. Huey, one of the men, is saying, " Wait, I'm going first! I'm gonna be the first one to get change from her hands today!"

I recently started playing Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland for the Playstation 3. This game is part of a long running alchemy series of games made by Gust. The game is a mix of battles, alchemy (item creation), and time management simulation. The series has always been filled with peppy music,  colorful visuals, and silly dialogue. I have enjoyed these games because the cheerfulness is a wonderful change from the gritty, dirty,  brown, ultra serious tone of many other games. This new game is full of peppy music, bright atmospheres, and item combinations that keep me enjoying the series. But, it also had one particular scene very early in the game that pulled me right out of my cheerful mood.

The first time your main character, Rorona, enters the Sundries store you see the owner of the store and several customers. It quickly becomes clear that these three male customers are there to solely to leer at the store owner. Here is the conversation you overhear:

Glen: “There she is!”

Barney: “Oh, she’s so beautiful as always… ooh, I should buy something!

Huey: “Wait, I’m going first! I’m gonna be the first one to get change from her hands today!”

GAH! Did Huey just say he is only there so that he can be touched by the store owner? Clearly these men are there to drool over the shop owner and they will buy items simply because they want her to physically interact with them. In case this was not clear by the “change from her hands comment” the game makes it even more apparent if you choose to talk to the characters after this short cut scene. When walking up to one of the male characters he says:

Glen: “I wasn’t looking at Tiffani while pretending to browse through the shelf!”

Oh Glen, why did you have to tell the player that bit of information? Now we KNOW you are leering at the Sundries shop owner.

Inside the store there is a mother and daughter having the following conversation:

Nymph: “Mommy, why are there so many old men here?”

Liliana: “Shh! Don’t say that!”

Even the little girl notices how the store is constantly full of these men. But her concern is quickly quieted by her mother. Are we to assume she told the daughter to be quiet because she did not want to draw attention to the situation?

Outside you meet 2 women discussing the store:

Casey: “My husband is always at Ms. Hildebrand’s shop…”

Agatha: “Same here… Geez…”

Clearly, these men being in the store is not a one time occurrence. This is the norm at the Sundries store. As the owner of the store, the character of Tiffani Hildebrand is required to be there. She cannot escape these men who enter the store just to leer at her. As the character named Glen clearly points out, they are not there to shop. They are there because they want to stare at and touch Tiffani. The shop owner cannot escape their harassment and the player has no recourse.  This game puts the player in a situation where you see a store owner being harassed by men and there is nothing the player can do to help the situation. It is not the type of scene I was expecting in my cheerful alchemy game. In was both immersion breaking and a painful scene to watch. The game had Rorona watch all this and just walk away. Is the lesson here that sexual harassment is funny? Is the lesson here to walk away when you see this kind of behavior? Neither one of those options are good ones. But, watching the scene I believe the game is telling the player that this is meant to be funny. It is not funny and it not acceptable behavior.

E3 2010: A ‘Moving’ Experience

(N.B. Trigger warning for violence perpetrated against women, sexual in nature. Spoiler warnings for Heavy Rain.)

Lauren Winters, a middle-aged white woman with dark brown hair, head cocked to the side. She wears a bathrobe, and is staring slightly off-left.

Lauren Winters, a middle-aged white woman with dark brown hair, head cocked to the side. She wears a bathrobe, and is staring slightly off-left.

This past week I had the opportunity to attend E3 (many thanks to GayGamer for the honor), and during that time I was able to test the three main consoles’ newest technological ‘innovations.’ For the Playstation Move, I was shown many games I could easily see on the Wii, and therefore I sort of shuffled through them, not wholly impressed by the graphical power that the PS3 provided. No, I was much more interested in the demo they had of Heavy Rain being played with the Move control scheme.

Despite its flaws (particularly in Madison Paige), I enjoyed Heavy Rain. It had its fair share of problems, and I probably am more in love with the potential than with what I was actually presented. While demoing the Move for the game, the man behind me happened to share some highlighting scenes for me that made me cringe, and wonder for whom this game was designed.

The first scene I played was the same demo available on the PSN, playing Scott Shelby, going to interview Lauren Winters. I’ve written my impressions of how I believe the control scheme worked during the fight, but before I even reached that scene, the demo representative shared this tidbit with me: if you wait half a minute or so to knock on the door and intervene, Lauren will have a black eye after you rescue her. I could tell by the way he repeated this twice (a common trait from people showing me games was to stress over and over what they believed I was supposed to be doing, rather than letting the game guide me and speak for itself) he wanted me to actually witness this, at which I cringed.

No. Beyond just the considerations I had for Lauren, having finished the game already, I could not fathom why it was important that I witness a woman with a black eye because an irate man decided he wasn’t pleased with her. From the way it was discussed, this would change nothing else in the game, and would not communicate anything to me. While I would like to believe it to be a powerful statement of our own society’s capability to be silent on issues of domestic violence and abuse of sex workers, I do not believe the way it was represented to me supports such a conclusion.

The second scene available, and this is the point where I put down the controller, hoping that our booth tour guide would get the signal, was Madison Paige’s initial scene. Cue being told that there were multiple ways to get Madison killed during this scene–something that would never have occurred to me. See, put in the situation the scene puts forth, my immediate idea was to escape assault on Madison, tinged as it is with rape and assault triggers.

Let me reiterate, it never occurred to me to replay the scene and try dying at earlier moments to satisfy some curiosity. Given the choose-your-path style of gaming that Heavy Rain encourages, I suppose it makes sense to allow for different outcomes at different junctions during that long, painful scene.

I am not sure what to make of my encounter, to be honest. Sure, it impressed that the Move was an experience that would work well for certain games (and accomplishes a small, but important step toward immersion for Quantic Dream’s vision), but it has now attached itself to a memory of someone selling the violence that you are able to witness against two of the three primary female characters (arguably the mother is a minor character).

Had I been female, I wonder, would the same message have been conveyed to me? Would I have been encouraged to witness the same scenes in the same way? The game is triggering enough as is, but to have this pushed forward so… effortlessly on his part left a foul taste in my mouth.

My advice to Sony? Get someone to tell me about the game without the glee derived from seeing women battered and attacked in very triggering ways. Then again, considering the Playboy spread and Taxidermist DLC, I am not sure I have any faith remaining in this particular game.

What’s Wrong With Leanne

by guest contributor Sparky Clarkson

Michael “Sparky” Clarkson is a biophysical researcher at a small university in Boston, and is originally from Alabama. He blogs at Discount Thoughts.

 

To a large extent, my enjoyment of a game depends on the values expressed in its story and characters. I don’t just mean the values that characters espouse in the cutscenes; I’m talking about the values that are communicated through the totality of the game’s incidentals, setting, and mechanics. Because a game is an interactive entertainment that requires the player to exert considerable effort in order to progress, it’s important to make sure that the player identifies or sympathizes with at least some the characters he’s controlling. This is especially true of 40+ hour games like RPGs. You’re spending a lot of time with these people, so they’d better be worthwhile company. Unfortunately, Resonance of Fate had a small cast I didn’t enjoy spending time with at all. I found the personalities of the male characters, Vashyron and Zephyr, to be completely repulsive and tiresome. But the female character, Leanne, was problematic in a different way. It wasn’t just her personality, although she’s not the sort of person I’d generally care to hang around with. Leanne just made me sad, because she was so obviously a patriarchal caricature.

 

Leanne is a young woman with long blond hair. She is wearing a long, teal and white coat and knee-high high heeled boots. She is holding a pistol.

Leanne is a young woman with long blond hair. She is wearing a long, teal and white coat and knee-high high heeled boots. She is holding a pistol.

 

This won’t be apparent just from looking at her. Considering that she’s a female character in a JRPG, Leanne’s design is surprisingly reserved. Her clothing isn’t excessively revealing and doesn’t differ substantially from that of male characters in terms of the protection it offers, so it at least avoids the “bikini armor” design trope (although she does, regrettably, wear high heels). She also has the pleasant property of not possessing exaggerated sexual characteristics.

 

Not all the female characters are so lucky, however, and the reaction of the game’s males to the difference is instructive. Consider an episode where the team is talking to Cardinal Barbarella, a woman whose enormous, swaying breasts have been animated with the finest Japanese jubble physics and who is making orgasmic noises as she consumes a steak. This situation causes Vashyron to enter a rapturous daydream in which he obsesses over Barbarella’s breasts (calling them “bunker-busters”). The daydream ends as he glances at Leanne, disappointedly referring to her anatomy as “raisins”.

 

So, now you know why I hated Vashyron.

 

This scene is problematic in a number of ways that are immediately apparent–the camera’s (and Vashyron’s) focus on Barbarella’s breasts being the most obvious. The “raisins” comment stuck with me, though, because Vashyron had previously said other things that belittled Leanne on the basis of her body, particularly during in an episode where Zephyr may have seen her in the bath accidentally. Rather than being a positive, the restrained character design is used to provide an avenue of body-criticism and infantilization. Leanne always handles this criticism by delivering a slap, which also suggests immaturity to me. Leanne is supposedly 21 years old, but her behavior doesn’t match that at all. I’ll leave it up to you whether her appearance does.

 

Leanne is also portrayed as excessively weak. Early on, I found that she had the lowest weight allowance of the characters, and she also has the lowest HP, level for level, but I’m not merely talking about the mechanics here. In the team’s base there is a trapdoor leading from the roof to the entrance area. Zephyr and Vashyron can jump down from this spot without trouble, but Leanne refuses to do so, despite the fact that she can, in battle, literally jump all the way across a combat arena. She is also constantly talking about how she needs to catch up to Vashyron and Zephyr, but this is positively infuriating when she has the highest level overall and is two levels ahead of them in handgun skill. Leanne is always portrayed, and always sees herself, as weaker and more fragile than the guys.

 

The battle utterances were a problem for me throughout the game, although most of my complaints have to do with the way they characterize Zephyr. More relevant to this topic are statements like Leanne’s saying that gunfights are too “dirty and smelly”. Or Vashyron’s exultation when Leanne kills an opponent: “Guys don’t make passes at girls who kick asses!” Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with that one. I can see how it might be a positive sentiment gone horribly awry, but the idea that men aren’t going to be attracted to strong women is not one I’m on board for.

 

As you have perhaps guessed, I could probably make a whole essay just out of the inappropriate crap that Vashyron says. I mean, I haven’t even touched on the part where he jokes about her taking a job as an “escort”, or his regular battle innuendo about how Leanne “goes both ways”.

 

Leanne also displays a disturbing level of emotional dependence. There’s an extent to which it can be justified, because she met Zephyr when she was at an emotional low ebb. Still, when Leanne says near the end of the game that she owes all her courage to Zephyr and Vashyron I nearly threw my controller. She got it from the men, did she? She’s brave now thanks to the help of the pervert and the psychopath? Honestly, if the rest of the game hadn’t been stuffed full of this other crap I might not have cared about this particular quote. It’s the sort of sentiment that can even be positive, in a certain way. But the reality is that Leanne is portrayed as weak and in constant need of the mens’ help throughout the game. That this extends beyond physical protection into the realm of psychological essence just makes the whole thing more egregious.

 

So, we have the physically and emotionally weak “girl” who derives all her strength from the poor excuses for men she spends all her time with. Inevitably, they must “rescue” her. Fortunately, Resonance of Fate doesn’t go so far as to have her actually kidnapped, but there are several missions in the rescue vein, ranging from the silly (getting cold medicine) to the dire (an attempt to get the crystal that regulates her lifespan). Leanne, of course, is effusively grateful for the mens’ help, even if she’s upset by the fact that they left her out of important decisions about her life. Yes, seriously, there is a scene where three men sit around discussing critical information about Leanne’s fate while she is in the same building, and nobody thinks to involve her in it.

 

In the game’s defense, there’s also a moment where Leanne saves Zephyr’s life, although in the preceding battle you play as Zephyr alone. Leanne is the only one of the three playable characters who never faces a boss solo.

 

Like all video games, JRPGs have a decidedly mixed record in their depiction of female characters. Compared to some of the egregious examples that have appeared in the genre, even in recent years, there’s little in Leanne’s appearance that offends. In terms of how other characters react to that appearance, and how she is presented, however, Leanne’s treatment leaves a lot to be desired. The systems, writing, and overall story of Resonance of Fate relentlessly characterize her as physically and emotionally frail and dependent on the men around her for protection and support. The game’s treatment of Leanne expresses values I don’t share. That was a significant reason why I didn’t care for Resonance of Fate or enjoy the time I spent with it.

 

This post originally appeared at Discount Thoughts and is republished with the full permission of the author.

Madison Paige Does Pull Triggers

Madison Paige, the female protagonist of Heavy Rain, stares off to the upper left. She is a hazel-eyed caucasian female with short, cropped brown hair. Rain droplets cover the left side of her face.

Madison Paige, the female protagonist of Heavy Rain, stares off to the upper left. She is a hazel-eyed caucasian female with short, cropped brown hair. Rain droplets cover the left side of her face.

(Warnings: trigger for rape, sexual assault, and spoilers for Heavy Rain)

Heavy Rain’s Madison Paige has had some eyebrow-raising marketing use. There has been much talk of a strip scene that occurs in the game. Then there’s this past year’s videogame females in Playboy edition, which includes her.

Among the primary problems with these images is the context in which they are given. The images used for Playboy look to be the exact same ones you can encounter in game, but they are plucked out of the context of the game and placed in a magazine known for showing nude women for the pleasure of men. Therefore, I frowned at the company’s use of her image, but withheld judgment on the game itself until I could play it.

On the one hand, before starting the game, I was glad that there was the inclusion of being able to play a female character, in a roster that looks fairly typical from a media standpoint, even if it escapes the videogame demographic of younger males. On the other, I was very nervous about how she would fit into the game’s plot. Any further thoughts below this paragraph are rife with spoilers and triggers, I emphasize the latter point more than the former:

Continue reading

Console Gaming: In-Game Text Size

In a previous post I discussed the issue of text size in console interfaces. But gaming accessibility does not end at the interface screen. In-game text size can be a large barrier for visually impaired gamers.  AbleGamers recently named Dragon Age : Origins their accessible game of the year for 2009. But for all the positive things about this game, one thing that is lacking is the option to increase text size.

When playing on a computer it is possible to download mods for many games. There is already an interface mod available for the PC version of Dragon Age: Origins that increases the font size. However, this is not something that improves the experience for console gamers. When playing Dragon Age: Origins on my Playstation 3 with a 32 inch HDTV the dialogue font is only a third of an inch tall. From 8 feet away this becomes unreadable to me.

Screen shot from Dragon Age: Origins showing the text size of dialogue options

This small text size is an issue for visually impaired gamers as well as standard definition television owners. This has been a problem for many games in the last few years including Capcom’s Dead Rising and another recent BioWare game, Mass Effect 2.

Some games have much larger font that makes them easier to read. Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon for the Wii has nice large font. On my 32 inch HDTV the upper font is an inch tall while the lower text is 0.6 inches tall. Also, the white of the letters have a slight black outline which makes them easier to read when the background is a lighter color.

Screen shot of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobos Dungeon

Screen shot of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon

Clearly both Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins had much more text on the screen at a time than Chocobo’s Dungeon. But gamers would rather be able to change the setting so they can play their favorite games, even if that means scrolling through more lines of text , rather than owning otherwise unreadable games. An increased text size option in a console game improves it’s accessibility which means there is a larger pool of potential gamers/customers and that is good situation for everyone.

What Makes a Game Epic?

Contains minor spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

What makes a game epic? Dragon-slaying? Not necessarily! (Pictured: a group of four fantasy heroes battling a large, electric-white dragon from Dragon Age: Awakening.)

What makes a game epic? Dragon-slaying? Not necessarily! (Pictured: a group of four fantasy heroes battling a large, electric-white dragon from Dragon Age: Awakening.)

A great many games, particularly in the fantasy and sci-fi genres, seek to be epic in scope, or evoke a feeling of epicness. It’s an elusive quality because simply making a game very long or very large isn’t usually sufficient, and what makes a game epic may vary from person to person. One thing that I associate with epicness is not only the passage of time, but physical and emotional journeys, as well as change. Change is the key thing there: spending fifty hours in a static world doesn’t feel epic to me, which is why most of the Final Fantasy games that I’ve played don’t quite work for me on that level.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the first game I played that truly felt epic. And the epic moment wasn’t sealing away Ganondorf, or the heartwarming and fairly silly montage of happy Gorons and Kokiri at the end. That first real moment of awe came when I stuck the Master Sword back in its pedestal and left the Temple of Time as a ten-year-old child once more. What was so epic about that moment was the reminder of how much had changed over the course of the game. Ocarina of Time is one of very few games that has the guts to create a beautiful world, introduce the player to it, and then completely destroy it for the bulk of the game–and unlike Okami or Ocarina‘s successor, Twilight Princess, things don’t get magically all better once you finish a dungeon or defeat a monster. But going back in time in Ocarina is bittersweet: it’s wonderful to see Hyrule whole and happy once more, but upsetting to know what will become of the beautiful land and its people, with small hope of preventing it. Ocarina gracefully sets up the stakes of this epic quest, something few games accomplish.

But change doesn’t have to affect the entire world to be meaningful–it doesn’t even need to be physical. The change can also be mental or emotional, a sense that the character you inhabit has evolved or grown. No game I have played accomplishes that as well as Dragon Age: Origins. In the world of Dragon Age, Mages are dangerous and feared, and so have to go through rigorous training, which is capped off by a trial where the Mage has to prove she or he is able to resist the control of demons, or die. My first character was a Mage, and the beginning of the game involved overcoming her trial (called a Harrowing). At the time she was sheltered and naive, a wide-eyed idealist, talented but knew only a few spells. Over the course of fifty hours of play time, she changed, not only becoming more powerful as in most RPGs, but growing in character and personality: she made friends, broke a curse, slayed a dragon, fell in love, executed a war hero, been to hell and back. She saw the world in its beauty and brutality, grew up, became more cynical. So toward the end of the game, when someone mentioned her Harrowing, I had a real sense of scope for a moment, of how long ago and, more importantly, different things were at the beginning of the game. Everything had changed.

For me, in order to invoke that sought-after “epic” feeling, a game has to work to show me its scope; for me it is not so much badass moments of slow-motion Ogre slaying, but in quiet moments where the game shows me something or a character says something that makes me think, “Wow, that was so long ago and so far away, and so much has changed since then.” I think a game has to go beyond simply being long, and put players on a real journey. What about you? Do you enjoy “epic” games? What games live up to this label for you, and why?