Tag Archives: Wii

Pandora’s Tower -> Damsel in Distress

Aeron, a blond male, holding a purple toned chunk of beast flesh.

Aeron, a blond male, holding a purple toned chunk of beast flesh.

Pandora’s Tower was one of the three games from the Operation Rainfall community led effort to breed awareness for Pandora’s Tower, Xenoblade Chronicles, and The Last Story in the United States.  These three Wii games were announced for Japan and Europe but had not been announced for US release in 2012, which led to the Operation Rainfall effort. With the latter two now out in the US, the first has been confirmed and will be coming out late March. The previous two games both had ensemble casts of characters, with this last game staring one young man named Aeron. It is a personal story centered around him and a young woman named Elena. Rather than attempting to save his home town, his country, or the world, Aeron’s goal is to save the woman that he loves. The beginning of the game sets Elena up as a stereotypical damsel in distress: she is a pretty woman, put into a horrible situation because of a curse, who now requires a male hero to save her.

The following contains story spoilers from Pandora’s Tower from watching the first ~20 minutes of game play of the title from a Let’s Play YouTube video:

At the start of the game we see that Elena is cursed. Her arm, shoulder, part of her face, and her legs no longer look fully human. They are purple in color, pitted, and tendrils are seen protruding from her shoulder. She is becoming a beast. A traveling woman named Mavda says she knows a solution and tells Aeron to enter one of Pandora’s Towers to obtain flesh from the beasts found there.

When told that the beast flesh is necessary for a ceremony, Elena says, “Mavda, I want to go too” and Aeron shakes his head no saying, “I’ll be back.”

Upon his return, Mavda hands the flesh to Elena and tells her to consume it. Elena looks at this in horror.

Mavda: “Ah, I see what the problem is. Folks in this country are believers in Aios. You’re forbidden to eat meat, aren’t you? Now this little morsel… is beast flesh. Freshly cut from servant beasts.”

Elena becomes physically sick at this revelation.

Mavda: “Come now, girl. Eat it down!”

Elena: “I’ve never eaten meat!”

Mavda: “Well, if you don’t eat it… your fate will be sealed. You’ll grow more and more monstrous. And there’ll be no happy ending for you and young Aeron.”

At this news, Elena begins to sob and slowly, deliberately consumes the beast flesh. In what appears to be a painful process, the cursed flesh melts off her body and when she returns to normal Elena collapses.

We then learn that this is not a permanent solution. Eating the beast flesh only serves to stave off the curse. She must continue to consume more flesh.

Elena: “You mean…? The meat… I can’t stomach any more.”

Mavda: “Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to. Otherwise things are only going to get worse. Heh heh! To think the maiden at the Harvest Festival would end up forced to eat meat!”

Elena protests: “So this is to be my life? To be cooped up in here, eating foul flesh? Must I learn to live like this? Can I not lift the curse?”

In order to lift it, strong monsters in each of the towers (known as masters) must be defeated and their flesh eaten by Elena.

Elena protests again: “No! I won’t hear of it! How can I ask Aeron to face such dangers for my sake?”

Yet, she is given little choice in the matter and Aeron goes off to defeat more monsters.

Let’s summarize:

  • Elena is cursed and she is being “saved” by the main character of Aeron.
  • Elena originally asks Mavda if she can go do the task as well (to take some agency in saving herself) and she is told no by Aeron. He is the hero, not her.
  • In order to save herself from becoming a monster/beast, she must do something that is not only repulsive to her but goes against her religion.
  • She finds out that this act was not a one time deal, but will be continuous.
  • Elena AGAIN protests at someone else being the person in charge of fixing her situation and she is told that it must be him.  Elena asks: “Can I not lift this curse?” “How can I ask Aeron to face such dangers for my sake?”
  • The main female character in this game is literally stranded in a building as the male character wanders off to different towers fighting monsters in an effort to bring back items that can save her.

I do not know where the story heads from here. Does Elena ever get any agency in this situation? Does the player (as her) ever get the choice to refuse eating the meat? Or does the player (as Aeron) continually go to the towers, get more beast flesh, and just hand it over to Elena who is forced to consume this flesh?

The beginning of Pandora’s Tower sets up a stereotypical damsel in distress storyline. There are other story telling options. Let Elena fight monsters to save herself. Or perhaps, let Aeron have the curse and fight monsters to save himself. It could have remained a personal story of salvation but not dove into the damsel in distress narrative. Perhaps this story breaks from the stereotype as it continues, but the start of the narrative is not promising.

The gameplay looks fun, but the story (based on the intro) appears to be pure cliche. Let’s rewrite this story. How could this have been written to give her more agency? Are there any turns and twists in the story that would redeem this cliched beginning?

 

Metroid: Othering Samus

This post has spoilers for the the Metroid series in general and Metroid: Other M in particular.

Similar to the box art for the Japanese version of Other M, an image of a red overlay of her suit's helmet, slightly pixelated, surrounds a green visor through which Samus peers. Metroid: Other M is situation to the right of her face.

Similar to the box art for the Japanese version of Other M, an image of a red overlay of her suit's helmet, slightly pixelated, surrounds a green visor through which Samus peers. Metroid: Other M is situated to the right of her face.

On the surface, there seemed a lot of promise for Metroid: Other M (and yes, I’ve already given my hand), particularly in the beginning. When giving her rather loquacious introductory thoughts and history, Samus mentions that she felt pressure on her for being the only female soldier, which led to some of her refusal to fall in line (even if sometimes through childish rebellion). As part of a plot, that could become a rather salient point, and one that could certainly be expounded upon more. However, as the game progresses, this fact gets lost in Samus’s attempt to prove herself to Commander Adam Malkovich, her former commanding officer. Of course, this leads to another problem in that the game tries to give the player so much information to process through cutscenes and internal monologue, that it divorces itself from the gameplay.

In a series where plot has been relatively thin and usually guided bit by bit through the beginning and ending of the game, there was a lot that could not be conveyed to the audience except through playing the game. Therefore, when Samus chokes at fighting Ridley, I sensed that they wanted this to happen way back when, during Metroid. After all, this arch-nemesis of Samus’s killed her parents, and her initial encounter with him might well have been devastating. Her canonical third encounter (counting Metroid and Super Metroid, as somehow the Primes don’t count), should not leave her paralyzed to be saved by a black male who then seems to sacrifice himself for her.  Placing such a debilitation on Samus from seeing Ridley (already brought back once after she defeated him) at this point in the series speaks to a problem of wanting to flesh out the narrative they may have wanted in a previous incarnation, but is now a bit late.

Screenshot from Other M with Samus Aran, left, jumping up and kicking out her right foot to connect with a Space Pirate's face, right.

Screenshot from Other M with Samus Aran, left, jumping up and kicking out her right foot to connect with a Space Pirate's face, right.

I say a bit late because players have had time with Samus, who has fallen into a trap I have witnessed occurring a few times (or have witnessed fans worrying about occurring): giving voice to a previously quiet character. In my mind, having played all the games that led up to Other M chronologically, Samus’s quiet manner was due to a stoicism present in a hero on whom much depends. It has been said that the entire Metroid series was heavily influenced by Alien, and in such a case, it is hard not to see a resemblance between Samus Aran and Lieutenant Ripley. However, as Ripley shed more and more of her absolute terror of her alien menace through her own series, Samus never was allowed that emotional depth on-screen. Given her status as a mercenary, and willingness to hunt down this menace, it is hard to read it as a terror she wished to avoid completely, but was resolute on facing–on top of her military background with which to begin, rather than being a pilot caught in a violent situation.

As I said, stoicism.

In my review on GayGamer, I mentioned one of my complaints was the voice acting in Other M. Samus sounds full of ennui, and has a way of draining the emotion and expression from her voice. She sounds like a stereotypical teenager writing in a journal, to be quite frank. The betrayal here is the lack of meshing with a concept of my play. In my playing of Samus, even in Other M, I never get the sense that she is so full of self-doubt or the need of approval from a father figure. There is a dissonance that occurs when suddenly confronted with this in a cutscene, where I am asked to be passive and fed narrative, particularly in a series that had based itself so much on a sense of autonomy expressed through Samus’s exploration of her environment and eventual mastery of it.

In fact, the sense of loneliness that was present in most of my time spent with the series (excepting Metroid Prime 3: Corruption) helped this fact, and the gameplay for Other M has not changed in this regard, with other characters being relegated to cutscenes or disembodied voices. It is the latter that makes the restrictions Samus is willing to take from Commander Malkovich so aggravating on top of it hampering her capabilities. As has oft been cited, while it might make sense to restrict her use of all her suit’s weapon functions (a convention the game uses instead of losing them), as they might not wish to damage portions of the ship they are exploring, having her run through overwhelmingly hot environments without the use of her Varia suit, which protects her from such environmental hazards, is something done purely out of a game convention–one that clashes with both the narrative (why would her suit’s ability to resist heat endanger anyone?) and the sense of who Samus is.

Commander Adam Malkovich, a middle-aged white male with black hair, speaking into headpiece that allows him communication with his squad and Samus.

Commander Adam Malkovich, a middle-aged white male with black hair, speaking into headpiece that allows him communication with his squad and Samus.

It speaks to a willingness to subjugate and prove herself to Commander Malkovich. While it might make sense in the plot that Team Ninja and Sakamoto (one of the co-creators of the series) created, it does not speak well for the Samus who is primarily a loner. Given how it is presented, it serves as a parable for the double-bind in which women often do find themselves to receive approbation: Samus must work harder for the recognition of her former commanding officer, but her reward is simply being allowed to stay. Her only autonomy comes at the expense of his death.

Given the earlier statements of her feeling out of place due to her female sex in a male-dominated workplace, it could have even worked so that had she communicated to us, the players, her annoyance at jumping through hoops; she could have remained a consistent character. Instead, she is broken into two parts: the one I control and the one who speaks at me, but not to me.

Of course, as our own Brinstar will state, this is a trend that is not wholly out of the blue, nor presented to us just in this title. From the beginning Samus has been a character who has been painted as a myth, with speed run trials being able to de-armor her to a space bikini. This situation only became more annoying as she donned her zero suit in Zero Mission, a retelling of Metroid that added a bit of story after the completion of the original. While she always had an element of being sexualized, she has now continued on to be mired in the bind of a female character who can stop an entire alien parasite race, but is generally portrayed as weak and submissive otherwise.

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.

Console interface text size

Text size in console games can be a huge issue for visually impaired individuals. The ideal situation would be options that allow for larger text or icons to make the interface more accessible to gamers. So, how are the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 treating text size? All of the following images were taken off my home 32 inch television sitting at the sofa that is 8 feet away from the screen.

The console that does the best is the Wii.

Wii interface screen

The buttons/icons are large and the images are clear. When hovering over an icon the name of the channel or game selected shows up in large font under the box.  Even without the words, the boxes themselves show an image of the channel or game that the button represents making it easier to quickly find the buttons on screen. In this example “Chocobo’s Dungeon” is visible  in large font under the selected box. On my TV this font shows up as 3/4 inch tall per letter.

I would rate the Xbox360 as second best.

Xbox 360 Interface image (main screen)

Xbox 360 Interface image (main screen)

Xbox 360 interface screen after hitting guide button

Xbox 360 interface screen after hitting guide button

On the main dashboard of the Xbox360 interface there are large boxes that have a clear visual representation of what they do.  The game selection box has a picture of the game currently in the disc drive, in the case of this photo it is MagnaCarta 2.  The text size that displays “Play MagnaCarta2″ shows up as 1/2 inch tall letters on my screen. When pressing the Guide button on the center of the controller a second menu pops up. This menu is shown in the second photo.  While there are no pictorial representations of the commands you select the text here also measures at 1/2 inch tall per letter on my television.

In last place I put the Playstation 3. In fact, this console’s interface can be a problem for gamers with minor visual impairments.

Playstation 3 interface

Playstation 3 interface

While there is an option to change the text font style I cannot find an  option to increase the font size. This is a problem as the text size is small compared to the other systems described here. When I measure the text size on my screen it is 3/8 inch tall. That was the smallest font size of the three systems.

For many people the difference between 3/4 inch text (Wii), 1/2 inch text (the Xbox360), and 3/8 inch text (the PS3) on a 32 inch television from 8 feet away is inconsequential. My significant other has no problem clearly reading each of these interfaces. But for people with some visual impairments, such as myself, these sizes can become a problem. I can see the Wii interface with no problem. The Xbox 360 takes some focusing but is readable. But, with the lack of a larger font option on the PS3 I cannot sit at the sofa and see that text. It becomes slightly too blurry for me to read from that distance.

So what can console makers do? One great example is the use of visual cues other than text to indicate selection. The Wii interface does that beautifully by showing a picture of the game or channel in each box. But what is lacking in all these systems in an option to increase the text size. Not everyone needs the larger text, but it would be a great option to increase accessibility for visually impaired players.  The inclusion of this option would help many players.

Wii Fit: Don’t take it too seriously

An image of the Wii Fit Plus Box. It shows five slender people, ranging from a young girl to an older man, exercising in various Wii Fit poses.

Santa brought me the new Wii Fit Plus for Christmas and I’ve been playing for the last week and a half.  I mostly missed the Wii Fit hype and shortage last year, so I began knowing very little about this fitness game.  Using a balance board and the Wii remote, I’m able to do yoga poses and various aerobic, balancing, and strength-building exercises.

The box for Wii Fit Plus suggests children and old folks can enjoy Wii Fit.  I appreciate that it helps folks exercise and be active because I believe everyone should have access to exercise.  Of course, most of the world’s population can’t afford a Wii and Wii Fit is not accessible to many people with disabilities, but it introduces exercise to the temporarily able-bodied middle class folks privileged enough to game.

I’m a pretty active person and find the virtual jogging and cycling a wimpier substitution for the real thing.  But I’ve been doing the yoga and strength building routines on rainy days, and they do make me sweat and sore the next day.  Even if I don’t get a cardio workout with Wii Fit Plus, it’s already helped my flexibility, balance, and strength.

Flexibility, balance, and strength are fair things to work on.  I appreciate that the game can track my improvement.  What I’m less thrilled about is the game’s use of the body mass index (BMI) to calculate whether I’m underweight, “normal,” overweight, or obese.  I am surprised this contemporary game still uses the archaic BMI (invented over 150 years ago).  The BMI does not account for muscle weighing more than fat and often classifies athletes as overweight or obese.  It also standardizes white norms because it is based on white people.

Wii Fit has already drawn criticism for sparking potential eating disorders for diagnosing an active girl as overweight.  It also classifies my partner, who is slender with a fast metabolism but rarely exercises, as underweight.  The game says the average BMI for someone of his height is about 30 pounds heavier than what he is, which he could never gain, nor does he need to.

I don’t appreciate how the game assumes everyone wants to be thin and lean.  I buy into it.  As a feminist, I’m aware of how I’ve internalized mainstream beauty standards and know that is why I flirt with eating disorders myself.  Wii Fit enables me to obsess over my weight when I’d previously refused to own a scale so I wouldn’t let it measure my self-worth.  While my Wii praises me for fitting into the “normal” category, it asks me how I screwed up if I weigh in at a few pounds heavier than I had on the previous day.  Did I over eat?  Did I have a late night snack?

My advise to Wii Fit gamers is the same advice I’m telling myself: don’t take it too seriously.  Have fun doing sun salutations and virtual ski jumps, but don’t let the game make you feel bad about yourself.  Know it’s using old fashioned measurements of “health.”  Perhaps in future incarnations of Wii Fit we will be able to set more goals than just losing weight (or gaining, in the case of my “underweight” partner).  I hope a future incarnation of Wii Fit will use a more creature measure of “progress” than the body mass index.

Media and “new” female gamers

When turning on the television this past weekend I came across an NBC  Today show segment discussing females playing video games. The segment was titled “Lookout Boys! Female gamers on the rise.” It is available on hulu.com for a few more days for those that did not see it.

 

The segment centers around the idea that more women are playing video games than ever before and that this is due to the inclusion of fitness games such as Wii Fit. The segment starts with the following introduction: “Conventional wisdom says they are only for kids, frat boys, and husbands who are still kids or frat boys. But nowadays video games found a new and growing fanbase: adult women.” Then it cuts to the reporter at her apartment with friends and a fitness expert playing Wii Fit. Later there is a comment that “We used to have Jane Fonda on the VHS. Now we have women playing with their Wiis.”

The segment is a mismatch of views. While it begins by implying that women are new to playing video games it also gives the figure that 40% of gamers are female which is a larger portion of gamers than young boys. How new can these female gamers be if they already fill up such a large percentage of the market? Nick Thompson from Wired magazine appears in the roughly 4 minute long segment.  He remarks that a survey he did of his female facebook friends had Mario, Guitar Hero, and Resident Evil listed as their favorite games which shows that women do play many genres of video games available. When the reporter asks if marketing departments will start targeting more genres towards women so that they play a variety of games he replies with “They (women) are involved in games other than fitness.” He even says that women are not a new demographic of gamers. A new demographic would be “70 and 80 year olds.”

The segment left me rather upset. Despite overwhelming evidence that women DO play video games and more than simply fitness games the story was still leaning toward the idea of the “newness” or “trend” of female gamers. An editor from Wired magazine is telling the viewers that women are involved in this media and yet it is still being dismissed as a trend. What will it take for the media to accept women as gamers and not look at them as interlopers in a clearly male medium? As the title of the segment says, “Lookout boys!”, women are coming after your video games!

“Muscle March is coming to America” or “We’re afraid of being silly”

The characters of Muscle March flex for the camera in nothing but their thongs/bikinis.

The characters of Muscle March flex for the camera in nothing but their thongs/bikinis.

It’s Japanese.  It’s completely odd/random/silly.  And it’s coming to your Wii with a E-10+ rating.  It’s called Muscle March, and it has gaming commenters up in arms.

Why?  Well because it’s gay.  And how does the common gamer determine that this game is gay?  Well, it’s simple, you see.  These characters are muscled and wearing nothing but their thongs.  If they’re burly and in thongs, they must be gay, which makes this game gay.  Oh, and did I mention this game uses rainbows?  That alone makes it gay, right?

Yes, if you read the above paragraph and sighed, then you share my feelings exactly.  People once again heaping labels atop a game that’s just… well… incredibly random.  Like, impossibly random.  For Pete’s sake people, there’s a muscle-bound polar bear up there in that row of men/the single woman!  A polar bear!  Polar bears don’t work out in gyms!  (Unless I’m completely missing something when I’m going to the gym.  It’s possible.)  And that man has a bird in his afro!  And… and… things!

It’s certainly very much embedded in the Japanese culture, as all this game is about is 8 burly characters chase after another person through multiple levels for whatever reason Namco-Bandai chose at the time.  As the chase is conducted, the target smashes through walls, leaving holes that are perfectly shaped for body builders!  Each character must do a specific flex to get through the wall, otherwise they collide into it and are cast out from the game.  As the chase continues, it gets faster and faster, forcing the player to move quickly to get into position for the next flex.  If this doesn’t sound completely off the wall, then I don’t know what does.  Will the E-10 content rating last?  I hope so, as this game perfectly falls into the E-10 category of lighthearted cartoon randomness that barely passes as making sense.

It’s cartoon mischief at its finest, yet I’m sure we’ll hear someone complain about homosexual content being aimed at children in the game, just as we’re hearing gamers cry “gay” at the mere sight of it. I’m not exactly sure when the oily bodybuilder type became a symbol of someone being gay but then again I’m also not sure why so many militant straight people don’t find the “football ass smack” as a type of homosexual behavior.

So remember people.  It’s bad for your children to be bodybuilders because it’s homosexual, but there’s nothing wrong with a good ass grab at the end of a 40-yard-touchdown pass.  Hoo-rah.

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