Where My “Nerd Girls” At?

Professor Clayton asked a question on Thursday that has stuck with me. Are those of us who were excited about Nashville Comic Con, who are into gaming and sci-fi and fantasy, outliers in the Vanderbilt community?

I’d like to say no, outright. But in my last writing workshop we were critiquing a story that made me think of this class, and how I might answer this question, especially in regards to gender. There have already been some posts on female inclusion into the male dominated world of gaming, but I’d like to throw my opinion into the ring as well.

nerd girl

The story was based around the Slender Man stabbing story in Wisconsin, and two high school aged couples that talk about video games, violence, and love. The majority of women in the class, the author included, spent a lot of time distancing themselves from the idea of gaming by saying things like “I really know nothing about it,” or “The only games I play are on the Wii.” There’s obviously nothing wrong with playing Wii, but it seemed like perhaps these women sensed a stigma around being both female and interested in gaming, a big part of “nerd culture”. The author’s female character that was into gaming was characterized as weak and subservient to her boyfriend, a kind of wimpy, clingy mess, who was only interested in gaming because her boyfriend was. I thought to myself: Is this really how other women perceive female gamers? That we’re only into gaming because we want to meet guys, or impress guys, or otherwise connect ourselves with men? Is this how men see us?

glasses

I think that female gamers and Doctor Who watchers and comic book readers are not outliers in the Vanderbilt community. There are probably hundreds of women on campus that enjoy gaming and reading fantasy and watching sci-fi. But I think there is still a stigma in being a “nerd” girl, mostly because the interest in gaming and “nerd culture” is still rooted in masculinity, and women who claim interest are sometimes pegged as imposters. There’s even memes about it!

imposter

So, no, I don’t think we are outliers, but I do think that there are many more women who would enjoy gaming if they felt safe to express that interest without being labeled as “fake geek girls”.

True Life: I’m a LOTRO Addict

I am very proud of myself… I’ve made excellent strides in the gaming world. For those of you that don’t remember, I am the newbiest of newbs (the writer who basically had only played iphone games), so when I downloaded LOTRO and was told that it would be a part of my grade for the course, I was wary at first. Initially, I struggled with the controls of the game, not realizing that the arrow keys could be used in place of the “a” “s” “d” and “w” keys for movement; not being able to move with ease was frustrating and really put a damper on my enjoyment of the game. Another issue I had at first was navigation through the game with the quests. I did not realize that one merely had to follow the glowing ring on the map to find the next part of the quest, and because of this, the going was excruciatingly slow. A silver lining the this issue was that I learned how to move before I learned how to navigate, and so I spent a long time fighting wolves in Thorin’s realm and reached a higher level by the end of the intro period that most. On the issue of navigation, I wish that staying on the epic quest line would be more self-explanatory because I’ve spent a lot of time doing side quests that I would in some cases prefer to avoid.

With that being said, these were just issues I had at the beginning of my journey. Since I’ve managed to get over these problems, I have become completely enamored with the game. If I’m waiting around, I play the game. If I’m bored, I’ll play the game. Not feeling like going out on the town? I’ll visit the Prancing Pony in Bree. I am seriously getting addicted to LOTRO!

One aspect I really love is the role playing. I love the fact that I can customize my character’s wardrobe and appearance, as well as the specific skills I can gain as an Elf Champion. I think one reason why this part of the game is so appealing is due to the fact that I am an English major and avid reader. When I am reading (especially in the Lord Of The Rings series) I can imagine myself in the protagonist’s position and wish I were apart of the action. By playing LOTRO, I am able to engage with the narrative in a way that has never been open to me before, and that helps to fulfill this desire.

Additionally, the quests provide just enough challenge to be fun and engaging, but are not difficult to the point that I want to abandon them as a lost cause. Even if my character dies, I feel like I can evaluate my performance and improve enough to give the challenge another go and ultimately be successful. While this game isn’t as strongly based on learning as the game Braid was, I still think it is an important factor here. In playing this game, you learn new strategies to help you play more efficiently and creatively.

One thing that I have learned since starting this game is that apparently Lore Masters get to have animal pets. Since I have been enjoying playing so much, I think it is time for me to create a new character of the Lore Master variety so I can acquire some of the cute and friendly creatures I’ve spotted along the way!

-Sparling Wilson

Form and Function

Admittedly, I am a total newbie when it comes to gaming. Seriously.. I’m the kind of person whose experience with games stops with Mario cart and scoops for my iPhone. So when I jettisoned myself out of reality and into the world of gaming by downloading the game Braid, I was skeptical as to if I would have even the minimal amount of fine motor control to successfully play the game, let alone be able to enjoy it.

 

Luckily for me, Braid is the kind of game that is totally transformative. I found myself lost in the aesthetic beauty that appeared on the screen as it whisked the hero, Tim, and me to a fictional and imaginative land. It is the very visual appeal of this game that makes all the difference, as well as works in conjunction with the fiction of the game to elevate and transform the narrative.

 

The backdrop of the game is striking. It’s like being inside one of Monet’s masterpieces. The highly impressionistic setting is important because it lends itself to the creating the element imagination that so many gamers enjoy. I am personally in the camp with the game theorists that believe that the fiction and landscape of the game space are more than just decoration to the game’s rules, but rather are a part of entire gaming experience where form and function come together and help inform one another. I’d like to think that the creator, Jonathan Blow, is too. The game creates a cohesive theme of two-dimensionality within the landscape and the rules of the game that I assume help to enhance the narrative, but I’m not really sure yet. Don’t worry, guys, no spoilers here: it took me many hours and lots of help just to figure out the basics of how to play the game, and I still can’t figure out how to properly utilize the monsters to get more height… However, I assume that when I finally get to the end and have the whole story figured out (I can’t bring myself to read ahead on Wikipedia), this theme of two-dimensionality is going to tie-in some how.

 

Now, while the visual background to the game is exceedingly exquisite, I can’t get over Tim’s chic and streamlined menswear look. I love how his conservative and prep school-ish ensemble stands in direct opposition of his environment. Where a normal game maker might design a charter’s wardrobe to fit the theme of his surroundings, Tim’s outfit stands in stark contrast of it. However, his navy blazer and khakis don’t pull me out of the game, but rather help me to relate to Tim because he looks just as lost in this game as I feel. But actually, Tim’s outfit gives an ironic sense of realism to a game that plays with the concept of time and looks more like a painting than reality. And with class just starting back, the timing of discovering Tim’s outfit couldn’t be more perfect! With his navy blazer and khakis, he looks so ready to hit the books.

 

Here, I’ve made this ensemble more ladylike by incorporating my favorite brown leather Christian Louboutin wedges to keep the outfit from looking too masculine. This Brooks Brothers navy wool blazer and white (wrinkle-resistant!) button down and J Crew tailored khakis keep the look true to Tim. Of course, I had to include a braid as a tribute to the game itself. Now that I look the part, maybe I can figure out how to actually win!

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-Sparling Wilson

Braid: The convenient platformer

In most video games, especially platformers, the player’s character is able to be killed in some manner and then respawns at the beginning of the level. This requires the player to start the level over and do everything correctly in a single run in order to progress. In contrast, Braid incorporates a type of “rewind” mechanic that allows the player to rewind time. For example, if a player accidentally falls off a ledge to their death, they can conveniently “rewind” to the point right before they jumped off and choose a different path.

This rewind mechanic is in stark contrast to most video game mechanics and everyday life. For example, In Super Mario Bros., we are unable to rewind up to the point where we die to Bowser. We have to re-do much of the level. In everyday life, we unable to rewind and perhaps not say what we just said or do what we just did. Braid is a sort-of escape from the norm – a fantasy world (the aesthetics demonstrate this as well) where we can undo our previous mistakes and finish the level in “one” go.

Another interesting corollary to Braid’s rewind mechanic is that some things in the game world do not rewind with time. Their state persists, or they keep moving as if they are unaffected by time. This made me reflect on things in our life that are not affected by time or, in a fantasy world, “re-dos”. Even if we could rewind real life and undo our actions, what things would persist? Our temperament, personality, our genes – the very essence of who we are – would be unaffected by re-dos. No matter how often we would rewind time (if we could) we would still be the same person. This is the main take-away for me, personally. Sure, I may change what I like or where I live or who I call friends, but who I am will  persist throughout my time. I can’t change who I am (not that I want to, but if I did, I couldn’t). I must live with it and embrace it.

-Thomas

Venus & Adonis Tapestry

Background: Venus and Adonis Tapestry

Canto III, Stanza 34-38

The player is transported into a lush forest with a small clearing. Enclosed by the thick tree line, the clearing centers around a large stone fountain. You hear faint sounds of birds chirping, water splashing and leaves rustling.  The player can see two figures in the distance to the right of the fountain. Upon approaching, the figures become more distinct.  The player makes out a fair skinned, god-like woman, dressed in black, kneeling over a wounded, blonde haired man dressed in armour. He seems wounded and she weeps over his body. This is quite the peculiar sight since there is no one else around, so the player approaches them.

When the player inquires what has happened, the woman, Venus, tells the player that a boar attacked Adonis and he is quickly dying. He had a habit for chasing animals that were too big to fight. The player is faced with the choice to help the wounded Adonis or to be on his way. If the player chooses to help, he or she is instructed to fetch water from the fountain in the center of the clearing. The player must collect water from the fountain and bring it back to Venus.

However, the water was not enough and Adonis dies. Venus kneels down over the body and begins to sob.  Her mourning is disturbed by rustling in the bushes. Startled, she looks to the left and yells “Oh no! The boar is back! Kill it and avenge Adonis’ death!!” The screen then shifts to the tree line to reveal an angry boar.  The boar then charges towards them and the player must kill him in order to protect Venus and himself. After a gory battle, the player is victorious. Venus rewards the player with armour as a symbol of her gratitude, and continues to mourn Adonis in peace.

NPCs involved

Venus

Godly figure with beautiful fair skin and long blonde hair.  Dressed in black she is kneeling over her gravely wounded lover, Adonis.

Adonis

Venus’ lover who is fair skinned, dressed in Armor, with short blonde hair.  He is laying on the ground bleeding, near death. Venus is kneeling over him.

Boar

A large and strong Boar that charges the player from behind the tree line when Adonis dies. If killed, rewards the player with experience points.

Quests and Dialogue:

1) Revive Adonis:

  • Player clicks on Venus to discover that Adonis is wounded: “Help, Adonis is dying! The boar attacked him!! I told him it was dangerous, but he didn’t listen”

    • If player chooses to help (“Oh no! How can I help!?”), they are instructed to fetch water

      • “Fetch water from the fountain! Quick!” -Venus

        • Run to the fountain, locate and fill the pitcher

      • Bring the water to Venus

      • Continue on to quest 2

    • If player chooses not to help, they are transported back into Castle Joyous (“I’m sorry I cannot be of greater help, I must be on my way”)

2) Avenge Adonis:

  • As Adonis dies, the boar reappears

  • Venus instructs the player to kill the boar in order to save both of their lives

    • “Oh no! The boar is back! Kill it and avenge Adonis’ death!!” -Venus

    • “Don’t worry! I’ll save us!” Fight and kill the boar

      • “You did it! Thank you for saving my life, now I can mourn the death of Adonis in peace. Please take this armor to represent my gratitude.” -Venus

      • “Glad I could help, I must be on my way now”- Player

      • Reward: Venus presents player with armor

    • If the boar kills you, choose to respawn and continue fighting or respawn to designated zone

-Emily Blake, Shao-Yu Chen, and Molly Steckler

A Musing About Games and Gender

In a relatively recent video series on youtube, PBS Game/Show, one of the videos discussed was “Are You Weird if You Play as the Opposite Sex?” (source below). In it, there was quite a bit of discussion into a genre of roleplaying games that allow players to design their own characters. These game include many MMORPGs and single player games, such as World of Warcraft, Mass Effect series, the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and many others. After watching the video, I have been thinking a bit about why I sometimes play as opposite genders in roleplaying games.

It would be lying if I said I often play as female characters in games. If one looks at my Mass Effect save files, the ration is something around 2:5 female to male. As a man, I still usually default to being a man in video games as well. While I do not consider this skewed ratio an issue, I have seriously thought about this particular behavior. Is it simply because I am a guy, or because I am uncomfortable playing a women, or perhaps I am unconsciously gynophobic? That last one is a joke, mostly. After thinking about it and getting nowhere, I decided to jump in and start a female Commander Shepard, back when I was playing Mass Effect 2. And I enjoyed it just as much as playing the male Shepard, even when I am getting her…romantically involved with other men, or male aliens (yep, you can do that). The experience was fun, engaging, and maybe even a little bit enlightening.

So understandably I was sorely disappointed with other games such as Skyrim, where playing male or female characters hold no difference whatsoever, aside from the occasional pronouns. In Skyrim, and most MMORPGs, the sex difference is very glossed over, and have next to no bearing on the gameplay or the narrative. At this point, I have actually surprised myself, because I am now actively trying to learn more about the female perspective from video games.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this little habit of mine has contributed to my sense of gender equality. Unfortunately, I still can’t come to any sort of productive conclusion about playing games as the opposite sex, but nonetheless, it has me intrigued, and of course I am not going to quite anytime soon.

-SyC

“Bring him down to our level” – A Look at the Dark Knight

While the Fellowship of the Ring has an excellent way of telling a story, it is not the only way. To enlighten myself on an alternative to the romance circle, I chose a movie that I felt would be very different from the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, and compare them for reference. The result: after I re-watched Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight, is strangely informative and satisfying.

The Fellowship is, as we went over in class, a “romance circle” model, one in which the hero must leave childhood behind, dedicate herself to the quest, go into the underworld, brave herself against the dangers of hell, and rise a more prepared champion. Interestingly, Batman Begins, the prequel of the Dark Knight, follows a very similar model, but that’s another topic. On the other hand, the Dark Knight is a very different construction, from the general model of narrative, to the techniques used to build that narrative.

The Fellowship focuses on the story of, well, the Fellowship. Their story is the all-important, age-ending, battle-starting quest that will change the face of Middle Earth forever. Nothing else is more important, even the epic quests in Lord of the Rings Online. In the Dark Knight, Batman has already understood what he must sacrifice to become the “hero Gotham needs.” Furthermore, there is a huge monkey wrench in everyone’s plans: the Joker, who simply want to prove that order is meaningless, and plans to install order, no matter for or by whom, are pathetic. These premise sets up a narrative that is beyond the Batman himself, one in which the actions of Joker, the crime mobs, the mayor, Jim Gordon, and many other side characters are just as important. In a way, this makes the very city of Gotham and its 30 million inhabitants another character in the movie as well.

To construct a narrative with this kind of “connectedness” in a medium in which the audience has only a fixed view (the screen), it seems the movie actually drew the attention away from Batman, the supposed protagonist. The movie often uses a panoramic or bird’s eye view to show the larger surrounding, before drawing closer or cutting to a specific character. This enlarging of view point constructs a more web-like narrative, rather than a much more chronological one like the Fellowship. In the Dark Knight, the scene will often cut to events in different locations, happening to different characters, but often implied to occur at the same, while the Fellowship largely restricts this kind of “changing places” to flashbacks.

There are so much more that I can discuss in the Dark Knight and the Fellowship of the Ring, because of how well done these two movies are. Nonetheless, there is a dramatic difference between them in how each movie choose to tell their own narratives, which are also built very differently. The Fellowship has a more linear style because of the immense importance of the quest to reach Mordor, while the Dark Knight is what happens when a guardian who refuses to abandon his morals meets a psychotic hellbent on corrupting him.

-SyC