Women And The Gaming World, also #Gamersgate

I’m not going to lie, I approached the whole gaming world with many pre-conceived notions and stereotypes of gaming culture and the very people that played these games. I pictured the overweight, late-twenties male in a stained and dirty t-shirt hidden in his parents’ basement playing games alone for hours, with the reflective glow of a screen illuminating his pasty white skin providing the only light and the quick twitch of his hands on the console being the only sign of life. My perception of the gaming world mostly came from its negative (or at least off-color and sensationalized) portrayal in the media, and specifically Brian from the film The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants (pictured below), which was one of my first introductions to gamers. One of the bloggers on here has already mentioned that the gaming world really seems like a boys-only club akin to something out of a 90s movie, and before I approached the world of gaming, I would say that I agreed 100% with that statement.

from fanpop.com
from fanpop.com

Before I started gaming, I thought my entrance into the culture would be a bombardment of ostracization in the online community. I thought the people playing games would be jerks because I wasn’t a guy; I have to say though, I have been very pleasantly surprised. Please keep in mind that my experience is limited to only a few games, but I have found that people for the most part have been very welcoming and helpful. I guess there isn’t really any way to tell outright that I am a woman, but I think that this gender neutrality is a plus of gaming. In the game, one assumes the identity of his or her avatar, and thus the gender of the gamer is kind of a moot point. Video gaming provides a unique and cool situation in which men and women can compete against each other and be on teams together in a completely equal way, which is more than one can say for most organized sports. So basically video gaming is the utopia of gender equality, right? Right?

Well… not so fast.

The gaming world, especially now, has been getting a lot of flack for a lack of diversity, ESPECIALLY with how the gaming world regards women. I’m spoiled that in LOTRO, I have the option of completely customizing my character to be whichever gender or race I want it to be, but in most games, this is far from the case. In the vast majority of games, one assigned an avatar/ protagonist character from the beginning, which would be okay if men and women characters were generally equally spread as protagonists throughout games, but that isn’t what happens. The majority of games have a male protagonist, and women characters are highly sexualized. Geek Feminism made a list of games and how women are portrayed in them, and the protagonist section is woefully low. It’s missing a few, but considering how many games there are, the message is overwhelming.

You can read their info here: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Women_Characters_in_Video_Games

Sadly, this misogamy is carrying over to the real-life world. While female playership is increasing greatly, some male players seem to be pretty mad that the “boy’s club” aspect of gaming is on the decline. You may be familiar with the “#Gamergate” situation that is currently going on, and if not, the gist is that a female game maker, Zoe Quinn, and another female game critic, Anita Sarkeesian, have been harassed and threatened by members of the gaming community to the point where they have had to flee their homes. You can read more on the situation here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/24/349835297/-gamergate-controversy-fuels-debate-on-women-and-video-games

This behavior is unacceptable. Gaming is not a man’s world, it’s everyone’s world, equally. I think the fact that we play using avatars speaks to this. While the characters display sexism, which needs to change, the games themselves are gender blind. The age of the damsel in distress and femme fatale is over. It is time for the gaming community at large to welcome and respect the influx of women that is helping to make it so hugely successful, both online and in the real world.

-Sparling Wilson

Enjoy this satire:

from geeksaresexy.net
from geeksaresexy.net
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Little Torture Devices of Antiquity

Tyler Gilcrest

My experiences with arcade games are definitely not as extensive as those of other people.  I was no arcade rat.  Part of this is because there was no arcade like the amazing Funspot that I could spend my days at.  Part of this was the fact that arcade games had lost much of their grandeur by the time I rolled around on the gaming scene.  And part of this was my parents unwillingness to give me quarters that were only to be subsequently eaten by  “those machines”.  Nonetheless, I was able to play some arcade games.

Arcade games were and still are always fun initially.  Arcade games are simple and easy to sit down at and start playing.  They have lights and sound that entertain the gamer as they start playing.  The simplicity is fun for me because there’s practically no learning curve.  But that’s basically all they have.  But after a little while of playing, they definitely lose their appeal.  Now I may be someone who is easily frustrated, but after a while arcade games just genuinely anger me.  As the game gets progressively harder, it finds new and creative ways for me to die.  “That barrel appeared out of nowhere!” or “This game just hates me” are common utterances I might make (even though I know full well it’s just my lack of skill that caused my downfall).  Getting beat is never fun, especially when it’s a 8-bit polyphonic simpleton arcade game dealing out the punishment.  And the fact that all the time it’s eating my money just kills me.  I forget, in the heat of battle, that there is no possible way to beat this game.  All I can do is try in vain to get close to the ridiculously high scores set by some other loser who spent even more of his time, effort and money on this machine.  Eventually I’ll give up against the arcade beast.

 Maybe that’s why I like console games more.  Console games and arcade games start out at different levels of difficulty in the very beginning.  Console games usually start with more of a learning curve than arcade games.  A lot of the time, console games have controls and stories to which the player will have to orient themselves before playing.  Arcade games, in their simplicity, can just throw you at the bottom of Donkey Kong’s tower and say, “Don’t get hit by barrels or flames, go.”  I can handle the learning curve at the beginning of the game if I can beat the game later on.  Console games have an end.  They have a credits screen and a message of congratulations for your achievements.  Arcade games just kill you over and over and say, “Continue? :20” (waitng with an open mouth to eat your twenty-five cent piece).  Even Steve Wiebe gets to the “end” of Donkey Kong gets killed.  There’s no reward, no congratulations.  It just gets tired of letting him play and kills him.  Another thing about arcade games is the level of difficulty they reach.  If you graphed difficulty as a function of progress in the game, arcade games would be an exponential function whereas console games would probably only be a straight line (that might even plateau from time to time).  If console games were as hard as arcade games, no one would ever pay $60 retail for them.  That’s why the arcade only charges a quarter, because no one would ever subject themselves to such torture for any more than that at one time.  They make money because suckers feed them quarters in pursuit of the impossible.  Anymore, I see arcade games as fun little torture devices of antiquity.

Arcade to Console: A Shift in the Nature of Games

by Theo Dentchev

“There’ll always be the argument that video games are meant to be played for fun. Believe me, some of it’s a lot of fun. Video games are meant to be played at home, relaxing, on a couch, amongst friends…and they are, and that’s fun. But competitive gaming, when you want to attach your name to a world record, when you want your name written into history, you have to pay the price.”

– Billy Mitchell, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

In the above quote arcade game legend Billy Mitchell speaks to the difference between competitive gaming and what might be called “casual” gaming. But at the same time, in a way he’s comparing modern gaming to classic arcade gaming. “[Modern] [v]ideo games are meant to be played at home…on a couch,” and one might add with a gaming console, on a TV, whereas classic arcade games are played standing up in front of the arcade machine, usually in an arcade. Those superficial differences in location and method of playing are representative of a broader shift in gaming from the arcade era in the 80s to the console era of today, from more competitive to more casual, from a narrow to a broad appeal, and from more rule oriented games to games which utilize fiction much more heavily.

The underlying goal of classic arcade games is to get as far as you could, to achieve as high a score as possible without dying (and if you are good enough, to hopefully get your name on the high scores list), and thus they are inherently competitive. Arcade games also require great hand-eye and hand-thought coordination, as Twin Galaxies founder and referee Walter Day tells us in King of Kong. Someone playing an arcade game has to be literally thinking on their feet. The person has to be on edge, attentive, and motivated to keep standing there and competing at that game. This is in stark contrast to video games today, which are meant to be enjoyed while sitting back, sinking into your couch cushions, without needing to exert a great deal of mental or physical effort. Today’s games try to be friendly and open to new or “casual” gamers. They are much, much more forgiving than the arcade games of the past and no longer restrict players to going as far as their skills allow them; now even the least able gamer  can fully experience (and beat) most games. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still games being made which are or can be competitive out there, it just means the landscape has shifted.

Accompanying this shift is gaming becoming more mainstream. Whether the increased public interest in gaming is due to the increasingly casual nature of games, or whether companies are making more casual games to please the public, I don’t know. I figure it’s a combination of both. Most people don’t find the intensely challenging, and often frustrating nature of arcade games to be “fun.” They are more attracted to games whose rules present some sort of challenge, yet not one which is too difficult to overcome. But people also like flashy graphics, rich soundtracks, and complex stories. Arcade gaming did not have that. They didn’t have the greatest graphics (it was the 80s,still early in the development of video games), and while they had some catchy themes the music was pretty simple. As for story, sure, Mario (Jumpman) was trying to save Pauline (Lady) from Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong, but that’s about as deep as that story gets, and there’s really no resolution of the conflict (ending). And what about Pac-Man? What was he eating all those dots for anyway? Arcade games focused mostly on a set of rules, without much fiction. Modern games still have rules which the player must follow, but have added great amounts of fiction, mainly in the form of narratives and accompanying music, to the point that some games are considered more film than game (e.g. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots). That in turn has attracted a great deal of people to the gaming world, swelling its ranks with new, casual gamers.

Video games in the 80s were generally viewed in a negative light, with mostly “losers” or “nerds,” supposed rejects of society, congregating in dimly lit arcades, almost cult-like. Perhaps this was because games were still a new and relatively foreign medium. Or maybe the “price” needed to be paid that Billy Mitchell alludes to, not in quarters, but in time, dedication, and repeated frustration resulting from the difficulty of arcade games was too high for the average person to pay. Or was it because arcade games were too simple, only about rules and competition? Whatever the case may be, since video games have started heavily incorporating fiction and lowering the challenge the rules present, changing the nature of the games from competitive to casual, they have been propelled in a relatively short amount of time into mainstream recognition and acceptance. People find today’s games to be more “fun.” It’s not only nerds who play video games now, and although competitive gaming may still be discredited, even that is changing as people begin to play games like Halo for a living.

Or maybe it’s all because of Madden.

– TD

On Running Backs and Thimbles

Jake Karlsruher

When my friends and I first got to high school we were plagued with the Freshman Curse; the girls we hung out with in junior high ditched us for the cooler, more mature seniors. Dejected, we turned to the only comfort we had left: Madden ’06. We logged countless hours in my buddy’s basement, sitting on his torn corduroy couch, mashing the Xbox controller until our fingers hurt. We talked very little; instead, we let the 40-yard dash, fantasy draft, and franchise mode engulf us. Being good at Madden became a necessity in our social circle. If you couldn’t play well, your Friday night consisted of watching someone else play and waiting anxiously for your turn. Because of our competitive nature, the game couldn’t be confined to the basement. It seeped into our school lives and our cafeteria conversations. “You’re done tonight, I have a new team” was usually met with “Yeaaah rigght, I twenty-one O’d (21-0) you last week”. I distinctly remember a heated argument that arose when someone proposed ranking each other for an upcoming tournament (you are not better than me). It was about that time that we laid down the controllers and started to enjoy high school.

While we played a lot of Madden, we experimented with other mediums too, namely Monopoly. Every once in a while, a friend of mine would bust out Deluxe Edition and we’d kill time by playing for a while. We chatted about how the Phillies were playing, what homework we had to do, or what girls we liked. It was a social experience; we joked, laughed and ate microwave pizza. Usually we would get bored before we finished and rarely completed the game. I enjoyed the time I spent playing Monopoly, but it was clearly a different experience than playing Madden. Both Madden and Monopoly are strongly based on rules. They both can be classified as emergence games — games in which altering a strategy or game play style produces a wide range of outcomes — so why did I feel little emotional attachment to our Monopoly games but see Madden as a way of life?

In my last blog post, I commented on the importance of a viewer being able to relate to a character in a film. The phenomenon is transmedial. In games, as well as films, the person who seeks entertainment wants to connect to their subject, to feel what their subjects feel. Madden offers a first person option in which the player can see the field through a running back’s eyes. The rumble feature literally lets the player feel a chop block or a devastating hit-stick. It is much harder to relate to the Thimble as it builds its commercial empire, investing in properties up and down the Jersey Shore. Perhaps my friends and I took little interest in Monopoly because we couldn’t connect with it.

In class we discussed categories of games and assigned each genre a ratio of emergence to progression. One game might be 25% emergence and 75% progression while another might be a 50-50 split. I consider Monopoly to be more emergence based than Madden. With a console sports game, one can choose to play through thirty seasons of a franchise or turn a rookie into a superstar.  Monopoly had more emergence qualities, but we were less immersed in the game. My group’s preference was a game with more choice and progression. That being said, we never truly did reach the endgame of Monopoly. The game takes too long. Perhaps the desire for completion, the aspect of winning and losing that drives our competitive egos, is what kept us away from board games. Or maybe it’s just us. Could it be that our collective generation has lost the patience for board games? I like my Blackberry and my Internet and I’m used to instant gratification. At some point, reaching down and physically pushing Thimble to Reading Railroad became obsolete. I don’t have time for that.

My friends and I spent more time playing console games than board games. Monopoly Deluxe was enjoyable, but Madden ’06 engulfed us entirely. However, all good things have to end and eventually we had to move on… to Madden ’07.

-Kar-El