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

Failure in Payoff in “Interactive” Media

This week, I was very intrigued by our discussion of the “doomed quest.” This idea is particularly pertinent to our reading of “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” where the narrator sets out on his journey with full knowledge that even if he ‘succeeds’ (reaches the end), he will die. The fated tragedy is not unique to this story, however; in literature, the hero “loses” all the time. Sometimes they die in battle, other times they just don’t get the girl. But in literature the ending isn’t always a happy one, and readers generally accept this.

In gaming, however, the “doomed quest” takes a different form. Game players enter the game knowing that they’ll inevitably fail some levels, but can usually count on the possibility of beating the game, of being ultimately successful. But we’re less keen on starting a game if the end of the journey leads to failure. And this makes sense: why would anyone engage in gaming if there wasn’t a final payoff?

The concept of a “payoff” is also very intriguing, and I’m curious what you all more experienced gamers make of this notion. Payoff seems to take different forms in different mediums: in literature and film, the user (reader or viewer) wants to finish and understand the story. No one starts a book or watches a movie to be rewarded for their work. But in video games, there has to be something more, something that makes the user feel like the gameplay was worth his or her time.

What causes this distinction? Why do users feel like they deserve something ‘more’ out of playing a game than ingesting other media? One easy answer is that video games are more “interactive,” and thus the user feels more personally connected to the outcome of the game. But are literature or film (or any other medium) not also interactive? And looking forward, could literature and film (or painting, radio, etc.) not evoke these same feelings of attachment and need for “payoff”?

One distinction that should be made is that there are two (and possibly more) potential “failures” in any media: the user (reader/player/etc.) failing because of their interaction with the media, and the narrative ‘failing’ itself. I had initially thought that the second didn’t apply to video games, because in my amateur experience the character always wins (or, the character is fused with the user, so if the user “wins,” the character is automatically victorious). However, I found think listing, “13 Games Where the Main Character Dies.” (*Spoiler alert, obviously*) http://www.gamesradar.com/13-games-where-the-main-character-dies/ I’m interested in y’all’s thoughts on if a “payoff” still exists in games where the narrative “fails,” even if the user “wins.”

-Emma Baker

A whole new world

Like many of my classmates, I am very new to gaming. My first “quest” in Lord of the Rings Online involved figuring out how to actually get the game to work on my computer. The game worked for a few days, and then I suddenly had difficulties getting the game to load. After hours of testing the game, researching, doing more testing, and getting other people to help me, I finally figured out how to download the game to my computer.
Now that it’s working, I find the game to be pretty interesting. I like being able to explore more of Middle Earth than just the lands that the books and movies discuss. The game creators must have put so much creativity and passion into developing all of the details.
Most of the guys I talk to are really jealous that I get to play LOTRO for class and ask me how they can get into the class. My girl friends love to tease me about my LOTRO playing, especially since I don’t fit the typical gamer stereotype, being in a sorority and all. Apparently calling it LOTRO is like having a pet name for it, and they crack up when I start referring to my character in the first person. I’ll be complaining about a wolf attacking me, and they’ll look at me with a confused expression until they realize that I’m referring to the game. My friend told me that the other night I was wearing headphones while playing and letting out little exclamations every now and then. What can I say, I’m glad my frustration entertains people. I think that despite their mocking, they do find the concept fascinating.
In all seriousness, I think the game is really cool, but challenging. It is a little difficult to maneuver my character; I have some issues with getting the right angle for basic tasks, such as opening a door or fighting an opponent. Navigating can be pretty tough, too, since the quest-tracker will indicate the right direction to go, but not the best route to take. There have been a lot of times when I’ve had to skirt around a mountain or creep through some bushes or trees to get to the right place without enemies seeing me. This element of the game has encouraged me to explore and be more creative with the tactics I use in getting places. I’ve had lots of opportunities to explore the Chetwood Forest, since most of my quests have been there, and I keep getting killed and having to go back through the forest again and again. The quests are very difficult, especially the “kill” ones, and my fighting skills are not very well-developed. I like being able to use my Burglar’s advantage and a “Riddle” skill that stuns your opponent, but I’m not very good at regular attacks. I’m definitely mostly interested in uncovering the storyline that the game follows, so sometimes I get annoyed with how long it takes to complete the quests.I think it would be nice to receive a hint or two from the game, but it has been really beneficial to learn from the other people in my class. Hopefully lots of assistance and practice will make me much better at the game than I am now!

Story vs. Gameplay

When talking about the role of story in a video game, I think it just depends on the type of person you are. For example, many people just play Halo for the shooting and killing. While this is the primary and most fun part of the game, there is a lot more to the game than that. I actually do sometimes stop and look at the “beautifully-rendered trees” and the wide variety of expansive environments. The story is also a lot more complex and interesting than most other games, but it is up to the gamer how much they want to know about it. For example, in Halo 3 there are numerous hidden “terminals” that the gamer can find. These terminals reveal a lot about what happened before the games, especially about the war between the ancient Forerunners and the Flood parasite thousands of years ago. There are also dozens of Halo books that further explicate the history and legend of Halo. It is not necessary to find these terminals, and many people just skip the terminals and cutscenes to just concentrate on the combat. If a player chooses to ignore the story, the game is just an action-packed alien-killing shooting rampage.

Someone in class also said that “no one plays Grand Theft Auto for the missions”, which I completely disagree with. When I first got Grand Theft Auto IV, the first thing I did was go through the missions, because I was interested in what the protagonist, Niko Bellic, would be like. The evolution of Niko’s character really interested me, along with all the shooting, stealing, and car chases the missions involve. I was emotionally invested in his story, and towards the end of the game, I really wanted him to get revenge on Dmitri. After I had completed all of the missions, killing people just wasn’t as fun anymore. Niko was just killing people because he was bored, not because an Italian mob boss was paying him to do it (as in the missions). Sure, it can be fun to drive expensive cars at over 100 mph while running over the pedestrians, but there aren’t really any repercussions to it, and gets boring after while if it doesn’t advance the story. Although gameplay is important, the story is what sets a game apart from others.

– Kashyap Saxena

LOTRO: Not Quite There Yet

by Theo Dentchev

Video games today are the closest thing we have to a commercially available virtual reality like that in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Lord of the Rings Online is in many ways quite similar to the Metaverse. You have an avatar, you can interact with other avatars of real people in real time, and you can even have houses in various neighborhoods. Of course, all of this is much more limited that in is in the Metaverse; your avatar is only customizable within the confines of the pre-made models and features (you can’t code your own), interactions with other players are much more limited in terms of facial expression and body language (sure you can type “lol” and your avatar will laugh, but your avatar can’t be made to mimic your real life body and face movements), and while you can change the furniture in your house you can’t do much about the structure of it.

And you can also fight. The true core of any game is the gameplay, with everything else, no matter how detailed or flushed out, being simply shiny accessories. In LOTRO, whatever else it may have in its vast universe, is at it’s core a PvE (player vs environment) game where the player fights all sorts of monsters in his various quests. The core of the Multiverse gameplay is to mimic real life, but without the limitations, but you can still have sword fights in it, thanks to some nifty code by Hiro Protagonist. In LOTRO you have a great deal of control over your avatar when fighting. I happen to be a champion, so I know a thing or two about virtual sword fighting. I can decide what kind of attacks my character will use and when. If I time it right I can fit in special attacks in between auto attacks, or I can have two special attacks in a row. I can heal, and I can run away (sort of).

But after reading Snow Crash I realize just how limited the gameplay really is. In the Metaverse skill is in part determined by how closely you can get your avatar to move the way you would in real life. In many ways it is like a fight in real life; you actually have to pay attention to how the other player is moving, and react accordingly by dodging, blocking, counter attacking. All of those are automated in LOTRO, determined by mathematical formulas and probability. In LOTRO you don’t even pay attention to the actions of your avatar or the enemy you are fighting. If you asked me to describe how a spider in LOTRO attacks I couldn’t do it. That’s because in LOTRO you’re just standing still face to face with your enemy, hacking away, and you’re paying much more attention to the health/power bars in the upper left, and the skill icons in you skill bar (whether they are available yet, or how much cool down time is left) than you are to the actual movements going on. Not to mention the fact that your movements don’t really have much of an effect anyway. I may have just used a special move that slashed my enemy four times, but the enemy will look just the same as it did before. In the Metaverse slashes actually have visible effects, such as severing the arm of an avatar from its body.

Reading Snow Crash makes me realize just how far off games like LOTRO are from achieving virtual reality, despite all the cosmetic similarities. And yet, there are similarities. If you compare LOTRO to early arcade games the difference is huge. We’re making strides, and who knows, maybe another twenty or thirty years from now we’ll have a Metaverse in Reality. In the meantime I’m going to go kill some spiders, and maybe I’ll pay a little more attention to the animations this time.

– TD