Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sexism, Sexuality, and Games

Let me get one thing out there right away. Games aren't real. Sure, there are plenty of people (WoW players, perhaps) who might argue against this, tell me how visceral the experience of playing games can be, but the truth of the matter is that they are fake, contrived experiences. Very little depicted in games mirrors reality. Plain and simple. Yet, this doesn't stop people from arguing against them as if what they offered was, in fact, a real experience with effects in the real world.

This comes up often in the violence debate. There is constant talk of how animated violence translates into real world violence. Countless (or seemingly so) studies show how those who play violent videogames act more violently in real life. What I'd like to see is the list of violent criminals who NEVER played violent games. Kinda destroys the argument, doesn't it? Guy goes on a ten day killing spree and yet has never played a shooting game. Interesting.

Anyway, this isn't about violence. It's about sexism, sexuality and how they are depicted in videogames. I read an article which lamented the depiction of women in video games. Basically, this woman was angry every female in games had a big chest and unreal proportions. I won't argue this. I also will state I am perfectly aware of how such depictions can confuse both young males and females. It scares me when I realize how many male gamers lust after unattainable perfection because they see it in video games. The curves given to female characters in games could only be attained in real life through severe dieting and plenty of work under the knife. I could make Hollywood comparisons here but I'd like to think gamers and the game industry could be held to a higher standard than those bozos. Hope is a dangerous drug, I know.

Let's pause for a moment, however. Why do we see articles about the depiction of women but rarely do we see the same for men? Have you seen how men are drawn in video games? They are musclebound freaks of nature more times than not, with not an ounce of fat to boot. No guy who takes on the role of these characters could ever achieve such a level of physical fitness (especially if they play games so much) yet few lament this fact. It's the old double standard showing its ugly face again.

The concept that women are portrayed as fantasy to male gamers loses its punch when we realize the entire game is fantasy. The male characters suffer from the same effect, and what we have is a realistically unrealistic depiction of the human race in video games. Is this a big deal? I doubt it. Until we find girls in the hospital for eating disorders citing female video game characters as their inspiration or hear that vid gamer's use of steroids has increased for the same reason, we have little to worry about. People (except for those LOOKING for problems) can see the difference between fantasy and reality. And who wants the fantasy to look exactly like the reality? Right, no one.

What we do have to worry about, at least to a small extent, is sexual content in video games. Like movies, I find nothing wrong with appropriate sexual situations in games. However, just like violence, when frivolous, it can pose a threat. Sure, we age-rate games but this has proven a weak protection for minors. Take The Saboteur for instance. There is a special code within the game which allows for gratuitous nudity throughout the game. This adds nothing to the game at all. I didn't know what it was when I activated it, and was actually disappointed for the gaming industry and humanity when I saw what it was, the ability to see dancers nude and get lapdances. Ouch. We can do better. We should.

Keep an eye out for this sort of thing and let your opinion be heard. Hey, I remember when curse words weren't allowed on network TV and nudity was out of the question. Now we have bleeps (which hide nothing, really) and blurred lines everywhere. For what? Is it really necessary. I am far from prude and my main concern is that we are being fed this because the publishers and network execs think this is what we want. Then again, I never thought Jersey Shore was what the public wanted and look how well that is doing. Is this the end of civilization as we know it? Am I being paranoid? A combination of the two? Decide for yourself.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Almost every review I read for a game has a score for replayability. Obviously some games gear themselves for this more than others. Many games, however, have little to offer after you beat them. I didn't see the need to replay a game like Uncharted or Infamous. I ran those through, watched the plot unfold, and really didn't think I would enjoy one more go around, despite how much I liked both of them. This begs the question, how many games get replayed?

I don't see a true parallel here with movies. I can watch the same movie over and over, sometimes watching a scene a dozen times. It's a shorter time investment, that's the difference. To replay a game requires much more dedication. Sure, with games that have multiple saves, I can go back to a key point in the game and play it over again. But I don't. Never really have, other than to show someone a cool spot or if I need to revisit something for a review. Otherwise, once the game is done, it's done.

I've asked other gamers and they pretty much feel the same way. Of course, this is nowhere need a large enough sample size, yet I wonder how many gamers really do replay their games. I'm not talking about multiplayer, that's far different. I mean beating Mass Effect and then going back and doing it all over again. Perhaps this might work with a game that has multiple difficulty levels and beating it on a certain level unlocks new features. Most of those games are loosely story based, so it's different any way. Did many people replay Bioshock? Once the ending was revealed, was there a reason to?

This brings up an important point. One can assume game developers consider replayability, especially with games that are beaten in a few days. Replayability increases the bang to buck ratio, so this has to be on the table for them. The question is, what makes a game replayable? What do we, as gamers, want from our games to make us keep going back? The aforementioned difficulty levels is one. How about achievements for beating the game more than once? Do we care enough as gamers about achievements? Trophies? I could care less myself. I just know my PS3 and XBox make a sound and I see a notification but it really doesn't penetrate my brain.

I recently finished Shadow Complex, quite possibly the best XLBA game I've seen. There are different difficulty levels there, but once I completed the game (and was somewhat disappointed with the ending) I really didn't feel like playing again. I've booted it up a few times since, and I just don't care enough to play again. Heavy Rain seems different. I played through twice (for a review) and then watched some videos online and saw so many things I missed. I am tempted to play again. There's so much there, so many different paths, so that adds to replayability. Like Infamous, Knights of the Old Republic let you play as good or evil and your actions dictated much of what happens later. I replayed KOTOR and am thinking about revisiting Cole as an evil dude.

Do you care about replayability? Is this a factor in buying a game? I can't imagine it's that big of a deal. I do, however, see the value of a gamer playing and playing a title. When you get more than you expected, you tend to think highly of the developer. There was a RTS game years ago called Total Annihilation that had such a robust community and a developer that kept pumping out new units and updates that people played it for years and years. RTS games lend themselves much more to replayability. Maybe other games can learn from that.

As always, let me know what you think about all of this. I am curious to see what the general gaming public thinks about replayability and if I am in the majority or off my rocker once again.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What's Next?

I find it fascinating sometimes how hard it is to predict coming tech. For instance, CD technology was created in 1970, and really didn't hit the market until 1982. That's 12 years of lead in time. Now, of course, the time between creation of a tech and it's implementation has shortened. Yet, I find it hard to fathom what will come after MP3's being downloaded from thin air. Sure, we can guess, but I am talking about guessing right. I was shown an ad for bottled water in the 80's as some market test and laughed, like people would be stupid enough to buy bottled water. Hmmmmmm.

So, what does this mean for video games? Project Natal looms on the horizon and promises to offer a different style of game play. Ditto for 3D glasses, which ahve been promised for eons but are certain to be ready for prime time real soon. Maybe games will be more immersive, intuitive. But how?

When we consider new technology, one thing we often forget is the human element. The first online games were awful not because of the networks or the software, but the people. People can be jerks. Most aren't, but the few that are ruin it for everyone. Imagine having games beamed into your skull. That would be cool. What wouldn't would be the people playing that game along with you, perhaps. It's a wildcard that many people are afraid of. But let's put fear aside for a little while.

I want you to really try to think of what sort of technology is on the horizon. Don't take existing tech and enhance it (Say, DVD to Blu-Ray, for instance) Try and imagine brand new technology. Where are games headed? Of course, you need to look at where they have been and maybe examine the last ten years, watch the progression, then make your estimate from there.

Surely there will be a next generation of consoles, as rumors already abound about a PS4 and a new Wii. (Microsoft seems to think Natal is like a new console) But what about after that? Consoles are roughly a 30 year old convention. We're still plugging them into TVs. How much longer will that last? The progression of the iPod/iPhone as a gaming platform makes things interesting, and maybe that's going to be added to the mix. There's really no way to know for sure.

Think about it. And feel free to jump into the Game Players Hub forum to discuss this. Curious to know what you all think.

Violence in Video Games

March 25:

I am not sure what it is, maybe it's E3 that sets it all off, but it seems at least once a year all the news hubs and media organizations get started on their 'violent video game witch hunt'. Sure, this debate will rage on and on and I doubt we will ever see the two sides come to much of an agreement but I just don't see what the media's angle is. And trust me, there is always an angle with them. Always has been, always will be. You can count on that.

I know people on both sides of the argument and the ones who think games are too violent love to forward me a link they found on their Yahoo page, like the one yesterday that listed ten games that went too far. GTA IV was on there, my God! The surprise nearly knocked me off my chair. To think that people who don't really play video games think something like Grand Theft Auto is violent. Listen pal, if you've never eaten spicy foods before, don't go diving in at your local Thai place or swallow a habenero pepper. Go in easy. Seeing GTA as a first entry into the world of action games is not the most recommended move. Try a Barbie game first, see if you can handle it. More seriously, play a game that's easy to pick up with a clear story line that at least explains why you're running around with a gun shooting at anything that moves.

Video games can be violent and yes, some have wanton violence, thinking they are going to sell just for the fact that you can blow someone's head off. Such games have little merit and drag down the better ones. But who can say that Bioshock is too violent of a game after getting involved in the deep story and message the game conveys? Ditto for Mass Effect 2 and even Metal Gear Solid 4, which spends a hell of a lot more time (maybe too much for some) telling a story than it does having you kill.

Like I said, there is no end to this debate and I am not trying to create one. Taste is taste but the media needs to explore the issue more, rather than make a yearly attack with no substance behind it. It's like saying Goth kids are scary. Well, maybe on the outside they are different, but get to know them and more often than not they are just like everyone else.

JM out.