Archives for category: Video Games

My most common hits are still coming from Scott Pilgrim searches. Were I to take it as an indicator of scale, O’Malley’s gem is more important than Terry Pratchett.

I can’t choose between them, I love them both too much.

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I’m tremendously happy that I didn’t make a New Years resolution to blog more. Aside from the fact that I have never made a New Year’s resolution with a straight face or possible scale, reality has struck against me and she. I had planned to blog about Japan while in Japan: this was first hampered by being stranded in London for eight days under weather conditions favourably thought of as ‘arctic’; secondary hampering came from trying to write about the said personal disaster. It’s too depressing to go back to a very bad headspace involving high stress, failing health, damaged ankles, impossible phone calls and red tape cutting off your ability to function while on honeymoon. The return fared no better, as we came back to a house still without heating (a long story 13 months and counting in the making), a still-broken fridge, doors as yet still-unrebarrelled and, but a few days after landing the eagle, a kitchen flooded thanks to a burst pipe.

And that’s just the highlights!

It’d be very easy to just roll over and whine, but to Amsterdam with that noise. This is an upbeat blog, goddamnit, and if I can avoid cursing up a storm here and on Twitter through sheer force of will in the last few weeks, then damn it we will beat Misery’s ass until Kathy Bates turns up with the notice of surrender. For all the rough, nasty, horrible crap we went through in the days that preceded and followed the Wedthing, we also got to meet a lot of good and splendid people and relish fantastic opportunities.

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Olivia plays Team Fortress 2. Scratch that, she submerges herself into it. It’s verging on being a lifestyle choice and I’m not sure if I still rate higher than it. Every once in a while, I look at the time she has logged playing the game – I’m pretty sure it’s in excess of 400 hours by now. She loves it, and rightly so. While most first-person shooters are dour, angsty and grim variations on Halo, Team Fortress 2 is silly, exaggerated and genuinely funny. Instead of near identical hulking masses of testosterone, each character is designed physically and stylistically around their function (as you can see here). It helped to get her through a rough rehabilitation after her surgery last year. The main draw for her now, though, is the element of teamwork involved: she tends to avoid the free-for-all carnage of arenas, wherein the goal is to shoot everyone else, in favour of team games like capture-the-flag and domination. She enjoys the interaction with other people, even from a distance or through anonymity.

There is a line she has not yet crossed. She never speaks to any of these people. I wondered long and hard about this before eventually asking her why she didn’t plug in a mic. Having spent so many hours playing the game, her grasp of strategy and team deployment is well refined by this point, and my thought would be that she would be a valuable leader to have. It might also cut down on her cursing when people don’t defend her while she is busy constructing sentry guns and teleporters (her preference being to play as an engineer). Her answer saddened me.

“It’ll spoil the game.”

Girls are still not overly prominent in the world of video games. It’s not that they aren’t out there or lack interest in the medium, but the environment is not open or welcoming to them. Olivia had observed what happened when girls actually did speak up in Team Fortress as being one of two things…

1. They are mocked, insulted, demeaned for their gender and demands are made of them that none of these guy would ever try in reality (imagine a much less tactful example of “Show us your lady bits!”) or…

(…and this is possibly worse…)

2. They are venerated to the point that the team dynamic is thrown out. Those lady bits, they are placed on an unassailable pedestal, and the team isn’t playing together, they are playing for her. Which of course leads to further resentment and…

… Who needs it?

It’s hard to think of a male equivalent, usually because the male variant personified is someone like myself, and I and mine don’t give a crap about who knows where tastes and predilections lie. What women will pay heed to my pursuits will more often than not be happy to discuss a shared interest rather than mock me for enjoying Mean Girls, disliking football or whatever else. I’m a show-off and demagogue, I enjoy the attention. Olivia however is not and does not, and is far more indicative of how a normal mind works, simply because she is not an egomaniac with little care for other people. She’s a well-intentioned person who wants to enjoy the game and not disrupt everyone else’s enjoyment of same. She simply wants to play on equal terms. Much like the female perjorative that resembles a misprinted ‘clint’, the problem is that there is no real equivalence in the social dynamic: men can enjoy things aimed at women, but if women engage in an area dominated by men they receive an extreme reaction. Whether negative or excessively positive, the end result is one of detriment to fun. The scariest part is that, frustrating though it may be, the Team Fortress community tends to be one of the most opening and pleasant around. The behaviour with a game more actively aggressive (and ironically homoerotic) like HALO is far less palatable…

The sexism isn’t a blanket cause for her silence in-game, just the initial motivation: the fact that she didn’t use a mic early on just began a pattern she has no need to break from now. She has joined groups, enjoys their online company and has no need to adapt her modus operandi. More often than not, she tends to avoid servers with mics as anyone who feels the need to talk often don’t shut up (and you are left at risk of mic-spamming, which is worse again). Generally, the best games do tend to have teams slip into roles and strategies without being ordered around to do so, and there is an audible bump in Olivia’s enjoyment when that happens. There are more than enough decent people playing the game, so why risk the frustration of harassment or special treatment? Better to shoot them in the head – at least you can do that in games.

While Olivia now gets what she wants from the game – and I am delighted that she was able to not be put off it – there still remains the problem that she is an outlier rather than a trend. Whether they are a silent majority or minority amongst their gender, they are alienated from a pursuit they should be able to enjoy, without having to tolerate douchery or fulfill the role of Nerdbait (there are those willing to perform either function, some times gleefully in the case of the latter, but they are really not helping matters for everyone else by doing so, the tweaked guys in particular).

This is all well and long before you get to the specific marketing and semiological crises of games for men and women, as typified by the role assignments of Cooking Mama and Science Papa. There, a shift occurs from disappointment to unbridled rage and we see why I do not bring Olivia near a video game store if I can avoid it… [To be continued]

Here be spoilers, I guess.

I tend to play story-based games – I enjoy the interaction with narrative, but I’m also aware that the narrative is, to one extent or another, already locked into a particular course. It may be the Final Fantasy form which will in effect be a series of pretty cut scenes interspersed with your pressing X every few whenevers, it may be Mass Effect, wherein your choices can affect what characters live, die, stick around and leave – either way, the plotline will have been anticipated, put in place and you will be constricted by the world of the game.

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