Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Diversity in games

As a white male, middle to upper-middle class, I have enjoyed being the core market for videogames for some time. I need not dwell on issues of diversity because either the default character is similar enough to myself, arousing (if female), or otherwise designed with me in mind. I am, however, very interested in the discussion of female, * of color, and GLBT characters in games.

Metroid is often mentioned in a discussion of women in videogames. The revelation that Samus Aran is actually a woman was a landmark even in videogame history. She is cited as a strong character, and yet her sex is little more than token and fetish. Her femininity is revealed only in her striking appearance and once when she displays “motherly” emotions. It seems that the main point to take away from Metroid, and indeed most dialogue about “strong” characters, is that women can be exactly like men in terms of physicality and aggression. This presupposes the universal goal of women to be men and that they are not full or complete until they have the physical power of men.

Samus is almost a token character. True token characters are almost always secondary characters. They have reduced characterization and importance. Their main role is to increase diversity in the cast. An important feature of token characters is that they must not reflect stereotypes. In this area Samus certainly succeeds. The reason we’re talking today about Samus is because the revelation of her sex was a surprise. The game manual specifically refers to Samus as male, and most gamers would assume Samus to be a male anyway. Whether this is due to the demographics of Metroid players, or to a history of male protagonists in videogames, I cannot say.

The most cynical reading of Metroid is this: women can kick ass and be bounty hunters, however, they must be enhanced by a technological “power suit” prominently featuring a large, phallic weapon in place of the right forearm.

The second aspect of Metroid’s violence is in fetishization. Players are generally rewarded with images of Samus’ face and body upon completion of the game. One game, Metroid Fusion, is particular interesting due to the differences between the Japanese version of the game, and versions for other regions. Whereas the North American and European versions of Metroid Fusion share the same 5 endings, the Japanese version contains 11. The NA/EU version’s first ending shows Samus wearing all her Power Suit. The next ending shows a picture of Samus without her helmet. She is shown as a beautiful blond (though originally Samus was a brunette). The last three endings show Samus in a black two-piece outfit and various poses. The endings accessible on normal difficulty all show scenes from Samus’ life while those on hard mode are mostly the same as those from the American version. The final picture, however, is more stylized, and gives the impression of a sassy, muscled, Samus that would feel at ease fighting Space Pirates or just “hangin’ with the guys.”

The Prime series breaks from tradition. Players earn galleries of images by filling a logbook as they progress through the game. There are now two or three endings and the ending sequences contain more storytelling. The easy endings feature a suited Samus, the normal endings Zero Suit Samus (a blue, formfitting outfit), while the hard endings now reward players with plot twists or cliffhangers.

Character customization is a very common feature of core games today, and the basis for a number of casual titles as well. Players have shown a strong desire to make something their own. Whether that character bears any resemblance to the player is a matter of personal preference.

One issue that has been raised by the myriad options available to players in designing their characters is that their choices rarely matter to the overall gameplay. The few games that include romance usually maintain a heterosexual relationship between PC and NPC by changing the story so that the main character always falls in love with a member of the opposite sex. Some argue that by allowing players to choose skin color just like they choose hair style, game developers have trivialized what it means to be “of color.” To the extent that skin color rarely affects facial features or hair type, one could agree that games trivialize the notion of skin color. To the extent that games rarely comment on the gender of the player character when it is customizable, one can say they trivialize the notion of gender.

I was raised to respect people despite their differences. Along the way, I was exposed to a new idea, one of respecting people for their differences. It has always struck me as odd that in trying to escape prejudice and bigotry we went from “don’t listen to her because she is a woman” to “listen to her because she is a woman” without stopping at “listen to her because she has something to say.”

Do privileged white children play GTA:San Andreas and then believe they understand what it is to be black? I think not, and certainly hope not. I do look forward to a study on such issues however. Until then we are left citing gut instincts and limited experiences and no real argument can be made.

My closing thought is this: If games can be art, if they can truly matter, I must learn something from them. If I am to understand the human condition and develop empathy and insight, do not characterize my character. Have diverse NPCs, have them react to my character in ways which relate to my appearance, actions, and socioeconomic status. Do not force action upon my character, merely show me all that he or she sees and let me understand what it is to be that person.

Sexism and Stereotypes or What Makes for a "Strong" Character?

The OneeChanbara series is not considered to have "strong female leads". They run around in swimsuits or skin tight outfits with jiggly boobs cutting bloody swathes through massive hordes of zombies. The characters in Night Trap are not considered strong female leads. They’re stereotypical teenage girls who have slumber parties, sing into hair brushes and need to be protected from dangerous people by a team of strong men. The women of Dead or Alive are not considered strong female characters. They fight in unconventional outfits with massive jiggly boobs and spend their spare time on an island participating in Sapphic beach games in skimpy swimsuits with people who are supposed to be bitter enemies.

Why aren’t these characters “strong”? Are they discounted merely because they have big boobs? Or because they can’t fight vampires? Fe people can. The characters in OneeChanbara and DOA certainly seem strong, in the sense that they can kick a lot of ass. So what makes them so different that they aren’t “strong female characters”?

This concept of “strong” is hard to tie down. Obviously the previously mentioned characters aren’t it, but the questions are why and who is? As far as female characters go, sexist representations are generally going to eliminate a character from consideration. If it’s obvious that a character was made merely to be “sexy” and appeal purely to the male demographic, then they are not a strong character. Does that mean that only ugly characters are “strong? Can a female character not be sexy and strong? That can’t be true. It would be better to start by defining “strong character”.

Obviously, “strong” does not mean physical strength. In this case, “strong” means strength of character. Strength of a character is determined by how well put together a character’s personality, physical appearance, attributes, and various aspects are while avoiding stereotypes, degrading representations, shallow personalities and poor development and maintaining a realistically believable character. This still doesn’t sound quite right, the definition still eliminates some characters that may have bad attributes but are still well crafted. Let’s try it bit by bit.

There’s no reason why this can’t be applied to male characters too. Male characters have a lot of the same problems just in a different way. Big beefy one-liner spitting heroes who run in with guns a blazing or stereotypical wise cracking soldiers from Brooklyn, these are also weak characters.

Physical traits, whether good or bad, should not automatically label a character as weak. In real life you would not assume someone is shallow or bad at their job because they’re pretty and you wouldn’t automatically shun someone because they’re ugly. Why should this happen to video game characters? Is Rachel from Ninja Gaiden a bad character because she has big breasts? No. Is Samus Aran a bad character because she’s attractive? No. Is Rachel a bad character because she has big breasts that are flaunted by her unrealistic demon-hunting bondage outfit and the fact that her character is shallow and unoriginal and exists only for eye candy? Yes. Is Samus not as good of a strong character as she used to be because Nintendo is specifically flaunting her attractiveness more and more? A little. Attractiveness or ugliness in a character does not make them weak. Building their personality around the physical traits or designing parts of the game specifically to shine the light on those physical traits does.

Everyone can agree that stereotypes are bad. Negative stereotypes reflect poorly on a race or sex or sexual persuasion or group of people. They also assign traits to a large group of people that is in fact wide and varied. However, most people don’t like the fact that stereotypes exist because they come from real life examples. Yes stereotypes are negative and they are exaggerated versions of the real life counterparts and represent only a select few people, but they still exist. The point is, a character should not be discounted based purely on the fact that they exhibit one or two examples of stereotypical behavior. Not all women like to cook. Does this mean that designers should never make another female character who can cook? Does making a character that flies in the face of all the stereotypes make them a good character? If Duke Nukem was a woman, would that be a strong female lead? No. An Irish character who is a drunk and a dullard and sexually naïve and there is nothing else to his character is a bad character. An Irish character who drinks a lot but is a jerk and a loving father and nurse whose wife died when their city was bombed and has to make his way through a post-apocalyptic setting using his army training to rescue his daughter is a good character.

There are other aspects that shouldn’t automatically discount a character. A character who has some parts that are unoriginal should not be discounted outright. Just because someone has made a character with a mysterious legendary sword before doesn’t mean it can’t be done again while still being different and good. It’s difficult but possible. A character who has unlikable traits should not be discounted outright. It’s quite possible to have a character who is strong but not a good person, one who is just plain flawed or “good at being bad” or a character you “love to hate”.

Essentially, what it all comes down to is that a strong character is not determined by any one thing. To determine a “strong lead” you have to take in all the aspects of a character and characters who have points that would, by themselves, be considered bad can still pull it off. Sexist character traits like muscle-bound meatheads or big breasted bimbos are bad and so are stereotypes like doting housewives and tight-fisted Jews. However, this does not mean that designers should let themselves be limited by what characters they can create. The video game world can’t be entirely populated by small breasted women who act more like men (which I realize it’s sexist to say acting one way is “male” and another way is “female” but I’m just trying to abridge the description) and are good at kicking ass. That itself has become cliché. And cliché characters are themselves weak characters. It’s all about realistically and inoffensively handling these aspects and combining them with original ideas and created well rounded fleshed out characters. Balance, common sense, consideration for the audience, and spending enough time on the development are key to creating strong video game characters.


Tipper Gore might pay a pretty penny to see this thought unfold. Could video games affect the minds of their audience by simply employing biological phenomena more precisely known as “Mirror Neurons”?

First recognized in monkeys almost eleven years ago and now being researched in humans, these neurons ‘imitate’ actions, gestures and even social behaviors, intentions, and emotions based on a persons previous history of experiences.

How mirror neurons work is quite amazing. You see someone yawn; you feel the urge to reproduce one yourself. Monkey see, monkey do. Simple. When we engage in an action and then observe someone else commit that action, same set of neurons fire in our brain. Thus we are able to empathize with others, or ‘…put ourselves in their shoes…’ so to speak.

What role then, can Mirror Neurons play in the mind of an audience partaking in ‘violent’ or ‘sexuality charged’ video games?

"Understanding the intentions of others while watching their actions is a fundamental building block of social behavior," said principal investigator Dr. Marco Iacoboni, an associate professor in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute's Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Center and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Our findings show for the first time that intentions behind actions of others can be recognized by the motor system using a mirror mechanism in the brain. The same area of the brain responsible for understanding behavior can predict behavior as well." (­ /releases/2005/02/050223163142.htm)

Predisposed to learn social behavior from observing others, we are in for quite behavioral ‘learning’ from video games. Of course one could argue that our brains, in their infinite capacity to sponge up information, would know how to distinguish what is real and what is for the sake of entertainment. That, exposure to video games, doesn’t necessarily mean we will all turn out to be sexual deviants on a bloody crusade to steal all the hot rods on this side of the China!

Of course not.

However, consider this; by observing socially unacceptable behavior in a pleasant, relaxing (and in the name of entertainment) environment, what we are feeding our Mirror Neurons is that killing a few prostitutes while learning how to fly airplane is quite alright. That a banal outing to take a little mail to the post-office can be livened up a bit with a few shotgun rounds heaved at some innocent passersby.

So we may not be actually partaking in such activities, but really creating a place in our brain for acknowledging these events as acceptable.

A brief look at World of Warcraft can spawn a discourse on any online gaming community. It’s a skeleton upon which the colossal number of community members sculpt their own vision of who their characters are, and what kind of life-paths they choose. The wager is ultimately effected by improving skill-levels, group alliances through ‘guilds’ and bumping their characters up in ‘levels’ while choosing the best possible ‘realm’

No sexuality is hard-coded in the game itself, rather just hints at manipulating virtual ‘toons’, as one player noted ‘…it is like playing with dolls…’ A certain level of violence is hard-coded in the game (killing things, killing other people's toons), but nothing unusually graphic visually. Textually, there is nothing beyond a teen fantasy novel (a la Harry Potter). Violence and sexuality is driven by how players interact in the environment, not from the game itself except insofar as it lets people interact in the environment.

One issue that has heralded some controversy is the quasi-anonymity (that is, no one knows who you "really" are, though Blizzard (the company running WoW) can ban users or identify users to the legal system in extreme cases. Anonymity can be thought to encourage people to step beyond social norms and behave in manners not otherwise encouraged in social situations. Such role-playing in the game might encourage violent or sexual behavior by the dynamic of the role-playing "performance" and drama.

Julian Dibble would turn blue and green and pink too, if you let him speak up on the subject of anonymity, what is real and what is unreal in cyberspace. In his text ‘A Rape in Cyberspace’ ( he paints quite a lavish picture of what it means to wander in a world which cannot be policed.

Cyber anonymity and the resulting role-playing that may ensue from it would be the ultimate issue for this writer. Everyone in the World of WoW, from children to elderly, are playing and interacting without any knowledge of whom anyone really is. Blizzard may try as hard as they would. There is no way to control or regulate this issue.

In a world where little red riding hood may encounter the big bad wolf or a blood elf without real knowledge of who or what they are dealing with poses an even more serious threat than watching some alien's guts pulsate upon a linoleum floor. After all not all creatures can be termed 'friendly' or 'lethal' or 'neutral'.

Character and Sexuality in Bully

If the characters in Bully are satires of real-world gender stereotypes, is the issue with how sexuality is represented debatable? Sometimes issues presented in a playful manner can be dismissed as a joke and nothing more, and while characters in Bully play on stereotypes, they are only characters acting in their world.

Bullworth Academy appears as a traditional old-fashioned school, complete with neo-gothic architecture and a sanctimonious principal. Chivalrous behavior is enforced to some degree—harming girls will cause the player’s violence meter to max out, and prefects will horde around Jimmy to detain him. Girls do not instigate fights but may stand at the perimeter of a scuffle and cheer. Girls use surreptitious methods to get what they want, rather than dealing with problems by physically fighting as the boys do. Beatrice suddenly falls in love with Jimmy after asking him to help her once. Pinky is a spoiled princess who dumps Derby for Jimmy after Derby is three minutes late. Lola seduces boys into giving her gifts and doing her homework, then tosses them away when she no longer needs them. Revealing blown-up photos of Mandy get posted all over town. Zoe complains of being hit on by the gym teacher, who at one time sends Jimmy on a panty-collecting mission. When Jimmy helps girls with tasks, he may receive a kiss as a reward. Passing Jimmy’s art class builds up Jimmy’s ability to talk to girls and receive a kiss for a health bonus. Jimmy, as one of his misbehavior options, can pinch female characters’ buttocks, including Miss Danvers. For male characters, the option is replaced with a wedgie. Basically, female characters are mostly targets for romance or sexual-related missions while the boys have more variation in the missions they give to Jimmy.

Because of the game’s sardonic nature, are these female characters and the situations they find themselves in degrading to the female population? Are they harmless jokes? In many games and media, romance and sex are depicted through female characters foremost, rather than through male characters. Does seeing a girl or woman, whether in games or out of games, make one think of sex because that is how the media portrays them? Even if girls are objectified—in this case, objects for power-ups and kissing scenes—the stereotype could be seen at a different angle. Why are the girls protected by the game mechanics and not the boys? Why do they have a responsible hall monitor in their dorm while the walls of the boys’ dorm peel away in neglect? One reason might be the concept that girls need protection because they cannot protect themselves. Another reason might be the concept that boys are naturally in trouble and messy while girls are naturally obedient and clean. Whatever the reasons, these questions invite answers that lead to more stereotyping of the sexes.

For a game that plays on stereotypes, Bully does not always follow other games’ interpretations of people. Allowing Jimmy to kiss boys is one option that many Western games do not include or would cut during translation from the East. The boys Jimmy can kiss will also kiss girls, so their bisexuality is not apparent until they talk to Jimmy.

In the “Movie Tickets” mission, the player catches Trent and Kirby on a date at the movies. Seeing them holding hands did not affect me until my sister, who was watching me play, said, “Are they holding hands?” immediately before they ran away. At first I thought Jimmy scared them when running up from behind, but only afterward did I realize I had been unaffected because the boys were behaving in a “normal” way in relation to a straight-minded society. They were not dressed in flamboyant outfits, they were not hitting on other passing boys, and they were not speaking with lisps as many media portray gay or bisexual characters. They were simply holding hands. Did the game developers assume I would react differently when seeing two boys together and understand why the boys fled, or were the characters of the game only acting in accordance to their defined personalities? Kirby is a closeted bisexual, and being seen with Trent would have indeed scared him. The player will know he is bisexual because he is one of the boys Jimmy can kiss, and Kirby even shows his nervousness when kissing Jimmy.

The depictions of female and bisexual characters fit in Bully’s satirical world due to characters having their own personalities that make them more believable instead of mere objects. The option for kissing boys counters other games where such has been forbidden or removed, and kissing boys results in equal bonuses as kissing girls. Bully plays with stereotypes, but it does not appear to have the intent to reinforce them.

No More Controversy

Video games are often at the forefront of politics and popular media as controversial materials. This is often because of overly violent or sexualized material in a game. However, occasionally a game seems to slip through the radar that makes people scratch their heads a little bit. The most recent and possibly the most shocking case of this is the lack of controversy surrounding No More Heroes.

In No More Heroes, you play an anime and Lucha Libre junkie with one goal; to reach the top and become the number 1 assassin in the world. Armed with what can only be described as a lightsaber barely legally distinct enough to not get sued by George Lucas, the main hero Travis Touchdown often cuts through waves of enemies at a time with a literal shower of blood and coins at the end of each kill. This is a game that's violent enough to make Kill Bill Vol. 1 almost look appropriate enough for the Disney channel. There's no lack of sexual content either. While little has been seen at the point I've reached in the game, a lot is insinuated and the amount of reference are rather far above normal. Examples include the main character originally only taking the job only so the hot secretary at the Assassination Ranking Organization will sleep with him and some rather humorous, but disturbing messages on the answering machine from a video rental clerk. Finally, the game plays out plenty offensive enough in other areas. The language is colorful at best and downright in the gutter at its worst. The portrayal of anything from minorities to women in the game could be seen as either stereotypical, oversexualized, or down right offensive. All in all, if there was one game that you would NOT want a 9-year old to play, this is it. So why no controversy? Is it too new? Games have hit controversial stage even before the release of the game itself so that doesn't seem likely.

One possibility is the fact that the game is stylized. While ultra-violent, hyper-sexualized, and just a smidgen bit sexist, racist, and any other -ist you can add in there, the game is very stylized. The death of character's are very non-realistic, but on the side of being too violent. Certainly, no one's going to complain that it's too soft on violence. Still, the whole of the game's offensive content is meant to be artistic and the characters are never portrayed as anyone to look up to. Does the artistic approach make it excusable? Is it okay to portray these things when they done in the name of spectacle rather than realism?

A second possibility is that the game is Japanese and in some way excusable in the same way a foreign film might be. In reality, the vast majority of game controversies in America are indeed over game made in America. Certainly offensive games have come out that were made in Japan, but among them, Killer 7 is the only one that comes to mind that raised ANY major objection from anyone.

The final and most likely possibility is that only the popular games get picked for controversy. Looking at the current controversy with Mass Effect's epic “Orgasmic Lesbian Rape” scene and looking at No More Heroes, the only possible way one could be more offended by Mass Effect is by not knowing of No More Heroes's existence. Bully and the Grand Theft Auto games managed to often gain controversial points before the games were even released. Save for maybe the Hot Coffee Mod, the sex and violence in GTA is nothing compared to No More Heroes. Despite all this, No More Heroes was released on a relatively low release and hasn't sold as well as its hype. On top of that, there are no commercials for it, and virtually no ads. This seems to lead to the obvious conclusion that popularity is the biggest factor in determining controversy.

We may not know what has caused No More Heroes to slip under the controversy radar for sure, but the we can make some logical guesses. Furthermore, No More Heroes has some time to catch a bit of controversy weeks from now. So, for the time being, I'd be on the lookout for articles about how No More Heroes is “The Very Cause of Moral Decay in Society”.

Michael's Paper

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a brilliant title created under the guidance of Denis Dyack and is a vanguard for player involvement. The game’s protagonist, the attractive but not over-the-top sexy, Alexandra Roivas, is a graduate student in Washington studying the cutting edge of mathematics. Not only is she well designed and believable aesthetically, she is also brilliantly acted (as is the rest of the cast). The narrative depicts an eternal struggle: primal, timeless forces battling for supremacy, and vying for resurgence from an ethereal plane. Obviously having done their research, the various epochs come to life in glorious Gamecube-caliber graphics and sound: the Romans speak Latin, the Carolingians speak French, and the spells sound arcane. This title has high production values, a large amount of violence, and arcane references all of which led to very little controversy. Video game controversy can be linked to the marketing efforts and budget of the publishing company. The more money that is spent on promoting a product, the longer it is cast under the public eye, and the more likely it s to be met with hostility from soi-disant progressive groups in our society. This title “flew in under the radar” as they say, and was able to avoid any ill-deserved, negative attention. Also, controversy can be avoided with well-developed, realistic characters, and an original narrative that includes mature content for more reasons than just having mature content.

Despite its obvious violent content, pseudo-satanic/ “heathen” narrative, and the inclusion of several multinational conflicts (Roman expansion, Crusades, the Great War, and Operation Desert Storm) this game has attracted very little controversy. Also, the game itself includes very little controversial content. The character design itself does much to dispel notions that games have to sexist, racist, and reach a heretofore-unseen pinnacle in virtual violence to be successful. All 13 chosen-ones, the protagonists of the game’s chapters, are believable, each coming with their own set of weaknesses, mental clarity, and emotional baggage. Much of the gameplay focuses on each character’s perpetually slipping state of mental insecurity. Alex’s ancestor, Dr. Maximillian Roivas is even committed for having murdered four of his servants he believed possessed. The characters range from the nimble Cambodian slave, Ellia, the somewhat tumescent Maximillian Roivas who can run for about 14 seconds, to the incredibly fit, African-Canadian industrial firefighter, Michael.

The underwhelming amount of racist content in this game is truly staggering. The characters could have easily been poster models for the stereotyping of cultures. All the characters are portrayed wearing their traditional garb and speaking in accents, depending on their respective mother tongue. Michael, the only black person in the game, defies the logic we are used to seeing in black characters: he is not from New York, does not speak in the vernacular commonly heard on TV, and does have a job that includes wielding firearms or “freestylin.” Dyack and team have obviously not labored through the same abstruse calculations usually used to generate characters’ personalities.

The portrayal of women in Eternal Darkness was, and is still, well received by women in the gaming community. Wynne of wrote,

Alexandra Roivas from Eternal Darkness is one of the strongest choices I could imagine. Driven, passionate, and courageous, this gladius-wielding magic-slinging college student somehow manages to kick ass without ever showing scads of cleavage or leg. While there are a lot of interesting characters in "Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem" (which, alone, was worth the price of my Gamecube), she stands out as the one who took all the pieces collected by the others and finally completed their work.

Truly a generous accolade for an inspired female character that managed to place in over 50% of the top 5 female characters lists on, ranking high among her peers such as Alyx Vance (Half Life) and Jennifer Tate (Primal).

Eternal Darkness is game that does things well: portrays realistic characters, pays homage to the fathers of psychological thrillers, Lovecraft and Poe, and provides deep, nuanced gameplay that immerses the player in another world. This is a recherché offering in the Gamecube’s lugubrious library, and shining example of how to successfully portray potentially controversial material. This begs the question, “is sex and violence truly a sine qua non of the “mature” gaming experience?”

There was once a time when I could not see beyond the veil of reality. To see those who dwell beyond. I was once a fool.

-Alexandra Roivas


Kyle Penn

I am discussing the role of violence in video games and if it has any correspondence to violent actions taken by the player. This is based on my personal experience playing the videogame Manhunt 2.
For this research I wanted to look deeper than the traditional p.c. and console button pushers to see if the new Nintendo Wii, with it’s more simulated action, would push the topic of violence in games even further. I rented a copy of Manhunt 2 from Blockbuster, specifically because the amount of violence I have heard to be in it and all of the controversy it created on its release. Many countries banned the game and it received an Adults Only (AO) warning in the United States. Rockstar made some revisions and released it again and the rating was lowered so that most retail stores would carry it. Since it is still pretty violent, many people wonder what was removed.
Also I played Wii Sports, the game that came with the Wii. It had a variety of different sports, one of which was boxing. I also played a few rounds of that just for fun and think that the game also falls into this category of analyzing violence in video games and its effects.
Manhunt 2 is a game from the controversial developer Rockstar. Their biggest controversies come from the Grand Theft Auto series. The reason behind Manhunt 2’s controversy stems partly because of the violence in the game, but also the realism brought to it by using the new Wii controller. The Wiimote supposedly makes the murder simulations much more lifelike. The argument is that in some sense it possibly trains someone how to commit these acts or gets the user to enjoy performing the act.
The game is pretty intense from the very beginning. When you are becoming acclimated to the controller, the screen shows different controller moves. During this process you practice the different move and button combinations you will need to know to play the game. The screen is mostly black with a little bit of white noise static here and there. However, after each move you make the sounds of your unseen practice victim are heard. Sometimes it is screaming yelps, gushing blood, etc… The movements here are pretty fluid and intuitive so that when you make the stabbing motion, the player feels as if they are actually performing that action. There is also a movement of moving the controller up and down which simulates you stomping on someone that is lying on the ground.
When you first begin walking the game shows a couple of cut scenes. One has a man urinating on you and another shows a man who hung himself. Obviously these are somewhat disturbing, but they really serve to keep you confused and scared while you are trying to figure out how everything works and where you are. The first level, Awakening, sets the story. Your character is in an asylum that due to a power failure, all of the patients have a chance to escape. However, that is only if you kill every hospital worker and patient that stands between you and the door. As you kill them by fist, syringe, knife and even a sledgehammer they tell you things to make you feel guilty. One character says, “I can’t believe I ever loved you” and a woman is saying, “It’s me Danny, stop it.” Basically all these characters that you have to kill have been your friends in the past. I guess to show his remorse he throws up occasionally after certain kills. There is a narrator that is speaking to our character throughout the level who is your supposed friend and leading you out. We usually only see him once or twice during the level, but he is in most of the cut scenes and the transitions between levels. He will never fight with you and you never have to defend him. I read that you can choose him as a character but I could not figure it out. That may be in option only given to you later in the game. Basically he turns out to be your alter ego, something that is actually pretty predictable. He is continually reminding you that if you don’t kill these people you both will die. Our character is feeling remorse for his actions, but is forced to continue.
There are certain times where you perform a special action called an execution. These only take place if the situation is set up right and there is a skull marked on your radar. This means you will not necessarily perform each one every time through the game. Executions are usually a pretty gruesome thing, but you don’t always see the action. I performed one because I had the right weapon on me at the right time. My character stepped out of a two-story building onto the roof over a porch where an enemy was standing on the ground. A screen pops up telling you how to perform the execution, in this case it was to jump off of the roof and kill the man with a table saw. I guess it was battery powered and needed no cord; from what I know in real life they require an outlet. Once the character jumps off the roof the screen cuts black and all you hear are sounds. The table saw revs up, a little yelling and then gushing blood. The player knows what happens, but did not see anything.
Another execution has you sneaking into a supposed strip club to perform a mission. In the game the strip club is actually a way to lure in unsuspecting men that will then be taken as patients of the asylum. The player sneaks in through a bathroom window and has to perform an execution on a guy that is peeing. You beat him over the head with the lid to the toilet. It does show more of the action, but it switches to cut scenes repeatedly and this keeps you from getting fully immersed in the action.
Overall the parts I thought were the hardest to perform due to the way I felt, were when someone was talking to you like they were your friend and when you were repeatedly stomping someone on the ground. The rest of it could have been much worse but I felt the game play was lacking a lot. Most of your actions did not feel like you were truly doing what was on the screen. This kept me from feeling like I was performing the action. I haven’t played a lot of games in relation to this topic, I still felt like the violence was blown way out of proportion. I have also heard similar controversy on other titles such as The Godfather: Blackhand Edition. If its game play is better, I wonder if the results would be the same.
In comparison, Wii Sport’s boxing game built up a surprising amount of aggression. Even though the characters just look like big bobble heads, the motions are very intuitive and fluid. When a strike or jab is thrown, it feels just like the real thing. It is amazingly close to real boxing, at least as far as I have seen in a video game, much more than your average button pusher. My aggression was much higher, after a much shorter time span, while playing Wii boxing.There is a lot of conflicting research showing both sides of the story out there; I believe that it is too soon to tell. All I know is that for me in this experience I would have to disagree with all of the controversy over it. There are some scenes that are pretty violent, but I did not get a very big build up of aggression while playing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Controversy: Magazine Ads, Commercials, and the Past

We've been talking about controversy and heavy content regarding the games themselves, but there has also been controversy surrounding some of the advertising campaigns for games. Here is an article about controversial game ads in magazines. I couldn't get the second page to work when I clicked on it. This article shows a couple more, a Hitman ad and a very gross ad for Nanotek Warrior.

Also check out some controversial TV commercials that were actually banned. Only a couple of them are offensive enough, the rest were banned for silly things like "promoting dangerous driving". I think they're mostly foreign ads.

It's interesting to think about the games that used to be surrounded in controversy back in the day but nowadays even the video game playing nephews of the Senators who like to discuss these sorts of things wouldn't even have heard of them.

Death Race a very old arcade game where you really can't tell what you're hitting, but it's based off of Death Race 2000 and the original name was Pedestrian so critics said it depicted vehicular homocide

Carmageddon definitely depicted vehicular homicide

Night Trap was considered very smutty because it had girls in their underwear

Mortal Kombat was one of the major reasons why the ESRB was created

we've already mentioned the incredibly offensive (but incredibly obscure) Custer's Revenge

The original Doom is a Mass Murder Simulator and has the most realistic depiction of violence ever. (Actually this shouldn't be on here because for some reason game violence critics still bring it up)

You can also consider all the games that are very controversial but don't really get mentioned out side of the gaming community. I've never heard of Jack Thompson and his ilk mentioning God of War oddly enough. Snatcher had scenes of very graphic violence. In NARC you blew up people with a rocket launcher, but it was okay because they were drug dealers.

Cho Aniki

The Cho Aniki series of games is full of bizzare imagery. A lot of it could be seen as homosexual innuendo but at the same time it's hard to tell whether it's actually just the Japanese being really really weird. To find out more about the series and a description of each game visit Hardcore Gaming 101's Cho Aniki feature.

Also, for a feature on sex in games that will make you laugh hard enough to squirt milk from your nose, check out Seanbaby's Top 10 Naughtiest Games of All Time. Notice: naughty pictures and much swearing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Movies may reduce violence

A study found that when there are violent movies in theaters (maybe just opening weekend?) there are fewer assaults and other crimes. There's also a smaller effect from non-violent movies that appeal to 20-somethings.

The idea is that these people aren't bored, drunk, or using meth and therefore less likely to commit violent acts. Also, there is never a "rebound" spike to make up for the drop in crime.

I'd be curious to see if one could find a positive or negative correlation with game playing and youth violence. Did crime drop when Halo 3 came out?

CGS: Take Two!

Hello, class,

We'll be working with this blog from here on out. This week, please make sure to look at everyone's original posts, links and comments. We'll be continuing our discussion and talking about the games you're currently playing next week.

As always, feel free to post anything that's topical - for example, the end result (hopefully?) of last week's Mass Effect silliness.

First Post: Steve

Here's a freebie:

It's an interview with one of the people publicly playing with a leveling restriction. In this case, the player is attempting to hit lvl. 70 without killing anything. What caught my attention was the extent of his roleplaying. His two characters are inspired by real historical figures. Also, he'll start quests even when he knows his character will be ambushed, just so long at the character had an expectation of completing the quest without having to kill.
I wanted something to bring up Super Columbine Massacre RPG. If you
haven't player SCMRPG or are unaware of the controversy, you owe it to
yourself to check it out. The author of the game is quiet intelligent
in his defense against critics. This article focuses mainly on V-Tech
Rampage. This new game is much less nuanced, and it seems the designer
was trying for little more than shock value. I found it most
interesting because the author of the article called on the game
industry at large to tackle "thorny" issues and current events. He
mentions the movie "United 93," and I'd bring up the idea of "Escape
from Auschwitz."
This is a pretty good exchange by a couple of guys who got to play
some of Manhunt 2 on the Wii. They touch on censorship, ultra-violent
cinema, the distinction between an observer and an interactive player,
and of course, the role of motion controls in violent games. It also
makes me really anxious to play Manhunt or its sequel.

First Post: Michael

"The Kids are Alright"
Facts and Fiction about Teens and Gaming
This is a truly fascinating articles that delivers "information" from both extreme ends of the video game fanship continuum. On one end sits Jack Thompson, who still wishes this was some bizarro world completely devoid of any entertainment that includes electrons and forgets to pay homage to the King James Bible. On the other side is the ESA, which feigns neutrality while presenting material clearly biased towards video games. Although, I must admit, I have always been a staunch supporter of the ESA and the defense they provide against neo-fundamentalist Christian attacks from Congress, some of their endeavors can come on a bit strong. I personally feel the video may temporarily increase agressive behaviour in a benign way. From personal experience, I have become very aggressive during extremely frantic or frustrating gameplay (Driver 1, Geometry Wars, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, and Ikaruga to name a few).
Surprisingly, this article, published by CBS, defends the position of video games. Many people feel that video games are a safe haven for sociopaths ( colombine, etc.) but I feel that video games provide people with a unique opportunity for socializations regardless od their degree of introversion.
Video Games Racist, Study says
I really found myself laughing at some of the points made by this article.
Yes, some video games use stereotypes to either highlight an issue within our society, or deliberately use them to create humor through political incorrectness. Also, in contrast to his point that racism isn't tolerated in other forms of media I can only point to any movie ever made that has some role played by Snoop Dogg. I have personally seen racist content in games portraying Germans as loud, ultra violent, and Nazis. ( Wolfenstein, Earthworm Jim 1, Medal of Honor) Being a German citizen with part Jewish heritage even I don't take offense.
Video game virtual racism may make gamers aware of and sympathetic toward racism in reality

First Post: Brian

A fascinating article where a reviewer decided to ask four people in
the minority of the gaming public on how they can market better to the
demographic. Some of the comments are quite a bit different than one
would expect.

For a bit of historical perspective, this is an article from 2003
discussing the myths and facts about psychological research. Part of me
doubts the validity of some of the statements due to a lack of wanting
to actually cite cases from more than one source, but it’s always fun
to play devil’s advocate. At the very least, it gives insight into some
of the studies on the topic. Besides, where else will you get an
article that claims that it’s a fact that violent video games are more
damaging than ingesting lead?

This is a bit of a bonus. It’s a Top Ten Countdown video of the most
influential females in gaming. I won’t comment too much. I’ll just say
the opening commentary doesn’t entirely match the countdown.

Consequently, I found some articles that are interesting from the stand
point of a more extreme point of view. That’s too say that people might
be taking things a bit too seriously. This includes an article that
labels Bioshock as the POSTER CHILD for Misogynistic gaming. It’s not
entirely on topic since some of the points are just so out there that
it’s unlikely anyone is going to argue for them, but it makes for an
interesting extremist perspective. If anyone’s interested, I’ll post
them later.

First Post: Kyle

I found this link pretty interesting because it talked a lot about controversy in games throughout history. It has information on banned games, court cases and a whole lot of other things. I mostly read about "The Major Offenders". Since my gaming background is somewhat limited in general, but especially to more current games, I learned a lot about some older games. They even mentioned the Custer's Revenge brought up in class.
It also talked a little about Castle Wolfenstein which seems to be a very popular game on the topic of violence; I saw it mentioned in many articles. It then goes on to talk about Mortal Kombat, Postal then more recent games like GTA. It is a good article, pretty informative, at least for me.

I wanted to find one article that looked at violence specifically as it relates to the wii. This article came out before some of the games were released, so it is a bit outdated. I am playing Manhunt2 for my videogame and wanted to see some people's thoughts on it, and they were pretty much what I expected. This is my first time to play the game or use the wii so I am interested in what other people think. So far in my playing I must say I have never played anything like it; it is very intense and I am really enjoying the experience.

First Post: Lily

I focused on gay characters and same-sex relationships for this topic.

Armchair Arcade (2006)

This one gets a little heavy with Foucault, what is "marked" and "unmarked," and other issues—the comments, too, are informative. I found myself agreeing with some of the comments that contested what was in the article, but I also thought the article was pretty good at considering the matter.

Joystiq (2007)

This one is more for the comments left by people than the actual article written.

From the comments I have read in several articles (not just the ones I linked), most posters are not asking for special treatment for gay characters or the flaunting of flamboyantly gay characters. Being gay, or female, or black, or anything other than white male, or even being white male, should not be a central or defining characteristic (although in most games, being white male is a given). A poster, nithron on Joystiq, states:

"My point is that deliberately putting a character in a game that is overtly gay, just to have a gay character, defeats the point, and that really... The sexuality of the character shouldn't be a bullet point in their personality profile or something, it's not really relevent, unless it's the main character and you just HAVE to introduce a love story..."

The inclusion of other controversial topics purely for shock value does not justify putting a particular type of character or event in the game or any other fiction. If not played out effectively, it belittles the topic, and once people are over the shock (if they ever were), it becomes trite.

This is what some of the posters probably don't want but what developers (particularly Japanese) keep making, although I'm not sure if he's supposed to be taken seriously, as I have not played the game:

Gay characters are not new in games. It seems in an effort to include gay characters, Western developers mold them into the way that appeals to a typical gamer (young white male—another stereotype, I know). Like the "faultless" hot female heroine designed to placate women who called for more women in games, gay characters appearing in games seem catered to the typical male gamer audience.

What I mean by that is that gay characters are becoming more acceptable so long as they are lesbians or non-threatening NPCs depicted for trivial humor or playing an insignificant role. In Bioware's third Neverwinter Nights expansion, Hordes of the Underdark, the player is able to develop relationships with his or her companions. If I recall correctly from what I've read a while back (I never pursued the romances myself), if your character was female, you were able to receive undertones of a lesbian relationship with your companions, or if you were male, you would be able to flirt with more than one female companion at the same time (and these female characters would not mind). However, your male character could not enter a quasi-romantic relationship with any same-sex characters that a female character could, nor could your female character charm more than one male character at a time (I believe the female character had only one choice in the male character she could fall in love with).

The decision for the relationship options in Neverwinter Nights may have been a result of time constraint or some other reason, but with the lesbian encounter in Knights of the Old Republic and the recent "lesbian sex scene" in Mass Effect, both also made by Bioware, it is apparent the developers have embraced lesbians (or the male-minded version of lesbians) and yet have shied away from male gay characters.

Whenever a male-male relationship can be explored in games (as far as I know, these relationships are nearly always optional, as opposed to hetero relationships), they are not received as openly as when a female-female relationship is available. The developers provide for the typical gamer audience (although on the Mass Effect forums, there were many posts repulsed by having any sex scene in the game), put in their own biases (well, they do make the games), and look for where the most money lies, which are all not necessarily bad reasons. Another factor that contributes to making male gay characters an issue, too, may be a sensitive individual's annoyance. It's easy for straight men to throw up their arms and sigh, "Just get over it," or, "If you don't like it, then don't play it." However, the abundance of games deliberately appealing to them doesn't lend itself to justifying their frustration on the subject. Gay gamers are also not calling out for more gay characters, but whenever one is included, that character is set apart as "different" whether by the developers or the gamers. This is what the Armchair Arcade article goes into when it talks about being marked and unmarked. I think this also applies to characters who are not white and not male.