Good Sexy, Bad Sexy

Come to think of it, this post is going to cover the same ground as something I did years ago, when I was just a little baby blogger.  Just, saying it now in a different way.  So consider this the HD Remix of one of my most popular for probably the wrong reasons seminal posts of why and in what situations sexiness can be good.

Sexuality is awesome, isn’t it?  It grabs people at a very instinctual, emotional level, it brings people together, and makes us feel whole.  It makes us healthier physically and mentally, it gives us drive and energy, and it feels so innate to us that most consider it a significant part of our identity and our society has adopted a rather complex set of cultural practices surrounding sexuality.  It likely comes as no surprise, coming from the world’s sexiest man as determined by a survey of myself and my mirror, but to me, sexuality is a marvelous thing to be celebrating.

Media producers often work sexuality or titillation into the works they’re producing.  This is not a new phenomenon, it’s been going on for hundreds of years.  Just think back to all those classical paintings you spent way too long staring at back in middle school.  And it’s no wonder why.  We’ve got an instinctual draw for it, and it’ll capture or attention in a way that little else will.  And it works on an instinctual level, just like we react to the simulated intensity of danger or the fear of horror, so too do we get a thrill from sexiness when it’s coming through our screens, canvas, or pages.  And in contrast to what many may say, I’d posit that that’s a good thing that we can get that hook in us when we wish.

Which makes me wonder why so many creators get it so wrong.

Recently I was playing Oneechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers, which is part of a strange and eclectic collection I call “Games I own because of the women I’ve dated”.  Which also includes the first three games of the Hitman series, Onimusha, Final Fantasy VII Dirge of Cerberus, Dynasty Warriors III, the entire Fable series, Syberia II, the Wii version of Oregon Trail, and the absolute bane of my existence, Fur Fighters.  I’m coming to realize that my ladyfriends have some really mixed tastes.  Not sure what that says about me.  Anyways, in this case, as you can probably tell by the title, this is a total fanservice game.  It exists to put scantily clad women in front of you.  And yet I found the sexuality there really wasn’t working for me.  It’s kind of a middling game without it, yet the sexiness, I found, actually dragged the experience down.  I was wondering about that.  I’ve played a lot of other games where I enjoyed the sexuality there or felt it actually uplifted the experience.  And it got me thinking back to what made the difference there.

And that got me thinking back to that post I mentioned above.  And, you know, almost six years later, I still stand by that post.  I occasionally look back over my old writings and find something I may not agree perfectly with now, but that one, that still holds up completely.  But the thought still remains in my mind, of the differences between the works that do their sexuality right and those that don’t.  And I’d like to explore that here, today.  I’m not going to walk in my own footprints and re-make those same statements I did years ago, so check that post if you’d like some background on this whole deal.  But I would like to delve into that concept again.  This time, let’s take a look at how it works specifically, comparing and contrasting a few examples.

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Smash DLC Predictions

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I’ve fallen for the new Smash Bros.  Hard.  This has happened before.  The original, Melee, Brawl, I’ve got hundreds of hours in all of them.  I ended up kind of meh about Smash Bros. 4, for whatever reason, so I wasn’t expecting too much about Ultimate.  Just picked it up on a lark, really.

And yet.  And yet.  I can feel it.  I’m falling off the wagon.  I am so into this game.  It’s just clicking for me, when I had assuming either the magic was lost with the last game or I had just moved past it.  It’s good.  I’m loving it.

So, in case you haven’t been on the internet for a while, one of the fun things to do with Smash is speculate about which characters are going to get into it.  Used to be that this sort of hobby would dry up after the game came out and cut through the knot.  Now, though, thanks to the magic of moneygrubbing, we have DLC to keep the questioning alive post-release.

We know there’s going to be at least six DLC characters for the game.  Two of them are already out, Piranha Plant from Mario and Joker from Persona 5.  So four to go.  And I am excited for it.  I reaaaaaaally don’t get excited for DLC; usually if it’s not in the base game, I have a hard time trusting the quality of it in advance.  But here, I find myself already getting the season pass.  I can’t understate it, that is quite a shift for me.

So let’s join in on some of that same fun speculating.  There’s going to be four more characters.  Who are they going to be?  Here’s my predictions.  I’ll say I’m probably wrong on all of these, but you know what, that’s not the point.  The guessing is fun.  I’ll also say that I’ve not yet exhausted all the spirits, unlockables, and probably assist trophies in the game yet and I’ve been avoiding looking these up for spoiler’s sake, so there may already be information I’m missing.  But based on what I know now, here are my best guesses as to which Amiibo’s will soon be adorning LightningEllen‘s shelf.

Ryu Hayabusa-Ninja Gaiden

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Yeah, yeah, I know.  Even through just a cursory search online, this one’s a really popular guess.  Not leading with something unique here.  It seems strong to me, though.

Koei Tecmo and Nintendo have seemed to have a strong relationship of late.  They co-own Fatal Frame, Koei Tecmo has contributed a lot of games towards the NES classics available with a Switch Online subscription, Hyrule Warriors was a big success that was supported and updated longer than any other game on the Wii U, they followed that up with Fire Emblem Warriors, there’s a lot going on across the two companies.  But as yet, the only representations Koei Tecmo seems to have in Smash Bros. Ultimate are a Fatal Frame-based assist trophy and a few assist trophies from the same series.

I’m pretty confident that Koei Tecmo is going to get one character in on the upcoming DLCs, just based off of how strong their relationship seems to be with Nintendo.  And of every character Koei Tecmo has, Ryu Hayabusa seems most likely.  Even with Bayonetta and Snake in the mix, Nintendo’s still keeping things mostly family friendly in Smash Bros, and I don’t think they’re going to go any stronger on a horror game series like Fatal Frame than they already are.  Ryu’s probably the most prominent character Koei Tecmo has, and would represent both the Dead or Alive and his own Ninja Gaiden series here.  He’s the biggest part of gaming history of any of Koei Tecmo’s characters, as well as having the biggest presence on Nintendo systems, which isn’t a perfect indicator of Smash inclusion anymore, but it still does seem to be something of a factor.  And he’d have plenty of content to be drawing from.  If Koei Tecmo is getting one of these DLC characters, as I believe they are, Ryu Hayabusa seems the strongest option.

Jibanyan-Yo-Kai Watch

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Yo-Kai Watch is a property published and marketed outside of Japan by Nintendo, with Nintendo of America making key release announcements about the system.  Nintendo seems to be innately involved in this game.  It’s a multi-media property that seems to have developed a very dedicated following.  And yet it seems to have absolutely no presence in Smash.  I find that rather suspicious.  It seems to me the only way there wouldn’t be a spirit or an assist trophy or something from Yo-Kai Watch would be if they had other plans for the property in Smash.

Hence, the DLC character.  I know next to nothing about Yo-Kai Watch.  Seriously, this is a series that has almost entirely escaped my notice.  I know the people who like it really like it.  Just hasn’t come across my desk.  I picked Jibanyan because he seems to be the most visible… thing.   Yo-kai?  Mon?  Of the game.  The one that always pops up on all the art and posters and stuff.  He’s the Pikachu of the Yo-Kai.  I can’t speak with any nuance as to why it’d be him specifically outside of that, or what he would play like, but just you watch.

RabbidsRayman Series

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Yeah, I’m not super happy about them.  I really loved Rayman’s Raving Rabbids on the Wii.  But really, one game of these guys was enough for me, and I can’t imagine they’d make the most fun character to play.  Their loud slapstick really doesn’t seem in line with the Smash environment either.  But here we are.  I’m guessing that they’re an upcoming Smash DLC character.

With Smash 4, Ubisoft got the world excited with the news that Rayman was going to be in Smash, then immediately let them down by following that announcement up with the words “as a trophy”.  Seemed rather pointless then, didn’t it?  And it was.  But what’s happened since then?  I’ll tell you what happened.  Mario + Rabbids happened, that’s what.  It got attention in player spheres because of the sheer amount of emotions the developers demonstrated at seeing their game presented by Miyamoto at E3, but it’s since proven to be an actually pretty good game.  And one that Ubisoft has supported and updated for a good long while, now.

I’m operating on the assumption that if they’re already a spirit, they’re not getting into the game as a DLC character.  So that cuts out Rayman himself, as well as several of the specific Rabbids from Mario+Rabbids.  The garden variety version of them, though?  I haven’t come across one of those yet in spirit form.  And they’ve been a series that were born, grown, and thrived on Nintendo consoles from the Wii up.  So, it seems natural that they’d soon be BWAAAAHing up in Smash, too.

On the plus side, if I’m right about this, then that means that both Pokemon and the Ninja Turtles share a universe.  If we can get the Rabbids crossing over with Batman, too, that would be all of my childhood action figure storylines come to life.

Lloyd Irving-Tales of Symphonia

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Bandai Namco, under the direction of the eternal Smash headman Masahiro Sakurai, provided the staff to make this game.  Yes, it’s a Nintendo game through and through, but it was Sakurai and Bandai Namco that actually put it together.  Yet the only character Bandai Namco got into Smash is Pac-Man.  I would be absolutely shocked if they didn’t have at least one character in the DLC lineup.

And Lloyd Irving seems like the most likely option to me.  Not that they don’t have a huge list of other properties to choose from.  It could be Dig-Dug, but I feel he’s lost to the annals of time.  Same with Mr. Driller.  Someone from Soul Calibur wouldn’t be too out of place, but I feel that series doesn’t have a really strong stand-out character.  Heihachi from Tekken also seems a really likely option, but I struggle to come up with ground for that character that’s not already covered.  Lloyd Irving, however…

Tales of Symphonia was one of the best and most prominent games on the Gamecube, and filled a really solid space in the RPG library that was kind of lacking on that console.  They even followed it up with a sequel on the Wii, although that one wasn’t quite so exciting.  And in Smash 4, you could get his costume and hair for your Mii Fighters.  And you noticeably cannot with this game.  You could do the same with Heihachi, as well, sure.  And again, he also does seem a really likely option, but I’m tipping the scales over to Lloyd just thinking of atmospheric fitness.  But what do I know, maybe they’ll both get in.

So, that’s me.  That’s my guess.  Along with all the hundreds of thousands of others out there.  Am I going to look super cool once these characters actually come out and I’m totally right as always?  Is time going to prove me a wistful idiot?  We’ll see.

Microthoughts-Darksiders: Style vs. Substance

I have difficulty mentally placing Darksiders.  Given that I just beat the game, that’s probably a sign that either something’s a little odd with the game, or something’s going wrong with my mind.

You know, I’m not ready to admit I’m losing my wits just yet, so let me make a case for the former.

“Style over Substance.”  You’ve probably run across a bunch of games that fit that description in your player career.  That applies to Darksiders as well, but in a bit of a different position, as far as that goes.  A weird position.  Usually, the games that’ll focus on the art, the story, the FLASH! before the gameplay will end up with creatively bad games.  Games that try at least one or two unique and interesting things, but do it badly.  Not so with Darksiders.  For one, it’s not a bad game.  What it does do, it does well enough.  Just, outside of the visual designs, it doesn’t break any new ground.  The game has a very distinct visual design, and a gameplay that screams basic competency.  Which I’m finding really interesting to think about.

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I get the feeling that the initial creative meetings about the game were a lot of fun.  And the concept art seems like it’d capture every single thing the creators love in characters.  Do you like crazy amounts of accessories, eclectic placement of skulls and sigils, and pure, concentrated 90s antihero dark age comics design in every character and beastie?  All right here.  And you know what?!  You play as War!  Horseman of the Apocalypse!  Which has already happened!  Heaven vs Hell!  In a city in ruins!  You love it!  You know you do!

The game buys into its character and general visual design so much.  You can feel that coming through in its DNA.  They are excited to show you the next Cool Guy, the next crazy detailed item, the next area, every little bit they could thrust some more visuals at you makes them happy.  And they love their little world here, their whole self-contained mythology and the Hell-dominated post-apocalyptic landscape they have you traversing and fighting through.  They are proud of everything behind those two facets, and you can feel it coming through.

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It’s just strange to me that they’re so creative in that area, yet you don’t feel that coming through in their gameplay.  Which to be clear, gameplay is good.  It’s fine.  You can tell they knew what they were doing.  You can’t even call it uninspired.  It’s extremely inspired, by obvious sources.  Combat is a simplified version of the Devil May Cry/God of War character-action stuff.  Dungeons are simplified takes off the Zelda model.  The rest of the world is a basic 3d Metroidvania.  It’s all fine.  But it’s not anything more.  It doesn’t try to be anything more.

I guess the big thing that’s sticking in my mind is the dichotomy there.  When something is creative in one way, it’s often creative in other ways as well.  That spirit of creativity travels across tasks.  But not so here.  It’s like all the creativity got sequestered in the initial design meetings, then forced on everyone else who were just wanted to make something different.  I’ve got this image in my head of Joe Madueira or however you spell that and all the other high level creatives being super passionate about their ideas and the rest of the team just going along with it without really buying into it.  Leaves you with a bit of an odd mix.

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Those characters do look super cool though.  In that 90’s antihero dark age comics kind of way.

Leaving Love Behind: Aromantic Characters in Video Games

It was Valentine’s Day earlier this week. Valentine’s is kind of a crock, isn’t it? Who is it even good for anymore? Single people hate it, because it reminds them of their status and implies there’s something wrong with that. It sets attached people up for disappointment, condition them to expect great experiences provided by their partners with no effort required on their part, that both partners can’t reach and get burned by. I think it might be worst of all, though, for people like me. I know there are a lot of you out there who ache for someone to have on Valentine’s Day. And I’m sorry. I don’t do it on purpose, but it happens because of me all the same. It might be true that there’s someone out there for everyone, but come Valentine’s season, all the someones come knocking down my door. The reason you’re single right now is statistically likely to be because your destined mate just won’t leave me alone.

Valentine’s. It does things to people. And apparently that makes them come here and beg me for dates. And I’m a lot of man with a lot of love to go around, but even I have my limits. I’ve been booked solid for a week plus with admirers, and I’ve still got a ways to go. This is awful. I don’t have time anymore. Things are starting to get sore. And everyone always expects me to pay. Valentine’s sucks.

Let’s make ourselves feel better by celebrating the characters in games who have stepped away from that. Both sexuality and romance are not nearly as universal in video game stories as they are in other mediums. But that makes it all the more unique when you do find someone who clearly occupies the neutral ground in those regards. Let’s hear it for those who stand apart from that whole structure entirely.

Terra-Final Fantasy VI

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FFVI’s first leading lady has had a complicated development. A product of forbidden love herself, then kidnapped and raised as a living weapon/possible mindslave, before her memory is stripped. So, come game time, she doesn’t know who she is and what she’s about. Has trouble with navigating a lot of feelings, the one she seems to have the hardest grip on being love.

Seems like it might be leading up to her coming to herself as a man sweeps her off her feet. Maybe it would be that charming king that shows an obvious interest in her and gets her connected with the main crux of the conflict. Or maybe it would be that noble and honest enemy general she has a moonlit heart-to-heart moment with during a rare period of peace. Or maybe it would be that dashing rogue with a penchant for saving damsels that 90% of boys named after themselves because he was the first male character to show up in the game. It really seems the games moving that way in a lot of points.

But no. She does grow into herself over the course of the game, finding more about who she is and how she should feel. She even finds love. But it’s a maternal love, for some orphans she rescues and takes care of. In spite of more than a few men pursuing her, she shows absolutely no interest in romance of any kind.

Agent 47-Hitman

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Agent 47 always finds himself surrounded by sexually-charged people. Apparently, it just makes it easier for him to infiltrate and do his work. He’s a man that’s only ever focused on one thing, though, and love has no place in that. In fact, although he’s usually implacable, romantic overtures towards him are one of the few things that consistently draw an emotional reaction.

Which makes for a pretty interesting dichotomy with his game world. Hitman’s settings get progressively oversexed, to the point where they start bringing in the battle fetish-nuns a few games ago and that’s apparently a normal thing for them. And 47 wants absolutely no part of that. He stands apart.

Cole-Dragon Age

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Sure, you can ruin this if you want, but as a spirit largely unintegrated into normal human society, Cole just shows no interest in romancing anyone. That’s just not how he makes relationships. Throw him in a situation where he’s almost guaranteed to get some, he’ll just end up solving people’s problems and making friends, and leaving it at that. Unless you push him towards being more human, topics of love are just lost on him.

Garret-Thief

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Like 47, he’s just dedicated to his job. Of being a thief. The IRS has a hard time taxing it. Matters of romance are a distraction from him being the thievingest thief he can be, and he doesn’t stand for it. He does empathize with women, show concern for them, but never any romantic interest.

Ivy-Soul Calibur

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Yes. The woman showing up on so many sexiest character lists just doesn’t have any interest in sharing herself with anyone else that way. Sorry to burst your bubble. She just likes dressing that way for her own sake. And that’s fine.

So officially, this is out of necessity. Ivy’s the latest as part of a cursed bloodline, and doesn’t want to risk passing that along. Even before she found out about that though, she never particularly showed any interest in romance. One of those who just always seemed to have something more important going on.

Which is not to say she doesn’t value love or relationships. She had a very strong bond with her father. There’s just many different types of love, and she’s never had an interest in partaking in the romantic.

The Salarians-Mass Effect

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As a whole. An entire species. None of them care about that mushy stuff.

If you want to make something seem really alien, show them as having an unusual sexuality. It’s bizarre when you think about it, but sex and love are such a huge part of our individual identities, that showing a culture with very different sexual habits immediately and strongly sets them askance. Sure, the Salarians look like walking crab pincers and have the lifespan of a dog but it’s not until you find out that courtship for them is all about business relationships and nothing else that they start seeming really weird.

Again, it’s not that you don’t see them forming bonds, connections, relationships, etc. It’s just that almost none of them, are romantic in nature. And I bet they don’t have a Valentine’s Day. So lets all go vacation on their planet February of next year.

Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies, Part 3: The Creative Side

Introduction

Business Perspective

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It’s that time again! Time to talk about how I don’t get to play like a girl as much as I want to, and look into possible means as for why that is.

Today, we’re going to talk about the creative aspect of having women as leading characters in your video games. And it’s purely going to be about the art of making video game women, in a vacuum. We’re not going to discuss the impact audience reception has on creating just yet, that’s going to be a topic for our next post in this series, when we’re talking about the social factors. Most creators do create for their audience, but if we start working that in alongside everything else we’re talking about the lines between this post and the next post will blur and then I’d have to write the two of them together and I am too monumentally lazy right now to do that. So yeah, just focusing on the creative side of things today, looking at things from the perspective of the designer, not considering the marketing or receptive aspects of these.

This didn’t come up so much in the last post we did in this series, but at it’s core, the whole issue behind gender representation and everything else we’ll talk about here stems from the way we as a culture look at gender identity. So let’s talk a bit about that first.

I’m going to say I’m pretty experienced at being a man. I’ve got a lot of experience at that. Enough that I have pretty much mastered the art of physically being a man. On top of that, I’ve known plenty of women throughout the course of my life. Taken in their stories, their personalities, their… eh, let’s keep this G-rated. Never been a women, but I’ve observed them plenty. On top of that, as I continually demonstrate through this blog, I am a genius. My thinking is just of a top-tier quality.

What I’m saying is I have absolutely the highest credentials to talk about matters of gender. Accept no substitutes. My word on this is the best-informed you will ever see. And I’m telling you that men and women just aren’t all that different. Naturally, we barely have anything between us. Personality-wise, we in general have a few different drives, usually related to partnering or evolutionally instilled upon us from a period of life that we’ve outgrown faster than our biology has, but aside from that, we’re basically the same. Yes, we have some biological, hormonal, and brain developmental differences, but the differences account for so little proportion of who we are. Men and women have far more in common than we realize. Stripped of everything else, we all have basically the same capacity for caring, for aggression, for nurturing, and for enjoying video games.

But cultures in general do not recognize that. That’s one of the human absolutes, every single known human culture has developed a distinction between gender roles because people in general have a hard time not getting blinded by obvious distinctions. It’s human nature, in an attempt to understand people we attempt to see them as instant wholes based on the most obvious characteristics, rather than taking the time to figure out their individual features and building our concept of them around that. This creates expectations. Implicit, unstated expectations of how different genders are supposed to act, instilled in us since birth, and the mold by which we’re supposed to grow up into. Which is ridiculous. You cannot define a single personality trait or feature that reasonably applies to a full half of the human population. But cultures try. And in so doing, they create more differences between the genders than actually exists.

And that has negative impacts on both sides of the coin. Those impacts don’t always reach a one-to-one match, but the defined gender roles are hurting both men and women in different ways.

But still, it persists. That’s both the cause of what we’ll be talking about today, and the whole reason I’m writing this post series in general.

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Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies- Part 2: The Business Perspective

Overview

So. This series here. As I had mentioned, we’re going to be covering three different categories of factors that make it difficult to have a woman as your lead in a video game; business, creative, and social. Before we get to that, though, first I feel I need to do something I’m very, very, very good at. I need to talk about myself.

Specifically, I need you guys to know where I’m coming from in all this. I spend nearly all of my time being absolutely incredible, but for this one, I need to take it two steps back, and make myself credible to you all. I don’t like putting a lot of real life into this blog, except for a few isolated places, but here’s one where I feel it’s really important to know what my foundation is to contextualize your own take on the theorizing I’m about to do.

Basically, I’m not an expert on any of this. I do have enough of a professional background behind me to make what I consider to be some educated guesses, but I’ve never worked in the video games industry. So, you know, keep that in mind.

My degree’s in Business Administration. I’ve spent most of my career as a small business consultant. I’ve worked on the outskirts of the literary publishing, the fine art, and the film industries. I have and continue to periodically write or work on my graphic novel or do other creative stuff. So the above few sentences are where I get my standing on the business and creative spheres. I currently work as a case manager, which gives me a bit of a lead on the social aspects, but honestly, most of that is just going to be drawing from my years of experience watching people be assholes on the internet. Because really, that’s as much of an expert as pretty much anyone is on that side.

So there, that’s the short and quick of what I’ve got behind me pushing me towards these thoughts. You got it? Good.

One more thing I want to highlight on this little series here. The Shameful Narcissist hit it right on the head in the last post on the subject: This is a very complicated matter. The question of why we don’t see more woman-fronted video games is something that relates to the core of how we look at each other and treat each other as human beings. This is a complex matter. And we cannot apply a simple solution to it. People on both sides of the argument have been doing that as long as the argument has been there, and it hasn’t gotten anybody anywhere. That’s the big takeaway I want you to get. We cannot have a simple solution to a complex problem. There are so many factors involved in keeping men as the primary gender for video game protagonists and trying to address one single thing as the cause for it all is just wasted effort. If you want to see the type of change that leads to more female leads in games, we’ll need to start by understanding just how many branches there are in that rabbit hole.

Moreover, this is not about misogyny or any sort of acute sexism. This is not a man vs. woman thing. If there is anyone out there deliberately making choices to keep women out of games, nobody with any sort of sense is listening to them. Rather, this is more about implicit bias. This is about the assumptions society in general makes about gender and what that means. Every culture, large-scale or small, has their own set of assumptions and acts on them unconsciously in ways that trend towards whatever group is most strongly represented there. It’s not just whatever group men or whites or whatever group in power at the time does. Look at companies and industries dominated by women, or caste- or clan-based societies, and you’ll see the same thing. These unconscious biases are usually negative on both sides, which we won’t so much see here but will become more apparent when we get into the next two sectors we’re looking at. The longer that culture goes on, the more prominent those unconscious trends become, until slowly, shifts start to happen. We’re in the middle of a shift like that now, but it’s not happening quite the way a lot involved in that dumb culture war going on right now would like. We’re going to check out why.

Let’s start giving you the Business.

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Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies: Part 1, Why I’m here.

Hold onto your seats, boys and girls. We’re going to talk about women in video games. Specifically, women as protagonists. You may have heard, likely from someone typing with way too many caps and exclaimation points, that the industry has a bit of a problem with its leading ladies. Which is not to say they aren’t out there. There are a huge number of strong female characters in video games. Given the size of the industry, in sheer numbers, there’s even a lot of protagonists with double X chromosomes. I could make you a list of playable female characters a mile long. The problem comes in when you’re looking at proportions, in which the formerly fairer sex is completely crowded out by a wave of digital masculinity. I’d like to see women getting a bit more market share. The thing is, gender representation in games is a hugely complicated issue, far more than your random agenda-pundit on Twitter is ever going to give it credit for. If all it took for creators to work some more women into their leads was to click on the right check box, it’d already be happening. Video games are a business, this overwhelming preference for male leads wouldn’t be happening in a vacuum. There are a lot of business, creative, and social factors that may be complicating the situation, and in this series of posts, we’re going to take a look at just what may be making varied gender representation in games such a hard thing to implement.

Before we get int that, though, I wanted to get into why I care. Wait, let’s put that another way. I want to talk about why I, as manly a dude as God has ever invented who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about this stupid culture war the Internet’s been waging in which it seems a participant’s intelligence is inversely proportional to the number of words they put together talking about it still wants to see more women helming his video games.

It’s not about trying to score points for any given side or to try to pick up women by white knighting for them, because when you look as good as I do, it’s no problem getting myself an in. Nor am I just looking for some new eye candy for my screen, although I wouldn’t begrudge it when used appropriately. To some extent, I do have the social concern. Studies have shown that just hearing stories about someone of their particular demographics finding success can lead to a statistically significant improvement on skills and education tests, and people shouldn’t have to work hard to find that in their chosen medium, though.  On the flip side, unless there’s a mirror in the room I do typically enjoy looking at women more than I do at men, and having more women leads would facilitate that. But to be honest, when I’m home, trying to get my leisure on, those are both small concern to me.  Really, what it all comes down to for me is a very selfish thing. I just want to play better games with better stories, and part of that is having more interesting leads.

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Just a refresher for those of you that need it, women are those people that wouldn’t go to prom with you in high school because they were too busy thinking about me. Anecdotally, more of my personal friends who play have been women than men, although I know that’s not representative. Women make up more than half of the human population, and a significant portion of the video games market. Although their proportions in a given industry, women are involved in all occupations, including military, law enforcement, crime, and video game development. Yet for all of their involvement in real life they don’t make up a very large proportion of video game leads.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that video game protagonists are more diverse than protags in most other creative industries, in the sense of actual experiential variation if not filling the EEO checkmarks. The most recognizable video game hero is both fat and rather ethnic. Due to the strong Japanese influence and historic market share, Asian and mixed-race characters abound. I could bring you examples of characters of all economic backgrounds. And I’d guess that you still see a lot more women taken seriously in action roles than in most other media. So while video games may seem to get more heat on the internet around its representation, I would posit that there’s a lot less inequality here than in most. Inequality is inequality, and that it’s there, even if it’s better than you might find otherwhere, is a sign that we’ve still got work to do, but recognition of that fact is handy for discussion.

The problem, from my big selfish perspective, comes when certain models of characters become overwhelmingly widespread. Now, this isn’t the first time games have run things into the ground. Back in the NES/SNES era, we needed characters that could be easily represented at minimal size and pixel use, so the mascot character ran rampant. As 3d games started getting their hold, and it became easier for the technology to represent someone recognizably human, the anime pretty boy started popping up all over the place. Then, when graphics started getting realistic, well, realism is apparently white brown-haired thirty something whatever.

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Any individual character is just fine. You can’t really pull out any individual mascot or spiky-hair or generic dude and honestly say they embody the worst of their era. It’s like steak. You can make a great meal out of it, you can prepare it so many different ways, there’s a lot of variation to it, but if you eat it every day, it’s going to start tasting bitter. Such it is with characters. Variety is key to keeping things fresh and interesting. When it’s something you’ve seen a thousand times, now matter how solid it is, it’s just harder to get into it. So when everything’s built off of the same general design document, the world just starts to look bland.

Breaking away from the XY chromosome isn’t the only way to add sufficient visual interest to a character. There are other ways to add in some fun variations. After all, Heihachi is made more interesting by virtue of being old. Link is made more interesting by being left handed. Dunban is made more interesting by being absolutely gorgeous and looking remarkably like your favorite video games blogger.

Nor is strapping a pair of tits on a character enough to automatically create that visual interest. No matter how white boy he might be, Geralt is still way more obviously interesting than Left 4 Dead’s Rochelle, just from a basic design standpoint. So yeah. Characters don’t have to be women to be interesting. And while the visuals, including their demographic, are the foundations from which a character springs, But women leads are a really obvious way to both create more interest through variety in their protagonists and get the story told through a somewhat different lens that we’re just not seeing that much of. Supplanting male characters is a common idea that just strikes me as a completely blind approach to the issues, but getting some lady leads, that carve out their own identity, much as Lara Croft, Faith, and Aloy have? That’s some low-hanging fruit that remains largely unplucked.

But there’s barriers to getting there. It’s not a simple decision for most of these businesses on any level.  You know what, let’s do some science here.

No, wait.  Let’s do some SCIENCE!

We’re going to do a big scientific study, right here, right now.  You would think, if it was easy to have women as lead characters in our games, if it were a simple matter, if the only thing holding it back was a bunch of old business dudes and their outdated assumptions, the indie creators would be making more woman-led games then the establishment.  Their creators are given more free reign, the companies thrive on individuality, and the smaller a company is the more flexible and the more in touch with their market they should be able to be.  So if there weren’t any of these business, creative, or social concerns in place, I would think that they’d be more reactive to the vocal demands for more women representation and the larger place women have been taking in our culture.

That’s what’s called a hypothesis in the biz.  We’re going to run a quick survey, sample size of my Steam library, on how many games have male protagonists, female protagonists, and indeterminate gendered/choice of gender or main characters/no protagonist.  First up come the major company releases.

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Really.  Out of almost 100 games, only six female protagonists?  Not very diverse, game industry.  Fine, let’s look at the Indies next.

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See!  There we go!  Numbers are still relatively low, but that’s 12% female protagonists in the indie sphere against just over 6% in the mainstream releases!  Twice as much!  Eat that, producers!

But wait.  There was one sphere that might be skewing those results.  Let’s take a look at those numbers again, but let’s take out the Visual Novels and Environmental Narratives that have very limited amounts of player involvement from those.  Not because they don’t count as games, we’re not getting into that argument here.  But because I think it does give a more accurate picture when we’re looking at the games where the player is expected to act through their character in a meaningful way.  So here’s the numbers when we isolate those games in which the player is an active participant.

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Indies have more mixed options, but as far as stories told with a strictly female protagonist?  The proportion is basically the same as the mainstream releases. 6% vs. 6.5%.

That’s because it’s harder to work in a female protagonist than most might assume, and those difficulties are largely the same whether you’re a company outfit or an indie studio.  If we are going to ask for more gender variation in our protagonists, I feel it’s important to understand where those barriers are, because creators aren’t going to break through them until their audience is there on the other side.

And that’s what we’re going to be taking a look at in this series. I hope you’ll join me for it.

The Higurashi Notes: Onikakushi-Keiichi’s Sanity and Ooishi’s Behaviour

All right, so now that we’ve taken a look at the happenings in our last post, let’s go back and try to work out… you know, what actually happened.  Onikakushi drops a whole lot of questions.   No answers.  But if you know where to look, there might be a few hints.  So, what do you say we start with the biggest question?

How much is actually real?

Yeah, yeah, Onikakushi runs really heavily on the “Is it magic? Is it mundane?” question, to the point it has the characters arguing about it OOC at the end.  But you know, that question is nowhere near as interesting to me as this one.  Stuff happened in this plot.  A lot of stuff happened in this plot.  But, did all the stuff that happened actually happen?

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At its core, Onikakushi is a story about Keiichi’s descent into paranoia.  You see him going from being a normal kid, run into a conspiracy so far beyond him that starts targeting him for even knowing about it, and in defense, Keiichi starts backing into the corner and pulling out the claws.  Starts smashing up nothing, thinking enemies are all around him.  But, maybe it goes beyond justifiable paranoia.  Maybe Keiichi starts experiencing things that are not actually there.

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It’s interesting to me how much Keiichi does that seems to serve no other purpose than to make his house a portrait of madness at the end.  The entry way of his home is all smashed up.  Mashed garbage strewn all over the room.  A hastily scrawled note asking “Was there a needle?” on the fridge.  The brief, hand-written memoirs of a crazed child stuck with tape behind his clock.  The kind of home that would make you think its owner escaped from the asylum if you came across it in any crime drama.  Of course, all of these were in response to something Keiichi was reacting to, and you see all the context for that, but take a look at that from outside Keiichi’s head for a bit.  He smashes up his house by swinging at something invisible and intangible.  He has a relatively calm phone conversation with Ooishi, then mention of the needle causes him to take a break and throw garbage all over his house, before he returns to the calm-ish conversation.  Keiichi knows what it all looks like.  That’s why he’s so very careful about what he puts in his dead drop note, and why it ends up being way too vague to be useful, outside of the bits that get torn out before the police find it.

But how far back does Keiichi’s altered perception go?  Let’s start from the end, and take a look at some contradictions between what we’re shown and what we know.

So first, the police report at the end.  Right off the bat, it states, and states conclusively, that Keiichi had called Rena and Mion over to his house before he beat them to death.  Now, it doesn’t list any of the evidence for that claim, but logically, the police would be able to look into phone records in regards to what calls were made.  At least, I’m going to assume they could.  I don’t know ‘bout that 1983.  So we can figure that it’s more than just an assumption that Keiichi called them out.  Thing is, if you recall from the events we saw, when Keiichi woke up in his house before he killed his friends, Rena was already there.  Sure, she called Mion from Keiichi’s house, but there’d be no reason for Rena to be called over.  Unless, either the ‘Director’ she called share’s Rena’s number, or Keiichi had in fact called her over, and just wasn’t cognizant of it.

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Keiichi died in exactly the same way as Tomitake did earlier.  That’s exactly what Mion was threatening, saying he’d be injected with the same drug.  But there’s two problems with this.  The first, going by what we saw, Keiichi was never injected with the drug.  He blacked out just before he did, came to with his friends dead, then recalled that he had knocked them away before he was injected.  Possibly, this is recreating memories after the fact, but otherwise, he should never have been impacted by the drug at all.  The second notable thing is that Keiichi started following in Tomitake’s footsteps long before the drug ever came up.  The big moment is when he smashed up his front entryway, striking at the presence he detected but couldn’t see.  Ooishi had notice that Tomitake had been found with a two-by-four that had impacted several things, but had no blood, skin, or biologic materials found on it.  He smashed up a guardrail, but had no sign of actually hitting anyone else with it.  Mayhaps he had been finding a presence that couldn’t be seen or touched, himself. Continue reading

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective-Part 6, Other Characters

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

ANTAGONISTS

The Masked Circle

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These are the longest-lasting enemy group in the game, who you’ll be romping with for almost all the game’s plot.  The Masked Circle is a doomsday cult, led by the Joker, who seek to gather enough ‘Ideal Energy’ to destroy the world and drive humanity into a new golden age in space.  Yeah, the rumors allow pretty much anything to happen.  Those who make their wish with the Joker find themselves first forced to be a part of the Masked Circle, then sacrificed for their goals, their Ideal Energy drained from them until they’re left motivation-less husks.  Their leadership is made up of pastiches of your own group, as Jun seeks to replace your childhood crew with his own creepy cult fellows.  They lose a lot of steam after you break Jun out of his Joker guise, leaving them pretty much without leadership, but they do maintain a presence up to the end of the game, being one of the few organizations able to make a stand against the Nazi invasion.  Of course, they don’t stand for long against them, and they’re only fighting them towards their own twisted goals, but still, at least you’re not the only group putting up the fight.  You’re constantly running roughshod over them, interfering with whatever they have planned, but most of the time you figure out the full extent of their plans just after they put them into action.  Your interference only seems to make them stronger, too, thanks to your spreading the word about them and the power of the rumors at play.  At least until you start knocking off their leadership.  Once you reach that point, there’s no recovering for them.

Joker

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If you call your own cell phone number, the Joker will appear before you and grant you one wish.  At least that’s what everyone says.  Except that your crew tries it in the early game, and instead on sending you on a shopping trip to buy those larger pants you’re suddenly needing, he just sics a bunch of demons on you.  As stated previously, the Joker is Jun, still really, really pissed off at your crew thanks to the influence of Nyarlathotep and the false memories he has of all his childhood friends burning Maya to death.  To say his feelings towards you are troubles is an understatement.

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Joker is the head of the Masked Circle, he who directs their activities towards the fun, fun goal of destroying the world.  Making you suffer seems to mostly be a side project of his.  The Joker is all about ideals.  He highly values his own ideals, he respects other’s commitments to their own ideals above all else, and he thinks largely in terms of ideals.  As twisted as it is, he honestly believes that the destruction of the world and the ascension of its people are honestly what humanity wants.  Thing is, he’s much more of a big picture guy, and doesn’t much care for the individual.  So, the fact that thousands of people don’t really want their ideal energy drained away in pursuit of the Earth’s destruction doesn’t much matter to him.  He is completely serious about the Masked Circle and their goals, focused on them above all else.  He doesn’t even use them to go after you until you start messing with the circle first.

Like Guido/Kandori of last game, Nyarlathotep is his persona.  And like last game, Nyarlathotep ends up taking him over for his final battle in this guise, then flees his form once he’s defeated.  Free of Nyarlathotep’s corruption, Joker reverts to his old form, and joins you in undoing the mess he’s created.

King Leo/Tatsuya Sudou

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Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is Japan’s Foreign Minister.  Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is a bad, bad man.  Growing up in that environment did him no favors, compounding the troubles he already had with his schizophrenia.  He found a father figure in Jun’s dad, however, who helped him make some sort of sense of the voices he was hearing, believing them to be some sort of alien prophecy and codifying them into the Oracle of Maya doomsday thing the Masked Circle is buying into.

Some time after that, Sudou snapped.  Depending on how far back the rumor thing was in effect, this may have been a result of other’s beliefs about him, conflating his schizophrenia and his father’s bad reputation and thinking he was a violent figure.  Either way, he became a serial arsonist, and burned down the shrine kid you and kid Maya were hanging out in.  You broke out, Sudou stabbed you, and you awakened your persona and burnt out his eye.  I’m going to say you got the better of that one.  After that, he stalked Maya for a good long while, then joined up with the Masked Circle for reasons that are mostly up to conjecture, and serves as King Leo, the second in command to the order.

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Tatsuya Sudou, as should be obvious from the name unless you did the right thing and change your protagonist’s handle for something wicked sweet, is the counterpart for your lead.  Given Maya’s history with him, he serves to some degree as the Masked Circle replacement for her, too.  He’s an arsonist, so he likes blowing things up.  Throughout the section you’re dealing with him, he leaves behind clues that will lead you to buildings he’s rigged to blow.  You usually have two buildings at a time to choose from and have to pick the right one, enter it, and find the bombs in order to properly bring a halt to his deeds.  Or, if you’re of a lazy mind, you can choose the wrong one and skip a few dungeons entirely.  It culminates in a big encounter in an aviation museum where you have to rescue an entire field trip, beat him in a big slogknocking fight, and jet of there in an exploding blimp.  Probably one of the high points of the game, in all.  As you might guess, he gets a sadistic glee in death and violence, and actually burns a man alive by means of introducing himself.  His persona is Reverse Vulcanus. Continue reading

The Gays of Gaming

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A while back, I wrote a series of posts celebrating the left-handed characters in videogames.  At the time, I had pointed out that southpaws, while they are clearly stronger, sexier, and just plan better than the average person, are still one of the most underrepresented groups in videogames.  I almost called them the single most underrepresented group in videogames, but I wasn’t entirely sure of that.  Namely, there were two groups giving me pause before making that big, probably wrong conclusion.  And the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community was one of them.

Recently, I’d been thinking back to that.  Wondering which group had it worse in terms of videogames representation, and if the gay community had come far enough to beat out left-handers.  So I started doing a thought experiment, trying to think out how many gay characters have been in the games I’ve played.  And, I figured, since I was doing the mental work anyway, I might as well make a list and share it with the public.  Hence, this post.  Here, I’ve put together a roster of all the homosexual and bisexual characters I can personally remember in video games.  Hopefully, this will be interesting to someone other than myself.

A few notes on the composition of this list:

  • To be counted here, the character has to be, well, an actual character.  They need their own personality and name.  If I could count generic NPCs, we’d never leave.  They don’t have to be deep characters, but they do need to have something going on.  Player Characters are a little tricky with this.  In general, if they have some sort of demonstrable character beyond just following the player’s decisions as their only interaction with their world, they’ll count for this.  Otherwise, nope.  I’ve got a deep love for the blank player avatar, but they don’t really fit in with this project.
  • I’m not counting transgendered or intersexed characters on this list.  I know in a lot of ways the communities and social issues involved are very similar, but I personally view gender identity as a separate matter than where one likes to stick their junk, and this list is focusing on the latter.  Transgender representation in videogames is still a lot more problematic anyway.
  • The creator’s word outing someone as gay will be taken into account, but, as always, they present only one possible interpretation of their own work.  In-game content is king.
  • Much like the list of left-handers, I’m only cataloging characters from games I’ve played.  Just too complicated to explore any beyond that.
  • I’m only counting honest designations.  As much as I’d like to make note of how fancy the King of All Cosmos is, this isn’t the place for it.
  • In the end, if it’s not absolutely explicit, it all comes down to my personal judgement call.  Don’t agree with me?  Well, too bad.  This is my list, I can do what I want.  And that may well be different from what you’d think.  In fact, if you write fanfiction, I can guarantee this list is like a tenth the size of anything you’d put together.
  • As always, I was right.  Homosexual and bisexual characters are totally better represented than left-handers.

Anyways, that’s all the boring stuff out of the way.  Shall we get to it?

1 and 2: Persona 2-Jun Kurosu‘s crushing hard on your main, Tatsuya Suou.  He’s not even subtle about it. Tatsuya himself can get into something of a relationship with either Jun or two of the women on your team, no fuss either way.

3 and 4: Fallout 2-This game was notable for having the first same-sex marriage in videogames, possible between your main and either Davin or Miria. This is followed by the first same-sex divorce in videogames. Fallout 2’s just that kind of game.

5 and 6: Fallout New Vegas-Veronica Santangelo and Arcade Gannon

7, 8, and 9: Kazuhira Miller of the Metal Gear series comes close, but I’m not willing to make the call based on what we’ve seen so far. Snake and Otacan are just dripping with the fangirl baiting, but still nothing definitive. Vamp, Raikov, and Volgin are very clear with their sexuality, however.

10: Killer 7-Kevin Smith was outed by the creator.  Got nothing in game saying either way, but it makes sense to me.

11: Zangief is specifically noted as disliking young beautiful women, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s into men. I’m willing to bet, however, that Street Fighter’s Eagle, being based on the famously fabulous Freddy Mercury, is.

12: The Elder Scrolls III Morrowind-Crassius Curio. Dammit, I really wish I didn’t have to remember him.

13 and 14: Final Fantasy XIII-Fang and Vanille.  According to the designer.  As if the subtext wasn’t thick enough already.

15: Bully-Jimmy Hopkins

16: Guilty Gear-Venom

17: Phantasy Star II-Usvestia. Literally more famous for being gay than any other reason.  Try searching his name and see.

18: Streets of Rage 3-Ash. I guess the walking stereotypes still count.

19: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic-Juhani. Only a romance option for the ladies. Also the first, and still one of only a few, gay characters in the Star Wars franchise.

20: Earthbound-Tony

21: Indigo Prophecy-Tommy

22: Fable-Reaver.  Gotdommit.

23: Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines-Jeanette

24, 25, and 26: Jade Empire: Silk Fox, Dawn Star, and Sky.  All the romance options, whether by deliberate choice on the part of the developers, a glitch, or a combination of both.

27 and 28: Heather from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn joins your army purely to pick up chicks. Tharja from Fire Emblem Awakening is interested in your avatar of either gender.

29: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream-Benny.  Knowing that actually changes the way you look at the wicked dealings in his past.

30 and 31: Gone Home-Sam and Lonnie. Their relationship is the main thrust of the narrative, so the game’s absolutely dripping with it.

32, 33, 34, 35 and 36: The Asari in Mass Effect don’t really count, given that they’re a single-sexed race in the first place. The female Shepard going for them in the first and second games definitely do, however, as does the male Shepard if you join with Steve Cortez in the third. Also, Kelly Chambers, Kaiden Alenko, and Diana Allers.

37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, and 43: Oh jeez. Let’s get this Dragon Age thing going. In the first game, there’s Leliana and Zevran. I don’t really count the Warden, as they don’t have much of an established character. In the second, we have Hawke, Anders, Fenris, Isabella, and Merrill. And I’m sure there’s more in the series, but I haven’t played all the content, so anyone outside of these just doesn’t count. So hah.

44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, and 50: OH JEEZ! Let’s see here. So Saints Row’s Pierce was always suggested as being interested in his own kind, but Saints Row 4 just went and made everyone open to both genders. So that gives us the Boss, Johnny Gat, Kinzie Kenzington, Shaundi, Matt Miller, and Asha Odekar (an aside, if you’re basing a character off of your real life child-aged daughter, please don’t make them a romance option. That just makes me feel icky.). King doesn’t count because his romance option is pretty platonic, and Keith David doesn’t count because, although he does have the romance option, he won’t take you up on it either way.

51 and 52: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner 2 has Binbogami and Yabyogami, two bosses who are really, really into fighting (specifically, being beaten by) Raidou.  If only they’d find each other, they could leave me alone.

53, 54 and 55: Grand Theft Auto IV-Bernie Crane, Bryce Dawkins, and, well, Gay Tony

56 and 57: The Last of Us- Bill and, as the DLC reveals, Ellie

58, and 59: The Walking Dead-Matthew and Walter seemed a bit closer than just friends.

60: Tales of the Abyss-Total judgment call here, and maybe my own little fangirl moment but didn’t Jade Curtiss seem awfully intimate with the way he kept teasing Guy?