Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

Don’t Look Back: Choice, Consequence, Unrest

Posted on: August 2nd, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

The Next Leap…

The mission prompt informs me that I am now Tanya, an introverted, intelligent peasant girl of fifteen, but it doesn’t really insist on it. Following the introductory sentence, the narration shifts to the third person. And that’s just as well, I figure. From my experience with the two preceding vignettes, short but potent, I know that I ought not become too attached, lest heartbreak follow. Pyrodactyl’s Unrest, with its heady mix of fictional politics and human drama and its cast worthy of a Tolstoy novel, is not, after all, Tanya’s story. Not exclusively, in any case. I have a god’s eye view (paradoxically both detached and focused) of her drought stricken village, but I have already learned that my power is limited. I am not God. I am not even Doctor Sam Beckett. According to the description on the tin: “…there are no heroes of legend, there is no mystical quest, and fate has not chosen you.” Foreboding words, but the proof is in the pudding.


From the very beginning, it was clear to me that Pyrodactyl’s promises of deep interactivity and role playing freedom have, in fact, been fulfilled, but what the player can and can’t actually accomplish is really a matter of scope and scale. As Chitra, a seasoned ambassador from the Naga Empire (a prosperous nation of sentient and comparatively enlightened serpent beings that serves, in large part, as a convenient means to address xenophobia), I had full reign over my words and actions, if little else. I decided that Chitra was to be a paragon of diplomatic virtues, cordial, sensitive to cultural differences, quick with a joke when it suited him, and, above all, dedicated to his mission, one of peace, security, and mutual profit. I could, however, have easily turned him into an arrogant, demanding hard liner, or a cold and calculating manipulator. I couldn’t predict or avert the inevitable disasters to follow (there wouldn’t have been much of a plot otherwise), nor could I leave the confines of the royal gardens, where the controversial treaty between the Naga Empire and the humans of Bhitra was to be negotiated and signed, but I was free to do my best, free to choose how my character, my charge, responded to the limiting circumstances at hand.


Sedated & Strung Out in Heartbreaker Leggings

Posted on: April 23rd, 2014 by Arie Salih

It’s 2008. The plastic instrument craze is at an all time high; I’ve skipped out on the Spring trimester at the University to maybe drop out for good. My hair has gotten long enough to be doing the hippie dreadlock thing, and I’ve got a crew of four that I’ve known since early Highschool days jamming to Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.”

We’re in my mother’s basement. Everyone seems to be gesturing wildly, trying to feel the vibe between our band on tour — the drumsticks are noisily clanging against rubber slip-mats, our lead singer is swinging the plastic microphone a bit too closely to my head. I hear the clickety clack racket of my own jaded run on bass. It’s hot down here in June, so the screen door is pried open to allow the echoes from the T.V. speaker to drift out into the darkness.

use this!

I stare hard at my own reflection through the television’s glare. There’s a string of blue and orange chords coming up, a bit more quickly than I’m anticipating. Between the fast paced colors and the  manufactured raucous energy, it almost looks like my bass girl is smugly laughing at us. She’s a Gothic Belladonna from London, and she’s bigger than everyone on stage. That almost sneering discontent peers back at me, her purple bouffant hairstyle bouncing in a drone-like rhythm along with the slightly off key Rivers Cuomo impersonation in the background.

I keep plucking away, without any earnest intent to be exceptional. The stage lights are alternating between wild neons and a black and white lo-fi effect as we hit our 4x groove. The plastic fret is strumming a bit loose, and reflects every missed note eagerly. Clack clack clack. The setlist in Boston was coming to a close, and nobody really wants to continue with Fall Out Boy’s “Dead on Arrival.” The four of us, in some sweaty faux rock communion, start packing up our “instruments.”

In the off hours between songs, I’d spent most of my time coming up with daring tattoo designs for my disaffected Belladonna. In some futile attempt to interject my own style into my character, we paraded around in Spikestress metal tops, zebra leggings, and Luchadore boots that screamed “FUCK OFF” as loudly as possible. The layered complexities of inked designs came only in black, and the dispirited bass performances were traded for wild punk rock sensibilities and creative wardrobe collaborations.

The band would meet up for plastic practice every couple of nights. Before the frenzied cacophony of our renditions of The Clash, I took pride in getting dressed for our performances. Feeling catatonic and aloof meant Melancholy Prom Goth garb, Marimbas on the feet, and Jackie O glasses. When it was time to yell, we wore Defiant leathers, Hip Huggers, and Devil’s Rope bracelets. The dress up game became more intriguing for me than the music — it was a chance for freedom of self expression, and for transgender exploration.

I got a cartilage piercing sometime later that summer in honor of my Rock Band Belladonna alter ego and her Punk 101 getup. My older sister called me “Avril” for the rest of the year.


Adolescent Male Power Fantasies Indeed!

Posted on: March 30th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

I liked the original Infamous (despite the wonky character animations and the campy story), and I really, really liked Infamous 2. It addressed all of its predecessor’s visual problems full-heartedly, and its story, while still campy, felt endearingly so. Frankly, I’m a sucker for tales of genuine bromance.

The most recent installment in the series didn’t exactly disappoint me. Yes, the side activities could have been a bit more engaging (I’m all for Banksy style stencil art, but pretending that my controller is a spray can and waggling it about for a few seconds doesn’t really a mission make). Also, I personally would have liked more challenge and did sort of miss the cover system. Still, Infamous : Second Son essentially delivered exactly what I had expected it to.

It is a solid Infamous sequel with absolutely astounding graphics: a comfortable, if not especially innovative, experience for the fans, and an excellent demonstration of next generation capabilities for the world at large. I mean, you really have to see it to believe it. At points, it felt as though the Patron Deity of Video was repeatedly punching me in the face with the full and awesome force of her magnificence. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Second Son’s story is decently written and, more importantly, extremely well acted. That Troy Baker has serious range. The game itself is a bundle of superhero fun, and I absolutely love the fact that you can, almost from the very beginning, take the baddies down without killing them, and that this proves to be a fun and challenging alternative to the standard slaughter-everybody playstyle.

In short, I really, really, really like Second Son. There is one thing, however, that bugs me, and just won’t stop bugging me. The karma system I’ve made my peace with. It is what it is. The uninspired side missions, and the fact that I am no longer being swarmed by baddies from every direction (something that I rather enjoyed about the earlier installments), only bother me enough for a quick grumble. The one thing in the game that really makes me uncomfortable (warning: feminist soapbox ready to deploy), the one thing that I truly found to be disappointing (in that it neither met nor exceeded my expectations), is the dialog spoken, in passing, by the randomly generated female denizens of Second Son’s virtual Seattle. Do bear with me here.


The Curious Case of Anita Sarkeesian, Part Two (Wherein We Actually Get to Talk About Sexism in Games)

Posted on: January 21st, 2013 by Aleks Samoylov

If you haven’t read the first part of this article, you probably should go ahead and do so. To sum up, this latest rant of mine was inspired partly by the controversy surrounding Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project, and, to be more specific, both the treatment she received at the hands of a  vocal and active (hopefully) minority of male misogynist gamers, and the broader issue of sexism in Games and gaming that this case illuminates. To reiterate, some of the common, harmful responses to sexism in gaming that I will be addressing today are as follows:

– Big Developers cater to their target audience that, let’s face it, loves skimpy outfits and boobs, and, as such, sexism in games is unavoidable and a discussion of sexism in games is not worth the wasted breath. That’s just the way it is and always will be. Let’s just play and have fun and kill things. All this critical thinking is harshing my buzz.

– If you don’t like sexist games, just vote with your wallet and go Indie.

– Games are “Art” so don’t try to censor them!

– Games are just games. Who cares? You are being way too sensitive about that sort of thing.(Amazingly, this one was spoken in the same breath as the “games are art and thus shouldn’t be censored” argument).

So, let’s dig in and really talk about the meat of the issue, now that we’ve dismantled the straw man argument that deals with Sarkeesian herself having bailed on or failed at her project already (if you recall, we’ve established, using a few simple facts, that she’s done no such thing at the time of my writing this article).


The Curious Case of Anita Sarkeesian, Part One (Wherein We Establish That She Hasn’t Missed a Single Deadline Yet)

Posted on: December 17th, 2012 by Aleks Samoylov

If you’ve been following Games during the last year or so, you’re probably aware of the strange but sadly not unexpected controversy surrounding Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project. If you haven’t, here’s a simple breakdown. Anita Sarkeesian is a female feminist blogger and vlogger who shares her ideas with the world on Like many ambitious young people do these days, Sarkeesian decided to try and crowd-fund a relatively simple project of hers via the very popular crowd-funding web service named above. If you aren’t familiar with Kickstarter yet, you should go check it out; it’s pretty cool. Anyway, said project would be an extension of her “Tropes v. Women” series, a relatively user friendly discussion of popular culture through a (of course) feminist lens. This series has already had six episodes, dealing largely with tropes in Film, Television, and Comics, and has touched lightly on Games as well. This new extension was to be a similarly modest series of videos, and would focus primarily on a feminist analysis of harmful tropes in Games specifically.

Just to clarify, for those of you who are peripherally familiar with the story, and may thus be, through no fault of your own, misinformed, she wasn’t initially asking for a huge amount of money (6000 USD), and the project was neither particularly ambitious in scope, nor revolutionary, unusual, or different in it’s basic nature/format. Many artists do use Kickstarter and Indiegogo to garner patronage for specific projects that do not have an inherent commercial component (that is, they do not produce a “product” that can then be sold and resold). Not too long ago, for example, a theater troupe from my beloved Baltimore (the Copycat Theater)  raised money to produce the second iteration of their experimental interactive live production (The Rooms Play), which, by the way was awesome. This is just one example. Not only was there no “tangible product” produced, but the intangible product was time limited, and directly localized. If you couldn’t come to Baltimore to experience it, well, you’d have to settle for a second hand version. Shows, performances, installations, and etc. show up on crowd-funding sites all the time, have since their earliest days, and will continue to in the future. These sites generally do not allow people to raise money for personal reasons (i.e. “I want a vacation/need to pay my rent/need to pay for medical bills”), but projects of all varieties tend to be fair game.

This is why I personally found the controversy that ensued (and still persists, alas) to be “strange,” to put it mildly. Apparently, an embarrassingly large contingent of male “gamers” felt so threatened by Sarkeesian’s fairly humble video blog that they took it upon themselves to conduct a large and systematic attack campaign (a war of sorts) against her as a person, instead of…you know, using their brains or acting like grown ups. What followed is a pretty disgusting example of cyber-bullying with a central, and very shameful, misogynistic component. You can view one of her talks on the matter for a glimpse of how egregious it really was. For our purposes, let’s just say that threats of physical and sexual violence were thrown around liberally, and Sarkeesian’s private accounts were hacked and vandalized. We aren’t in the objectivity business here, so I will go ahead and say that I personally cannot see any rational justification for that kind of behavior in any sphere of society by anyone ever. But I also happen to think that sexism and rape are very, very bad things, so…I suppose you can take my statements with a grain of salt. Maybe I’m too much of a “bleeding heart,” for thinking this way (sarcasm).

Anyway, that happened. As trolls often do, however, these charming gentlemen ended up sabotaging their own misguided “cause.” Trolls are, believe it or not, just a very vocal and active minority of internet users. If it is properly riled up, the less vocal majority of decent people does occasionally step up. As a result, Sarkeesian’s project wasn’t just funded. It was over-funded by a ginormous (yes, that’s a word) margin. Basically, enough to pay for the full time yearly salary of several skilled individuals (almost 159,000 USD).

So. Happy ending, right? Well…almost. If not for that almost, we wouldn’t have much to talk about. Every time I brought this story up, hoping to have a frank discussion of unfortunate sexist trends in one of my favorite media, or of issues of gender ex/inclusivity in said medium, and every time I saw it brought up elsewhere, some very interesting and troubling answers came out, often out of very intelligent, generally respectful people. Some of these answers were, of course, more troubling than others. The most common are, as follows:

– Anita Sarkeesian is a con-artist that never produced the intended product, or, if not a con-artist, a failure. She, in the words of a good friend of mine, “bailed.” Where are the videos we were promised?

– Big Developers cater to their target audience that, let’s face it, loves skimpy outfits and boobs, and, as such, sexism in games is unavoidable and a discussion of sexism in games is not worth the wasted breath. That’s just the way it is and always will be. Let’s just play and have fun and kill things. All this critical thinking is harshing my buzz.

– If you don’t like sexist games, just vote with your wallet and go Indie.

– Games are “Art” so don’t try to censor them!

– Games are just games. Who cares? You are being way too sensitive about that sort of thing.(Amazingly, this one was spoken in the same breath as the “games are art and thus shouldn’t be censored” argument).

Unfortunately, while it’s by far the least important or interesting of these claims, the first one should probably be addressed first. The rest will be covered in part two of this article, which, for the purposes of sanity, will be posted separately. So: