Archive for July, 2015

Why can’t feminists just leave our games alone?

July 15, 2015

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Pardon me if this statement is trite, boring, or totes obvious to you and yours: Feminists love to play videogames too. Are we on the same page here? Hopefully yes. Because when I see articles like “Chaos Between Gamers and Feminist: Is the Gaming Industry Doomed?” I get all screwy in the face.

Why your face so screwy?

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I’ve been playing videogames for a very long time. That banner on the top of my page? I made it over the course of probably a month, pixel by pixel, after coming home from a dead-end super crap job. In-between polishing it up (Did you notice the needler shards in Master Chief’s armor? The Vic Viper and Raiden Mk II tearing up the sky? The Prince tending a garden on Majora’s-fucking-Moon?) I played a crap-ton of Spelunky. That was pretty much my life at that point: Dead-end job, pixel art, Spelunky. At that videogame-immersed point in my life, I was a nascent, budding feminist. Gasp!

Spelunky, that game in which gender representation is absolutely not equal, wherein an intrepid male explorer rescues a helpless, pitiful damsel in distress who is essentially just a sexualized prop and/or health powerup. You know what? I still love Spelunky. Unreservedly. I have Spelunky saved to my external hard drive, forever. I have X360 Spelunky, PS4 Spelunky, and Vita Spelunky. I love Spelunky. I will destroy you if you say I’m not allowed to love Spelunky.

In fact, I still love the exact same types of games that I did in the 20-some years before I even thought I might be feminist. So when I saw the above article, I had to wonder: Did the author never even consider that feminists could also be gamers?

Yeah but feminists just whine about games like constantly

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The chief argument against feminists seems to be that they are shrew-like harpies (contradiction!) that exist only to ruin everyone else’s fun. Everything great about gaming? Feminists don’t like it. Killstreaks, digitized boobies, men doing anything at all. You name it, feminists hate that thing.

My question is this: Where have you been? Go on any videogame forum and try to tell me everyone doesn’t hate everything. Nintendo: Stupid baby bullshit. Indie games: What are they even. Mass Effect 3: So bad the internet baked cupcakes. Gamers are mad all the time because they really effing love videogames.

The same holds true for feminists. We be like, argh!, why can’t this game just not have a non-dumb portrayal of women? I don’t even need to play as a cool sassy weapon-toting badass bitch; I just want this lady convo to be more interesting than watching my autistic cat licking the damned shoe rack again. But the thing is, we’re playing these dumbass, trite motherfucking games because we love them. My girlfriend can rant for literal hours about how mad Silent Hill makes her. Literal. Hours. Fun fact: Silent Hill is her favorite damned game series, and don’t you even try to say that Silent Hill 4 isn’t “true” Silent Hill fucker because that game is bomb and true psychological horror plus also Joe Romersa’s vocals on Cradle of Forest are sexy audio man-candy, pure fact, deal with it.

There are lots of problems with the videogame industry. Tons. And people love to complain about them. People talk about the games they love, the games they hate, and can we please just kill cover shooters once and for all. Sometimes, gamers just want games to be better. Feminist gamers want that too—that’s just part of being a fan.

But all the games will be pink

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Most women do not want all games to be “girl games.” They don’t want to be pandered to, and they don’t want to radically change the face of gaming. The women I know personally have a strong and inexplicable love for first person shooters and survival horror games. I don’t really get it, but there it is. It’s almost like they enjoy the same types of games that guys do.

But hey! That doesn’t mean everything’s perfect in gamer-world. There are very few positive female role models and very few leading ladies in videogames. You’ll note that I didn’t say “strong women.” That’s a phrase that gets a lot of flack, and rightly so, because it misrepresents the issue. When people hear about “strong” characters, they take it to mean “perfect” characters, flawless even. I don’t want that. Perfect characters are boring. I want female characters with substance, with motivation, characters who screw up, characters who feel like they could exist outside their one line of dialogue. And I want that from male characters, too.

This is a big sticking point for people, because What Exactly Do Feminists Want From Female Characters? Bayonetta is a textbook example. Feminists love her for owning her sexuality; feminists hate her for pandering to the male gaze. There’s no winning! The fact is that different people have different opinions. Some gamers prefer Call of Duty and some prefer Battlefield, even though they’re the same damned game.

Most feminist women don’t want a million hidden object games and visual novel samurai romances. They want the same types of games that guys want, because play is a culturally inherited cool thing. But they do want characters that they can relate to, characters who do more than look (vaguely) like them.

That’s not the only problem, or even the main problem. Women are excluded from conversations because they’re assumed by default to know nothing about videogames. Teammates treat them differently after they finally speak over voicechat. Women are harassed in online games, then attacked on blogs and forums if they speak out about that harassment. A lot of guys seem to think that feminists want preferential treatment for women, but that’s not the case. What we want is for women to be accepted—and treated like anyone else.

Feminism just sucks the fun out of everything though

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Secret confessions time: I enjoy multimedia entertainments a lot more when I view them through a feminist lens. A lot of people seem to think criticism kills fun, and that feminist criticism is the most fun-killing type of criticism around. It simply ain’t true.

Tell me: Do you love every single piece of media you consume? Do you love Super Mario Kart and Borderlands and Superman 64 and Psychonauts and Bubsy 3D and Zork and Bejeweled? If you answered no, you don’t love every game in the world, then congrats! At some point in your life you’ve been a critic. You’ve decided what you do and don’t like, and you’ve maybe even thought about why.

I can have problems with a game through one critical lens but be totally fine with it through another. I would say that 99% of the games I own are really, really dumb in some way, and I can say that without even applying any feminist criticism at all. That doesn’t stop me from loving those games, playing them to death, and arguing about them when I should be sleeping.

Debating feminist issues with man and lady-friends is fun as hell. Half the time they don’t even know you’re going feminist on them, and if you’re a dude it keeps everyone on their toes. Somehow though, as soon as they realize you’re applying a feminist critique, that’ll drain all the fun out of a conversation, right? Because feminism. You don’t like Yoshi’s Island because Yoshi’s flutter jumps take a hundred years—whatever. I don’t like Call of Duty because it’s fucking dumb. Oh, and because everyone’s a dude in that game.

I’m a dude, I should know! Dudes are just terrible.

G.G Series brings bite-sized indies to 3DS and DSi

July 14, 2015

Simpler is better—give me two buttons plus one good idea and you’ve got yourself a game. That’s the idea behind Genterprise’s G.G. Series, a slew of Japanese indie games that have recently been unleashed on Nintendo’s 3DS/DSi eshop for $2 a pop. The G.G. games are simply designed, often featuring only one song and a single background shared between all stages, but they shine as handheld games thanks to snappy, focused gameplay. I downloaded and played four of them recently. Here are my thoughts:

All Breaker

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Puzzle platformers aren’t really my bag; I’d rather not spend my time sitting stumped instead of making progress. All Breaker is thankfully action-heavy, rather than truly puzzling. The purple-haired main character swings a massive hammer in order to destroy red blocks scattered throughout the level. Her hammer only stuns enemies, however, so she needs to destroy floors or hit certain “attack blocks” to kill them. The level layouts are simple but effective, and smashing blocks is plain fun. This would be a good game for speedrunning score challenges. You’re awarded points for destroying blocks and killing enemies as well as finishing quickly, and the block-based levels mean you can improvise your way through to some extent, finding the quickest path. I’m probably in the minority here, but I greatly prefer this game to Wayforward’s Mighty Switch Force.

Assault Buster

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The central mechanic here is a gem—the main character (another weapons badass, this time with a laser rifle as long as her body) boosts rapidly around the screen, firing in every direction to destroy robotic baddies. Gravity brings her down slowly, allowing her to shoot as she descends, and holding down the shot button lets her fire continuously in one direction. In many ways Assault Buster reminds me of Treasure’s classic Alien Soldier, with hints of Bangai-O or Gunstar Heroes. Each level is a few short waves of enemies, followed by a stage boss. Most bosses are made from a collection of blocks surrounding a core, with each block firing its own weapon. I much prefer these to the occasional “robot master” style bosses, which zip around the screen and generally have too much health. My one gripe with the game is that time bonuses and enemy kills don’t matter much for scoring. The +5000 score bonus for destroying the boss blocks eclipses the rest of the points you’ll earn in a level. Kind of a bummer, but you’d wanna shoot the crap out of those bosses anyhow, right? A very fun game single-screen shooter regardless, and well-suited to quick bursts of play.

Dark Spirits

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I wasn’t taken with Dark Spirits at first. The main vampire dude is a bit slow-moving for a manic shooter, and the gamplay felt a bit basic. But I grew to appreciate the elemental upgrade system as I played more. Vamps has four elemental orbs that change type when they touch different upgrades, allowing you to mix and match elemental types. If you run into the same type upgrade multiple times, that orb will level up, so you need to make sure you’re grabbing the right upgrade with the right orb. There are focused, wide, and backwards-facing shot formations, giving the game depth and making up for the character’s slow movement speed. The visual design in this one is pretty cool as well; the future-horror vibe must have been inspired by Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. And there are two different backgrounds to this game instead of one, whoa! Dark Spirits’ one problem is that it’s way too easy. The ice elemental shot especially makes the game a breeze, as it deals a ton of short-range damage and cancels enemy bullets. Fortunately the (otherwise pretty short) game loops over and over again as you beat it; I ended up reaching stage 3-2 before biting the bullet. Those who consider the genre far too difficult may see this as a breath of fresh air, but for myself the game lasts a little too long to work great as an on-the-go title.

Great Whip Adventure

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This is the simplest game of the four, but it’s also my favorite. Great Whip Adventure is the pint-sized brother to La Mulana and Spelunky. The Indy-like main character whips enemies and latches onto hanging hooks to traverse jungles and temples. The mechanics are simple yet functional, with a nice stage-to-stage challenge curve and a scoring system based on enemy kills and quick completion. This is a great example of how few objects and enemies are required to make a fun game, and could serve as a textbook case for game designers everywhere. And that music track! It’s used in another game (All Breaker, I think?), but here it magically nails La Mulana’s adventurous soundtrack. Great Whip Adventure’s stripped-down elements all work incredibly well together. At $2, it’s like stolen treasure.

And there you have it! I may do another sweep of the G.G Series in the future, as there are now a ton of them on the eshop. Or I might finally dig into the eshop on the whole, and see what I find. Until next time!

– Tom K, Catstronaut Loves Games

All hail Rocket League, true king of battle sports

July 9, 2015

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Let me tell you my favorite thing about Rocket League.

You’ve got all your RC cars, and they’re zipping around, boosting and bunnyhopping all over the place, trying to gain and keep possession of an extra-bouncy soccer ball. There’s some really frenetic back-and-forth passing and shooting going on, but the opposing team is defending their goal like some sort of radio-controlled hivemind. One of your teammates nudges the ball just so, like perfectly so, sort of grinding with it toward the goal before he gets taken out as one of those orange bastards plows right into him—but it’s too late, everything’s lined up, like, triangulated for effectiveness, and you boost real fast in a sloppy zigzap past one car and hop over another, then spinkick (yes, with a car) the ball straight past the goalie for the point.

And when you do that (get this) the ball detonates, sending shockwaves out through the field so that any nearby cars rocket and tumble, end over end, away from the goal. It’s wonderful. It’s the best thing.

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Rocket League is just so good. It makes me remember the good old days, before sports games become bloated, monolithic franchises, incrementally and lazily updated from year to year. The NES and Genesis days, when players could pick up something like Arch Rivals or Mutant League Hockey and immediately have fun without worrying about all the stupid clutter. You know, the days of pick yer dudes and you’re good to go.

This is gaming at its most impactful. This is gaming at its most fun. Even when you’re just starting out and learning to jump and aim your shots, the playability is so tuned that it’s never boring or frustrating. The premise is so ludicrous that it can’t possibly work—and yet it does, perfectly. It’s completely intuitive, and every goal, every save, every hustle feels like a major feat.

And another thing: It’s absolutely embarrassing how feature-rich Rocket League is. In a generation when developers constantly nickel-and-dime players, when even a major franchise like Halo is seeing its local and online splitscreen gutted, Rocket League is player-oriented on every level: Great graphics and visual design, perfect controls, immediate load times, 4-player local and online splitscreen, optional bots (with names!), tons of cosmetic customization options including wacky boost trails and party hats, exhibition and season modes, PC and PS4 cross-platform play, dedicated servers, multiple arenas, and the promise of free download content in the future.

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So yeah, Rocket League brings me back. It brings me back to those days when people who didn’t care about sports could still love sports games. It brings me back to those days, so long ago, playing Arch Rivals with friends and laughing at how much fun we were having. Said my girlfriend while we were destroying each other in Rocket League: “I don’t know what just happened, but it was AWESOME.”

I don’t know what happened, either. To arcade games, to sports games, to racing games. How is Rocket League so damned good? When playing, I whoop and I holler. I get into it with my whole body. I enjoy every second, the feeling of play, of being totally present. There’s something here, something special that’s been missing from games for a very long time.