[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Katie Williams on topics including the "Hey Sweetheart Scenario" in games, and Mass Effect ignoring sexism with its heroine.]
Whoa, but that's a lot of words! Our Video Game Criticism update is full of good stuff today, people, so let's get right into it.
Firstly, The Mary Sue's Becky Chambers discusses what she dubs the 'Hey Sweetheart Scenario', using Dragon Age as an example of a game whose NPCs treat a female player character as something to be taken aback by. Says Chambers,
"If you, as a game writer, are tasked with creating a story in which the player feels like a bonafide hero, then what purpose does it serve to point out that my heroine is going to have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, purely because of her gender? That's a feeling I already have in the real world, and it's not one that I want to experience within a game. If you've actually got something to say about gender norms within the narrative of a game, then say it. Tacking it on just because it's what you're used to takes away from the integrity of the story and kicks female players right back to an uncomfortable reality."
In contrast to this, Ben Chapman at the Pixels or Death blog has some fascinating insight into gender in the world of Mass Effect in his piece 'Dispatches From the Villain, Fem Shep'. While he admits that he plays his male Shepard as a hero and his female Shepard as a borderline sociopath, he is amazed that his own "accidental misogyny" is not supported by the game world: "… scarcely anyone calls my Fem Shep 'a bitch'. There are virtually no derogatory remarks belittling my capability to fight on account of my virtual boobs. No one makes a sarcastic remark about "my gender" and driving ability when I accidentally ramp the M35 Mako upside down into a crater."
Paul Tassi, contributing to Forbes, has some things to say about piracy and the entertainment industry in his article 'Lies, Damned Lies and Piracy':
"I would argue that releasing crappy movies has a far greater effect on the film industry bottom line than piracy ever could. Similar things happen when a hyped TV show bombs or an anticipated game is a letdown. Companies don't rise and fall due to piracy, but they do based on the quality of the products they release.
The point I'm trying to make is that piracy is not this mammoth specter killing the entire entertainment industry like they would have you believe. I am not saying that there has never been a dollar or job lost because of it, nor am I encouraging the illegal practice in the least, but the natural ebbs and flows of the industry with big hits and misses are far more significant than minuscule piracy loses among a specific, young, tech-savvy group who knows how to get their media for free."
Over at VG 24/7, Patrick Garratt tours Finland, with some excellent and quality reporting on what he learns of the Finnish development scene.
The Border House has picked up an intelligent analysis of 'Analogue: A Hate Story' by our own lead curator Kris Ligman, in which she touches upon topics such as games-as-fun, its modeling on Korean history, and its relation to the Star Trek series.
Additionally, Critical Distance contributor Eric Swain is at it again with an examination of Driver: San Francisco, this time looking at it alongside the movie Drive. Most memorable is his comparison of how the two works are firmly anchored in the act of driving:
"Ryan Gosling's character is solely defined as a person by his most potent ability: driving. He has no name, no past, and all the human contact that he has is filtered through driving. The dates that he goes out on? They're night drives. The business ventures that serve as his main means of human contact? They are his job at a garage and stock car racing. He meets his "love interest" by helping her with her car. In an action video game, the protagonist is solely defined by the verb that the player uses to interact with the game. In the case of Driver: San Francisco and John Tanner, that verb is 'drive."'"
"The part that Jaffe seems to misunderstand is that someone doesn't need to be waxing a handlebar mustache and tying young ladies to railroad tracks to make a sexist or misogynist statement. Most trouble doesn't actually come from villains and it doesn't come from people who actively stand around shouting, 'I hate women.' It comes from thoughtlessness.
By framing his statement as 'let her win and she'll give you a blowjob,' Jaffe's said a few things he may or may not have meant to. The first is that only straight men could possibly develop an independent interest in playing his game. The second is that the best way for a man to get what he wants is to come up with some underhanded trickery to apply. The last is that a girl or woman couldn't actually win a co-op match on her own."
Patricia Hernandez also made a splash at Kotaku this week with an epic-length piece called 'The Rules of Religion, And Why The Next One Might Just Be A Game'. She looks at a handful of games as well as the possible gamification of religion, but most striking to me, personally, was her retelling of his own family's attitudes towards religion, as well as the sweetly self-aware acknowledgement of her Kotaku debut. It's a long piece, but fully worth it when you reach the final few paragraphs.
"I was told that Skyrim was a harsh, desolate region, whose terrifying weather chiseled the toughest men and women in all of Tamriel. But then I walk its mountains and cities and I see adults and children alike strolling through a blizzard in sleeveless attire, not even flinching. My character swims in arctic conditions and doesn't even gasp. I've come across bandit camps that are bedrolls completely exposed to the elements beside a campfire that couldn't possibly be burning without an unhealthy dose of napalm. There is a whole heap of snow in Skyrim but there is no cold."
There's something about L.A. Noire that lends itself to incredibly intricate and pensive writing, and Daniel Golding's post on it at his Crikey blog Game On is no exception. Though Golding calls it a "review" and admits that it's only eight months late, to him, this "slowness" becomes an integral part of the game itself:
"Reviewing a video game within a week of its release can force you to overlook its subtleties and emphasize aspects that, with time, reveal themselves as far more important than apparent at first blush. Yet leave it too long and you risk falling into the cracks, the familiarity of a video game massaging over the faults. Each game may have a rhythm, but so does every player, critics included. I am stuck in the spaces between L.A. Noire's four-note musical motif.
But by now, I know L.A. Noire, and I know that it's worth playing, worth watching, and worth spending time with. It's worth thinking about. It's worth contemplating."
And finally, the hot issue of the week was studio Double Fine's Kickstarter venture to fund a new point-and-click adventure game, which at the time of writing has raised $1,659,095 of its $400,000 goal. No, really.
Craig Wilson of Split Screen presents 'A Double Fine Audit', speculating what say fans will have in the development of a game they funded. Wilson writes,
"What alarmed me was how willingly people donated given how little details had been made available. Sure there's the usual tiered list of donation gifts and a funny video but Double Fine promise involvement in the development process. But outside of the documentary what does that mean? What does my money actually buy me? To what extent, as a financial stakeholder, am I actively involved?"
On the other hand, Seb Wuepper at Gameranx asks passionately, 'Are You People Insane?' Addressing the controversy around Double Fine's crowdfunding, he says,
"This seems like another case of gamer entitlement. The reasons escape me, since the downsides of this approach to funding seem minimal at best. If the worst happens, gamers are out by a mere $15 at the least. Which at this point seems highly unlikely since the project is already funded with more than a month to go. Make no mistake, this is not a risky investment. It's a—for the lack of a better term—preorder for a highly passionate company producing what's seen as a niche product."
Finally, Rowan Kaiser sits between the two as he writes 'Double Fine's Kickstarter Effect: What Happens Next?' Despite his expressing satisfaction that an older genre is given some attention, he outlines a number of reasons why he is "highly skeptical that this will create meaningful change within the industry".
And that's every last drop of the gaming goodness we have for you today. If you have any delicious recommendations for next week's post, please do send them via email or Twitter.