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This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from the critical backlash to Playing History 2's 'Slave Tetris' to understanding the appeal of Street Fighter 5's 'Hot Ryu' look among female fans.
Bodies and Background
At The Mary Sue, the alliterative Maddy Myers invites us to talk about Hot Ryu, the fandom nickname given to an alternate costume for franchise mainstay Ryu in the upcoming Street Fighter V, and how his treatment differs from the sexual objectification we often associate with women characters:
When the "Hot Ryu" meme began, inspired by little more than Ryu's new beard design, entries in the meme focused on personifying and humanizing Ryu. The people who participated in this meme did not zoom in on shots of Ryu's muscles and post the word "abs" over and over, although many references to his physicality did occur; the crux of the meme was about Ryu participating in an imagined relationship with someone, in both a sexual and an emotional sense.
This presents a stark and deeply depressing contrast to how women in fighting games have been treated. [...] the camera lingers on their backsides and cleavage during the slow-motion sequences of their intros, outros, and special attacks. The result is that the fandom is encouraged to comment about [upcoming female Street Fighter combatant] R. Mika's looks [because] the camera dehumanizes her at every turn.
With the release of Metal Gear Solid 5, Eurogamer's Aoife Wilson challenges series director Hideo Kojima's previously-made comments that players will "feel ashamed" when they learn the plot reason for Quiet's combat bikini and fishnet attire:
If the purpose of this scene and of Quiet's character in general is to make commentary, perhaps some will say it is that women should be free to wear what they want into battle or anywhere else, but this actually isn't the case with Quiet at all. She herself states she never wanted to be this way. She has this exposure forced upon her, and given a choice, it's safe to assume she'd adopt more practical clothing. She needs to be naked to live now; she needs to be naked to earn a place in Kojima's, and our, world.
(Obviously, the full article contains some spoilers for the game.)
Meanwhile, at Women Write About Comics, Claire Napier digs up some old profile information on pre-reboot Lara Croft, and what she finds betrays the profile authors' interest in something other than realism:
The fact that there is a "canon" weight for Lara Croft which is within the realm of reality is not actually a bonus. It's horrible. What does it add? A cue to begin objectifying her, exotifying the lightweight, demanding personal information as proof of your subject's womanhood. When dealing with an illustration, a caricature, a digital model of an "idealised woman", why try to apply real-world values to her entirely false frame? They won't match up. They won't allow comprehension of how this body would look if she were real.
No, it's clear from the multiple instances of lowballed weight estimates available on Lara Croft profiles (110, 125) that the parties interested in discussing these weights have no clear understanding of what the numbers mean. If they did -- they'd know they were wrong. The impossibility of fitting 34D breasts into size 8 shirts, the pointlessness of adhering to dress sizes if you can buy tailoring, the blatant falseness of Lara Croft being 100 lbs, five-foot-eight, 36 inches around the chest, and a worldclass rockface dangler/militia combatant/tarzan impersonator: these things speak to an ignorance of bodies, and the bitterly foolish choice to define them anyway.
Happily, as Napier notes, rebooted Lara Croft has not had so much attention paid to her proportions -- outside of fan speculation, at least.
Systems and History
At Sufficiently Human, our own Lana Polansky offers as a more elegant alternative to ludonarrative dissonance the terms "coherence" and "incoherence," describing the ways a game's design succeeds or fails at reinforcing its themes:
Dissonance is a textual and tonal device. It's also a sensibility, a kind of distinct affective response. It is not, in and of itself, a pejorative.
The issue [with incoherence] is not so much that these problems clash particularly noticeably in the moment of play in such a way that jars and therefore leaves an impression on the player. It's that, under scrutiny, they don't make any sense to what the game and its various elements are trying to accomplish. Like an unaddressed plot hole in an otherwise tidy-feeling television series, these things can go unremarked but as soon as they are reflected upon, we realize how quickly the game and its attendant statements dissolve into a pile of gibberish.
At Gamasutra, Katherine Cross refers to Polansky's essay when she dissects the recent outcry over the "slave Tetris" minigame in Playing History 2 – Slave Trade:
The game was, at bottom, terribly incoherent. It mixed a serious topic with a sunny atmosphere and gamey elements that trivialized that topic rather than illuminated it. The Tetris minigame, further, has the stunning side effect of rendering the player complicit in creating one of the signature atrocities of the slave trade: heinously overcrowded ships. All as a smiling sea dragon looks on. [Studio CEO Simon] Egenfeldt-Nielsen strained to point out that the protagonist, the young slave you play as throughout the game, liberates himself over the course of the story; this is, undoubtedly, a good story to tell, but we return to the incoherence issue: the game's portrayal of slavery is at war with its lesson about slavery's unbearable atrociousness.
At Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Alex Wiltshire breaks a serious taboo and writes in defense of photorealism in games:
Now, I also love stylised games, because I love anything with considered and skilful art direction. And I'm arguing here that realism is also art directed. The judicious application of a little ambient occlusion here, depth of field there, and yes, even chromatic aberration. I think of those programmers, distilling reality with such care and attention, picking through their materials and applying them, just so. Their decisions and deep craft is worthy of deep appreciation.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture -- a game designer Dan Pinchbeck has said emerged from wishing to create the most aesthetically exquisite game experience possible, for better or worse -- has been on Ed Smith's mind this week over at Playboy. He notes that, while the game falls short as a work of representation, "it attempts to capture at least one truth about country life, the small, incestuous dramas that emerge between people living close to each other, who have nothing better to do than spy on their neighbours."
In continuing his series on design stagnation in adventure games, Ian Danskin points to a handful of mechanics in upcoming games (video) which may breathe fresh life into the genre. He notes:
The nice thing about experimentation is, even if the game is bad it doesn't mean that the experiment was worthless. Did the mechanic work? Maybe someone else can make better use of it. Did the mechanic fail? Well, why did it fail? And is there a better way to accomplish what it was trying to accomplish? Questioning a long-standing tradition is almost always a net gain for game design. Even if the answer is 'well, we shouldn't have tried that,' at least now you know something about the tradition.
It's Dangerous to Go Alone
Back at Playboy, Javy Gwaltney has been thinking about games that we continue to play even when we're not playing them:
"We should cut through the ice caves," my girlfriend says suddenly. "We can kill a shopkeeper with one of the landmines and steal his stuff. We might nab a jetpack."
"But what about Olmec? Won't he be summoning his little bastard henchmen if we don't start from the beginning?"
"Oh yeah. We could handle that if we got enough bombs along the way, maybe."
We have a lot of discussions like this about Spelunky, often when we're not even playing the game. Sometimes at dinner, sometimes when we're walking the dog. It's just there in the background of our lives as a constant battle we're planning or waging together for riches and adventure. Spelunky is the best kind of game, the kind that you play even when the console is off and you're working or kicked back in a chair trying to relax; it weasels its way into your brain, encouraging you to map out tactics and strategies to use in your next session.
It's not enough to say that these are games that "stay with us." More than simply dominating critical chatter, they represent just how deeply games are becoming entrenched in our lives. [They] bleed into our reality, refusing to let go of our attention, demanding to go on even when we've supposedly finished with them simply because they're not done with us.
If you're as struck as I am by the mental image of couples playing Spelunky together, I'd like to point you to Unwinnable, who have published an excerpt from Steven Messner's article on a relationship strained by Animal Crossing, which I mentioned last week!
That's all for this week. We'll see you soon, and in the meantime, stay frosty or toasty, as your hemisphere dictates.