Remember Me and the Female Touch
Posted on Friday, March 22 2013 @ 10:23:04 Eastern
This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
Why are there no female leads in gaming?
A strange question to ask after recently reviewing Tomb Raider, but it is a fair question considering that there are few female leads in gaming today. In fact, according to a report from Penny Arcade by Ben Kuchera back in November, only twenty-four.
Twenty-Four. These are games with a female-only protagonist, no choice in gender allowed here. Of course we can add Tomb Raider to the mix now, but that is still a small sample size considering the sample size of 699 games taken by Kuchera and Geoffery Zatkin, the Chief Operating Officer of EEDAR. EEDAR, by the way, is the data collection arm of the gaming industry, so they would know their stuff.
The results weren't pretty, with the two discovering the small number of games with female leads. What's worse, the data found correlates to another issue barely touched: the financial budgets of these games. According to Zatkin, "Games with a female-only protagonist, got half the spending of female optional, and only 40 percent of the marketing budget of male-led games. Less than that, actually." This is a major disadvantage for female lead video games, considering they tend to sell less than male-lead games, a differentiation of roughly 75%.
“I think that there is general feeling from marketing that it’s hard to sell a mass-market game that’s a female-only protagonist,” said Zatkin. "This may be changing greatly with mobile and social, where you’re expanding the audience, but in core console land, there’s a lot of marketing thought that it’s hard to sell a game with a female-only protagonist in a core genre. The question is, is this something that really doesn’t happen, or do marketing budgets get gimped?”
This may explain the story making the rounds today, regarding Capcom's new adventure title Remember Me. Starring the character Nilin and set in a dystopian future, creative director Jean-Alex Morris of Dontnod Entertainment discussed the problems they had securing a publisher for the cyberpunk title because of the gender of their protagonist. “We had some that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that,'” said Morris.
But such a change in gender was just not feasible at this stage of the development. “We wanted to be able to tease on Nilin's private life, and that means for instance, at one point, we wanted a scene where she was kissing a guy,” Morris said. “We had people tell us, 'You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward. I'm like, 'If you think like that, there's no way the medium's going to mature.'”
It is hopeful that Remember Me is just not another statistic in Kuchera's experiment, but the ball is now in Capcom's court regarding their budget and exposure of the title. Perhaps the trend is changing, after all the latest Tomb Raider was heavily marketed by Square Enix, but the star power of Lara Croft may have carried her a bit there. With such a small sample size of now twenty-five games with a female lead, it is still murky to say if their lack of success is self-fulfilling due to their marketing budgets though. But to actually start facilitating a change, perhaps the best course of action is to take a chance and, with the right amount of push, see what happens.
The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. It has been submitted for our monthly Vox Pop competition. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick
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The Ghost of Video Game Violence
Posted on Thursday, February 7 2013 @ 07:54:19 Eastern
October 7th, 2005. In the throes of the Autumn weather, then Governor of California, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed two bills into law. The bills in question were California Assembly Bills 1792 and 1793--more commonly known as the video game ban bills. The two bills, pushed forth by then California State Assemblyman, Democrat Leland Yee, would explicitly place the sale of violent video games as a criminal offense in California, as well as require M-rated titles to be segregated from E-T titles, according to the ESRB labeling system.
The bills passed, but were never implemented, as in December 2005, California Judge Ronald Whyte deemed them unconstitutional, which forced the legislation to reach the United Stated Supreme Court. There, in 2011, The U.S Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, would grant first amendment freedoms to video games, guaranteeing the same protections as film, music, and other forms of media against unconstitutional practices. This has not stopped many from attempting to counter the legal progress the gaming media now enjoys. Time and again the specter of video game violence is raised by the buffoonish necromancers that read the tea leaves too closely, the Jack Thompsons of the world that give no credibility to their cause. And yet, the ghost lingers still, thanks to the tragic events of Newtown, Connecticut.
The tragedy at Newtown saw a gunman, whose name is unimportant, murder 26 human beings, including 20 children. Since then, the political boiling pot has reached a fever pitch, inciting a fervor for or against the curtailing of gun control unlike any the U.S has seen before. Once again, video games have come under fire as a possible reason why the gunman decided to murder the likes of victims Noah Pozner, Dylan Hockley, and Rachel D’Avino.
Recently, Vice President Joe Biden met with industry leaders regarding gun control, an action that some criticized as admitting we are part of the problem. Biden was quick to state that they are not trying to single out anyone specifically, as other groups, such as the National Rifle Association, were also contacted to discuss ways to promote gun control. In the interum, President Barack Obama has proposed that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) investigate the psychological effects of violence, effectively lifting a ban on studying gun violence that was in place for nearly a generation.
What the CDC will find is anyone’s guess, but that has not stopped this ghost from returning. The NRA has criticized the medium as the root cause for gun violence and having too much violent content, shrilling that the industry is a “callous, corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.” House Representative Diane Franklin (R-Mo) of Missouri has recently proposed a “violent video game tax” based on their ESRB ratings, which would cause all games rated T-AO from the ESRB to be taxed for violent content. And let’s not forget Leland Yee, the man who proposed the video game ban bills back in 2005. Yee, a former Child Psychologist, recently stated that “Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry’s lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.”
Since then, Yee has of course apologized for his comments, stating he has respect for gamers but "the industry has profited at the expanse of children." The stark and direct language, often condescending towards those within the industry, no doubt will invoke the wrath of many. In fact, numerous critics have already responded with their typical disdain, replying back with myopic, passive-aggressive language to convey their own frustrations for retreading old ground. Yet, we don’t have to say anything in the end, thanks to the U.S Supreme Court giving games the same protections under fire.
The spirit of these arguments will never die, of course. That is expected. But with legal precedent set and psychological studies showing inconclusive evidence towards the claims made by video game violence critics, the fight is much easier to weather. It also helps that the video game industry is just as reactive. One could even argue that the influx of violent games and first-person shooters is itself due to an already present culture of violence glorification. Kate Edwards, president of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), puts it more succinctly:
"Developers consider many complex social issues that may arise in their games. On the issue of violence, I think most game designers are cognizant of the role that violent actions serve in their games' stories, very similar to how a film's scriptwriter or a book's author leverages such acts to serve the stories they wish to tell. Having worked on many major game titles over the years, I can attest firsthand that the writers, designers and developers are usually very conscientious of their craft and how certain actions — violent or not — serve the purpose of their games.
I think in the broader context most people would agree that they have to be true to their artistic vision as part of a broader creative expression of our culture. The decision to accept or reject that artistic content is at the discretion of a consumer's own preferences, or if they're young, at the discretion of their parents to decide what is appropriate."
Excess is obvious all over the gaming industry, where wanton, random acts of violence paint the whole art form in a negative light. Slaughtering waves of colored bad guys in Uncharted is given a pass because it becomes a game conceit, despite the somewhat audacious notion that so many bad guys would exist in such an impossible scenario. Manhunt also comes to mind as a game that adheres to this decadence as being excessively violent, and downright exploitative, because of its primary design directive. And yet, for every Manhunt, there is a Spec Ops: The Line, a game that utilizes its “violent nature” to not only service its story arc, but to examine the “fun” of violence in a video game, and communicate the fact that it shouldn’t be fun at all.
We have seen many positive examples of violence, despite their content, on the surface, being negative. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s famous “No Russian” mission can be seen as how cold and troubling violence is, callously shooting bystanders in an airport to keep up appearances with Russian nationalists. In 2009 it was a harrowing scene, one that even Infinity Ward was cautious about to the point of making the scene skippable if the player wished it. It was a calculated risk, a moment to show how terrible violence can be, and it was done tastefully in one of the very same games where many detractors would cry out against its excessive content.
Not to mention the plethora of games that are without violent content, but immensely popular with the gaming audience. Nintendo’s entire catalog is devoid of bloodshed, yet many of their games are predominantly among the top-selling games each year. Sports titles and other simulators abhor violence and favor the realistic representation of our favorite pastimes. And many role-playing games can have you bypass violent behavior all-together. Fallout: New Vegas is a recent example, where your words and wits can be effective weapons over guns and grenades.
Many of those titles above are the unsung heroes of the gaming industry, due to the stigma of being too casual or a pure simulation. Yet, many of them offer the chance to unwind in ways that Call of Duty does not. They can be as fun as the latest Modern Warfare, without the bloodshed required. In fact, in 2012 the top ten video games sold across each platform contained equal representation of non-violent titles. Just Dance 4, Madden, even Lego Batman 2 were in the mix, all of them perfectly viable titles that detract from the generalization that gaming culture is too violent.
It would be easy to lambaste people such as Leland Yee or Diane Franklin for “not getting it.” But their concerns, correct or not, are just as valid as ours. Many people are afraid of what they see as a scandalous cultural issue, but whether they are right or not is not the question we should be asking. If Yee and Franklin were to look at the whole picture, to examine the issue with a wider lens, then they would see that this ghost of video game violence is truly transparent. That there is no solid evidence that supports it, no preceding case that defines it, and ultimately, no legal power to convict it.
This is, of course, a two-way street, one where we, as a community, must respect people such as Mr. Yee and Ms. Franklin, who should in turn respect the rights that video games have finally earned from the Supreme Court. Politicians and psychologists should work with the artists, game makers, and the community at large to uncover a deeper meaning to these violent tendencies. If a mutual understanding between the two groups can be found, perhaps the idea of video games as inherently violent will be exorcised for good.
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The Dissolution of Choice, How Choices Matter in Gaming Narrative
Posted on Monday, December 17 2012 @ 13:26:13 Eastern
Note: The following editorial contains spoilers. You have been warned.
"Choices." "Consequences." "Engaging and defining your play style." These are the short and catchy buzzwords of a fast-growing gaming medium that have found a way into the very heart of modern game design. It is almost inescapable in the current market to find a game not touting how much “impact” your choices have. And yet, for each choice we see, within them is a growing illusion of what they truly represent. Having control and impact on the choices made in games is something of a misnomer, because in the end a fundamental question needs to be asked: How much control does the player actually have over their choices?
It really is a tough question to answer. On the one hand, the player should have mastery of the domain of the video game they are playing, control of the aspects and movements of the protagonist in that diorama of pixels. On the other, the developers set the rules of the game through the same mechanics, essentially forcing players to operate within the world as well as controlling the plot through allotted and limited number of in-game choices. One could argue that the player should dictate what is allowed by the parameters of the game design, but no game is a blank slate. This is even more apparent when we see the type of control implemented by the developers that perpetuate the illusion of choice, the common cries of "railroading narrative" often being the loudest. Let’s face it, that is all we see in gaming, a fabricated selection of choices with predetermined consequences, all connected in a defined matrix that can never be deviated from, at least fully.
So perhaps the better question to ask is why? Why do we put up with these predestinations? How can developers make these choices and consequences matter, when it often seems like they rarely do? Perhaps we can find the answer to these questions by analyzing an example from this year. Easily one of most critically acclaimed titles of 2012, this game is perhaps the most emblematic example of how the choices are irrelevant yet poignant at the same time, reflecting this strange dichotomy well. I am, of course, talking about The Walking Dead from Telltale Games.
What, you thought I was talking about something else?
Without going into too many spoilers, The Walking Dead has you play a singular protagonist, Lee Everett, in his plight of survival against the undead along with a group of survivors in rural Georgia. Within the plot you are given spur-of-the-moment choices—timed responses that offer a way to interact with the number of characters around you, as well as some more emotional choices such as choosing who to save in a given situation or deciding how a character should die before they reanimate into a one of the flesh-eating undead.
These type of choices offer variety, yes, but what do they do for the plot? In many ways, very little. See, The Walking Dead as a plot-based game is shackled by its set narrative—you are going from point A to B regardless of what you choose, even if the consequences change in the middle. And the moments where the plot does deviate from the choices made would eventually become inconsequential to the final outcome of the overall experience, which is almost railroaded into a pre-determined endpoint for the series. So picking to save the life of one of two characters in Episode 1, in this example Carley or Doug, only to have that chosen survivor dying in Episode 3, is an unavoidable moment in the plot. The survivor is shot and killed regardless of what you do.
But the caveat to this is simple: While the plot remains unchanged save for a few deviations, the story is what becomes the emotional output that people latch onto. The story is essentially what the entire narrative is all about; the emotional resonance behind the moments of the plot. It is easy to say “Lee saves Carley over Doug” because the plot demands a character death. But the story takes shape through this action; Lee saved Carley and the story continues with Carley backing up Lee and his actions. That validates the choice made, and allows the player to become more attached to characters like Doug or Carley outside of who you wish to save.
So it is a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless that developers typically employ to fabricate an emotional response for the player. In a way the illusion of choice is purposely perpetuated by the developers, where the outcome is essentially set in stone in one, two, or ten different ways; the only thing that changes is how you get there, or what path you take to get there. It is a well-crafted lie that eventually becomes railroaded, because players always find a moment that rings false to the intended message of "choice and consequences." The Walking Dead is no different, with the climatic and, in many respects, somber ending to the first season reflecting such a moment that never fully changes the fate of some characters, but allows the player to feel that emotion because of the story created en route to the ending.
But it is through this difference where we see a strong sense of attachment to both characters and actions in many story-driven games. The narrative is what sustains such attachment through the actions the protagonist takes, be it directly through player intervention or indirectly through the plot. And from this many games walk a tightrope to avoid the pitfalls of an unsustainable narrative, one that is all plot, no character, or vice-versa. The Walking Dead, despite the fact that it essentially lies about the choices having consequences in a mechanical sense, is able to surpass any snags the plot may have because the narrative was well-told, allowing an emotional experience that feels like the choices mattered.
It really is no different than other story-driven games involving choices and consequences. Dishonored locks you out of choices based on how you respond to certain situations, forcing you to deal with the consequences while rarely changing its fixed plot. Sandbox titles such as Skyrim hold sometimes massive repercussions for the world you are inhabiting, despite the consequences behind these earth-shaking plots essentially being invisible in-game. And I don’t think I need to retread new ground regarding the Mass Effect series and how the choices were always huddled into a singular conclusion at the end of each game, regardless of the number of outcomes presented.
But this is the primary appeal for choice-based mechanics. Much like those old "Choose your own Adventure" books, you essentially are creating your own story based on the elements available. Is it full control of the games outcome? In pretty much every case: no, especially when you are dealing with a series of games, such as the episodic way The Walking Dead presents itself. Because you have five episodes, each part acts as a building block to the finale, which is always pre-determined to end in one of two ways canonically. But what makes that moment special is the story, as it is what these sequences of events are all about, the very soul of the choices made to reflect the journey you, the player, goes on.
The point being, the choices given to the player are almost always an illusion to make it seem like they matter. But what makes them matter is not that they are there, but that they allow the player to feel the impact of these moments through the story. It is within choosing the Stormcloaks over the Imperials, in curing the Genophage over tricking the Krogan, in saving Doug or Carley, where the narrative takes shape depending upon our choices. But because of this seemingly betrayal of trust in the audience to distinguish the two styles, the theme of choice have become a pariah of sorts thanks to this perceived notion of railroading storylines.
In actuality, that is nothing new or against the mechanical design of the choices given in video games. For story-driven games, the choices will always be tied to a plot written by the developers, but controlled by the players. The real value of this is not that the story eventually doesn't matter, but that the journey the story takes, the changes in the narrative because of how the player controls the story, will make the experience worthwhile. It is a gamble each time, and this past year we have seen many games succumb to the wrath of players because the plot ended a certain way.
In the end, we need to take to heart the fact that in the end there are no true consequences, no fully changed outcomes to be gained in a fixed plot. But there are consequences in the choices made because of our attachment to them, to the characters and the often moral implications of their predicaments, that allow us to shape the eventual narrative we experience. It is through this illusion of choice where we see the crux of the narrative that gamers become attached to, and in the end the choices matter only because we made them that way. We control the illusion by making the choices, which in turn help us tell the story, the emotional meat of the experience.
So don't blame The Walking Dead or the next game following the buzzwords of "choice" and "consequences" for eventually removing the facade of the choice in an instant. What truly matters in a narrative is not that the plot can change, but that the circumstances of the plot, the actual story behind your actions, dictate the tone of the overall experience. In doing this, Telltale Games, along with many other industry leaders can craft stories with hard choices and consequences for them. But a little give and take regarding what can be influenced, and what can't needs to be recognized for the illusion to work its magic.
It's come to my attention that this article was posted on another site. So to be better safe than sorry, it's been removed from the Vox Pop, but this blog will remain. ~Ed. Nick
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Fiction Over Fact: Why EA Is Destined To Lose When It Doesn't Deserve It
Posted on Wednesday, September 19 2012 @ 12:36:47 Eastern
A sort of disclaimer before I begin. It is not every day that I normally throw myself out there with the purpose of starting a conversation to discuss discourse of the general gaming audience, but with the calm before the holiday stor... read more...
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Separate but Equal: The Narrative and the Gameplay.
Posted on Monday, March 14 2011 @ 10:37:39 Eastern
The recent release of Dragon Age II has kind of compelled me to write this piece. It is something that has been on my mind for years, something that is starting to become a grim reality that anyone who is a fan of video games is facing. It is also so... read more...
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My Link to the Past: Reminisces on Legend of Zelda
Posted on Tuesday, February 22 2011 @ 05:29:52 Eastern
Today is a red letter day for video games. By red letters I mean the crimson N of course, and the brain child of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka that I am referring to is The Legend of Zelda. The original game has just turned 25 years old ,... read more...
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NaNoWriMo Entry 2: Blind Date
Posted on Tuesday, November 2 2010 @ 14:47:31 Eastern
Here is entry number two for my thirty day odyssey to see how long I can have creative juice. I hope you enjoy "Blind Date."
Liz was trembling madly as she clasped her ... read more...
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NaNoWriMo Entry Number 1: The Simple Things
Posted on Monday, November 1 2010 @ 20:52:12 Eastern
For those that do not know, Novmeber is National Novel Writing Month. It is a challenge for aspiring writers to pen a 50,000 word story in thirty days, a hefty task indeed. One that at best I got about 36,000 words or so at my peak.
La... read more...
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Playing Wargames: The story of “Under Ash” and the lessons learned from it.
Posted on Tuesday, October 12 2010 @ 15:55:34 Eastern
With “Medal of Honor” being released today, I did want to bring up another first person wargame that has been in development and was released in the year 2000, a classic known as “Under Ash.”
Now many of y... read more...
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An Open Letter to Robert Kotick
Posted on Monday, July 12 2010 @ 17:16:06 Eastern
Dear Mr. Robert Kotick,
While I know you are a busy man as the CEO of Activision-Blizzard, I implore you to take some time to read this open letter to you, sir.
As a gamer for over twenty years, I have seen many trends c... read more...
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