Disability fail?

June 10, 2009

So, I was reading this BBC article about an upcoming game/movie franchise that involves humans controlling created human/alien avatars in order to forcibly colonize a planet named Pandora whose native inhabitants, from the sentient Na’vi to the animals and plants, do not want humans there. I thought it was just a little messed up– like, isn’t is usually considered a bad thing to invade somebody’s home…? Are we going to be rooting for the unjustified human takeover? Or is this one of those gams like Shadow of the Colossus where you’re supposed to feel bad about what you’re doing? (And what if people don’t feel bad, or don’t feel bad enough? A lot of people probably don’t see a problem with colonization.)

I thought that encouraging people to casually support murdering people whose land you want was probably going to be the major flaw in the game, but at least there might be a way to do it well (by making it clear that the players are engaged in, shall we say, questionable activity, and having the ending reflect that), but I’m not sure how in the world they’re going to salvage this:

Mr Landau said that Jake Sully changes sides and helps the Na’vi “lead a revolution to force the humans – and avatars – off Pandora”.

The catch, said Mr Landau, is that when Sully is in avatar mode, he is fully mobile; back in human form, he is confined to a wheelchair.

“It’s a moral dilemma that he will have to face.”

It remains to be seen if this moral dilemma from the movie will be replicated in the game.

Okay, so the moral dilemma is…?

Maybe the game-makers think the dilemma is that he thinks helping the Na’vi is the Right Thing, but he might choose to help the humans anyway, because he could control an avatar to get around instead of being stuck in his pitiful wheelchair-bound life. The humans could give him everything he’s dreamed of! They could fix his miserable, worthless life! Because, you know, wheelchair = MISERY.

Oh no. Is he going to choose to follow his principles, and therefore choose to remain in the wheelchair, to teach us a Very Special Lesson about how brave he is to go on with his life as it is despite all his hardships? I hope not.

But wait– he’s siding against the player. Is he going to be evil and bitter, then? What’s the moral dilemma if he’s on the opposite side? Unless he chooses to join the human at the end… indicating that having an avatar body is worth betraying his principles! Dear god, he better not Learn To Hope and forsake his bitter ways if he does.

Augh! Is there any way to have a disabled character with a “moral dilemma” around their ability that isn’t full of stupid tropes and hopelessly centered around able-bodied privilege?? What do you guys think– how might this play out?


Oh, Nintendo…

February 28, 2009

Now, I am kind of gameboy’s bitch. I have bought every single gameboy released, and although I currently adore my DS lite, the odds that I’ll buy whatever their next console is… well, I wouldn’t bet against it. I’ve bought all their larger consoles too, since the N64 anyway, but it’s the gameboy that I can’t live without and take with me everywhere.

I love gameboy games because it’s usually pretty easy for me to find games that don’t involve killing anything, i.e., GURL games. So when I brought a bunch of our old Xbox and Wii games to a GameStop to trade them in for cash (over $100! Woo!), I headed straight to the wall of DS games to browse while I waited. I’d remembered seeing a ton of really cool-looking games in a London airport recently, where I hadn’t bought them because they were priced in pounds, and I was hoping to find the same vaguely-remembered games way cheaper. I still don’t remember much about the games except that they were drawing-based and plot-light. If you have recommendations, let me know!

I need those recommendations, because front and center of the DS section of my GameStop looked like this:


How pink!

How precious!

How precious!

How many more of these are there!

How many more of these are there!

Oh, OK, only two more!

How nice that they saved the worst for last!

Ballet star! Cheerleader! Fashion designer! Fashion designer New York! Figure skater! Interior designer! Movie star! Rock star! Teacher! Wedding designer! It’s almost like someone told Nintendo that their games were popular with girls, so they set out to make as many Girl Games as possible!

I’m actually really curious about how they could possibly have turned all these different “careers” into halfway decent games, let alone games that bear some resemblance to each other, structurally. Seeing a blitz of titles like that really makes me think that they whipped them out as quickly as possible, without much thought for any individual title, in order to make as much money as possible off of these sudden Girl Gamers.

And, okay, on the one hand, it’s great that someone has finally noticed that there are some girls out there who want to play video games but maybe aren’t so crazy about the whole wanton murder thing! But there are some guys like that, too. And it’s nothing but depressing that this is the range of concepts that Imagine felt would appeal to girls. Four kinds of designers, three kinds of skimpy-costume “athletics,” two kinds of famous-for-being-pretty jobs, and… teacher. Great.

Violet: a video game! In which you can be a lesbian!

January 28, 2009

Finally, an answer to this post, in which I pleaded with the world to bring me lesbians in movies and video games. Well, okay, I specified science fiction as well, but this is close enough.

Violet (walkthrough here) is an interactive fiction game (that is, text only) in which you are a graduate student attemtping to finish your dissertation.

Your girlfriend Violet has put her life on hold, waiting for you to finish, and she’s getting fed up. If you don’t get a thousand words written today, your relationship is over and she flies home to Australia. Unfortunately, your office is full of every kind of distraction, from the window overlooking campus hijinx to the computer on your desk, always ready to show you the latest blogs and web comics instead of your chapter-in-progress. So you have no choice but to shut out everything that’s causing you distraction so that you can turn in a few hours of solid work for once.

A friend sent me a link to this game a while ago and I got sucked in right away, but since I was playing in order to procrastinate my real work, I had to make myself stop. Today, though, I had free time, so I finished it!

It’s a very quick game, but quite entertaining. Text-only games can feel like they exist in barren wastelands (and often do, in fact) but because Violet is such a brilliant narrator here, I actually felt a stronger emotional connection to this game than most fancy-graphics big-budget games.

Your character is male by default, but all you have to do is type “female,” or, charmingly, “heteronormativity off” to play as a female character, and while a little bit of your backstory with Violet will change, she herself will not! It’s such a small, simple thing to implement, and yet it made a huge difference for me. It felt true to life before, with the ever-worse battle against procrastination, but with this switch it felt so true to life I played it twice just to revel in it (and explore the fun ways to lose.)

I wholeheartedly recommend this game if you have some time to kill (type “hint” if you get stuck) though maybe not if you have some work you should be doing instead. The irony might destroy the universe.

Beware the evils of PIE!

January 16, 2009

So, I just found this old post at Shapely Prose. It’s long and fascinating and you should read the whole thing, but this concept really stuck out to me:

Take away a whole series of similar beliefs, and suddenly, I’m not a person with compulsive eating tendencies — I’m a person who has very little desire to eat when I’m not hungry. Like magic! (Slow-moving magic that involved a great deal of conscious effort, granted, but it still feels kinda mystical.) I didn’t have to dig deep and resolve some buried childhood trauma or stop being angry at my mother to overcome those compulsive tendencies; I just had to train myself to really, truly believe that eating is a morally neutral act.

Now, for some people, coming to see eating as a morally neutral act is a more daunting challenge than resolving childhood trauma or forgiving their parents. …

… I think I was pretty much a normal American woman — one with depression and anxiety (and ADD, for that matter), and one who grew up in a family of self-loathing fatties, which certainly didn’t help. But mostly just a normal American woman brainwashed from birth to believe that eating tasty, fatty food is baaaaad and eating bland, raw vegetables is virtuous. No real in between.

I’m looking at you, Fable II.

Eating meat and pie and and basically anything other than veggies and tofu will make you evil and corrupt, even though these items exist to heal you after battle. So, you really need some food, you’ve got some great pie that’s perfect for what you want, you eat it…EVIL! With meat vs. veggies, they give it an ethical justification, which is to say, meat is bad because a creature had to die so you could eat it; tofu is good because it lets the bunnies live. But what’s so evil about pie? (Are there four-and-twenty blackbirds in it?!)

Meat and pie and such also make you fat (which makes you ugly– literally), while veggies make you thin (and therefore beautiful), but that’s the level of food-fucked-up-ness I expect. Literally making tofu virtuous— on the same level as freeing slaves or donating to the poor!– that’s… really just taking things to their “logical” conclusions. But that’s a problem.

If you’re new to Fat Acceptance, by the way, Shapely Prose is a great place to start; this is their intro page. Google is also your friend here (try “Fat Acceptance” and also “Health At Every Size”) and, of course, you can ask as many questions as you like, and I’ll talk to the fullest extent of my understanding. And then some!

(Also awesome (in that lol/sob way) and vaguely related: Worst “healthy eating” tip I ever saw.)

Fable II and sex, sex, sex!

January 10, 2009

My brother got Fable II for his birthday and while it’s fun, I can already tell that it’s going to be a veritable treasure trove of bloggy material. It’s all about how you can CHOOOOSE anything you like, and while you still can’t CHOOOOSE to be a pacifist (in fact, you’re forced to beat up a bully in one of the first cutscenes) I’ve stopped even hoping for that (since, as we all know, killing is totally A-OK if nobody likes the guy you kill!). It does finally let you CHOOOOSE to be female, so I consider my qualms about the first Fable sufficiently assuaged.

However, this game has some messed-up attitudes about sex. Background information: your actions are rated as Good or Evil, and as Pure or Corrupt. Good/Evil acts are those that affect others (charitable donations, murder, etc), while Pure/Corrupt acts are those that affect yourself (playing the lute or eating rancid beef jerkey, of course.) So, sleeping with a prostitute is a Corrupt act. (Not Evil, because it only affects you!) But wearing a condom (even while sleeping with a prostitute) is a Pure act! In fact, it’s such a Pure act that it basically cancels out the Corrupt-ness of the prostitution! And the official guide book is very keen on telling us this, like it’s a great treat! How grand.

Now, I’m playing this game with my two younger brothers, so we’re not having sex with anyone. In fact, we literally run from people attempting to flirt with us (who are all over, even though we’ve barely done anything noteworthy, and still have our original stinky clothes! I dread walking around towns after we’re awesome). I wish it was easier to avoid the constant sex stuff, but whatever. At least we haven’t been accosted by any of the apparently-prevalent prostitutes yet.

We did, however, play the little mini-game available here (since it earned us in-game stuff!). It still says “enter thine date of birth,” which, as you know, infuriates me, but I’m more interested in the section where you basically pick a wife by picking a woman to help. There’s the skinny woman in green, who wants you to kill her husband and will reward you with a life of fortune (and implied sex) with her (because you look interesting, and her rich husband is really boring). There’s the “fat” (but not really) woman in pink, who wants you to find her pig, and will reward you with pie (she comes on to you first, but really the reward is pie.) And then there’s the thin-ish-but-still-curvy girl in brown who wants you to find her little brother, and has nothing but gratitude to reward you with.

Killing the green woman’s husband is the “evil” option, and you will be a perfect match due to your selfishness and greed. Saving the brown woman’s brother is the “good” option, and when she thanks you “more than gratitude” will be “sparkling in her eyes,” and you will be charmed and settle down after a respectable period of time. Finding the pink woman’s pig is neutral, I guess because you’re doing it for the pie; you eat pie at her house every day until you decide you might as well move in.

The women all stand in a row and typify a broad range of choices. As you go from left to right, they go from evil to good, and from greedy to selfless, and from sexually-charged to chaste. It almost makes it seem like a chance at sex is one of the rewards for evil (which conflates sex with greed by making sex a “prize”!) In general, it seems to conflate evil, greed, and sex in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not too comfortable with the conflation of greed and evil, either, since as a girl society always seemed to say to me that I ought to be totally selfless or else I was a bad person (lies!), but since that’s not a message men recieve (like, at all) and this is geared at men (what with the women-as-prizes-and-sex-machines-which-are-the-same-thing) I’m primarily concerned with the association between evil and greed, and sex.

Sex is not evil. (It actually sounds pretty pleasant!) It’s also not notably greedy. It’s something you do because it feels nice, which is technically selfish in the sense that it’s focused on your personal self’s happiness (for everyone involved!), but we’re allowed to be happy sometimes. Taking three helpings when the sign says “one per person” is greedy and not nice. Sex…is more like taking a nice bubble bath or going out to a movie. Sure, you could have spent that time and money helping the poor. But is it really notably greedy that you didn’t?

I’d like to see what other people have to say about the mini-game, and of Fable II in general (though the mini-game is probably more within the scope of the average reader, as it is a matter of minutes rather than hours). Any thoughts?

Okami, and playing a female dog.

December 27, 2008

Full disclosure, I haven’t finished playing this game yet. But there’s a lot I’m enjoying about Okami and I think it’s worth writing about.

From Wikipedia:

The game is set in Japanese classic history, and begins with a flashback to events 100 years prior to the game’s present, and describes how Shiranui, a pure white wolf, and Nagi, a swordsman, together fought the eight-headed demon Orochi to save Kamiki village and the maiden Nami, Nagi’s beloved. Shiranui and Nagi are unable to defeat Orochi but manage to seal the demon away. In the game’s present, Susano, a descendant of Nagi, accidentally breaks Orochi’s seal, and the demon escapes and curses the lands, sapping the life from every living thing. Sakuya, the wood sprite and guardian of Kamiki village, calls forth Amaterasu, the sun goddess and reincarnation of the white wolf Shiranui, and pleads her to remove the curse that covers the land. Accompanied by the inch-high artist Issun, Amaterasu is able to restore the land to its former beauty. …Amaterasu locates several Celestial Gods who have hidden in the constellations that bestow upon the goddess powers of the Celestial Brush to aid in her quest.

Soon, Amaterasu, along with Susano, must battle Orochi to protect Kamiki village and rescue Susano’s beloved, Kushi, recreating events from 100 years prior.

So, there are a couple things of note. First, Amaterasu, our main character, is female, and the game reminds us of it often. People address us, “Amaterasu, creator of all that is good and mother to us all.” She’s strong with a kind of animal strength, literally tackling her foes, unlike most female protagonists, who use magic or ranged weapons to maintain a delicate distance. (Can you picture Princess Peach tackling someone, for example?) She’s also literally a bitch, which makes me giggle.

Second, though, the plot is the very typical rescue-the-maiden story. It’s really depressing that 100 years go by between Nagi’s unnamed beloved and Susano’s Kushi, but both women get kidnapped to be delicious maiden sacrifices and need rescuing.

Well, Kushi is a little more complicated than that (though Nagi’s beloved is not.) She seemed really cool at first– she supports herself by making sake! Her life is dedicated to her work! Okay, she also has a crush on Susano, which means she has no taste, but that’s OK. He’s not as interested in her at first so she just takes care of herself– at one point she carries a comically oversized barrel of water back to the village all by herself. But then she’s marked as the maiden sacrifice for Orochi, and has to get rescued. She walks into Orochi’s cave herself, to avoid putting any of the village at risk, and she even has a plan to escape (get Orochi drunk!) but she isn’t able to do any of it herself. We carry her in, and carry in her sake, and defeat Orochi for her while she wriggles around as dinner. She tries to break the mold but ultimately it’s just the damsel in distress trope played straight, again.

Plus, what’s up with the annual maiden sacrifice? Kushi’s the first in 100 years, but before that Orochi took a maiden every year. Why is it always a maiden? He just eats them, as far as I can tell; does having sex change a woman’s flavor somehow, so that it’s necessary she’s still a maiden? Do even young boys taste too different to be yummy? And how do they get enough maidens?? It’s been 100 years since Orochi’s taken a sacrifice, and they still don’t have any kind of decent backlog built up– Kushi is their only maiden. We’ve seen the old village, and it wasn’t any bigger. Did they kidnap women from other towns every year? This is the sort of thing that’s a little silly in a full city, but impossible in a village of eight people. And while I’ll ignore even basic logic in favor of a good story (that’s what sci fi is about!), this is not a good story. It’s not even an okay story. The ancient Greeks did it already, and did it better– they didn’t stick to the silly notion that only maidens were delicious. All this incarnation of the story does is make me annoyed with the writers’ laziness.

The other female characters manage to be even less impressive. Mrs. Orange is OK, but she’s mostly just Mr. Orange’s wife. She cooks for us after we help her with her laundry. Mushi’s mother doesn’t even have a name; she chases us out of her garden when we try to dig up her turnips. (She doesn’t appear to have a husband, either, which I’d call a cool representation of single motherhood if I didn’t think it was entirely due to the fact that they wanted to avoid animating more people than necessary.) Mrs. Cutter was awesomely creepy for a while but then she turned out to not be a woman at all. The tree goddess Sakuya is my least favourite– she wears less and less clothing as the game goes on and her cleavage…wiggles. Her bum is visible, too, and again, there’s…wiggling. It’s actually an uncomfortable level of sexualization, considering I’m playing with my little brothers. Especially since she’s a tree.

So as I play, I keep asking myself, does Amaterasu make up for this? She’s female, but she’s not a woman. There’s a whole lot of cultural baggage that doesn’t apply to her because nobody expects wolves to be sweet and nurturing, or whatever. And the other female characters, who are subject to that baggage, are nothing to write home about. So is Amaterasu a fluke, of sorts? I almost think so…it turns out that in the original Japanese, no gendered pronouns were ever applied to her (a wonderful feature of the language that I wish we could replicate). It’s kind of cool that, in the absence of gender information, they chose to make her female, but not too notably cool, since the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu is female…

I’m torn; I do enjoy the game, but the more I think about it, the less impressive I find its representations of gender. Well, I’m still only halfway through the game so there’s plenty of time for things to get better. I sure hope they do!

Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, and making games harder.

September 21, 2008

So, I had a big post planned for today, but I got, um, sidetracked. You see, Dolly recommended I write about video games I loved, and that made me think of Harvest Moon, possibly my favourite game ever. However, when I moved to Arkansas I lost all my gameboy games! It was seriously tragic, and yes, I did cry. A lot. I was so close to unlocking all the Harvest Sprites! So close!!

Anyway, my mother bought me a number of new games as an apology for moving to Arkansas when I really, really didn’t want us to, but instead of re-buying the games I had before, she got me the newer versions. This was cool for Lost in Blue and Brain Age, but not at all cool for Harvest Moon. You see, the newest version of Harvest Moon was Rune Factory, wherein the game creators said, “Hey, you know what this charming, tranquil farming game really needs? Monsters!”

And lo, there were monsters! There were monsters everywhere, impeding all the basic functions of farming. And it ruined the game for me. For one thing, it made no sense– you’d find a sheep-monster in a cave, and you’d beat it nearly to death, and then you’d take it back to your farm and feed it and brush it and gather wool from it? The monsters were hell-bent on killing you, until you killed them and then they were “domesticated,” and if they weren’t bizarre animal-monsters, that was okay, because you could just enslave them and make them water your plants.

I was not cool with this. For one thing, the monsters kept killing me. Again and again and again. I couldn’t even run away from them! For another thing, enslaving monsters is sufficiently different from befriending rainbow-colored forest sprites that it’s just not the same game any more. I think they wanted to make the game a little more challenging for their regular fans, who have mastered the art of virtual farm management, but it made it too challenging for me. I was disappointed, but not too disappointed, because Lost in Blue 2 was awesome. (I love those games!)

Luckily, it looks like the franchise is developing separately from, not replacing, the traditional Harvest Moon games– there’s a Rune Factory 2 out, but ALSO a new regular HM game, “Island of Happiness.” I bought it today (plus a used copy of Harvest Moon DS, the game I had before, so I can finally beat it…) and they’ve changed the game mechanics to make it more difficult, but in a completely different way.

Basically, they’ve made the weather vastly more important. It’s all explained here— basically, plants need a certain amount of water or sun to progress to each of the stages of growth, and each kind of weather gives a different amount of sun or water. And each plant needs a different amount for each stage. And if you leave it in the ground for a few days after it matures, it’ll improve in quality, but if you leave it too long, it’ll rot, and those numbers are different for each plant too.

I like this a lot better, because it makes it harder by enhancing the complexity of the core aspects of the game, as opposed to adding a completely new aspect to juggle. It’s true to the spirit of Harvest Moon while still providing a challenge for experienced players. I love it.

I love it so much, I’m going to go play it some more right now. Maybe I’ll do that special post tomorrow.

Or maybe I’ll just play more Harvest Moon.