Mourning Rant

David Bowie has died. It hit me pretty hard, harder than any other celebrity death. He always seemed so ethereal, whether he was playing Jareth the Goblin King, Ziggy Stardust, or Phillip Jeffries. He’s an artist who was always evolving, always re-inventing, and the world is poorer for having lost him. Luckily, the influence he has had on music, popular culture and ideas about gender and sexuality aren’t going anywhere.

Content warning for the next part: discussion of underage sex/statutory rape

Yesterday, amidst bouts of crying over the Bowie’s death, and reading other people’s thoughts and memories of him on social media, something infuriating kept popping up. A few people kept bringing up a tumblr post, referencing a VH1 special that mentions Bowie had sex with a very young girl (13 or 14) while he was 23. Like, “hey everyone, I know you’re sad that an artist who means a lot to you has died, but check out this bad thing he did 45 years ago.” I saw a couple people tweet out this post and I just wondered…why? Why is it important to share this right now? Is it to tell people their heroes aren’t perfect? That they make bad decisions and are problematic like every single other person on the planet? Is it to detract from his career or his death? To say don’t feel so bad, he wasn’t that great a guy? I just don’t understand the motivation here.

While I agree that the trend of rockstars sleeping with young teenagers is gross, and something to be discouraged, it’s also important to take the thoughts and feelings of the girl in question into account. From the post:

at one point, Pamela Des Barres, the women who made the documentary, brings up Lori Mattix being young at 10:39 and that she may have gotten “overwhelmed” by the scene, but Lori gets very defensive and says she felt much older – it’s clear Lori Mattix doesn’t see what happened to her as rape or assault and as consensual…

My point here isn’t to defend the bad, most likely illegal, decision to have sex with a minor that the recently deceased made many years ago, but to question the decision of people who are still around to bring this up right now.

First of all, this is shitty timing. It’s just generally disrespectful to broadcast out to people who are in mourning that the person they’re grieving for did a bad thing once and try to undermine their feelings.

Second, I think it’s also shitty to the woman involved (Lori). Legalities aside, Lori didn’t see her sexual relationship with Bowie as a problem when she was a teenager, and still didn’t see it as a problem many years later during this interview as an older, and hopefully wiser, woman. It would be different if she looked back and said she felt taken advantage of or abused. There’s a huge problem in our culture of people not listening to women when it comes to sexual assault. Women are not believed or are blamed when they say they’ve been raped or assaulted and as a result, crimes go unreported and unpunished. The message, which is one I believe in, is that we should believe women. However, it also goes the other way. If Lori maintains the feeling that it was consensual, and doesn’t feel like she was taken advantage of, maybe we should believe her and not impose our own indignation on her experiences.

Pointing everyone to this extremely cursory post condemning a man who just died seems really cheap and opportunistic. And I honestly still don’t understand the motivation for doing it. Please don’t do this.

Early Access, Beta, and Information Overload

My latest vlog brings up the issue of how much pre-release information about a game is too much. I’ve written about this before, but have had some new thoughts on the matter. What raised this was the possibility of taking part in the beta for Torment: Tides of Numerera, one of the games I’m most looking forward to this year. There’s a small part of me that wants to see things first, but a bigger part of me that wants to wait for the final product.

How do you feel about this topic?

Best Games of 2015

Somehow I managed to play 30 games that were released in 2015. That made coming up with a top 5 list a bit difficult. But, I managed to to do it. Here’s my video about the best games of the year.

If you’re not one for videos, here’s the list.

  1. Pillars of Eternity
  2. Ori and the Blind Forest
  3. Rise of the Tomb Raider
  4. Until Dawn
  5. Tales from the Borderlands

And since 5 is so few, there are a couple honorable mentions

  1. Stasis
  2. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
  3. Witcher 3

What were your favourite games of the year?

My 2015 in Blogging

It’s the end of the year! I hope everyone’s having a good holiday. Mine has been busier than I’d like, but I’m getting through. Also, I got some awesome Christmas gifts! It seems like a good time for a bit of a wrap up of my writing this year. The year has had its ups and downs as far as writing goes. Some months I published very little, but I also posted 31 times for Blaugust (though, none of those posts are ones I consider my best). Getting into videos has sort of disrupted my writing. But, here are the things I’m most proud of.

This first one is the post that nudged me into video creation. I started writing it long before I published it and thought it would make a cool video. So eventually, after much writing and many, many hours of editing, it turned into one of my first YouTube videos, but I also posted the transcript here for those who’d rather read than watch. It looks at the trope of the insufferable genius, which is one usually seen in male characters, but is also seen in Kinzie Kensington from Saints Row.

Kinzie Kensington and the Insufferable Genius

The next article was also inspired by Saints Row. This one is about how game marketing materials and box art are often very out of touch with the players experience of the game as far as their created character is concerned. I love that I can create my own woman protagonist in games like Saints Row, Mass Effect, or Sunset Overdrive, but why do I always see the same grizzled white dude on the game box and on loading screens?

Under the Covers

Next up deals with a problem I have with RPGs. How much lore is too much lore? How can games better present walls of text that give the player background information about the game world?

Lore and the Codex – How to do it Better

This next one’s really just a plea to people to pay writers and value their own work. While for myself writing and making videos about games is a hobby, it’s also a lot of work. I had to work out for myself to what extent I’m willing to to these things for other people and sites.

Saying No and Not Working for Free

I admit, this one is also a little preachy. I’ve been making an effort to only spend considerable amounts of time on games that I really enjoy. I don’t want to do boring grinding, I don’t want to play games that make me frustrated more than happy. This post asks some questions about how we spend our time in games, and whether we’re actually enjoying ourselves.

Things I Don’t Get About Gaming: Respect for One’s Time

This month I wrote a couple posts I really liked (they’re actually my last 2 posts). The first is a bit of history about “censorship” in video games. This is the post that got the most attention this year.

Censorship in Video Games

And lastly, my latest post, inspired by a kind of comment a get fairly frequently on my videos.

One Girl Gamer to Rule Them All

Also, not writing related, but I got to be on Justice Points again this year on one of their last episodes, along with my good friend Kal and we got to chat about Bioware for a bit.

Episode #119 – “I’ll Wait For You, Kaidan”

Well, that’s my year in game blogging! I’ve got a best games of 2015 video coming up soon, and I’ll make a blog post for that as well. I just need to find some time to record it.

One Girl Gamer to Rule Them All

Walk with me, if you will, into the mire that is YouTube comments…

Well, that’s a shitty invitation if I ever heard one. Are you still here? As my YouTube channel has been growing, so has the amount of terrible comments. I guess you can say that’s to be expected, though that’s really fucking sad. Some comments are so awful they can be immediately brushed off as coming from terrible, sad, angry people, such as “Fuck this dumb hoe” or “Die you cam slut whore”. Though, I would ask everyone not to refer to these kinds of comments as trolling. “Die, bitch” isn’t trolling. It’s harassment. I share the worst comments on Twitter because I like to call out this stuff, but it’s kind of losing it’s novelty. Can you believe at one point I thought to myself “Hey, my first harassing comment, I’ve made it.” The Internet is gross.

Anyway, those aren’t the comments I want to talk about. There’s another kind of comment, a more sneakily sexist kind. It intends to be complimentary to a woman but it does so by putting all the other women gamers down. Things like:

“You’re the first girl I’ve seen review video games, and you’re great at it!” This one is puzzling and makes me assume you live under a rock.

“It’s nice that you don’t get too much into gender politics and focus on content.” As back-handed as it gets. I like you, because you don’t talk about things that try to make me see the world from someone else’s perspective. Also, it assumes that anything outside of gameplay mechanics is not real content and makes me want to talk about gender politics more.

“Nice to see a female gamer  who is about something more than sex appeal.” I suppose that if I were to wear more low-cut tops (of which I own many), my credibility would fly out the window. Everyone knows that being interested in games and wanting to look hot are in direct opposition to one another (just as these kind of comments are in direct opposition to the ones I receive that focus solely on my looks and ignore what I’m talking about).

“It’s so nice to find a female YouTuber who’s actually a fan of gaming” or “Wow, a girl who knows about games!” Because all those other women talking about games (which don’t actually exist according to commenter 1 above) are faking it. Hours and hours dedicated to videos and streams on a topic they don’t even like, those liars.

This last one is the one that bothers me the most. A compliment that depends on comparing you to other women and putting those women down isn’t much of a compliment at all. I’ve gotten it on my channel, I’ve seen it on many other women’s channels. A man will decide that this woman is the one true female gamer, to be put on a pedestal. This woman knows what she’s talking about, she really loves games, she doesn’t spend too much time talking about things they don’t like. She stands head and shoulders above all the other women, who pretend to like games for attention or to push their social agendas. She’s real, and the rest are fakes.

This kind of thought process is really sick and kinda scary. Women gamers aren’t some special fucking unicorns.  They’re everywhere and what they wear, or the games they prefer, or whether they’ve been playing games for 1 year or 30 doesn’t make any one of them better or more real than any other. If you like me because I talk about retro games, shitting on the women who don’t doesn’t make me feel special, it makes me think you’re an asshole.

There’s this pressure to respond positively to these kinds of comments because hey, they like my stuff, they’re trying to be nice. But these really aren’t compliments, this isn’t nice. I mean, at least they’re not calling me a whore? That’s a pretty fucking low bar, because comments like these are indeed sexist. What if men on YouTube were treated the same? What if each viewer felt that there could only be one true male gamer, and the rest were garbage? There would certainly be a lot less content to chose from. Want to see more women talking about games? Stop making it a competition. Of course, I don’t think that seeing more women in games is really the desired outcome from the people who make these kinds of comments.

Tips for Commenting on YouTube

  • Stay on topic. If you’re watching a game review, a comment about the presenter’s appearance is not necessary. Also, unless the video specifically mentions your penis, never bring it up in a comment.
  • If you want to compliment the YouTuber, tell them why you like their video or opinions. Don’t compare them to other YouTubers, or put other people down.
  • Don’t send a private message when a public comment will do. It creates more pressure and is kinda weird. You can’t force a personal relationship.
  • Watch the whole video before commenting. If you’re going to ask a question or try to teach the video maker something about what they’re talking about, and it turns out that gets mentioned later in the video? You’ll look dumb.
  • If you want to insult or threaten the YouTuber, just go take a fucking walk instead. 

Censorship in Video Games

There’s currently a movement going on in games (no, not that one) called 1 Million Gamers Strong for Japanese Gaming. It’s a petition to a number of Japanese developers to a) release their games in the West and b) not modify their game’s content for release in the West. On the surface I don’t see anything wrong with this. Other than the name, because based on the petition it should be called something more along the lines of 7 Thousand Gamers Strong for Japanese Gaming. But otherwise, it’s cool. I personally won’t sign because I don’t care that much about any of the games that aren’t being released or think any changes are altering the fundamental nature of the games, but to each their own. Some of the changes being rallied against are: lack of release of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 in North America, removal of skimpy optional costumes for a 13 year old character in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and removal of a close-up butt slap of R Mika in Street Fighter V. For more examples and a look at censorship vs. localization check out this investigative article.

R Mika Street Fighter

What I do have a problem with is who is being blamed for Japanese games being modified and how easily the word censorship is thrown around. Big surprise, the supporters of this campaign (who seem to have some overlap with that other gaming movement) are blaming the evil games media and those darn SJWs for any changes to games that come out of Japan. Will some people criticize a game for over-sexualizing female characters? Sure. Do developers have to listen to those critics? Nope. So, while I think petitioning a Japanese developer to not change things is all well and good, assigning blame to people who have no control over the games is not.

ESRB

Let’s talk a little bit about the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which can influence games to modify their content. Its rating system encompasses guidance about age-appropriateness, content, and interactive elements in Canada and the US. It was created in 1994, as a response to concerns about violence in video games. Though it has no legal authority to enforce retailers sales policies, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all refuse to allow games rated Adults Only (AO) to be published on their platforms and most retailers won’t stock these games either. AO ratings are given to games that are found to contain high amounts of content that is violent, profane, sexual or pornographic. Because many game companies and retailers won’t publish or sell AO games, it’s in the best commercial interest for games to not be rated AO. So, sometimes the most extreme content gets removed. Examples of this include Indigo Prophecy removing full frontal female nudity to obtain an M rating in 2005, and Manhunt 2 removing some of the more graphic violence to obtain an M rating on consoles in 2007. Few games have been given an AO rating, though funnily enough there’s one that I did QA for and captured footage to submit to the ESRB on the list.

Game companies can get in trouble for misrepresenting the content of their game to get a lower rating, and in Canada the law prohibits the sale of M or AO-rated games to people under a certain age. But there’s no law that says Microsoft can’t publish or sell an AO rated game. If there was, that would be actual censorship. But as it stands, these actions are voluntary. If people have problems with these kinds of changes, that’s fine, but blame is often miscast. When the ESRB was started in 1994 no one had heard of Anita Sarkeesian and the phrase “gamers are over” had yet to embed itself in the minds of scared gaming fans everywhere.

Slippery Slope

One of the arguments that gets brought up often is that game modifications (not calling it censorship, because it’s not) are a slippery slope. If a developer feels pressured to take out a gratuitous ass close-up today (though since developers stay mostly silent on this issue we can’t even be sure that they are feeling pressured), what changes will they have to make tomorrow? Here’s the thing… games have been modified to take cultural differences into account since the beginning. Sexual content has been removed from games that come from Japan to North America. Violence has been removed from games that go from America to Japan. Drug references have been removed from games sold in Australia. Some games made in Japan just don’t get released here – Mother, Policenauts. It wasn’t due to delicate Western sensibilities, it just didn’t work out that way.

xenoblade chronicles x lynlee

Nintendo specifically has a long history of modifying games to bring onto their consoles. Deja Vu, a game which initially came out for Mac in 1985 had visual references to alcohol, drugs and blood removed from the game. Maniac Mansion, first released for DOS in 1987, removed all sexual innuendo (and as a result was a lot less funny) on the NES. Super Castlevania IV (1991) removed crucifixes and clothed a naked statue for the North American release of the game (compared to the Japanese version). Reign of Fire (2002) was cut in order to obtain a Teen ESRB rating for the Gamecube, while it was left alone and rated Mature on other consoles. Nintendo has historically been a company that sells itself as family-friendly and makes changes to games to make them both culturally and age appropriate. Small changes like removing an optional skimpy costume or changing a character’s age seems exactly like something Nintendo of America would do and consistent with their history – no SJW boogeyman necessary.

It’s not just Nintendo. Let’s take one of my favourite games – Snatcher, developed by Konami. Between its release in Japan in 1988 and its release in North America in 1994 a ton of changes were made. A female character (who you see almost naked in the Japanese version) has her age changed from 14 to 18 and appears less naked in the NA version. The naked breast of another female character was covered up. Also, a controversial in-game meal of whale meat was changed to buffalo meat. Why? Because Japan and North America are culturally different and find different things weird. There were also a ton of changes made for copyright reasons so Konami didn’t get sued.

So, we’ve got a character’s age changed and a naked breast removed in Snatcher in 1994. And now a character’s age has been changed in Bravely Default in 2014 and some bare asscheeks shifted out of frame in Street Fighter V in 2015. Hmm… 21 years, exact same types of changes to games coming from Japan to North America. This slippery slope doesn’t appear to be all that slippery. In fact, it seems more like a plain.

So…

If people want to petition Japanese game companies to not modify their content when bringing it to North America, that’s A-okay with me. I have no problem with it (though to be honest, if you’re really that upset about not being able to put a 13 year old video game character in a bikini I may question your life choices). However, target your energy at the companies actually making the changes, don’t scapegoat the “hostile” media and the mean feminists who may be critical of the games. People will criticize games – whether it’s about sexualized characters, bad writing, or shitty game mechanics – and that’s a good thing. If we want video games to be accepted as an art form, protected from censorship, we need to accept that criticism is an important part of art. Criticism is what pushes a medium forward and asks it to be better. It’s what relates video games to the rest of the world. If gaming companies change their content or don’t want to release their games here because they can’t handle criticism or want to avoid it altogether, that’s on them.

The bloggers who make me think

In the spirit of Listmas, I’ve been thinking about all the blogs I follow and the ones that most often make me think or want to comment and share my opinions. If you don’t already follow these blogs, you should check them out.

A GREEN MUSHROOM

Void at A Green Mushroom has some eclectic game taste and shares first impressions of the games he’s playing. This can be quite handy for getting a quick look at games I haven’t played and deciding which should move up on my list of games to play. When he’s not reviewing games, Void asks interesting questions like Do you use the default character in games? or Is there a popular series that just doesn’t connect with you?

HERDING CATS

I think Liore‘s blog might be the one I comment on most. She doesn’t constrain her blog to games, and also talks a lot about movies and other pop culture. From thoughts on why she’s not watching your stream, to the occasional calling out of nonsense, to lists of the best horror movies, her posts are always interesting and welcoming of other people’s opinions. She also does TWO podcasts, which you can check out on her blog.

MURF VERSUS

And then there’s the progenitor of Listmas himself, Murf! Besides all he does to encourage blogging and participation in the blogosphere, Murf writes a lot of great posts and isn’t afraid of controversial opinions like MMOs are boring or DPS is dumb. He also makes a lot of cool little games and things like this MoviexGame mashup quiz and words gamers use.

IN AN AGE

Azuriel manages to get out solid blog posts multiple times per week. I wish I could do that. Recent posts on Gameplay and Pacing in recent big budget titles have particularly resonated with me, and I enjoy reading reviews of popular games that aren’t afraid to point out their (sometimes considerable) flaws.

STAR-FIRED BEEF

Dahakha‘s Steam challenge is a series of posts that particularly interests me, and occasionally gets me to post more about my own Steam backlog. Though I don’t always share his opinions on games, I like reading other thoughts on the games I’ve played like Mirror’s Edge or Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery.