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Gamer Culture- Real or Just Imagined?

Imagine two passionate music fans. They play their favorite albums and songs every chance they get; they read blogs, go to shows, buy merch, maybe even get some sweet tattoos. In short, the music they enjoy is so central to them that in many ways it becomes a part of their lifestyle. However, one of these fans is heavily involved in their local indie music scene, while the other is immersed in goth music and all its trappings. Given their different tastes, their expectations of their music (styles, themes, etc.) varies wildly. The way they speak to other fans, what they do at shows, and how they think about their music is different. They value different aspects of the music, different ways of approaching it, and different ways of engaging with it. Heck, they might not even get along if they met on the street. Do two music fans share a culture? Is there one big music culture heading that covers them both? Read more »

Resident Evil Revelations 2

Power Hour Review: Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (Episode 1 co-op)

Some stories lend themselves well to the episodic format, stories with high drama or emotion, stories that are easily offered in chapters, stories that require, or at least hope for, a little reflection after a segment is completed. Me, I’ve never much associated the Resident Evil franchise with development of story, character, or reflection, though I know plenty of folks who love them, so I thought: why not dive in and see how this bite-sized nugget of Resident Evil compares to past experiences, and see how it fits in with the wave of episodic games.

It seems prudent here to drop some disclaimers: I don’t much like Resident Evil games. I’ve always found them entertaining, but more trouble than they’re worth. I’m not a huge survival horror fan, either; I’m prone to flipping out at jump scares, which is not great for things like maintaining aim (or ammo). I’d rather watch my horror than interact with it. I played some of the early games, though I’m not sure I ever completed one, and I played about half of Resident Evil 4, but never touched 5, the games bookending the Revelations storylines.

Perfect person to review the game, right? Well, why not. And to make things more interesting (at least for me), since the game includes local co-op, I played with my husband, who is also not a big Resident Evil fan. We streamed, too; you can see the full series here on the NYMGamer YouTube channel, though I’ve included some highlights at the end of this post. Read more »

CandyCrush

Pass the Cereal – In Defense of Casual Games

Here is my confession for the day. I play Farmville on my phone…and I like it.

It’s an all too familiar trope, by now. Core gamers play “real” games like Halo, Warcraft, Dark Souls, or League of Legends. Girl “gamers” play Candy Crush.

I’ve written before about gaming identity and who gets to decide what it is (hint: Geek cred and gamer cards are not officially accepted forms of expertise), but even before my gamer-hackles raise and I get ready to defend my identity as a “true” gamer I always wonder…
What exactly is so wrong with Candy Crush?

First off, the idea of “mommy-gamers” (both condescending and a weird way to try and insult someone. I would LOVE if my mom was a gamer), isn’t even an (entirely) accurate one. It’s true that the majority of Candy Crush players are women, but the margins aren’t so cut and dry. NewZoo’s game market research report gives a fantastically detailed layout of the game’s demographics. Among some other interesting highlights is the fact that 60% of Candy Crushers are female. I’m sorry…but when I think of decisive splits, a 60/40 vote isn’t even close. That’s very nearly a consensus. So where, exactly, is this stigma coming from?
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Harvesting the Little Sisters: Sexualization and Exploitation of Children in the BioShock Series

What springs to mind when you envision a child? Natural settings, asexuality, smallness, physical weakness, but above all, the notion of innocence. The construct of innocence is fascinating in that it can be broken down, smashed, cracked, and reassembled. The little sisters from the Bioshock series, specifically from the first two games, are exaggerated representations of a social construct in which children are representations of innocence. They require some form of protection and preservation. The gender politics are complicated because the little sisters are prepubescent girls who serve as hosts to a desirable power source for the protagonist and enemies alike. By casting the little sisters as a commodity with no power over their bodies or minds, the game turns them into products that have been sensationalized, sexualized, and exploited.

The little sisters are the same model of girl. Aside from varying shades of hair and dress color, they all look and sound the same. There’s really no distinction in personality either. Every single one of them sings, traipses about, and flirtatiously refers to their oversized companions as Mister B or Mister Bubbles. The little sisters are more of a singular character. I view them as limbs of the same body, really. The majority of them are orphans with very little backstory. They have been shaved down to nothing but factory product.

Though there are a few little sisters who have names and simplistic backstories, there is one with a relatively strong identity. Eleanor Lamb enters the story in Bioshock’s second installment. She has a complex backstory, a strained relationship with her mother, a somewhat oedipal relationship with the protagonist, and her manner of dress differs from the rest of the little sisters. Lamb’s also the daughter of a high ranking politician in Rapture. She’s privileged because she’s white and hails from an influential family. When she’s an adolescent, her mother attempts to contain her by locking her comatose daughter inside a glass room. There’s an element of voyeurism because the protagonist is able to look upon her while she’s asleep and unaware. The image of a sleeping Eleanor Lamb is similar to that of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White in her glass coffin, which is the very picture of innocence.

At the end of the second game, Lamb sheds her sexy nightgown in exchange for a big sister suit. The big sisters are very tall and aggressive post pubescent little sisters. They represent the fear or anxiety that accompanies the onset of sexuality. This is a common trope in children’s literature. It’s a visual representation of the fear authoritative figures feel when they’re unable to control the ever-growing child. Lamb transitions from a passive participant to an active participant who fights and requires zero male protection. The physical act of putting on the big sister suit can be interpreted as her taking control over her body, mind, and sexuality. Does her white privilege have anything to do with her ability to take control? However, similar to the first game, Eleanor will still aid the protagonist even if he decides to harvest all the little sisters.

There are a couple of liberating moments in which the little sisters exercise some sort of power. At the end of the first game, the little sisters gather together and take down the main antagonist. This cut scene shows the little sisters repeatedly stabbing a statuesque man with bronze or gold skin. This visual clashes with the idea of the obedient child. It is suggestive of multiple interpretations. It’s suggestive of a kind of rape because they are physically penetrating him with their extraction needles. It can also be seen as the destruction of the patriarchy or a redemption killing.

At some point the game requires the protagonist to either harvest or rescue a little sister. The harvesting scene is eerily similar to the kind of rape the central villain experiences at the end of the first game. Though we don’t see anything physically happen to the little sister, she attempts to fight the adult protagonist off of her. In the second game, the little sister begs the protagonist, a big daddy, not to harvest her. Additionally, the physical handling of the little sister, particularly when the protagonist decides to harvest one, is both rough and abusive. Not only do the little sisters have no agency over their bodies, they have no agency over their minds as well.

The little sisters are in a near constant hallucinatory state that bars them from the harshness of reality. Due to this mental conditioning, the little sisters perceive Rapture as a fantastical city. Corpses take the form of slumbering angels, pools of blood turn into rose petals, and so on. Though the little sisters have instances where their mental conditioning breaks, they primarily see a world that has been deemed appropriate and safe for children. This fantasy world preserves their innocence and prevents them from experiencing danger and trauma. It’s damaging in that it stations them in a state of utter naivety and powerlessness. With their minds protected, they rely on their knights in glittering armor (aka big daddies) to keep their physical bodies safe.

big-daddy-bioshock-2607Like the little sisters, the big daddies are a common staple (and sight) of the Bioshock franchise. They stand as overblown representations of masculinity with their enormous size and phallic drills. The little sisters, on the other hand, are hyper feminine with their doll-like dresses and small stature. The big daddies are also comparable to pimps in that they supervise and ensure the physical safety of the commodified product.

The big daddies knock on the vents with their heavy hands when it’s time for a little sister to come out and work the streets of Rapture, so to speak. A big daddy will escort his charge from client to client. Not only do these enormous men oversee the sexualized transactional process, the extraction and consumption of ADAM, but in the second game, the protagonist physically places the little sister atop the dead, usually white male body. Though the big daddies in the first game don’t reap any kind of award from the sisters, like ADAM or additional points, the protagonist in the second game has the choice to either harvest or rescue the little sister. The big daddies have more of a passive role in the first game.

The problematic depictions of the little sisters stem from the way in which these fictional children adhere to idea of innocence and childhood. They are hyper-feminine, obedient, physically weak, and possess no agency over their minds or bodies. Despite the occasional act of rebellion, they’re ultimately submissive to the male protagonist and his choices. Only the male protagonist can give them their minds and bodies. Only the male protagonist can destroy them in the end.


 

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Getting Touchy Feely With Your Handheld: On Nostalgia and Video Games

Ok, the title is a little provocative, but this post might not be as outrageous as you might think. This week I’ve been re-reading Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One with one of my classes and it has really made me nostalgic for the games of my youth. I spent a lot of time in arcades in the 80s and if you’ve read the book I’ll confess that in 2044 I’ll be about the same age as the crazy cat lady in the stacks, Mrs. Gilmore. Along with reading the book in class we spent a day playing through a lot of the games that are a part of the story. Cline weaves a tale that makes you long for the days of feeding quarters into arcade machines at the corner arcade/ice cream shop. I could almost smell the sweet mixture of the scent of ice cream and smoke wafting in the back door from illicit cigarettes. And as if they knew exactly where my head was this week Sony released Q*Bert Rebooted for the Vita and PS4 for less than the cost of a trip to the arcade (with ice cream and illicit cigarettes 30 years ago). There was only one thing to do: buy it as fast as I could.

I have a strange relationship with my handheld consoles. It really is a nostalgia machine. In the true sense of the word nostalgia, they harken me back to a past that never was. My Nintendo TRA_nosthandhelds have been used almost exclusively for playing old, new, and rebooted versions of platformers I never played as a child because they were brutally hard and I was just bad at them. I much preferred RPGs and fighting games, but somehow just seeing these games in their blocky glory has made me long for a childhood spent in front of a NES or SNES hopping over barrels or swinging a sword at mythical monsters in places where it really was “dangerous to go alone.” But truth be told, I didn’t play my first Zelda game until the 3DS. I bought Skyward Sword for the Wii, but there was something about playing it on the big screen that just didn’t feel right and the same has gone for all of the single player Mario games. These games (and platformers in general) just feel like too much of a personal experience to share with anyone else. And the best way to keep them to myself has been to play them up close and personal (literally like 8 inches away from my face). Playing the games like this allows me the opportunity to (re)live a childhood that never was. On a small screen (albeit smaller than the arcade machine and tv screen that I had in my room) and in a world of my own. Read more »

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Too Good to be True

Last week a witch hunt pervaded the Hearthstone community. Like most witch hunts, it spawned from a baseless accusation: a top Hearthstone player is not who they say they are. This statement, which was little more than a rumor, quickly became accepted as fact as it spread across Hearthstone communities, especially on websites like Reddit and YouTube. Normally a rumor like this might get some buzz, but would probably either be largely ignored or forgotten before long. But this wasn’t normal and the community didn’t move on, because this particular rumor invalidated the fact that a female Hearthstone player just might be better than a lot of the boys.

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Where are the Female Adult Fans of Lego?

Adult Fans of LEGO or AFOL’s represent a very active, creative community of people who love to build with LEGO bricks. I like to spend time browsing through their creations on Flickr and Reddit, and recently I stumbled across this thread on Reddit, promoting Lego artist, Mariann Asanuma, as the “first female LEGO artist.” The description confused me. How are we defining “first” and/or “artist” here? I did a little Googling, and it seems, in this case, “first female artist” refers to the first one to make a living as a LEGO freelancer. (It’s possible she means she was the first female designer employed by LEGO, but on Twitter her bio reads, “I am a former LEGO Master Model Designer and I am now the World’s First and only female Freelance LEGO Artist.”

My intent here is not to take away from Asanuma’s accomplishments; frankly, her work is incredible. But, I wondered what “first female LEGO artist” meant for other women who are also arguably producing quality LEGO art. Last year, I wrote about how Ellen Kooijman’s role as the designer of the LEGO Research Institute set was eclipsed by the narrative surrounding the letter seven-year-old Charlotte wrote to LEGO. That is, many of the blogs and articles credited the letter with persuading LEGO to finally create a set with female scientists, largely ignoring that the set was already approved before the letter was written.

I’ll admit, I haven’t thought much about who the particular designers are, in most cases. So many of the fan-created LEGO builds are amazing, and I usually just get caught up in studying the build. My favorite LEGO-themed art books are Mike Doyle’s, Beautiful LEGO and Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark. I enjoy flipping through the intricate designs, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the LEGO Idea Bird project, which I first saw in Beautiful LEGO, later realized as an actual set. I picked up these books yesterday and flipped to the contributors’ list to see how many women were represented. While it’s difficult to come up with a definitive number, between them Beautiful LEGO and Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark list fewer than a handful of female contributors. In another collection, Extreme Bricks, Sarah Herman showcases a few women who are building with LEGO bricks, including Alice Finch who created the amazing Harry Potter display. But, Herman’s collection is still very much male dominated.

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I know there are more than a handful of female designers, so back to Google I went. In my research, I found this blog showcasing 5 female LEGO designers. I was discouraged, but not surprised to read that one of the designers, LegoMyMamma, “has personally dealt with struggles in the community because of her gender.” I hate to think that the notion of “LEGO is for boys” would bleed into the AFOL community, but I guess it was naïve of me to assume it hadn’t. I also found blogs discussing the need to hide having LEGO as a hobby, mostly because LEGO bricks are really just “toys.” Admittedly, I have seen that same sentiment in some of the more male dominated discussions, but I wondered if the stereotype of “Lego is for boys” makes the feeling stronger in female LEGO fans.

Some might be tempted to argue that the perceived lack of representation actually stems from a lack of interest among women but, of course, there are many female builders creating exciting projects. In addition to the women featured in the above blog post, I found several more interesting projects. For example, this page describes PinkVision: Art Science and Bricks, an exhibit which showcases “45 female artists and scientists who used LEGO bricks to freely explore and interpret the word ‘building.’” I would love to get involved in a project like that. And, in on of my hesitant attempts to get involved a couple of years ago, I went to Brickworld Layfayette, and while it was a pretty male dominated event, I remember talking to female designers. So the women are out there, and they are building incredible LEGO models.

Ultimately, LEGO as a company suffers from a gender problem demonstrated through its Friends sets and lack of female minifies in some of its more traditional sets, which is something we have discussed more than once in this blog and on our podcasts. Its disappointing to see such a male dominance in the AFOL world. But, the women are out there; they are on Flicker and Reddit; They are posting in various LEGO forums. I would like to see their work more equally represented in conventions and mediums such as LEGO-themed art collections.

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No Escape – Rape and Race in Prison Simulation Games

At Sunday’s Oscars, John Legend and Common performed their amazing song, “Glory,” from Selma before ultimately winning the Oscar for Best Original Song. If you haven’t seen the performance yet, it’s a must:

But as powerful as the song is, it’s the acceptance speech (starting at 6:05) that captured my attention on Sunday night.  Amidst the common platitudes and thank yous, John Legend had this to say: “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because…we know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.”
This is a question that comes up all the time…why demand video games, books, movies, songs that are more accurate, diverse, or representative? Legend’s answer sums it up…our art—fictional or not—reflects our times. More than that, it shapes it. Video games are only one small piece of that art, but they are more immersive than most other forms. There’s a sense of agency in games, where the player takes an active role in shaping the presented narrative (even if that narrative is ultimately beyond their control). In other words, it’s personal.

Maybe that’s why I like simulation games. So many times, games are a form of escape from the “real” world (which is often an argument for allowing unreal conditions. It’s “only” a game, after all). For that reason, simulations might seem like an odd category, considering that they are most effective when they are realistic…yet the Sims is one of EA’s biggest cash cows, raking in millions of dollars with each new edition, and the successful Rollercoaster Tycoon franchise sparked hundreds of tycoon offshoots, from movie theaters to lemonade stands to game development*. These games are simplified forms of the world, yes, but they are realistic. They offer the chance to create Utopian situations, or to “screw up” in glorious fashions and watch the world burn…without any of the real-world consequences.

Sim games are a mini-obsession of mine. I can lose hours in these games, carefully crafting my worlds and micro-managing the details. They are a control-freak’s dream come true. Add in political mindedness, and that is why I picked up Prison Architect.

Prison Architect is Introversion’s indie prison development simulator. While Introversion is a British development company, the game is remarkably reminiscent of the American penitentiary system. Other than the brief tutorial (and the occasional calls from the CEO if you manage to go bankrupt), there is no dialogue in the game. You are given God-like status, complete with a bird’s-eye view of your prison as you shape it and your prisoners’ day-to-day lives.
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Girlcraft, the Kickstarter that stalled (and thank goodness)

Recently, one of the other women on the NYMGamer team shared a link to a Kickstarter for “Girlcraft,” a proposal for a Minecraft knockoff branded for girls. Same ideas, just pink and purple and full of fairies and rainbows. My heart sank as I read the description, but it didn’t matter in the end — the attempt is like a master class in what not to do on Kickstarter: no real plan, no details, and no need for the project. After all, there are plenty of mods that allow players to turn Minecraft into anything they’d like. There are already fairies galore (and mods branded Girlcraft!), and players don’t even have to resort to a lesser game to get there.

But that doesn’t mean the idea of giving girls their own branded entry point is going to go away simply because this particular Kickstarter is a nonstarter. Thanks to Lego Friends, Nerf Rebelle, and even products like GoldieBlox, girls get versions of toys, activities, and ideas just for them. This is good, right? This is how we’ll break down those lines between gendered toys and get girls to slowly move into boy-occupied spaces, right? Or instead, by handing girls special toys, are we simply telling them to stay separate? Why venture past “your” aisles in the toy store when you have weapons just for you right here? Read more »

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Sunday Morning Mama Musings: Girls and STEM

I love weekends, but not because I get to hangout out later or sleep longer in the mornings because there is none of that when you have young children. I love weekends because we can cheat on bedtime a little and do more of the stuff that gets cut short with dinner prep, homework, and general school night madness. Last night as Pea and I snuggled up in bed listening to a Geronimo Stilton audiobook and doing some kiddie coding I got sad for just a second.

boygirlmathNow I know that it makes no sense to get sad in this perfect moment, but let me explain. Pea is six and right now she loves math and thinks that computers and video games are the coolest things on the planet. Rather than aspiring to be a cheerleader, model, or some such madness that is pushed upon young girls by society, she says she wants to be the next “Dr. B.” she wants to teach people how to make video games and there’s no doubt in my mind that she can do it. So here is where the sadness comes in. Recently, as researchers and educators have started to try to figure out why there are so few women in the STEM disciplines they have found that while girls generally out score boys in math and science until the 5th grade after that something changes. If 66% of 4th grade girls self report that they like science, doesn’t it seem odd that only 18% of girls actually pursue STEM majors like engineering in college. And it’s not the intellect of girls or boys, but rather the ways that they are treated by teachers and parents and how that treatment causes them to think about their own aptitude. One study suggests that since girls see their intelligence as a fixed thing while boys see theirs as something that they have to work at, so as things get more difficult girls are more likely to just give up when something does not come easily to them and boys are more likely to work at it.  Read more »