As Seen On TV: The Impact of a Reluctance to Advertise on Female-Led Games

Sometime around the start of the holiday season in 2008 was when I first saw it. Mirror’s Edge had never been on my radar before, but as soon as I saw its advertisement during the commercial breaks of whatever show I had on at the time I became enchanted. Parkour and freerunning wasn’t especially popular yet and the idea of playing a woman freerunner was exciting for me as a gamer. My dad must have been at least somewhat enticed by it too, because the next time we visited GameStop he bought it for the both of us. Although video game ads aren’t as frequently used or as popular a marketing strategy as they are for movies or television shows, the exposure they offer, especially for audiences who might not have otherwise been familiar with the game or franchise, is certainly valuable. If I had never seen those commercials, I doubt I would have come across Mirror’s Edge, at least not until I looked back at games I’d missed playing anyway. Given the power of influence advertising has even had in my short consumer lifetime, it seems strange that games with female protagonists, which developers seem to believe are so difficult to sell, wouldn’t use commercials and other advertising strategies to appeal to increase their sales.

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Whispering Willows

Power Hour Review: Whispering Willows

Whispering Willows is a horror puzzle game. The game starts with Elena lost in the family catacombs as she tries to find her missing father. The game starts off pretty slow, but somewhat creepy. The graphics are great: not realistic enough that I found them scary, but they are beautiful. As Elena continues through the catacombs, she collects pieces of the diary that begin to tell her the story. She also finds out that through her amulet, she can change to a ghostly form and communicate with other ghosts to learn a bit more about the story. Switching to the ghostly form is also necessary in some cases to solve the puzzle. The game mechanics are pretty typical for this type of game. I didn’t notice anything groundbreaking or out of the ordinary. If anything, I found the game mechanics a little tedious. For example, when she leaves her ghostly form, she has to go back and rejoin her physical body wherever she left it, which causes a bit of backtracking. I also sometimes get a bit tired of games that require me to constantly change forms to solve the puzzles. But, although I was a bit disappointed in that, it does somewhat work with the story.

Even though the games starts a bit slow, the narrative seems interesting enough to keep going. The game seems to have strong Native American themes, and I’ll be interested to see what (if anything) they do with that. And, of course, I’m also interested to see what they will do with the female protagonist. The first hour didn’t really give me a good idea if she will be strong or not. You learn the story in a typical manner, by picking up notes that seem somewhat disconnected at first. At first, I was skeptical that the game would really be scary (so far it’s not), but some of the sound effects definitely give parts of it a creepy vibe.  Read more »


Power Hour Review: Wayward Manor

Audio books can be a disappointing experience. When the rich expanses of your imagination can people entire worlds, it can be disheartening to hear that all distilled into a single voice. Or, if a publisher is feeling particularly generous, two: one for either gender. But I still remember when a friend lent me an audio collection of Neil Gaiman children’s stories.
There’s something wonderful about listen to Gaiman narrate his own work. His children’s work, especially, is both strange and charming (reminiscent of how I felt reading Rhoad Dahl’s books, as a child) and that essence is captured in his steady yet wryly expressive voice. It was a lovely experience, and it remains one of my favorite audio books in my collection, so it’s no surprise that I felt a surge of excitement when I saw that Gaiman was going to be collaborating with The Odd Gentlemen to create a video game based on one of his original tales.
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Episode 82: Tears from a Gamer: Video Games as Emotional Catalysts

Episode 82: Tears from a Gamer: Video Games as Emotional Catalysts (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

In this episode we talk about emotional game, games that have made us cry or just think more deeply about emotional issues in our own lives. Join us as we think about games as more than just an entertainment medium.


The Road to Hell…

Early this summer we did a podcast where we talked about all of the games that we were going to play this summer. My gaming intentions were to play some catch up on the pile of shame that sits on my media stand in the game room. I was going to finish Infamous: Second Son, The Last of Us, and a lot of other stuff. I had enough unfinished games to get me through the summer without having to buy anything new. And then it happened…life. Conference travel (Pea and I traveled with the Wii U and played a metric sh*t-ton of Mario Kart 8), day camp, and general outside time since the weather has been hovering around the 75-80 degree mark. All of those things converged in such a way that just guaranteed that console gaming has been at a minimum for me. At least full sized consoles.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time doing handheld gaming so far this summer. My 3DS, Vita, and new Samsung Note have been getting a real work out. That’s right you heard me right…Android gaming and mostly glorified Facebook games, Farmville 2 in particular. As much as I laughed at Alex for her Farmville theorycrafting back in the day I have now fallen prey to the same monster. I have spent hours farming fruits and vegetables and cooking meals to sell on the open market. It feels so….sorted. Like I’m cheating on AAA titles (or Indie games for that matter). Games like Valiant Hearts sit untouched on my XBox One and AAA titles like Infamous: Second Son sit unfinished in my PS4. Read more »


When Smack Talk Goes Too Far: Discrimination in Professional e-Sports

The various federations and organizations devoted to professional gaming and electronic sports, known appropriately as “e-sports,” strive for legitimacy and professionalism. Although e-sports continue to grow across the world and have seen a recent surge in popularity in the past few years with the online accessibility of big name events like the Evolution Championship Series and the World Cyber Games, many still seem hesitant to label it as a “real sport.” While I believe that the devotion and skill of the players and competitors puts them at an equal level to athletes, there’s just something about the sedentary nature of gaming that makes people skeptical. Regardless of personal opinion, e-sports seem to have everything in place to be classified as a real sport: participants who have devoted countless hours to practicing, teams, leagues, sponsorship, and even high stakes betting. But despite their attempts to legitimize themselves as a professional sport like any other, e-sports continue to be weighed down by normalized and unrestricted sexism, racism, and homophobia. Read more »


An American in Scotland: Always on Alert

This weeks post is not about games, but rather about why we continue to write about and criticize the way women are portrayed and treated in games and media in general. I’m staying in Dundee, Scotland right now. It’s a nice little town, not too crowded (unlike Glasgow and Edinburgh). Before I came here, I, of course, did a ton of research on the town, and I found mostly good things, but I also found the occasional reference to it being a “rough” town (or at least a town with “rough” areas). I haven’t seen any areas I would classify as rough, mostly it’s been lovely and relatively quiet. But, as a female traveling alone, I can’t be too careful.

I quickly fell into a routine when I arrived and figured out how to use public transportation confidently. Getting to and from the city centre via bus became normal and I didn’t think about it much. But, last Sunday, that changed a bit. I got to the bus station about 10am, enough time to get me to the city centre to hit up a couple of shops before meeting some friends. I didn’t realize that the buses run quite a bit less frequently on Sundays than I was used to, so I had to wait about 25 minutes for the next bus to come. This was not really a problem…except for the drunk guy.

When I first got to the bus stop and noticed the guy, I didn’t think much of it. In fact, he didn’t even seem to be trying to catch a bus. He seemed like he was just passing through. But, then I guess I caught his attention. He started talking to me, and at first I was polite, even though he was somewhat annoying. But, then he started to freak me out. He got closer and closer, and I had to keep backing up. Eventually, I had backed up enough that I wasn’t really even at the bus stop anymore, but at least I was in the sight line of the man working in the convenience store. The guy at the bus stop continued to drink from a flask (although he was trying to hide this from me). He showed me scars on his face and told me he got them during an attempted robbery for which he went to prison. In my head, I was reminding myself that it’s not 911 here, it’s 999 (I think, unless that’s just for the fire department), and I was really wishing the bus would hurry up. At one point, he touched my arm. That really freaked me out, but I still didn’t want to be rude. He just kept going on and on ranting about this and that. My responses were curt though and mainly consisted of “uh huh.” Eventually, he acknowledged he was bothering me, and he simply went away, off down the street. My first impression was correct: he never intended to get on the bus.

Now, every time I go to the bus stop, I think about this guy and wonder if he’ll be back. And, if he comes back, will he then get angry? This may seem like a mild story; he didn’t actually assault me. But, I still felt harassed, and I was/am a bit angry because I was just minding my own business, and he felt it was ok to intrude on my personal space. And, that’s the whole thing when we talk about stuff like the rapes alluded to in Tomb Raider. Whether she was actually raped or not, the game becomes a reflection of what is “ok” or normalized in society. It’s not ok to rape, or attempt to rape, or even touch someone who doesn’t want to be touched.

This incident doesn’t change my perception of Dundee and it hasn’t much affected the trip. But, it did remind me that I have to always be on guard. I have to be on guard everywhere. I love to walk, but even in Lafayette, I have to be on guard when I walk to make sure. Even during the day. I don’t think men understand how much we have to think about this. One evening in the dorms, I was talking to one of the male students, and he mentioned how he is really not afraid of anything. I was jealous.

divinity featured

Failing the The Zombie-Cat-Dresser Test, Divinity: Original Sin Power Hour Review

Divinity: Original Sin promises to give players the “freedom of a pen and paper RPG” in a video game. As any one who’s spent any amount of time playing pen and paper RPGs will tell you, that’s a pretty bold claim. So, does Divinity deliver on this promise? Personally, I’m not sure it’s really possible for a video game to give you the same openness you’d get from the classic D&D-style games. Divinity certainly tries, but it may be reaching a bit too far. Read more »


The Price of Play

**I know trigger warnings are so not the thing these days. But really, this one gets kinda ugly**

Play is free. Fun. Natural—like breathing, the desire to eat (or love), or do other things that are inappropriate to write about in the blog. Except that nothing is really free, play is often not fun, and eating and that other thing have consequences that can actually make the cost prohibitively expensive. Just ask someone who ate themselves into gastric bypass or found themselves underwater without one of those pricey oxygen tanks. So what about play? We see videos of puppies playing together as soon as we they can walk, and we think, oh gee, it’s so beautiful and pure. Then we hear a story of a toddler dying because his parent locked him in a closet for 48 hours while s/he was gaming.

That’s not us though, right? That person was clearly mentally ill and if it hadn’t been games it would’ve been something else. Neglectful people are neglectful people regardless of the medium. But there is a grain of similarity between that parent and all of us who play. Perhaps it’s only as serious as choosing to play over going to a birthday party. Perhaps it’s having your significant other feed you Cheetos as you raid. Maybe it’s neglecting your own health because the precious few moments of time you have to yourself you’d rather be gaming. Or maybe it’s only a dollar, or sixty, or whatever that game cost. There is however no denying that all play has a price, and we pay. Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes it’s a little, and sometimes we pay with the things we hold most precious to ourselves, like our respect, our dignity, and our beliefs.

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Same Face Syndrome or Why Scruffy-White-Dude Protagonists Don’t Help Anyone

The face of game protagonists is looking rather generic. If you were to poll gamers as to what the average playable character looks like, chances are there would be a general consensus among the answers. It’d almost certainly be a white man. He’d likely be in his late twenties or early thirties with a hardened face that suggests he’s been carrying a lot of baggage. Chances are, we could get even more specific than that: he’d have a scruffy beard or a stubble shadow, a chiseled jaw, and brown hair. This is not to say that all protagonists look like this; of course they don’t, and there have certainly been some strong strides in diversity in games, particularly in indies. However, going off my own personal databank, the various scruffy-white-dude collages compiled on the internet like the one above, and the amusing yet rather sad montage Youtube user Rebellious Pixels created from promo footage highlighting the sheer number of similar male protagonists revealed at this year’s E3, it seems like this pervasive trend of what I like to call “same face syndrome” is following the industry into the new generation.

The concept of same face syndrome first entered my mental dictionary after accusations arose on Tumblr that Disney was reusing their CGI female character designs. After promotional pictures were leaked for Disney’s upcoming film Big Hero 6, many users were quick to point out that Honey Lemon’s physical character model looked a lot like Rapunzel . . . and that Rapunzel looks a lot like Anna who looks a lot like Else who looks a lot like their mother . . . and so on. These similarities transcend “art style” and border more on direct copy and paste, as is beautifully explained here. While I, for most cases anyway, I certainly don’t think that developers are taking protagonists and reusing their models in quite the same way Disney seems to here (I would call it “similar traits syndrome” but that’s just not as catchy), I do believe that game design is suffering from a compulsion to create characters that fit in generic boxes of “what a protagonist should look like” and “what characters sell games.” But it’s not just the industry that suffers, it’s the gamers too, and not just in the ways you might think.

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