FFXI DATs

A long long time ago, I was a DAT modder for FFXI. At one point I was actually spending more time making DAT mods than playing the game. And I know there was a brief time where I had unsubscribed from the game but kept making mods. It was a lot of fun and quite rewarding, is what I’m saying.

If you don’t know, all the resources for FFXI were stored in .dat files. Someone had created a program that let you take those files and extract the textures, alpha maps, and meshes from them, edit those files, and put everything back together. Replacing one DAT file with another allowed you to change what that model looked like in-game. Being a huge fan of playing dress-up in games, I was totally charmed by being able to make armor sets that looked cool to me without having a level restriction. These mods were technically against the TOS, but since they were just armor swaps they didn’t actually let you cheat or anything.

I originally uploaded my DATs to some kind of file sharing site, from which they have since been removed, and submitted them to FFXIDATs.com, a site that sadly no longer exists. But I had such a great time and I loved the community there. I learned a lot about 3D modeling and game assets. I recently found an old USB stick on which I had backed up all my DAT mods, so I thought it would be fun to share them with the world.

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Supporting Your Cosplayers

So, BioWare is having a fanart contest for Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin, and to help out, they released reference shots and textures of Tallis, and linked to the costume designer’s blog where he describes in detail the whole process of making the costume. Considering cosplaying still gets shat on by a pretty wide swath of gamers, it’s pretty awesome to me that they are actually reaching out to cosplayers, which I don’t think any other game company has done in any sort of public, widespread way. Sucker Punch sent my partner some concept art when he wrote to them about cosplaying a Reaper, and I’m pretty sure Final Fantasy X-2 was deliberately made to be cosplayer candy, but that’s about it as far as I know.

But what’s interesting about BioWare, the Dragon Age team in particular, is that they aren’t just providing references and having contests, they’re keeping cosplayers in mind when it comes to the actual design of the game. Here’s Mike Laidlaw on Twitter:

The key is to strike a power chord between followers looking great and cosplay-able and player agency. Plans: I has them.

Glad to hear it! I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Contempt for Your Audience

I like games. Games are good. People should play them. But every once in a while they should put those games back on the shelf and see what else the world has to offer.

This is the closing line from this Paste post about PAX East 2011.

I’m rather angry at the condescension on display here, and it’s an attitude I’ve seen before. It seems to me that some (read: not all, or even most) people in the industry–whether they make games or write about them–just don’t understand what the big deal is about conventions for non-industry fans.

Does the author of this piece really not understand that fans who go to game conventions actually don’t live, eat, and breathe video games? And that this is, in fact, why they go to conventions? The scolding about not being obsessed with games is completely ridiculous. His job is games. Mine? Is not. I spend about eight hours a day doing a job that has nothing to do with video games. When I come home, sometimes I play video games. Sometimes I do other things, like sew or read or write stories or watch TV or go out to dinner or go to concerts or hang out with friends and family. PAX East is the three days out of an entire year that I do nothing but play games, talk about games, drink, and sleep. The fact that people who go to PAX have lives outside of games is also the very reason they can seem so intense: this is their only chance out of the entire year to be immersed in the game industry, to meet other gamers, play tons of games, and maybe even meet some of the people who make the games they love, so yeah, people go overboard with the geekiness. If you are immersed in the game industry 365 days a year–if you make or write about games–I guess it’s hard to see what the big deal is, since there are so many more industry and press events than there are fan conventions (reminder: there are TWO video game fan conventions, PAX and PAX East, on opposite sides of the country from one another).

But that’s not my only problem with this piece. At first, I understood the comment about it not being enough to love games, you have to love the idea of loving games. I had moments at PAX East, both years that I went, where I looked around and thought, damn, I am in NERDLAND. But then I laughed it off and continued to enjoy myself; it certainly didn’t send me spiraling into self-loathing. If just being around a ton of nerds makes you feel disgusted with yourself for even being in the same room as them, that’s your own problem.

The thing about how it’s cool to be a nerd now is a total lie, and it always has been. It’s cool to like Star Wars and video games, and be socially awkward in a cute and endearing sort of way. It’s cool to be a nerd like Zachary Levi’s character on Chuck. It’s not cool to be the sort of nerd who isn’t Hollywood-attractive, who is actually socially awkward in an awkward and uncomfortable way, the sort of nerd who can’t make small talk and takes things too literally and obsesses over things no one but other nerds care about (in case it’s not clear, I am describing myself here). So it makes me pretty angry when someone who perhaps self-identifies as a nerd but is a cool nerd comes into a space with non-cool nerds and tells those nerds to stop being so nerdy, already.

Telling people they should be more reserved and dignified in their interests is puritan and ridiculous. It’s not your job to police other peoples’ enthusiasm. Commenter Peter Stocking put it best: “A convention isn’t about liking everything in the place. It is about having a place for the things you like.” When it comes to conventions, take what you want, leave the rest, and don’t judge other people.

Edit: I enjoyed this response at Gamers With Jobs by Rob Zacny, particularly the last couple paragraphs. I’ve been both judge and judged (I used to the think the days of considering cosplayers losers was behind us, but apparently not…), and neither roles are particularly pleasant. Less judgment of others in general can only make things better.

Write for The Border House!

The Border House is looking for writers! — We’re basically always looking for writers, but right now we’re trying to spread the word. If you’re interested in writing for a progressive, anti-oppression gaming and virtual worlds blog (or know someone who might be!), drop a line to editors at border house blog dot com. We don’t have post requirements or anything, and we are very flexible. If you have concerns, just email us!

PAX East: Girls in Gaming Panel

Crossposted at The Border House.

Last weekend, March 25-27, was the first annual PAX East convention. The Penny Arcade Expo has been running for several years in Seattle, but this is the first time it has come to the East Coast, and the first time I was able to attend. I’m going to write a few posts about the various panels I went to and the overall experience, and the first thing I would like to address is the “Girls in Gaming” panel that took place on Friday night.

The panel consisted of: Brittany Vincent (Editor-in-Chief, Spawn Kill), Julie Furman (Founder, SFX360), Alexis Hebert (Community Relations Manager, Terminal Reality), Padma Fuller (Product Marketing Manager, Sanrio Digital), and Kate Paiz (Senior Producer, Turbine), with Jeff Kalles of Penny Arcade moderating. The format was entirely Q&A, with no discussion and only short introductions before opening up the floor to questions. So it did not begin very well, though this was entirely the fault of the organizers.

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Is This Only Entertainment?: My Click Moment and Why I Write About Games

One of the most common responses to feminist critiques–or indeed any sort of critiques–of games is, “It’s just a game!” Feminist critiques of games outside of specifically feminist blogs are often met with not just outright hostility in many cases, but an attitude of befuddlement; gamers wonder what is the point of writing about video games when women face so many other, bigger problems in the world. This is a question that has been answered over and over. Mighty Ponygirl from Feminist Gamers explained that video games contribute to sexist social conditioning:

…But behavior is more than just action — it’s a way of internalizing what is expected of you. Little girls are taught almost from birth to be quiet, compliant, passive, and that the most important thing is to be attractive to men. These lessons are reinforced when they play games that push women off in the corner to be rescued, or only allow them to pick up a sword if they’re wearing a bikini.

Andrea Rubenstein, aka tekanji, wrote a four-post series explaining why studying popular culture is important. One of her main points is that fighting oppression has to occur on many different levels and in different areas of or society:

Studying popular culture is probably my main focus, but since I love cross-sections I also keep abreast of other topics such as feminist issues, human sexuality, and general oppression work. I don’t think that this is inherently better or worse than someone who chooses one topic, or even a smaller subset of topics, to focus on.

In fact, I’d go one step farther to say that the only way I think we’ll ever have a chance at winning the battle against oppression (as much as one can “win” such a thing) is if we wage this war on multiple levels. I believe that every fight we fight — whether it be against domestic violence or raising our voices against the overabundance of “sexy girls who kick ass” in popular media — is a valuable one. I believe every stride we make, however small and however flawed, should be appreciated.

And I absolutely agree with both points. But there is something I would like to add, something I see as another reason writing about video games and popular culture in general is worthwhile: talking about pop culture is a great way to reach out to people. Not every feminist-minded individual is going to take a women’s studies course or pick up a bell hooks book from their library, but plenty of folks love discussing games, television, movies and so on on the internet. Looking at these things from a feminist perspective can introduce these concepts to people who may hold feminist ideals and just don’t know it yet.

I’m an example of this. Feminists sometimes talk about their “click moment”–the moment or event that led them to realize they were feminists. My click moment happened a little over two years ago. Ubisoft Montreal was promoting the shit out of Assassin’s Creed, a daring new IP that they hoped would turn into a franchise. The producer for the game was a woman named Jade Raymond, and in her role as producer she gave interviews and helped promote the game. The backlash she received from the online gaming community–as well as from so-called game “journalists” from Kotaku, Joystiq, and Destructoid–was swift and horrific, because she dared to be a woman speaking with authority about games.

It was my own outrage over the incident that led me to The IRIS Network and the aforementioned Feminist Gamers, as well as general feminism blogs like Feministe. I stayed up late night after night reading everything I could find, all these passionate and critical essays that put words to things that I had always known on some level, and opening my eyes to new manifestations of injustice that I’d never thought about before; I took the red pill and I never looked back.

But that one incident wasn’t the beginning of my feminist education, merely the catalyst that fused everything I had already learned and seen with newfound knowledge, giving me the tools to describe all those events that made me deeply uncomfortable in my gut but I hadn’t been able to explain. I’d had plenty of lessons before then on oppression, even if I didn’t know what to call it. And a lot of them came from fandom, the feminists and womanists and social justice advocates who cared enough to call people out in various venues. I clearly remember, ten years or so ago when I was still in middle school, getting educated on what “sexual orientation” means and why it’s wrong to assume everyone is straight until they say otherwise, on the now-defunct FanFiction.Net mailing list, of all places. It was a webcomic that first introduced me to the idea that sex and gender are two different things. During the first season of Heroes, I learned about subtle racist biases from a post about racism and the show on the heroes_tv LJ community.

And I learned more and more about feminism every day on the girl_gamers LJ comm, where feminists weighed in on sexism-related drama that popped up fairly often, and every time I would learn something new, or someone would put words to an issue that was previously only a minor itch at my brain that told me something is wrong here.

All of these people prepped me for my click moment simply by participating in fandom, by talking about their favorite shows and games in their own way, braving the inevitable backlash and meeting it head-on. I benefited so much from these discussions, though many of the participants were never aware of it.

My greatest hope with my writing is that I can pay the favor forward as much as possible. I try to reach people in a different way than scholarly writing does; and while this may not be the most convincing reason games are a worthwhile topic of feminist discussion, it’s an important one to me, because it is deeply intertwined with my understanding of both topics. I know I’ve already succeeded once; I received an email a few months ago from a GameCritics.com reader who had enjoyed my article about gender and Mass Effect. As he described how he had been ravenously reading the Feminism 101 blog and suddenly everything made more sense, I realized I’d given someone their own click moment. It reminded me of all those lessons I’d learned, and how the seemingly frivolous act of chatting about games on the internet can actually be important, even if you think games are “only” entertainment. And that’s why I write about games.

The Border House has launched!

I’m proud to announce that a new feminism and gaming blog, The Border House has launched, and is already buzzing with posts and discussion.

Tami came up with the initial idea of a group feminist gaming blog, and she collaborated with myself and Brinstar to bring it to life. We reached out to people from a truly wide variety of perspectives in order to create an inclusive feminist space right from the start. Check out the About page to find out more about our goals.

If you’re interested in contributing or guest posting, just send an email to editors@borderhouseblog.com! We’re always looking for more great writers.

So check it out, and join in the conversation!