Playing Character Death

Over the New Year holiday weekend, I played a lot of video games, finishing two of them. Coincidentally, both of those games contained scenes where you play as a character in an unbeatable scenario, where the character is eventually killed (permanently). They were similar in a lot of ways, so I’d like to examine and compare them.

The games I’m talking about are Naruto Shippuuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, and obviously this post will contain huge spoilers for those games (and the Naruto Shippuuden anime, obviously).

Let’s start with Naruto. Naruto Shippuuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (hereafter “Storm 2”) is a fighting game that includes a single-player adventure campaign that covers the first eight seasons (just under 200 episodes) of the Naruto Shippuuden anime. Storm 2 is the sequel to 2008’s Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm (“Storm 1”), which covered the entire original Naruto anime (aside from the last “filler” arc). The show has an enormous cast of ninjas that all have unique fighting styles and abilities, which makes it perfect source material for a fighting game, and a great many have been made. What makes the Storm games unique is that they attempt to most closely recreate not only the story of the anime, but the over-the-top battles that are the main draw of the series. In normal battles, each character has their own “Ultimate Jutsu,” and at the end of each story chapter is a multi-phase boss battle split up by quicktime events (here’s an example from early on in Storm 2).

Late in the game–here’s your second spoiler warning–Naruto’s mentor, Jiraiya, faces a former student who now goes by the name Pain. It’s a normal boss battle (here’s the video if you want to watch it), but there is an additional segment at the end:

Continue reading

And I Didn't Even Use Tarot Cards

Remember way back when, when I did that little rant for a Round Table about difficulty? And how I was playing Assassin’s Creed and the original Uncharted at that time, and made the following prediction?:

Two games I’m currently playing are Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. I’m not particularly far into either, but even so, I can tell you which game I will get completely through and which one I will not. (Hint: it’s the one with an easy mode!)

Guess what game I STILL haven’t finished, and will resort to watching on YouTube in preparation for the sequel?

Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed 2 doesn’t end up being as impossible as the first one was for me.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review

My FIRST REVIEW EVAR! is up at GameCritics.com, and it’s about Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Here’s an excerpt relevant to this blog:

Characters from the first game make a comeback—Sully makes a cameo and Elena is back as a major player—and newcomers Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer, the latter whom adds a touch of much-needed diversity to our group of heroes, are introduced. Although at times characters’ motivations are not clear, overall, characterization is one of the areas where Among Thieves is head and shoulders above nearly every other major game out there. Clever writing combined with top-notch voice acting, animation, and character design results in a cast of characters that come across as likable and, most of all, realistic—not only in their appearances and sharp banter, but their actions.

In particular, Chloe and Elena are brilliant examples of female characters done right, something gaming desperately needs. With her midriff-baring shirt and ultra-tight pants, Chloe is a bit sexualized, but overall both women are realistic, clever, and—above all—independent. While there is a love triangle element, it is handled with tact; lesser writers than Naughty Dog’s team would have seen Chloe and Elena snap at each other in a childish “catfight” over Drake—not so here. Naughty Dog truly treats their female characters with the same care and respect as their male characters, not something most people in Hollywood, let alone video games, can boast. Further evidence of Naughty Dog’s skill can be found in Tenzin, the Tibetan man who aids Drake briefly in the second half of the game. A minor character who could have easily devolved into a stereotype is instead a fully formed and sympathetic character with a background, motivations, and a family. In the end, the only character that suffers from a lack of development is the villain, who is, yet again, an over-the-top evil caricature, but this time he’s Serbian instead of British.

Read the whole thing!

#EAFail Link Roundup

#EAFail is a total clusterfuck of misogyny and pandering to the lowest common denominator. Here are a bunch of resources on it. (Last updated August 3 at 10:00 PM EST.)

IRIS Forums Thread

This post on Digg

GayGamer’s PixelPoet entered the contest with a photo of himself and a “booth bear” in order to make a point. He ended up being selected as a runner-up winner and sending an amazing letter explaining exactly why he was declining the prize, pointing out the heteronormativity and sexism of the contest and giving suggestions for what to do with the prize instead. Read it, seriously!

Acid for Blood: Convention Sexual Harassment and #EAFail — in-depth analysis by Brinstar

General Posts

Ars Technica post explaining the situation.

The Escapist also reports on the situation.

AdFreak’s post against the contest. (H/T Brinstar in comments.)

GamingAngels points out that the hub-bub over the “male only” IGN contest should have tipped them off (H/T Brinstar):

Alright, I get it. The game is about the 7 Deadly Sins, one of them being Lust. And sure, this is one of the easiest (aside from Sloth) sins to use to promote the game. But really? After the debacle with the IGN contest recently wouldn’t at least do a little thinking about the audience – not to mention the ‘booth babes’? The contest is specific in stating “any booth babe” so, this isn’t even about the girls that might be at the Dante’s Inferno area – which means every girl working a booth at the Con is fair game in their eyes.

Negative Gamer tears the contest apart (H/T Brinstar!):

In their continuingly desperate plea for people to care about their game, EA have taken to just being bigots. In a competition being held at Comic-Con you have to “commit an act of lust” with one of their booth babes, then post the picture on twitter.The winner gets a “sinfull night with two hot girls” (the quote should technically be in all caps, but I thought you may not be able to handle it).

Even Destructoid thinks the contest is sleazy (H/T @sephiros):

On the other hand, there’s something repulsive about offering people up as prizes in your PR stunt, especially given game culture’s bad habit of over-sexualizing its female characters anyway. And while our beautiful free market ideally allows booth babes to opt out of stunts like this at their discretion, let’s be realistic: living in California ain’t cheap and the rent still has to get paid. Even if there’s nothing technically wrong going on here, it’s still sleazy and, at the very least, alienating.

MetaFilter post (H/T Pearl in the comments.)

Technology News: “EA’s Big Success at Comic-Con This Year? Alienating Women Gamers” (Same article at Wired’s GeekDad.) (Same article at Coolbeans.)

More links care of Brinstar:
Post on LJ comm sf_drama.
Post by LJ user yendi
JournalFen community unfunnybusiness
Post on FF site Limit Break
OffWorld
.tiff
Jezebel: “Not only is this promotion gross and a bit sad, it also reinforces the notion that everyone at Comic Con is a horny douchebag loser who just wants to rub up against a Booth Babe for a cheap thrill.”
Kotaku: “The contest details, emblazoned on the chest of a woman in faux tattoo, also offers five runner-up prizes which includes a copy of the game, a $240 EA gift card, a limited edition shirt and ‘tons more swag.’ No word if that swag includes brass knuckles.”
LJ comm girl_gamers: “EA must not think highly of male gamers… and they don’t seem to think anything at all of female gamers.”
Technologizer: “If only the gaming blogs covering the story could see the forest from the trees. Destructoid, for example, cries foul despite having no problem celebrating booth babes during E3.”
Newsarama: “What NOT to do at SDCC”
Kotaku post about @danteteam’s failpology.
Broken Toys. And here’s a follow up:

And I apologize for any confusion in how I worded my belief that your marketing team was devoid of common sense, views its female employees as sexual objects, and reflects poorly on our entire industry in its juvenile pursuit of attention.

Kill Ten Rats: “EA, when I talked about game developers and porn stars, I was not implying that you should treat your employees like underpaid prostitutes.” Here is the follow up.
Jeremy Preacher:

I’ve worked Comic-Con. and while there are lots of perfectly normal, well-adjusted people there, there are also a LOT of people with boundary issues, an imperfect understanding of social norms, and/or a really fucking twisted view of women. It’s hard enough to maintain one’s personal space – having fucking Marketing supporting the random gropage as a CONTEST does NOT HELP.

Edmonton Journal‘s Button Mash: ”
EA Games pimp out booth babes at Comic-Con, the Internet explodes”
Geeks Are Sexy
Social Media Today post describing what went wrong WRT using Twitter as a contest platform. (Same post on Social Media Guidelines.)
Pope Hat post on the legal issues involved: “‘Acts of Lust’ At Comic Con: Electronic Arts Wants To Make Some Lawyers Very Happy”:

Employers have an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect employees from sexual harassment by customers and other third parties. They also have an obligation to refrain from encouraging and ratifying such harassment. This is a briskly developing area of law. And while EA might plausibly argue (as have employers like Hooters, for instance) that being ogled is part and parcel of the Booth Babe job, they’re going to have a tough time explaining how Booth Babes signed up to be exposed to ill-defined “acts of lust.”

Tradeskill Perspective talks about organizations such as Women in Games and Gamers in Real Life (GIRL) that try to raise awareness about issues relating to women in games and the industry.
Set on Stun: “Misogyny Marketing: EA Pimps Booth Babes for Dante’s Inferno Game”
VG247
Get Your Blogs Out
DigitalFemme: “The next person to tell me that the only thing a company is looking for in a consumer’s pants is a wallet or that the only color a company sees is green is going to get told off. For days. Because time and time again this has been proven to be untrue.”
Spinksville
dwell on it: “Booth-babes though, as a marketing gimmick, are just insulting. I’ve got nothing at all against the women who do the work. It’s a job like any other – and not an easy job by any means – and people are paying for it. But really, the whole notion that they have to be there is an insult to gamers, and to game journos – whether or not that insult is actually warranted.”
Kellie Parker succinctly explains the sexism and heteronormativity of the contest.
Blippitt: “#EAFail: Video Game Marketing Gone Bad”
Shack News

Carnal Nation: “#EAFail – Is EA Games Deliberately Being Crass For The Publicity?”

At Mother Jones, Stephanie Volkoff Green investigates which other circles of hell EA manages to fall into with this contest.

Geek Syndicate‘s post. (H/T jeffy in comments.)

Yahoo! Games’s PluggedIn: “EA blasted over questionable marketing stunt”; this post made Yahoo’s top 4 news articles. (H/T @BigDumbHippy)

Joystiq: “Photos of the booth girls and their potential “dates” can be found on the Dante’s Inferno Facebook page. Our faith in humanity can be found in the corner, curled up and mumbling something to itself.” And the follow up: “We can’t imagine Beelzebub begs pardon from those he makes swim through a sea of fire and brimstone for all eternity. ‘Oh, man. That looks like it hurts. I’m like, really sorry about this, guys. Do you want some aloe?'”

Penny Arcade weighs in:

Now, Electronic Arts seems determined to wrest the title of “most egregious promotional bullshit” from the Acclaim of old, with some crazy Comic Con antics that involve committing “acts of lust” on “booth babes.” They apologized, ostensibly, but it’s a mealymouthed, worthless thing – a recitation of what they’ve done, capped with the assertion that they’re sorry you’re offended, but not sorry for offending you, as though your reaction were some bizarre, extra-dimensional phenomenon independent of their own actions.

Kieron Gillen at Rock, Paper, Shotgun decries the contest, describing a couple stories of con-goers harassing his friends at SDCC:

On the first day, a Photographer friend of ours wandered over, sighing that she’d already had her arse pinched four times.

This is what comicon is like without a multinational corporation deciding to turn it into a sport.

Feminist Responses

A comment on Ars Technica by an actual “booth babe” with firsthand experience of con harassment (H/T Brinstar). Here is an excerpt, but be sure to read the whole thing:

Lastly, you guys think that people offended by this are over-reacting because SANE people at a con would never do something criminal? Spoken like someone who’s not female and dressed up at a con. Last week I had some moron ACTUALLY STALK one of my new girls. Kept coming back to the booth even after she told him she wouldn’t hang out. He kept getting more insistent that she hang out with him and give him her phone number. Kept telling her he’d come back when she asked him not to. Tried to FOLLOW HER. Yah, that’s obviously not dangerous AT ALL. I’ve had my own issues over the years, including stalkers, men trying to take invasive photos, or grabbing things they shouldn’t. I have at least a couple of guys a con who cross the line. Please don’t downplay the seriousness of a situation that you know NOTHING ABOUT.

Here is the Kotaku post about iola’s comment. It’s good that it’s getting so much attention.

Shakesville post about it. From a comment by trifling:

One particular horror of this is that entrants to the competition are encouraged to “(take) photos with the models working the Dante’s Inferno booth or any other booth babes at the show.” Forgive my potential lack of understanding of the operation of the event, but I am pretty sure that the tone of this competition is encouraging more than the average “stand next to her and smile” photo, and they are encouraging this interaction with people who do not work for them or have any association at all with this competition.

A Midwife in Training post about how she mostly buys EA games but will now be boycotting them:

I’m loving the fact that EA seems to think that my gender isn’t interested in their video games or winning contests for free swag. Or that I wouldn’t be offended that they’ve declared open season on the “booth babes”, essentially reinforcing the misguided idea that harassing or “lusting” after a woman, and then snapping a picture of it for proof, is a great way to get her to spend some time with you.

Response from PixiePalace:

EA is not only condoning behavior that dehumanizes women, but they are encouraging and rewarding it. This is socially irresponsible and morally repugnant. I don’t bring up morals a whole lot because I think it’s kind of a dicey subject, but this one kind of pushes me over the edge. We live in a rape culture and this kind of a contest reinforces that. I know that these models likely went into this job knowing about this contest, but I also know that some of the women to take booth babe jobs really need the jobs, regardless of how degrading they are (it’s better than stripping or worse, right?) and that women are told that being objectified is good for them (when we know, scientifically, that it’s not). Saying that it’s ok because they went into it with their eyes open doesn’t make it better.

The F-Word: “EA games invites convention attendees to sexually harass ‘booth babes'”

Feminist Law Professors: “EA has a new way to annoy its own models: give out prizes for Comic Con attendees who commit acts of lust with their booth babes. Also, if you win, you get to take the lady out to dinner! This is going to end well for everyone involved.”

Girl vs. Robot: (H/T Kat in the comments.) This is a great post that outlines the sexism faced by girls and women in nerd-dom:

The problem is that gamer girls are nerds too. They feel the same pressure to conform to mainstream society that male nerds do. However, when they reject it and flee to the communities of nerds online, they often are faced with a second pressure to behave in a certain way, whether that be the hyper anime girl ideal or the “one of the guys” anti-girl. Girl gamers are just looking for a place to be themselves.

YES, YES, YES. That is it exactly. (Also the third paragraph is an excellent example of satirizing sexism. The sarcasm is quite clear and the statement truly ridiculous.)

Feministing Community: “EA Fail: How to Alienate Female Gamers”

Geek Girls Rule!:

As I’ve said many, many times before… I am not against being pretty or sexy, or whatever. I am not against finding people hot. I AM against setting up your employees for sexual harassment, and probably some sexual assault as well. People, male or female, have a tendency to behave badly when feeling anonymous in a crowd. Add that to this society’s view of women’s bodies as objects and public property, then give them permission to engage in one level of bad behavior… The stupid starts to stack up pretty quickly.

Other Resources

Brinstar’s screencap of @danteteam’s now-removed response (now re-posted?) to the Twitter outrage.

TweetGrid search for #EAFail, this can be used to keep up with the latest developments on Twitter. Responses should also be under the hashtag #lust and as replies to @danteteam.

Via Brinstar, two posts on harassment, containing specific stories of incidents of harassment. This stuff HAPPENS, and it happens A LOT:
Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!
Cerise article on con harassment and Girl-Wonder’s Con Anti-Harassment Project.
More on harassment at last year’s SDCC

In addition, this stunt has serious shades of the “Open Source Boob Project” debacle from last year. More analysis here.

If you have any more posts or resources, drop them in the comments.

A summarized list of the grievances against this “contest”, in no particular order:
— Assumes women and gay men aren’t interested in the game/don’t play games at all.
— Caters to the lowest common denominator of male game/comic fan: the drooling fanboy who can only get a date with a woman if he wins a fucking contest.
— Disembodied female chest and other sexist imagery used in the ad.
— Language that encourages sexual harassment of not only EA’s “booth babes” but every model at Comic-Con. (“commit an act of lust”)
— Women being offered as prizes.
— Prize worded in a way to imply the winner will get to have sex with the models; there is a word for this, and it’s prostitution.
— Women referred to as “girls”.
— All-around sleaziness and grossness, and an attitude that completely ignores and erases the RAMPANT harassment women, especially booth babes, have to put up with at gaming/comic/etc. conventions.

This contest ENCOURAGES the behavior that makes cons UNSAFE FOR WOMEN. PERIOD.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

And now, W!F continues its tradition of timeliness with this post about Gears of War 2, which came out six months ago.

Recently I happened to watch the notorious tear-jerking scene in Gears of War 2 where one of the main heroes, Dom, is finally reunited with his wife, Maria, after she’s been tortured by the Locust for ten years, and then he shoots her in the head.

Okay, it’s not quite like that. But it’s close enough that it made me fairly angry. From what I see, it looks like Dom thinks he’s found his beautiful wife, but when it turns out she’s not so beautiful anymore, he decides the best course of action is a “mercy killing”. This all plays out in about a minute. He takes ONE MINUTE to make the decision to KILL HIS WIFE. Instead of, you know, getting her some medical attention at least. That’s just ridiculous.

I had a short conversation on Twitter with Mr Ryan Gan of the JPAG where he came up with some possible explanations, but when it comes down to it, the in-game reasoning doesn’t matter much. I was completely missing the point when I criticized that aspect of the scene. Even if the in-game reasoning were completely solid and logical, the game still utilizes the tired and sexist Women in Refrigerators trope; it is still part of a bigger and disturbing pattern of entertainment where female characters are killed off in order to develop or provide motivation for a male character. It’s not only lazy writing but lazy game design [relevant part is after the spoiler warning].

Getting lost in sorting out in-game justifications for sexism or racism or homophobia or transphobia and so on muddles the issue: just because there is an in-game explanation for something doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. Of course the people who created the thing are going to have some kind of flimsy rationale for it existing!

We saw this a lot with the Resident Evil 5 controversy. When critics expressed shock that RE5 contained African zombies actually wearing grass skirts and wielding spears, some responded that this was all explained in the game; the residents of Kiujuju regressed to a more primitive state as a side effect of the zombie virus.

Great, so there’s an in-game explanation for it. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s still a blatant racist caricature. In addition, why is a certain way of dressing considered “regressing” to a “more primitive state”? The thinking behind this design choice is ignorant and lazy at best. (Once again, N’Gai Croal has the answers.)

Now, this does not mean in-game explanations are completely irrelevant when criticizing games. The explanation for why something is a certain way or why a character does something can have important affects on the meaning of that thing or a person’s interpretation of the game. But these explanations cannot excuse lazy or ignorant writing, and/or helping to perpetuate institutionalized oppression. It’s something that generally needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis, but here’s a hint: if the criticism has to do with racism, transphobia, and/or other oppressions, then the in-game rationale isn’t going to matter very much.

This Week's Most Misogynistic Game in the World: Golden Axe: Beast Rider

I haven’t played the game myself (and definitely won’t… ever), but according to GameSpot reviewer Chris Watters:

[Golden Axe: Beast Rider] is definitely M for Mature. You’ll see, um, the premise is basically all of Tyris’s sisterhood is slaughtered, and so throughout the game you’ll just see like, you know, naked women’s torsos just hanging from trees and stuff like that.

(The Hotspot, 10/28/2008)

Oversexualized women are an unfortunate commonality in many games. Generalized violence against women is somewhat expected in violent games. But sexualized violence against women? No fucking thank you.

Golden Axe: Beast Rider–this week’s most misogynistic game… in the wooorld!

(Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Countdown lately?)

Faith: The Next Jade?

Ask anyone to name the best female game character, and chances are the answer you’ll get is Jade, from Beyond Good and Evil (the other likely answer would be Alyx Vance from Half-Life, though she’s not the player character). Jade is a fantastic character in addition to being a capable and intelligent woman, well deserving of all the praise she’s gotten since the game came out in 2003.

But that’s the thing–BG&E came out in 2003… a full five years ago. That’s a long time in video game land. Yet we haven’t seen a female protagonist at least on par with Jade?

Luckily for us, that could change with the release of Mirror’s Edge next month. The protagonist is a young woman built similarly to Jade, though in keeping with ME’s more realistic art style. It’s a great start, but what remains to be seen is whether Faith is as interesting a character as Jade is; personality and relationships are the other, arguably more important half of what makes a strong female character. The fact that they are both women of color is awesome as well.

While I’m writing about Faith, I’d like to take a moment to write about this Kotaku article. I discovered it via a post on Gaming Angels, which is celebrating Love Your Body Day with some fantastic posts. (I pretty much boycott Kotaku.)

The article posts a piece of official art of Faith, followed by a fan alteration of the image. The changes appear to be simply: a rounder face, rounder eyes, removal of the badass eye tattoo, and much larger breasts with visible nipples (implying she is not wearing a bra, which would be extremely painful considering the fact that she is a RUNNER).

The changes are not surprising. The face was stripped of all character and made into Generic Final Fantasy Heroine (commenters who preferred the fan-made image’s face because it’s “softer” and more “feminine”–because women shouldn’t be tough). And of course women need to have C-cups or larger to be attractive. That someone had the gall to declare that Faith wasn’t hot enough and actually take the time to alter the image in that way is sad but not surprising, either. (Has this ever happened to a male game character? No, really, has it?)

What really irritated me about the post was the vast amount of assumptions made by the “artist”. This is how Kotaku describes the fan’s intent:

As reader Torokun points out: “There is always a huge complain from Asian gamers whenever Western developers design Asian female characters…” As Torokun continues, this is mainly because many Westerners’ definition of what is considered as “Asian” beauty is very different from what Asians consider beautiful.”

While I have no doubt beauty standards differ slightly around the globe, Torokun makes the assumptions that:

  • Faith’s appearance was designed to be attractive to straight American men, rather than as one aspect of her entire character.
  • Not only that, but she was specifically designed to appear as an idealized Asian woman for straight (presumably white) American men.
  • All Asian men are attracted to one specific body and face type, to the exclusion of anyone else.
  • That a female game character must meet certain beauty standards in order to be viable.
  • Tough =/= feminine =/= attractive.

All of which is really bothersome to me, especially the first part. She’s a character, not a pinup. No one complains that male characters aren’t hot enough. It’s pretty sad that some can’t even accept female game characters–who, by and large ARE made to be attractive even when they’re not blatantly sexualized and/or idealized–as they are without feeling the need to break out photoshop and make them “better.”