PAX East 2015: Gigantic

A screenshot from Gigantic showing a black woman with a huge fur collar aiming down a crossbow scope.I have no idea why people aren’t raving about this game.

Let me back up a second. Going into PAX East this year, my partner had Gigantic–an upcoming free-to-play MOBA-ish 5v5 online competitive game made by Motiga–pegged as the game he was most interested in checking out at the show. He showed me some trailers, and I was intrigued, but skeptical. It looked beautiful and the characters were striking. But an online competitive game? Not really my thing.

Sunday morning of PAX, he finally convinced me to give it a shot on the show floor. We waited in line for maybe 40 minutes, and then were placed in a match with another couple and a Community Coach, against four other PAX attendees and their own coach. I picked the cute little wizard goblin to play as, and the match began.

We lost pretty badly, but it was so incredibly fun that I didn’t even care. The game is fast, playing almost like a third-person shooter with an emphasis on movement, although each character has a very different role and play style. The twist with this game is that each team has a huge creature called a Guardian on its team. Each team starts out trying to control points on the map and kill other players. Doing this increases your Guardian’s power. When the power meter is full, the Guardian goes on a rampage, stomping across the map to the other team’s Guardian. Your team needs to escort your Guardian to the other end of the map, where it attacks the other team’s Guardian, causing it to be stunned. Then, you are free to wail on the other team’s Guardian. The goal of the game is to knock out the other team’s Guardian.

The combination of the beautiful art, fun and interesting characters, and strategic team-based play added up to something immediately appealing. Even though I’m not a competitive person, and I prefer co-op to competitive games, I found that the teamwork skills I had honed in games like Final Fantasy XI, Guild Wars 2, and even Uncharted horde mode helped me out a lot. Additionally, MOBAs are notoriously inaccessible, and while Gigantic has some complexities–you level up in the middle of a match and choose both passive upgrades and skill upgrades, like other MOBAs–it’s also pretty easy to just jump in. I was able to wail away on enemies and even get a few kills just using my main attack (mapped to the left mouse button), and once I started to get used to using Q, E, and F for the other skills, I found myself being able to pop into a battle, cause some chaos, and escape fairly skillfully. I was able to play two more matches that day, and at each one I played better and better, despite choosing different characters each time.

But the thing that has me really raving about the game to anyone who will listen is the female characters. Out of the 16 heroes revealed so far, 7 are women or girls (and two are genderless: a robot and an agender swashbuckler named Tyto). Not just that, the variety found in the female characters is just fantastic. The character at the top of this post is Imani, a sniper with a truly amazing fashion sense. The goblin wizard I played in the first match is named Mozo, and she’s a girl!

A screenshot of Gigantic showing Mozo, a goblin wizard with pointy hat and green robes.Other companies or artists would insist on giving her long hair or a bow or pink robes so that you know for certain she’s a girl, but Mozo shows that that’s just not necessary. You can have a female character that isn’t necessarily feminized.

There’s also a badass grandma witch named Griselma–when do you ever see female characters over the age of 30 in games?

A screenshot from Gigantic showing Griselma, a tiny old lady, leaping into the air, surrounded by strange creatures.On the other end of the spectrum is Aisling, a little girl with a big ol’ sword who can summon the ghost of her dad.

A screenshot from Gigantic of Aisling, a 10-yr-old girl with white hair, an oversized coat, and a huge sword. A large ghost soldier floats behind her.

There’s also Xenobia, a creepy tentacle witch who can drain health; Tripp, a deadly lightning assassin; and Vadasi, a four-armed goddess of judgement who smites her enemies and heals allies. The fact that there are such a variety of female characters that are created to be appealing to everyone and not just straight men makes the game so welcoming to me. It’s obvious the developers want players to want to be these women and girls and female-creatures, not just ogle them.

All the characters in the game have such clear designs and instant personality. And it’s not just set dressing; the designs combine so well with the characters skills that it makes the game that much more fun to play. When I played Mozo I really felt like I was a zany wizard bopping around the field zapping people; when I played Voden, I felt like a lord of the forest, dashing from battle to battle poisoning enemies and protecting our Guardian. It’s all of these components together that make the game instantly special to me and one that I’m looking forward to following its development.

For more about character design in Gigantic, check out:
Mike Williams’s interview with artist Joe Pikop (USGamer.net)
Motiga’s PAX South panel on Hero design (YouTube)

All screenshots are from Gigantic’s official website.

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!

Again With The Little Things…

So today I discovered Xbox GamerchiX, and I have to say, it looks pretty awesome. A safe space where women and girls can play online over XBL? Awesome. And I totally love the “Manifesta”:

  • If you play games, you’re a gamer chick. Whether you’re an Xbox Halo 2 champ, play RPGs on the PC, or Mah Jong Tiles on MSN Games, you’re a gamer chick.
  • Xbox GamerchiX don’t talk trash about other women. Ever. When women stop hating on each other … we will rule the world!
  • Xbox GamerchiX support each other.
  • Xbox GamerchiX are good role models for young gamer girls.
  • Xbox GamerchiX are not pin-ups. We’re all hot in our own unique way, but it’s about the games and the companionship, not T&A.
  • You can be a member of any clan or group, but while you’re part of GamerchiX, you don’t talk trash about other gamers.

Dude, RAD. Sign me up! Oh wait, what’s this? …

Wanna join Xbox GamerchiX? All you need are two X chromosomes!

DOH. I get that this is was intended to be a cute/joking way of saying all women are welcome, but all women don’t actually have two X chromosomes.

This may seem like a minor thing, but it’s these minor things that add up and up and up. In this case, I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to have your very identity questioned on a constant basis, to encounter something like GamerchiX that seems totally awesome and just the thing for you, and then see this one little sentence that digs at you and reminds you of all the much, much worse things you experience just because of who you are. I can’t begin to imagine what that’s like, but I know it sucks.

Are Female-Oriented Communities or Publications Sexist?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, and here’s why.

Let’s start with a definition of what sexism actually is: prejudice + power. In this case, prejudice based on gender. The linked article explains that while individual women can discriminate based on gender against men, women simply don’t have the power as a group to be sexist against men. In other words, when feminists talk about sexism, they aren’t usually referring to individual acts of explicit gender-based discrimination, but to the greater societal system that conveys certain privileges upon men just for being born male.

I’m writing this post because a little while ago, I received a comment about Cerise that said by being labeled a gaming magazine for women, it “discriminates against 50% of the world’s population” and that “sexism goes both ways.” The comment was snarky and meant more as a personal attack than an actual concern, but I think it’s a point that should be addressed (if only for my own education at this point).

Because here’s the thing: sexism can’t go both ways, for the major reason briefly outlined above. Certainly not in the way meant by the comment, which is that a magazine aimed at female gamers is somehow sexist against men.

The reason that claim is ridiculous is that in the gaming world women have extremely little power, especially when it comes to online publications and communities. Go to any major “general” gaming site–GameSpot, Joystiq, Kotaku, IGN, 1UP, etc,–and count how many female editors or contributors there are. Most gaming sites have a token woman or two. Joystiq has zero. The only site I can think of that has more than a handful of female contributors is GamerTell, and even there all of the people in charge are male.

One reason for this I’ve been told is that more men play video games than women. This may have been true in the past, but it is rapidly becoming outdated. Regardless, men clearly have more say as a group in the world of video games. It is the male audience that is catered to (and specifically an assumed white, straight, young, cisgendered male audience). Women and girls are treated differently in gaming communities*: their opinions and concerns are dismissed, their gamer credentials are questioned, and they are targets of sexual harassment. Moreover, male-dominated communities are hostile to women even if most of the members believe there aren’t any women present at all: they make sexual and/or violent jokes that dehumanize women; they use “woman” as an insult and throw around gendered slurs; whenever a picture of a woman surfaces they talk about whether or not they would have sex with her, to the exclusion of all else. All of these things create a boy’s club environment that is actively hostile to women–on websites that are supposed to be for a “general” gaming audience that includes men and women.

Gaming sites and publications aimed at women such as Cerise were (and are) created as a reaction to the imbalance of power in gaming. They explicitly privilege female gamers’ opinions and experiences in order to counterbalance the way male gamers are privileged on gaming sites that are supposedly aimed at a “general” gaming audience. In addition, they create a space for female gamers so they don’t have to deal with the bullshit outlined above. Guys, female-oriented gaming spaces are created because every single other place is yours. Every single other place, places that claim to be for “all” gamers, are all about you. These places are so much about you, the men and boys, they drive women away. We can either put up with being marginalized, told we don’t exist, harassed, and dismissed, or we can create our own spaces.

Furthermore, while on IGN and other sites you’ll find plenty of articles that objectify and disrespect women (“Top 10 Boobs In Gaming” being a particularly egregious example), you will find nothing of the sort on most female-oriented gaming sites, and certainly not at Cerise. At these sites men are talked about as if they are actual human beings, not dolls that are only good for fucking.

So: prejudice? No. Power? Definitely no. Therefore: no sexism!

And then people come here and try to say this is where the real sexism is? It would be funny if it weren’t so prevalent and damaging.

*And the internet in general. I find this personal account of a man playing a female character to be continually interesting in that regard.

This is What I'm Talking About!

It’s kind of awesome that Joystiq proved me right within a few days of my last post.

Justin McElroy writes about How to Fix the VGAs, and what’s first on the list?

Stop objectifying women: They may not be half of the Spike audience (or even half of video game fans) but they are half of the planet, and it would probably be smart to stop alienating them. Not having topless girls present awards was a great first step, but next time, let’s try it without the models coated in enough silver paint to give Buddy Ebsen a seizure.

We don’t, fundamentally, have a problem with attractive female presenters (though finding ones with a connection to the industry isn’t as hard as you’d think), but would it be too much to ask to give them pants? We don’t think so.

Hell yeah. The clincher? Inane comments like “Only dudes who hate objectification are gay or out to impress women” are voted down to practically invisible, with many a rebuttal, including comments from the staff. GG, y’all.

I don’t expect a feminist crusade from these guys or anything (leave that to me! /grin), but when something like the VGAs is current, relevant, and blatantly obvious, it’s really nice to see someone on a major gaming site calling them out on it.

Unfortunately, Kotaku also recently proved my point about them when some editor decided that, on a post about Mirror’s Edge (that I will not link to), they would represent the game using not an official image of Faith, but the fan-altered image I talked about in an earlier post, after the game’s producer stated his disgust with the image. This reopened the discussion of the fan image, prompting comments about how MOST ASIAN PEOPLE feel about the image, among other outrageous things. I wish I was kidding.

In conclusion, Joystiq rules and Kotaku drools. And now back to your irregularly scheduled thoughtful commentary.

The Importance of Leadership on Gaming Websites

Over the past few months I’ve had an interesting experience being the designated feminist at a small online gaming community: a Facebook group dedicated to the Joystiq Podcast. Since Facebook uses peoples’ real names, there is next to no flaming and discussions are generally thoughtful, funny and interesting. The group of regulars are a bunch of pretty cool people. Even so, there’s still a problem with institutionalized sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and fatphobia. It’s been very challenging addressing these problems because I really have to pick and choose what to point out and what to let slide. So for example, I felt compelled to point out the problems with a photoshop of one of the podcast hosts in blackface, but asking people not to use “bitch” or “retarted” seems like it is going “too far.” It helps that I participate in other stuff regularly, so people recognize my name and don’t think I’m just a random person coming out of the woodwork to complain; and to be honest, I really enjoy participating in the group because about 85% of the time everything is peachy. But on the rare occasion there’s a pretty big problem, it’s really upsetting, especially when no one else sees it as a problem.

I’d like to compare two incidents where an offensive picture was uploaded to the group’s photo album. The group (called the JPAG) has a tradition of hilarious and skillful photoshops, often featuring the podcast hosts and sometimes the group members. So I think it’s worth noting that both of the offensive photoshops were simply stock photos with captions; they weren’t really very good, or funny, or had any effort put into them–neither added anything to the group even aside from being offensive.

The first was a picture of George W. Bush with a caption containing the word “cunts”. The second was a picture of an old woman with a caption containing the word “faggot”. On both I pointed out the sexist or homophobic (respectively) nature of the words and pointed out that it was inappropriate for the group. On the homophobic picture, someone else agreed and asked for the picture to be removed, and it was removed shortly thereafter. On the sexist picture, however, the creator tried to tell me that the word “cunt” isn’t sexist in the context because it was also directed at a man, and because the word wasn’t offensive to all women, everywhere (!?!?). The argument got a bit heated. Since I was clearly not getting through to this person and didn’t want to keep arguing, I appealed to the moderator of the group, who informed me that he appreciated my concern, but after consulting with a few of the group admins (all men, naturally), they decided that the picture would remain. I asked for an explanation and never heard one. In fact, the picture is still there. (ETA: It’s gone now.)

There is one clear reason that the sexist picture was left up and the homophobic one removed: the sexist language was condoned by people in authority in the group, namely one of the podcast hosts. The sexist picture is a reference to a listener email from that week’s podcast, where the listener spouted nonsense and called his parents “cunts.” One of the hosts thought this was particularly hilarious. In all fairness, he responded to my concerned email with a full apology, which tends to happen whenever a listener has a concern, which is one of the reasons I stick with the podcast. However, this apology never made it on-air or to the group, so for all intents and purposes, nothing really changed. (As a side note: this person also wrote a post on Joystiq decrying homophobic and racist language on Xbox Live. This led to a lot of commenters chiming in against such behavior.)

The point of all of this is that, despite claims by games bloggers that they have no control over what random people say on the internet, they actually do have a lot of control over the community on their sites, without even getting into moderation: it’s all about tone.

Tone is why Destructoid and Kotaku are sexist cesspools. When you post sexist headlines like “Jade Smells Pretty at London Games Fest“, when you post pictures of booth babes that are completely irrelevant to your post, when you think the height of humor is using the word “pussy” as many times as possible, you are not only engaging in sexist behavior, you are inviting sexist people to your site and making them feel at home, while simultaneously turning away most women and non-sexist men. It is truly the editors that build their site’s communities.

Joystiq generally does not do the above things, so things are marginally more civil there. However, any time a relevant picture of a woman accompanies a post, there are always a slew of sexist comments that go unchecked. I saw this happen to two posts that went up within hours of each other; the first was about a new executive at EA, who is an older woman, and many of the comments were extremely violent and objectifying (one charming example: “I’d hit it… with a crowbar”). The other was about the Lara Croft model, and since she’s young and beautiful the comments were instead about how much they would like to fuck her. It’s true that the posts did not encourage this sort of behavior the way they might at Kotaku, but at the same time, allowing these comments to remain up does–silence is the same as agreement.

When Joystiq posted about Feminist Gamers’ reaction to the game Fat Princess with an exasperated headline (“So it begins…”), it encouraged its readers to spam the blogs with hundreds of comments reading nothing but misogynistic, racist, fatphobic language that I’m not going to repeat here. Other gaming blogs were complicit in this as well, and much of it was probably a coordinated attack. It’s clear these bloggers were not aware of how common and severe cyberstalking and harassment on the internet is for women, especially women with opinions.

Contrast all of this with the MTV Multiplayer blog, which not only responds publicly to reader concern, but generally has thoughtful and respectful posts to begin with. And that attracts thoughtful and respectful people. It’s no safe space like IRIS, but it’s got a solid foundation.

I guess my bottom line is that gaming sites and their communities are what the editors and writers make it. If they care about fostering a community for all gamers, not just the young, white, straight, male crowd, they will not encourage behavior that is hateful toward other people, either deliberately or through inaction.

Note: Comments, as always, are more then welcome, but please stay on topic. I will not publish comments that derail the thread by turning the discussion to questions about basic feminist ideas, no matter how polite you are. If you want to know why the word “cunt” is sexist, use Google, or even better, check out the Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog.