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Tuesday Mourning – The Downer Edition

calendar man 4-2 kinect star wars 2

Michigan lost. I’m in mourning. Except not really, because it was an amazing, wonderful season and that team did the school and its fans proud. Also, subs. Craziness. You know the drill. Mostly I’m just hungover. Off of three beers. I’m not sure how that happens. I’m a lightweight. Anyway. This week’s ramblings consist of a large bag of half empty as Disney realizes what we all already knew, EA demonstrates itself to be as tone deaf as ever, and an MS employee gets in trouble for being honest about the wrong things. But first, something wholly awesome.

X-COM versus XCOM. Adam Sessler of Rev3Games did a sit down with the co-creator of the original X-COM, Julian Gollop, and XCOM lead designer Jake Solomon. As a fan of both games, it’s just neat to see two of the principles behind them congratulate each other on being so awesome. And I’m not even being sarcastic. They are awesome for doing this:

LucasArts Is Gone. LucasArts Has Been Gone. A lot of people felt sad, angry, etc. when Disney announced they were shutting down LucasArts. Beyond feeling bad for the people losing their jobs, I’m not sure why. LucasArts hasn’t been the LucasArts we all fell in love with for a very long time. Here’s a list of their projects. First of all, they’ve barely published anything developed in-house for the better part of a decade and the titles they did have a hand in were largely dogs. Knights of the Old Republic? Bioware. The latter-day Jedi Knight games? Raven. Even X-Wing: Alliance was developed out of house. Yeah, 1313 looked cool in a hands-off demo. Lots of bad games look cool in a hands-off demo. There was a time, and this is going way back, when Colonial Marines looked promising. We know how that went. That Disney is going to license out their game properties to other developers isn’t a new development. It’s a continuation of the status quo. There just won’t be a LucasArts logo on the box anymore.

EA Opens Mouth. Announces Business As Usual. There was a time, when they were busy destroying Origin Systems from the outside in, that I absolutely loathed EA. Then there was a time they seemed to be doing interesting things, letting Bioware make awesome games, trying new stuff like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space, etc. And then… well, you know. I pretty much loath them again, to the point where I’m not even sure I’m all that interested in Dragon Age 3, let alone anything else they might put out. So when the company once again became a finalist for Consumerist’s Worst Company in America award, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I was even less surprised when COO Peter Moore stepped up to the mic and promptly made an ass of himself. I could spend the next 2,000 words telling why the company can’t fix what ails them because they don’t even understand the problems they face, but Ben Kuchera already went and did it for me:

EA has become a company that releases mediocre products created by faceless teams. There is no real vision at work, no grand design. Just the idea that free-to-play games and microtransactions are the wave of the future, or at least they better be, because none of the company’s $60 boxed releases are finding much success with either critics or gamers. Lord knows that the latest Madden game will do well, but that’s only because gamers don’t have a choice if they want an official NFL title. FIFA will also likely remain a hit in the global market. So they have that going for them. Which is nice.

Until EA stops sucking the blood out of games in order to make uninspiring sequels, or at least until they begin caring about how much gamers hate their lack of respect for our money and intelligence, this is going to continue. We don’t hate them because we’re homophobes, we hate them because they destroy companies we love. We hate them because they release poor games. We hate them because they claim our hate doesn’t matter as long as we give them our money.

I’m not sure it’s possible to say it any better than that.

Microsoft to Gamers: Let teh Noobz Eat Cakeses! Microsoft has a Creative Director named Adam Orth. Orth uses Twitter. Microsoft would probably like it if he didn’t. Not because he says things the company doesn’t already think, but because he said exactly what they do think. Via The Verge:

“Sorry, I don’t get the drama over having an “always on” console,” he said, before adding a #dealwithit hashtag. “Every device now is ‘always-on.’ That’s the world we live in.” When pressed on the point, Orth compared the situation to buying a vacuum cleaner knowing the electricity in your house might go out, or using a mobile phone in an area with poor reception.

Microsoft put the muzzle on the guy and disavowed his statements, because… well, they pretty much had to. What Orth tapped into was, in my mind, something of a refreshing vein of honesty and not because I agree with him (obviously). I think his sentiments reflect exactly the sort of dickish tone-deaf, consumer-hostile thinking that goes on at these places. I can’t bother to be outraged because, at this point, it’s expected. It’s the norm. The console will come out. If it has enough of the features I want at a price I’m willing to pay, I’ll buy it. If it doesn’t, I won’t. It’s not worth any more thought than that. As for Orth, if MS shows him the door, I’m sure he’ll still have a promising future at EA.

The Ubiquity of Sexism

The game over screen from the iOS mobile game Flight Control

For her sixth birthday, my eldest daughter has decided she wants a 3DS. And being a doting gamer dad, who am I to argue? But when I had a look at some of the games available for the system, I was struck by the fact that she’d actually never played what you might call an escalating difficulty game before. We take this model for granted: games that become progressively more complex and demanding as you play through them. But if you’re five, going on six, and the only video games you’ve ever played are flash inserts on kids’ TV websites and iPad activities that let you bake cookies or poke aliens in the eye, it’s a new and problematic paradigm. And if you end up falling at that first hurdle, it could put you off video games for life.

Of course there are good games like Nintendogs that don’t entirely fit this model but they’re very rare. So I had a think about how I could discover whether or not she was ready for more challenging games and I hit on the idea of having her play Flight Control on the iPad on the (very easy) easiest settings. You’ll have played some variation of Flight Control before – you guide some form of public transportation to a variety of destinations without having them crash into one another. In Flight Control it’s planes and the touch screen implementation is smooth and very natural – perfect for a child. And it worked, she loved the game, accepted the increasing difficulty, started to climb the challenge curve, which made me very happy. And then at the end she saw the screen you always see at the end, which is pictured above for you, and she asked “Daddy, who’s that lady?”

So I told her it was a lady who worked on an aeroplane. But I was perturbed by the fact that I’d never asked myself the same question. I was particularly perturbed that I’d never asked related questions like why she was blonde, or why she was always striking a sexy pose in a variety of mildly provocative outfits.

This has nothing to do with prudery: I’m entirely in favour of anyone being allowed to post pictures of other sexy and/or naked people wherever, within reason, they like. Rather I was struck by how commonplace and acceptable it’s become in games, so much so in fact that I’d ceased to notice it. In TV and magazines and other media, it’s quite common now to post alluring pictures of either sex to advertise something, and it’s often done in a creative manner to help you sit up and take notice. If I’d seen something so old-fashioned, so tiresomely unoriginal and so obviously one-sided (where’s the handsome cabin steward?) I’d have rolled my eyes and wondered for the thousandth time why western civilization hasn’t got over this particular hangup yet. But in a game, it took an innocent comment from my daughter to wake me up to the fact I was seeing the same thing all over again.

For this blame not only my lack of observational skills, but the sheer ubiquity of it in the medium. You can see it in the arguments over FemShep. You can see it in the fact that Aris Bakhtanians felt it was okay to try and excuse his repulsive, loathsome behaviour with anything other than a humble apology. You can see it in Lara Croft’s curves, in the comments made during multi-player matches involving female gamers, in the outfit of Ivy from Soul Calibur. None of this is new, or surprising of course and these points have been made frequently and rather more eloquently many times in the past. The point of this post is that I thought I knew how to spot this stuff, and that I was on the “right” side of interpreting it as sexism, and I wasn’t. I was just on the “right” side of the more extreme examples. I hate and despise the way that a lot of the fairly stories, especially the older ones and the Disney ones, that I end up reading to my little girls carry a variety of subliminal messages about women only being validated by the love and attention of a man. I try and steer them away from these stories toward ones with more proactive female protagonists, but I can’t ban them, that would be draconian and only create more desire for the banned thing. But I really didn’t think I’d have to do the same thing when they got old enough to engage with mainstream, family oriented video games. I’m very sad that I’ve been proved wrong.