Tag Archive for handheld gaming

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games #1: Damsels in Distress: Part 1

tropesvswomeninvideogamesblog Tropes vs. Women in Video Games #1: Damsels in Distress: Part 1Anita Sarkeesian’s new series of Feminist Frequency videos debuted on YouTube yesterday. Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is the Kickstarter project that the trolls didn’t want you to have because of misconceived notions of what feminist criticism actually is. The fact that Sarkeesian covered really nerdy topics from an academic perspective meant nothing once she tried to raise money for an educational series about the role of women in video games. Hate mail, cyber attacks, and death threats followed in short order, causing the opposite effect the trolls hoped for. Their malicious actions resulted in a wildly successful Kickstarter for Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, earning over 26 times the amount she asked for in short order.

The first video in the series is Damsels in Distress: Part 1. Sarkeesian obviously used every cent she earned on producing an excellent series of videos. The production quality is higher than some of the premium YouTube channels paid for by YouTube itself. The images are crisp, the audio clear, and the editing flawless.

tropesvswomeninvideogamesdamsels1crystal Tropes vs. Women in Video Games #1: Damsels in Distress: Part 1

Wait a minute. This isn’t the Krystal that appeared in Star Fox Adventures…

The research on the Damsels in Distress trope alone is quite extensive. Sure, she covers the extensive history of Princess Peach and Princess Zelda. Did you expect her to cover the ridiculous studio blunder of Star Fox Adventures? What about name dropping Splatterhouse, Super Adventure Island, and Adventures of Lolo? I actually remember renting Adventures of Lolo and being confused by the gameplay footage on the back of the box that showed the girl as a playable character when you could only start as the boy.

The key to understanding this video is understanding what, exactly, the damsel in distress is. Simply put, when a female character is abducted or put in danger she herself cannot get out of as a plot point, she becomes a damsel in distress. It doesn’t matter if the plot point is resolved in five minutes or five hours. When the female character is reduced to a stolen artifact in a game–like a legendary sword or staff–she becomes the damsel in distress.

In the smartest move of the entire project, Anita Sarkeesian has disabled comments on this video series on YouTube. If you doubt the choice, check out any comment thread about this video on a gaming site. Once again, her opinions are dismissed by listing arguments she herself did not make or with straight up lying about what she meant. Of all places, the PA Report thread has one of the more bone-headed discussions going on, with users arguing the video is poorly researched by putting words in Anita’s mouth. She does not say that the Damsel in Distress trope is inherently harmful. Her clear implication is that the Damsel in Distress trope is harmful when nothing is done to develop a character beyond her victimhood and the character makes no effort on her own to escape. She obviously did play and research these games, as the trope has no time requirement or even gender/species rescue requirement. If the female character cannot get out of the perilous situation herself, she is a damsel in distress.

Other sites have trolls already bringing up “what about male tropes?” as a way to dismiss her criticism. If you want to start a feminist research project on pervasive male tropes in video games, be my guest. That has never been announced as a goal of this series by Sarkeesian and is nothing more than a strawman argument and a moving of the goal posts when she failed to be the villain the trolls painted her as.

And don’t forget the people who claim the video is poorly researched because she didn’t cite every example of the Damsel in Distress trope in a 30 minute video on video games. Apparently, not saying that modern romance novels do this, too, invalidates her argument somehow. I don’t know how. It’s like saying your knowledge of the latest Super Bowl is invalid because you didn’t also list every winner of the World Cup when stating the Ravens beat the 49ers. I have to use a troll to English dictionary when I troll trolls for fun and research.

Top 12 Video Games of 2012

I have a bunch of “best of” posts planned for Sketchy Details that I’m going to break down into shorter, more digestible features in the coming weeks.

First up are video games. 2012 was a sort of renaissance for indie, low-budget, and online gaming. That is not to discredit the merits of the Triple A titles that came out. It’s just the reality of a market that has quickly embraced independent productions. Each major console now has a fully functional online marketplace, including handhelds, and Steam allows for easy download and trial of PC games.

Mobile gaming has continued to grow, as well. The tablet market exploded and smartphones are gaining a larger portion of the market every day. Social networks are somehow able to attract high quality games based on big Hollywood properties. And user-generated sites like Newgrounds are still holding on as a testing ground for larger releases.

Here are the Top 12 games of 2012.

12: Marvel: Avengers Alliance (Facebook)

marvelavengersalliance Top 12 Video Games of 2012Marvel: Avengers Alliance is a Facebook turn-based RPG inspired by The Avengers, both the film and the comics. You play as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent tasked with leading the superheroes into battle. You start with a small arsenal of characters battling Marvel enemies from all eras and quickly earn points to recruit seemingly any character that ever joined The Avengers.

It’s a whole lot of fun to watch She-Hulk, Wolverine, and your gun-toting S.H.I.E.L.D. agent battle Loki, The Wrecker, and The Enchantress in an ever-expanding series of missions. The PVP tournaments and character customization are a nice touch. You level up your superheroes until you’re allowed to reassign abilities (there’s a rock/paper/scissors or Pokemon-styled trumping system that adds a nice twist) and enhance with a variety of technology.

The only downside is that the resources are quite limited if you do not convince all of your friends to play. Free to play on Facebook often means “until you run out of resources, then give us money” and, sadly, Marvel: Avengers Alliance is no exception.

Play It: Pokemon Black & Blue

I love the Pokemon games. They hit on so much I like in gaming. They’re turn-based RPGs, they feature adorable creatures, and they require an obsessive knowledge of an absurd fighting rubric to really succeed. They also feature game mechanics that reward “full clear” gameplay. You just have to catch’em all. You just have to.

PETA has long had problems with the Pokemon games. They believe that the games are a pastel illustration of animal abuse. You’re trapping wild animals and forcing them to fight until they’re severely injured for profit. They see parallels to dog fighting, exotic animal capture and breeding, and straight up physical, emotional, and psychological abuse.

pokemonbwparodybattle Play It: Pokemon Black & BlueIn anticipation of Pokemon Black/White 2, PETA put out a strong satire of the game series to argue their perspective on Pokemon as exploitation. You play as Pikachu escaping from his trainer’s house. You are covered in bandages and not in great shape. Half of your moves are traditional physical attacks; the other half are methods of fighting against animal abuse.

As you progress in the game, you encounter more injured Pokemon and more archetypes from the series. The Nurse has abandoned the corporate system to protect wild Pokemon. Team Plamsa shows up and is praised for their Pokemon liberation efforts before revealing their sinister turn at the end of the last game.

If you’re going to make a politicized game, it better be an entertaining one. Otherwise, you’re going to lose your potential audience. PETA has succeeded in crafting a fun and thoughtful parody in Pokemon Black & Blue. It plays just like the highly addictive game series, only laser-focused on a particular social message.

pokemeonbwparodymap Play It: Pokemon Black & BlueIt’s not an irrelevant or absurd notion, either. The goal of the game is capturing wild creatures for combat. The only way to catch them is to stalk them in their natural environment and beat them until they’re about to fall over from damage. Your game only stops momentarily when all the Pokemon on your active team can no longer fight.

Whether or not the real game actually reinforces this critique is beside the point. PETA has managed to produce a polished argument against the series in a format that appeals to the game’s fans. In coopting the format of the series they don’t like, PETA is able to make a stronger argument in favor of their view of the game.

I’ve embedded the full game below. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to play through. Just a warning: some of the presents you receive are the graphic “Meet Your Meat” videos. You don’t have to open the gifts to keep playing.

Augmented Reality Gaming

So there I was, minding my own business in the living room, when an army of flying robot heads appeared out of nowhere. They’d smash their armored helmets into me and punch holes through my walls.

I haven’t lost my mind. I was just testing out the augmented reality features on the Nintendo 3DS. I just won the system at a school fundraiser and think the augmented reality, rather than the 3D, could be the real draw of the system.

The 3DS is equipped with three cameras and (essentially) three screens. One camera faces you. The other two are in the back. There are two visible screens and an LCD barrier behind the top panel that is used to create the 3D illusion during gameplay.

argamingkidicarus Augmented Reality Gaming

AR cards can come alive in your environment with the 3DS cameras

For the augmented reality gaming, the back screen becomes a live video feed of your surroundings while the front screen plays the programming of the game. The third camera can scan paper–cards or booklets–to activate certain gaming elements.

This is not essential to the augmented reality gaming aspect. The system has a number of AR games that work without cards and some games have features built into the cartridge. I just think that the scanning AR aspect has the most potential.

Games like Kid Icarus: Uprising and Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir come with augmented reality add-ons that can impact the way the game plays. In the case of Kid Icarus: Uprising, you’re given a stack of six random cards that can be read by the 3DS with the third camera. The AR cards can be lined up to battle each other in your environment. They’re a minigame that can be expanded on by using or trading cards with your friends.

In the case of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, you start to see the true potential of an augmented reality gaming experience. This is the newest Fatal Frame game about the powers of the camera obscura to battle ghosts through photography. For the 3DS, you play with a booklet–the cursed memoir itself–that has AR codes hidden throughout its pages.

argamingspiritcamera Augmented Reality Gaming

The cursed memoir is the key to an immersive AR gaming experience

You jump from sitting in your living space to trapped in a haunted house. You move through the rooms by physically moving the 3DS–your camera obscura–throughout your room. The system reacts to how you move, giving you a different view of the haunted house. You probably look like a fool doing it, but the gameplay is engrossing enough to overcome self consciousness.

As the game progresses, the line between the haunted house and your own living space blurs. Ghosts appear in your room and try to destroy you as the break out of the book. You have to scan your physical space with the console to find them and photograph them before they kill you.

I can understand skepticism about the augmented reality gaming on the 3DS. How portable is the gaming console if you need to be able to stand up and move around to play? What about the amount of direct light you need to get the AR codes to activate properly? Does staring at a screen really give you an immersive playing experience?

Those are legitimate questions. Not every developer is going to go for the AR gaming, so there will be plenty of traditional portable games to work with. The amount of light needed is honestly a small desk lamp in an otherwise dark room, so it’s really not that distracting.

As for immersion, that’s up to you. If you don’t like Japanese-style ghost stories or don’t care for survival horror gaming, you’re not going to be sucked into Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir at all. You’ll actively look for excuses–the room is too bright, I feel foolish, I know I’m not actually in danger so it’s not scary–to write off the AR gameplay. But if they could create the same experience with a first person shooter or an action rpg, you might see it differently.

I don’t know whether or not developers will go further into the AR gaming elements. Even adding in optional features could be a fun way to build up gameplay. Imagine being able to walk through the ever changing village of Animal Crossing or play a minigame in a Zelda release where you control your horse through an obstacle course by moving the 3DS around. The augmented reality elements do not have to be the entirety of the game. It would just be interesting to see what other ways developers can come up with to use a pretty inventive system for interactivity.

Thoughts? Any games you wish could overtake your playing space? Ideas for how AR gaming could evolve to the mainstream? Love to hear your ideas. Sound off below.

Swipe! The Casual Mechanic Revolution

With the growing prevalence of smartphones and tablets, it seems more and more people are learning to enjoy video games. Who knew that all it took was sliding your finger across a screen for people to get gaming?

The strange part of embracing this mechanic is realizing how repetitive gaming commands are. If you use a controller, there are only a finite number of buttons and combinations. All that changes is what you’re controlling on the screen.

swipesamegame Swipe! The Casual Mechanic Revolution

Fruit Ninja and Zombie Slash are the same game and I own both. Send help.

With the casual games, you don’t get that luxury. Fruit Ninja just throws up different combinations of fruits and unlockable backgrounds. Zombie Swipe is the exact same game with minimal ragdoll physics thrown in to replace unyielding fruit. There are countless others that anyone can pick up and play. It opens up gaming to a wider audience–there’s almost always a free version and a paid version, so everyone can access it–while showing how the joy of gaming comes in the whole experience rather than the mechanics.

Enter the Wii U. The Wii pushed itself as a casual gaming console for better or worse. The motion controller made it so anyone could play with minimal button pushing. The Wii U goes further, adding a touch control tablet into the middle of a console gaming experience.

E3 is showing off the benefits and limits of the approach right now. Nintendo has developed mini games where you can swipe your finger across the screen to throw ninja stars or swing a Wiimote over the screen to hit a golf ball. As intuitive as the approach is for a casual gamer, can the Wii U actually hold the interest of a more experienced gamer? When the novelty wears off, it will come down to the quality of the content.

If the developers get on board, this invasion of the casual touchscreen mechanics could be a great addition to the world of console gaming. If it’s just treated like the freeware version of a Zynga game, however, it will quickly gather dust on shelves all around the world.

What do you think? I love the idea of gaming becoming ubiquitous in society so long as the iPad “play for two minutes and put it down” gamer is not the only targeted consumer. There’s a wide enough market to target all sorts of gamers. How about you? Sound off below.

Game Review: Pokemon White/Black

I’ve been playing the Pokemon games since I picked up my copy of Pokemon Blue back in 1998 for the Game Boy Color. While I found the RPG about battling and capturing tiny wild monsters fun, I wouldn’t say it was compelling. Time and again, I’d purchase the new game with great excitement, only to put it down after a few hours of play for something less monotonous.

This is not the case for the newest generation of the game. Pokemon White (which is the same as Pokemon Black, only with a few different Pokemon and a different legendary creature) takes the best elements of each generation of the series, finesses them, and unloads them upon a better-conceived, more challenging, and balanced world.

Balance is the key to a good RPG.

Nintendo 3DS Preview: The Hardware

I’m a fan of portable gaming systems. I remember my brother and I getting so excited forever and a day ago when we found two working Game Boy systems at a yard sale a few months after they came out. We begged our parents to buy us the link cable and competed against each other all the time. I remember getting my mother hooked on Game Gear puzzle games to the point that she was playing the system more than me. I even remember winning a first generation DS and dropping a hundred on three games and an extra set of styluses. I just like having a system I can whip out at anytime, anywhere, and get in a few minutes of gaming. It’s a relaxation and focus thing for me.