Monday, May 13, 2013

Boobs are Not the Enemy: Videogames and the Male Gaze

Fancy CarSuppose I'm making a film about street racers. The film's characters have a great appreciation of cars, so when they first see the fancy new car that just might enable the hero to win the race, there's an establishing shot with a long, slow pan across the car while dramatic music plays. Later, there's a scene of the villain in his fancy car which the audience is seeing for the first time. There's again a slow pan and dramatic music, even though there aren't any other characters around. This time, the scene is establishing what a badass the villain is - not to any other characters, but to the audience itself. The way the camera lingers over the car's lines isn't showing a character's appreciation. It's to allow the audience to experience their own appreciation.

Probably the people watching my street racing movie like fancy cars, so they will appreciate the scene with the villain's car. But now suppose I make another movie about a small-town high school teacher rallying the community for a local cause. When I first show the teacher driving to work, I use the same cinematic tricks I did in the other film - slowly panning along the car while playing dramatic music. Then the teacher gets to the school, and the story moves on.

Someone who really likes cars may still enjoy this scene, but to most people it's going to be distracting at best. The car isn't important to the story at all - why is it receiving so much attention? Why would I assume that the audience of this completely different film would be into cars? If I keep doing this, with more and more films on various subjects all treating cars in this same way, people who don't care about cars may start to get annoyed with my work. They might feel that I'm being exclusionary in my film-making, privileging part of the audience over the rest for no clear reason. Plenty of people aren't obsessed with cars - why can't they enjoy my low-budget monster movie or my railroad magnate biopic too? Why do I insist on shoving in these totally distracting segments that damage the experience for them?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Uninformed Economic Voters

Recently, your friend and mine Cliff Bleszinski wrote an essay defending microtransactions in general and EA in specific. There are a lot of things to be said about this essay - some of which are said expertly by Jim Sterling here, and some of which touch on concepts discussed by Shamus Young writing a couple of years ago about Bobby Kotick here and here.

Cliff's main point is that game developers exist within an economic landscape, and as such they will do what makes them money and avoid what doesn't. As consumers, our job is to vote with our wallets, supporting what we like and boycotting what we don't.

In response to this, I'm going to finally post something I wrote back in October 2011. I never put it up before because I couldn't find a way to turn it into a full article. It's really just one simple idea. But as foreseen by Nathan Grayson and proved by the recent SimCity debacle, if anything it's more relevant today than it was a year and a half ago.

Here it is.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tropes and Trolls: When the Game Is Not What You Think It Is

In games where the player character has a specific goal - save the Princess, escape the testing facility, defeat a nemesis - the player is presumed to share this goal. But even if the narrative does a good job lining up player motivations and character goals, there's still a wrinkle. The character wants to accomplish something, and the player wants to experience accomplishing that thing. This is why we bother playing games at all, rather than just watching the endings on YouTube. If the player had the exact same motivations as the character, they'd cut whatever corners they could to beat the game as quickly as possible.


The humor in this video comes from the tension between Mario's goals and the player's goals. Of course Mario would want to just warp straight to the Princess and save her immediately. But for the player that would mean skipping the entire game, which would completely defeat the purpose of playing it in the first place. As long as Mario has that warp whistle in his inventory, there's dissonance between what the player wants to do and what Mario would want to do.

So what happens when games create that dissonance on purpose?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The GameStop/OnLive Debacle: How I Like To Think It Happened

GameStop Underling: Huh. That's interesting.

GameStop Boss: What is?

Underling: These Deus Ex: Human Revolution games Square Enix shipped us include a voucher for a free OnLive copy of the game. I don't think they mentioned they were gonna do that.

Boss: What? OnLive? But we just bought our own digital delivery game service - Impulse! That makes OnLive our competitor!

Underling: I suppose it does.

Boss: We better open the boxes and remove the vouchers.

Underling: Wait, what?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blizzard and the Two-Level Deception

Recently we discussed Blizzard's announcement that they are saddling Diablo III with terrible DRM, which they say isn't DRM, but which everyone knows is DRM. I mentioned that there was much to be said about the contemporaneous announcements of a real-money auction house and a ban on modding. Well, the time for that is now.

Blizzard and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DRM

You may have heard that there's been a bit of a kerfuffle recently in response to some news about Diablo III. I'll walk you through it - but first, we need to talk about Ubisoft.

On July 28, Ubisoft reported that they consider their constant connection DRM scheme to be a "success." This despite the uproar and backlash caused by the scheme, the fact that it was immediately cracked, the clear demonstration of the system's flaws when denial of service attacks locked out paying customers and left pirates unaffected, and Ubisoft's eventual scaling back of the DRM to a once-per-run validation. Their reasoning?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Doing My Dailies, Part Two: Doctor Professor Replies

Part One is here.

Anonymous said...
Post an update....what do you think of the replies you've got here?

March 15, 2011 2:32 PM

Okay. You're on.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Doing My Dailies: Why I Quit WoW And Started Working Out

I quit World of Warcraft in June of 2009. I quit hard. I donated my assets to the guild bank and deleted all of my characters. I didn't want to leave the door open to come back. I wanted to burn it down and salt the earth.

Why? Well, that's a bit complicated.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Uncharted, One Chance, and Cheating

I don't have much more to say about Uncharted 2, as it turns out, because I didn't get through much more of it before giving up and sending it back to GameFly. I'm therefore not qualified to review it, but I'll tell you that the reason I sent it back was because I disliked (a) the combat (b) the parkour (c) the artifact-hunting, which leaves very very little to enjoy. All that remains is the game's cinematic components, the dialog and characterization and set-pieces. And there's the other problem: Uncharted 2 is, even more than its predecessor, far too movie-like.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The One Commandment for Game Sequels

I've been thinking a lot lately about franchises. Having recently played Mass Effect 2, and then Assassin's Creed II, and now Uncharted 2, I have a lot of questions about what sequels are and what they should be.

When I played the original Mass Effect, I fell head-over-heels in love. I made three complete play-throughs in rapid succession, I devoured both novels available at the time (Revelation and Ascension), and when called upon to name my favorite three videogames, Mass Effect made the cut.

Then I played Mass Effect 2, and now I barely care about the series. I mean, I'll probably play Mass Effect 3. I guess. Certainly not for full launch-day price. You can bet I won't pre-order, even if they don't pull any of my pet peeve shenanigans.

What happened here that turned my devoted fandom to near indifference?