Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 9/9/13 to 9/12/13. Below is a special feature expanding on a piece written on Kotaku last week by Whitney Hill about her perspective as a woman in the game development community.
Are on board with PS VIta TV? (9/9)
It’s amazing how much of a domestic device the Playstation Vita has grown to become. From a simple high definition handheld to one that will stream our Playstation 4 titles off of the same Wi-Fi signal as the console to just as announced this week, having a unit compatible with our television where we can play games on the big screen; the Playstation Vita is every bit a handheld on the go as it is a handheld on the couch.
But how relevant is the PS Vita TV to the mass market?
The standard PS4/Vita stream remote play, said to be compatible with every PS4 title, is a niche in and of itself. While it’s neat to walk away from our console and continue the game elsewhere, say in your back yard or like the Wii U, free up the television for a housemate, many respond to this saying, “Why would I want to play my PS4 games on a 5” inch screen as opposed to a 50”?” It solves a problem that many of us have conditioned ourselves to work around. It’s more of a neat perk than an answer to our prayers.
Playing handheld games on our televisions is nothing new. Nintendo released a device for the Gamecube that attached right under the console with a GBA slot that allowed us to play GBA games on the big screen; one that I used to play Golden Sun many years ago. Apple TV addresses with the same idea in which users can connect their Apple device to a TV and stream the content to it, be that videos or games bought from the App Store. Both are/were fine devices, however neither really took the place as an additional living room game box.
Vita TV is the next generation of this idea packed with USB 2.0 support, HDMI out, and an Ethernet jack. And with console like titles on the system, each can take full advantage of the screen. But how many of these games will we get a chance to use with this device? For gamers like me, I have a very specific preference of playing games on my television. I would rather play a game like Motorstorm RC on my Vita rather than my television because of its small scale. A game like Uncharted Golden Abyss or Killzone: Mercenary would more suited for my tastes, except there’s one problem… at this time, neither game is compatible with Vita TV.
This could easily be a result of the fact that the aforementioned games use Vita specific control features, and Vita TV at this time will support the Dualshock 3. There are plenty games that will be supported on Vita TV, including Earth Defense Force 3, Final Fantasy X/X-2, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3; and up to 1,300 games will be supported along with PSP and PSone games as well. The future of this device can see patched games to be compatible with the Dualshock (hopefully not at the expense of having Vita games taking full advantage of the system's features) and one could hope that the Vita handheld itself will communicate with it in some way.
Vita TV will also boast another remote play feature where much like how PS4 games can be streamed to the Vita handheld, the Vita TV can stream games to another television off of the same Wi Fi signal. Again, neat feature, however how many of us does this really make a difference for? The PS4/Vita handheld stream is a reasonable stretch as you can enjoy your PS4 titles outside, on the toilet, watching the plumber fix your leaking supply lines, or babysitting your nieces and nephews in your crib.
Proponents of this feature will say, "Hey, if so-and-so wants to watch TV, then you can take your games to another TV, or even have up to four people play off of the same system." Let me stop you there. Besides the fact that we don't know how well the streaming will be, what of those who live by themselves? What of those who (logically) already have a second television dedicated to games? And who the fuck is gonna be streaming on four televisions off of the same PS4? Yes it's cool, yes it offers options, but is it necessary within the parameters of experiencing video games? Not even close.
Outside of games, the Vita TV will have media features such as Hulu and likely Netflix along with all the obligatory services. So if you're one of the few that doesn't have a computer, smartphone, smart television, tablet, gaming handheld, games console, or a stream box of some kind, well this is for you... if you live in Japan or can wait until Vita TV is announced State side.
So will we find ourselves domesticating our Vita games and playing them on the big screen or our PS4s on different screens, or will we experience our Vita library natively on our portable device, play our PS4 games on... a PS4 and stream TV shows and movies off of it? Certainly they’ll be audiences with both, but it’s a matter of how many will be on board.
The Exclusion of Women from GTA V (9/10)
We seem to be in a sensitive time when discussing women in video games. Anita Sarkeesian completed her three part Women vs. Tropes in Video Games series, feminists had words for The Last of Us’ depiction of women, Call of Duty: Ghosts announced female playable soldiers in their multiplayer reveal, and readers as well as one PC Gamer editor was in shock and disgust of a scene in a demo for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Today on the Guardian, Dan Houser made a few points to explain their decision as to why they excluded women protagonists in GTA V.
Point One: “The concept of being masculine was key to the story”
While there’s nothing wrong with centering a game on masculinity as movies like The Expendables wouldn’t necessarily be regarded as sexist, it’s easy to criticize the long running series – over a decade – for not having female protagonists, especially in a game where there are three. Many have reasonable stances to slam the series’ for their depiction of women, although it’s had their share of strong female characters. None the less, with a game that prides itself with social commentary from race to socioeconomic status, to religion, to politics that plants little diamonds in the ruff of societal ill, it’ll be nice to see how Rockstar could have written a female lead in these cities with many vices.
Point Two: “…allows us to create nuanced stories, not a set of archetypes.”
This reinforces the point for its adherence to maintaining a masculine tone. It’s respectable that this is a game about three different characters that compliment and complete one another when together and expose their weaknesses when they’re apart, both in story and in gameplay. It makes more sense both in narrative scope and in gameplay.
While I don’t terribly align with the phrase, “a game about masculinity”, for reasons that are perhaps outside of their own, I can settle. I have faith in Rockstar’s writers, however I can’t help but easily imagine an offensive shoehorn depiction for a woman just for the sake of having one. Any which of the following could sit uneasily with players: “The only woman on the team who’s a lesbian that may have some special ability that is ‘feminine’ like healing or be a means of distraction”. These are extreme examples, but writing a female lead in the world of GTA that’s filled with outlandish stereotypes could be tricky.
However having a married woman whose specialty is with guns and acts as a reflection of the city’s reactions to her as a female would be interesting.
Point Three: “We liked the idea of a protagonist retiring with a family, and how awful that would be… yada yada yada.”
Here’s where I completely change my tone. The context of the story is irrelevant. Like movies such as The Expendables (not a fan I might add), writers have the right to tell whatever story they wish to choose, and how they see its elements fit together in their narrative. Would it have been nice to write a story of a retiring female mobster? Yes. But so would have been a story of a mother escorting a young boy across the United States fighting off looters and infected humans, yet we got Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us.
We can have a discussion about how storytellers need to inject more diversity within their characters in games; but regardless the fact, a good story is a good story, good writing is good writing, and interesting characters can be all White or all Black or all women.
If Rockstar wants to tell a story about
…a man who’s retired from the criminal life, a thug who’s looking to move out the hood, or a crazed lunatic living in the outskirts of a major city, then so be it. As long as it’s conducive to the story and not to the target audience that’s more likely to buy games if a male (or three) is on the cover.
A difficult approach is to appreciate creators for the work that they’ve done whilst challenging them explore writing a female leads into the story in the future and make them relevant and organic to the story instead of having it just because it would be nice to pander to a certain demographic. It would be more insulting to depict a character that reinforces tropes and stereotypes than write a better one that excludes other diverse groups.
All in all, we can all agree that the industry should be moving towards a diverse representation when necessary.
Game that makes you feel good about eating Chipotle (9/13)
I willingly wish to remain ignorant to the food prep wizardry that goes on behind the farms, factories and/or plants that Chipotle gets their food products from, but if their game is any indication, The Scarecrow iOS title and short film exemplifies the chain restaurant’s proposed principle of naturally farmed food.
Developed by Moonbot Studios, The Scarecrow, a game about the titular farm prop completing a variety of tasks built within a series of mini games, follows the lanky hard worker at Crow Foods, a plant that prides itself on 100% all-natural food. In the Disney-esque short film, we follow the scarecrow going through the motions, working the food factory and – for the sake of the film’s message – pumping food right out to consumers with a guilty shot capturing their initial digestion.
Visibly fatigued of his monotonous life style, as the scarecrow peers behind the factory’s “All-Natural” sign, we discover their true processing procedures, pumping chickens full of chemicals, and then later, a warehoused extraction from labeled cows.
Consciousness begins to take over on his train ride home as he passes by the actual farms which are commanded by towering mechanical crows beaming god-knows-what into the crops. The slender figure reaches home as he’s greeted by a fresh pepper grown on the plant before him. Then it becomes time to change his ways as he spends an afternoon preparing fresh meals, shamelessly resulting into that Chipotle basket we all know and love.
Regardless in what Chipotle’s practices are, they certainly got their message across: a game, and an adorable short film, about the awareness of organic foods.
Check out their short film below; and while you’re at it, enjoy Fiona Apple’s remake of Pure Imagination.
A Week In Gaming Special Feature:
Idiosyncratic Reactions to Women in Game Development
Originally reported on September 11th 2013
I’m confident that many of us are aware to the overt sexism that goes on in the games industry. The jokes, the harassment, the puzzled look follow by, “You play video games?” It’s present, it’s unfortunately consistent, and thankfully, there have been raised voices against it.
But in the nature of prejudice, there are different stages of “recovery”. Much like racism and somewhat with homophobia, we’ve moved passed the blatant “queer” and segregation of yesteryears. Now, we’re in a period of off colored Black or “Muslim” jokes and mumbling “Look at that gay guy over there”; all circumstances knowing that a shameless calling out is a quick way to get your ass kicked. With an employer hiring a woman, they may try to cover themselves by saying, “you’d better be able to take a joke.”
This is the period of recovery in which the developers Hills describes in her piece. For us men in business environments, how many times have we caught ourselves reaching to hug a woman or kiss her on the cheek rather than issue the same response we give other men with an innate extension of our arms for a handshake? I know I have, but this may be perceived as viewing women as unequal colleagues and business partners.
As a social worker, I work around plenty of women, though after working at Homedepot for 5 years, unless a woman is in a very clear managerial position, it’s, “Hey new girl” or “Hey, young lady”. As Hills described, there seems to be this level of discrepancy between women in their twenties and women over 40. Male developers can walk in fresh out of college and earn a high level of collaborative respect within months. But the presumed “cuteness” and “sex appeal” of a woman in their twenties will keep her just as eye candy until she stops being “sexy” any more and that’s no longer a distraction from her raw talents.
Women try to fit into these environments. They try so hard. We men have all hung around the woman (or that girl in high school) who hates chicks, would rather be around men, and makes more off colored jokes about herself than you would feel comfortable to. Ever take the time to think that she’s doing her best just to fit in? Doing her best to free you from feeling like walking on eggshells around her, further highlighting that she’s a woman?
Even the little things add up: the “nice” gift sitting on the table, the dark women’s bathroom since they’re the only woman working there, the late nights feeling more alone and unsafe.
Very few of us work in the games industry while the rest of us wish we would, but all of us work with women. So take a step back and shaker her hand, try looking directly at her and compliment her work instead of her physical features, don’t be the creepy guy that positions yourself awkwardly over her, “How you doin’?” And if you’re in a supervisory position, give her a chance, she might impress you.
Let’s move past this stage of recovery and build idiosyncratic gender equilibrium
And to the women out there, thank you for all your hard work; it’s deeply appreciated.