Archive for October, 2014

Bayonetta: Feminist Powerhouse?

Posted in Grumblings on October 28, 2014 by chemiclord

Little bit of background; I didn’t get much chance to play the first game at the time of its release, just a handful of hours with a friends XBox 360.  And my first impressions were rather… poor, to put it mildly.  It really struck me in that limited exposure to be your typical male sex fantasy romp, the main character spending extended periods half-naked (or barely covered by flowing hair) didn’t help matters.

So, imagine my surprise to be talking about the game’s sequel with friends and hearing the claim that Bayonetta is actually a very positive feminist character.  With the circumstance of owning a Wii U and the inclusion of both games in one package, I decided to give it a second chance, and play through both games in their entirety.

Are the Bayonetta games actually very strong feminist models below the surface?  The conclusion I’ve reached is, yes… ish.

Now, bear in mind, no two models of feminism are the same, so there is a lot of “Your Mileage May Vary” when it comes to assessing any given work.  On top of that, within the Bayonetta games, there are really two levels to analyze, which muddies the water even further.

Firstly, let’s talk about Bayonetta herself.

One big problem that I tend to have with “strong” female characters is that writers tend to mistake “strong” with “masculine”; creating a character that is basically a man with larger breasts.  And while its true that there are certainly women that fit that personality type, it tends to be the default way that writers tend to go when they want to create a female character that is more than window-dressing.  “Femshep” of the Mass Effect series suffers from this issue.  While it’s certainly true that she’s a soldier by trade and that profession tends to lead to a certain mentality, when you play both the male and female versions of the character the illusion really gets torn apart and you discover that “Femshep” is literally “Broshep” with a female rig and textures.

(And yes I used the word “literally” as it is defined, not ironically or in bad grammar.)

Bayonetta, on the other hand, embraces her femininity.  She openly likes “girly” things, and makes no apologies for it.  She gleefully parades in lavish dresses, accessories, and happily shops for “heels.”  She openly admits cockroaches are terrifying.  But her feminine traits are not a weakness.  They’re a personal choice.  She takes all the feminine stereotypes, owns it, and turns it on its head.  If you have a problem with it, she will kick your ass and make you call her “Mummy.”  No one in the setting disrespects her womanhood and gets away unscathed.  She flirts openly and intimidates with her openness towards her own sexuality.  She commands respect and gets it, while being completely and unabashedly “girly.”

There is a lot of girl power in the character, and it is definitely something good to see.  That the feminine does not have to equal weak is a message that needs to be delivered more often, and a lesson that a good many writers could do to learn.

But now we get to the surface, the image that is thrust into the public eye, where everyone’s first impressions lie… and that’s where it gets dicey.

While it’s true that much of the time that she’s half naked, it’s usually in the middle of combat, and the player’s eyes (even the horny male) is focused on much more visually demanding things, and while even many of the cutscenes where she’s effectively nude with just curtains of swirling hair are usually very short and largely tame, there are more than one instance where she is laying on her back with her legs spread open and nothing but a thin wisp of her hair covering her erogenous zones while she winks playfully that are absolutely for no reason but to titillate the stereotypical horny male gamer.  And while it is true that there are elements of feminism that say embracing sexuality in such a fashion can be empowering, it’s a very flimsy rationale for those few pretty blatantly over-the-top scenes.  Perhaps it’s one of those “Your Mileage May Vary” moments, but if so, it doesn’t get very good miles to the gallon for me in this particular case.

The game itself is amazing (especially Bayonetta 2, which is my favorite of the year so far), and Bayonetta herself is certainly a huge step forward from the usual portrayal of strong female characters in video games (and even in most media for that matter).  If you can look past those astonishingly small number of instances of blatant pandering, there is certainly a lot of merit to the argument that the titular character is indeed a very powerful and inspiring female character model.

But if you can’t look past them, I can’t say I terribly fault you.  It is kinda unfortunate that such a very good character is packaged in with some (admittedly few) depressing moments of pathetically shallow eye-candy.

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On Why I’m Not a “Gamer”

Posted in Grumblings on October 21, 2014 by chemiclord

I kinda touched on this during my pair of #GamerGate posts… but that really was just a surface thing.

Today, I think I’m going to delve a little bit deeper (and probably upset some people in the process), but eh, whatever.

The real reason I don’t consider myself a “gamer” is because… well… gamers really strike me as very angry people.  It doesn’t even matter if the issue is important (in the sense that issues in video games can be important) or trivial.  Go anywhere on this wide web, and all you see is rage.  Either they are up in arms over which console is the best, or about the best graphics card, or this game is exclusive to this platform, or something was changed in a patch, [x] game is getting a sequel while [y] isn’t… go to any official website for any developer, 4chan, 8chan, IRC… anywhere… and just take in the sheer amount of vitriol, rage, and venom from every corner of the gaming world.

It’s a concept that is pretty much entirely foreign to me; getting so emotionally torqued over something so… benign.  If I don’t like a game, I just don’t play it.  If I don’t like a console (and to be honest, if not for gifts from family, I wouldn’t have had a game console since the Playstation… the first one), I don’t buy it.  If I don’t like what a company is doing, I don’t support them.  It seems like the perfectly rational response to something so very insignificant.

It looks increasingly to me that to be a “gamer” requires a level of fanaticism that I simply don’t care to have for something so small.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t intend this as a judgment.  People do plenty of things that make no sense to me, but that’s why we’re are different.  I’m sure there’s been no amount of people who look at me and wonder why I’m still writing in a world where writing is slightly less valued than a panhandler on the exit ramp of a freeway.  I ask that question of myself honestly.  But that’s the reason folks.  The anger seems silly.  The bitterness and rage that boils gamer blood on a daily basis is a stress that I simply don’t want, and actively avoid.

Youmacon #10 (Yeah. I’ll be there)

Posted in Grumblings on October 17, 2014 by chemiclord

There’s something oddly fitting about a entertainment convention going on over Halloween weekend.  It might be the only time cosplayers don’t feel out of place out in public.

At least on Friday, anyway.

won’t be in costume, if for no reason that they tend to horribly uncomfortable and I’ll be spending hours manning a booth and hopefully selling books.  Sorry if that disappoints anyone.

NaNoWriMo

Posted in Grumblings on October 15, 2014 by chemiclord

Okay, away from #GamerGate and onto my actual port of business.

I’ve been a supporter of National Novel Writing Month for many years, but as of late had not really had the time or opportunity to participate in it.

This year, however, is as good of an opportunity to try, as I will be writing up the first draft of the second book in the Endgames origin series, Dire Water, featuring the avatar of MegaTokyo’s fan favorite, Komugiko.  I’ll certainly do all I can to hit the 50,000 word goal (though the actual finished novel itself will no doubt exceed that number by more than a fair amount).  The hope is to meet that goal, as it would be pretty depressing to have such a high profile project (as least for me), fall short.

I must not cause such shame to the MegaTokyo brand.  I would have to commit seppuku.

And no one should want that.

Unless I really pissed off the #GamerGaters at this point.

#GamerGate (Addendum)

Posted in Grumblings on October 12, 2014 by chemiclord

So, having given myself some time to immerse myself more fully into the whole #GamerGate fiasco, here are my further thoughts.

1) It features two different arguments being argued against by no one.

There are two very distinct and indisputable issues that have arisen, and have (through the antics of one Zoe Quinn) become oddly entwined.  They are two arguments that really have no real counter-point… and the only reason that they have become part of an increasingly heated argument is because of extensive yelling through each other.

A) That the environment in games and gaming development is at best cold and at worst openly hostile towards women.  This is sadly an undeniable fact.  The number of female developers and the number of female developers that have faced gross sexual harassment at some point in their careers is pretty close to a 1 to 1 ratio at this point.  Meanwhile, women tend to face unique threats and reactions from the gaming community that men simply do not have to deal with (let’s face it, I don’t think anyone threatened to rape and slice open Mac Walter’s genitals after the ME3 ending debacle).  Men generally do not have to deal with “gamers” spreading nude pictures along with very personal information being publicly released on social media.

And I honestly don’t think anyone outside of a small cadre of neanderthals on 4chan dispute this.  It’s a plainly and self-evident phenomenon, and it’s wrong.  Everyone knows it’s wrong.  The only people who claim its not are summarily ignored (if not deservedly scorned) by the rest of civilization in most normal situations.  The gaming community doesn’t exactly know how to fight it (hint: The Fine Young Capitalists have a very good start going, you should all check them out), but they certainly don’t pretend everything’s okay.

B) That gaming journalism is infested with corruption, bias, and other shady dealings.  As I mentioned before, this is hardly unique to gaming journalism, and it is also a heavily cataloged fact of the matter.  It’s true.  Even the gaming media knows its true.  Honestly, in some ways, that the influence is so brazen is kinda perversely a good thing considering how under the table it could be (trying to figure out who is in bed with who, both literally and metaphorically, in the political arena often takes full teams of private investigators several months of effort).

Many publications do the best they can to minimize the effect, but there’s no escaping it.  Much like with sexism in the industry, there’s no good, all-in-one answer that would solve the problem.  Whenever you have an industry entirely dependent on another industry simply to remain relevant, this level of co-dependence is going to happen.  It’s not even a matter of if or when, it happens from Day 0.  Welcome to society at large.

The problem in #GamerGate, that both “sides” want to limit the discussion to what they have decided the terms shall be, and thusly accuse the other of not caring about their argument.

Which brings up…

2) The battle lines have been drawn by the extremists, and the rest of the crowd is stuck in the middle.

Would it surprise me to learn that the roots of #GamerGate stemmed from a cluster of mouthbreathers on 4chan’s /v/ who wanted to destroy some “uppity” female developer and feminist critic?  Not really.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that is how it started.  I know the environment of the chan network, especially in their IRC channels.  It can become a very despicable cesspool very, very quickly.  But that’s honestly irrelevant to the legion that have picked up the mantle since its inception.  Even if that small cluster is still active and using the shield of “journalistic ethics” to spout their sexist, racist, bigoted screeds (and for the record, I’m sure they are), that does not invalidate every single person who says, “Ya know… a publication shouldn’t be mingling so close to the developers of games they’re supposed to be reviewing.”

Likewise, someone who points out that cluster of misogynist twerps are making the movement as a whole look bad and giving people far too easy of a way to dismiss the movement as a whole isn’t some “femininazi” or “man hater” or “SJW” or whatever pejorative you desire.   They are correctly pointing out that there is a very seedy underbelly to the movement with some pretty disgusting motives, and as such makes it hard for the public as a whole to accept the argument that has percolated from the brew.

Yet, even as both are correct, both are also wrong, because…

3) There really isn’t much of a pro or anti-GamerGate side to begin with.

One of the major criticisms against the “War on Terror” was and is that trying to fight a conventional war against an unconventional enemy is a fool’s errand.  The power structure of terrorist organizations is not the same as a political body, and traditional attacks are extremely ineffective because of the independent nature of the cells and the autonomy that they have in their actions.

Now don’t get me twisted, I am not comparing 4chan or Anonymous to Al Queda or ISIS (which is apparently a real insult that was leveled).  But it’s a reasonably apt analogy to note from those who level criticisms against the #GamerGate hashtag.  There isn’t a centralized body to those that pick up the tag.  There is no primary manifesto.  There aren’t even any specifically defined terms that fit across the board beyond some very general bullet points.  On the same token, there really isn’t a “feminist” army leading their charge, or even a “female developer” interest group that is forming the head of the amoeba attacking the patriarchal culture within the video game industry.  Seeing the hashtag and immediately prescribing a certain set of beliefs, either for or against, is a dangerous assumption that winds up adding nothing of value.  It’s not effective shorthand, and it only raises dander.

I know that tends to run contrary to human “tribal” nature, but thanks to the modern Internet giving the means for more and more people to voice their opinions as individuals to a broad audience, we are seeing the flaws within the inherent tendency for people to coalesce other people into groups, and the “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that shoots up from it.  The people who point at the missteps of the gaming media with the tag aren’t necessarily supporting the fuckwad using that same tag to tweet obscene pictures to a female journalist or game developer or critic.  Someone pointing out those fuckwads isn’t necessarily claiming that journalistic ethics aren’t a problem or aren’t important.

They might be… but you won’t actually know that until you engage that person as an individual and find out what they’re actually saying.

Personally, I think that is what we need more of.  Individual engagement rather than groupthink.  Perhaps, if you see the #GamerGate tag, individuals need to take it for what it is (as a convenient way to put their thoughts into a larger discussion on social media), and take the time to learn what that individual is actually saying as opposed to prescribing a certain set of beliefs based on preconceptions.

But hey, as Dennis Miller used to say, “That’s just my opinion.  I could be wrong.”

#GamerGate

Posted in Grumblings on October 10, 2014 by chemiclord

Here I go again, walking into a minefield.  And this time post-surgery so my leg feels great.  So I dunno what my excuse is this time.

So.  #GamerGate.

Hunh.

I buy, play, and enjoy video games, to be sure (my bank account hates me for it every Steam Summer and Winter Sale), but I really don’t consider myself a “gamer”, mostly because I feel nigh entirely detached from the issues that gamers tend to have.  I really don’t care how many “p”s a game is rendered in.  I find the console wars a silly arms race often won not by the company that has the best product, but by which one of the three fucks up the least.  I find “physical vs digital” sales and game ownership to be largely a non-starter.

But one topic that has caught my ear is because journalism WAS an intended field of mine, and the flimsy ethics of journalism and the portions of society they cover extends far beyond video games.  That sort of corruption is a sad, despicable fact no matter where you go; be it sports, politics, food (yes… there is corruption within FOOD reviews.  And apparently there’s some pretty big money in it).

Yet as I read into the entire #GamerGate fiasco, I find myself tripping over some issues that honestly confuse me.  I don’t want to lump anyone into “sides” of this “debate” (because I find that does nothing but stir further ire).  So I offer these questions openly to anyone who wants to answer them.

1) Why is Zoe Quinn the flash point here?

Total honesty; I barely played Depression Quest.  I honestly felt it was a fairly insipid over-dramatized version of depression from what little I was able to get into it.  I don’t get what makes it so important.  Yet, a sentiment I’ve seen is that her antics (presuming the entire “Five Guys” thing is even true) were the “flash point” that lit the entire powder keg.

Why?

Why was some marginal indie developer the thing that finally caused all the frustration to explode, and not (for example) Microsoft paying $750,000 to the online publication Polygon?  What about Bioware brazenly offering a speaking role in Mass Effect 3 to a TV host at IGN?  But it’s the unverified rants from an ex-boyfriend of a mediocre indie developer that sets this all off?

I don’t mean this as an attack.  I honestly don’t get it.  Am I missing something here?  What makes this the straw that broke the camel’s back?

It’s very easy for someone “outside” the fiasco to reach the conclusion that the “gamer” crowd is using “journalistic ethics” as a flimsy cover to attack a woman who is perceived to threaten their “boys club.”  I’ll be honest, it’s very easy for me to reach that conclusion, knowing second hand just how hostile the gaming industry and fans can be in general.  On top of that, what tends to bubble to the top of the social ocean when women are involved has not historically been pretty.

But at the same time, I know first hand how dirty and insidious journalism can get, and I don’t doubt for one second that gaming journalism is any better.  So I don’t think its fair to dismiss that, even as the spark that lit the wick doesn’t make any sense to me considering there were open bonfires burning all around it.

Help me out here.

2) Why are efforts to bridge the gap mostly ignored or rebuffed?

As far as I can tell, The Fine Young Capitalists are a group that is genuinely trying to open avenues for women in gaming and encourage female gamers.  When they reached across the aisle to 4chan to try and show that it’s not all about sexism and misogyny, and that you can even find redeeming characters on /v/ of all places, that group nigh instantly came under attack for accepting funding and feedback from gamers who wanted to support their efforts.

Are we running out of enemies so quickly we have to manufacture them now?

What was so frightening about the idea of trying to brush away the battle lines?  Why did that scare feminist groups?

I understand that women in gaming have had a rough time.  Believe me, I’m very aware of that.  And I’m also keenly aware that 4chan is such a wretched hive of scum and villany that it makes the Mos Eisley cantina look like a Young Republicans convention at Dartmouth.  But is such a broad brush really necessary?  Do we have to assume that any support from an unusual source must inherently be somehow malicious in nature?  Is it imperative to assume anyone who doesn’t immediately prescribe to the proper talking point must be an enemy?

3) What is the real fear feeding the fire on both sides?

Because I do believe that at the heart of this conflagration on both sides is fear, and it’s real easy to get one side to say what the other is afraid of.

“They’re afraid that their sexist, bigoted games will be ruined,” is the claim from feminist camps.

“Sexism’s dying, and they’re afraid they’re losing influence,” claim gamers.

But I don’t really think that’s it.  That’s the excuses being given to rationalize ever increasing aggression.  That’s the equivalent of propaganda; exaggerations thrown through the magnifying class so that one side can dismiss the concerns of the other without actually having to think about it.

That’s the fear talking, but that’s not the fear itself.  And of course, getting people to say what they are afraid of isn’t easy, if damn near impossible.

So, I suppose this question isn’t one I expect an answer to.  This is something that people should be asking themselves.

What do you fear, and why do you think it will happen if your side “loses” the fight?