Tropes Vs. Women in Video games deserves your respect

Every time Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency and Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games, comes out with a new video in her series, I feel like I need to write a post because the same thing happens every time. Before we get going into this I’m going to set the tone. Do I agree with absolutely everything Anita says in her videos? No. I think that some things she points out are reaching a little too far, and that storytelling should excuse some of the faults she points out. We’re not going into those because they don’t matter.

Why don’t they matter? Because they’re her opinion and she has every right to express herself online and the sad fact is, that while I may not agree with her on some points, she raises a great many concerns that I agree with whole-heartedly. Even if I didn’t agree with her, she has every right in the world to express her opinions and concerns with the gaming industry freely and without fear of being singled out.

Is that what happens? No. With every new video she is met with an ever increasing amount of bile and misdirected rage. Bile? No, that’s not quite the right word. Let me try again. For the simple crime of speaking her mind and standing up for what she believes in she is met with behavior so foul and putrid, so revoltingly infantile and rank, that bile would be a considerable step up. There are times it makes me ashamed to call myself a gamer, to associate with the group of moronic ass-hats that claim they are defending my hobby.

What sort of behavior am I talking about? Well, it ranges from standard troll activity, loathsome on the best of days, to threats of death and rape, threats so specific and threatening that Anita actually had to leave her home for fear of her own safety last month. Why? Because she says that video games have a problem with sexism. That female characters in games are often treated little better as props or eye candy for male gamers to fantasize about. What is she asking for? Not for the industry to change overnight, but for people to start thinking about it and to start pushing for a broader range of characters in video games. She’s not invading your home and taking away your Grand Theft Auto disc, but she is pointing out how differently the game treats its male and female characters.

For this heinous crime, she is reviled by an extremely vocal and disturbing minority of gamers. There is a level of contempt and anger directed at Anita Sarkeesian, and other women in the industry, that you’d expect to be directed at an ACTUAL murderer, instead of someone who’s saying “There’s too much violence against women in video games.”. From the hate directed her way you’d think that she was some sort of baby eating monster… but no. She’s articulate, well spoken, says things that people don’t agree with and has the audacity to be a woman while doing it. The nerve.

And Anita isn’t alone. Her treatment is more par for the course for women in gaming than it is the exception and this saddens me so much.  Zoe Quin, creator of Depression Quest and other games I haven’t played because I have no damn time, has recently been at the center of what can only be described as a “shit storm”.  Don’t believe me?  Read her own account of it.  Am I just taking her word for it?  YES!  Part of the problem is that some people (men) don’t believe women when they talk about the kind of shit they have to deal with online.  Me?  I tend to refer to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory: Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Dickwad.  See the scientific research here.  Basically, we need to teach people that online is not different from real life.  What you do and say online doesn’t “not count”.  If you threaten to rape or kill someone online just because they have the audacity to have opinions or lifestyles different then YOU are the bad guy.  You’re the stain on society’s underpants.

The thing is, Anita is absolutely right. We need change in the gaming world. We need more inclusive games, we need more women protagonists who are more than just male characters with a different skin to give them boobs. We could really benefit from the stories that would result from games told from perspectives that aren’t aimed at “Male: age 15-35.” How many times do we have to tread over the World War II, first person shooter ground? There are different stories to tell, and different audiences who might love them.

I know.  I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, better and by smarter more eloquent people.  Just take a look, you’ll find it.  All I really want to do is take a stand and say that, whether I agree with her completely or not, Anita should be listened to, considered, and treated with respect. Everyone deserves that right; to be able to say what they believe and not have to fear that doing so will get their personal information leaked, and their very well being put at risk. I’m not saying you’ve got to agree with her, or with me, just don’t be a horrible, disease of a person about it.

Fire Emblem: Awakening – A study in lost writing hours

I love my wife.  She knows me.  She gets me.  We just celebrated our first anniversary just a month ago, and this wonderful woman got me a toy that I’ve been wanting for a while: A Nintendo 3DS.  Not only that, but she got me the XL and she got me a blue one to boot.  To sum up, I’m a very, very happy nerd.  Also, a lucky one.

The 3DS has only recently been on my “Want” list since its been a little sparse on games up until now.  Fire Emblem: Awakening was the first game that I knew I wanted to play.  Sure, there were random other games that I was kind of interested in.  Ocarina of Time, which I’ve never played before, sounded like it would be perfect in 3D.  The new Kid Icarus also looked interesting and there were few others that were popping up.  Still, Fire Emblem was the kicker.

I’ve played some Fire Emblem games in the past but I don’t think that I’ve ever really gotten into one and beaten it.  The whole “permadeath” of units isn’t something that sits well with me, and Fire Emblem is a little notorious for having a very unforgiving nature.  Still, I needed a tactical RPG before the system would really be worthwhile, so it was the first thing I picked up when I was gleefully breaking the system in.

Seventy hours later, I have finally put down the final boss.  I admit, I also put it off for way longer than I needed to.  My main fighting force were all leveled to the point where they were gods compared to whatever else the game might throw at me.  The final boss, even at an impressive skill rating of 200 didn’t manage to hold a flame to me.  My average skill strength was 200 per unit, with several of the stronger ones approaching 250.  Skill rating is the sum of all the units skill points, and gives you a quick idea of how strong a unit is.  For example, the final boss was at 200, the enemies leading up to him were between 100 and 150, chumps are usually at 60-90.

So…yeah.  I really got into the game.  I dig tactical RPGs.  I love being the general and commanding a flawless campaign.  I also love RPGs, seeing units level up and become stronger; nursing them through the low levels and slowly making each a bad ass in their own way.  Fire Emblem is great for this.  Its also great in that you need some real tactics to make it through some challenges, and you find that as you learn more about the game mechanics, the better you do in matches.  Here’s a few things that I learned:

  1. No one goes off by themselves … unless they’re Donnel (more on him in a bit).
  2. Build relationships. The conversations are fun, but the bonuses you get from having units that get along with each other are more than worth it.
  3. Whenever possible, have units fight next to each other.  Not only does this build their relationship level (see above) but it also limits the number of attacks a unit can take AND provides chances for the units to work together to mitigate damage or dual attack.
  4. Do not underestimate the power of ranged attacks.  Get a couple good bowmen, and a couple good mages.  Make sure your melee units all have a way to range attack later in the game too.  Most weapon types have a “throwable” weapon.
  5. Save your powerful expensive weapons for when you need them.  This is just basic economics, since your weapons wear out and you have to buy new ones.  Better to use up your cheap Iron Spear rather than the rare and powerful Silver ones.
  6. Don’t use Master Spheres and Second Spheres too soon.  You want to get both skills (at least) out of a class before you change their class.  Also have an idea of what you want to do with each unit.  Don’t take your mage and make him an archer.  Keep him magicing it up to build his Magic stat as high as possible.
  7. Don’t be afraid to grind.  This will help you both build experience and relationships between units.
  8. Don’t be afraid to reset.  Unless you want to accept the death of a valuable character.  I could not do it.
  9. Accept that you’re going to be losing quite a bit of time.

I’ve got more, but that’s probably enough for now.  In short, I loved the game.  The game play was top notch.  The graphics, especially the 3D was beautiful.  I’ve got a friend who doesn’t play with the 3D on unless his system is plugged in, but I’m more than willing to wear the batteries down.  The story was marvelous, and building relationships between units was worth it, if just for the little conversations that go on between them.  One of the characters, Gregor, a mercenary with a Russian accent, routinely cracks me up.  There’s a ton of content and downloadable bonus maps and challenges; there’s even DLC available with more on the way (from what I understand).

If you like tactical RPGs in any way, you should give Fire Emblem a go.  This game alone made the 3DS worth owning as I’m going to be coming back to it for years, trying the campaign on higher difficulty settings, and besting challenges.  If you’re a fan of the Fire Emblem series, you really should play this game.

A final note for those who follow my advice.  Early on in the game, you’re going to get the first paralogue and in it you will have a chance to recruit Donnel, a seemingly useless villager.  MAKE SURE YOU DO THIS.  He will look like the weakest unit in the game and will be for a while, except for one thing.  He comes with a talent that gives him a bonus to skill growth.  If you take a little time, and nurture him along he will become the DESTROYER OF WORLDS.  He will be your boss slayer and none shall stand before him.  By the end of the game, I was leaving him out of my party half the time because he was taking experience away from other units.

Ok…now on to more writing endeavors.  I’ve got some Edge of December to work on.

Not a 25k month

Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve updated the ol’ blog.  Truth be told, I haven’t been very good about writing in general for the past month and a half or so.  I don’t have a good reason for you other than life has been freakin’ busy and the games have been a major distraction.  But, saying this and then signing off seems like pretty bad form, so I’ll tell you a bit about what’s hanging me up.

Some of it has definitely been gaming.  I’ve donated an inordinate amount of time to Dungeon Defenders over the past couple weeks.  The game is crack.  I’m bad enough with RPG’s anyway, but this one is a combination of Tower Defense and RPG that has really gotten to me and my friends.  I think the clincher is the loot and the desire to always be looking for, getting, and upgrading the stuff that you have.  They’ve also been running a kind of treasure hunt in the game for the last week or so that I’ve gleefully participated in as opposed to writing.  Is this an excuse?  Yes.  A good one?  Probably not.

Another contributing factor is that my fiance and I just got done with … or rather close to done with a move.  Our new apartment is now pretty much set up and looking good, but there’s still some work left to do.  One of the changes that affects my writing is that I’m not entirely sure where my writing area is anymore.  Oh, I’ll get my writing spot figured out, but I had really good spots back at the old place that really let me get into a rhythm.

One of the bigger things though, is that I was trying to write.  Trying really hard but it just wasn’t working.  I’m sure none of the authors who I follow know anything about this blog but if they did I’d ask them to comment on this.  Ok, quickly, Glenn and I are working on the next book (OK, Glenn is working on it mostly since he does all the artsy stuff) and I was supposed to be writing a short story from Baron’s point of view for it.  Its on the time he spent in the Ukraine that had only been briefly alluded to in the comic.  I had good ideas for the plot, villains, some characters and more than a few false starts but none of it was gelling in my head.  It all felt forced and wrong.  I spent just about as much time writing as I did trying to figure out what was going wrong and I think I discovered what was going on.

I realized that in my mind, Edge is just about completely visual and intimately hinged to Glenn’s art.  There just isn’t a Baron in my mind if he isn’t attached to one of Glenn’s drawings.  I was writing, and I just couldn’t make it match the style and evoke the feelings of Edge.  We’re talking about a world where we leave Baron being chased by tanks and its a funny thing, not a dangerous thing.  Where Kieron and Trife are jumping from rooftop to rooftop evading helicopters wearing fake mustaches and eye-patches like nothing was amiss.  Thinking back, I was making the story I was writing too serious, which isn’t something that I have to worry about when writing chapters, because usually the images in my mind aren’t that different from what Glenn produces… but I’ve got a block when I’m writing the text in that story.  I’m considering some options to get it to flow better…but given how serious that part of the story is… I’m uncertain how I’d go about it.  I haven’t written anything like that before and I’ve got to do some exploratory work to even get the voice down.  Is all that bullshit?  Maybe.  I’m not sure.

And above everything else, I’m GETTING MARRIED IN A MONTH AND A HALF AND OH MY GOODNESS I’M GETTING EXCITED!  So, maybe the excitement isn’t keeping me from writing, but there’s enough to do that writing days don’t happen quite as often as they used to.  I’ve kind of got this feeling like I can sit back and relax on my writing until after the wedding and then pick it up again.  Well, that just isn’t going to fly at all.  So, even though I don’t think that I’ll be doing the 25,000 word month in April (or June for that matter) I will be going back to my 500 words a day minimum routine.  If I can stick to that until after the wedding it will be much easier to jump back into the routine I’m trying to set up.  So, even though the Edge project might be on hold, barring creative problems, I’m going to get Impervious up and running again.  The last 25k month saw most of the first third finished, and that’s just waiting for me to write out the end of the first arc.  So, if you read this, stay tuned.  Things will be happening again.  Assuming that Diablo 3 doesn’t eat me whole.

Yeah…so about that…Mass Effect 3

So, it’s been much more than a week since I updated the ol’ blog here, and I apologize for that. All I can say in my defense is that things have been a little busy around here…and yes, I got Mass Effect 3. Look, there’s a galaxy in dire need of saving and I don’t have very good self-control when it comes to actually putting down the controller once it’s been picked up.

I’m thoroughly in love with the world of Mass Effect. Its just good sci fi. Well written, awesome characters and some real good emotional engagement. I’d pre-ordered the game, but I was committed to doing another play-through of 1 and 2 before I dug into 3, just so I was ready and had what I thought was the “correct” story progress when I started. I should never have opened the package. From that point on it was a lost cause and FemShep was on the job again, meaning that I was no longer on the job.

In non-video game related topics, I made it out of February with 23,000 words finished. While that fell a little short of my 25,000 word goal I still feel pretty good about myself. Impervious has 16 full chapters completed, which is more than I’ve ever written on one story before. Ok, I may have written way more words, in total, for City of the Sorcerers, but most of that was rewriting things that I’d already written. Impervious continues to make steady progress at a pace that makes me think that at least the 1st draft will be done by the end of the year.

Right now, I’m focusing most of my efforts on Edge of December. We’ve got a new chapter starting in a week or so, and a new Saga shortly there-after. We’re getting into material in the comic that’s been born completely in my fevered imagination, so I’m getting really excited to see it play out visually. Also, I’m working on a short story that will be exclusively available in the third eBook as an extra. That’s proving more of a challenge than I originally thought it would since its a story that’s following a character that is only secondary at this point. Keeping everything in canon, interesting, and leaving enough for future volumes is a huge challenge.