Thursday, March 29, 2012

A HIStory of Men...

Yesterday, I saw an interview with creative director Alex Hutchinson explaining how a female protagonist just wasn't feasible for Assassin's Creed III's setting:
"It's always up in the air," Hutchinson said. "I think lots of people want it, [but] in this period it's been a bit of a pain. The history of the American Revolution is the history of men."
Maybe he just couldn't think of any women. With that in mind, I thought I'd help come up with a few ideas for games starring prominent women throughout history:

But all kidding aside, people who agree with Hutchinson argue that women didn't play as much of a role in certain historical events. I take issue with that only because they don't seem to consider the idea that women's roles are not what gets written in history books or taught in schools.

Regardless of your opinion on what and how important women's roles were during certain events (we could probably argue about that all day), I simply ask... WHY NOT? Why not make one up for a game? Wouldn't that just be cool?

(Velvet Assassin, which, if nothing else, had an intriguing lady protagonist inspired by real life.)
I found this quote from Hutchinson the most problematic:
"It felt like, if you had all these men in every scene and you're secretly, stealthily in crowds of dudes [as a female assassin], it starts to feel kind of wrong," he said. "People would stop believing it."
I have to disagree with this for a couple of reasons:
  • For me, not having to deal with true-to-life realism in games is exactly one of the reasons why I play video games. And sorry, Assassin's Creed lost the realism factor for me at the part where I get hooked to a virtual-reality machine that reads my genetics and allows me to control the memories of my ancestors in a 3D space. What I'm saying is, just because it might not seem totally realistic or believable, obviously doesn't mean the idea wouldn't be cool or fun; thus, realism is a terrible reason for why women aren't protagonists in games. And, no offense, but I really hope that people aren't learning world history from Assassin's Creed games.
  • Do people not like playing female protagonists? I beg to differ with all the love for Mass Effect's FemShep. And how many guys play female avatars in other games? I doubt having a female protagonist would hurt sales of Assassin's Creed. (For more on this topic, I refer you to this great article over at The Mary Sue titled, "Why Some Men Are Playing Women, and Why Developers Should Take Note.")
  • And again, if it's the historical factor where "the history of the American Revolution is the history of men," I would say it doesn't have to be. Want stealthy ladies? There were women spies during the Civil War, and women who dressed up as soldiers to fight in the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.
My overall point is, if you don't want to have a woman as a protagonist in Assassin's Creed, I just don't see historical accuracy or realism as a valid excuse.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What I've Been Up To...

For someone who writes everyday, I've been terrible at keeping up with this blog... I was thinking that now that I'm not a games journalist anymore, I can actually write about games strictly for fun (ha!). For those who don't know, I recently became a writer for Gameloft NYC, composing dialog, scripts, and other in-game text. I didn't want to make a big deal out of changing careers, as I was never one who intended to use my journalism career to land a job in the industry... In fact, I hadn't ever thought I could make a living writing about or for games at all.

After thinking about it for most of 2011, I decided that keeping up with the games news cycle and writing thousand-word articles for little money and no health insurance wasn't for me anymore. Though I was getting plenty of work, the checks became smaller and arrived much later... some never came at all. And don't get me wrong: there are many people who love the flexible freelance life of a games journalist, and there are even some who get paid handsomely (or decently) for the good work they do -- but I was not either of those people... not anymore anyway. I also truly loved the outlets I worked for and the editors I worked with (too many to name here), as well as the work I did. My favorite part of it all was speaking with developers and at least attempting to ask the tough questions, write the uncomfortable articles, and look at games from a different perspective. So my dilemma was that I felt I no longer had the meddle to be a games journalist anymore, but I still loved writing and I still loved games. When I saw the opening for a writer at Gameloft, I applied for it on a whim, totally unsure if anything would come of it. And here I am...

Do I miss games journalism? There are definitely parts of it I miss. Though I loved being a games journalist, and thought I'd be doing it forever, I absolutely love my job now. Who knows what's next, but until then, I'll continue to help make games (still feels weird to say that), wax about games here,* and play the crap out of them... on my own time and not on deadline. :)

[*I guess I should probably say the opinions expressed on this blog do not represent my employers -- past, present, and future. Hope that covers my ass well enough!]

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Misogyny in code is still misogyny.

A Steam user found some code in recently released zombie shooter Dead Island that names a female character's skill as "feminist wh*re."

It apparently refers to the skill that lets the character do +15% damage to male enemies. Regardless, the coder(s) at Techland could've chosen to name it anything, but I guess the words "feminist whore" only came to mind.

Not surprisingly, the Steam forum replies are even better (read: worse). When something like this happens, people seem to come up with some interesting comments and excuses. Here's a few choice ones I'll debunk:

Sense of humor? No, they must be insensitive bigots, there's no other possibility.
I consider myself to have a great sense of humor. The thing is, it's not funny. Not even a little.

Could be as simple as that an early iteration of her backstory had her as a tough female positive prostitute. Paradise resort islands have those, you know.
An interesting and elaborate excuse, but somehow I doubt this. And it wouldn't be a good excuse anyway, even if it were true.

I don't think anyone really gives a  if it offends someone. It's just a little joke hidden in the game's files. It's not a T-rated game by any means, and feminists are es anyway. Cry more.
This person was about to make some kind of point, and then immediately became a total jerkface.

I think the main thing is that this is encoded text that is not apparent within the product unless you look for it and have some amount of technical skill.
Except that someone did find it, and they posted it in the forum. It's like saying, "I did it only because I didn't think I'd get caught."

It's like getting mad at a perfectly good friend who has never expressed a negative thought about anything because you broke into his house and read his diary and found out something about him that you didn't know.

It's not like you found out your friend secretly hates anchovies or Star Trek. It's like getting mad at your "perfectly good friend" when you find out they're a closet racist. In other words, it's okay to be a bigot as long as no one finds out about it. Also, how are these developers suddenly your BFFs worthy of defense?

Also, in the scale of game offensiveness, this is nothing. DNF didn't even generate any significant non-game press and it has more offensive things than this on the box cover. heh
I'm not going to go off on Duke Nukem Forever right here, but you could argue that at least DNF wore its misogynistic humor on its sleeve. This is "hidden" in the game's code, a subtle slur that suggests something to me about the developers' attitude towards women (or maybe just towards us pesky feminists). At best, it's a horrible and embarrassing "joke," and even though it's in the source code, developers should be careful -- because gamers can find anything. At worst, Techland comes off as being hostile towards women.

The best point made in the forums so far:

Just wondering if people would be so happy if feminist was replaced by a religious or ethnic minority. Imagine if Sam B was labelled with the N-bomb coupled with epithets like "dirty".

I've reached out to Dead Island's PR for comment. It'll be interesting to see if Techland apologizes for this, how they'd explain why it's there to being with, and if any disciplinary action will be taken towards those responsible. Until then, they've got one less Dead Island customer (and no, I have not received a copy of the game).

Addendum: To be fair, I haven't played Dead Island yet, and I do not know the gender make up of Techland's development team. Regardless, I think the inclusion of the slur does a disservice to the developers, gamers and the game itself.

UPDATE 12:12 pm - The official response from publisher Deep Silver:
"These unfortunate actions were of one individual at developer company Techland and do not in any way represent the views of publishing company Deep Silver." 

I just got the contact information for Techland and will update if I hear back from them.

UPDATE: 12:50 pm - Techland responds to Eurogamer:
"It obviously violates professional and ethical standards at Techland and should never have happened," Blazej Krakowiak, international brand manager, told Eurogamer. "We're investigating this right now and we'll issue a statement later. "For now, I can only express my sincerest apologies for this incident and assure you that whoever acted so irresponsibly did not represent the views and opinions of Techland. I'm equally sure that aside from the author of that unfortunate line of code, everyone at the office is as disturbed by this as you are."

UPDATE: 1:09pm - Techland responds to me:
"It has come to our attention that one of Dead Island’s leftover debug files contains a highly inappropriate internal script name of one of the character skills. This has been inexcusably overlooked and released with the game. The line in question was something a programmer considered a private joke. The skill naturaly [sic] has a completely different in-game name and the script reference was also changed. What is left is a part of an obscure debug function. This is merely an explanation but by no means an excuse. In the end that code was made a part of the product and signed with our company name. 

"We deeply regret that fact and we apologize to all our customers or anyone who might have been offended by that inappropriate expression. The person responsible for this unfortunate situation will face professional consequences for violating the professional standards and beliefs Techland stands for."