I play a lot of video games. I’m not very good at them though and am a very big fan of getting to 100% completion on a game (including all the grindy stuff). On most games, I hit a snag and stop playing, but I tend to play the same one for months. I play for months because I really only play on about three days out of any given week. I have other stuff to do. None of this means I don’t have an opinion on game mechanics and trends. Of course, I do, and I’m going to express them here. I’m not going to talk about poor quality craftsmanship in gaming but am going to discuss some social mores and features that bother me. I know what you’re thinking, oh, she’s going to go all Gamer Gate on us. I’m not, but I am going to get that sticky topic out of the way first.
Gamer Gate: Bioshock Infinite
I find Gamer Gate distasteful. For the most part, the “problems” they see are imaginary or are not a sexist issue. For example, the idea that images of women in games are almost always unreasonably represented. This is true in a lot of games, but guess what? The images of men in games are also almost always unreasonably represented. Women are overly sexualized, what with their armor that is more about showing off their bodies then protecting them in combat, and men are overly masculinized, what with the giant, overly muscled meatheads that wear bandannas, smoke cigars, swear like they have a quota to fill, and spit every where they go. So I ask, how is this sexist? Maybe it is, but it isn’t misogynistic. Games that do this, and it’s not all of them, are misrepresenting both sexes. They objectify and show unreasonable images of both sexes. So I don’t see this as a female crusade, so much as stupid fantasy. It is a stupid trend, but it also is an understandable one from a business standpoint since gaming is a form of wish fulfillment since gamers are literally putting themselves in the point of view of an avatar with a better body than them, better sexual prospects, and a much more fun life. I don’t see why it is wrong for some of the games on the market to meet this wish fulfillment. Saying that these games pervert male understanding of relationships is a leap to me since most peoples’ understanding of relationships come from their parents and how those parents react and teach on media. The same principal applies to violence in games. Media really only reinforces what a person has learned in their childhood from their family; otherwise, people wouldn’t develop a dislike for certain types of media. If violence and possible sexism in video games really did result in life copying art as much as people say, things would be a lot worse since millions of people (male and female) play video games. It’s not a billion dollar industry on a few weirdos.
A lot of people are hopping on the Gamer Gate trend, including humor website, Cracked. Lately, Cracked has replaced their Saturday Photoplasties with rehashes from their articles with images created by AutieMeme. And while I’m not going to get into why that is a problem within itself in this post, I will bring up one they did related to this subject: 19 Surprisingly Sexist Messages in Modern Pop Culture. Not all of them are on gaming, and not all of them are off the mark. Lara Croft’s reboot is pretty spot on, and Yahtzee already mentions this problem when he reviews the 2012 Tomb Raider and the newer Metroid main character. But immediately following the good examination of Lara Croft, we get a major reach in the description of Ellie in The Last of Us.
Now, I know that I would collapse in tears upon seeing the first non-zombie person after the start of an apocalypse, no matter what my age. In fact, it is believable that any one of any sex or age would do this, but especially a child. Children cry a lot when things aren’t apocalyptic. I’m actually freaked out by children who don’t cry when something terrible happens to them. Isn’t that one of the first forms of expression we have as humans? It’s one we go to when happy, sad, angry, or relieved. Of course, she’s crying! There is nothing unreasonable or sexist about this.
Then there was the crapstorm of number one on the list: Elisabeth from Bioshock Infinite. The idea that Elisabeth was ever sitting and waiting to be rescued is a laughable misrepresentation of the game. Elisabeth learned to pick locks in her many attempts to escape. She could tear portals in time, yes, but her prison was weakening her powers, making them useless in escape attempts. This is one of my favorite games. The story is amazing, the characters are well developed and believable, the mechanics are fun, and the mind-bending plotline is just great. Trust me on this, if Elisabeth had not been a strong and capable character I wouldn’t like the game half as much as I do. She is a very powerful figure in the story, stronger than Dewitt, not just in terms of raw power but also as a person, showing much more strength of character, much more integrity. She is both McGuffin and a powerful lead affecting the arc of the story and even resolving it. The interpretation from the picture is distasteful in its misleading bent and omission of other information. It is highly frustrating to read as someone who has actually played the game and connected to the characters. Both of the interpretations on Ellie and Elisabeth show someone searching for something to complain about. They lack in depth examination and an understanding of reality. Women can be both strong and vulnerable in video games, as can men. Men are much less likely to show vulnerability in video games than women are to show strength. But reality demands a balance between the two in both sexes which is why I can’t support Gamer Gate. It calls for women in games to be sexless and invulnerable, while neither of those things is real.
Most of the time, I don’t hear backup to the claim that video games are sexist. Instead, I hear that claim repeated ad nauseam. When I do hear some backup, it’s typically a major reach, such as the two examples from Cracked. I find this very insulting. I enjoy video games and the majority those play don’t feel like they are attacking me as a woman. Women actually play more roles in video games than one would first think. In fact, they tend to take up all the same roles as men. Games that go for realism don’t often have female cops or soldiers, because the rate on the first is low, and the rate on the second is even lower (remember the US doesn’t have women in combat roles). So for the most part, I don’t see what they are talking about.
Real Sexism: Marvel Heroes
I play a lot of MMOs. I enjoy most of them. I’m also a very big Marvel fan. As such, when Marvel Heroes went to open beta, I was all over that. I had a lot of fun too. Now, there are a lot of problems with Marvel Heroes. Some have been addressed. For example, at first a player couldn’t playtest a hero before buying them, which was crappy because no matter how much you like a hero doesn’t mean they won’t suck to play. Now all heroes are playable to level 10, which is great. Try before you buy. However, every time I get back on Marvel Heroes, I have to reallocate my points because they keep messing with the play of the heroes. That is so annoying. I want to play not spend ten minutes assigning points any time I log on. But all this is besides the main point of this section. Still had to get those out there. The real problem is the gender swap enhanced costumes. Okay, if you’ve never played this game (which you totally can as it is free to play), you pick one starting hero and level them and can unlock other heroes with Gs (which you have to pay for) or Eternity Splinters (which you can find while playing). So one way is paid and another is free. You get the standard costume when you unlock a hero, whichever one that may be. Costumes cannot be unlocked with Eternity Splinters. So if I want to play female Hawkeye, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, God of Thunder, Deadpool, Loki, Punisher, Spider-man or male Warbird, I have to pay. The base playable characters includes 38 male characters and 12 female characters. There are not a lot of female superheroes in Marvel Comics. Why would you make 8 of them only unlockable with real money? This is crazy unbalanced. They are adding ShadowCat, which will bring the total to 13, but I bet anything they will add American Dream as a costume.
What is this problem exactly? The problem is games that have gender options that are partially locked. Older Diablo versions and Path of Exile had static genders for characters, and a lot of non-MMOs or top-downs have gender locks because you are a specific character in a very specific story, such as a lot of FPS games. That’s fine for FPS games. But why would you ever make a gender option and then not actually give it to your players? Do you know how frustrating it is to have that dangled in our face? Marvel Heroes needs to stop this gender swap enhanced costume BS and let the players choose their sex when they get the hero; and let us choose it for heroes that we received when we didn’t have a choice. I’ll pay for an enhanced costume that gives a different dialogue or voiced by an actor from the movie, but I’m not going to pay for what should be a different freaking hero.
Flirting Mechanics: SWTOR
Flirting mechanics can be interesting, especially when the designers of the game put in negative responses. But I hate the fact that there isn’t a flirt response option for every character I speak to. They decide that I wouldn’t flirt with certain people. That’s stupid. I could, in theory, attempt to flirt with everyone I meet in the real world–doesn’t mean I should, but I totally could. In fact, I could attempt to flirt with a rock. Not that it would get me anywhere. So why do games with flirt mechanics tell me who I’m willing to flirt with? You don’t know me! Maybe I want to flirt with the big lizard companion. You know, just to see how he’d react. Flirting isn’t always used as a sexual ploy. Sometimes it is used as a method of teasing. I think that would be pretty interesting in a game. Also, why stop at flirting? There should be an option to insult everyone. Hell, there should be an option to punch everyone! I’m not saying that you should actually do these things in real life or even in a game, but as games keep trying to add more “reality”, they just keep showing us how not-real they are. An artificially limited flirt option just shows a player that they are playing a game and takes them out of the immersion. So go whole hog with social interactions in games! I know that’s hard to do, but work to it. (Also, Sims woefully underestimates the player’s desire to make their Sim punch other Sims, especially when they come into our homes uninvited.)
Morality Scales: SWTOR Again
Morality scales are a lot like flirting mechanics, as in incomplete. But also just weird as hell. Not every decision made has an effect on the scale, which everything should. But also, they often don’t make sense when you combine them. On Alderaan there are two such missions with morality choices that are just messed up when both are considered. These are pretty early on for a Republic player. You meet a reporter whose partner has run off and joined the rebels (they really are scum this time) and she wants you to get back their footage. You also run into an older couple whose son is believed dead, but mom has her doubts and wants to check if the rebels have him. You run into the other reporter and the son in the rebel stronghold pretty much one right after the other. The son says the rebels kidnapped him, forced him to take drugs, then used him as a soldier. They apparently have been doing this to other teenagers as well. Your moral choice is to let him leave the planet, telling his parents some lie, or to tell him to go home to mommy and daddy. The first is light side points and the second is dark side points. Now, I will discuss why that’s a problem in the next paragraph, but first on to the reporter. Upon meeting him, he says that if you give the footage to the other reporter, she will cut it to make the rebels look bad and that their plight is actually very dire and they need supporters. So he gives you the choice to let him keep the footage (light side points) or take it from him (dark side points). Now, first of all, I don’t believe that he’s going to give an unbiased cut of the footage to people either. But I can’t see him as anything but freaking insane for taking the rebels’ side after hearing the kid’s story. The lineup of light side and dark side in these two missions don’t make any sense when compared to each other. I don’t feel any sympathy for the scum that is an African warlord who kidnaps children and forces them to fight for him either, and I’m certainly not going to feel any sympathy for the reporter who tells me he’s not a bad guy. That’s insane.
The other problem besides morality not matching up among separate choices is the lack of a grey area. It’s neither bad nor good to help or force the son to go home. It’s kind of just a personal choice based on your upbringing. It’s also not good to help either reporter because neither of them is unbiased. So why have such black and white choices? Yahtzee’s biggest cripe against morality scales is that you have to be all good or all bad to see anything good come out of it. I agree that that makes the choices a little superfluous, because you could just choose an alignment at the beginning of the game instead. They are just making you choose it again and again throughout the game. Because of this, games with morality scales should include middle options that also give a player some benefit. Otherwise, it’s just too childish.
Forced Multiplayer: LOTRO
I hate playing with other people. I am a loner. I like to play by myself with no one else in the room. I like MMOs though. I don’t join groups, I don’t join guilds, I rarely trade with others, and I don’t chat. Why play an MMO then? Well, I like the character creation and build that comes with MMOs. There aren’t a lot of single player games with those features, namely Oblivion, Skyrim, and a few non-Elder Scrolls games. So I play a lot of MMOs, I beta-tested LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, and The Elder Scrolls online. I played City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online, WOW, and a few others I can’t remember. I play LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, SWTOR, and DC Universe Online. All these games try to make you play with other people. I get the fact that they want to utilize that millions of people are playing, but they shouldn’t make it impossible to play solo (Han Solo). SWTOR only gives F2P players one crafting ability, when you need two to make something useful. That’s more about them trying to make F2P into Pay to Win players, but F2P players could conceivably trade with others for the stuff they need. LOTRO gives everyone all three of their crafting abilities, but they are set up that you need stuff from a fourth crafting skill to complete some items. I’m crazy, so I created four other characters on each of my servers to make them all craft the stuff I need (now I have to do some shuffling because of the server shutdowns) and just mail it to my other characters. I hate to have to do this, but I really don’t want to be forced to play with other characters. It’s worse when it is about quests. Ugh. I just level up on side quests until I can do a group quest on my own. I know, I’m antisocial, but don’t act like I’m the only MMO player out there that would rather play alone. I assure you I’m not.
Yes, I’m antisocial, but let’s face it, pretty much every MMO player doesn’t like to be stalked. It happens to people more when they play female characters I bet, but that doesn’t always seem to matter to the stalkers. A player that stalks others sees a player they don’t know running around, completing missions and starts to follow them. Maybe they don’t say anything or send invites. Maybe they just want to steal your kills. This happens to me a lot on Marvel Heroes. They don’t want to play with me, they just want help not getting mobbed or want to take the quest kill from me after I’ve killed all the baddies between us and the big baddie (happens way too often in SWTOR and LOTRO). That isn’t much of a problem in DC Universe Online (or as it is called in my home “DahCooniverse”) because that game is set up that if you land one blow in the fight (not the first one, like other games) you also get credit for the kill and get loot too. That sounds like forced multiplayer but it’s more sharing than forced. It makes gameplay a little less frustrating when you get a stalker. My problem with the silent stalker is that I feel crowded out of an area. It’s more obvious in a top-down game like Marvel Heroes where you can see that other player following your every turn. I quit playing when that happens.
The other kind of stalker doesn’t last as long but can be more annoying. This is the person who sends you multiple invites in a row. When the area is crowded, I can understand how they may have accidentally sent me a second request. But sometimes no one else is around and they send three to five. Or once in SWTOR a person sent me 15 requests. One can only guess that person had to be five, because only five year olds ask the same question that many times in a row. So I hightailed it out of that area and the range of their social ineptitude. No means no, even in MMOs, people.
The Dominance of the Sandbox and FPS
I’m not sure if it’s obvious to most readers at this point, but I don’t play a lot of FPS or sandbox games. First of all, I’m not a console player. I’m a PC gamer. FPS games seem to work better with a controller. I’m not very good at these games. I tend to die very quickly. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite weren’t too hard for me (especially when I realized that I could just use the wrench to beat down the squirrely doctor in Bioshock), but Oblivion (which has some broken leveling) and Skyrim lost some of their fun being in first person (yes, I know you can do third person, but the feel of those games and the mechanics are made for FPS styles). Then I tried Speck Ops: The Line. It’s brutal and the story is great, but I still suck at it.
I’m also not all that into sandbox gaming. “You can do anything you want!” But what should I do? “Anything you want!” Okay. My point is that sandbox gaming tends to lack focus and it’s hard to tell what you’re supposed to interact with. Complete sandbox is also a turnoff for me. Mostly I don’t like sandbox gaming because those games seem to have the same kind of story and that story will usually just pause while you are futzing around, completely losing all urgency. While Fable 3 was somewhat sandboxy, once you knew about the dark monster coming for you, the story was on a clock (this is one of the only games I beat, note that it was 3rd person) and that lent more realism to it. Some games keep the story going even though they are also sandboxes, but they don’t warn you that the story will keep going (i.e. Oblivion). This is a low down dirty trick. “You can do anything you want! (but the problems you’re supposed to fix will still happen)” What was that? “Anything you want!” Yahtzee talked a lot about these kinds of problems in some of his videos, so why don’t you go watch those too?
I don’t think FPS and sandbox gaming is just a problem because I don’t like or am not good at them. The problem is that there are so freaking many of them. Thank you so much GTA! I’m not saying don’t make them, but how about you make other kinds of games too, triple A game companies? This is why I tend to be excited by indie games. They have more variety.
The Fall of the (Turn-based) RPG: The Lord of the Rings: Third Age
My favorite kind of game is the turn-based RPG. I do not like JRPG, so don’t suggest any to me, though I loved Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. That game was fun. A million freaking disks and tiny little characters and an interesting story. I beat that game too. The second one was harder. I like turn-based gaming because I’m a fan of strategy and building a character. I’ll play RTS games, but they’re not my favorite. My favorite game of all time is The Lord of the Rings: Third Age. Turn-based, six characters, the entirety of the story all from the movies, its own side story, and pretty good graphics for the PS2 engine. Now, I’m a little OCD. Each character had two power sets you could level up by doing a move each time in battle. I had each character completely leveled up by the end because I would park my butt in Helm’s Deep and go into battle for hours, prolonging the fights to get in as many moves for each character as possible. My spouse thought I was crazy since I wasn’t advancing the story at all. Then he realized I was also smart because in some of the later battles all of your characters have to fight two different battles at the same time and if you didn’t level up your second stringers, they were just going to die. The only thing I didn’t level up completely was the crafting ring. It took too long. I got 100% complete on that game, twice. That’s right twice. Each saved game had about 99 hours of playtime on it, which means I spent a total of 198 hours playing that game. The only reason I’m not playing it now is that I don’t have a PS2 anymore. But I miss that game. It’s the last really great turn-based game I can remember, especially one with modern (for its time) graphics. Now, it seems only the Japanese companies and indie developers are making turn-based games because all the other companies are so busy making their FPSes and sandbox games. Ugh. So when you hear about a turn-based game, please drop me a line. I’m always interested.
The Point of It All
Maybe it’s a good thing that I have so many issues with video games: it stops them from becoming an obsession that takes up all my time. These aren’t all my problems with video games (ex. crappy controls, poor story, freaking autosave!, lack of instructions, WASD explanations–really? you’re going to explain that but not how your battle simulator works?), but they are the ones that bother me most. I know that companies don’t have to satisfy just me, but I also know I’m not the only one who is put off by the issues on this list. The biggest issue seems to be the lack of variety coming out of big video game companies. It seems sometimes that more money and time are spent on graphics rendering than on gaming concept and story. Sometimes testing even goes out the window, looking at you, Arkham Knight for your PC version. Maybe this time it won’t suck quite so much, or at least not crash computers.
Got any trends or mechanics that bug you? Tell me about them in the comments. We’ll talk shop.