Tag Archives: video games

Sims: Supernatural Expansion – The Sims I’ve Always Wanted

The Sims uses the slogan “Play with Life” and it’s true. Sims is and has always been a giant sandbox with an ever-increasing world of options. It has a variety of appeal. If you like to design and build houses and buildings, you can do that. If you like to give Sims opposite personality traits, shove them in a studio apartment and watch what happens, you can do that too. The Sims 3 Expansion packs have increasingly created richer, more realistic environments and potential. They’ve given us pets. They’ve given us  toy chests and dragon costumes. They’ve given us jobs that you don’t just sit back and wait for, but jobs you do: making over other Sims or remodeling their houses.

But Sims Supernatural is, to be honest, the Sims I’ve always wanted. We’ve had vampires since Late Night, but you had to meet a vampire and convince them to turn your Sim if you wanted to be one. Now you can be a vampire or a faerie or a witch or a genie or even a ghost right out of the gate. This pack gives us historical and faerie outfits and something I’m going to call “Lestat hair.”

This is also the pack that fully gives us magic. Witches can do alchemy and make zombies rise. Vampires can turn other Sims. People joke about “why play the Sims? So you can have a fake person clean the kitchen and go to work and pay bills.” This is the pack that changes the game completely, allowing the player to delve into all sorts of fantasy worlds and create their own stories with fantastical elements.

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Fear and Loathing on the Marketing Campaign Trail ‘12: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect: Reapers?

Oh Normandy, if only your elevators weren't so slow.

Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2 as created by yours truly.

For those of you who live under a rock or have the world’s most thorough ad blocker, Mass Effect 3 is going to be released in just under a week on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. This is the third and final part of the story surrounding Commander Shepard–a character whose gender, appearance, personality, background, and decisions are largely determined by the player. This allows you to play as a character that you identify with or that you want to shape in whatever image you see fit. The basic (spoiler-free) back story from  the first game is pretty simple: A bad dude named Saren is flying around in a ship named Sovereign (a Reaper) trying to bring about the destruction of all sentient life in the universe. Of course, convincing politcal officials that he and his Reaper are a threat is a task unto itself. In the end, it is up to Commander Shepard and her/his crew to stop Saren’s activities and attempt to save the universe.

Needless to say, the story presented to you at the beginning of the game is filled with red herrings and plot twists which I will try to avoid spoiling entirely for you, but basically, the story is good. Really good. Combine this with the fact that you can have player-driven discussions with many of the NPCs in the game and you have a recipe for attachment to your crew and squadmates. (Of course, if you want to ignore them completely you also have that choice.)

Mass Effect 2: Ah, yes… “Reapers”
Let’s move forward two years, both in-game and in real life. It’s 2009 and Mass Effect 2 comes out. Shepard gets spaced in the first couple of minutes of the game and wakes up on an operating table two years later; apparently the organization Cerberus (they’re basically space Nazis) has invested hugely in bringing Shepard back to fight the looming threat of Reaper invasion. Of course, politicians believe that the Reaper known as Sovereign was an isolated case and they refuse to help you (this has turned into a bit of a running joke within the game as well as within the community). So, if you want to take action to save the universe from the Reaper invasion  you’re basically stuck with the space Nazis.

The combat system was vastly improved in the second installment and the game was much more fun to play. There was one feature that really got me hooked on the game, though: the ability import all of your decisions from the first game and have it impact the story of the second game. Not only that, but during the course of the first and second games almost everyone in your party can die. Hell, depending on how you choose to play the game, you can either save or drive into extinction an entire species of sentient beings. Not only that but it’s actually possible for Commander Shepard to die. Permanently. Forever. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Do not import into Mass Effect 3.

That, my friends, is pretty staggering. Ultimately, the choice is yours as to how you want to play the game and you get to live (or die) with the consequences.

Mass Effect 3: Holy shit, Reapers!

Ah yes, "Reapers." We have dismissed that claim.

This is the first damn thing you see upon gaining control of Shepard in ME3. The environments are beautiful, the squad banter is good, and the combat is fantastic. So long as BioWare can deliver with solid story and role playing elements, there will be many satisfied customers.

 


Ah, Mass Effect 3–voted the most anticipated game of 2012. This is a game built on five years of players making plot decisions, replaying the game with different decisions, and trying out the different class and background combinations just to see the consequences. Five years of running around the Normandy talking to the immensely diverse cast of characters, investing time in getting to know the NPCs, and coming to care about the members of your crew. The deep sense of immersion in the universe and your relationship with the characters in it is the real draw to this series. I think most fans would agree with me about that.

So, imagine that the marketing campaign for the game centers around action, violence, and huge explosions. Imagine that they implement an entire mode of play that skips all of the decisive dialogue options. Imagine that the demo they released includes no background, no real story, and no interaction aside from brief acknowledgement from characters who served closely to you in the first game. What are you supposed to think?

I know what I thought: Holy shit, did they turn Mass Effect into a mindless shooter? I mean it’s great that the combat is way more interesting and complex, but what the hell happened to the role playing aspects?

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GeekGirlCon: No, I am not a Booth Babe

The ladies of Crabcat Industries: Elizabeth, Hilary, and Jessica.

All right, kids! After a fall quarter from hell and surviving an over-booked-but-fun holiday adventure I am finally writing up my thoughts on the GeekGirlCon panel titled, “No, I am not a Booth Babe: Sexism in the Video Game Industry” featuring the ladies of CrabCat Industries–Elizabeth Heckmaier, Jessica Merizan, and Hilary Shapiro. The original plan for this post was to rave about how awesome Jessica Merizan is, but frankly, with over three months between now and the con, I can’t remember exactly why I wrote “I love this woman” in my notes from the panel. So, instead of a straight up review, I will liberally interpret what my notes say to weave my own narrative on the topics discussed during the panel.

Representations of Females in Games
It is apparent to anyone who has been exposed to gaming culture that ladies in games are often only eye candy or objects to be rescued and, even if they are plot-relevant characters, they tend to be overly-sexualized and scantily clad. As Merizan pointed out during the panel, the door does swing both ways in some respects.

“How often to the guys look like the characters they are playing?” she asked. While I agree with her on that point, I would add that just because both sexes are subjected to this sort of idealized representation in games it does not follow that it is therefore acceptable. Indeed, I would argue that females have it worse in many respects (the second result on google for “female video game characters” lists 25 of the hottest ones). The most obvious example is how females are clothed or, perhaps more accurately, how often they simply aren’t clothed.

I’m sure we are all familiar with the tendency for female characters to wear “armor” which often fails to cover fairly large portions of vital bits–particularly around the abdomen. In fact, in games such as World of Warcraft it is often joked that the less skin the armor covers the more protective it is–this is due to the plate and mail armor sets in the game often more closely resembling a chainmail bikini whereas the cloth armor tends take the form of more conservative robes (with some famous exceptions, of course). This isn’t to say that there is an objection to ladies wearing revealing outfits in general, but rather that women routinely going into battle wearing a chainmail bikini is insulting. Why is it that females simply aren’t dressed for the job?

The original is forgivable for sake of the "big reveal" with awful graphics, but come on.

Samus Aran pictures from the end of the Metroid games.

As Shapiro pointed out during the panel, we are thankfully seeing a trend of more appropriately dressed ladies in video games. Of note are Aveline from Dragon Age II and, my personal favorite, Shepard (or “FemShep”) from the Mass Effect series. I am hoping this trend continues and that other appropriately dressed characters such as Samus Aran from Metroid (who originally was considered a breakthrough with respect to women in games) will no longer be reduced to posing in pin-up style pictures of increasing states of undress offered as a reward to the player for higher percentage of game completion.

That being said, I have no problem with ladies posing as pin ups or with ladies wearing chainmail bikinis–it just shouldn’t be women’s only accepted role in the community.

Authenticity: There ARE Girls on the Internet, Assholes
“Authenticity shouldn’t be an issue anymore,” said Heckmaier. I believe she was referring to how women are often seen as somehow being posers or not “real” gamers unless proven otherwise. I believe this goes hand-in-hand with other stereotypes of girl gamers–they’re not good at games, if you admit to being a girl it is because you want free stuff from guys, you’re probably 800 pounds and ugly (attractive girls don’t play video games, of course), and the list goes on and on. I remember being very cautious and even ashamed about admitting my gender on MMORPGs because of encountering these exact stereotypes myself. While in a group, if I simply corrected someone for using the wrong pronoun I would either be accused of being an attention whore or I would be hit on. I once had a PVP group of mostly males and people made statements that the only reason I was allowed in the group was because I must have been sleeping with the person running it.

I’ve even been on receiving end of well-meaning sexist comments too–two friends of mine once commented on how girls were not any good at PVP. One of the friends countered with the fact that they knew ONE girl who was good at it–me. How flattering.

Rule 30: There are no girls on the internet. Recently, a friend joked that I put his manliness to shame while playing Guitar Hero because I can play guitar on expert and he can only play on medium. While more subtle, these comments are still troubling because they reflect the pervasive underlying assumption that girls are bad at games.

Hey, guess what? Girls are good at video games. In fact, there are girls who are better at video games than guys are. I used to be flattered every time someone reacted with, “Wow! You’re beating me at this game and you’re a GIRL!” Not anymore. I just find it insulting. I am not some sort of god damn anomaly just because I have a vagina.

This trend goes both ways, though. For every sexist comment from a male I’ve gotten (“I didn’t want to talk to you at first because you are pretty and therefore I assumed you were stupid”) I’ve gotten something just as awful from a female perpetuating the same nonsense. For example, I once went shopping for a hair dryer. I was then berated by a friend of mine because she “know[s] the types of girls who own hair dryers” and I clearly was wrong to venture into the “pretty girl” camp from her “smart girl” camp. As Merizan also pointed out, girls commonly get disapproving comments for wearing make-up as well–it seems to me that no matter what you do to your appearance, there is always something wrong with it.

This pretty girl vs. smart girl dichotomy has got to stop. We are human beings. We can be and often are both of these (and many more) things. We fall within a bell curve like most of the rest of the population. We shouldn’t be shunned by our nerd peers for wanting to wear make up, dresses, or do our hair. Women do not do these things for the attention of men. We do them because we want to do them. Also, just because a girl doesn’t somehow meet your standards of attractiveness doesn’t mean you can dismiss her, either.

It seems to me that the current state of gender issues in the video game industry, much like the current state of feminism in general, is a matter of personhood and a battle against pervasive, destructive stereotypes–for both genders. For goodness sake, do an image search for “girl gamers” and look at what comes up. I dare you to tell me this isn’t a huge problem.

Come Do That Lindy Hop and You Will Never Stop

Lindy hop (commonly and inaccurately known to the masses as “swing dancing”) is a social, partnered dance form that came out of Harlem during the late 20s and thrived through the 30s and 40s. It went underground for nearly 40 years before being revived in the late 1980s.

More importantly: IT IS FREAKING AWESOME. OH MY CHRIST IT IS SO MUCH FUN. I love it and YOU SHOULD TOO.

I realize that many nerds are not into the whole dance thing, so in order to perhaps bridge the gap between standard nerd and dance nerd I present to you Lindy hop–SUPER MARIO BROTHERS STYLE!