Category Archives: Features

The Four Fundamental Assumptions Everyone is Getting Wrong About Anita Sarkeesian

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Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist, media critic, and blogger who writes and produces a Youtube series/website called Feminist Frequency. Her videos about women in video games are well thought, insightful, reasonable, and absolutely correct about the values they reflect (if you haven’t watched them yet, I recommend it). Despite this or probably because of it, her most recent video, which explored violence against women as background decoration in video games, earned her death threats and a swarm of misogynistic retaliation.

With that, I present the following list of four fundamental assumptions I see made against her that everyone is getting wrong:

1. Anita Sarkeesian hates video games

This one is usually the first assumption people wrong about her make and the one they couldn’t be more incorrect about. She starts every video by stating “it is possible to be critical of some aspects of media while still finding it enjoyable or valuable,” and looking at how aggressively detailed her videos are about video game history or keeping track with the sheer number of examples they cite should make it very clear that she knows her shit. Think about how absurd it would be for someone to invest that much time and energy playing something as obscure and dated like Star Fox Adventures just to make a point (seriously, that game sucked).

2. Anita cherrypicks some of her examples so her entire argument is inavlid

Yes, there a handful of examples Anita references in her videos that are cherrypicked, taken out of context, and made to look a lot worse than they are. Being hypercritical about these specific elements weakens her arguments, but that doesn’t mean they’re all completely invalid.  Feminism in video gaming  is  a somewhat “new” concept that many haven’t contemplated or have the grasp of knowledge to argue about, and it’s because of this that Anita has been elected the unofficial “face” of this movement. Leveling personal criticisms or flaws against her for particular misgivings shouldn’t be enough to dismiss her ideas which speak to something much greater.

Which brings me to…

3. Anita is a feminist which means she hates all men and assumes all men actively hate women

Feminism is a loaded term that immediately puts some on the defensive and conjures up images of bra burning women castrating men en masse while getting an abortion and giving each other high fives during a Melissa Etheridge concert. Yes, there are extremists in feminism who would probably dig that just as there are extremists with everything in life, but that shouldn’t undermine the core ideal of feminism: to promote and encourage ideas and actions that strive to treat women with the same regard and respect as men. Anita doesn’t argue that there can’t/shouldn’t be violence against women in video games, that there can’t/shouldn’t be male protagonists, or that all developers are actively trying to promote sexists ideas.

She wants developers to be self-aware about their influence on culture and make efforts against misogynistic practices.

4. Anita is trying to destroy gaming as we know it

If you can’t see her videos on gaming culture as anything else, then look at them as an argument against bad writing. A lot of game developers are very technically minded people so it’s no surprise that they aren’t the most creative writers when it comes to storytelling. Using violence against women to give a story “grit” as a shorthand to establish “amorality” in a game’s world or to set off a hero’s quest isn’t terrible just because it comes at the expense of women – it’s terrible because it’s lazy writing. Gaming is a still relatively new art medium, but it has the potential to explore ideas and topics in much deeper ways than other art mediums can. If videogames continue to rely on the same tropes, though, they’re going to reach their max potential for storytelling really quick.

Some would argue that they already have.

Let’s just hope developers are taking note.

Why Indie Games Are The Future

More and more I feel violated as a consumer when I buy a game from a major company. Whether you can only get the real ending to a plot in downloadable content you have to pay for or you’re only getting 80% of the content that’s already on the disc at full price while being charged extra for the last 20% – it seems that a game company’s only objective now is to bleed out every drop of profit from as many places as much as they can.

Don’t get me wrong, I get why developers do this. With the costs of developing a game and publishing them onto a console being as high as they are and with the used game industry siphoning away a ton of potential profits from a game (especially when people sell back their new games en masse just days after buying them), game developers have to find ways to maximize profits from every avenue possible to even stay in business. One glance at this list of game studio closures since 2007 is enough to show what a shaky market they’re in. There are so many industry wide problems that cause this economic dilemma, though, that it’s not something that can be fixed overnight. Only a major change or a gradual shift away from the norm can do that. Regardless, more and more players are becoming frustrated with these business practices, and they’re buying games from major companies less and less.

It’s from this emerging vacuum then that indie games will succeed, and this is why:

1. Indie Games Cost Much, Much Less To Produce

Super Meat Boy, one of the most successful indie games of all time (as of January 2012, they’ve hit the 1,000,000 mark), cost around “$30,000” to make. According to developer Edmund McMillen, though, “we would have spent that even if we weren’t working on the game, so the real dev cost is closer to $0.” Whereas some major developers can take up to five or six years to produce one game, Super Meat Boy only took a year and a half with just a two man team whose only “expenses” were to pay rent. Less costs to produce and less time to develop = higher returns. And with cheap production avenues like Steam or self-financing sites like Kickstarter now available to replace those high publishing and financing costs of publishing a game through a major publisher – indie developers have even more ways to gain a profit than ever before. Granted, no indie game will be pulling Call of Duty numbers, but still. Very few entertainment industry pros do.

A future indie game developer rich off that sick indie cash with his mean-spirited trophy wife.

2. Indie Games Can Take Higher Risks

The more something costs to make, the less risks it can take. This applies to any industry, but with video games especially. A lot of major games released today only copy other successful games while imposing subtle changes to make it “unique.” Games made on a much smaller scale don’t gain as much from copying a major game. They don’t have the production value to do it and, at best, they can only come off like a really good cover band does when you’re kind of drunk at a bar. The thing that distinguishes one indie game from the rest is creativity, and it’s this that’s valued above all else. Indie games have to be creative because if they weren’t, no one would pay attention to them. To be unique involves taking risks, and it’s these kind of risks indie games can afford. Something new and creative can make gaming feel fresh again.

This exists by a freedom of creativity.

3. Today’s Games Are Less About Graphics and More About Aesthetics

There was a time when graphics were a game’s main selling point. If a game had archaic looking graphics, it would never sell and the critics would tear it apart mercilessly. Fortunately, though, technology has advanced to the point that a small developer can make something look appealing with just a limited set of tools and with low scale graphics. While an indie developer will never make something on the scale of Metal Gear Solid 4, they can still design their game with a certain aesthetic that can be just as, if not more, appealing than something from a major company. Minecraft, with its blocky design (that feels more at home with a mid-90’s 32 bit era game trying to emulate 3D graphics than a game from the 2010’s), has, by definition, pretty terrible graphics. Regardless, it’s not about the quality of its graphics that makes it a great looking game, it’s about the individual aesthetic it has with its retro design. Grand Turismo 5 is a hyper realistic looking game that came out in 2010 and that nobody really cares about now. Minecraft is a game that looked 10 years outdated when it came out in the same year and is still played by a rabid fanbase now.

Minecraft Guy: Still breaking hearts.

4. Indie Games Are Creator Focused

People hate the idea of big business. Even though this doesn’t stop them from supporting it in droves, a lot of people don’t like to be reminded how many faceless corporations control their lives. The same idea applies to video games. Gamers develop personal relationships with their favorite games just as much as anyone else does with any other medium of art, and when their games are changed or ruined in a sequel or an update, that personal relationship starts to fade.  An indie game developer is a person who has complete and total control of their work. People are much more willing to invest in something that they know they can develop a personal relationship with and call “their own.” Indie game developers don’t have to worry about answering to a board of investors or always looking at the bottom line, all they have to worry about is making a great game. And when so many video game developers are easily accessible on places like Twitter or Tumblr to talk about their work with you, a video game feels less like a business product and more like an artistic venture.

See? The guys who made Minecraft are pretty cool.

5. Bloated Industries Look Towards Innovators to Revolutionize It

Just like Nirvana did to alternative and indie culture in the 90’s, when something new, revolutionary, and successful comes along during a time when regular business is failing, businesses are quick to try and replicate this new thing or find more things like it. While this eventually bastardizes the creative spark that started it just like Nirvana’s grunge sound led to bands like Creed – it stills leads to two or three golden years of creativity as companies take more chances and invest in things they wouldn’t have before. While the game industry isn’t bloated enough just yet to reach its tipping point, the time is coming soon that it will start favoring creativity over business for once.

Does Skyrim have too much to do?

Skyrim

Let me first preface this by saying that my argument here is a seemingly ridiculous one for video games. After all, so many video games are knocked down for being over way too soon or having very little content that it’s ludicrous to even entertain the idea that a game should suffer because it has too much to do. But well, Skyrim has too much to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Skyrim is not meant to be a game with a straight, linear path. Sure, there are plenty of storylines that hold the world together and plenty of paths you can choose, but it’s only the ones that you do choose that matter (you can completely ignore the main quest if you want). It’s a massive world that’s designed to suck you in completely. It wants to take you from a prisoner with nothing to a master of the land. It gives you a blank slate to work with and lets you turn your character into whatever you desire it to be. So when you have a game like this that allows you to express your ambitious desires this much, what’s the problem?

When I first started playing Skyrim, I had no idea what to do.  I don’t mean that in a sense like I had no idea where to go or how to actually play the game, but I had no idea what I wanted my character to be. I play video games with an unhealthy obsession to escape reality, but the massive amount of choice Skyrim gave me when I first started the game made me feel like I was back in high school again with people constantly barraging me with questions about what major I wanted to choose, what my unchangeable life goals were, and what kind of soul-crushing jobs I wanted to apply for a couple months after high school graduation to setup a retirement plan. I felt like Skyrim needed a video game within a video game to escape the pressures of Skyrim-reality. I mean, I don’t need some depressed secretary with lame life-affirming posters of animals next to inspirational quotes berating me for my lack of focus on being undecided between either wanting to go battle-mage or rogue warrior! Shut up, Ms. Kimmy. I hate you, I HATE YOU. Ok, ok. These sound more like personal issues. Yeah dude, I know.

Inspirational Dog

 

 

 

 

 

Presented: One example of an inspirational animal poster (featured animal: dog).

Regardless, the multiple career paths you have to choose from in Skyrim is, at first, stifling. With very little to guide you, it’s very easy to make a character that’s initially too unfocused and spread out. And with a character like that, you’re setup to fail over and over. When this happens, it feels like the game is punishing you for wanting to explore different class and character types when it should be doing the opposite. Since things don’t come quickly in Skyrim, as well, it can take you hours and hours of playing before you realize that you’ve built a weak character and all you can do is start over. In this regard, Skyrim is a lot like reality in that you can’t spend your life jumping by whim from random career path to career path.

The main problem with that assessment, though, is that no matter how much a video game can mimic “reality,” it can never fully recreate it. The satisfaction you get from accomplishing something in game can never meet the level of satisfaction you get from accomplishing something in real life. I don’t mean that video games are designed to be a replacement for reality or that they should be. In fact, it’s a dangerous thing to even suggest that. Like any other artistic medium, though, they’re designed mainly to entertain and inspire. When a game requires so much of you to invest towards one specific path and when the accomplishments of that are something that you can never list on a resume, it can sometimes feel meaningless when you succeed in-game.

Life is defined by fleeting grand moments and a whole lot of boring minutiae that fills up the rest. My problem with Skyrim is that a game that has as many quests and as many things to do like Skyrim does can never maintain the steady stream of grand moments like a shorter and smaller game can, especially when the game requires you to grind on end to succeed. The majority of the people I’ve talked to who have stopped playing Skyrim at some point didn’t stop because they reached a certain end-game moment in a quest and felt satisfied ending their experience or because they had accomplished everything – they stopped because they got bored.

By design, there is just too much manpower and money required to create a game on the scope of Skyrim that is a constant stream of ever-changing moments and new, exciting things. And so, much of the time spent in the world of Skyrim is spent engaging in repetitive tasks and quests. Not everything can be that thought out because well, a game like that would take years and years to make. From a business standpoint, that just cannot happen.

Don’t get me wrong, Skyrim is still an amazing game that has and will continue to suck out many more hours of my life. Playing it just feels more like work than fun sometimes, and don’t we play video games to escape that?

A kind of unrelated video showing all the random ways you can die in Skyrim follows below.