Friday, April 29, 2011

We're All in This Together...

Have you ever had an idea or written something that felt like it was bigger than just your own feelings? That's how I felt with the latest feature for RPGFan, The Best (And Worst) Female RPG Characters. Most people would think this list was about ranking babes, but what I've created, with the help of other staff members, is something preaching against that. First off, I decided not to rank these females. I do not want to diminish their role or do a disservice by putting a number on them. Women have been ranked for years, and that's unfortunate. I also decided to make the feature about their positivity in the gaming world. For some time I've received criticism about fighting for stronger female characters, and this is me fighting back with something positive. The feature encompasses the well-written female. I can only hope more of these magnificent ladies and their stories come to the surface. But why is this so important to me? I'm just going to let it all out...

It's no secret that I have been growing more and more passionate about the writing in RPGs, female characters, in particular. There are more girls gaming today than ever before - and I want ladies for us to admire, and for the younger girls to look up to. Call me crazy, but I'm still seeing a step backwards in a lot of games. I want characters full of passion and depth, ones that have a story worth telling. Perhaps it was growing up in the whole "the princess is another castle" era. It perpetuated the classic gender role, but you can't really blame that on Nintendo. That gender role has existed for centuries and we've accepted it for the most part. Why? I think it's hard, because we don't want to bring gender into the equation, but here's the thing: we can't deny a big part of who we are. It was like in one of my previous entries when I came to terms with my health condition, it's always going to be there, and to deny a part of yourself - that's no way to live.

It's strange; for months I have agonized and felt like I had to keep silent over what I found to be female characters not being done justice. One of my favorite journalists happens to be a feminist, and if you don't know her name, get on it: Gloria Steinem. She's a big part of the Women's Liberation Movement. She has passion, zest, intelligence, and fought to give females more opportunities than they ever thought possible - denying Steinem's influence on me is next to impossible. The woman had substance and drive, but she also came with words of wisdom that I can still apply to my life today. I keep thinking of her famous words, "Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status-quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood."

How odd is it that we're in 2011, and I can still apply that to the resistance I've faced being a female game journalist? But look at that last line "She will need her sisterhood," I wholeheartedly believe that all of females in the industry need to stick together, only we can know the same struggles and offer guidance to get over the hurdles. And if I sat here and kept quiet, because I was afraid of being faced with any negativity, then I'm turning my back on all the women who fought for me to have that opportunity - that voice. I also have a social responsibility - I'm going to choose my battles and how I perceive things. Stronger writing of females characters in our games is something that's worth fighting for, call it silly, because to some "it's just a game," but we all know if it was "just a game" we wouldn't get as wound up over them as we do. These characters matter, they've helped many get through darker times, they've brought many joy, and have etched long-lasting memories.

I'm not saying it's all bad. We've made great strides as females, and I'm not denying that. However, we're still experiencing some resistance, and I'd like to change that. It's hard for anybody regardless of gender speaking their mind. Even as a reviewer, I've come a long way to find my true voice, and not put so much stock into the negativity that follows. There also are some great female characters out there, to be honest, doing the feature put a lot in perspective for me. Originally, we thought we wouldn't be able to fill the list, and then there was an outpouring of suggestions, and we even had to debate. I'd be happy to do a part two of this feature to showcase some of the ladies that just missed the cut, they're there, and I'm thankful for every one of them. If we can keep them coming on a more consistent basis, I think we're getting somewhere, but to keep our mouths shut when they are done poorly - that's not going to make anything better.

I should end this with saying, I've never been one to take up a cause or crusade, and I hate segregation of any sort. I'm not trying to say the writing issue is all black and white, because it isn't. I'm also not trying to say males probably don't have some of the same issues that I do with writing. I'm just trying to say, a little sisterhood every now and then never hurt, and it's definitely a throwback to all those women who fought the good fight.

Before I end this post, I just want to highlight a great podcast I've recently started listening to called GameDames, an all female podcast, that's more than refreshing to hear. They don't entirely focus on gender, which is great. But what they do offer is a way to get a female perspective, and maybe not feel so alone. Just remember we're all in this together, and as Gloria once said, "We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach."

If anybody wants to get in touch with me to discuss anything I've listed above or just needs someone who knows what they are going through, feel free to contact me: kim@rpgfan.com

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Appreciating the Non-Linear Things in Life...

I'll admit for years I've enjoyed games with a more linear path. Sure, I'd stop and do the odd sidequest now and then, because I felt somewhat obligated to. It's hard to explain, I have this completionist mindset, but not enough time to give it everything I've got. I used to detest meaningless sidequests, and I still do to some point, but as long as the sidequest itself is fun I can look past that. I've been playing Red Dead Redemption, and I've noticed so much that the game does right with its side content. Mainly that, it's never forced upon you, you always have a choice if you want to complete it, and they make it part of the environment, where it feels real. So many times, I ran into a poor girl getting robbed, and I'd fire my gun to free her to safety. The sad part is, in all of this, there's also a sense of realism to it. If you saw someone getting robbed or beaten across the street from you, would you just ignore it? It plays on your mind and feelings, as though, if you neglect these people, you'll have to live with yourself in the long run. We've talked about how attached I get to my choices in games, always wanting to be "good," but Red Dead Redemption was the first game that toyed with me.

The majority of the times when I did help out, I was met with a group of thieves that were far more than I could take, and thus, I'd get the DEAD screen, reminding me of my poor choice. This succeeds most in reminding us that just because we want to be hero, doesn't mean we'll always come out of it alive. Did it ever stop be from trying to save people? I can only think of two or three times, where I was so fixated on getting to a quest that I didn't do my good deed of the day. There's always a risk when you're putting your life on the line to save someone else, but where this most succeeds is when you do, you're rewarded. Sometimes with cash, sometimes with increasing your honor or fame, and sometimes just keeping your own peace of mind that you didn't walk away while someone else was being killed.

I remember in psychology studying this one study where people all thought someone else was calling the cops, while this poor woman was getting killed. Neighbors heard, but they depended on others to play the good citizen card. The end result? A woman died while all her neighbors ignored her pleas. Ever since, I've learn of this, I've been unable to let anyone in harm or danger just sit there. Yes, even in video games, because if the shoe was on the other foot, would you want someone else to just assume somebody else was going to help? My guess is no, and so I always try to look deeper, and come out of it knowing I at least tried to do the right thing.

An interesting conversation came up today, while our cable guy was installing our equipment. He told me how much he detested open world games, such as Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto; I looked at him a little puzzled. I know they can be overwhelming, heck, it took me a while before I got over my Fallout 3 open world fears, but I honestly think people forget that it's up to you - how much you wish to devote. These games never force on you that you have to do everything, so I find it disappointing that people will write off games for this reason, and not embrace that they are representing something very real - a changing world, with endless options for you to lose yourself in. It never hurts to have a game make you feel and ponder your actions. An open world means you can decide where you want the game to take you, maybe it'll take you to numerous different places, or maybe you'll only stop at a couple. The point is, the option is there for you to choose how far you want to go, and I can't see that as a bad thing. If anything, it's showing how much the gaming world has grown; the technology involved in developing these open worlds is quite extensive and astonishing. So, a question back to all of you is: How far will you let a game take you?

P.S. I know I'll never top my previous post, and I appreciate all the outpouring of support. I've never been happier than reading those comments! You all make me smile. Okay, love-fest, done! Go play Red Dead Redemption if you haven't yet!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gaming as My Way of Dealing...

I'm going to let you in on a little secret, it's something I've tried to hide, because I don't want people to see it as a weakness. I suffer from fibromyalgia. You're probably going fibro-what? I don't blame you, the disease was first coined in 1981, and it came at a time of complete confusion. Fibromyalgia is a disease where people suffer from extreme long-term, wide-spread body pain. Suffers also experience various tender points that range from their joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. I deal with chronic pain on a daily basis, and every day is a battle I have to fight. It's never not there, and there are few answers. Medications take a bit of the edge off, but there is no magic pill to make this go away. My sleep is also greatly disturbed by it, and for a long time, I've had a hard time getting over how this has impacted my quality of life.

There's nights I sit awake because I'm in a momentous amount of pain. Do you know what has helped me get through all those trying times? It's video games. I sit there, game, and try not to focus on the pain. As much as video games get flack, I don't think they always get credit for the good things that they do. For a brief moment, a game can take you to another place - lead you to a different path. It's an escape from reality, but it's also a chance to experience a character that sometimes we identify with and sometimes we don't: you can be a version of yourself or somebody different entirely. I mentioned in my previous post that BioWare does in excellent job of letting you experience a journey through a character you create with decisions that say a lot about you. This has been a fantastic way for me to experience an alternate life for a while. Suffering through chronic pain, I've seen the positives that can come from gaming. Sometimes, I'm not sure how else I would focus myself away from the pain if I didn't have it.

For those still reading, don't pity me here. Life throws a lot at everyone, and I'm sure you're dealing with some hardships yourself. People may think me suggesting to game through troubles is simply promoting escapism. But, so what? I think sometimes in life we need to be taken away from ourselves. That's why I love games; I can get lost in another world, a different reality. I could sit here and say more on how gaming has been my saving grace to fibromyalgia, but I don't want to bore you. I will say that having any type of illness or disease is not a weakness. If anything, I think people who go through these feats and come out on top are among some of the strongest people out there. It also teaches you to appreciate the little things.

For now, I'm hoping to be a positive person for people with fibromyalgia to look up to, it's what drives me to be the best game journalist I can be. I hope to keep up my work, and maybe, one day, I can take my talent to newer and even more exciting heights. I don't want it to destroy me or take away my dreams. We all must fight our own hardships, and I think gaming is a great way to keep it all in check - a great balance for the negative we often face in life. In the end, we really have only one life, I don't want to sit here and say I gave into the pain and stopped pursuing everything I want out of life, and you shouldn't either. And if you need to game to get through it? There's nothing to feel ashamed of...nobody said any of this was easy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dragon Age II - Lady Hawke Arrives!

I'll start this off with being honest. I've only put about 10-15 hours into Dragon Age: Origins. It didn't click with me as much as I thought it would, especially after hearing everybody's praise. There was this barrier between Dragon Age: Origins and me; I'm not sure the reasoning. My experience with WRPGs is very limited, I've been a JRPG girl at heart. Lately, though, I've been looking for something different. I always appreciate choice in games, so I can't believe I haven't been able to get totally invested in a BioWare game sooner. Well, Dragon Age II broke the trend. It hooked me and kept me playing. I'll confess the beginning of the game isn't the strongest; you complete a wealth of quests and not much of the story shines through. Thankfully, as you go on more in the game, the narrative picks up, and there's great character development.

Where Dragon Age II succeeds most is in its ability to make you care. I'm just not experiencing many games that allow me to be emotionally invested in them. The decisions also weren't always that easy. There were some I agonized about; I also didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Yes, I'm still struggling to be anything but good or sarcastic in these games. I just can't be mean. I think in the end where the game is most impressive is its multidimensional characters. These characters were all endearing, but also had major flaws. I got fed up with a few a couple of times, but I never wanted to turn my back on them. Oh, man, one of the final scenes in Fenris' quest, literally broke my heart; it's this one line and how he says it. And this is exactly where Dragon Age II wins me over, I have lasting memories - scenes I remember with such preciseness.

One character I'm a little upset they didn't explore more was Bethany. I don't have a sister, but when I played the game, I really enjoyed the sister dynamic between Lady Hawke and Bethany. Bethany plays a larger role in the beginning of the game and then disappears for the majority of it. It's unfortunate; it was a character with wasted potential. Also, oh gosh, the scene with the mother (those who played it know what I'm talking about), it tore me up inside. I liked the family focus in this game; it really added some realism to it.

As for my romance options, sigh, I couldn't decide who to romance, and by the time I had settled on Fenris, it was too late in the game. This shows all too well my lack of experience with these games, but I wanted to be true and not lead on the wrong character. In the end, all I was left with was being alone. My favorite character in the game was Varric, and I'm really disappointed that he wasn't a romance option. The comical banter that he added during the journey was great comic relief for all the difficult decisions and burdens the game was tossing at you.

From what I played of Origins, I know the journey was grander and the story was deeper than what Dragon Age II offered. Dragon Age II also didn't have ten years of development time, and I can truly appreciate the game for what it was. I had fun, enjoyed the journey, and sometimes that's all you need in a game. This game is still better and more thought-provoking than half of what is on the market right now. Dragon Age II was obviously more accessible than the first one, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I think what BioWare needs to focus on is making it more balanced between the casual and hardcore fans. What I always admire about BioWare is that they don't make their games for one person or audience, they try to target a little bit of everybody with their games. That's remarkable and it's refreshing to see their zest to have a product that appeals for such a wide audience.

In the end, my Lady Hawke was respectable, moral, and not afraid to stand up for what's right. I admired the person I was able to be through her. I wish more games had this effect on me. I've been looking for games that make me feel something, I felt in Dragon Age II, and I walked away from it with fond memories - characters that touched me. I think it's safe to say this won't be my last WRPG. Dragon Age II got it right for me, and since they're hinting at a third game, I can't wait to see what they'll bring to the table. Hopefully, more depth and passion. You can never go wrong with either.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Oh Dang, My Morality Extends to Games

Recently, I was playing Fable III, and of course, I made a ton of promises that financially I couldn't keep. Well, I could have if I was smart enough to start banking money from the time I started the game. Let's face it, for some of us, that's just too much work. I don't have time to spend hitting buttons in a correct timed sequence over and over again to net me cash money. I wish I did, but I barely get to play half of the games I want ever since I graduated into adulthood along with being a reviewer under some crazy deadlines. Fable III is an example of one of those games I didn't get around to until recently, but it made me think - why am I always striving to be a good person in video games? Isn't this supposed to be an alternate world devoid of reality where your conscience shouldn't play into your choices? And yet, for some reason I always do the "right" thing. I've been good in Infamous, Mass Effect, Fable, Dragon Age, etc. These are my opportunities to be someone else and I still always stay aligned with my morals. And mind you, I could easily go to the bad side and not feel like anybody is judging me; nobody is watching me play these games. They're not real, but I think where I've hit the nail on the head with this is that they feel real.

We've come so far with graphics and technology that I find it hard to separate myself from my character. For instance, if I'm killing somebody for no reason in a game other than for my own selfish reasons, it feels wrong. But here's the thing - some games have it so realistic now where you see the blood and hear the cries and screams. Being evil is sometimes on a whole new violent level and even though these people aren't real, these games are giving me an experience that mimics something real. This is both good and bad.

I'll start with the good. For me to play games I must be compelled to play on, the easiest way to wrap me into that is by giving me a story and world that I can get wrapped up in. I've saved the worlds 100 times now in video games, but as long as you give me a good enough reason to keep saving it, I will always continue. Interestingly enough, even years ago, when games had blood splatters like Mortal Kombat - something about it never felt real to me. The visuals did nothing that ever made me feel bad about any of it. Lately, though, with our graphical advancements and games now having realistic voiced dialogue, it's impossible to deny that it feels more real than ever. And that's why I still stick to being the nice girl.

People always tell me, it's more fun to be bad - be a different person from who you are in real life. I'm sure that's true; however, I sleep better at night knowing I'm not torturing characters who look me in the eye, plead for their life, and resemble everyday people I see on the street.

I'll end this post with noting - not all games have evoked this sense of realism in me. I think it's interesting to ponder. For instance, in the Call of Duty games, I have yet to feel bad for any of kills. Honestly, I think this is because I'm so removed from knowing what war is like and the stories never invest me even close to the other games I listed earlier. Also, in CoD, it's shoot or be shot, so if it's to save my life...well then the rules change. But maybe it's because I don't play the CoD games for the same deep experience that I do other games, therefore, it doesn't hit me on the morality meter. I think we've all been desensitized by the media to some degree, and if a video game can get me that riled up about my choices where I'm facing a moral dilemma, well then they must be doing their job well. For now, I'll stay good, I don't need to taste the evil side to know it's just not for me. In the end, it all just feels too real for comfort.