Archive for the ‘video games’ Category

Thank you, David Gaider

I have played video games since I was a little girl.  I was a wizard at Tetris.  I can still hum the Kid Icarus theme.  My brother and I even stopped trying to psychologically torment each other for two whole months while we put together the money to buy a Super Nintendo and Final Fantasy III.

But sometime around my high school years, I started to realize that my affection for video games was off-putting to people in a way that an interest in sports or trucks or other typical “boy” stuff wasn’t.  The problem was that the video game industry was starting to get a (not undeserved) reputation for misogyny and video games were aggressively and exclusively marketed to horny straight guys.  Lara Croft “posed” topless to advertise the latest “Tomb Raider” game.  The excellent fighting game “Dead or Alive” had a “bouncing breasts” mode.*  “Grand Theft Auto” had the infamous “kill a prostitute” option.

This was not an industry interested in reaching out to its female customers.  This was an industry that had no notion that such customers existed.



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So I’ve been a little cranky recently. Actually, scratch “a little cranky” and replace it with “borderline homicidal.”  (I ask you, internet, how am I supposed to feel when PDU administrators saddle me with RAs who do not know how to insert footnotes into a Microsoft Word document?)  But whenever I start feeling stabby, I simply recite my mantra:

Image from Amazon.com

“You can’t kill anyone right now.  Dragon Age 2 comes out in March.”

Yes.  I’m that excited.

I am a big fan of Dragon Age: Origins, as this post will attest.  If Dragon Age 2 is as good as Origins, or even almost as good, I will be a happy gamer.  But I have to admit that I also have a wishlist of things I think the sequel could do even better than its predecessor.  Here’s what I’m hoping for from Dragon Age 2.


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I’ve been a devoted Mac girl since 2005, when I replaced my creaking, crash-happy Dell laptop with a shiny new PowerBook. That PowerBook, by the way, is still going strong, and I’ve since added an iMac desktop to my little Mac family.

But last week, I partitioned my desktop’s hard drive and installed Windows XP on my Mac. Why would I do such a thing? Why would I ever consider booting my computer in XP when I have the beauty of Snow Leopard available to me?

Two words: Mass Effect.

The biggest drawback to owning a Mac, by far, is the lack of gaming options. A few games, like Bioshock and Dragon Age: Origins, have released Mac versions, and I hope this becomes a trend.  But unfortunately, based on the reviews and research I’ve read, Mac versions of computer games are usually inferior to their PC counterparts.*  The general consensus is that if you want to play games on a Mac, your graphics card and processor need to blow the minimum specs out of the water, otherwise the game will freeze, crash, and be painfully slow. And many games are still not available for Mac, including Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

So now I have two operating systems on my computer.  I still use OS X for all of my dissertation work, but at the end of the day, when my brain has been thoroughly re-fried, I’ll reboot in XP and play some Mass Effect as I wait for my hardworking husband to come home so we can fix dinner.  I feel like I’m cheating on OS X, but really, my occasional forays into infidelity ultimately reaffirm my commitment to my true partner.  Gaming ability aside, I kind of hate XP.  What kind of operating system downloads updates to the F drive and then gets angry when it can’t install the downloaded files from the C drive?  You didn’t save the files on the C drive, genius!

Also, I do like the “Windows 7 was my idea” ad campaign, but if I see them bragging about their fabulously innovative task bar one more time, I’m going to throw something at the TV.  I’ve had a task bar in OS X for the past five years.

Straw poll: are you a Mac or a PC?  Why?


* Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft and Diablo, is an exception here.

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Last Wednesday, I made my usual visit to Penny Arcade, little suspecting that I was about to be confronted with irrefutable evidence that the earth is doomed.  But I regret to inform you that the apocalypse draws near.  A company called GameCrush is making money by charging guys for the privilege of playing games with attractive women over XBox Live.

Look, GameCrush users.  Here’s the thing.  There actually are plenty of women who would play Halo with you for free, if the guys on XBox Live stopped acting like such creeps.  Any woman on a game server whose username or profile picture indicates that she’s a female will be instantly inundated with annoying friend requests (“u sound hawt, r u hawt????  friend mee!1!”), sexually explicit come-ons, and sexist garbage from guys who think video games are their turf and girls don’t belong.  Guess what?  None of these things make us want to talk to you.  They make us cancel our XBox Live subscriptions.

So instead of paying money for what is essentially a glorified phone sex line, you could, I don’t know, work on improving your interactions with women you’re *not* paying to talk to you.  They are out there!  Just avoid saying any of the ten things on Hawty McBloggy’s list, and you’re already several standard deviations above the mean on the gamer behavior bell curve.  If you really want to contribute, start calling your friends on it when they say the things on the list.  Then maybe female gamers won’t feel quite so compelled to hide behind usernames like “FrankBobJones42,” eschew the use of profile photos, and/or close their accounts in exasperation.

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If you’ve followed my video game blogging, you probably know that I am a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series of role-playing games.  Final Fantasy III is still one of my all-time favorite games, and Econo Man and I currently use Final Fantasy XII as our benchmark for all RPGs.  So, naturally, we ordered Final Fantasy XIII immediately after its release on March 16, and joyfully popped the game into our PlayStation 3 mere hours after it arrived on our doorstep.

Image from Amazon.com

And?  I like it.  But I don’t love it.


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At the risk of angering Gabe and Tycho, today I’m writing about a classic video game, one that permanently changed my idea of what a video game could be like, and one that is still quite possibly my favorite game of all time.

That game is Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy III (or Final Fantasy VI, depending on which country you’re in*), released in 1994 for the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Image from ThinkQuest.org

My brother and I heard rumblings of this game’s greatness long before we played it.  Our favorite video game magazine (the now-defunct “Game Player”) called it the best RPG ever made.  But alas, we could not simply run out and buy it.  We only had a Game Boy, and our mom — never a big fan of video games — had made it quite clear that if we wanted another video game console, we needed to buy it with our own money.

After weeks of begging, we convinced our parents to rent us an SNES and Final Fantasy III for a holiday weekend.  One day into our rental period, we knew two things: 1) we would never beat this game before the rental period was up, and 2) we wanted to own this game.  So we pooled our money, saved our allowances, sought out extra paying chores, and after two very long months, we finally had enough cash to buy our very own SNES and a copy of Final Fantasy III.

What made that game so great?  Why did it suck us in so quickly?  In a word, the story. The basic setup was simple — an evil emperor, a seemingly mad advisor to the throne, and a handful of brave rebels resisting the Empire’s attempts to conquer the known world — but it was clear from the beginning that the stakes for this fight were incredibly high, and the journeys our heroes took had surprising emotional depth for a video game.**  One character lost his wife and son; another tried to puzzle out how she ended up a slave to the Empire as a child; two of the heroes embarked on a sweet, tentative romance; the villain’s weird, whooping laugh still gives me the creeps.  There were also tons of funny, quirky side missions (at one point you have to help your heroes successfully stage an opera!), and the music is arguably the best video game music I’ve ever heard, which is doubly remarkable considering how limited the SNES’s sound capabilities were compared to the current generation of consoles.

Squaresoft and Nintendo have been collaborating on a series of remakes of classic Final Fantasy games for the Nintendo DS.  I’m crossing my fingers hoping that Final Fantasy III/VI will be one of them!  In the meantime, here’s the opening sequence to the SNES version of Final Fantasy VI (note: the English translation is a little odd, and doesn’t match the version I played):


*  Final Fantasy III was released in Japan as Final Fantasy VI.

**  Later Final Fantasy games (FFVII-FFX), while still capable of producing interesting characters, increasingly adopted annoying New Age pseudo-philosophy and confusing mysticism in place of a coherent story.  Final Fantasy VIII’s story was so convoluted that my brother and I got annoyed and stopped playing it.  Final Fantasy XII took a big step in the right direction, though, and I’m very excited for the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIII.

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During one of my aimless web-surfing breaks this week, I happened to run across an old entry from Hawty McBloggy, listing the ten most common things women hear on XBox Live.  I feel vindicated!  I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only female gamer dealing with this sort of nonsense.  Here’s what I would add to the list:

*  What are you wearing? If I’m playing video games, I’m probably wearing slippers, my husband’s sweatshirt, and my pajama pants.  Sexy, eh?
*  [Unspeakably vulgar attempt to initiate cybersex chat.] Please.  If that’s what I wanted to do, why would I bother paying a bunch of money to purchase this video game instead of going on one of the zillions of websites where I could chat with adolescent perverts for free?
* Hi … :-) Oooh, wow.  Your cool, casual greeting, complete with smiley face, has totally won me over.  I must know more about you, mysterious charming stranger!

Anyway.  On to more satisfying video game topics.  My current gaming obsession is a little game called Dragon Age: Origins.

Image from Gamestop.com

You may have seen it advertised on TV as a hack-and-slash fantasy game with a seductive-looking female sorceress and scantily clad demons.  Well, whoever came up with that ad campaign should find a new career, perhaps as a thumbscrew-tester.  Dragon Age is actually a subtle, absorbing, character-driven interactive story — one that requires you to make tough moral choices, and cultivate the loyalty of your party members.  It also happens to have an intricate combat system and several levels of difficulty that require serious strategy to master.

Introverted Wife articulated many of the reasons the game is great for women gamers here.  In sum: the female NPCs* have well-rounded personalities, the origin stories for women PCs are equally compelling as the stories for male PCs (if not more compelling), and while there can be a romantic component to the game if you choose the right options when talking to other characters, these stories do not objectify the game’s female characters or reduce them to nothing more than potential sex partners.  And, in one of my favorite features of the game, there are same-sex romance options for your PCs — and it’s not just a reenactment of some teenage boy’s “hot lesbian” fantasy!  If you play as a man, you can fall for a cute male elf!  (OK, he’s also an assassin.  No one’s perfect.)

Two things marred my enjoyment of the game a bit.  First, the setting is pretty derivative.  It’s basically a reworked Lord of the Rings; the aesthetic is heavily informed by Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films, right down to the battle at the beginning of the game that looks almost exactly like the assault on Helm’s Deep in “Two Towers.”  The rich characters save Dragon Age from simply being a retread, but if you’re even a casual fantasy fan, you’re going to be rolling your eyes on occasion.  But to give credit where credit is due, Dragon Age: Origins does much more interesting things with elves than I’ve seen in a while (see the post at Introverted Wife for more on this).

Second, the controls on the PS3.  Let me say this right now: if you own both a console and a reasonable gaming PC/Mac, and you’re interested in this game, do yourself a huge favor and buy it for the computer.  A game like this, with so many skills and items and sophisticated battle tactics, is very difficult to play well with an eight-button controller.  The game is meant to be played on a keyboard, where you can set shortcuts to many more skills and items.

In spite of these complaints, I’m a big fan of this game. I’d encourage any gamers who like rich storylines and intricate combat systems to pick up a copy — specifically, the copy that runs on your computer’s operating system.

*  NPC = non-playable character.  PC = player’s character.

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