Guest Post: On Being a ‘Girl Gamer’

Today’s guest post is a bit of an introspective one. I feel fortunate because the gaming community has been 99% wonderful to me in the many years I have spent in it, but it’s very important to see other perspectives as well, so here are some thoughts from someone with different experiences.

On Being a ‘Girl Gamer’

That’s right, you caught me; I’m a gamer, and I’m also a girl. The world of a ‘girl gamer’ is one fraught with stereotypes and misconceptions, but I’m here to assure you that I don’t just play games to impress the boys, and my game collection (totalling over two hundred titles across eight gaming platforms) contains a lot more variety than just some kids’ games and The Sims.

When I tell people I’m a gamer, I’m almost always met with doubt. When I went into my local game store to buy Grand Theft Auto V last year, the male cashier asked me if I would be more comfortable playing Mario Kart instead. He was serious.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a night of Mario Kart with my mates – but you don’t have to be a woman to get a kick out of using a mushroom power-up to speed over the finish line, just as you don’t have to be a man to enjoy speeding away from the cops or shooting up the streets in GTA.

On countless occasions I have been directed away from ‘manly’ games to more casual, ‘girly’ gaming experiences like Mario Kart, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro or Just Dance. The problem doesn’t lie in these games, each of which I enjoy in their own right; the problem lies in the idea that I am not allowed to also enjoy GTA, Call of Duty or Gears of War.

Why are some games considered ‘not suitable’ for a female audience by many of the males who play them? Is it the realistic graphics of blood and gore? The multi-faceted narratives? The course language, sexual references and drug use? All I know is that I am considered less welcome in FPS multiplayer than the twelve-year-old boys once the other players realise they’re being taken down by a girl with a gun.

Somehow this attitude seems to only exist to this extent within the gaming community. Society has had a lot more time to get used to mediums like novels and movies, and I can only assume that this is the reason nobody has ever told me to put down a Stephen King novel because its content is too horrific for my simple female mind.

Art by Irishhips at DeviantArt
Art by Irishhips at DeviantArt

I feel like we are perhaps on the cusp of a similar shift in the gaming community. Two of the most incredible game releases last year—Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us—have taken wonderfully three-dimensional, strong female characters and placed them inside FPS games. These characters are not without their faults, with Elizabeth sometimes acting like she is merely Booker’s assistant and with the AI in The Last of Us making female characters seem rather useless at times, but these attempts to show women surviving and thriving in shoot-‘em-up environments are definitely a step in the right direction. Perhaps if we get to see virtual women holding their own in-game, the wider gaming community will realise that real women are a little bit tougher than everyone seems to think.

However, recent events, such as the Assassin’s Creed Unity debacle during E3 2014, didn’t make gamers feel particularly united. With comments that it would have taken too much work to include female multiplayer characters, it was easy to feel like an unimportant member of the franchise’s fan base. Ubisoft’s follow-up comments about striving to incorporate diversity in Assassin’s Creed games felt somewhat hollow considering their only playable female character so far has been in Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, a game originally released exclusively on the PlayStation Vita. I had hoped the game’s success, and subsequent re-release on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, would have encouraged further inclusion of female characters in future instalments, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

This situation demonstrated an obvious step backwards by a developer regarding the ongoing endeavour to represent women as capable, strong characters in action games, but there was comfort in the consequential uproar from gamers of all genders. The reaction suggested that diverse representation—not just of gender, but of all facets of human varience—is something that at least some members of the gaming community are striving for and will fight for.

Today’s post was brought to you by writer Alayna Cole, who can also be found on twitter at @AlaynaMCole.

Guest Post: One Way Heroics

We haven’t updated in forever! We apologize and bring you a lovely guest post!

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One Way Heroics doesn’t try to bog you down with the kind of grandiose plot commonly associated with JRPGs. The Demon Lord is wreaking havoc and “The Darkness” is sweeping across the land, killing everything it touches. With such a weak context, JRPG fans expecting a quirky narrative will be disappointed. But those looking for a unique side-scrolling experience are in luck.

Thirty seconds after heroic Swordmaster Max is given his quest, he forgets to move right and dies. The tutorial character pops up and ridicules him—or rather, ridicules me—and explains that One Way Heroics is about moving right. Every action causes the screen to move to the right, and if you don’t keep up, the left side of the screen—The Darkness—will instantly and remorselessly murder you. Dead. Game Over.

At first, this forced scrolling mechanic seems punishingly unfair. The first few dungeons are impossible to explore before the screen catches up with you. The good treasure chests take too long to bash open. If you’re impatient or quick to anger, it might only take a single botched run before you wish it were a physical game you could hurl across the room. But One Way Heroics is not a game you win on the first attempt. Or even the second attempt.

If you want to succeed at One Way Heroics, you need to accept one universal truth: the RNG gods are fickle. Max II died in his very first battle. His attack missed, and the enemy wolf double critical hit him for instant death. But quitting is not the answer. In fact, one of the best strategies comes straight from master tactician Zapp Brannigan: simply sending wave after wave of heroes at the enemy will yield progress. Each run awards Hero Points based on stats like distance travelled and number of treasure chests opened. Those points can then unlock new classes, gain new perks, and expand the Dimensional Vault—a persistent, cross-character treasure chest that can be accessed at the start of each run.

Suicide runs are a good way to get familiar with other aspects of the game. Knowing which merchants to speak to and which enemies are tougher than others can save precious time. But it can feel like a tough, lengthy grind before the game actually gets fun. The first two classes—Swordmaster and Knight—are infuriatingly average. Swordmaster draws inspiration from the Fire Emblem class of the same name: hit first, hit often, and do criticals for massive damage. Unfortunately, enemies tend to surround you and simply mosh you to death—assuming the RNG doesn’t screw you first.

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If you can stomach the initial difficulty, One Way Heroics is insanely entertaining. But it can feel somewhat like Dark Souls; until you master it, the game is relentless and crushing. Minor errors can leave you trapped behind a wall, without enough time to smash a hole in it. Being economical with actions is the most important skill to learn. Mastering diagonal movement will also save your life more times than a big sword will.

While there are eight classes to choose from, they are somehow simultaneously completely imbalanced and startling samey. My first run with Roger the Pirate was infinitely more successful than every run with a Max. He smashed his way through enemies, walls, and chests like an angry, eye-patched, out of control steam train. He hit more frequently with his giant axe—which carries an accuracy penalty of 15%—than other classes did with swords and other supposedly more accurate weapons. And yet, One Way Heroics can still find ways to screw you over. Roger axed his way through everything, and the Demon Lord still wiped the floor with him because Roger hadn’t channelled his inner Jack Sparrow enough to recruit party members.

The ability to assign five perks—including stat boosts and special skills—helps mitigate some drawbacks to each class, but ultimately some of the classes are more useful than the others. While the classes are designed to be unique, perks whitewash the differences until they all seem about the same. And when you’re out in the field using scavenged equipment, there’s very little difference between the classes anyway. The largest variation in play style comes from equipment choice, which undermines the point of including classes in the first place.

One Way Heroics isn’t a masterpiece but it is really fun—assuming you aren’t put off by the high difficulty curve and frustrating RNG screwballs. The forced scroll mechanic is novel and provides a lot of challenge and strategy to what might otherwise be a walk in the park. Playing with conventions can sometimes result in something unexpected and enjoyable, and One Way Heroics is proof of that.

Now it’s time to see if Max III can succeed where his ancestors have failed.

Today’s post was brought to you by gaming journalist Dakota “Jiro” Barker, who can also be seen at his own gaming news blog Press Start News.

Doodle Jump Uses A Great Mobile Gimmick

For once the android is actually talking about Android– a little game called Doodle Jump, specifically.

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I think Doodle Jump is great for a couple of reasons. Firstly, that Q*bert-esque main character brings me back to the days of simple arcade mascots. Secondly, the gameplay itself– which involves jumping from platform to platform until you fall– is simple but fiendishly addictive, which is always great for games you bring with you to the toilet.

Mostly, though, I like the way that you move your character by tilting your phone back and forth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself angrily shaking my phone in the middle of a round of Angry Birds, trying to get those damn green pigs to just move another two millimeters to the left. I like that a mobile game is really taking advantage of what it is– a mobile game– and using this to distinguish itself from more “core” games.

Mobile games are here to stay, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a win for everyone if they can chisel out a really neat niche for themselves in this way.

The Elder Scrolls: Where Everything and Nothing is Canon

The Elder Scrolls lore community is like no other fantasy/sci-fi lore community I have ever seen.

Now partially this is due to the TES community’s tendency to spend less time talking about, say, characters or worldbuilding and a lot more time talking about gods, dreams, arcane metaphors, and giant robots powered by literal dwarven souls (which is where the Dwemer went, by the way).

Metal.
Metal.

Mostly, though, it’s about canon.

Canon is that word used in fandom to denote what is “official” lore. In most cases, this includes the original source material– whether it be a book, movie, TV series, comic, video game, or what-have-you– and occasionally peripheral but related spinoff material. In some cases (example: Star Wars), the “extended universe” is so vast that the canon is broken down further into “levels” of canon. And then, of course, there is the fanart and fanfiction, which is often playfully defined as “headcanon”– i.e., not approached as canon by anyone but yourself and maybe a few devotees.

The newcomer to the TES lore community, then, is promptly shocked when they ask for a source for some lore term and are directed to, say, twelve-year-old off-hand forum statements, or the archives of some nebulously-termed “semi-official” roleplay, or the drunken ramblings of a rogue ex-dev.

That’s because Elder Scrolls fans play loosely with canon. Really loosely.

Basically, if it’s good, unique, and fits, it’s essentially canon.

Talos is only scratching the surface.
Talos is only scratching the surface.

What do I mean by “fits”? Well, it’s got to be creative and fanciful. Most diehard fans will tell you that it all sort of winds back to Michael Kirkbride, who wrote a lot of really weird stuff for Morrowind (see: The 36 Lessons of Vivec) and, who due to his enthuisasm for the series and the fact that he has never quite gone away despite leaving Bethesda long ago, has become the sort of unofficial arbitrator of TES lore. This means that statements he made, even after leaving the company, are usually considered canon. This means that statements by fans that he simply likes are often considered canon. And in a truly respectful nod to its community, Bethesda often listens to this community and “canon” as they work on their games. A term called “monkey truth” arose to describe this unusual relationship: we’re all just monkeys playing around in Tamriel (or Tam! RUGH! as we call it in monkeyspeak), but sometimes we collectively come up with something great (and usually Kirkbridian in style) that we all realize rises above simple fanfiction.

The cult of the monkey truth has crystallized so much that monkey truth is not only considered valid lore, it is sometimes placed above the acutal in-game lore.

As an example, the province of Cyrodiil was long deemed a thick jungle before Bethesda retconned this in the game Oblivion and made it a picturesque English meadowland. Michael Kirkbride (or MK) wrote a bit of fanlore that said Talos transformed it to be this way to show his love for his people. This was then accepted as the new canon by the fans, and, by the way, made it into Skyrim.

"Let me show you the power of Talos Stormcrown, born of the North, where my breath is long winter. I breathe now, in royalty, and reshape this land which is mine. I do this for you, Red Legions, for I love you."
“Let me show you the power of Talos Stormcrown, born of the North, where my breath is long winter. I breathe now, in royalty, and reshape this land which is mine. I do this for you, Red Legions, for I love you.”

All sorts of other monkey truths that did not make it into the games are frequently nonetheless considered to be de facto canon by the community as a whole. How much of this is okay, exactly, continues to be much debated, but the fact that the debate exists to begin with is fascinating.

Recently, MK wrote up and released a script called “C0DA“. C0DA is… difficult to read, to say the least. It’s thick with arcane lore, and anyone whose only experience with TES is through the games is going to have a horrific time trying to make heads or tails of any of it. The long and short of it, though, is that C0DA is the prologue to an open source TES universe, and MK’s way of saying that both everything and nothing is canon. This, of course, also means that C0DA itself also both is and is not canon.

What is the truth, then, and what is canon in TES lore?

Bethesda will tell you the games are the lore. But when they need ideas for their next game, they’re going to look down at all the monkeys scrabbling around with dragonbreaks and dreamsleeves and memospores and they’re going to weave bits and pieces of those into their universe.

And then, much like Vivec and Talos themselves, the fans will be the ones who reshape and take control of Bethesda’s dream world.

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Urban Legend Confirmed: Treasure Trove of Games in New Mexico Desert

One of the most enduring legends in the world of video games is the one stating that Atari buried millions of unsold cartridges of its failed game E.T.: The Extraterrestrial in the New Mexico desert. Between the game’s terrible reception and the video game crash of 1983, Atari wound up with more unsalvagable merchandise than they could handle.

So they buried them in the desert.

Or so the story says.

Because that’s just what it was, right? A story? An urban legend? Something whimsical we’d like to think actually happened? Something for us to dream about how, gee, wouldn’t it be neat if someone went and tried to dig these things up and find out once and for all?

Well…

As it turns out…

Someone did just that.

The story is still developing (seeing as this all went down about a half an hour ago), but for those of us who have been hearing this story for decades, this is a magical moment indeed.

ET-Game

SteamWorld Dig

Today I’d like to bring a little game to your attention called SteamWorld Dig. Basically it’s almost what would happen if you mixed an ARPG (Diablo, Torchlight) with a 2D crafting game (Terraria, Starbound).

Keyword being: Almost.

SteamWorld Dig is a little more lightweight than any of those games. The “crafting” is about 99% digging, and the ARPG aspect is mostly present in how you have a hub that you visit between dungeon dives. It’s not exactly the most complex game ever.

And yet it is fun. Really, really fun.

Also you get to play a steampunk robot.

…okay, it’s not quite as cool as that one. But. Still. It’s tough to go wrong with a steampunk robot protagonist.

I would really love to see the devs take this game, well… deeper (sorry) and really delve into the crafting side of things as well as the ARPG side of things. If this game has shown me anything, it’s that a true mashup of those two genres would be amazing. But until then, SteamWorld Dig is available on a variety of platforms (including, but not limited to, Windows, Linux, PS4, and Nintendo 3DS) and it’s well worth a look. Warning: once you start playing you probably won’t stop for a few hours.

Snag it on Steam!

That Feel When No Games

So it’s been a little while since my last post. I do apologize, but work suddenly decided to throw hours at me. Good for my paycheck, bad for my video game playing time. I don’t know about you guys, but when I haven’t played games for a while I get really, really antsy. Not that there aren’t lovely non-game forms of entertainment out there (books, movies, TV shows etc.), but… but… GAMES!

I image searched "VIDEO GAMES" in all caps and got this.  It works.
I image searched “VIDEO GAMES” in all caps and got this. It works.

On days when I am too busy to sit down and play games I have resorted to things like playing Angry Birds whilst on the toilet. (Speaking of which, Angry Birds is horribly underrated by “serious gamers”. Bigger post on this later, maybe.)

What do YOU do when you’re too busy for games? Do you tough it out? Do you MAKE TIME?

What’s Gold Is New

Over the course of the last couple of days I have been replaying Pokemon Gold. It has probably been a good 12 years or so since I last played this game – I never even got around to playing the HeartGold/SoulSilver remakes. While I was initially wary of going back to an older Pokemon game after being spoiled by the ridiculously good Pokemon X/Y, I’ve found that, much to my delight, the game is actually really pulling me in. I do often feel like I’m m-o-v-i-n-g v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, but since I’m emulating I just press the turbo button when I want to get from place to place quicker. Hey, it’s a valid replacement for the roller blades, right?

"But... that's like... 1000% speed rollerblades."
“But… that’s like… 1000% speed rollerblades.”

Other than that I’m having a blast. What a great game. What a great Pokemon generation.

Dear readers, when is the last time YOU played through an older game that you hadn’t touched in forever? And how did that go for you?

Waking Mars is On Sale and Worth It

Right now you can get a little game called Waking Mars for $1.99 over at GOG (or $2.00 over at Steam). This is a steal. I’ve talked about this game before and I recommend reading that article for a good overview.

Basically it’s sort of a puzzle game and sort of a platformer and sort of Metroidvania but mostly it’s about exploration and being relaxed.

And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn't great.  (Hint: You can't.)
And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn’t great. (Hint: You can’t.)

TLDR: GET IT ON GOG or GET IT ON STEAM or GET IT ON THE ITUNES STORE. Not even kidding you guys: this is a good one.

Somewhere Only We Know

WoW_Young_Althalor

I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand

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I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete

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Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on

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So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

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I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me

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Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?

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Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on

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So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

WoW_GogglesBearSurveysTheKingdom

And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?

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This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?

WoW_KaraKey

Somewhere only we know…

WoW_FamilyKaraRun

Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on

WoW_WhatAmIDoingHere

So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

WoW_TreeSpotlight

And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?

WoW_YoungSonglark

This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
So why don’t we go

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This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go

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Somewhere only we know?

WoW_DireMaul

Somewhere only we know?

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Somewhere only we know…

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Keane – Somewhere Only We Know

Disregard Life, Acquire Video Games