On Sexism in Gaming

Many articles have been written by feminists and feminist sympathizers on how video games are sexist, and perpetuate tropes that modern culture would find abhorrent if they were espoused in real life: things like rape culture, the damsel in distress, and so on (ad infinitum). What all of these articles fail to mention is that they aren’t the only group of people being left out. Far from it.

Okay, granted, horribly objectified and sexualized. Also at least PRESENT. Also badass.
Okay, granted, horribly objectified and sexualized. Also at least PRESENT. Also badass.

There are almost no main characters in video games who are lesbian, gay, transgender, or anything besides the stereotyped cliche straight male or busty romantic interest – with a side helping of busty heroine (metroid comes to mind, but I can mention a handful or two).

When there's a top ten list, you know there's a few to choose from.
When there’s a top ten list, you know there’s a few to choose from.

Of course, there are a few rare games that allow one to choose to have (unrealistic, awfully acted and poorly thought out) homosexual relationships, but they barely deserve a mention for the parenthetical reasons listed here. There is no story arc involving homosexual, bisexual, or transgender characters that is poignant, well made, or even on par with the worse examples of heteronormative relationships.

wait, who said I was butch?
Not pictured: how alternative sexuality stuff works.

Women get realistic, well-portrayed, (yes, sexuallized and perhaps derogatory) heroines like Lara Croft. Alternative sexualities collectively get an option on the dialogue menu – and even that is limited to basically playing bizarro-world straight.

but... but... I wanted to be bi!
but… but… I wanted to be bi!
Not pictured: accurate.
Not pictured: accurate.

Perhaps before complaining that the characters you get are unrealistic and sexist, you might look at those who don’t have ANY characters representing them, and understand that you are not the center of the universe. You are, however, fifty to fifty-one percent of the population. Maybe stop hogging the spotlight and let some of the real minorities accomplish some change before you start moaning again about princess peach?

Assholes.

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On Steam Tech Support

So I’m a big fan of tech support in general. Lots of really good people work this frustrating job, and I’m used to the fact that they’re going to do things like assume I’m an idiot and ask if I’ve turned the device off then on again, because a) they have to, and b) most people ARE idiots. or functionally close enough with technology, anyways.

But Steam’s tech support no longer gets the benefit of the doubt on this issue any more.

Before I go any further, you should know the history of my tech support woes with Valve, and why it was a definite last resort this most recent time. Continue reading “On Steam Tech Support”

On Film, the Skinner Box, and Television

I usually leave film and television reviews to the professionals. Generally speaking, they understand the media far better than I do. However, there are a few things I’d like to say – some negative, some positive – on the general subject of how film and television works are made, and what trends seem to be manifesting in the process lately.

First, let’s set some ground rules: I’m not here to promote or deride any particular film or series; I may use a few as examples, but by and large I’m interested in the larger picture – the trends and forces shaping modern film arts.

Second, I may need to bring my readers up to speed on some psychological research that’s been done regarding a similar, but off-tangent, media: video and computer gaming. So let’s get that out of the way now, shall we?

Skinner Boxes and Addictive Gaming

B.F. Skinner was a professor of psychology at Harvard. He was also an inventor, author, and social philosopher. Way back in the 30’s or so, while he was still a graduate student, he created the ‘Operant Conditioning Chamber‘, now commonly referred to by the nickname ‘Skinner Box’.

In brief, the box could be used to experiment in the field of behavior deterrence/reinforcement – using animals as the test subjects, of course.

The methodology was simple: use rewards and punishments in carefully controlled increments and timing to train a test subject into or out of the desired behavior.

Fast forward to the modern day, and it’s not too surprising that the creators of video games are very interested in applying Skinner’s research to game creation: after all, games are now focusing on replay factor and MMO subscriptions, rather than single use purchases. Games like World of Warcraft and Farmville are particularly egregious examples of behavioral modification through Skinnerian reinforcement techniques. For more on  this subject, you can check out the Cracked article here, which does an apt and accurate job of bringing this nasty subject to light.

Movies, the cash cow and art form

Movies recently have started very obviously color-coding their films in order to produce the desired emotion: green for an off-kilter effect (Fight Club, The Matrix), blue for horror (The Ring, Saw), gray and washed out for an apocalyptic, gritty feel (The Book Of Eli, Terminator: Salvation). This has nothing to do with art, and everything to do with creating a recognizable tone that the audience will behaviorally associate with other films they’ve seen in that particular genre. Generally the movies that do this follow the color coding of other, successful, predecessors.

Psychologically speaking, until you sit back and really analyze the film, your responses to the film will tend to be influenced by your feelings about that other film. It’s subtle, and very real science, and allows film-makers to be hap-hazard about cluing the audience in to the plot. All that’s needed is a sketchy outline, and we fill in the painting with our minds.

I’m not saying that there haven’t been beautiful and amazing films released, nor that the only ones worth considering are independent – far from it. I just think it’s a worrying trend towards artistic laziness and Skinnerian plot techniques.

Film is still the mildest offender of the three major moving-picture media (games,TV,movies). And don’t be worried that somehow the studios are going to control your brain – there’s no profit margin. Lol.

the Boob Tube and the Skinner Box
When one sees a character one identifies with rewarded, one tends to feel rewarded themselves. When one sees that character punished, that same identification works to make one feel punished. This can form an addictive cycle, forcing watchers to tune in for every episode in order to feel the rush of reward and punishment. This is most prominently used in daytime soaps like All My Children or Days Of Our Lives, but it’s increasingly common in prime-time television. Everything seems affected, from reality programming like Biggest Loser and Next Food Network Star, through the crime genre like Bones and NCIS, to shows like Glee and The Gates.

In the case of the reality programs, the audience feels attached to the outcome because it could be them up there. In the case of Bones, NCIS, and similar shows, the interactions between major characters often occlude the ostensible premise of the show, and create reward/loss scenarios. In the final two examples, Glee and The Gates, the only seeming purpose of the show is character interaction in a reward/loss paradigm, any reasonable course of action being thrown out the window in favor of cheap drama – to the point of the ridiculous.

Final Summary: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Skinner Box

In the final analysis, these shows and games and movies may indeed be using cheap, contemptible and dirty tricks to get us to watch, play, and pay. The question remains, is that necessarily so bad?

I’ve done some waffling on this: I don’t like it when someone tries to get inside my head and condition me to like things. It’s creepy, and it brings up too many Brave New World connotations for me to be comfortable.

On the other hand, I’m a realist, and it seems to me that as long as there is a competitive entertainment industry, there will be attempts to gain market share by any (legal) means necessary. Is it a good thing? I don’t know. But I know it’s probably here to stay.

My opinion is that it’s only bad when the quality of the medium is reduced to the point of honest bafflement over a show’s popularity – i.e. when most of us are watching it, and not knowing why we watch it, or hating ourselves for doing so. In point of fact, most of the shows, movies and games I’ve mentioned are in and of themselves pretty enjoyable – and would be more so if the creators weren’t so pathetically eager to pull out the stops in a cynical bid for our wallets.

So gimme a pellet, Skinner – I’m ready for my box.

Gaming night fun ^^

I got this idea from a post I read while stumbling. for those who want to view my inspiration, click here.

I know everybody and their mother is on them int0rnets now, and that includes me, but damn it I remember when the internets were enough of a pain in the ass that we’d occasionally throw up our hands in disgust and take a break.

You remember those nights? Grabbing as many friends as you freaking could, fighting for an hour (if you were lucky and it was quick) over what to play, how to play it, where to play it, and what food you were gonna god-damned order in while you were playing it?

If you do, then you also remember just how awesome those nights could be once everybody quit their collective whine-fest and got into the game (as long as the game was good). Cameraderie, festive jokes, playful backstabbing, laughter, good friends, good times. Screw ‘celebrating the moments’ with International Coffees, I want to do that again.

And here are the games I want to do it with, in no particular order (except that the last one is the most bitchin’) :

Flux

Flux is the most unpredictable card game ever invented. The goals, abilities, and most basic rules of the game (how many cards to take, play, turn order, even choice of play) are constantly in . . . well, there’s a reason it’s called that.

And it’s a blast. playable with two, but it’s most fun when you have three or four.

Settlers of Cataan

This game doesn’t look cool. it doesn’t sound cool. And it is the most fun you will ever have playing a board game based on economics. Scratch that. It may be the most fun you will ever have playing a board game. EVER. It is simply that awesome. especially if you get a bunch of geeks to play.

Munchkin

This one is just tooo much fun. Especially for those who actually rolled a character at one point in their lives. This is basically D&D on crack for the ADHD set, with a sense of humor that everyone is gonna lolcopter over (well… except your gramma)

Last, and (what did I tell you) MOST AWESOME –


ILLUMINATI

*thunder rolls, lightning cracks*

We are talking the mother of all games here. This game has strategy, intrigue, money, politics, LOLs, backstabbing, back-room deals, and an awesome set of graphics/visual jokes to go with it. The goal is simple – WORLD DOMINATION. . . . . BWAHAHAHAHAH. *lightning and thunder*

Made by the same people as Munchkin, and it’s just as high quality, only a lot more grown up and complex. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this game for somebody under fourteen or so. But man, I’m glad I’m old enough to play.

Fawkin' awesome.

Nifty little game…

Imagine robotic men killing rogue robotic . . . robots. now imagine combining the levels system from rpg’s with the movement system from Legend of Zelda. What you get is an addictive, fast-paced, and wholly enjoyable game. If, that is, you’re any good at it. It took me a while to get the hang of it. In any case, check out the game here and see what I mean. ^^

Some awesome games

I felt a bit lazy . . . so here’s someone else’s collection of great, addictive, and above all FREE, games online ^^ Mind you, I might be feeling lazy because I just spent the last five hours on bubble tanks 2, which just happens to be on the list, but… yeah. lazy.
HERE BEZ LINK *No, not that link. He’s copyrighted.*

and a picture of Bubble Tanks 2 – you have no idea how much fun it is, or how hard you must sweat to get your second upgrade… *goes back to playing*