Awful Gamasutra Article on why Starcraft is hard

Gamasutra had a an article on Why Starcraft is hard. As usual, both out of laziness and respect, I will not surimise Evan Jones’ points, but instead link to the article. I’m rather rough on him, but I hate these sorts of articles. They don’t get to the meat of why game design functions in a certain way, they dress it up to make it seem more interesting than it actually is. That’s can be fun, but on a site dedicated to game design, seeing something like that as a featured post disappoints me. I’d have hoped someone elses bullshit sensors would have been set off.

I don’t even thing Jones was purposefully talking out of his ass or is particularly egregious in his errors — I generally don’t read Gamasustra for a reason — but unfortunately someone linked the article and I know just enough about Starcraft to know he was a good ways off the mark and in ways that should have been obvious. I’m sad no one really called him out on the obviously foolish bits about ‘expectations’. I’m pretty bad at Starcraft and even I know whats up in this regard. Anyways, heres my reply. If he gives back anything interesting, I’ll of course post it to try and be fair.

I apolgoize in advance for coming off as harsh, but I think you basically miss all the actual points and described what you did observe rather obtusely. Basically, I think the article is pretty bad!

First off, this ‘players expectation’ stuff is entirely nonsense. If you put someone who never got trained to have these expectations in front of Starcraft 2, the game would still be hard. This has nothing to do with player expectations. Sure, if every other game did this, SC2’s difficulty would be less notable, but expectations isn’t WHY it’s hard. What you observed is the fact that many developers are willing to design games that are inherently stressful.

As for ‘starting safe’, yeah, sure, a lot of games do that, but a lot of games don’t. From tetris (or any puzzle game), to fighting games, to some FPSs, to many sports games (depending on the sport, obviously). Even when true, does it matter? When you leave your base in an FPS, you’re immediately at risk and continue to be at risk until you’re dead. In fact, in a strange way you start Starcraft out safer than you do in most games. You can literally be playing a 1v1 game for 5 minutes (and actually be PLAYING) before being at any real risk!

So what IS up in Starcraft? All this and all this talk about ‘safe states’ is just dancing around something we have a word for.

Starcraft has a very strong -slippery slope-! A nice word that speaks directly the point and saves many paragraphs. But there is still room to expound, if one wishes. What makes this slippery slope even worse is the fact that, unlike many many other games, doing nothing is NEVER, EVER the best option. You can stand and wait for your opponent to act in a fighting game, hide around a corner in an RTS or whatever, but doing nothing in an RTS, particularly Starcraft, is you ceding an advantage to your opponent. So even in the first 5 minutes of the game, when you are unlikely to get attacked, you can possibly be already at a disadvantage.

You are actually right when you bring up the fact that Starcraft is very much a game of incomplete information (of course you don’t SAY that and for some reason bring mario into it, but whatever). That is inherently stressful (having nothing to do with expectations) and mixing that with 5 minutes of mostly scouting and waiting, is very taxing… not to mention when the game actually gets moving! So the game is pretty rough and intimidating before you can even get attack! Then even after that, you have a huge, hard game ahead of you. The reason the game gets ‘easier’ for people is not that their expectations change, but that they learn to gather information and reduce uncertainty, thus reducing stress.

So anyways, the fast list of why Starcraft is actually hard.

Slippery Slope
Inaction is extremely detrimental
Incomplete information
Extremely high speed and reaction demands
Long game length
Tons of information to have to learn
And it’s hard to learn that. information because of the long game lengths.

So basically in short, you play at a million miles an hour, are never sure what your opponent is doing, can’t ever take a break, every failure risks killing you outright and the game can take forever to play and learn. You got some of that, but for the most part you just overcomplicated the issue with nonsense like ‘player expectations’.

Too Much Talking Episode 26: “The Humstar Returns”

Featuring: Kayin, April, Patito, and sleeping Eric and Flick

Too Much Talking #26 “The Humstar Returns” 05/31/11

Damn it’s hot over here. Or being New York, it’s more HUMID. 85 might not sound like much but it will when the air is made primarily of water! Anyways in this episode we talk about Sound Design in games (BTW I’m sorry for going Castlevania 3 two weeks in a row for the music, but the Japanese VRC3 soundchip in the Japanese version of the game had SICK CHIP MUSIC as you will hear), the generational changes of game design, Bobert and the Redbull, DRM and the accessibility of them Fighting Games.
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People believe the darnedest things

So I saw a cool picture of one of the Dawn of Sorrow sigels on the 4chan front page. I clicked it and wound up in /x/ — /x/ being the paranormal board. Being a skeptic, Paranormal usually gives me a laugh and most people don’t seem to take it too seriously, but the post that image lead to was started by a person claiming to be an ‘ex skeptic’ who became a practitioner of ‘chaos magic’. So I immediately thought that ‘ex-skeptic’ is the saddest thing ever, but then I read more! The poster gave an example of what magic was doing for him!

“As is recommended, I’m practicing vigils on smaller, less significant things. This sounds stupid, but I created a sigil for my desire to get a Valmanway in Castlevania HD, pretty sure I charged it, then I tried to get a Valmanway for about an hour, and nothing. I get called into work 3 hours later so I stop dicking around on my xbox and go to work, and have to handle the workload of 2 people that called out, luckily a higher-up took notice of my “hard work ethic” and I’m getting a promotion pretty much out of nowhere. Not sure if I totally fucked up the sigil, since it didn’t affect what I wanted it to, or I did too good of a job and had a much better effect than anticipated.”

I laughed out loud at this point. Later he goes on about how unexpected him being praised would be and how it’d be “Some coincidence” if it was merely that. So I have to ask… I know it’s generally not cool to say “Oh well so and so could never have REALLY been (X) if he’s now (Y)”, but really, if you go from skepticism to a magic system where you worship *FICTIONAL DEITIES* (and no, I don’t mean fictional in the atheistic sense, I mean like, stuff out of Lovecraft or even Crom from Conan if you want!), and then fall for simple confirmation bias (and not even a good example of it!) can you REALLY claim to be have been a skeptic? It’s just so hilariously daft that I had to post it. Someone else gave an example of this “magick”…

“Also, sigils work best when you are not conscious of the desire. From your description I take it you were playing the game wondering “wtf! is this thing even working??!”

Here’s an example of a simple sigil exercise I did recently: In this particular instance I decided to manifest a candy bar. I visualized a chocolate bar half opened with a bite out of it. I focused until I could taste and smell the chocolate. Anyways, four days later I was hanging out with my fiancé and she wanted to surprise me. She made me close my eyes while she drove me to the mystery destination. It turned out to be my favorite spice and tea shop. She wanted to buy me my favorite bloody mary mix but the store was closed for some odd reason. We ended up wandering into the Seroogy’s candy shop next door. We browsed for a while and she ended up buying me four chocolate meltaway bars. Fast forward to the next day. I was meditating in my hot tub when all the sudden I realized. Holy shit, I got my candy bar!”

The idea of “I wanted to get a candy bar and then 4 days later I bought a candy bar it’s soooo magical” is pretty hilarious. and, even if somehow true, amazingly ineffectual compared to just GOING OUT AND GETTING THE CANDY BAR WHEN YOU WANT IT, but this is somehow way less ridiculous to me because at least this guy didn’t claim to be a former skeptic. I suppose it’s fun to live in a makebelieve world where every little coincidence was caused by your will!

Anyways this was just really silly and I needed to post about it. People believe this stuff!

Super Talking Time Bros

Super Talking Time Bros is a joint effort that took place on Jeremy Parish’s personal forums, Talking Time. This project took a handful of typical gamers and showed how they could outperform the vast majority of the indie game scene in terms of level design simply through a simple peer review process. I can say without hesistation that I enjoyed playing this project far more than either of the New Super Mario Bros games. The project was made in the now abandoned SMBX engine, with the whole community being allowed and encouraged to submit level files. A lot of levels had to be revised quite a bit and I believe a few levels were salvaged by other members of the community. The pack is not perfect — it’s slightly disconnected at times in style for obvious reasons, but it avoids virtually all he pitfalls of ‘rom-hack’ style level design. These levels were designed with the premise of SMB3 in mind — fun, short, simple levels. The pack goes crazier than that for sure, but that goal kept things from getting out of hand.

I submitted two levels of my own (being impressed by the quality of the initial pack) to the expansion pack. The expansion pack is a little bit more wacky and akin to those hidden Starworld levels in Super Mario World. One of my submissions is a neat, but straight forward level and another is hidden… perhaps due to it’s IWBTGish nature? Anyways, I’m hosting the whole shabang right now so please, download it and give it a go. It comes with SMBX so it should be all ready to play. I think many people will be impressed with the powers of peer review and revision.

Download Super Talking Time Bros + Return of Talking Time Here

Art: Cassara Character Sheet

This took a disproportionate amount of time to do. Not because of anything you actually see now, but because I spent so long trying to make an holder drawing of Cassara work. I eventually ended up redrawing basically everything and I’m glad I did. I’ll let the rest of the image speak for it’s self. Also I got layers!

5 Layers
4 Layers
3 Layers
2 Layers
1 Layer

Too Much Talking Episode 25: The “300 Dollar Hat” Episode

Featuring: Kayin, Flick, April, Patito, Eric

Too Much Talking #25 “300 Dollar Hat” 05/17/11

More fighting game banter. We also talk about Brink a bit, as well as some shameful broken games we like. Talk about Video Game Movies and Movie Video Games come up and eventually I talk about Castlevania and a possible new project. Oh yeah we also talk about sweaty dick punching.
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More (mostly) Unrelated Random Thoughts

I had two random thoughts that I decided I should spend some time on here. One relates to the stages we go through while developing a skill and a bit on conspiracy theories and how they take advantage of the brain’s desire to make unnecessary connections.

Skill Development

I was out at at my Aunt and Uncle’s house and watching my little cousin try and play badminton with her dad. He’d serve over the shuttlecock and she’d take wide, desperate swings at it. We’re talking like axe swings. I didn’t see a single rally — every time she did manage to make contact, the resulting trajectory was someplace wild. I eventually got involves to show her some her how to hit it better. Mostly just coordinating her strike and how to line up with the birdie and how to aim to knock it up. Before I left a few minutes later, we managed to get a pretty long rally going.

Our first instinct when we try something new seems to be to fail wildly and desperately to achieve the most basic goal. Hit the shuttlecock, bat the ball, shoot the opponent, kill the king. Whatever. You generally see a similar type of desperate flailing in all these things. It’s hilarious to an inexperienced players spazz out and randomly hit buttons when he gets nervous. This uncoordinated desperate reaction will eventually find results. While flailing we notice the things that somehow work and strive to recreate them. Someone can give you advice to get you on target sooner, but the mechanism seems pretty consistent.

From there we tend to move on to developing technique and applying it to anything without thinking about the results or the details. It doesn’t matter where the shuttlecock or ball goes, as long as it’s legal. It doesn’t matter where you fighting game combo puts the opponent afterward, nor does it matter what path we take to find the enemy in an FPS. Our goal is to do ‘the thing’ and get the mental reward for success. What “the thing” is generally then changes and gets more sophisticated. Maybe it’s a precise spike of the shuttcock. Maybe you want to hit a certain combo or maybe you have one really mean build in an RTS. You’re not paying much attention to your opponent, you just know this one thing is hard to deal with or makes you feel clever or whatever. Often we focus on “the thing” to our detriment, when more subtle or less risky tactics would be better.

It’s only until much later that we actually start considering the in depth consequences of our actions. Maybe we should hit the shuttlecock to where our opponent -isn’t-. Maybe I should use the combo that will put the opponent in the corner but does less damage. Maybe I should use a specialized build to counter what my opponent is doing now that I scouted him. Maybe I’ll consider where my enemies usually go in an FPS and predict their actions. Maybe I’ll restrict their access to weapons or armor. So why does it take so long to worry about what would be considered strategic things? Why can’t we calm our spastic reflexes, once we know they exist? Why do we keep doing “The thing” Mostly, I think, because our brain can only keep track of a few (7) things at one time. When we are wasting mental processes on things like coordination, we can’t think about strategy. As more and more aspects of a skill become rote memory and automatic, we free up more mental resources to look for more details. The entire process of skill improvement seems to be delegating things to rote memory as to free your mind up for more complex and sophisticated things. I’m not sure what this means to us or how this can benefit us, but it never hurts to have an idea about how your brain might be working.

Excessive Connections and Conspiracy Theories

In my experience, people value big connections over simplistic answers. We especially like them when they come to adding additional “Agency” to a situation — more people. You’re at work and you go into your jacket to get a drink. You realize your red bull isn’t there anymore! You think maybe it fell our of your coat pocket in the car, but then you see Bobert drinking a red bull. WAIT, THATS PROBABLY YOUR RED BULL! AND YOU THINK BOBERT HATES YOU! You go over and confront Bobert and he just happened to bring a red bull today! Your response? Well, if you’re overly emotional, often…


Well…. whats wrong with a convenient answer? It’s as it says on the tin — convenient. It makes sense. What’s more likely? That Bobert went into your coat pocket, snagged your drink and drank it where you could see him and then proceeded to lie to your face? Or that he just happened to purchase a popular beverage? The idea that Bobert is out to get you tends to be the more seductive idea. A PERSON did this, not luck or chance, and it lines up with possible assumptions you might have of him. This scenario is pretty contrived, but I trust you can think of other examples. We like making connections and we like doing this because, as far as I understand, we are wired this way.

It’s my (hopefully not mistaken) understanding that when the brain forms, it forms with premade connections. Nothing are at those connections, it just makes them. A huge tangled mess of wiring where one thing goes to another all willy-nilly. As we develop, we fill in the nodes and prune excess connections. We’re also wired to be pretty darn social so a lot of are links are dedicated to people and traits and interactions. We’re pretty much made to make big, complex, intermingled connections. A big bungling hypothesis that connects a ton of unrelated things often feels nice –it reinforces the complex connections in our brain.

Now reality tends not to require big a big mess of connections, nor a desire for agency. As such we tend not to be particularly good at making clear assessments of the world. So why would we be this way? Well, lets start with agency.

Imagine you’re in a dark cave, thousands of years ago,
and you hear a noise. Do you assume it’s just a rock falling — something is extremely likely — or that a cougar is in the cave? The rock is the most likely answer, but assuming the cougar is the response most likely to help you survive. Assuming agency in a sense is natural. Through out history we assumed the world was created by an agent. We assumed the sun was pulled by an agent across the sky. We assumed an agent took our lives and put them somewhere else. We assumed agents made storms and caused earthquakes. It’s a very natural thing to want to do.

As for the connections? I can’t say anything definitive on this. It could just be because thats the only way for the brain to ‘easily’ develop, but it also could be because that is the easiest way to gain data, insight and to see patterns. Simplier conclusions are actually harder to form and often don’t easily inform other parts of our brain. Like when I postulated that we approach new skills in a wild, uncoordinated fashion until we notice what sticks, that also seems to be the same way ideas work. We can make lots of connects — because they connections are more likely to help us than harm us in tribal man. Safer to be superstitious than to be brazen.

So now to get to the part about conspiracy theories with Osama’s death, I’ve been seeing a lot of these crop up again. Fair enough, it’s the skeptically responsible thing to not necessarily assume he’s dead (though anyone who flat out says he isn’t is being a great fool). I don’t see any sensible reason to doubt it yet (Sure we didn’t see the body, but lying about his death seems like it wouldn’t have much benefit in the long run), but it’s fine to be skeptical within reason. What actually has been getting me is that it also seems to have dredged up older, long debunked theories. From 9/11 stuff, to me (and this one baffles me the most) finding out that people my age sometimes still deny the moon landing. I generally don’t give much thought to these. They come from a bad place — constructed realities. They do the same thing fundamentalists do. They start with a premise and then look at holes in the official stories and inject the premise into those holes. Much like the “God of the Gaps” this is the “Conspiracy of the Gaps”. It’s a bad way to think that people seem very susceptible to. We all to some degree do it, just not anyways to such extremes.

I generally avoid factual arguments on the topic of conspiracies. It’s unrewarding work. Someone says something ridiculous, you spend an hour finding something credible on the topic, show them, they dismiss it and yack out some other unsubstantiated fact. Often I’m willing to do this for the bigger, more well documented theories, but thats another story. To me, it’s about how these theories are fundamentally flawed. They are fundamentally flawed because (among other reasons) they rely almost primarily on connections.

The CTist presents his long, detailed theory, connecting the former president to nazis and various involved companies and agencies to one another. Tons of people are brought in, each through a complex and ingenious theory, detailing motives and personal relationships. They go into plausible techniques on how various things could be faked and point out various oddities that prove the real story is fake.

“… Or maybe we just landed on this moon and the reason their are no stars in any of the photos is BECAUSE IT’S THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING DAY”

“Oh isn’t that convenient”

Why yes it is convenient. Convenient and sensible. It’s problematic that all the connections made in the conspiracy theory is considered proof. By complicating the issue and implicating as many people or things as possible, we somehow lend an air of legitimacy to theories. That is pretty much the exact opposite of what we should look for in a good theory. It’s the concept of Occam’s Razor. Often the Razor is abused.

“Well if the simplest answer is likely true, then God and the fact we didn’t go the moon seem way more simple!”

Well… that’s not actually Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor (as modernized) goes…

Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity

And yet this is exactly how we’re wired to work. The more entities, the better! Necessity is a pretty funny thing — any tiny hole can be viewed as a need for a new entity. Perhaps a controlled demolition took place at the Twin Towers and we can see that in the sulfur residue on steel samples. Or maybe it was just the god damned gypsum walls. Again, it sounds convenient, but is it really less so than implicating thousands of people to do a task that is nearly impossible (wiring the building would have taken months) for practically no reason (.. you.. already hit a ton of shit with planes, what motivation do you have in blowing it up and risking blowing your conspiracy? What else does it gain you)? Or even better, if the whole explosive residue thing posted in a “peer reviewed journal” was a document, written by conspiracy theorists, put in an illegitimate journal that one nearly needs to pay a flat fee to get into? But it involves more entities — more agency — and we like that. Just look at our hollywood movies and TV shows. Complex webs of interactions and little details meant to stimulate our connection-oriented head… But reality rarely seems to be that. Underhanded politicing happens all the time, but generally in very direct ways and have simple explanations. Lets look at a real government secret! We have Area 51! Does it house aliens? Alien technology? The government was clearly up to some shady, secretive stuff over there! Well yeah, they were! How about a flying diamond — a flying wing if you will — thats invisible to radar? That’d sound pretty insane, but it’s just a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk. That was secret government technology and information that they didn’t want falling into enemy hands. It was prototyped and tested in Area 51 and was responsible for a number of UFO sightings.

Another problem is that a lot of these theories goes about the issue of gaps the wrong way (again, like a fundementalist). Often things act in weird, unexplainable ways that defy expectation and these things are used as gaps for more theories. Compare this to say, something behaving in a way we’d expect before we realize that it shouldn’t have happened that way. The controlled demolition at least gets points because it fits into this — we’d assume the building fell, and it did, but they say it shouldn’t have. Granted, the assumption that it shouldn’t have is pretty wrong, but that’s another story. This is great when it comes to the moon landing conspiracies, which will illustrate the problem with this line of thinking.

Okay, no stars in the sky. This is easily debunked as I said above, but lets consider something else. If you were faking the moon landing, wouldn’t you have had someone poke holes in the black sheet? In a building filled with astro physicists, you’d think someone would go “Shit man, where are the stars!” … assuming there should have been stars, of course. Or issues with various light sources. All these things have explanations, but lets agian look deeper. What moron on set would have a second light source? You’d think a NASA scientist would be there, going “BITCH, WE ONLY GOT ONE LIGHT SOURCE UP THERE AND THATS THE FUCKING SUN”. Nah, lets risk blowing the whole conspiracy to look pretty. Or the footprints in the regolith? You’d think the thing to do would be for the astronauts NOT to make footprints, but the reality was unexpected. In fact if I recall, either Buzz or Armstrong noted how well their footprints stuck around while talking to NASA just because it was so weird. We didn’t understand that lunar soil would be so craggy, sharp and sticky and it behaved in an unexpected way. It’s more important to craft a narrative than it is to account for common sense. In fact, I think this is why the Moon Hoax is still around. Before they had the resources to debunk these people (the internet) they managed to craft a pretty huge narrative. It still makes a compelling story now, able to sucker in more people who want to be in the “in” crowd.

The stories and connections do not have to make sense in these theories. If you were to assume the 9/11 conspiracy theories to be true, you’d have a lot of weird things to work out. Why detonate a building you hit with a plane? Why not hit the pentagon with a plane you captured? Why use a cruise missile when you risk someone filming it? What possible purpose would that serve? In fact, why even bother hitting the pentagon at all? If your goal was to terrify the population, go to war and pass terrible legislation, why over complicate things? Why take unnecessary risk? Now if you were to say to me “Well, I believe they knew the attacks were coming and didn’t do anything so they had an excuse to do X X and X”, well… I don’t necessarily believe that, but it’s reasonable. That’s not a terribly popular theory though, because it’s not nearly as sexy as it’s competition. These things are practically memetic and the most compelling theories survive, regardless of how easy they are to disprove. Only the appeal of the idea matters, as any defense can be written off as shilling for the government. In fact it’s easy to make that claim when your theory involves so many entities already! In fact the more people paid off, the more ‘evidence’ you have about the conspiracy! How silly.

David Wong over at Cracked wrote a great article years back about Loose Change. He takes a similar angle to mine (in fact he influenced mine), where it’s not about countering baseless claims with fact, but about addressing the psychology of the issue. The Loose Change business is old news, but the article is still a good read. David isn’t particularly pro government either (just look at some of his other articles), but knows a bad argument when he sees one.

Anyways that was way more writing than I thought I was going to do.

Random Thought: Guys are probably pruder than women when it comes to female characters

Samus was a cool guy. He fought aliens and didn't afraid of anything.

This is sort of a casual thought. I’d have to do a lot of research to really pin down if this is true. So consider this an “opinion” piece — or I think I would rather say, an “observation piece”. I’d like to know in the end if this lines up with what any of you have noticed.

I was arguing about sexism in Other M on some forum. My position hasn’t really changed — while you can call the resulting story sexist, it’s more an artifact of bad writing (the game is also racist and all the characters are 1 dimensional). The discussion was mostly semantic, but then I said something that I think got an interesting response. I said that it was totally fine to show Samus’s feminine side (or at least for her femininity or lack there of to be addressed) — and in fact, probably a good idea. I said that the issue was in a totally awful execution and too much time spent on the issue). The responses were funny to me.

The beauty of Samus as a character is that she was never defined by her gender, and that’s what feminism is all about. Why is it females are considered to have certain traits that deviate from the norm, femininity if you will, by which they need to be defined?

Now, the first part is true. Samus is NOT defined by her gender (She’s a badass bounty hunter!) and I guess that could be considered a readers digest version of feminism (I’m never exactly sure)… But I didn’t say that, nor did I say anything thats implied in the second part. In fact, why would he suggest to begin with that feminine qualities are deviations from the norm? There were other examples of this by other posters, but this was the most obvious. An obvious sign of what I think is Male Gamer Guilt.

First let me state something I thought was obvious. The two genders are not the same. Equality is different from being the same. We have different loads of chemicals and impulses going through our heads, not to mention societal development. This isn’t to say that gender is a box that we’re stuck in, but like many other things, it’s one of the qualities that defines how we develop and makes the exceptions all the more interesting and this does not JUST apply to women. I have to imagine that the reason Poster-who-will-remain-nameless would think that female traits are somehow deviations is because video games are written mostly by men, mostly for men and most of us reading this are probably men (just guessing my demographic here). Men and our traits seem gender neutral because we’re fucking bias. Everything we play is made in and for our perspective. Now, I didn’t say Samus should have strong feminine qualities, but the general attitude seems to be that we should be afraid of such characters. We think they’re sexist! Why be feminine when you can be gender neutral like us men?

…. Which is to say they should act like men.

… Okay wait, that doesn’t sound like what we want, does it? But it’s kinda what a lot of us are accidentally saying, to various degrees. We might think male characters are gender neutral, but they’re not. Someone in the thread stated Hal Emmerich from Metal Gear Sold as an example of such neutrality, being a male character with what many would traditionally consider female oriented traits… but Hal is definitely defined by his sex. If Otacon was a female character, he’d be perceived much differently (some might even say he’d be a sexist character!). As a male though he is contrasting the cast of strong, muscly action males, particularly Snake and this is clearly intentional. He even serves to contrast with Meryl, who is a lot tougher than him. Gender plays an important aspect in social interaction and our perceptions of things. Clearly men don’t have to be manly and women don’t have to be girly, but it is the contrast between the two genders (be they biological or societal) that make deviation from the norm interesting. If you switched Hal and Samus’s gender you’d have a potentially offensive character and just another space marine. These things should not necessarily dictate or define traits and characteristics, but its naive to think they aren’t important. Characters should not be bound to be in one direction or another, they should be free to explore the various gender related nuances and have those nuances still not be the most defining aspect of their character.

I think this is part of why female characters fall so short. We’re so afraid of representing them poorly, that we always end up representing them 1-dimensionally. Lets look at Chell. Chell has been cited by people as an excellent example of a female protagonist…. Why would they say something so dumb? She has no character at all. She doesn’t say anything. The only things that ever speak to her are insane computers. Her actions don’t communicate anything other than a will to survive. She likely only has an appearance at all due to the portal mechanic. SO why is this a successful female character? Because Chell is inoffensive. She doesn’t talk, so she can’t do anything wrong and she’s not sexed up so she doesn’t make male gamer feel guilty or sleazy. She’s mostly gender neutral — the only time it matters is pretty much when it comes to Glados’s fat jokes. By lacking any characterization, she also lacks any bad characterization. What about Gordon you may ask? Well, we know he went to school at MIT and has a degree on Theoretical Physics. His thesis was titled “Observation of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Entanglement on Supraquantum Structures by Induction Through Nonlinear Transuranic Crystal of Extremely Long Wavelength (ELW) Pulse from Mode-Locked Source Array”. We know his childhood heroes were Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Feynman. We see him interact with a number of characters with different dispositions toward Gordon and get at least some sort of vibe about who Gordon is. Also lets be real here.

Gordon actually isn’t a particularly great character, we just love a nerdy scientist kicking ass.

And Chell? She could be a male and it wouldn’t have been all that big a deal. Now, theres nothing wrong with Chell, she fills her role fine, but is this REALLY what we consider an example of a good female protagonist? A bland, uninspiring, riskless character? If we’re trying not to offend women, is this even a character that they’d like?

What do Female Gamers Want?

Good question, I wish I could answer it! I can say that our (male) assumptions are generally off at best, though. I’ll use an example of a character I’ve seen cited by a number of ladies. Bayonetta.

I wish I could be as fabulous as Bayonetta

WHAT?! But she’s a skank and is pandering and is oversexed! She embarrasses me to even play!

Yeah, well get over it, sissy. I’m not sure if Bayonetta would be cited by a ton of ladies (but I’ve noticed a surprising amount of them), but it begs the question — why is it wrong for a woman to be sexy? Why is it wrong for a woman to WANT to be sexy or stylish or beautiful? We can fantasize about mackin’ it with the hotties but girls can’t appreciate an empowered female who is sexually intimidating to males? Bayonetta’s sex appeal is from the female perspective, not ours. She’s the one in charge. Bayonetta has the gender upperhand in her world. To quote this article…

As a woman, I haven’t often been satisfied by female character options that effectively boil down to “the same thing as a man, just with breasts and a ponytail.” Thanks to its innovative approach to the idea of female power, Bayonetta is the first action game heroine that’s made me directly conscious of how cool it is to be a girl.

I already know that women can do all the same things men can. This time, I get to see a woman do plenty of things men can’t. And I love it.

Also let me throw out what I think is a great comparison (In fact, I don’t think this is even mine! I think it came from some video I watched. If someone knows what I’m talking about give me the link)!

Even when she had more clothes, Ivy still made no sense.
Now like I said, I enjoy Ivy’s horrible washed out trashy milf pornstar look in recent games, but she’s actually a pretty shitty character entirely. She dresses all sexed up but her character has nothing to do with that. She just looks hot and whips things and sorta… is Ivy. Sexy isn’t sexy for her self or because of who she is, she’s sexy for us. That sex appeal she’s showing is not in any way part of her character, while for Bayonetta it IS very much a part of her character. From talking to female gamers about this, the impression I got from most of them is it is TOTALLY OKAY for characters to be sexy and hot…. Why would that be a problem?

Don’t us men want to be sexy? Don’t we want to walk around with no shirts on, showing off our abs like some underwear model? Don’t we want to impress women with our sexiness (or other dudes, if thats your thing!).

Dante you slut, get a shirt on.
Dante came before Bayonetta and he’s basically the same thing. Sure, he doesn’t get naked when he uses magic, but thats another story. He’s someone many of us guys wish we could be and someone many girls wish they could get. When Bayonetta came out my friend April said to me “Now I can play a DMC game without being horridly attracted to the main character!”. The visual media of video game almost demands attractive, stylized characters.

This isn’t JUST a desire to impress the other sex either, it’s a self esteem thing. Now the modern male worries a lot about this because socially women are still catching up and many unreal standards are placed upon them and rightfully so, but we seem to worry about it more than they do. There is reason for this guilt, but we shouldn’t let it blind us.

Now this isn’t to say female gamers want hyper-sexual female protagonists. I think most are fine or even, like us, like sexy stylish characters, as long as their primary goal isn’t to pander to the opposite sex (Bayonetta weirdly seems to be a sex goddess from a female perspective). Sexiness aside, a lot of the other characters listed are the same as many of the ones we’d list. Pre-Other M Samus, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, Lightning, The Boss. What this shows to me is that we all want bolder, more characterized women in our game, but to help that happen, I think we have to stop being uncomfortable about feminine qualities. It’s not inherently sexist or exploitive to do so. At the very least we need to realize that us guys are probably being way pruder about this than most women. At the very least we need to not assume as much, because of us (Even me with this post) can be talking out of our asses.

Here is also an older article I read about how we get the ‘strong’ in ‘strong female character’ wrong. I think it’s worth a read.

Too Much Talking Episode 24: The “Love Tunnel” Episode

Featuring: Kayin, Flick, April, Patito, Eric, Ben

Too Much Talking #24 “Love Tunnel” 05/04/11

Mostly questions this week, though we talk about the PSN outage a bit first. Super Smash Bros, Melee comes up, as does a few other fighter-ly topics. We do the obvious Portal 2 stuff and talk about the best and worst of video game soundtracks. We also talk about a sultry topic — which Mascot Character would you take into the love tunnel?
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