Category Archives: Op-Ed

Saying “No” Does Not Make Good Conversation

The internet was something I taught myself. In a lot of ways, I treated it how I treated real life. Never really interacting or making meaningful conversation, being on the outskirts of lively debate and useful information was enough. There was nothing lively about me when I was young, and I skated just so, under the radar.

However, very much unlike my real life, I grew comfortable. It came to the point where I could express myself to the fullest extent. While I struggled with severe anxiety, I effortlessly led raids and was an extremely active member in guilds across many different games online.

It was through these online adventures with actual people that I did a lot of growing up. I wanted to add “unfortunately” to the end of that sentence, but it was probably the best place to grow up. Those games provided me with an avatar, who I painted as being someone other than the self I was extremely uncomfortable with. We acted the same, however. Our hearts were kind and noble, and our talents were more like powers. But as I began to see value in myself, I began to become disvalued in the eyes of some particular people around me.

I was really taken aback with how some of my own guild members would harass me during quests or other activities. Even people I didn’t really know well would make inappropriate comments, either in passing or as a regular thing. However, instead of standing up for myself at that time, I just played along with whatever they wanted. One of my ex-guild leaders said that he had a fondness for girls who were “people pleasers” or “couldn’t say no”. He felt like he needed to protect them. However, he didn’t protect me. If anything, I was his favorite punching bag, but he made it seem like an honor to be abused by him. This became a recurring theme. He warped my thinking so that it became difficult to leave. I felt like I didn’t stand a chance of escaping.

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Save the Girl,
Save the World

The damsel in distress plot is one of the oldest and longest running in video game history. The player takes control of a male avatar and goes on a journey to save a princess, saving the kingdom along the way. It’s a story that reduces women to objects—prizes for the male hero and trophies for the player. It has been decades since we first stepped into the shoes of Mario or Link in order to save Princess Peach or Princess Zelda, and all the countless games that followed of rescuing damsels have led us to one place: The Last of Us.

On the surface, The Last of Us seems familiar, especially on the heels of Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Bioshock Infinite, both games that feature a father-daughter spin on the damsel concept, rather than a romantic one. We play (for the most part) as Joel, a bitter, jaded old man who survived the apocalypse, and outlived his daughter. Then we meet Ellie, a fourteen-year-old girl who is immune to the infection that destroyed human civilization as we know it. Joel has to get Ellie across the country to the last science lab in North America capable of studying her immunity, and hopefully, using it to make a cure.

We protect Ellie for the same reasons that we rescue Zelda—saving the girl means saving the world. But over the year that they spend together, and the hundreds of miles traveled, Joel and the player both come to love Ellie. We want to protect her because in the absolutely hellish craphole that the world becomes after the Cordyceps infection, Ellie still has hope. She is hope, in both a metaphorical and literal sense.

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Save the World

gone-home-jeremy-voss

The Beginning
of Empathy

In the summer of 2013, I started becoming aware of a movement to boycott the as-yet unreleased Grand Theft Auto V specifically because you couldn’t choose to play as a female character. In particular, there was a Jezebel article that articulated this rather loudly, but I also recall talking about it with an acquaintance on Twitter. We were talking about both GTA V and Saints Row 3, and my friend refused to even consider playing GTA V:  “I only need one open world gangland sim in my life, and GTA won’t rate for me unless it adds a female PC.”

At the time, I found this line of reasoning profoundly pretentious, ridiculous, and ultimately misguided. For one thing, I found it preposterous that people were getting outraged over something that had never been promised or even hinted at in the first place. For another, the idea that you would actively choose to not play what by all appearances looked like the greatest game ever made solely because you couldn’t choose to play as a woman—in a franchise that has historically gone out of its way to treat women as horribly as they can be treated—seemed ludicrous. (Indeed, as of this writing, there are only two games in all of Rockstar’s catalog where you can choose to be a female character: the original Grand Theft Auto and Table Tennis.)

Of course, this hullabaloo took place long before the game had even come out.  Once I finally got my hands on GTA V, I found a host of reasons to be offended that had nothing to do with the treatment of women, even as the game’s treatment of women was somehow even worse than I’d anticipated.

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of Empathy

Love’s Labor’s Lost

“Here’s the thing: being near you makes me crazy, but I can’t imagine being without you. Not ever.”

—Alistair to Grey Warden, Dragon Age: Origins

“I love Hawke. […] I say it a lot. It makes things clearer, takes away doubt when everything is crazy and people are dying.”

—Merrill to Aveline, Dragon Age II

“It’d be an awfully empty galaxy without you.”

—Garrus to Commander Shepard, Mass Effect 3

BioWare has a special place in my heart due to its combination of the RPG and third-person shooter genres, its story lines, and its devotion to non-player character (NPC) development. Creating my own character or customizing the set player character (PC), choosing their personality and behavior, and being able to replay the games with a different tone or overall outcome each time makes for a personalized gaming experience that helps me connect with the action and deeply feel for the PC as well as the NPCs. I always look for media that encourage intellectual and emotional investment from the consumer. But emotional investment is not always rewarded in the best way.

Naturally, I am talking about the option to romance NPCs. BioWare has earned acclaim for its representation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships in its games, and I applaud the company for its efforts to be inclusive. My heart swells with happiness when I hear the joy in a person’s voice when they discover that they can romance a female companion while playing as a female, or a male companion while playing as a male, or that specific characters can be romanced by a PC of any gender. There is no solid argument against how helpful and validating representation for sexual minorities can be, whether one is talking about film and television, literature, video games, or another form of media; and there is plenty of evidence supporting the importance of this representation to help normalize these marginalized sexualities in the public eye as well as empowering an underrepresented demographic.

However, there is still something common between all of these romantic possibilities: the flirting, the courtship, the intense feelings and declarations of adoration all count as nothing unless the player character ends up having sex with the romantic interest. Upon reading that sentence, many people may be baffled; after all, doesn’t every important romantic relationship eventually lead to one or many sexual encounters?

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I Covered The Fresh Hell of E3 Secondhand So You Can Now Safely Experience It Thirdhand

I don’t write about the business side of games very often, but I think about it a lot. I’m a little embarrassed about it, more so even than my obviously frivolous writing on, say, compulsory heterosexuality in anime. But then I like to take a frivolous thing and treat it seriously; I don’t especially want to encourage video games marketing by taking it seriously when that is the very opposite of its problem.

But I’ll write it down because I was thinking about it anyway and it was fun for me, so why not? I’ll leave my apology for it up there as punishment to me for thinking it was necessary.

I did not watch E3, but I did check my twitter timeline during it, so I have a pretty good idea of what went on. It’s going to sound like such a painful and ironic thing to suggest you literally not watch E3 and instead just watch your friends livetweet it but I sure did enjoy it a heck of a lot better than being directly exposed to E3. The expo itself is so terrifyingly relentless and opressively physical that you cannot experience it with any kind of distance. I am philosophically and ethically opposed to marketing but the reality is marketing is effective, at least in that it effects you. I don’t think it has the intended effect on me because I think cringing and disgust were not the emotions most of those games were going for, but that almost doesn’t matter. Whether you want it there or not, that trailer is going directly into your brain and that is all they want. They do not care if it hurts you.

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