A longtime guy who likes games, now a longtime guy who likes games and likes to wax poetic about how great and meaningful games can be.
When it comes to discussing and debating the vidyas, I enjoy going into hard analysis the most. That is, "why did this game make me feel this way," "what was the significance of this moment," etc. I do enjoy the classic discussions of whether something is good or bad, but I'll always get excited when we can pretend to know game theory.
I also enjoy being pretty far out in my humor at random. In other words, if I'm debating something serious and then make up an imaginary poorly-translated video game title, there should be no surprises.
I'm currently playing the following:
Devil Survivor: Overclocked
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Mario Kart 7
Final Fantasy XIII
It's been two days since Mega Man was announced as a playable character in the new Super Smash Bros. and I still feel adrenaline left over from the excitement. I know I'm not alone in this. Go to just about any Mega Man related video on Youtube and the comments section will still be on fire with enthusiasm over the news.
It goes without saying that Mega Man is one of gaming's most memorable icons, but have you ever asked yourself why that is? At first glance, the answer is obvious. The classic Mega Man games have tight controls, great music, polished graphics, and a nonlinear level progression that was revolutionary for its time. Combine that with Mega Man's popularity and the power of nostalgia, the question seems kind of silly.
On the other hand, one could say similar things about many classic side scrolling games, and yet Mega Man seems to garner a certain enthusiasm that other franchises don't. There's something about the series that makes us sing about our childhood to a level tune from the game, for example. So I ask again: what is it about Mega Man that sets him apart? My personal answer is simple: Mega Man is a hero that appeals to everyone, and I don't mean that in a self-insert kind of way. We're given just enough from the games to interpret our hero in either basic or fairly complex ways, allowing him to take on a personal meaning for each player.
Series director Keiji Inafune was passionate about letting fans shape the Mega Man universe since the early days. From fans submitting ideas for robot masters in Mega Man 2 to the ill fated structure of Mega Man Legends 3's devroom, fans have had numerous ways to connect directly with the franchise. I believe this fan emphasis is what prompted Mega Man to divert into so many spinoff series throughout the years as well. Gamers looking for a dark and edgy Mega Man had Mega Man X, younger gamers had Mega Man Battle Network, Mega Man Legends offered a quirky Mega Man world, and the list goes on. Everyone had a version of Mega Man to relate to, which was a concept that inspired the (also ill fated) Mega Man Universe.
Yet the original classic Mega Man remains a bit nebulous, as players can see the origins of each direction the spinoffs went in this one character. Coincidentally, I think this is why the original Mega Man remains the most memorable. Whether you think Mega Man is about reveling in the silliness of the series or playing the role as the most awesome robot in the world, there's just enough given to us to support each interpretation without ruling out the other. In a gaming climate that seems to emphasize excess in every direction, Mega Man is a gentle reminder that less can be more.
To give an example, my personal interpretation of classic Mega Man is more along the lines of how he's portrayed in the music of The Megas. To me, Mega Man is somewhat of an understated tragic hero.
To explain, let's go right to the premise of the series. Mega Man, formerly known as Rock, is a lab assistant robot for Dr. Light. He's created along with numerous other benevolent robots that are designed to assist humanity with basic tasks, such as moving large objects (Gutsman) or being a glorified pair of scissors (Cut Man). This all goes well until Dr. Wily reprograms most of these robots to go berserk, prompting Rock to ask Dr. Light to transform him into a super fighting robot in order to stop the others. This establishes Rock as not only selfless, but as sentient as a human might be. He's able to care about others outside of how he is programmed to act or feel.
This is important because of how it relates to the main gimmick of the series: absorbing the power of boss robots once they're defeated. While it's unclear how exactly this works mechanically, it's generally described as "taking the robot master's data." The Robot Masters are confirmed to also be at least somewhat sentient, even in spite of Dr. Wily's meddling. This leads me to believe that, when Mega Man absorbs a robot master's power, he's also carrying that robot's memories with him as well. Mega Man learns the inner workings of whoever he destroys, which must weigh heavily on him given his selfless personality. After all, these robot masters were once kind allies of humans until they were reprogrammed. Mega Man has to destroy brother after brother because of Dr. Wily, and not only does Mega Man carry the guilt of eliminating robots that may not be inherently evil, but he carries their most intimate memories around through his journey. It's the equivalent of being forced to murder someone and then reading their biography immediately afterwards.
This puts a spin on the surprisingly somber ending of Mega Man 2. Instead of celebrating his second victory over Dr. Wily, he walks alone for months while wearing the colors of those he defeated. With my interpretation, Mega Man is reflecting on all the memories he has acquired as a sort of tribute to the ones he had to kill during his journey.
I'm fond of thinking that this introspective Mega Man is what prompts Dr. Light to go out of his way to create Rush for Mega Man's next adventure. After all, Dr. Light had already made tools that generally do what Rush did already, but he purposefully retools them into a companion to help curb Mega Man's trauma over his struggle. Seeing Mega Man respond positively to Rush, Dr. Light would proceed to create additional companions such as Beat (who had some actual functionality) and Auto (who is kind of useful but is primarily comic relief).
Regardless, this all comes to a breaking point during the ending of Mega Man 7, in which Mega Man threatens to kill Wily on the spot for what he has done. Wily tells Mega Man that robots are not capable of killing humans, and Mega Man, charging his weapon, screams "I am more than a robot! Die Wily!"
This is uncharacteristic of Mega Man to this point in the series, but it makes sense given a tragic interpretation. Mega Man has had to kill 54 of his fellow robots through his battle with Wily, and by carrying their data he is unable to become desensitized to the violence. Wily waving Mega Man's inability to kill humans in his face is an assault to all the suffering Mega Man endures to that point, as it implies that robots aren't as worthwhile as humans are. "I am more than a robot!" is a line that I take to mean that Mega Man acts, thinks, and suffers like a human does, and this enrages him because Wily is clearly unable to see this as he continues to manipulate robots for his own desires.
I could easily go on, and I'm sure there are certain bits in the series that might contradict this particular interpretation, but that's part of the appeal. While this may be "my" Mega Man, the same character doing the same things can mean something completely different for another player. This is what keeps Mega Man relevant as a character, and the fact that the games tend to be fun to play certainly has a lot to do with it as well. Mega Man is more than a robot. He's an icon made up of equal parts awesome, nostalgia, and ourselves, and I can't wait to be able to throw metal blades in Donkey Kong's big goofy face in 2014.
An introduction after four blogs is a little silly, isn't it? It's like being at a party for three hours and finally telling everyone your name. In Destructoid's case, it's a party full of characters so diverse and quirky that it could be the cast of an RPG. That's probably one of the reasons why I've wound up sticking around.
I was honestly floored by the positive reaction to my previous blog, even if that was in part just riding the success of a popular post. I certainly owe an introduction at this point, although my life story isn't that spectacular. I've given tidbits of my upbringing here and there, but I'm mostly just an "easy mode" American white male in his mid twenties. I've spent quite some time figuring out how to explain the angle I come from as a person on the internet, and I eventually realized that everything unfolds by answering a very simple question.
What is your avatar?
The screaming zombie is M Night, a most lovable undead character from an RPG Maker game I've been working on with a few internet friends for quite some time. The title is Driving Shadows: Antimatter Introspection, a game as ridiculous as its name.
It's an RPG that combines the quirky high-emotion of Japanese RPGs with the exploration and universe building of Western RPGs. I'll leave the descriptions at that, as plugging a game that is currently on indefinite hiatus due to all of us having work/classes is a bit silly. I actually bring this up because the RPG Maker community was my first "home" online, and wound up shaping everything about the way I act online.
In the early days, the RPG Maker community was just a bunch of 14 year olds that were ecstatic about trying to make their own games, and I was no different. You know, that age where "All Your Base" was old but we'd still find it hysterical. Even though we made fools of ourselves and produced pretty bad games, everyone would still say you made the next Chrono Trigger and give you a 10/10. The constant affirmation was obnoxious in retrospect, but it did encourage me to keep producing content and gradually get better at it.
That changed once there was enough people who could actually make quality projects in spite of the software limitations. The expectation for games shifted away from "it should be fun to play" and turned into "is it as technically impressive as what we've seen before." This is the point where young JoyfulSanity started to feel less comfortable, but it did create a stronger desire to produce better content. The attitude towards new guys was generally a bit abrasive, but there was usually a counter balance of responses from fellow newbies.
I actually did wind up with some notoriety after I made a couple mildly successful game demos, which I owe to the bits of constructive criticism I received from the most stellar members of the community. But a while after that general time period... you might guess where this is going.
The larger communities turned wildly aggressive and hostile, resulting in a self loathing paradox of everyone making games and virtually no one enjoying them. I vividly remember one incident where a two-week contest was held on one specific site for a small cash prize. The initial pitch as a fun event to inspire people to get a game finished proved to be grossly misleading.
Each game was "reviewed" in a way similar to someone trying to impersonate the Angry Video Game Nerd. One particular review consisted of the judge talking about how he called up his friends to come over so they could laugh at how bad the game in question was. Almost everyone who entered was accused of "money grubbing" because of the cash prize. This was something the elite members of that particular community found quite amusing and essentially told anyone who entered that they were asking for this kind of reaction. Remember, it's one thing to make fun of professional videogames, but many of the entries were made by teenage kids. I was so appalled that I had to take a brief hiatus from doing anything on the internet, as at the time I perceived the RPG Maker community to be indicative of the internet as a whole. That's far from the truth, of course, but it made me realize that I might be on track to become exactly like that.
I'm more than a few years removed from all of this, and thankfully what I've seen of the RPG Maker community in recent years has been very positive and helpful. However, this background taught me a valuable lesson about online interactions.
When we create our accounts and enter social communities, we all enter anonymously. We can't immediately judge someone by age, race, gender, etc... and in a way, that's kind of awesome. On a site like Destructoid, all we initially know about each other is that we have a common interest in videogames. The ability to engage with others and take breaks at our leisure allows the introverts and extroverts to be as social as they'd like without exerting themselves. The potential to meet people we never would have had the chance to talk to is exciting when you think about it. At one point or another, I've made friends with people from every continent (save Antarctica obviously), which has given me more global perspective than any classroom has.
On the other hand, that same anonymity makes it easy to forget that there's a human being behind each account, which I'm certain is what happened in the story I told. This freedom allows a false sense of confidence that makes it easy to behave in a way that few people would actually act out in real life, thus leading to "trolling." Not everything needs to be kittens and rainbows all the time, of course. Despite the super positive nature of my previous blogs, I think we can benefit from the occasional biting sarcasm and cynicism. There are plenty of times when being negative is a necessity for someone to learn from a mistake. It's when we forget the person behind the keyboard that I start to get worried.
All this said, I'm happy to report that the detrimental behavior is something I haven't really seen around these parts, so I certainly don't address these concerns to any of you.
To be honest, "JoyfulSanity" came from a screenname generator, but it resonated with me because of how negative and insane I had previously perceived internet communities. I'm a person prone to having a good argument or suggesting something to make a blog better, but I never want to come off as disrespectful or discouraging in the process. Even when we "rage" at something (like the Xbox One, as of late), I like to take it as an opportunity to enjoy some witty comments and learn some interesting points of views. The different backgrounds we come from is something that I find attractive about the community, and my goal at all times is to show as much respect to each person as I possibly can, even in the face of harshly disagreeing with something.
At the end of the day, we're all here to enjoy ourselves. Never losing sight of that is something which has defined me as a person. And yes, my screaming zombie avatar helps remind me of this.
Did you know that there was a blog recently posted called "Why I Hate Your Blog?" It's a great read, and I recommend you take some time to read it. Although, if you do, remember to come back here afterwards, because I'm lonely. ;_;
This blog is somewhat of a response to that one. Instead of focusing on what you should avoid, I want to point out five basic principles that can turn even the most mundane blog into something that is at least readable. Hop aboard, kiddies, because I'm riding the bandwagon into Advice Town!
You did your research
I read gaming news on a daily basis, but even I can't stay on top of every story and rumor that floats around the internet. A handy link fixes that instantly. It lets me - the reader- be on the same page you are, and this saves you the time of needing to summarize the story. I now know that the story you're referring to is something that actually happened, and isn't just a rumor that you heard from a friend of a friend.
If you are making an argument, backing up your points with facts and figures will only strengthen your thesis. Take a look at this blog, for example. The arguments made at the end of the blog are all well qualified by the research presented beforehand, which increases the odds that readers will actually be persuaded by the end. Even if you don't remember the specific source you want to cite off the top of your head, there are ways for you to relocate it. This is the internet. Use it.
You kept it concise
If your 9th grade English teacher is to be trusted, a piece of writing is always better if it is longer. The problem is, your 9th grade English teacher is not to be trusted.
Information overload is real. There's way too much to read, and my time is valuable. After all the time I spend reading the writing of professionals, I am left with very little time to devote to the writing of an amateur. You can't afford to start general and get more specific. By the time you get to your point, I might already be bored. If you dive right into your argument and focus on it, I'll be hooked early and stick with your blog until the end. As a reader, my reading habits won't change. But you, the writer, can change how you write. If your writing reflects your respect of my time, I could be your next follower/subscriber.
I've seen you around
This is a community of writers. Some are better known than others, and most of us aren't professionals. Even if you are the best writer I've ever seen, it's easy for your blogs to get lost among the sea of new submissions on a daily basis.
Maybe I've seen you leave funny one liner comments on front page news stories. Maybe I've seen you leave thoughtful comments on my own blog. Either way, these things help establish your place in the community, and in turn this makes me more likely to want to read your blog.
Think of it this way. If a good friend of yours asked you to read their piece of writing at the same time that a stranger did, which piece would you be more likely to read? Most people would pick the friend. If I view you as more of a friend than a stranger, then I'll be more eager to give you that comment and thumbs up that I know you're desperate for.
You offer a unique point of view
Jim Sterling is a cool guy. I watch his show every week and find it very entertaining. If your blog is just a regurgitation of points made on his show, then I've learned nothing new. Even if it was otherwise well written, it feels like a waste because I got nothing new out of it.
To be fair, being original on the internet is hard. Even before the internet, it was a challenge to say something that some philosopher didn't say hundreds of years ago. What perspective can you offer that no one else can? What has been underreported, or what is relevant that has become forgotten for one reason or another? Even if it's your original sense of humor on a hot button topic, that's at least something that I can't get anywhere else. There are thousands upon thousands of writers on the internet, and you need to somehow offer something that no one else can. If what you provide is unique, then my chances of getting bored by your content dwindles exponentially.
You had someone else read it
I have a confession to make. I have an English degree, and I'm terrible with editing my own writing. I can usually catch myself when I make basic typos, but otherwise I can count on at least two or three errors on an average piece of writing. The only way I ever realize these errors exist is because I have someone else read my work and ask me "what is this part even supposed to mean?" Again, this is coming from someone with an education in writing.
Very few of us have personal editors or the luxury of having someone read over every piece of writing we want to post. However, if you do have someone look over your work, it will undoubtedly come through in your blog. Even a parent or sibling works, although an experienced editor will obviously help. If you never have your mistakes pointed out to you, you're prone to repeat them in the future. Your readers shouldn't have to be your editors. Putting your best foot forward shows us respect, and that respect will be reciprocated.
Then, if I am truly wowed by the content of your blog, I'm much more likely to share it with a friend, saying "man, I love this blog."
Imagine walking into a room and seeing a four year old with a Super Nintendo controller in his hand, yet the TV is faced away from you. What game might you imagine that kid to be playing? The most logical guess would likely be a sidescroller, and more specifically I suspect many would guess Super Mario World. Yet if that kid was me and you walked into that room, you would probably be shocked to find that I was playing Final Fantasy II.
(Note: Yes, I'm well aware it's technically Final Fantasy IV, but I wouldn't find that out until nearly ten years later)
To be fair, if I had to guess the first videogame that I literally ever played, it would probably be Super Mario Bros 3. Yet the first game that I was enthralled with? Final Fantasy II by far. While the translation may be subpar by today's standards, I remember getting wrapped up in the story and its characters while I watched my older brother play through it. He had to read the dialogue out loud to me of course, as I wouldn't learn to read for another few years yet. He also had to teach me the general rules of the game, although grasping the generic RPG Battle system was surprisingly simple in retrospect.
So if I watched my brother play it, then why did I bother to play through it myself? In short, the world was so big and mysterious that I couldn't help but be captivated by it. The story of Final Fantasy II is nice in that every character's place in the story is clearly defined, which allowed my young mind to grasp the emotional weight of what was happening without fully understanding it. For example, I didn't know why Cecil felt like he had to become a Paladin when he was so strong as a Dark Knight, but I could still share that moment of triumph when his transformation at Mount Ordeals occurs. I knew that he got stronger in the game (well... after you level him back up a bit anyway), and the soaring melodies and fanfares of the scene let me feel the moment without actually reading it. This epic atmosphere was something that I just couldn't get from the other games I played at the time, even though I loved playing those other games as well.
The game never taught me how to read, but in a way I think it did help a bit. I only learned to play the game based on what my brother did, so much like the story I only had a very general sense of how things worked. Looking back, it's actually very strange. I never knew what each spell and command meant, but I somehow knew what they did. I knew that I should buy the items that make my characters dance in the shop screens, and I knew that fighting battles made my party stronger. As a young child, I never played games to necessarily win; I played games to have fun. In a way, this made the RPG formula perfect for my younger self. By messing around and fighting monsters for fun, it was easier for me to actually make progress in the game when I would decide to do so. Nowadays we would call this "grinding," but that's just what I did anyway. I'm sure the members of the gold farming black markets in many mmorpgs would have been happy to have me under their wing before getting cracked down for child labor laws (among other things).
In a way, understanding the game less made me more captivated by the world. Thanks to the power of the internet, we learn every intricate detail about a game within months of its release. This is why something like a hidden sidequest being uncovered in Final Fantasy 9 is a front page news story in this day and age. While there are definitely positives to having an abundance of information, there's an undeniable beauty to playing a game with absolutely no knowledge of what could be around the next corner. Events like traveling to the moon near the end of Final Fantasy II absolutely blew my mind as a kid, and it made visiting and revisiting the world all the more intriguing. Keep in mind that, even though my brother was older than I, we were still young kids playing this game. In other words, very rarely would either of us make it far enough into the game without eventually getting stuck somewhere and moving on to another game for a while. This made anything that happens in the later parts of the game all the more exciting, as we'd become familiar with the first half of the game and eager to see what was still to come.
Today, I'm a huge RPG nut. I've moved on from Final Fantasy to other game series, like Persona and Ys. In fact, Final Fantasy II/IV isn't even my favorite Final Fantasy title. Yet when I think back to those memories of exploring a world that seemed so alien to me as a kid, I can't help but get all the warm fuzzy feelings in my gut. And every so often, when I'm especially spellbound by the adventure I'm having in a videogame, I can feel that childlike wonder flutter inside me as if it were all new again. That kind of magic has kept me gaming twenty years later.
The following is a personal response to Katie Couric's tweet that followed her recent piece on videogames.
I remember when I was 13 years old and beat Halo for the first time. As it happened, I finished the game alongside a good buddy of mine while we played splitscreen on a <25 inch TV. That good buddy also happened to be my dad.
To give some background, my mother and father got a divorce only a couple months after I was born, so my time with my parents was always a bit tenuous. While I lived with my mother, she was often swamped with the responsibility of trying to fulfill both father and mother roles with her two children while still trying to provide for our livelihood. My father would come to see us for one weekend every month, and for a month during the summer I would stay at his house. While these times were nice, they didn't particularly allow my father a lot of time to do typical fatherly things, like teach me how to ride a bike or how to throw a football. This only really started to bother me when I entered my teenage years. I became very aware that I didn't have a “real” father, and my connection with him started to suffer.
So what does this have to do with Halo or any other violent videogame? You see, prior to my dad first buying an Xbox and a copy of Halo that particular summer, we had occasionally played videogames together in somewhat short spurts. We'd do rounds of the original Mario Bros. arcade game, but we never embarked on a true videogame “campaign” together. Although he picked up the game due to critical acclaim from Electronics Gaming Monthly, I wasn't really enthralled with the idea of shooting aliens in their tiny faces. My dad, a person who proudly proclaims that he brakes for squirrels, was no different. But that's not why we played Halo. In fact, the violence in any violent videogame we played was never the reason we enjoyed them. Halo was a sweeping science fiction adventure in which the fate of the world rested on the shoulders of the hero(es), and in order to prevail, my father and I would have to learn how to work together by formulating and executing strategies against increasingly insurmountable odds.
In a way, think of the violence as the result of a much more important catalyst. Our hero, representing the good side, is confronted by a much stronger enemy and its corresponding army. A battle in any form of media is not enjoyable because people get hurt or killed. Rather, we enjoy these “epic” battles because they are the manifestation of the stakes and emotion that has been building throughout the story. For example, when Luke fights Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, what we witness is much more than some fancy special effects. It's the climax of Luke's struggles with himself, his struggles with his father, and his struggles with his darkness. The outward battle is representative of everything happening internally for our hero, which is why this battle still keeps movie goers at the edges of their seats to this day. Likewise, videogames are generally good at building narratives of “lone warrior(s) facing impossible odds,” which is why the majority of videogame stories tend to be violent in some way. The battles against many classic videogame villains – Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth, The Legend of Zelda's Ganondorf, even Sonic the Hedgehog's Dr. Robotnik , to name a few – are all so memorable because they are climaxes for the “against all odds” journeys that the players embark on to get to those points. In a way, I would say that I hate killing, but I love battles.
For my father and 13 year old me, being able to embark on an against-the-odds adventure was a perfect way for us to bond. We'd order pizza and play through the game one level at a time, occasionally replaying earlier levels just to sharpen our skills. Because this was the first time either of us had played the game, much of the experience involved us sharing our tactics and observations in order to come up with effective battle strategies. This extended beyond just playing the game, as we would usually talk about our adventures over breakfast. Due to the nature of the game, we both constantly had to play to the best of our abilities in order to prevail, as either of us failing or “dying” had serious repercussions for the other player's effort to finish each section. Numerous were the times we'd see the influx of enemies and say to ourselves “how are we expected to get through this?” but with enough perseverance and teamwork, we were able to overcome everything the game threw at us.
For these moments, I didn't think about my father as “the guy I get to see on occasional weekends.” My father was my partner, my equal, and my friend. Our battles in the game were not only the representation of the game's narrative, but also our narrative.
The world is full of senseless violence. According to 2011 statistics, there will be around 40 murders today in the United States. Around 90 US citizens will die in car accidents today as well. These realities are, frankly, terrible, and if videogames truly are to blame for any of these, then something has to be done. At the same time, I have to wonder how many people are just scared of videogames because they don't understand them. From the outside looking in, I could see someone looking at my father and me and shaking their head, wondering why we're wasting so much time with one of those “murder simulators.” Maybe if my Father didn't play videogames himself, he might have had a similar reaction. Maybe I would have sat there by myself that summer, playing my new copy of Halo, while my father wondered why I was so enthralled by these images on the screen instead of all the sports and girls that other guys my age should be obsessing over.
Instead, I am left with the memory of an epic escape scene. My blood pumping, my father driving while I manned the gunner seat, neither of us knowing exactly what was going on, but only knowing that we literally had to work as one unit in order to overcome this final trial. I remember giving each other a high-five during the ending sequence, feeling triumphant with the thought of how much we were able to accomplish together. It is because the world is so dark, so depressing, and so violent that we need these “violent” videogames. These stories give us hope for the future, even in the face of a world that seems to stack impossible odds against us around every corner. Claiming victory in these battles gives us that feeling of courage that let us know that there is always a way to prevail, even if we feel small and insignificant in comparison to what we're up against.
In that one moment, I felt like my father was my best friend in the whole world. In my opinion, that was a positive side of violent videogames.
It's been on many a gamer's mind as of late, which means we can consider ourselves among those who have discussed literary criticism since the beginning of time. That might seem to be a very weird and vague blanket statement, but let me explain. You see, we sometimes can think of the way sex is depicted in videogames as a new and recent problem that is unique to videogames. Nothing could be further from the truth. From Plato's Symposium dealing with elements of pedophilia, to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice dealing with the narrator stalking a young boy, to Narbokov's controversial Lolita detailing the graphic relationship between a man and his 12 year old step daughter... okay maybe I'm picking some bad examples.
The trailer for the 1962 film adaptation of Lolita, directed by Stanley Kubrick
MY POINT IS that sex is a broad and nuanced topic that will be constantly struggled with as long as there is media to be discussed by people. And I don't just mean sex as something we scoff at and brush under the rug because it's dirty and filthy. Hell, Lolita is something we study in universities and consider a literary classic, and let me reiterate that it's about the sexual relationship between a grown man and his 12 year old step daughter. Sex is something that, for better or for worse, society is fascinated with, and the sooner we acknowledge this when discussing sex in videogames, the clearer our arguments will be in the end.
As the title might indicate, I've tried to divide the subject of sex into two different talking points. While sex seems to imply sexy and sexy is thought to lead to sex, the two are actually quite different despite usually being lumped together. As an up front disclaimer, I am not exactly a gender studies major or something even a little qualified to talk so authoritatively on these subjects. What I am, however, is a guy who wishes to have a conversation about the subject, and I hope that what I bring to light in this blog will help conversations about sex in videogames to become clearer in what they are actually addressing.
The first definition that comes up when we search the word "sexy" is:
1. Arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire or interest.
2. Slang Highly appealing or interesting; attractive
In other words, whether we're talking about heaving breasts in Dead or Alive or heaving breasts in videogames that aren't Dead or Alive, we're talking about what is "sexy" and not exactly "sex." These are things that are meant to titilate us or otherwise get us excited in our no-no parts. When we hear the words "sex sells" in advertising, in truth the phrase actually means "sexy sells."
Not actually pictured: Sex
So what is there to talk about "sexy" in videogames?
On one hand, sexy images practically define marketing across all forms of media.The very fact that "sexy" goes hand in hand with "marketing" makes any sort of artistic or otherwise worthwhile value in "sexy" seem absurd. How is one meant to justify heavily armored men standing next to barbie doll proportioned women who are wearing barely enough armor to make them appropriate on a public beach, let alone a battlefield? In most cases, it's probably impossible.
Yet let's not forget that many classic pieces of art have depicted naked or sexually provocative men and women, which goes to show the importance of the context that sexiness is used. For example, during the play Equus - a play you may or may not know as the story of a guy who gets off to horses - there is one part that features both a male and female character practically naked (or actually naked, depending on what production you see). Yet, without spoiling the story, it's safe to say that the audience will likely know that this type of sexually provocative content exists for the sake of adding meaning to the story. If we saw these two characters on a billboard trying to sell us 2013 BBQ Cola Car Insurance Online, we would dismiss it as pointless fluff because of the change in context. And because Videogames are a form of media full of all kinds of potential, there's no reason to say that sexy can't be used meaningfully.
In fact, even though I haven't played the game myself, I feel fairly confident that Lollipop Chainsaw is a decent example of how games can use sexy. Now, obviously there is some marketing involved with the choice to paste a scantily clad cheerleader on the cover. Yet one could also argue that the marketing helps shape our expectations of the game, which might be subverted by how this same sexy character is developed through the story. The fact that smartdiscussion is happening about it is definitely indicative of a success in that respect, even if it is a small one. James Gunn or Suda 51 may very well not have intended anything beyond a hyper silly/quirky fanservice extravaganza. Maybe the game isn't going to change anyone's perspective on objectification or anything it entails. Like I said, I haven't even played it myself, but I am pointing it out as an example because people are talking about it. As many a pretentious English major will tell you, there actually isn't a definite way to differentiate between a bad story and a great one other than what either society or a bunch of old guys writing a Norton Anthology decides on. In the same way, if Lollipop Chainsaw's story has enough content to back up these essays that have been written about it, then it proves that not only can "sexy" be used in a way to add meaning to a story, but that there are at least some gamers willing to analyze and appreciate it when it happens.
Or, at the very least, now saying we played Lollipop Chainsaw for the striking social commentary can sound at least a little less laughable than saying we read Maxim for even a single actual reason.
(chiefly with reference to people) Sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse.
I know I don't need to explain what sex is, but for the sake of putting something on my resume for teaching a health class one day, sex is when two people come together in a very intimate way and and put the [DATA EXPUNGED] into the [DATA EXPUNGED] and sometimes a [DATA EXPUNGED] is born 9 months later.
I define this because, as I mentioned before, sexy is often called sex. In actuality, sexy and sex are two very different things. Sexy implies a sort of separation: strangers can be sexy and have nothing to do with each other. Sex implies intimacy. It implies two people making either a meaningful connection or a drunken mistake. Looking at a sexy person may not mean a whole lot. Having sex with a person has all sorts of implications, even in cases where it "doesn't mean anything."
In other words, barbie doll girls and muscle log men are not sex in videogames. The fact of the matter is, very few games actually deal with the concept of sex, because oftentimes what comes with sex might not be so sexy.
Catherine is a videogame about sex.
What's funny is that, while I may have been talking out of my ass about Lollipop Chainsaw's marketing, I am at least a little confident about making that claim about the marketing for Catherine. So many of the promotional images associated with the game have a wink wink nudge nudge vibe, right down to the cover needing to be censored by a few retailers. On the surface, Catherine doesn't seem that much different than Hatsune Moe Otaku Song of the Ancient Wind Girl, Rated M for partial nudity, suggestive themes, and simulated gambling. After all, that's just what we expect from anything named after an anime stylized girl wearing lingerie.
Then you actually play the game.
One might expect a videogame about sex to include some ridiculous button timing minigames that are eventually censored but accidentally left in the code to scar the nation some time later. Except Catherine doesn't even depict the act of sex. Instead, the game focuses on all that comes with sex in two different scenarios. On one hand, we have the main character's girlfriend, named Katherine. She represents the side of sex that comes with dedicated relationships. With this comes the question of how committed Vincent (the before mentioned main character) actually is to Katherine, and what exactly the nature of their relationship even is. With this also comes the "pregnancy scare" scenario, as Vincent struggles with the idea that he could very well be the father of a child when he himself is certainly not ready for that kind of responsibility.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Catherine, the mysterious girl that Vincent finds himself waking up to every morning during the course of the game. One would expect the girl representing no strings attached sex would constitute the "sexy" side of the game. In actuality, while Catherine is clearly playing the part of a sexy character, parts that might actually be considered titillating are few and far between. Yet all the while, the "no strings attached" nature of Vincent's sex with Catherine is really just a facade. In actuality, this "meaningless" sex follows him and haunts him in his waking hours. It quickly becomes apparent that Catherine wants Vincent to form his own kinds of commitments to her.
In both cases, players see the role that sex has in these relationships. One relationship faces the consequences of sex, and the other relationship is defined by it. All the while, Vincent's thoughts and fears are personified in the playable nightmare sequences, oftentimes to horrifying results. Obviously, we can see Vincent to "good" endings, so this isn't to say that sex is a vessel which makes terrible things happen to us. However, in a way, the marketing versus the actual product is somewhat of a metaphor for Vincent's predicament in Catherine. One may be drawn in by the sexy images, expecting a fun and sexy adventure, but what actually ensues is much larger than that first temptation would let on.
So that's it!?
Not even close.
There's still so many topics and so many examples to be used that I'm sure this could become a novella if I even attempted to go over all of it, but that is a wonderful thing in so many respects. There is so much to the idea of sex that to dismiss its use in videogames is to limit the medium. Does this mean that we need to stop and defend every male power fantasy as some profound commentary? Far from it. Yet the cheap usage of sexy that has been prevalent thus far is no evidence that it can't ever be used properly. Again, it's certainly testy waters to tread here, and I barely even touched on the gender struggles and implications that can come with the territory. But hey, if everything is a learning experience, then talking about the subject with an open mind will, at the very least, lead to some enlightening discussions.
And when all else fails and the industry feels doomed, just remember one thing: A bunch of smart, intelligent guys who have dictated what is brilliant literature in this day and age are raving about a book that is about sex with an underage girl, and let's thank God that videogames have never...
... oh Japanese visual novels, why did you have to go and ruin my trump card?
UPDATE/RECAP: After rereading what I wrote and taking feedback into consideration (thank you if you commented, by the way!), I thought I'd take a second to expand on some of my points to clarify my meaning. Consider this an abridged version of the blog.
1: Sexy and sex are tools and concepts. They can be used by developers. They can be used poorly, and they can be used well. Instances where they are used well does not necessarily justify instances they are used poorly/offensively. It's possible that most developers should just shy away from anything having to do with sex due to the risk of it going wrong, but if we want to believe in freedom of expression, everything is on the playing field. This is why I brought up Lolita, even if I spent most of my time making fun of it. The subject matter is gross, but reading it and recognizing its merits does not mean approving of all the content within it. Likewise, many argue that Paradise Lost is sexist, but that doesn't mean that it's wrong to enjoy Milton's writing. We can be free to express what we think works and what we think does not work, but all of it is worth talking about regardless.
2: I talk about Lollipop Chainsaw, Catherine, and their respective marketing strategies. This does not mean I endorse them. I do happen to think Catherine is a good game, but I intentionally tried not to argue about whether it's good or not. I argued it was about sex. On the same note, the effectiveness of the marketing and/or the negative implications it had is all valid, and that doesn't conflict with my claim that it frames how we enter into these games. Metal Gear Solid 2 is infamous for it's marketing by only featuring Snake in promotional trailers and leaving Raiden - who you control for the majority of the game - left as a surprise, so deceptive marketing definitely has precedent. The fact that these preconceptions due to marketing exist is neither inherently good nor bad, nor do they justify their negative consequences. I wanted to talk about what's there and create discussion.
3: Whether you agree or disagree with what I write is up to you, but I only hope that I put forth my claims earnestly and that I backed up the reasons why I made my arguments. Sex is a broad topic that doesn't get discussed often enough. I, myself, am not used to discussing it (as you could probably tell). Much like sitting down with the drunk philosophy major at the bar, what matters isn't that you found the absolute truth, but that you talked about some deep stuff and maybe had a good time doing it. And additionally, getting that guy into a cab and back to his house matters even more, because he's my best friend and he's been missing for days now.