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The Radical Raccoon is awesome to the power of totally and ready to rock on with video games, movies, and other stuff that's not entirely socially acceptable but whatever.

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RadRaccoon
9:28 PM on 06.16.2014



The internet has been ablaze lately with the revelation that the upcoming Ubisoft video game, Assassin's Creed: Unity (ACU) would feature four male protagonists. The resulting outrage at the exclusion of 50% of the population as possible game players has of course been widespread, with people decrying the absence of representation of women for a reason as insignificant as cost and time (forgetting that Ubisoft is, above all else, a business.)  However, there seem to be some logical disconnects here:

1) Video games already feature primarily male protagonists, and the industry has grown (including having female players) despite this fact.  Obviously, the lack of female representation has not impacted it.

2) An argument can be made that the growth occurred in a market very different from the one that ACU occupies (more focused on "core" gamers, console exclusive.)  Women seem to dominate as consumers of "social" or "casual" gaming, typically browser or phone based.  These are games that usually don't feature much of a player avatar which the player could feel alienated by (do the Angry Birds even have sexes?).

3) So if women are half of the gaming industry's customers, they're either not bothering with the kind of game that ACU is or they're already customers who were undeterred by the lack of playable female characters (in which case it doesn't matter that there aren't any.)  If it's the second option, and the only thing keeping them from becoming a bigger part of "core" gaming is the absence of the choice to play as a female protagonist, then there's a problem with that theory: the evidence is against it.

4) Let's look at Mass Effect 3 (ME3,) produced by BioWare, who analyzed the player trends in their game to provide us with an interesting look into the behaviors of their customers.  As the above infographic makes clear, only 18% of those who played the game played as a female character.  This was a series famous for allowing the player to design their own avatar, which avoided concerns about not having a female protagonist (now a homosexual protagonist was a different matter until the final entry.) Where were the throngs of women gamers who are so put off by the absence of females in ACU?  Either inclusiveness was irrelevant, and they ignored the game anyway, or they played as men despite having the option not to (I'm assuming the much lauded 50% of gamers are women stat applies to the players of ME3, even though it probably doesn't.)

5) Before anyone argues "well, ME3 is a RPG while ACU is an action game" one must consider that women generally don't like violent games.  The ME series focused on social interaction and even lessened the violence if you could talk your way out of situations.  ME3 in particular had a "casual" mode which afforded players much easier combat so they could focus on the story.  So if anything we should expect more women to be interested in ME3 than ACU, further supporting my point that the lack of a female character is largely irrelevant.  However, if action was what they craved, there was 2008's Mirror's Edge!  The game featured a female protagonist, was fairly well received by critics, and audience met it with ... mediocre sales.  Again, the throngs of female (and asian!) gamers crying out for product that spoke to them turned a deaf ear.  Possibly because, as vocal an audience as they may be online, they're simply not a substantial one when it comes to actually being consumers.









Haven't you heard the news?  It's not enough for a game to provide an adequate gaming experience anymore.  Now narrative is the thing.  Heck, some people now insist that story is more important that actual gameplay.  This year has seen more than one game lauded as among the greatest of all time, despite questionable gameplay mechanics (or even a decided lack of gameplay because it would get in way of the cinematic glory,) because the storyline was just so damned compelling. So if storyline is so very important that it can elevate an otherwise mediocre game, can this be a double-edged sword?


I recently started playing Gravity Rush and was immediately put off by the painfully tired cliche of "main character wakes up with amnesia" at the very start (wait, didn't Bioshock open the same way?).  These kind of writing shenanigans would immediately mark any book or--the apparent goal of gaming these days--movie as the work of a talentless hack.  Would a player be justified in immediately ditching the game upon seeing such idiocy on display?  It would be a shame in this case, because it actually is a very good game with a fun mechanic, but isn't that irrelevant in the face of a lousy story?


This is the new age of gaming, isn't it?


Or is the problem that the most brilliant of writing in games is still rather trite on a literary standard, but gamers are generally too illiterate to appreciate that fact?
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RadRaccoon
10:43 PM on 09.20.2013

I recently got around to playing Lumines: Electronic Symphony for my PS Vita and the next thing I knew about 45 minutes had passed.  It's weird, I've never taken too well to portable games that require a lot of attention on my part, because the positions I played them in (usually lying down, if I'm sitting up I'll be playing my console) were never conducive to extended periods of play. But somehow I was able to block out the crimped neck and clawed hands and just let myself play the game.  There's another one that's had this kind of effect on me, and that's the Super Stardust series (I think I managed to play the PS3 one for two hours one time).   But I've also recently found massive chunks of time disappearing into playing simplistic, arcadey titles like Pac Man Championship Edition DX and Galaga Legions, both of which I got through PS+.  There's a strong similarity between those last two and Lumines: bright colors forming somewhat simplistic shapes, electronic music and--common to all the games mentioned--somewhat simplistic game play.   In terms of the overall presentation, they all achieve a certain hypnotic effect that I think can really draw in the player to "the zone" so they can tune out much of the outside world and concentrate on the experience at hand.

It's funny to think that all of these would be considered "casual" games by most modern standards (even though they all harken back, in a couple of cases very directly so) to the classic early gaming.  Despite their simplistic, casual natures meant to be played in brief spurts with no real regard for holding the player's interest by way of narrative, I think they've proven some of the most memorable, enjoyable gaming experiences for me this year.