Last week, I posted an open question about gender in video games. I then proceeded to hide behind the sofa; I’ve been led to believe that the internet becomes a dark and scary place when it comes to this particular topic. When I finally raised my head above my cushion parapet, I began to realise that things are a little calmer than expected…
Some people agreed with the notion that more games should include gender choice, providing examples of games which do it well. The majority of people disagreed with the notion, but did so in the best possible way. Whilst I am an advocate of gender choice in video games, these comments highlighted the difficulties when trying to implement this feature. Before you read this post, I implore to follow the links below to the previous post:
Rather than dive into the comments as they unfolded, I wanted to wait and see what was discussed. I had originally intended to push this discussion further, by looking at previous games which could have included gender choice. Instead, this ‘Part 2’ will focus on some of the great ideas and counter-arguments that were raised after ‘Part 1’, starting with the very nature of the question itself….
Obligation and Shoe-horning (Shoulda Woulda Coulda)
The phrasing of the above question split opinion. On the one hand, many people argued that games should add gender choice if they can (If it can be added, without detriment to the game, then why not?). Others however, pointed out that saying a game “should” include gender selection is inherently wrong. Game designers must not feel obligated to create a second model for their protagonist is they don’t want to. We shouldn’t feel the need to tell game creators that gender choice “should” be in the games they put together. If they want to add it, well that’s great; lots of readers expressed their love and respect for games that do include the option.
There were other comments that argued that gender choice can feel ‘shoe-horned’ into games; the female version of the protagonist added to pander to a target audience. That’s not difficult point to prove; there are lots of games where gender choice has very little impact, and seems to serve no purpose. It is however difficult to pinpoint which games added a female character because they truly wanted it there, and which games added the option simply as a way to appeal to more players. A game I played recently makes for a good example: Guacemelee!
This is a game where the protagonist is a muscled, manly man. If you’re playing with a friend, they jump into the fray as a female luchador. The game does (sort-of) allow you to play single player as the female character, but it’s convoluted. As far as I am aware, you only have the choice on the PS3, and even then you are required you to jump through hoops like you are inputting a cheat code. This gender choice definitely feels shoe-horned in.
This is something to consider when criticising games in general for the lack of female characters. Whilst we know that women are under-represented in games, and voice those concerns, we should not expect (or want) game developers to immediately start churning out female protagonists because of growing pressure, or out of a need to pander to audiences. Game developers should ultimately make what they want.
If I had asked, “Could more games let you choose your gender?”, then this would be an easier discussion. Many comments confirmed that when gender choice is implemented, it’s appreciated, and there are other games which could do the same. However, as has quite rightly been pointed out, gender choice should not be included for the sake of it, especially if it impairs the games design, premise or story…
Gender affects the Game (This is a man’s world)
A lot of responses that disagreed with more gender choice did so on the grounds that the gender of the player character is not just important, but integral to the game. Specific character gender is often seen as vital when story is a main part of the game. It’s a very hard argument to counter. I enjoy imagining whether ‘that character could me a man/woman’, but there will always be something in the game that changes as the character’s gender is swapped.
One game heavily criticised for its lack of female characters was GTA V. These criticisms of course referred to the lack of both playable and non playable women. Nevertheless it’s hard to argue that the sex of these three protagonists is unimportant. And not because women ‘don’t fit’ the GTA landscape, or can’t match their villainous male counterparts. (there have been real and dangerous female gangsters since the 1920s.) The GTA V protagonists are arguably male at their core.
It requires a distinctly high level of testosterone to even begin to explain Trevor’s behaviour; Michaels’ character is highly influenced by his role as father figure within his disreputable, ‘nuclear family’. Franklin, in my opinion, is the character whose gender could be most easily swapped. This is a character defined less by emotions and relationships and more so by their objectives – a young street gangster trying to make more of themselves and impress the veteran criminals. However, the way in which the Female-Franklin would be seen and treated by the other characters would differ greatly. Whilst I personally believe that ‘Frankie’ would have made a very interesting contribution to the story within GTA V, I cannot see how his/her gender could be swapped without altering minor aspects of the game, and I cannot fault the decision to make the other two characters male.
One of the many characters I’ve imagined with swappable gender is Nathan Drake. What would happen to the character, story and gameplay if Nathan Drake could be Natasha Drake? There’s nothing overtly masculine about Nathan and his personality traits, his confidence, quick wit and carefree attitude could all be transferred. Whilst I believe Tomb Raider and Uncharted are very different games, Lara Croft shows us that women are more than capable of the kind of stealth, combat and exploration that Drake goes through. In my mind, the only real issue with Drake’s possible gender swap are his love interests. To allow for a changeable gender means that, like in Mass Effect, the sexual preferences of the players love interest have to be flexible too, if not abandoned entirely. I think Elena Fisher might object…
There were some comments that pointed out that a small number of games with gender choice do make minor changes to the central story depending on which choice you have made. Whilst I’ve not played these games myself, it’s interesting to see that game creators are aware that gender differences can affect a story and use this as part of the game’s design. This leads on to a practical issue with gender choice that several people raised…
Budget and Time (Hey big spender, spend a little time with me)
This isn’t really something I can comment on personally, but this is something definitely worth discussing. Many comments pointed out that adding gender choice takes a significant toll on the budget and timescale of a project. I’m not a game creator, but I am curious to know how true this is. I can see that, in some cases, another voice may be needed for the script, and a different character model is needed, but how much impact does this have? Furthermore, could you therefore argue that game companies with bigger budgets should be more inclined to offer choice of gender?
Representing gender (That, that dude looks like a lady)
So you’ve decided to add gender choice to your game. Now you need to decide how to show that difference. Whilst in ‘Part 1’ I argued that Mass Effect’s Fem-Shep was equally as awesome her masculine alternative, this was countered with the argument that there isn’t anything inherently ‘female’ about Fem-Shep. Her voice, mannerisms and parlance with other characters matches Male-Shep throughout the game. I have to agree, and also state that Male-Shep never really presents himself as overly masculine either. This isn’t a particularly bad aspect of the series – the characters are meant to be largely neutral avatars – but it does highlight an issue with gender choice. There’s a risk that the two characters you create are male/female in a cosmetic sense only.
If you decide to make two characters that are different because of gender, you also have to decide how you are going to present that difference. You could go with long standing clichés such as ‘men=blue; women=pink’ or ‘boy=cap; girl=bow’. Not everyone is going to agree that the way you represent the genders is correct. Why can’t my female character have short hair? Why can’t my male character’s armour have a ‘boob-window’? The act of trying to allow greater choice in your game could ultimately reinforce old stereotypes.
The FPS (Do you want to see the world? In a different way, yeah)
Different types of games seem better suited to gender choice. The RPG scene has an over-abundant collection of games which allow you to choose the sex of the character you play as. It was interesting to see people declaring the First Person Shooter as another genre ready for greater gender choice. This makes sense to me: if you’re looking through the eyes a character, which in most cases is entirely silent, why not allow the player to choose the eyes they are looking out of? Of course, this may not have any visual bearing until you go into cooperative/multiplayer mode, but as I said in ‘Part 1’, having the choice on any level should be a positive thing.
Many shooters feature a protagonist that is a soldier. In these cases, it seems all the easier to employ gender choice, simply because it is not uncommon for first names to be ignored in a military environment. Soldiers are often referred to by their rank and last name only. Why not let the player choose the first name, and the gender that goes with it? If nothing else, why does the FPS need to tell us whether the character is male or female? If it’s a solo-campaign game, then let the player decide for themselves.
* * *
Should more games let you choose your gender? Well, no game should have to, but it seems more game creators could ask themselves whether the gender choice could be fit into their design. They shouldn’t do this because they feel pressured, or because it’s seen as the ‘right thing to do’, but they should instead add gender choice because it adds something positive to the game. It might improve immersion for certain players, add a new perspective to the game, or even add a new reason for a second play-through.
Is this a solution to the disparity between male and female protagonists? In a small way, I still like to think it is. There are clearly lots of issues and pitfalls for game creators to consider when including gender selection, but I see the simple act of discussing gender in games as a positive thing (as responses to ‘Part 1’ proved). If more games creators explore or debate the options of gender choice, the underlying discussion – “could this character be female?” – might be addressed with greater conviction.
There’s no way I’ve covered everything that was mentioned in the comments. If you feel that something that was raised in ‘Part 1’ should be discussed here, let me know. If you feel you have something new to add, please comment below or on the previous post.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
If you want to contact me. You can find me on Tumblr or follow me on Twitter.
If you’re the kind of person that thinks, “I don’t want to play as a [Male/Female] character” or “There are too many [Female/Male] characters in gaming” or “[Men/Women] are underrepresented in video games”, then you [Madam/Sir], are in the right place.
The discussion of ‘Gender in Video Games’ is a tricky subject. Perspectives can often be so polar, opinions so aggressive and mindsets so entrenched that even parties that might agree with each other take verbal jabs and casts hurtful comments at random. The point I’m making here is that I approach this subject tentatively. To raise the issue of ‘gender in video games’ on the internet seems akin to walking into the lion enclosure… ringing a dinner bell… dressed as a lamb chop… singing ‘Be Our Guest’ from Beauty and the Beast…
Why do it then? Why write this post? Well, because I believe I have something positive to say. No criticism, persecution or prejudice. I simply wish to talk about a (possible) solution to a Big Problem in gaming. Oh, and it’s not my idea. It’s not even a new idea. There are quite a few games out there that have already employed this solution.
The Big Problem in this case centres on these points:
• There is a vast disparity in the number of Male and Female playable characters.
• A lot of people don’t want to play as women.
• Developers worry that Female protagonists won’t be well-received.
• There is a perception that Women don’t play certain games so there really isn’t an issue.
• Many people just enjoy playing games for what they are.
• Some people want more female characters; some people don’t.
This is not a Problem that can be solved overnight. However, there are already several games that present an answer to the question of representation in games: the choice of gender. Allowing players to pick the character they want is instantly inclusive, and also highlights the fact that not every game has to decide the sex of the protagonist for you. Furthermore, you don’t have to play as a woman if you don’t want to. A long term hope in this scenario would be that game developers become more confident in creating games with female protagonists.
Should there be more of this? If the gender of the main character is not integral to the game, should the player get to pick male or female? Let’s start with one very obvious, very successful example:
Mass Effect did it.
Despite a slightly ropey finale that left some fans somewhat embittered, the Mass Effect series was good gaming. Player choice was a big part of each game. Your character could be kindly or cruel, fierce or heroic. You could pepper you opponents with bullets or psychically torment them. Whatever your choices, Shepard became a galactic legend by the end of ME3, and at no point did gender have an impact on that legacy. Some minor differences occurred during each game – it affected which characters wanted to see you naked – but Fem-Shep was not held back by her femininity, in any way. Furthermore, if a player didn’t want to be awesome as a female character, they could be an awesome dude instead. The aforementioned Big Problem fades significantly.
As I’ve said, this is by no means the only game that employs gender selection. In medieval style RPG games with gender choice, I tend to play a man. This is because my History Teacher side reminds me the chivalric code and the realities of the feudal system. In my head, a male knight makes more sense, even if the game is also a fantasy. So in Dark Souls and Oblivion, I choose to play as a man. However, when I started playing Dragon’s Dogma I played as a female character. Why? Because I had just been watching Game of Thrones and I wanted to play as Brienne of Tarth. Why? Because she’s awesome, that’s why.
The fact is, as an individual I have enjoyed games that let me choose. I’m sure there are many of you who feel the same. The fact is that letting players choose their gender might just be the way to start bringing more female protagonists into gaming without angering people who only want to play as men. It won’t completely solve the issue, but it’s a way to head in the right direction.
Boy or Girl?
There are other games that go even simpler. No character creation or character modelling, just a simple question at the beginning of the game: Male or Female?
I still remember the first time I switched on my Game Boy to play Pokemon Blue. The game soon asked me to name my character and my rival. The names were fairly boring because my younger brother would have told on me if I had gone with my first choices. I then got to pick my first Pokemon, which was Bulbasaur (the right answer, by the way). That was it – decisions made. It made no difference to me that “are you a boy or a girl?” was not a question introduced until Pokemon Crystal.
You might argue that it doesn’t matter if that little set of pixels you control is a boy or a girl. And you’d be right: it doesn’t matter to the game…and that’s the point. Gender selection in Pokemon wasn’t necessary, but it was added nonetheless. The game creators took the time to make the smallest change to their games, and now all the children (and adults of course) that play Pokemon get that choice. A small gesture, that allows gamers to feel just a little bit more included and respected.
Another series which has implemented gender choice is Halo. Whilst the early multiplayer warriors were all men, Halo: Reach and Halo 4 have allowed players to fully customise male or female Spartan armour. Again, the impact that this has on players who want to ‘be men’ is negligible. For players who want to ‘be women’, it’s at the very least a sign that game developers know they exist. That they have a place in gaming. I found some of the customisations look better on the female Spartans (don’t look at me like that, you know what I mean).
On a slightly tangential note: I’ve often thought that if the original Halo had been made after Mass Effect, then the developers may have been inspired to make Master Chief’s gender changeable. There’s very little in Chief’s character that suggests that he could not be Fem-Chief if the player so wished it.
Which games could let you choose?
It’s an idea... could it work? I personally don’t think it would work with every game; it is often possible to argue that a character’s gender is important. However, I believe there is more room for gender selection – a simple message at the start of the game that asks “would you like to be a boy or a girl?”. To demonstrate this, I intend to write a ‘Part Two’, in which I will talk about the biggest games of the last few years and discuss how they would have coped with the addition of gender selection (including games where the protagonist was female) and whether the ability to choose genders has any impact on the games themselves.
I could continue writing here, but I wish to pause, even for just a few days. This is because I want any following discussion to go in the right direction. Firstly, I want to hear your views on just the concept of more gender choice in games, before picking out particular examples. Secondly, if I’ve made an error in judgement or said something you disagree with at this stage, then it’s best to deal with that first. Thirdly, you get your chance to share your own experiences with games that have let you pick the character’s gender, or suggest games I should talk about in Part 2.
Do you think there should be more games that let you pick your gender?
What other examples of games with gender choice have you enjoyed?
What games would you add gender selection to, if you could?
Or do you disagree with the idea of promoting gender choice in video games?
I'm sure that if I asked you to name your favourite video game characters, your list would include one or two silent individuals. Many of the most legendary protagonists are taciturn, and are often respected for staying quiet. Unvoiced characters often let their actions (or their games) speak for them.
Whilst many of these voiceless stay hushed, the decision to grant speech has occurred in many game sequels. In the past, this could be attributed to what games were capable of doing – voice acting in video games didn't develop until the 1980s. Nowadays, this character change needs to be considered carefully. In my opinion, the addition of a character voice can change the very foundations of a game. Occasionally, a franchise will eject its original silent protagonist for a speaking lead, which has a definite impact on how the next game plays out.
Below are a few examples of games that gave their heroes permission to speak. I discuss how I reacted to the change, and the difference that change made.
1. Isaac Clarke from the Dead Space series
In Dead Space 1, Mr Clarke arrived on the space ship USG Ishimura, to find the crew had been reduced to reanimated corpses suffering with serious finger nail overgrowth and a tendency to hug and kiss a little too enthusiastically. Now, if this was you or I, we might have something to say about the situation...
"Oh my word" we might say. "There are an awful lot of monsters trying to chew my face off. I am slightly perturbed by this predicament, and find this whole scenario quite taxing." And so on.
Isaac Clarke however relies on a series of grunts and groans to communicate his feelings as he trudges, stomps and blasts his way through his own personal nightmare. At no point did I find Isaac's silence off putting. On the contrary, in a game where isolation and paranoia factor heavily, the absence of a lead voice added to the atmosphere. Mr Clarke was alone and he knew it.
Then he starts talking in Dead Space 2. I know why they made the decision; I understand that they wanted to flesh out the story and the characters. At the end of the day, it hardly breaks the game. I just didn't appreciate the change. The inclusion of more speech detracts from the lonely-helpfulness of the original. There were some other people in the first game, which Isaac refused to speak to, but in the second game he jabbers on with anyone who will listen. If he can talk, why did he never call out to his girlfriend in the first game? That was the whole reason he was there.
I also never felt that Isaac needed more character. Dead Space was a game designed to scare the player, to make us feel insecure and lead us to question what was going on around us. We didn't need to connect with Clarke to play the first game, so why are we being told to make friends with him in the sequel?
2. Jak from the Jak and Daxter series
Jak and Daxter are a little arrogant. They celebrate the collection of every Power Cell with the bravado of an entire football team. There's a level of self-assured smugness about Jak too. In the end though, he turns out to be a charming protagonist. In Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy, his physical reactions – eye-rolling, shoulder sagging, head shaking – convey all the audience needs to know about the current situation. With the bubbly Daxter quipping from his shoulder, Jak was never called on to say anything. He didn't need to; he was the hero and he was going to get things done, high-fiving and fist-bumping all the way.
Then Jak is given a voice. Not just a voice though, he gets an overhaul. Everything from his hairstyle to his underlying personality were remodelled. The sequel itself is leagues apart from the predecessor. The series took a sudden left turn into 'dark and edgy' territory, and slung a pile of personal baggage over Jak's shoulders.
The overhaul is one of the reasons why I personally accepted the 'Talking Jak'. The transition itself is dealt with pretty well. There's a defining moment early on the game when Jak begins talking, and it's instantly used to show that the hero has gone dark and brooding. He never needed to say anything when he was happy saving the day. After two years in prison he's got issues he needs to resolve. Daxter's comedy relief is not only welcome, but is now also pretty important in keeping Jak on the right side of the line that separates Good and Evil. The jokes at the expense of Jak's former silence are a nice touch.
"Maybe this guy's a mute, like you used to be."
3. John "Soap" MacTavish from the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series
The Call of Duty games are full of mutes. From World at War to Black Ops, the world is seen through the eyes of numerous people, and most of them remain hushed. There are (and I'm sure to be chastised for a miss-count) six playable characters in the first Modern Warfare and the majority of your time is spent in the head of John MacTavish. He's happy to act as trigger finger for the player without making a sound. This lends itself to the 'every man' feeling of the First Person Shooter; you're playing as a character, but it's really you that's saving the day.
When Modern Warfare 2 rolled round, "Soap" MacTavish got a voice. The problem is... he's really weird about it. When he's a Non-Playable Character fighting alongside you, he'll chat freely. When you take control of him in the final few missions of the game, he goes quiet again. It could be that MacTavish is conforming; maybe the "CoD characters don't speak in first-person" is actually a strictly enforced rule. Either that, or when the player 'pilots' MacTavish, they're actually sitting on the part of his brain that controls speech.
4. Claude from the Grand Theft Auto series
As mentioned, sometimes it's the game that changes rather than the Player Character. When Claude rolled up in Grand Theft Auto 3, the franchise was greatly advanced. The world was now 3D, the story and characters more fleshed out. The one thing that was yet to change – Claude, like his ancestors, was entirely silent. He would walk up to a payphone or into a cutscene. The mission giver would talk at Claude, congratulate him on the good work he had done so far, and then offer him a new mission. Then Claude would walk off again. Half the time, he wouldn't even nod or show any sign that he had understood the instructions; he would just leave.
The fact that Claude was mute (he is the one very literal mute on this list) made no difference to the enjoyment of this Grand Theft Auto. In fact, from an immersion/gameplay point of view, it could be argued that his lack of voice made sense. The fact that he never comments on missions or describes how he feels about characters illustrates that Claude is not invested in the story, which (let's face it) many people wouldn't be either. It often seems strange in later GTA games that the protagonist will spend two minutes of a cutscene expressing raw, barely-controlled hatred for an antagonist in the game, but between missions the same character can spend their time collecting taxi fares or shooting pigeons. Claude's lack on investment makes sense inside the GTA sandbox.
Having said that, the Grand Theft Auto games that followed have all been superb. The next instalment, Vice City, still holds the title of 'favourite GTA game' in my brain. Whilst the more story-driven approach tends to go against the free-roam nature of the franchise, allowing protagonists like Tommy Vercetti and Niko Bellic to talk has made (at least) one positive change to series: whoever you are playing as...it's their story now. In GTA 3, you're completing a random bunch of missions for other people; fixing their problems for them. From Vice City onwards, you were completing missions so that you could succeed; fixing problems so that you rise to the top.
5. Jack from the BioShock series
This is the most recent transition from silent protagonist in the list. Again, the new, talkative character also came with a bold new direction for the series. Or at the very least, a new altitude (look at how clever and witty I am).
Jack isn't completely silent in BioShock. He says/thinks an introductory statement, and then shuts up for the duration. Just as Isaac's silence allows the atmosphere to press in on the player in Dead Space, so too does Jack's reluctance to speak. Jack is clearly confused by underwater madness of Rapture and it's equally doolally occupants, and we share in his puzzlement.
Booker DeWitt is Jack's opposite when it comes to all things oratory. Not only does he spend the length of the game conversing with the ever-enchanting Elizabeth, but he will also comment on pretty much anything remotely interesting. Whilst Jack is determined to sneak and creep around the maze of pressurised tubes of the underwater asylum, DeWitt bounds around Columbia, commenting on the scenery, the enemies he faces, the contents of bins...everything.
Now of course, these are two very different games. Yes, one is in the sky and one is in the sea. The moods and atmospheres are different. The stories too, are contrasting. I believe that the use of speech in BioShock Infinite was necessary for such a dramatic change to work. DeWitt's relationship with Columbia, Elizabeth and his back story would not carry the same narrative weight without his verbal contributions.
It also goes some way to showing that FPS protagonists can have voices. Although... Infinite does have a few weird moments where DeWitt is talking about things he remembers... but you're playing as him and only hearing these things for the first time... which means the way you perceive Booker and his surroundings are different to how Booker sees things...which means you're not seeing the world from his perspective... but you are literally seeing the world through his eyes... now I have a nosebleed.
How do you feel about silent characters that gain voices, or the games that abandon the silent character?
Do you disagree with my assessment of any of these sequels?
What other examples of this transformation are worth mentioning? (I've missed a few obvious, big series like Sonic, for example.)
There are a lot of close combat weapons in video games, and everyone has their favourite. Some are ultimate weapons of power; some are versatile tools of destruction; some are iconic pieces of kit.
Last week, I asked if it was possible to find the most ‘Ideal’ Melee Weapon – something that could be pulled from its own game(s) and placed in the hands of any Player Character. If you want to see the comments and responses that followed, you can find them here. The distant hope was that amongst the all the discussion and debate, a sole item would rise to the surface.
This was a lofty wish. Whilst Links’s Hookshot has been heralded as an ideal piece of equipment for any game, we seem more reluctant to admit that our favourite blade or club could be outmatched.
Whilst far from reaching a consensus, the comments following my optimistic question did begin to form some common ground. Whilst no one single weapon rose to the top of the pile, there was a reoccurring theme in many comments...
Simplicity is key.
Many of your comments argued that the most straightforward, basic weapons are crucial in close combat. Never mind powers, extra abilities, bonus features... the simple stabber or basic bopper makes the difference time and time again. Even though this idea excludes my own candidate for the ‘Ideal’ Melee Weapon (the Wraith Blade from the Legacy of Kain series) I’m beginning to agree with this logic.
The simplest weapons allow any protagonist to pick them up and begin fighting straight away. In many games the melee weapon represents the last line of defence, so it makes sense that this should be something basic but reliable. Furthermore, we’re assuming that this melee weapon is being used in conjunction with Link’s Hookshot. In combination with this tool, the most straightforward weapon becomes lethal, whether you are flying through the air towards your enemy or dragging them towards you. So, whilst more powerful, more elaborate, and more effective weapons may exist, the Ideal Melee Weapon might just be one of these three candidates:
1. The Combat Knife
The veteran of the group, the Combat Knife has appeared in a multitude of games, and disappeared into the torsos of a thousand different enemies time after time. Whether it’s attack dogs, zombies, or zombie attack dogs, this is the weapon that saves us.
Then there’s the sheer versatility. Without the knife in Red Dead Redemption or Assassin’s Creed, you’re not going to getting any of those lovely pelts; wooden crates would remain unharmed in Resident Evil.
The Combat Knife is such a good candidate because it’s already proven its worth in so many games. From Metal Slug to Far Cry, the normal knife makes for great protection.
2. The frying pan
Another ‘weapon’ which has already made several appearances – Super Smash Bros, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead were all examples raised. Whilst the Pan doesn’t have the same lethality of the Combat Knife, it has one very important advantage over its pointier opponent: comedy value.
Whilst there are those of us that might take some delight in stabbing a bad guy or two, we can all enjoy the metallic clang of pan against our enemies’ cranium. I imagine that even the surly Kratos from God of War would crack a smile if he was offered Twin Pans to bop Minotaur with. Of course, the Pan doesn’t have the same level of versatility as the Knife...unless you are making breakfast.
3. The FUBAR
This is not a weapon that has appeared in a video game...not yet. The FUBAR was raised as a contender because it encapsulates the best qualities of so many simple melee weapons. In my post that originally posed this question, I stated that the Red Faction Sledgehammer trumped the Half Life Crowbar and the Bioshock Wrench due to the level of force the Sledgehammer produced. A counter argument was posed: why can’t we have the best of each?
So the FUBAR was sought out. A three foot Sledgehammer-Crowbar-Wrench combo. Versatile and powerful; satisfyingly simple and effective. Even the silent Gordon Freeman would squeak with delight if this was an option in video games.
What is the Ideal Melee Weapon?
The aim with my original query was bold. I asked you to reach a consensus where one could not really be found. There are so many quality close combat tools in video games – so many of you put forward great arguments and equally great weapons – that it makes it impossible to truly select a weapon that we could all agree is the 'best'. Just maybe though, the Ideal Melee Weapon is in the list of everyday items above. None of these weapons were born from games, but maybe, just maybe, the simplest weapon is the best. Whether the Player Character is a skilled killer or amateur warrior, these weapons could work in all situations. Remember that this discussion takes into account that Link’s Hookshot would also be an Ideal tool for any character.
I have one request of any ensuing comments. Whatever you wish to say, can you please include your candidate for Ideal Melee Weapon (it doesn’t have to be from the selection above) and at least one sentence explaining why it should be every protagonists choice.
Comments like “you haven’t mentioned...” and “what, no love for...?” are all well and good, but this is your chance to argue for the weapon which every player character could be given. The three candidates above were all selected because that was what they receive support from the majority of comments. If you think you’re Ideal weapon has been ignored, or a weapon suggested in the previous post has been excluded, make a case for it. I'm still hoping that we’ll see the error of our ways and realise that the Wraith Blade is the real Ideal.
Sigh... either way, I will post the result next week. In the future, we’ll see if we can add to the ‘Ideal list’, possibly looking for the Ideal Armour or Ideal Ranged Weapon.
You! Yes you! You have a decision to make! Well… that’s not true…you don’t have to. It’s just a bit of fun really. I didn’t mean to put you under that much pressure. I’m sorry I shouted. Let’s start over.
For my first post (which was a whole month ago! How the time flies) I asked a simple question: Which games would benefit from a Zelda Weapon? What was most intriguing was that many of the responses from readers reached a consensus: every game could be improved by the addition of Link’s Hookshot.
The idea that this spring-loaded chain and hook (a grappling hook 2.0, if you like) could fit comfortably into so many games gave me an idea for further discussion. If gamers could agree that this tool should be available to any Player Character, what other equipment could be considered ideal? Could there be a load-out that suits all protagonists? Let’s start with this question:
If you had to pick one melee weapon to give to all Player Characters, what would it be?
This isn’t a search to find the favourite close-combat weapon. This isn’t necessarily a hunt for the most powerful tool for hitting-people. The intention is to see if we can decide on the ‘best’ weapon; the most ideal melee weapon for any game.
What follows are some suggestions for the Ideal Melee Weapon, starting with my own personal candidate. I look forward to reading your suggestions.
The Wraith Blade (Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver; Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2; Legacy of Kain: Defiance)
This melee weapon is one of the reasons I loved the Legacy of Kain series growing up. Basically this coil of energy is the ‘innards’ of a powerful sword known as the Soul Reaver, which was smashed open. An over-simplified summary, I know, but I want to talk about what this thing can do. First off, this weapon is lethal. Humans, vampires, monsters and demons all succumb to this ethereal cutter. It’s also easy to use. Point your arm wherever you want the pointy end to go. Just swing away. It never breaks, never blunts and beats all defences.
This weapon can cut a person apart or it can punch the soul right out of someone. This weapon literally eats souls. The blade can also be imbued with elemental powers like fire, so you can use flame attacks. Oh, and the Blade can also fire pulses of energy, so it doubles as a ranged weapon.
You don’t even need to carry this weapon; it’s bound to your arm and it’s as light as a feather. Okay, so it doesn’t actually come off, but you can make it disappear if you don’t need it. Plus, you can summon it with a flick of your arm, which is cooool. You get that same moment when you turn on Halo’s Energy Sword (‘buzz-swish’), but the Wraith Blade never runs out.
Frankly, I struggle to see any weaknesses with this beast of a blade. None whatsoever. Well, there is one. A tiny flaw. Barely worth mentioning. You see, the Wraith Blade is ever so slightly sentient. It’s partly why it needs to feed on souls, and well… sometimes the Wraith Blade can get a bit…overexcited. When that happens, it has a tendency to start (cough) consuming-the-soul-of-the-person-carrying-it (cough cough). Like I said hardly worth mentioning! So long as you keep feeding your enemies to the sword, it’ll be your best friend!
Sledgehammer (Red Faction: Guerrilla)
As said earlier, this isn’t a discussion about the best weapon in terms of how cool or iconic the weapon is. If it was, Bioshock’s Wrench or Half Life’s Crowbar would be here. However, these DIY tools don’t stack up against the powerful weapons available in other games. The Sledgehammer in Red Faction just might though.
It’s not just the fact that a swing of this thing can take out the wall of a building. That is important of course. But it’s also about the ragdoll element. You hit a baddy with the sledgehammer and they fold, twist and fly like a punctured balloon. This thing packs one hilarious punch. Oh, and did I mention you can knock through walls with it too? I did? Good.
Of course, if the game you’re transferring the Sledgehammer into doesn’t have terrain physics, you essentially have an over-powered stick that humiliates your opponents. For some, that might be enough.
The Blades of Exile (God of War III)
I’ve been harsh to Kratos in previous posts, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a superb character, and his twin blades are awesome. They’ve gone by slightly different names during the series (“of Chaos”, “of Athena”) but they’ve never lost their visceral, flashy appeal.
Just like the Wraith Blade, the Blades of Exile are attached to Kratos’ arms. However, they are not attached directly. Sturdy chains wrapped around his arms allow him to fling the stubby swords at his opponents, before snatching them back. Or he can spin and flail around, allowing the Blades to arch through the air like… well… like spinning blades…
The chain-and-blade combo makes these weapons very versatile. Your opponents can be dragged out of the air or pulled close for a brutal pummelling. Between fights, Kratos can use the blades to swing across crevices and scale mountains. Or mountain-sized monsters.
The Blades of Exile are powerful weapons, but it is possible to see weaknesses when Kratos is removed from the picture. The chains add range, but the blades themselves are short by comparison to most melee weapons. Without Kratos’ rage, skill as a warrior and physical strength, I also have to question just how effective these weapons could be. Those spiralling, twirling, combos are not for everyone.
Frying Pan/Skillet (Left 4 Dead 2)
L4D2 has katanas, guitars and chainsaws to employ as anti-Zombie devices. So why talk about the frying pan? Well, the chainsaw runs out, the katana is harder to come by and I believe the Frying Pan sounds trumps the guitar. You may disagree, but in my mind the ‘BONK’ of the pan against Zombie skulls beats the ‘TWANG’ of the guitar. Utterly delightful. Plus, if more than one of your party picks up a saucepan, you can charge through the horde producing a wondrous sound.
I’ve also heard that the Pan kills Tanks faster than most firearms in the game, but there is no way I’m testing that out.
The Pan is no match for the other melee weapons on this list when it comes to power. However, this Pan won’t let you down – it’s simple to use, makes short work of its targets, and makes me giggle every time.
Dagger of Time (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones)
Some weapons are powerful tools for destruction. Some help you in more elaborate ways. The Dagger of Time allows you to pretend that any mistakes you made never actually happened. Get your head kicked in by a bunch of baddies: REWIND. Want to take someone out more stylishly: REWIND. Fall of a platform: REWIND. Fall of the platform again: REWIND. Fall again: REWIND. And so on.
The Dagger of Time also stops or slows time during combat. Even the most unskilled combatant can take advantage of the situation this allows. You can get in a few cheap shots; knock your opponents over; tie their shoes together and run off. If you want to get serious, the blade can punch through armour with ease.
The issue with the Dagger is not just its length [add joke about size mattering here]. This is effectively a melee weapon that needs ammo. If you run out of magic sand, and don’t know how to make more, you’re left with a fancy letter opener.
Master Sword (Legend of Zelda series)
I’d be in Link’s bad books if I didn’t mention his sword. After all, his games gave me the idea for this post. It is of course, another example of a very iconic melee weapon. It’s a powerful weapon too - always hits twice as hard as any weapon Link has before it, and if your character is at full health, the blade becomes a beam launcher.
Nevertheless, the Master Sword is another example of a weapon that would not be as effective if transferred to another game. Without Link, there is no ‘spin attack’. Part of the reason that Link uses so many different tools is that his sword isn’t able to deal damage to lots of enemies.
What is the best melee weapon in your view?
Is there a sharp or blunt instrument that every protagonist should make their first choice?
What weapon would transfer well into another game?
If this goes well, I’d also like to build on this question in the future. We could find the best ranged weapon, power armour, magic attack… this could lead to the discovery an ‘Ideal Player Kit’; a list of weapons and tools that would turn any basic protagonist into the greatest hero ever.
I am a history teacher, and I have used Minecraft to teach my students.
When you want to help someone learn, at any age, you start small. You begin with a simple concept, and then you build on it. The better that starting point, the easier it is to add more information. It also helps if that starting point is interesting and relevant to your audience. I'm not the first teacher to realise that Minecraft fits the bill as a starting point for learning. Nevertheless, I'd like to share my experiences with Minecraft as a teaching device.
Education warning: This post contains small amounts of learning.
One of the topics that my Year 7 students (ages 11-12) enjoy is entitled "The Roman Invasion of Britain". One particular lesson in this topic begins with the question "What have the Romans ever done for us?" which leads students to investigate all the new technology and ideas that the Romans brought with them. Some of these Roman advancements are relatively easy to understand:
Roman roads: Easy enough. The Romans didn't invent roads, but they sure made it easier to get about.
Wine: Again, easy learning. Most students are slightly surprised that the people in Pre-Roman Britain usually drank more beer than water, but they know what wine is.
Public Order: we all know what the police are; it's easy enough for students to imagine Roman soldiers as law enforcers.
However there's one concept that most students were a bit baffled by: water supplies.
To many people water is something readily available, out of pipes, and many modern towns and cities are often a long way from a water source. The aqueduct is an odd thing for an eleven year old to get their head round. The idea that the Romans needed large stone structures to transport water the hard way, relying on gravity, is difficult for some children.
Furthermore, the Romans introduced irrigation – which is another tricky concept.
These year 7s live in an urban area; they have little connection with modern day rural life. Farms are large areas that grow crops. That's just what they do, surely? I can use images and simple explanations to demonstrate how the Romans transported water to fields so that they could grow food en-masse, but it takes time and some students still struggle.
Until the beginning of 2013, the "what have the Romans ever done for us?" lesson was good, but I wanted something to make the learning more straightforward and, if possible, more enjoyable...
Then I started playing Minecraft, and realised most students already know what 'irrigation' is; they just didn't realise it.
So when this lesson rolled around once more...
Student: Sir, what does 'irrigation' mean?
Me: (To the whole class) Who here has played Minecraft?
(Almost every single student raises their hand in giddy, confused excitement.)
All Students: (In their heads) I play Minecraft! Did our teacher just mention Minecraft? Yay, Minecraft!
Me: What do you need to grow crops?
Student: Seeds and a hoe!
Me: Then what do you do?
Student: You use the hoe to make the soil ready, and then plant the seeds!
Me: Good. So will the seeds grow after that?
Student: It will if there is water nearby!
Me: And what if there isn't a lake or a stream nearby?
Student: You need to dig a ditch and fill it with water.
Me: That. Is irrigation.
It then becomes so much easier for the students to learn about Roman waterways. They have a base of understanding – when you start to show them empty, disused irrigation canals, they mean something. Some of the students can even start to appreciate how clever and versatile the Romans were. They understand why the Romans built them, and the benefit they would have for the local population.
Of course, my use of Minecraft didn't stop there:
I can show my students photographs, diagrams and descriptions. Sometimes a video might show you round Roman ruins. Nothing compares to the visual representation that Minecraft can provide. Videos like the one above are excellent examples of the visuals I have used to get my year 7s closer to Roman history. Not just closer; in and around the history too. As these 'Minecraftians' take you on a video tour of their creations, they allow the audience to get a real sense of the scale, function and purpose of the buildings shown.
I could introduce Year 7s to the aqueduct by showing them a photograph of what remains. Instead, I show them a working model, presented from all possible angles. Before reading a description of a Roman town and its buildings, I show them around a Romani-Minecraftian town in all its glory. Students know enough about the game to appreciate that these are just block-forms of the real structures – they understand that they are not 100% accurate, and often want to see images of the real thing. By then of course, they have a solid grasp on what they are looking at.
Minecraft usage is by no means restricted to Roman history. A multitude of marvellous constructions have been posted online. Google "minecraft [historic building]" into a search engine, and you will often be rewarded. I will, now and then, start a lesson with a Minecraft image on my whiteboard, which is relevant to that lesson topic. For most students it represents a random, fun starting point to their studies. On or two older, more 'grown-up' students roll their eyes at my 'immaturity', but even they appreciate that they get to see and tour an historic place in its former glory.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a fairly recent addition to my teaching, which I'm yet to fully capitalize on. In the future I intend to find new images and videos from Minecraft that will make helpful additions to my lessons. I may even make my own structures, which I can present to the students in lessons. If time allows, I've often imagined taking my Xbox or PC into school, allowing the students to tour round the Motte and Bailey Castle or Roman Bath I've put together. Maybe with little signposts dotted all around, giving extra information about the historic site they are in.
What do you think about my efforts to bring my teacher career and my gaming (career?) closer together? I'm aware that I am not the first person to make this connection; have you seen or experienced similar ideas? How might I take Minecraft further as a tool for teaching?
Maybe next time I talk about how I use Mario to teach students about the Tudors...