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5:00 PM on 06.22.2009

Everything is your fault: or how I learned to love games that nag.

Everything is your fault: or how I learned to love games that nag.

Many games have taken the “go outside and play” message to a new level; when does it stop being cute start climbing the list of reasons smash your console in frustration?

During the great expanses of known history that were the load times in Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 4, I did my best to find ways to keep myself entertained. I used my time to consider various great questions that have plagued man since his inception. Eventually I came to the immortal question “what the hell is that?” as the load screen decided to start giving me advice. After realizing that I wasn’t having a psychotic break, I was bemused by the care with which Kojima had crafted these messages that ultimately were trying to get me to stop playing. I was asked if I had taken enough breaks while playing, and if I knew that it was after midnight. I was advised to go out for some exercise and that despite the gorgeous rendering of Snake smoking in the background that I should never, ever smoke. Entertaining at first, it quickly became slightly annoying; I already have a mother, Sony, and while I appreciate your concern I do not need a digital version of her to echo her complaints during cut scenes.

Weeks later when I tried Nintendo’s newest look-at-what-Wii-can-do peripheral, the Wii Fit, I found no end to the nag-fest. For those unfamiliar with the Wii Fit philosophy, it goes something like this: we will judge you by tight Japanese weight standards and you, fatty-fat-fat, will like it. I stuck with it though, for a few hours at least and persevered. Alas, in the end my fancy new Wii Fit age told me that I had the balance of an elderly, greased up Gerald Ford barefoot on ice.

Eventually I went about my life as most do, forgetting about snark-fit. I even stopped driving to my boyfriends’ office to watch his co-workers be insulted by a suped-up bathroom scale. After quite some time I did manage to start playing again, unfortunately the anthropomorphic cartoon scale saw fit to scold me for not playing with it. And that was when I decided I wasn’t going to take this lying down, or more accurately, slouching down.

When it comes to Japanese games, many gamers believe that the game play is more about punishing mistakes than rewarding triumphs. Perhaps this is the genesis of the culture of nag that seems to be growing in our community. Much of Japanese society focuses on the individual’s obligation (giri) to the whole; it follows then that when gamers allow ourselves to slowly melt into our respective seats, we are doing anything but. That isn’t to say this is the only way Japanese game developers think; a country that put out the lions’ share of games for a very long time has to have some sense of the importance of down time. However, I am hard pressed to think of the last American made game that seemed like it was trying to deter me from playing.

Perhaps I am misinterpreting genuine concern for me not only as a consumer but as a fellow human being. Maybe the good people who are making these games are just pushing me to be the best version of myself; the me they know I can be. But then why all the passive-aggressive chiding, why all the clucking of digital tongues? This may be something that is played out as the next generation consoles bring in ever increasing amounts of peripherals that seek to engage the players’ bodies more so than a simple controller can do. Either way, I must finish this piece quickly; my Wii Fit is nagging me to clean my room.   read

4:28 PM on 06.22.2009

Of Games, Gaijin and Gals

You would think that in an industry where young ladies of the cosplaying-anti-clothes-wearing “booth babe” persuasion were the norm at expos, folks would cease to balk at the prospect of female gamers.

As a black American, I am not what most sighted people would call “Japanese” so, as a foreigner living in Japan; I expected that I would surprise many people. I am a tall woman and while I do not meet the qualifications to be considered an Amazon, I will stick out in a crowd. Living in the Kanazawa countryside, I became used to being referred to as “medateiru” (sticking out), to blatant staring and occasional strange question. “Why don’t black people swim” will always be my favorite.

However, I thought that once I came back to the states this would no longer be normal for me, but after taking a job in game retail I stand corrected. Gamers who happen to be women or “lady-gamers” to the monocle wearing crowd are a rare breed. Black gamers make up another sub-section of the community though arguably larger than that of their female counterparts. Black gamers who house a second x chromosome are few and far between. Given all that, I suppose I cannot fault my customers who walk in, see only a black woman and look as if they’ve seen the Easter bunny punching Jesus in the face.

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone is upset or even shocked by my store; people have come in and have been pleased to see me. Not too long ago a woman, who by all appearances had graduated valedictorian at The Eartha Kitt School of Diction, came in and growled “only women in here…. I like it”. This type of reaction, while rewarding, is rare; more often than not people will walk in, see me, and check the sign to make sure they came to the right place.

Every other customer will ask with genuine curiosity whether I play games and while I accept it as par for the overwhelmingly male course, there have been times when I have been frustrated. I have asked myself why I stay when it seems so many are convinced that as a gamer, as a woman, and as a minority I am someone to be ignored. The only answer I can find is that that I am willing to work to make my community as strong and diverse as possible. As change comes to the community, people will no doubt be surprised. Initial shock, while embarrassing can have its merits; when people are desperately trying to understand why the situation is unusual, the opportunity for a re-assessment of standards jumps out to scare away preconceived notions. In short, once people see that you’re different they are willing to engage even just on a superficial level.

The electronic gaming industry has infinite potential when it comes to being all-inclusive. When we are honoring the virtual dead with the sacred rights of the tea-bag, it doesn’t matter what the gamer looked like or from whence they came. Games have the power to level the playing field and force us to rely solely on skill to ascertain an identity as opposed to people’s visual perceptions of us. Perhaps that is a goal that we as humans with many biases will fail to ever reach but in an industry that constantly makes the virtually impossible not only possible but also passé, can you blame a gal for dreaming?   read

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