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Nashville, TN, Sept 26 - 28, 2014 Wizard World, Nashville, TN, Sept 26 - 28, 2014

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Baby = Spider-Woman #1; Bathwater = Manara variant

There's usually at least one new thing I learn in each con panel I attend. Any tidbit that expands my education or adds to the context of a discussion is of great value to me. (For instance, when I attended the Screenwriting panel at DragonCon I picked up the method of writing your screenplay first as a short story and then converting it.)

Besides being a thrilling gathering of Captain Marvel and Kelly Sue DeConnick fans, the Carol Corp meeting at DragonCon also taught me something.

The Milo Manara variant cover for Spider-Woman #1 was mentioned by the audience and DeConnick made a wonderful observation: there are a lot of creators associated with Spider-Woman who are suffering from the negative press.

(Kelly Sue DeConnick talks about the cover in an interview with SparkNotes. Forward to time 5:28.)

This is so true and something I was happy to be reminded of. The objections to the Manara cover have been heard by the appropriate people and responded to, but don’t forget there is a hopeful and creative writer, Dennis Hopeless, and cover artist, Greg Land, among many others, who are vested in the project but did not have a part in Manara’s cover.

Being a firm believer in creative expression and the devil's advocate in most of our feminist discussions, even I find this cover a complete cluster. Manara is a really great artist who has done Marvel covers before. If Spider-Woman #1 is erotica or intended to be vampy, then there's no argument from me. But it doesn't sound like that was the writer's goal, at least.

Buy the issue with Land’s cover. Read Hopeless’s story. These may be the artists you really do want to support. Believe that Marvel has heard you and let them show you what they heard and what they think about it with future issues.

The hope is always that people learn and become better people, so don't throw them out. Ever.

Release: November 2014


Misogyny Missive: Red Dead Sexism

rdrA couple of weeks ago saw the release of Anita Sarkeesian's latest Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which tackled the complicated issue of women serving the role as "background decoration" in modern AAA games. I haven't played the majority of the titles Anita covered in the episode, but I have played a few: Bioshock and Red Dead Redemption.

I happen to like both of these games quite a bit, but seeing the depraved acts male NPCs delivered to nondescript women hit me really, really hard. Having played through all of Bioshock and most of Red Dead Redemption, I can now see a major issue that somehow blurred by me before. And that bothers me a great deal. I'm going to focus on the latter for this piece, and may return to Bioshock later on.

In many ways, Red Dead Redemption fixed the issues I preciously held with Grand Theft Auto. The controls were better, the open world was more believable, and the protagonist was likeable. As I wandered through New Austin, I encountered situations like Anita describes in her video below:

Returning to Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption, in most settlement areas players are treated to randomly triggered events in which female prostitutes are assaulted and murdered by johns amid a torrent of misogynistic slurs. Players are presented with the choice to either intervene and save the woman for a small cash reward or simply watch the attack play out in front of them as part of the entertainment.
CLIP: Red Dead Redemption “Help! Someone.”
“Stickin’ whore! I’m gonna cut you a new hole! You think I’m a joke? Go on then, laugh, bitch, LAUGH!”

At the time, I didn't think about the ramifications of this heinous crime; I merely acted. I saved the woman, feeling that the character John Marston would do that given how I was playing him. I tend to role play as the character when I play, trying to make decisions that fit both my ideals and the parts of the character I bond to in unison. I knew that this was a scripted event that would repeat itself, but I performed the good deed and moved on, thinking little of the overall effect this random event conveyed. But, as Anita notes:

The audience is meant to briefly gasp at these acts of brutality before their attention is directed elsewhere, towards the next event or set of enemies to be dispatched. Regardless of the player’s actions in these types of situations, the result always paints women in a regressive light, as they will end up as either “helpless damsels” or “dead victims.”

This is the kicker right here. These moments of violence against women are distractions from the main game — a minor roadblock meant to add a sense of "realism" to the world. However, women are never truly empowered in Red Dead Redemption. My experience with the game was positive when I first went through most of it (although I will admit that I didn't critically analyze these topics when I was playing it back in 2011), but I lost my save file due to an accidental save-over. I had accomplished 98% of the game by that point (including the side missions), so I just haven't had the gumption to commit to redoing all of that all over again. I put it on my Favorite list regardless, and figured I'd be game for another run sometime in the future.

Recently, before Anita's latest video, I was wondering if there was perhaps another reason I didn't feel like replaying the game. I then remembered that the women who were major players in the plot suffered terrible brutalities as well.

Bonnie MacFarlane, a quite capable woman from first impressions, is reduced to a victimized damsel to move the game's plot forward towards the end of the first third of the game. She is beaten, likely raped, and in the process of being hanged as the player works their way through the map to rescue her. Lucia Fortuna, a rebel fighting the Mexican government, is a strong-willed and significant factor in the rebellion, but is quickly tossed into the endgame of the Mexico segment of the game as a mere pawn. Wielding a knife to a gunfight, she is quickly shot down as she tries to free Abraham Reyes, leader of the uprising, leading the player towards a redemptive strike against the perpetrators for her martyrdom.

And John's wife, Abigail, is literally a damsel in distress for most of the game, serving as John's central motivation for doing all of this to the very end, where a stable life with his family is promised and then yanked away by the vindictive Edgar Ross (and the game's writers). John is gunned down by Ross' men, and Abigail is forced to watch. When Jack Marston, John's son, takes over the post-game narrative, Abigail has died from a long illness, making every single prominent woman in the game the equivalent of damaged goods...which is fitting, given how all of the women are essentially objects in the overall scheme of the game... one way or another.

So, Anita's video reminded me of all this misogyny lurking within RDR, and now makes me wonder if I really should replay it. Thus the difficulty of criticism. I liked the game, but I am repulsed by its use of women as narrative objects instead of being, you know, human beings. As Anita states in her video:

These women and their bodies are sacrificed in the name of infusing “mature themes” into gaming stories. But there is nothing mature about flippantly evoking shades of female trauma. It ends up sensationalizing an issue which is painfully familiar to a large percentage of women on this planet while also normalizing and trivializing their experiences.

It's not edgy just to throw women under the proverbial bus. It would truly be mature to not swipe from Hollywood's "adult-oriented" bag of tricks, and instead question or critique our society's standards of gender in less "shocking" ways.

I'm still trying to untangle the implications of Anita's video towards my enjoyment of video games, but I am feeling fairly confident that Red Dead Redemption, for everything it does right, made some very poor narrative decisions that will haunt my desire to ever replay it to completion again. I will still likely enjoy its excellent gameplay and exploring its open-world spin on the American West, but I will definitely not relish its disappointing, cliched portrayal of women that plagues our industry.


Episode 128 - Live Cast from Dragon Con with Mitch Hutts

This week, we share Rhonda's live podcast from Dragon Con. On Sunday, August 31 at 4:00 pm, Rhonda was pleased to have Mitch Hutts as her guest. He is the brain child behind all of the wonderful mixology on Geek & Sundry's Critical Hit Cocktails vlog.

Rhonda attempts to make a Game On Girl cocktail. Although it's not purple, it's pretty tasty, but nothing compared to the dangerous Apple Pie Punch, a Dragon Con tradition, mixed by Mitch.

Game on Girl Brunch Cocktail
1.5 - 2 oz. Hpnotiq original liqueur
Sparkling wine
Pineapple juice, splash

Add Hpnotiq to chilled flute glass.
Top with Sparkling wine, with room left for a splash of pineapple juice.

*Don't drink and drive. 

Until next time, game on!
Regina & Rhonda

Episode 128


Choice and Morality: The Walking Dead's Clementine

Young Clementine in a season one flashback.

For those not familiar with Telltale’s The Walking Dead games, in the first installment (or season), you play as Lee, a man who was on his way to prison, who comes across a young girl named Clementine shortly after the zombie — or in this world, “walkers” — outbreak. Clementine is about eight and has been hiding out in her treehouse for a few days after her babysitter gets a little bite-y. Her parents have not returned from their trip to Atlanta and you offer to help her find them (because telling her her parents are probably dead is not something Lee can bring himself to do).

Your single purpose in this game is to protect Clementine. You, playing as Lee, do a pretty good job, even as the people around you start dropping like flies. 

Without massively spoiling the end of season one, season two starts out with Clementine, now about three years older, as part of another group. Telltale made what I think is fairly brave choice — having the protagonist be a twelve-year-old African American girl. In season one, you played as Lee, who is also black, but playing a middle-aged man is not that far from the norm in video games. 

But playing as a young black (most likely mixed-race) girl? That’s pretty radical

Some stuff goes down pretty early on in season two and you’re again separated from the people you know and you’re running for life from a group of crazed psychopaths. 

You know, basic fare for the post-apocalyptic zombie future. 

Bullets are, thankfully, limitless.The game mechanics center around dialogue and action choices, How to be a Millionaire style. You pick a dialogue option and someone responds accordingly. The game constantly reminds you that the people you’re speaking to will remember this.” If you die in a scene, it starts over and you get another chance. Every once in a while, you have to make decisions that are life-or-death — do I save this person or this person, do I risk my life to save this person, do I trust this group of people that I come across, etc. 

The Walking Dead (and Telltale’s other games, like The Wolf Among Us) has been criticized for creating the illusion of choice, rather than true branching story lines where the story changes depending on your actions. This is not untrue — saving someone over someone else tends to get negated further down the line and predetermined events will happen, just in slightly different ways throughout the game. 

I don’t think it really matters. Not to be cheesy, but it’s the journey that matters. Does the underlining structure of the game change the way you feel when you make morally impossible choices? Does it make it any less jarring to have to a walker appear out of nowhere and have to get away? Is seeing an old face from season one appear in season two any less gut-wrenchingly emotional? 


To me, the game is not so much about the actual choices. It’s about how you view the choices you make. It’s all about morality. Will you play as a character that becomes ruthless and heartless or will you play as someone who trusts and helps others?

Will you risk yourself to help others, no matter what? Even more important, how will the choices you make effect your relationships with those around you and how will you feel about the choices you have to make? 

Will you feel your choices are justified or simply unavoidable? 

You have to make some pretty hard decisions.Clementine is a great character to play in this scenario. She’s young. Her personality hasn’t been too established by the previous installment of the game. And for some unknowable reason (in the in-game world anyway), the group always puts decisions in your hands. While I question putting major decisions in the hands of twelve-year-old, it’s the only way this style of storytelling could work. Otherwise, you would just feel like a puppet playing out the story that written for you with no real agency of your own. 

There is a point in the last chapter of season two that your choices matter significantly. At the end of the story arc, you get to decide what kind of person this world has molded you into. Your previous choices may not effect what choices are available to you at the end, but it would be impossible to not take them into account when making those last few choices. 

Will you follow Lee’s example of selflessness or will you turn to ruthlessness, like the main antagonist in season two? 

Clementine at the end of season two, episode five.

I won’t spoil any of the endings, or the ending I wound up choosing, but I will leave you with the a key bit of dialogue from one the characters in my chosen ending: 

“I’m real glad to have met you, Clementine.” 

And I am — I’m very glad to have played as Clementine. I can only hope she’s somehow a part of season three. 


Some Thoughts on Super Smash Bros. and Samus Aran

I've been pondering the Smash Bros. picture of the day for August 19th...

Pic of the day. Looking at the number of days we have left for development, it would be an impossible task to create this… That's what I told my staff. But thanks to the determination of her female designer, these Zero Suit outfits got completed in time. From the ending of Metroid: Zero Mission, here's Samus in shorts!

I have a huge essay series on Samus I've wanted to write up for some time (in the meantime, Jake Shapiro does a fine job with his editorial on the matter of Samus' sexualization over at NintendoLife), but for now I'll just try to keep my thoughts on this particular image and its implications.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U and 3DS have done truly wondrous things with inclusiveness. We have female options for many new characters (the Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, Robin from Fire Emblem Awakening, and of course the Mii Fighters), and Masuhiro Sakurai has selected many newcomers that are women (Rosalina, Lucina, Patulena). Samus and Zelda have also split their alter-egos into their own characters, which adds two more women onto the roster. Truly this is one of the larger casts of playable women in a Nintendo title, and it rivals most fighting game lineups as well.

042404[1]However, we must come back to Zero Suit Samus (ZZS), the most pandering of the women appearing in this latest Smash game. Unlike Brawl, ZSS is her own character, and for people like me who like Samus in her armor  not her Zero Suit  this is a big blessing. I can fire off Zero Beams with impunity and not lose the Samus I treasure as my favorite character for the Samus I wish stopped at Metroid: Zero Mission. Ever since Zero Mission, the Zero Suit has replaced the stripteases Nintendo used to implement as a reward for speedy and/or thorough players. I didn't mind it in Zero Mission because A) I liked that stealth sequence and B) it wasn't glorified so much as a sexy alternative to armored Samus... save for a few of the endings (as seen to the left).

ssb-zero-suit-samusEver since then, however, the Zero Suit has been Nintendo's way of giving Samus an "erotic" side she never needed. Her strength and courage are demoted for attractiveness and curves. And Metroid: Other M pushed the ludicrousness of the suit to new heights with its insensible high heeled boots. For Smash, Sakurai has modified the Suit's boots to be a bit more in line with her Zero Mission look, but even these are significantly heeled and would be a burden for Samus to properly fight in, jet-equipped or not.

And then! Then we get the costume update of Fusion and Zero Mission's ending reward costumes. Now, these aren't as bad as they could be -- we do have plenty of end-game lingerie shows in the first three Metroid titles that may have been chosen instead:


Thankfully, that line was not crossed. But I find most interesting in this revelation are Sakurai's comments about the alt costume. His exact words are "...but thanks to the determination of her female designer, these Zero Suit outfits got completed in time." Why include the gender of Samus' designer? Is that an attempt to stifle criticism? It's a bizarre detail that seems to be thrown in because Nintendo expected a negative reaction. If that's the case, then why include it in the first place?

In the end, Zero Suit Samus continues to be a Samus I don't care for. In the future, I will discuss these two sides of Samus in more detail. But for now, to conclude, I'm thankful ZSS is no longer tied to armored Samus in the latest Smash game, because I can now play her without any hesitations. The Varia Suit defines Samus to me — it's how I see her when I think of her, and now I can once again enjoy Smash without that image being shattered by ZSS.

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