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

OCTOBER
GeekGirlCon, WA
Seattle, WA, October 11-12, 2014 GeekGirlCon, Seattle, WA, October 11-12, 2014

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Friday
Sep052014

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? 

No. 

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. 

Wednesday
Sep032014

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:

nes-metroidendm2-endingbwend-sm

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.

Tuesday
Sep022014

episode 127 - Headlines

This week, Rhonda and I hand picked some news stories to discuss on our Headline Show. There is tons of news out there and we love chatting about the good, the bad, and the geeky. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

HEADLINES

Indie Studio Vents: Gamers Aren't Very Nice People
Sofia Vergara at the Emmy's
Adult Women Gamers outnumber Male gamers under 18
Spider-Woman #1 Cover Variant Art
The cover redrawn
Web series, "Frankenstein, M.D."
Lois Lane Young Adult novel, "Fallout" by Gwenda Bolt

CONS

Wizard World, Nashville, September 26 - 28
Rose City Comic Con, Portland, OR, September 20-21

STREAMING

"The Recruit", Netflix
"Barbarella", Amazon Prime
"Starring Adam West" movie trailer, Hulu Plus
"The Box Trolls" movie trailer, Hulu Plus
"Selfie", pilot, Hulu Plus

Until next time, game on!
Regina & Rhonda

Episode 127

Friday
Aug292014

Gaming Terminology Primer: RPGs

In my last article I mentioned I would teach you to speak like a professional elf. So, let's get to it, shall we?

Role Playing Game: A game genre where the player takes on the role of the main character or guides a party of characters through a storyline in a fictional setting.

Seems pretty straight forward. However, it seems to me that you could make that definition work for a lot of video games that you wouldn't normally categorize as RPGs. So what makes an RPG an RPG then? In my opinion, it's the fictional setting. When I think of all the RPGs I’ve played over the years, most of them take place in a fantasy setting (thank you Mr. Tolkien) with the remainder falling pretty squarely in the realm of science fiction. All of that having been said, there are exceptions to the above. Cartoons, comic books, post-apocalyptic, and horror are some of the other settings you might find in an RPG. And there are probably more.

So far it seems like pinning down a game genre is some slippery business, right? Well, guess what? It gets even trickier when you add in sub genres, which is what we are about to do.

 

JRPG: Japanese Role Playing Game

This style of game is not always made in Japan. South Korea, China, and even European countries have been known to produce this type of RPG. The defining characteristic of a JRPG is that rather than there being only one character the player controls, there is a party of characters. Often times members of the party will leave or be substituted for another as the plot of the game unfolds. This style differs from most Western RPGs in that it uses a team dynamic rather than the lone protagonist approach.

Examples: The Final Fantasy series, Divinity: Original Sin


ARPG: Action Role Playing Game

This type of RPG is all about the hack and slash. Your decisions don't really effect the plot of the story. (Unless you decide to stop playing altogether.) All of the character development tends to happen in the scripted story line. The only things you have to do is kill all the bad guys, although, looting and assigning your skill or talent points might help you with all that killing.... 

Examples: The Diablo series, Marvel Heroes 2015


Sandbox RPG

The Sandbox RPG genre gets its name from the concept of a, well, sandbox. The idea being you have a large area to play in with just a few outer boundaries and you can go and do pretty much whatever you like. This style of game typically still has a main plot line to follow, but how and when it is followed is left to the player.

Examples: The Elder Scrolls series, The Fallout series


MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game

Okay. Take your Sandbox RPG, cross it with the hack 'n slash of your ARPG, the party of your JRPG at times, and add several hundreds to thousands of other people, and you will have a typical MMORPG, or MMO for short.

Examples: World of Warcraft (duh), Eve Online

 

LEXICON

Attribute: One of the defining characteristics of your character. Usually given as a numeric value and used to determine your effectiveness at a skill, combat or otherwise.

Class: Typically what your character does or what they are. E.G. Warrior, Healer, etc.

DPS: Damage Per Second. This can refer to how much damage a character can deal in a second or it can refer to the job of a character to deal damage within a party of players.

Experience Points: Also commonly referred to as XP. These are points that are gained by completing tasks, killing adversaries, exploring, etc. They are used to level up your character which can boost your attributes, give you talent points, new abilities, and so on.

Healer: One of any class in a game that can heal or the person whose job it is within a party to heal the other players during combat.

NPC: Non Player Character. Any character not directly controlled by the player or another player.

Party: A group of player characters working toward a common goal.

PC: Player Character. Any character controlled by the player or another player.

PVE: Player Versus Environment. When the player character is dealing with problems and/or adversaries that are controlled or generated specifically by the games programming code.

PVP: Player Versus Player. A game mode where players actively engage in combat between one another. This can be done in spaces that are specifically set up for it like arenas or out in the “open world” if the game has been coded for it.

Race: The type of people you come from. E.G. humans, elves, dwarves, etc.

Tank: One of any class in a game whose job it is to take the brunt of the attacks from enemies so that the other members of the player party don't have to, thus making the job of healing easier as the healer mainly has to focus on healing the tank.

 

The genres and examples above are the most common and popular in the RPG genre. There are some other sub-genres, though, as well as many more examples of games within those sub-genres. Many of them are worth getting to know personally. I humbly suggest you go out and try some of them.

Regina and Rhonda did a podcast discussing the basics of RPGs. You can find it here.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or contact me at mark@gameongirl.com or on Twitter @MarsUller.

Wednesday
Aug272014

Movie - Roxanne in "Megamind"

FILM:                  Megamind
GENRE:              Animation, Action, Comedy
RELEASED:        2010
DIRECTOR:        Tom McGrath
WRITERS:          Alan J. Schoolcraft, Brent Simons
PRODUCTION:  DreamWorks Animation

 

Since beginning the podcast I’ve had the privilege of hearing stories from a diverse group of gamers and professionals. They are always teaching me.

“Megamind” has been played in my blueray player more times than I can count. It firmly holds position as my favorite animation. When I popped it in again this week, I saw something new in the lead female character, Roxanne Ritchie, because of what I’ve been learning from our community about strong female roles and agency.

Tina Fey voices Roxanne, the intrepid KMCP News 8 reporter of Metro City. Roxanne is the damsel in almost every scheme the villain, Megamind, attempts in his quest to eliminate his nemesis and all around perfect guy, Metro Man.

“Megamind” is all about identity and stereotypes and what happens when someone doesn’t fit into our preconceived molds. Every main character in “Megamind” has this issue, including Roxanne. She’s an idealist. She believes you’re a good guy or you’re a bad guy, and that good will always save the day. But she also believes there is good in people, although this belief hasn’t been put to a real test yet.

“Happy Metro Man day, Metro City. It’s a beautiful day in beautiful downtown where we’re here to honor a beautiful man, Metro Man. His heart is an ocean that’s inside a bigger ocean. For years he’s been watching us with super vision, saving us with his super strength, and caring for us with his super heart.”

The dominoes begin to tumble when one character decides that the identity he’s been given is not his own and makes a brave choice to define himself. After this, no one is sure of who they are or what their purpose is without him. They try to replace him but it doesn’t work. They are all in crisis.

♀ STRENGTH

Roxanne is a very strong character. She’s wise about human nature, a tenacious problem solver, an optimist, a motivator, a leader, and courageous. She knows what she believes in her core.

Two-thirds of the way through, Roxanne’s ideas are ultimately challenged and immediately, with awareness and maturity, we see her realizing she has to reevaluate what she believes. She doesn’t shut the contradiction down but examines it as is her nature.

♀ AGENCY

Roxanne is a consistent character from beginning to end. She changes her mind about how good and bad are judged but, from the start, we see she learns and adapts.

Her first crisis happens when Metro Man dies, which leaves no one to battle Megamind. She asks the villain, “What do you plan to do with us and this city?” She holds him responsible for the well-being of others the way she did Metro Man.

Megamind wreaks havoc on the city. In despair at the absence of a good guy, Roxanne says, “We miss you Metro Man. I miss you.” This is not a romantic sentiment but simply a crisis in her faith of the way things should be. She still believes in the stereotype. “What are we supposed to do? Someone has to stop Megamind.”

Of course, she’s not wrong. Someone needs to stop the bad guy but the idea of who that should be is what will fundamentally change.

We begin to see Roxanne’s notions become malleable when someone starts cleaning up Megamind’s damage to the city.

“The city parks restored to their original glory. The streets the safest they’ve been. The banks reopened. Has something happened to Megamind? Has someone tamed this monster. This is Roxanne Ritchie, cautiously optimistic and pleasantly confused.”

Roxanne’s true moment of crisis comes when she learns that Bernard, the guy she admires and has fallen for, is actually Megamind in disguise. Her knee jerk reaction is to tell him, “Do you really think that I’d ever be with you?” But we know from the look on her face that she is asking herself that question.

There’s a brief moment at the end of the film where I thought the writer’s had slipped up and removed Roxanne’s agency for the benefit of Megamind, but it isn’t so.

After Roxanne and Megamind save the day she says, “You did it.” She is completely secure in her contribution to their success. The person who doesn’t have confidence is Megamind and it is essential that he hears “you,” “You did it.” She brought him there, guided him, and made him stop and realize what he had accomplished. He couldn’t have done it without her, which he acknowledges by adding, “We did it.”

These are super powers you can’t invent or inherit, and Roxanne has those in "Megamind."

I'll Give You a Topic

At the end of the film, Roxanne puts Metro Man's white cape on Megamind, a symbol of the good guy. Did the characters learn nothing about stereotypes? Is Metro Man the only one that has truely evolved? (Talk amongst yourselves.)

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