Friday, 27 September 2013

Accessible Gaming - Gaming with a Disability

I recently did a video on Accessible Gaming, particularly focusing on easy modes and how they help new and less 'able' gamers to play, whilst different difficulty levels stop games becoming too easy as a whole for veteran and high-level players. WIN WIN, PEOPLE!

In it I mentioned my older sister, who has mild cerebral palsy, and I said how easy modes enable her to enjoy games she would otherwise be unable to play - because of easy modes she has been able to play games such as the recent Batman Arkham Asylum/City games, but games without easy modes have been very difficult for her to get into.

Whilst my sister is very shy & self conscious on camera (her disability gives her a slightly strained voice which means it can sometimes take more effort to get words out) (also she is ginger - LOL), she is an excellent writer & I asked if she could write something about playing games with a disability, rather than just have me speak on her behalf.

So, take it away, Emily! 

Gaming for special people. That's what I'm supposed to talk about, isn't it? I'm not really a hardcore gamer (unless you count getting to level 350 in Candy Crush Saga) but when you live in the same house as icklenellierose, it's hard not to get at least a little bit enthusiastic about these things.

I remember eagerly hijacking my first car in Grand Theft was so much fun: pulling that poor defenseless man out of his car at gunpoint, jumping in the driver's seat and IMMEDIATELY crashing into the central reservation. I took a breath, backed up to try this "driving malarkey" again...and drove straight off the flyover. This was more or less my entire experience of every GTA game I've tried. My character got sent to that ER far too many times. Chase sequences were particularly infuriating. My joints don't cooperate well under pressure, so as the drug dealer/gang warlord/general bad guy drove further and further out of sight, so my body would become more and more tense from the stress. My fingers would cramp, slip off the controller and BAM - an old lady was dead. I simply cannot take that kind of pressure....I just wanted to play a game. Murdering innocent pedestrians (by accident) soon became more than I could bear.

I've had this frustrating experience with many games. Prince of Persia was a nightmare. I couldn't even make the person move properly so had to angrily shut down the console before I'd even properly started the game. Musical games like Rockband gave me cramp like I'd never experienced before. I was actually traumatised in Red Dead Redemption when I kept accidentally herding those cows into a ravine. In the end, the story mode of that game became so inaccessible that I had to end up trotting through the mountains, stopping here and there to pick wildflowers. I'm guessing Rockstar had put ridiculous amounts of time energy and money into this game and I was GARDENING.

I guess I've had to adapt and play to my strengths. By strengths, I mainly refer to LEGO. I rule at Lego games. I think it's the way they progress: I like that you finish story mode of the first book of LOTR/Harry Potter and you're still only something like 7% of the way through the entire game. There are so many opportunities to go back, unlock more parts of the game, get achievements and smash up more stuff. The smashing up stuff is particularly enjoyable. But, I need to stress, the Lego games are not necessarily easy. Just because they're bright and colourful and the characters make these cute little noises whenever they jump, it doesn't mean I can automatically sail through them without a care.

Ellen went away for a week in August. I had the Xbox all to myself. I had two new Lego games: it was going to be a good week. I reckoned I could near enough 100% the Lord of the Rings game, give or take a few missing minikits.

Until I got stuck.

The camera angle wasn't co-operating and I just couldn't figure out how to make Legolas jump up onto the Oliphaunt (I know NOTHING about LOTR, by the way, so all these words are confusing). There was no hope of that 100% now. All those achievements seemed to be slipping away in front of my eyes. I was frustrated. But I persevered; I had a tea break and then went and played that level until my fingers went numb. And finally the little guy made that jump - his long blonde hair flowing triumphantly as he flew through the air. And I felt like I had achieved something. I hadn't - I was just playing a computer game - but it was encouraging nonetheless and it meant that I could reach the end of the game. This is why "easier" modes are so valuable to me. I'm not an expert gamer and I never will be. But games that are accessible mean I can still enjoy them and, if they're designed well, can still be challenged by them. Challenge is good. Impossibility is not.

We're sisters, honest! (at London 2012 Dressage)


Thursday, 19 September 2013

GTA, Rockstar & Misogyny

Right, so I've already said my piece on the whole "9/10" thing in a video, and please watch that below if you haven't done so already (only 4 mins!):

I got a bit angry & sweary...

Some people have said in response "a few people are more angry over the reason it was given a 9, not the score itself".

So, why did the reviewer give it a 9? She lists 2 reasons: because it was "politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic" and "character behavior is sometimes inconsistent."

Now, character behaviour being inconsistent is a big problem in a story-driven game, but, of course, most complainers overlooked that COMPLETELY and just chose to complain about the "misogynistic" comment because "NERRRR STUPID FEMINISTS ARE TRYING TO PUSH THEIR AGENDA ONTO US AND RUIN OUR GAMES!!!".

Firstly, feminists are not trying to ruin your/our games; they are trying to ENHANCE them by making them less bland and s***, something different from the games that come out of the same focus-group-tested bollocks that caused Elizabeth to be relegated to the back of the Bioshock: Infinite box, even though it was HER F**KING STORY.

Secondly, I have not had a chance to play GTA V yet, so I cannot comment on the apparent misogyny in the game, but to me it's a fair critique. Why? BECAUSE IT IS HER REVIEW OF THE GAME AND IF IT AFFECTED HER ENJOYMENT OF THE GAME THEN IT IS A FAIR CRITIQUE. 

GTA is famous for being satirical & taking the mic out of the stupider side of people (especially Americans, from a British perspective) and our society as a whole. Many people have screamed "BUT IT'S SATIRE!", but, as we all know from Alex Day's little mistake a few months ago, satire can be difficult to pull off if it looks too much like the real thing. You can also stumble into the problem, if you are as successful as Rockstar, of having large numbers of fans that don't understand the satire you're trying to convey and actually agree with the sentiments that Rockstar is perhaps trying to mock (just see Twitter the night before the game came out); that ends up not helping the cause and people end up seeing Rockstar as catering to misogynistic fans rather than trying to critique them.

Sadly, not all fans of GTA IV were happy with the hookers and wanted them to be more "attractive", so they made mods like this one to give them huge fake boobs, big bums and skinnier frames than the more realistic Rockstar models.

Basically: GTA is known for its satire, but for some reason - if the misogyny is satire - it has perhaps failed to pull it off, and that would be a big disappointment for any GTA fan. The series is known for being a critique of the world we live in, and Carolyn Petit felt that it came across more like it was in support of misogyny and it took away from her experience of a game she otherwise absolutely loved.

In response to my video, one person said, "Interesting to note that another woman from IGN rated GTA V a 10/10 and didn't let her personal and political views cloud her judgment of the game...".

I'm sorry, what?

Firstly: NOT ALL WOMEN ARE AUTOMATICALLY THE SAME. Perhaps she has different personal views or felt the gameplay made up for it? Also, why should a reviewer throw away/ignore all their own political and personal views when playing and reviewing a game??!! We are not machines that can just turn our feelings off when we play a video game, so why should reviewers do that? The way we view entertainment is always going to be affected by our own world views - it would be stupid to assume otherwise.

People also need to realise that game reviews - in fact any review of any form of entertainment - is always going to be SUBJECTIVE, NOT OBJECTIVE. People will like different things depending on their already-established tastes - you may not see a problem with the things Carolyn disliked, but now those that might feel uncomfortable with certain parts of the game know that they can expect to see and hear certain things, and they are now prepared for that if they want to play.

Also, a lot of people have said that the game has "always been misogynistic" and that it should be "expected" - but I'd like to say HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.

Ok, so the main playable character has never been female (I will talk a bit more about that later on), and the games are not perfect, but the main gameplay itself is not misogynistic, at least not the way I play the games...

Ok, you can go around punching 'hookers', or just women in general, but you don't have to - you can leave people alone or even punch both men and women, in swimwear or work clothes - woo equality! You can do all the 'pimp' escort missions, but you don't have to (I did it imagining I was overthrowing the evil current pimp to be a kinder boss to my lady employees, offering better guarantees of their safety and the opportunity to go to college or something if they want). You can hire a 'hooker' once just to see what all the fuss is about (not much to be honest, just a wonky car), then run her over to get your money back because you hardly have any at the moment (and no, I would obviously never do that in real life) - but you don't have to. If you hear some guy going on about how he's "looking forward to beating up some hookers in GTAV!" then he's either a) jokingly saying it because it's a bizarre part of gameplay extremely separate from reality b) only saying that because he's a noob and that's all he knows about the GTA series from the news or c) focusing on that one part of the gameplay because he has some serious social issues, especially with women.

There are, however, lots of missions and tasks where you go around killing lots of men. Like, tonnes. The criminal underworld is very 'traditional' and not the best at inclusivity, and the games reflect that. I fully expect the main characters and criminals in general to be a little misogynistic, because they seem like they would be in the extreme GTA world - manly men who go into crime to get money and, therefore, fast cars, women (because they see them as objects to be won with money), etc.

You shoot a lot of bad dudes - there haven't been many female police officers in previous games either. Some think it's lazy design for male gamers and some think it is reflecting & saying something about our society.

However, it would be bloody interesting to get the perspective of a female protagonist having to deal with all this crap. In truth, as much as I am looking forward to playing, I was a teensy bit disappointed that not one of the main protagonists was a woman. Just think of it: she's gone in for the money and the thrills, yet has to deal with a load of men telling her she's in the wrong job, not expecting much from her - then, even with all that, she rises to the top with the rest of the gang, one of whom always believed in her and the other who eventually came round to liking her, both of whom have also had to deal with hearing crap like "getting a woman to do your job then?". SO MUCH CHARACTER DYNAMICS & DEVELOPMENT!!! WOOO!!! It's not just because I'm a lady, but because I think it could just add so much to the story. 

But, if the writers have chosen 3 male characters to tell THEIR STORY, then fair enough, it's their story - as long as the characters are interesting enough for me to play as them, I have no problems whatsoever playing as a male character. At the same time, though, I do think it's fair for people to ask "why do all three characters have to be male?", especially since women can have 'masculine traits' too and other games have easily interchanged male and female characters without changing their personalities.

The annoying thing is, the Saints Row series has dealt with sex and gender so well (the male and female versions of the player are the same character, without it seeming at all weird, and you can even have a sex-change in-game) and, as a Rockstar fan, it's annoying to see the old GTA clone come out looking more progressive than the original. Sex and gender (and race too) is such a non-issue in the Saints Row world and I enjoyed playing as a lady in SR3rd. However, I understand why Rockstar doesn't have that option: the characters in this game seem to have been written very much as traditional aggressively-masculine male characters in a world with very definite gender lines, very much defined by the social gender roles of our world, just on a more extreme scale to try and point it out to the player - satirically or otherwise.

GTA Online will let you play as a female character & previous online games have done so before

However, I do think that Rockstar has the ability to write a strong female character who doesn't bitch and moan but just gets on with crap - I know so because they had Bonnie MacFarlane in Red Dead Redemption. For a lady stuck in the ol' Wild West, she just kept going and worked her arse off, and she wasn't scared to let John Marston know she fancied him (she also graciously backed off when she found out he was married). John does have to save her at one point, but she's not just another damsel in distress, as John has to save her, with helpers, from an entire gang - he also has to save his fair share of men throughout the game too and Bonnie is a very well developed character, so this is not some token 'save-the-girl' mission - it's about saving a friend. The treatment of her character in that mission by her captors is also used to show how badly many women were treated back then, no matter how strong, good and independent they were. In fact, the awful treatment of women by certain men of this period was showcased and pointed out as despicable behaviour throughout the whole game - you get actively rewarded for saving female sex-workers from arseholes trying to rape/kill them and the villains are pointed out as real sick villains with suggestions that they are rapists; this makes me think that Rockstar didn't mean for GTA V to come across as misogynistic, but to point out misogyny as they did in RDR. One of their main ladies, Bonnie, wasn't just some whinging, overly-emotional stereotype who complained about 'stupid men' all the time; she was awesome and the type of character I would love to play as. MORE PLEASE, ROCKSTAR! Thanks! ^-^

Such a badass

GTA games can easily have strong, interesting female characters - I seem to remember some pretty badass ladies in San Andreas and, with the right writer (you can do it Dan Houser! Just think outside the box!) GTA could have the next Fem Shep. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to GTA Online, where a player can have a male or female character (which is also possible in the GTA IV online multiplayer) and shoot the hell out of everyone and run over as many people of any age/sex/race/etc. as they want. The GTA universe is a pretty diverse one, and it's also pretty cool to see such a hugely successful franchise with 2 MASSIVE games that have African American men as main protagonists - ok, they're both criminals, but hey, at least they're multi-dimensional characters you actually play as rather than just more brown people you have to shoot at whilst playing yet another white American dude built like a bloody brick.

I'm also looking forward to meeting Michael's son Jimmy, and seeing just how much Rockstar is willing to take the piss out of the younger, more childish and entitled, members of its fanbase through this character... Tee hee!

Such a charming young man

Anyway, those are just some thoughts pre-game, and I shall share my thoughts once I have played it (which might take a while as I spend a lot of time just driving round listening to the awesome tunes on the radio).

I'm also very much looking forward to meeting Trevor. He looks mental. And awesome.