I got to talk about sexism in games and feminist gaming on Ö1 Nachtquartier (“night quarter”) on April 17, right after midnight! Thanks Xaver Forthuber for inviting me!
We discussed how I got hooked to gaming, how and why I picked “glamgeekgirl” as my nickname, what kinds of sexism women encounter in games, what to do about sexist attacks and many other aspects. We did so in a (I think) very approachable fashion – Ö1 is not exactly a youth station but I value it as a venue for intelligent discourse of various topics.
It was a call-in show (my first!) and there was a 75-year-old lady who wanted to know why most of the games that she sees in advertisements are war games with male heroes.
There were also some emails with questions. I will post and answer these here a bit later.
The show is in German, you can listen to it here. Attention: The file is almost 50 MB big, I already compressed it down to a half!
I was interviewed (in German!) about women in games by Robert Glashüttner, digital lifestyle editor for Austrian alternative radio station fm4. It was awesome to be back at a radio station – I was an intern at one in 2005!
Here’s a screenshot of the preview of the interview on the fm4 website:
As always, I’m looking forward to your input or feedback. Is there a special female character you’d like me to discuss in my next blog post? Also, what is your favorite female character in games and why?
Last Monday, on April 16 2012, I presented my MSc thesis to the Danube University’s committee. I’m happy to say it went extremely well.
My thesis is about:
Aesthetic, Immersive and Transmedia Potentials of Game Platforms – Taking the Example of Assassin’s Creed
Now let’s be clear: My thesis is 160 pages cover-to-cover, so these are very limited, selected results.
I’ve stated three research questions in my thesis:
“How do technical parameters define a platform’s aesthetic, and in further consequence, immersive potentials?”
“What are the transmedia potentials of a multi-platform game franchise?”
“If there will be not one single “black box” to replace all other platforms, will smartphones become the focal point that integrates with all other platforms?”
These were the platforms I selected, and the reasons why:
I’ve conducted a comparative analysis of these platforms in the theoretical part of my thesis, and then asked questions about them in general, as well as related to Assassin’s Creed, in my online survey.
Here are some results of my survey:
Now, since the context is a bit less academic than within my thesis … if you do not know Assassin’s Creed, go play it – the respondents of my survey agreed that AC2 was the best one. And if you can’t, check out the Wikipedia article or look at some YouTube videos.
Now, these were my main observations about Assassin’s Creed on a few selected platforms:
Now, let’s finish this up with a selection of conclusions about the three main topics:
That’s it for now. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!
Playing Assassin’s Creed like a madwoman right now, both to catch up before the release of Revelations and for my thesis on gaming platforms, I registered for a Uplay account, which lets you earn points in all Ubisoft games and unlock items and other nice stuff (not the big DLCs though, too bad).
There was no question about my gender, and even though it was already linked with my Facebook profile, which states that I’m female… here’s what I ended up with:
Now, I’m not overreacting or claiming that women are the predominant demographic for a service like that, but… since I already allow you access, can’t you either use my profile info on FB and assign me a soldier chick pic (or my FB profile pic), or go the Twitter/XBOX Live/etc. way and use something neutral, like an Assassin whose face you can’t even see properly? [Side note: I think I’m going to buy the Ezio black women’s costume.]
Yes, it’s the little things that make me happy. Or laugh out loud, as in this case.
Here’s another one: I can’t at all change the profile pic. What would be so hard about taking Claudia, Rosa or a courtesan’s image and offering me a choice? On the other hand, it *almost* fulfills what I said about obscuring the face so much that it’s unisex. Close, but no apple (of Eden).
I recently got a haircut, going from long hair (mid-back) to quite short (just over the ears). I’d post a pic if I had a good one at hand. Will add one later!
I’ve done radical cuts like this two times already (there are three ponytails to prove it), one of which was when I was about 8 years old and felt annoyed by the increasing amount of people treating me like a girl and expecting me to act like one all of the time. I rather wanted to be a boy, at least some of the time. As a 9-year-old I was shocked when the girls in my class observed a bring-your-doll-to-school-day. It was a horribly pink day. In my opinion, boys had short hair and could do cool stuff instead. Back then, I may actually have thought it was that easy, I don’t remember.
I do remember hours of debate with my grandma in the following years (she lived with us, so there were plenty occasions) about why I had no interest in knitting, sewing and such things. She refused my honest explanation that I had trouble seeing the threads, and I had no real desire to discuss gender roles with her – her who made her daughters do their own laundry, while she did everything for her sons – so we had that debate over and over again. Oh well. (btw I regret that it was the truth, because it’d be awesome if I could sew costumes!) And while this in itself has nothing to do with my hair, I realized that this grandmother always quietly disapproved of my short hairstyles…
Now, at age 26, my reasons for getting the haircut were a mix of reducing the amount of time I spend fixing my hair in the morning (not a morning person! grrr) and just doing something completely different for a change. But looking at those three ponytails I started wondering about the way people perceive(d) me and what they expect based on it. I’d be really curious about that, but sadly it’s hard to find out.
I also recently read this article on “How to talk to Little Girls“, which advises you to avoid complimenting little girls on their looks in small-talk-like situations and ask about their hobbies instead.
As much as I’m a girly girl – who is thrilled that her hair no longer hides her beloved big dangly earrings – I also have lots of traditionally male interests and opinions. I wonder if I now “look more like the person I am”. I’m not saying we should judge others by their hairstyles – but I do feel like it’s part of our subconscious pattern recognition habit.
In any case, I feel a bit like I’m that kid again who doesn’t want to behave like a girl is supposed to… – at least not all of the time!
I’m the kind of girl that gets deeply immersed in the narrative of my beloved fave awesomesauce genre that is RPGs. In my first playthrough, I usually attempt to create an avatar that looks (more or less like) me. Depending on the character creator and my amount of patience, the result is usually a girl that is “like me” at least regarding basic criteria: Very fair-skinned, golden blonde long hair, blue eyes, slightly eccentric purple or blue eye shadow and fancy earrings, if available. If the editor allows, I pick a youngish avatar with an average build.
I’ve been doing this since first playing Baldur’s Gate, or even before that, but have never given it much thought. Some time after I started blogging about gaming, I realized that it’s not only about the looks, but also the behavior. Roleplaying for me usually isn’t playing someone entirely different, but playing myself in an entirely different setting. So, depending on whether I can pick the avatar’s sex and customize the appearance, and how much freedom I am given in the course of the game, I end up with Ally in Post-Apocalyptia, Ally as mankind’s best hope against the Reaper threat, Ally as Champion of Kirkwall, Ally the Daughter of Baal…
Maybe this isn’t quite the core definition of roleyplaying and some people I know find it lazy and uncreative, but the settings of my favorite games are usually so exotic compared to my real life, that I love having myself as a sort of anchor point from which to judge virtual societies and characters.
In games that let me, I really have my avatar act as I would have under those often extreme circumstances, and accept the responsibility for her/my actions. (I recently read in a book that enthused players constantly switch between first and third person when describing what happens in a game, and realized I do this all the time!) So, there certainly is a sort of overlap or merger between “I, Ally” and “I, my avatar”. I think it also explains why I can’t bring myself to be evil in a game, even if it’s my fourth playthrough and I know the do-gooder path inside-out.
Let’s face it, most of us would be reluctant and/or scared to face zombies, aliens, thugs and rabid dogs in combat or explore dark dungeons, cursed forests or haunted mansions. Especially as a woman in a setting like Fallout or The Witcher, I’d probably run for my life and hide away until the end of my days rather than be mugged, enslaved, raped and/or killed. I don’t know if I’d have the courage to stand up to the injustice of these societies. I don’t even know the basics of self-defense! All I really have, is words. And I love when I can talk myself out of tricky situations in games. I loved it in Vampire: The Masquerade, in Dragon Age, in Fallout, in The Witcher 2 and especially in Knights of the Old Republic (Force Persuade, I heart you). I especially adore the witty remarks I was able to make at other characters in the aforementioned games, and I’ve used many of these lines in real life. Definitely an overlap between those worlds and my real world. And one of the few I can really “import” from the games, quite unlike the fighting and others skills. [This part of the post was written in mid May 2011.]
Today, June 2 2011, I’m in class hearing a lecture about transmedia storytelling from JC Hutchins -> http://jchutchins.net, who was talking about when he got contacted by a mysterious company and given material (documents, photos, a USB drive) and access to a website revealing bits and pieces about experiments on people. He was then invited by that same company to test FEAR 2 in NYC – in the “FEAR Lab”, where the experiments were supposedly conducted. We didn’t discuss it in detail, but the campaign was quite spooky and well-implemented and thus very immersive, but as JC says, it was soon clear it from well-placed hints that was a game promotion.
You can see several videos about his personal experience with this promo on his blog that I linked to above, so I won’t go too far into this here, but revisiting the draft post above, I wonder where this “immersion thing” is going. Games are becoming more realistic and extend into the “outernet”, our real lives, with the same immersive force. I wonder how I would feel if it was me getting drawn into such a transmedia campaign. I’m sure I’d love it if I figured out it was a game or game promotion. But what if I didn’t? What if I missed a hint that made that clear? Maybe the line between fact and fiction will soon become so blurry one day that we can’t tell the difference? I wonder because as much as I love immersion, love to be IN the game, I also value the freedom to be OUT as I please.
On the other hand, maybe this kind of campaign will become so commonplace that we lose our skepticism towards them. After engaging in several similar transmedia campaigns, would you trust a stranger too easily if they followed this pattern of pretending to be a real company and cleverly hinting at that being fictional/fake, while never even touching on what their goals REALLY are? Am I getting, or won’t we all get paranoid trying to figure it all out? Or will we develop new skills to deal with this development just as we have started with social media zum Beispiel? (that’s German for “for example” and one of three things JC can say in German, so I couldn’t resist)
This is definitely something I’ll be thinking about. Or should I book a self-defense course and take shooting lessons just in case it’s not just a promo?
PS: I’ve recently played a point & click adventure called Overclocked, where teenagers are invited to test a game and end up in a psychiatric hospital. It was a freebie that came with my game mag, so you might get it for free as well. It ties in nicely with this “game promotion conspiracy theory”, and atop of that also simulates transmedia in the game, i.e. you use a virtual cell phone for various things in the game.
Spoiler Warning: This post has spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!
Quoting or mentioning @aeazel in my posts seems, slowly but steadily, to become a habit, but I believe it’s not a bad one!
A few weeks back, in a discussion totally unrelated to gaming, he casually mentioned the concept of intersectionality to me. I started to read the Wikipedia article on it, and while I forgot the actual matter at hand, I realized why Dragon Age: Origins had appealed to me so much more than Dragon Age 2 – in spite of everything I love about the new game.
Quoting Wikipedia, “The theory [of intersectionality] suggests—and seeks to examine how—various socially and culturally constructed categories such as gender, race, class, disability, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and religion-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.”
Let’s, literally, take a look at my character from Origins:
This is Izka. Female elf mages have been my absolute default character in RPGs for as long as I can remember playing, so I didn’t think much about it, and got started. Among the multitude of awesome things, I soon found myself especially fascinated with the social structures, especially the tensions, that were written into the game universe, and the detailled history of the three main races of Humans, Elves and Dwarves.
In the history of the Dragon Age world, Elves aren’t the proud noble people we know from Tokien’s Middle Earth, the Forgotten Realms or the Elder Scrolls. They are a broken people, driven from their lands, out of touch with their history and culture. They have lost their traditional ways, forgotten most of their rituals and magic. They live as nomad clans, constantly ready to move on to avoid conflicts with human settlements, or in slums called alienages in human towns, where they are at the mercy of the Human populace. They are discriminated against for openly racist reasons, very much like the Elves in The Witcher.
The mages are discriminated across all races, they are considered generally dangerous and are taken from their parents and forced into the Circle of Magi to learn to control their powers under the watchful eyes of the Templars, who fear them, especially for the powerful Blood Magic and the Abominations that can possess mages. Mages who leave the Circle Towers will most likely be persecuted and made tranquil, i.e. stripped of their magic powers, but also their emotions and instincts. For all intents and purposes, they become willing slaves of the system. Conveniently, they are the only ones except dwarves who can handle raw lyrium, a mineral that among other things can be used to make potions that replenish magic. The Chantry, the dominant religious institution (strongly resembling Christianity on many accounts) on the continent of Thedas also administers lyrium to the Templars, supposedly to increase their resistance to magic, but certainly to make them addicted to the substance. (Jem’Hadar of Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine, anyone?)
So, unwittingly, I cast my virtual self amidst two struggles: The Mages’ campaign for self-determination, freedom from the control of the Templars and the Chantry, and the Elves’ fight for equality among the races and justice and redemption for the crimes committed against them by the humans. Throughout the incredibly well written dialogs in Dragon Age Origins, there were many situations that specifically adressed my character either as an Elf, or as a Mage – and in general, that approach was skeptical or discriminating. I can’t remember a situation that addressed me as Elf AND Mage at the same time now, but it’s been a while since I played the first game, so I can’t say for sure whether they were any. Regardless, this discrimination one reason atop the other is exactly what intersectionality is about. While a Human Mage and an Elf Muggle (if you don’t know Harry Potter: a person with no magical talents) will be discriminated in this world, my Elf Mage can expect a doubly bad treatment.
While “being an Elf” is easily recognized as a racial classification causing racist discrimination, the “being a Mage” isn’t so easy. It’s not a personal choice to be a Mage, so it isn’t a political, social or religious factor. Neither is it a physical disability. I would put it in a category of “specially talented with an existing, but exaggerated risk of mental instability”. (Jennifer Hepler, who wrote the character Anders for Dragon Age 2 mentioned that she wrote him as a person with a mental disorder.) In my second playthrough, I played a Dwarf Commoner, who is only discriminated against by her own people – an example for discrimination based on class or caste.
Reading the definition quoted above, I realized that there were two “sections” that do not bear repercussions in the game, and one that is rarely selectable in dialogs, but usually has negative consequences as well. First of all, my Izka being female didn’t limit what I could do in terms of combat, skills, general dialog choices or quests. There were, however, women in the game that were cast in traditional roles and such, but this didn’t apply to the player character. In one of the Origin stories, when you are a Dwarf Commoner, your sister is the mistress of a Nobleman, in a quite typical submissive and dependent fashion. It made me cringe, but I had no option to change it (I might have, had I taken other options before. I might go back and try it… after I tried all the other Origins from start to end!) Sometimes, however, the game does address Izka specifically as a female, or have different lines for male and females even outside romance dialogs. One of my favorite times this gender-specific address occurs, is this dialog:
Alistair: “You know… it just occurred to me that there have never been many women in the Grey Wardens. I wonder why that is?”
You can pick these answers:
You want more women in the Wardens, do you?
Probably because we’re too smart for you.
(to which Alistair replies) “True. But if you’re here, what does that make you?”
Eager to get going.
Just one of the boys? [My favorite! This gets approval points from Alistair]
So not interested.
I can handle myself better than most.
How about you stop thinking of me as a woman?
I loved this dialog SO MUCH!!!
Secondly, Izka had the choice to romance Leliana, a female rogue. This homosexual romance has no negative impact in the game at all. (I can’t remember if any of my companions even commented).
Third, in some cases you have the option to voice atheist thoughts, challenging the belief of the Chantry. Leliana is a dedicated follower, so denying the Maker or defiling the ashes of his beloved Andraste will upset and eventually turn on you (unless you have convinced her earlier that her path as a Chantry lay-sister isn’t really for her – this is called “hardening” her).
I have, in previous posts, discussed this topic of whether discrimination should be depicted in RPGs. And my opinion remains a clear yes, with the Caveat that there must a choice in the game to fight this discrimination. As far as I’m concerned, this has worked well in The Witcher on a great scale, and I can remember various instances in other games, like Fallout: New Vegas (when a guy offers you protection, implying the “in exchange for certain services”) or Baldur’s Gate I, when you can save the Dark Elf Viconia from a mob, and so on.
This “rebellious behavior” is also possible in Origins. Izka survived the final battle and insisted that the Fereldan Circle of Mages be freed from the factual Templar rule. I couldn’t help the Elves to such a great degree, but I alleviated some of their problems. Maybe playing as a Dalish Elf (from one of the nomad clans, not a Circle Mage) gives this option, I haven’t completed this Origin.
One of my dearest moments in this game can happen in the romance dialogs with the “almost-Templar” Alistair, who was drafted into the Grey Wardens just a while before your character. As with most of his romance dialog, you have the choice to softly tease him. In this particular instance, you can tease him about being him being a Templar, who is in love with a mage and elf. I couldn’t find a transcript or video of that dialog (or maybe they are two separate ones) right now, I don’t know if I could find one of my savegame to record it, since I am uncertain when the dialog occurs.
On the other hand, Alistair can be quite the racist. If he is made King of Ferelden, and you’re not a Human Noble, he breaks off the romance (you can, under certain circumstances, become his mistress – which I wouldn’t, not even in a game). I got really mad at him – for all our love, for all he owed me, he wouldn’t at least TRY to convince his people to accept an Elf Queen? Such a royal coward!
On the other hand, this is realistic, too. People aren’t black-or-white in real life either, and we’re frequently given the option to do evil as player characters, and then again do good. Thus, if avatars can have such flaws, I suppose their companions would, and should, too. Similarly, no matter what you do, Alistair will leave your party if you allow Loghain to join and live. Quite unforgiving, just like real(istic) people can be.
To return to my statement of preferring Origins over DA2, it is all about identifying with the hero.Hawke is set as Human, the dominant race also in the Free Marches where Part 2 plays, and from a noble family. Of course, he or she is a refugee and has been wronged by circumstances beyond her or his control, but we have a sense of belonging to a higher class, being something better than those other refugees. Especially Hawke’s mother has a sense of lost glory and grandeur. Outside the game, Hawke is marketed as a Champion, so I know “I” will become that before I even start the game. While the narration (“how the story is told”) of this ascension is intriguing, the main motivation for me to play was to see what happened to my companions, their stories were much more captivating and some full of surprises.
Compared to this, I was able to identify with Izka much more, since I had more choices of who I wanted her to be. I don’t want to play a “rich kid who is currently in a rough spot”. Dragon Age: Origins put me in a rough life, and handed me ways to either fix things for myself, or strive for the greater good. It put me between the lines of several conflicts, made me feel these conflicts through little bits here and there in quests, lore and dialogs, but instead of making me pick sides in an inevitable conflict, the game allowed me to make some things better. To fix everything would’ve been cheap, but it gave me choices – mind you, not all of them were easy and comfortable either – to shape my own fate as well as that of several victimized groups. In comparison to this, Dragon Age 2 feels like I’m replaying someone else’s story that’s more or less fixed in its course – it’s still a good story, and very well told, but I miss the power to make wrongs right, or at least, less wrong.
In Origins, Izka definitely grows because of the opposition she faces (among other reasons) due to discrimination – and so do we real people. (And of course, this is in part my interpretation, but name one player who doesn’t add anything to the game’s narrative in his or her head!) Hawke, even if you play her or him as a Saint, is on a personal quest to regain lost family influence, amass riches and build a position of power for him- or herself. “Become Champion” – that is your destiny, marketing tells you. It’s a selfish motivation, and thus much less appealing to me. Maybe it’s due to the economic crisis all around us, that makes us think about our own well-being more and inspired the general direction of the game.
In this real life I keep referring to I try to speak up against discrimination when I encounter it. But I am just one girl in a big, often very bad world. I know we have to start somewhere, and that the little things do count. But sometimes, it’d be nice to slay an Archdemon, a little faerie comes up and asks a wish of you and you could choose between “Remember the Grey Wardens” and “Eradicate discrimination against [insert any aforementioned sections here]”!
Or in other words: “Just one girl, against all odds, saving the world”… and depending on what you’re thinking right now, I’ll add: “You may say, I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
This weekend (Friday morning), I’m going to Ring*Con in Germany, a Fantasy Convention. There will be a vampire ball, and I’ve changed (pun very much so intended!) into a few different outfits. Which should I choose?
[Three notes: The quality isn’t great, but I was in a hurry, too. And I have plans to “change” a photographer to keep him around! Regarding the pieces shown, if anyone is interested, I can later list where I got them from. Third, no I do not like Twilight. I just liked the “change” pun.]
This is, by the way, usually my pirate outfit – I need a better blouse though! Next, let’s go Gothic:
Kind of my favorite… Below with red bolero instead of the arm thingies:
Never mind that you can see me in the mirror! The camera is THAT great – I just don’t yet know how to use it! (It’s a Panasonic Lumix 3) If I were a Vampire supermodel, I’d not have to take pictures myself anyway! Like here:
Tired from all that “changing”… I mean, you knew that Edward wouldn’t be any help here, I have one last option:
So, which one for tomorrow nite’s ball? Oh, I will of course write up a post-Ring*Con post! Looking forward to a weekend full of geekery!