Not much has changed, really. We're dreading the last couple songs, but this is definitely tractable.
1:19 AM: Hot. Malted. Chihuahua pants.
Because, if it were a movie, Mirror's Edge would be critically lauded by the specialist film press – it would be considered a forward-thinking masterpiece.We don't need to consider it an "if" - Run Lola Run won over two dozen awards.
If I were to say that I was surprised upon receiving the latest offering from Bronte Games, it would be a criminally lax understatement. After such flops as Villette II and Jane Eyre X-Treme Go-Kart Challenge, my doubt in the once great publisher of mid-90’s licensed games was understandably shaken. I’d read the preliminary reports from Japan, and they were guarded, but positive. Daily Dengenki Famitsu went even further, calling it, "a revolutionary new take on the visual novel, not simply a character game." While I may not agree with my kabuki quantum counterparts on all of the finer points, there is some truth to their words.
When a noble, yet politically unstable aristocrat flees the unfriendly streets of London for the rustic moors, he finds himself embroiled in a web of dark passions, mysteries dredged from the past, and wild, fruit-chomping action. A top-down, shooter-RPG that would not be out of place at a wedding joining the Xenosaga series with Zombies Ate My Neighbors in blessed matrimony, Wuthering Heights represents a bold step in blending survival horror elements with traditional CRPG gameplay. Eliminating the inventory management that is often the focus of such games, the player is instead confronted with a parade of delicate social situations that quickly ramp up in misery and violence until there is no recourse but to stare at the wallpaper in resignation at the leaden pressure suffusing the atmosphere.
The wallpaper won’t help; it is peeling and rotten, much like the second half of the game.
To say that the graphics are dreary would be insulting to the richness of the English language. You won’t see much color while traversing the game’s ever-present moors, but the textures on the crumbling garden walls and moldering leather more than make up for the limited palette. Unfortunately, the player is rarely privy to these visual flourishes on account of their hefty memory requirements. Unless the camera’s focus is directly on an object, the majority of the screen is obscured by low-resolution fog reminiscent of a second-generation PSX title. While the story team has taken great pains to work this murkiness into the game’s plot, it can become smothering at times.
Speaking of the story, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. Although presented in a novel fashion, the player rarely gets to take part. Instead, the core protagonist is strung along from cutscene to convoluted cutscene. This would have been bearable, if stretching the definition of a game within our post-postmodern society, if the characters were able to support the weight of the topics addressed. Instead we are faced with refugees from every modern RPG that has failed to be published in the last ten years.
Ever since Squaresoft made the switch from identifiable, heroic protagonists of its 16-bit days to the more mature, angst-ridden emopunks of its later hits, the market has been flooded in copycats with embarrassing social flaws and bad haircuts. The primary villain of Wuthering Heights offers nothing new to the discriminating gamer, although no doubt much will be made of his uncanny resemblance to superstar, Ralph Fiennes. I will be frank; he’s no Sephiroth, ladies. On the other hand, if you still haven’t had enough of the near-silent protagonist, the meek love interest, or the racially stereotyped groundskeeper, Wuthering Heights will make you feel right at home. The late Working Designs could have executed this translation to great effect, or current-era Atlus. As it is, however, characterization is warped and wholly obscured by despair.
Despite its flaws, I can’t help but respect Bronte Games for their decision to port Wuthering Heights to this side of the pond. While it won’t win any awards for furthering the video-games-as-literature argument, it’s a fine way to spend the occasional night where the moon is obscured by reaching, claw-like branches and the loneliness of your interior terrain is matched by the outside world. Moreover, it is clear that the localization team spared no expense in making sure that audiences stateside would be able to understand the complex Relationship Grid system. In addition to a faux leather relationship flowchart, the game comes with a dense manual that weighs in at over 300 pages. It’s attention to detail like this that makes Wuthering Heights worth your time if you’re able to push today’s flashy games out of your mind for long enough to appreciate the lengthy reward scheme that was the nourishing milk of yesteryear’s gaming elite.
There's a lot of stuff I want to write about. DLC versus buying physical copies of games, educational games, more about cheating, and I ask myself: am I really qualified to write about those things? No, but I'm still going to. But first I'm going to write about something I am very qualified to write about. Sexism in MMOs. I'm a woman, I play MMOs.
Dear Richard Bartle,
I recently finished your book, Designing Virtual Worlds. It is very apparent that you are a man. Not because most people with your name shorten it to Dick, not because you constantly feel the need to mention it, and not because...er...well...most people who read your book know that already. No, it's obvious because of how much you enjoy speculating on how gender issues affect MMO gameplay, and whether or not MMOs are at all inherently sexist. For me, as a woman, there's really no debate about whether or not a female player could be alienated by a given game design. Because if I do feel like I don't belong because of my anatomy, well, that means it's possible.
Now, there was a lot of crazy talk about gender in your book, and actually I appreciate that. Even though I personally found a lot of the extreme feminist stuff you cited and discussed to be pretty bizarre, I like the completeness of all points of view. However, there was one opinion of your very own that is just plain wrong.
You suggest that maybe more men play MMOs than women because men are kept more rigidly in place by societal gender roles and taboos, and finally have a free and safe space where they can spend hours designing their face, spend lots of fake money on clothing, say and do and act how they want, etc. Well, shame on you, sir. You of all people should know that the real reason is pretty much the exact opposite of that. Earlier in the book you describe and even bemoan the start of MMOs, and the “no girls allowed” boys' treehouse mentality. Well, little boys' clubs become old boys' clubs, and MUD1 has become World of Warcraft, and as you can see things stay basically the same. I don't really care which gender is pigeonholed more overall in real life, all discrimination sucks, but that has nothing to do with the gender disparity in MMOs. No, they started stereotyped as something men did that women don't do, so women are going to look at them and think “part of me feels like those weren't designed for me.”
Now, here's are some slightly less knee-jerk things I've been thinking about since then, about what I think is the worst kind of sexism in the world of MMOs.
Even in online gaming communities where women may know they have a strong presence, plenty of men (I'm looking at you, Dick Bartle) still feel “this isn't something women do.” Now, there are a lot of different sentiments that come after that sentence, but pretty often it's “But it would be awesome if they did!”
For example, 6 months after I got legally married, my husband and I finally had the money, time, and organization to follow it up with one hell of a reception. We decided the browser based MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing provided a perfect theme, since a huge part of the game is making tasty food and alcoholic drinks. Not to mention most of our friends (and his mother) also play or have played. We posted pictures of our shindig to the official forums afterwards and got lots of comments from male players saying things along the lines of “Wow, you're so lucky to find a woman who will tolerate that kind of idea.” It was female players (either smart enough to look at my husband and my player ID numbers and realize I had been playing a lot longer than him, or just pretty savvy to this sort of thing in general) who replied with comments like “She is a player in her own right” or “notice who has been playing the game way longer.”
So I understand first hand that being seen as a novelty, or a tourist, or anything but an ordinary player is alienating and discourages in-game socializing, and that is the most common type of sexism in MMORPGs these days.
I disagree with lots of feminist criticisms of games. I mean, it'd maybe be nicer to see some smaller breasts or some lady characters over the apparent age of 18, but really, who the hell cares? It takes a lot of crap to make me actually believe designers had any kind of big grudge against women or actively wanted to demean them and make a whole generation of dudes look at women as nothing but sex objects (though Guitar Hero 3 did convince me), and I have yet to play an MMO that I felt that way about. The problem is with the players. And it isn't the kinds of problems people (again, including Bartle in most of his writings on sexism) like to bitch about, male players actually harassing female players. Seriously, I haven't had a dude use creepy internet pick up lines since I played Diablo on battlenet when I was in high school, and haven't had dudes shower me with in game gifts just because I had a female avatar since I played Meridian 59 (haha, they were hitting on, like, a 12 year old. Freaks!) But I still regularly get other players, even real life friends of mine, refusing to take me seriously as a player of various games.
Anything else I could shrug off as the reactions of a bunch of immature losers who have never been with a woman, but really, what I talked about above is the breed of video game sexism that actually gets under my skin and makes me feel like an outsider
So I was originally thinking about titling this blog "Out of the Loop" since I like to think I am (refreshingly!) out of the loop on everything, and most of my posts would be about video games everyone else finished years ago. For example, I was many months late on the Guitar Hero sexism, and I'm even sad I missed out on the heyday of complaining.
But here's just how out of the loop I am. I just saw Die Hard with a Vengeance last night. It's Professor Layton the movie...or Professor Layton is Die Hard the video game. Amazing!
Who wants to write me some crossover fanfiction?
I'm about to look like I'm growing up, which embarrasses me horribly, but when I was younger (I mean at least 10 years younger and usually more) video games seemed much more magical. They may have been tiny, self contained worlds, but they really felt like entire worlds and even though LucasArts never programmed in what lay behind those bushes in Loom and Sierra never designed faces or wrote backstories for the entire ship's crew who must have died in King's Quest VI, you better believe I filled in all of that in my head. Not as some kind of creative exercise either, but it just naturally popped in there as the logical extension of what the designers must have intended.
Where am I going with this? After my first few years of the wonder that was video games, it became harder and harder to play games on that visceral level and as it became more of an intellectual activity (and that isn't bad, they've never stopped being fun.)
Chulip is the first game I've played in awhile that I haven't stopped to analyze even the slightest bit while playing it, because I'm too enchanted by it. This doesn't stop me from thinking critically about it later (y'know, since I'm doing so now) but from the moment I load my game I become too absorbed in their bizarre dialogues Stoo (my character) has with Yam (the love of his life), or the voyeuristic way he crawls into the giant pipe she calls home to watch her while she's sleeping (and the guilty feeling I have when I go inside and she's still awake), or spying on the Underground Residents, watching them talk about their menial jobs with their creepy Silent Hill-reminiscent bodies. The weird part is, mechanics-wise it's barely even a game.
Incidentally, the last time I felt that way about the game was right when Katamari came out. I remember myself and the room full of people I played it in were just too damn delighted to say anything about it except "Oh my god!" "That's so awesome!" and once and awhile "That's so weird!" between levels. And, it was awesome.
So, um, here's to games that are completely immersive while playing them, but still awesome to talk about afterwards!