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Oh, the Hysteria of Women...

A friend asked me to rant about something, anything, and I ended up analyzing originality, story, and sexism as I see it in the game industry through a series of cupcake analogies. Go figure.
Dear Gamasutra Blogosphere (and anyone else reading this post),

A friend actually wanted to see a rant, so I just started typing. The following is what came out:

"Been meaning to get around to this. Sorry for the small delay. 
Let's see. I'm a pretty content person, so I'm often not hot and bothered by things. If I am, I try to deal with it right away. I do have a couple general things I could mention that have been on my mind fairly recently. [I'm now realizing that I just spent it all talking about video games, but eh, what're gonna do?]

So, I guess I'll start with probably the most recent. I've been spending my break playing games and analyzing them. I've also been looking at some of the new kind of games planned in 2010. I'm excited for a couple titles, but a lot of the other stuff looks incredibly boring to me. It's like I've seen it all before. There was one I was specifically looking at that's gotten a lot of hype. I skimmed through the screenshots and was very quickly disappointed. It just looked like any other survival horror game that I've seen before, like really. I didn't see anything that made me say, "Hey, I wanna try that," or anything. 

I know there's always going to be more WWII games, and I know there's always going to be more "Halo-killers" year after year. I'm not saying this year's worse or whatever. I'm just saying at any point in any time here or in the future that I wish there was more originality. I'm not even necessarily saying innovation. I don't NEED a game to blow my fucking mind by completely changing "what it means to be an FPS." In games, I'm looking for something so completely basic--a good experience. The only thing that's truly mind-blowing is sometimes how hard finding that can be in games. I don't play games for their graphics, for their music, for their online multiplayer shit, for their achievements, or any of that other bullshit I consider to be the sprinkles and icing on the cupcake. I want the delicious cuppity-cake part that's supposed to make up the majority of the game--the core experience.

I want to feel a certain way. I want to get to know the characters, and I want the characters to be fucking realistic for a change. If they're not realistic, at least have them be entertaining in some form or fashion. I'm sick of cringing as I listen to poorly written dialog. I'm sick of "writers" in the gaming industry getting away with torturing gamers with their lack of talent or brains for goodness sake. Why can't we get people to "playtest" the fucking writing? It's that simple. Get some kind of script editors in. It would only take like week at most (well, depending on the length of the game and dialog) to go through and say, "Yeah, this isn't funny; try *this* instead."

I think a lot of the problem is just that gamers are just too quiet about this. I was thinking maybe there are just too many brain dead gamers that don't even notice, but really, could that be the case? I like to have some faith in humanity, so I want to believe that the real problem is the former. We need to fucking complain more about this shit. Too many times we just kind of say, "Well, the story sucks, but the gameplay rocks!" That's like saying, "Well, the cupcake was good, but it didn't taste like anything." The story is what gives a game its flavor and life. Otherwise, you're just a thing in some place shooting other things to get to another place.

We're at a point now where we have the technology to give games an entirely amazing cinematic experience, but it's like we're too lazy to bother coming up with it. We'd rather be spending our time making the blades of grass shiny and putting more enemies on the screen, 'cause surely people won't notice the fact that there's yet another character with a one-dimensional personality while being zoned out amongst the hordes of very shiny enemies, who also don't have any personality. In fact, the only thing you know about them is that they're different from you and because of that they deserve to die.

The naysayers would probably also bring up the fact that story takes too long. It really doesn't. That's what having REAL talent as a writer/designer amounts to. How do I convey a story briefly and with the greatest amount of entertainment (in whatever form that's thematically relevant to the story) as possible? You don't have to spoon-feed, cutscene-feed, dialog-feed, or even text-feed the story to players all of the God damn time either. That's where the sprinkles and icing come in to play. If you have a chocolate cupcake, a good thing to do is to put brown sprinkles and maybe light brown frosting. Then people kind of expect the cuppity-cake part to in fact be chocolate. Similarly, art and audio effects can instantly cue a player in to what the hell he/she is getting into story-wise.

Okay, so that was a little bit of a tangent to what I was previously talking about--originality. Okay, so with this whole thing about telling a good story. Unique stories need to be told now. We've heard the one about the gritty marines who survive against outrageous odds and save the world or universe or whatever. I'm more than bored by that whole setup. The thing is, once you have a unique story, you can create a unique experience with much more ease, and that's what I'm getting to. Because we keep replaying the same damn story of the marines who go against an entire army of some alien race or some shit, we get the same mechanics that go with it. Shooting, ducking, running, reloading, everything. Then, all the things associated with those mechanics become the same. You can duck behind a wall, you can shoot with a shotgun or a sniper or a pistol, reloading makes you have to pause and find cover for a little while. It's all the same God damn thing. 

I mean, yeah, it was fun the first time, and for some people, it WILL be their first times. For MOST people actually playing the games, it will not. Hardcore gamers, though they actually make up a small percentage compared to the casual gaming market, are the kind that have played many games before. So I guess that's where the marketing ne'er-do-wells say, "Hey, we can't make this a crazy, NEW experience! What about the casual gamers who play Peggle and Tetris on their iPhones 40 hours a week?! They don't know about this crazy new FPS thing that's all the rage now! They'll need to be eased into it, so let's go ahead and just use the same mechanics and everything."

Let's not. That's probably actually why the casual market DOESN'T want to jump into the "hardcore" side of things. They see all these God damn games and don't know what the fuck to get because they all look the God damned same. It's like how women sometimes all look the same and pretty, but they're all fucking boring because talking to a hot chick is kind of exhilarating only that first time. After that though, you realize she has no depth. She doesn't know jack shit about anything, and you think about how that kind of overweight chick has a shit ton of friends not because she's hot but because she's hilarious or has interesting stories. To put it in terms of cupcakes, they all taste bland, and they look bland. Their frosting is like all the same color, kind of an off white color, and their sprinkles are all white, so you can't really even see them sitting on the frosting. It makes the cuppity-cake parts look like they're all the same too, even if they taste just slightly different. They're all sitting next to each other, and the baker's like, "Pick one, motherfucker, I dare you." That baker is the college dropout working at Gamestop who wanted to be a programmer but decided he *wa-a-anted* to be on that other side of the gaming industry and would say that calling himself a hardcore gamer is an "understatement."

Whoa, almost forgot where I was going there for a minute. So, the casual market is kind of baffled by all these look-a-like games, which hurts the industry, and they're probably feeling put off by the "hardcore" people who act pretentious as hell despite the fact that those gamers are more often than not suffering from severe personality flaws that make them assholes by nature--the games having nothing to do with it.

This whole issue with the casual gaming market is kicking the industry in the groin even more though, because guess where the vast majority of women are with respect to the gaming industry as a whole? That's right, Blue, the casual market. There's a shit load of women out there playing FarmVille for like ten hours a day while ignoring their children and forgetting they have husbands who are busy forgetting they have wives while playing their ultra-manly marine-guy-kills-some-motherfuckers games.

There are some who argue that women simply don't express interest in anything else. Yeah, they don't EXPRESS the interest, but they are curious. Ever wonder why they bother watching their boyfriends play at least the one time until the guy acts like a total fucking jerk--as far as she understands--all because of some polygons on the screen? She wants to check the game out to see what her man is doing. She thinks maybe it's something they can do together. Chicks love doing shit with their guys--y'know something besides that crazy sex thing. However, they see the guys' behavior and attitudes during and about the game, so she gets put off by it. A lot of this stupid games and anti-women crap is just all about the attitudes. 

There's this inherent sexist stuff going on that I don't even think people themselves are aware of. I'm a girl, and I'm still surprised when I see a fellow girl that openly states that she enjoys playing things like Call of Duty or Resident Evil or something like that. These aren't things we often see women getting into, so I'm always like, "Whoa, hey, you're like me?" Reason being is not simply the sexism by guys. Here's a dirty little secret that hasn't been brought up a great deal; a fair amount of the sexism comes from other women. Yeah, it's fucking disgusting.

Other women, the non-gamers, look down on women who do--generally speaking. Guys are usually very open to female gamers. They often have some cheeky thing to say like, "Yeah, that's hot! I'd love a hot ass gaming chick to..." You get the idea. When you talk about video games to other women, they look at you like you have a fucking disease. You may as well have just told them you have herpes of the hand and would like to hold their purse. You would probably get a better reception that way. Okay, that's stretching it, but seriously, women, what the fuck? You are the ones out there complaining that men don't treat you right, but you're part of the problem too. 

Of course, there's still other little inherent sexist things that come from guys as well. I have a personal story I can tell here actually. I walked into a Gamestop with one of my male friends a while ago. The store was empty at the time, so it was just the two of us. My friend actually wasn't much of a gamer. I had been the one wanting to go to look at games. The employee that was kind of aimlessly wandering around the store at the time walks up to him, asks him if there's any game he's looking for in specific (or some question like that), and then doesn't even acknowledge me. I thought that was funny. I mean, probably the most common scenario is a hardcore guy gamer walking in with his clueless, pink-DS-carrying girlfriend, so I can't totally blame the employee since that's what probably usually happens.

Another issue, one which I've faced personally again, the harrassment a girl can face while playing online. If a girl just so happens to speak out, it's a fucking risk. I hate to say it, but it really is. You're risking all kind of shit if you have a vagina and decide to brave letting your voice slip through the mic. People don't generally just bully girls for no reason, but some go with the just plain inappropriate sexist kind of bullshit or trying to somehow lamely get the girl to cyber with him or some shit. Then there's the skeptics who harass the girl into "admitting" she's actually just a twelve-year-old boy, since the voices can occasionally and unfortunately sound alike. My problems have been with the latter mostly, and it sucks.

I have had an issue with the former as well. I specifically recall once playing, and I'd had a very good round. I was the number one player for that game. I was using someone else's gamertag. Also, I'd yet to speak to them, so no one knew I was a girl until the endgame lobby when I finally spoke up. I didn't want to look like an asshole, so I told everyone that it was a great game, y'know to be sportsmanlike. Right as I did, all the talking that was going on previously died--instantly. It was like one of those record-player-just-stopped-cause-someone-just-said-something-wildly-inappropriate-on-a-sitcom moments. One of the guys clearly said, "[Gamertag], what the FUCK? Are you serious? *Something, something...* a fucking chick!?" He went on to start bellowing some more, but I promptly left. Being that I'm as sensitive as a rusty nail, I found it funny more so than upsetting, but it did kind of give me that bitter thought knowing that there are guys still out there who take such a heavy issue to being bested in video games by someone of the opposite sex. To put it bluntly, they're incredibly lame. They're the people who spit in your cupcakes because they go home to empty apartments at night.

So, at the end of the day, what's all this ranting mean? Who cares about originality or if women ever truly feel comfortable in the "hardcore" gaming world? I do. Why? Because when I read the first chapter of Schell's book, I said out loud in a room by myself without looking like a crazy person, "I'm a game designer." I'm a fucking game designer, which means I've got quite a lot of thoughts in this pretty little head of mine all about this industry. You know what else? I'm also a writer, so I can put these thoughts into text for someone else to read. Maybe someone else will read this, maybe someone won't. Either way, that doesn't stop me from being a writer or a game designer. I'm not doing this to "make a change in the industry for the better." Also, I'm not some militant feminist. I support the vag, sure, but above all, I'm doing this because it's one of the few things in my life I have a true passion for, writing and video games. Putting them together just makes me all the happier, and I don't care what any college dropout ubercore gamer has to say about that because odds are that person isn't half as smart as I am when it comes to this shit--and I'm a woman, a woman on the Internet who's just ranting."

The End. All the best, Blogosphere.

Sincerely,
Miss Alicia.

P.S. I wanted to add that a good point was later made to me stating that the game industry is first and foremost is a business. I agree and totally understand that statement, but I personally don't think that necessarily excuses the industry. I very lightly touched on this issue with regard to the casual market and whatnot, but I don't wish to discuss it further. (It gives me indigestion.)

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