This Week in Video Game Criticism: Everybody Loves Garrus
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the political agenda of Halo and why Garrus Vakarian is Mass Effect's most enduring character.
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the political agenda of Halo and why Garrus Vakarian is Mass Effect's most enduring character.Safer Spaces
PAX East was held last weekend and we have not one but two articles from volunteers who worked at the event's (much criticized) Diversity Lounge. Royel Edwards came away from the experience cautiously optimistic, while Lexi Leigh offers some much-needed context to that miniature meme we had going around of showrunner Mike Krahulik ostensibly "taking over" the lounge. In all: the news is good, or at least better than expected, according to some who were there.
It's not all sunshine, however. The next few articles bear a content warning for rape, child abuse, and description of misogynistic and homophobic harassment.
Ria Jenkins laments the failure of the games press to adequately cover or criticize Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes' depiction of rape, not only of an adult woman but also an underaged boy. She includes a detailed description of the (now-infamous) audio log and wonders why UK regulatory board PEGI declined to even assign the game the "sexualized violence" label present in the American rating.
Kim Correa, whom we featured several weeks ago for her bracing account of a sexual assault experience in DayZ, has followed up with a report of some of the comments her post generated, and additionally connects her experience with Julian Dibbell's 1993 article "A Rape in Cyberspace," which has also been making the rounds lately (including here):
What strikes me most [about Dibbell's piece] is the willingness of the community to pull together, to work toward mending a problem and taking appropriate actions for what most everyone seems to have realized was an inappropriate action. "A Rape in Cyberspace" was first published more than twenty years ago. A concerned, thoughtful group of players banded together to make their online community a safer environment for everyone.
We are 20 years past the time "A Rape in Cyberspace" originally was published. And yet what I hear echo in every one of these comments, in all of these words, is the same phrase, over and over again: we haven't made progress. We've gone backward.
The subject of online abuse, and the normalization thereof, is also on the minds of Giant Bomb writer Patrick Klepek and game developer Zoe Quinn, who co-hosted an hour-long talk at PAX East on how users can start turning the tide of internet toxicity. Among the solutions they propose: speak up, refuse to tolerate, build positive experiences.
Likewise on The Escapist, Shamus Young lends an outsider's viewpoint on the positive outcome of the ill-fated GAME_JAM, in which developers were baited with sexist drama for the benefit of a reality show narrative:
One of the questions they asked Robin Arnott was, "Do you think you're at an advantage because you have a pretty lady on your team?" [...] Keep in mind the "pretty face" in question is Adriel Wallick, who left her job programming weather satellites so she could make quirky, experimental indie games. It's like having Neil Degrasse Tyson on your team at the science fair and having someone ask how having a "black guy" impacts your chances of winning. It's mind-bogglingly offensive.
[The participants] not only saw through the manipulation, they also correctly identified the only proper response, which is non-participation.
The image of black masculinity as criminal and terrifying, remarkably uniform across videogames and newsmedia, not only led to me questioning and resenting my own blackness, is part of the fear of black men that caused the desegregation anxieties which led to [school desegregation] programs like M to M shaping my entire childhood. How astonished my 14 year old self would've been to learn that video games, my bulwark against racism, borrowed the very same portrayals of black men on the nightly news that fed my distrust of "thuggish" black men.
So ask me again why I have to object, loudly and uncompromisingly, to problematic racist imagery in my favorite medium. Why I balk at the notion of "choosing" to be offended at something. Why I'm incensed when I'm told black people "aren't realistic" for a setting or race "doesn't matter" in designing heroes?--?being a minority means even your fantasies are regulated by white believability.
It is a sign that our industry needs to mature, that the presence of any character outside of a standard heteronormative binary system (people who do not fit a modern stereotype of youthful, aggressively heterosexual vigour) is read as an 'agenda'. Master Chief fits the system, so he is not viewed as a political statement, but a gay protagonist is outside the norms of gaming lead characters, and so the game is likely to be assumed to be intentionally making a statement.
No matter the tools you acquire (rocket launcher aside) it will always outmanoeuvre you, tightening its noose as effortlessly as a Robotron or Geometry Wars. Having drilled the same rules of engagement deep into your head over several games, it switches them with malicious glee: headshots trigger dangerous mutations, enemies hide their weak spots, paces quicken and slow to disrupt your tactics. It's as though Capcom had always meant to drag its feet a bit with earlier titles, encouraging just the right smidgeon of complacency to creep in before delivering its knockout blow -- and doing so, remarkably, without any apparent sacrifice.