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Archive for January, 2011

Kotaku linked to a piece on “All Things Considered” wherein a teenage girl talks about issues girl gamers have.  I haven’t listened to it.  I have no idea what she says.  For the purpose of this discussion, it’s immaterial, because I am more interested in talking about the commentariat at kotaku, who promptly launched into response.

There were two threads running through the responses, relating to two topics: how girls are depicted in games (and how girls themselves respond to that) and how girl gamers are treated when playing games with guys.

To the first, female and male characters are always stylized to create a visual caricature.  Think about what a caricature is: it isn’t a realistic depiction. No, it’s an artistic  rendering which has been altered to emphasize something about the subject, drawing the eye and the mind into the emotional territory the artist has conceived there.  A big reason for this is that games are metaphorical and poetic; the aim we game makers have for our worlds is to try and engage you rapidly and effortlessly into our world.  Reality is gritty, noisy, and difficult to read.  Stereotypes don’t hold when you start looking too closely; in games, they do, because the point is to focus the mind of players on that.  It’s part of engagement and drive.

But it’s also something we do because we can’t capture reality.  Our minds are filled almost entirely with caricatures, even of ourselves.  We don’t see people, we see the bits we’ve decided to focus on.  When we artistically project that back out, into our imaginative creations…we carry those caricatures along with us.  You can tell a great artist by their subtlety; you’ll note few games are terribly subtle.

So the characters in our games are…stereotypes.  To use a silly example, they’re like every character (ever) in an Ayn Rand novel: a larger-than-life stereotype, where the silhouette of a person has been blown up and colored until the stereotype has taken on some modicum of real complexity.

Bearing all this in mind, you see the commenters on Kotaku bringing up how no male ever, let alone the gamers playing the games, look like the males in their games, just like the females.  You don’t hear the men complaining about this unreasonable stereotype!  Well no, because nobody is outright opposed to artistic caricatures.  You choose what you’re gonna focus on, obviously, so you can bring it out, call attention to it, and care for it.  It’s more what it is that is focused on.

Tell me: how many male characters in video games are actually, genuinely sexy?  Where their overt sex appeal makes it difficult to see past that to get at a real character?  Not many.  How many female characters?  Quite a few.  There’s a difference, by the way, in scantily clad and sporting muscles and sexualized.  I think my barometer here may be the guys in Twilight, though I can think of other examples of male sex symbols.  How many guys in games qualify as male sex symbols?

Heck, a commenter pointed out what’s actually focused on in male game characters: BADASS.  That’s the end of it.  Muscles.  Strength.  Dedication.  The Anti-Hero.  The Hero.  BADASS.  I’m afraid BADASS does not directly correlate to sex symbol; I believe I am safe in saying most women are not particularly attracted to what amounts to a completely sexless killing machine.

Why are male characters huge, or constantly displaying rippling muscles?  Because that’s BADASS.

Now then: what is BADASS for a girl?  Rippling muscles?  Enormity?  Are we seriously somehow conveying BADASS by mounting melons on their fronts, slapping skin tight clothes on them (where there are clothes), and having them say manly things?  It doesn’t seem like it.  It seems like sexy is secondary to BADASS.  Yet all our video game heroines ooze…sexy.

I think that’s the issue girls have.  Not that they’re caricatured so much in how they are, over and over again.  And it’s not in a way that they feel comfortable looking up to.  Guy gamers happily look up to being BADASS.  A sex symbol, though?

Now, on to girl gamers dealing with boys!  To this, everyone seems to say “you just need to learn to deal with the ridicule; it’s how the internet is”.

No.  It’s how boys are.  Guys, girls aren’t like us.  We guys deal deal with each other through extraordinary amounts of assholishness.  Much of it we laugh off, because it’s how we talk to each other.  Aggression, anger, heck, even physical comedy, this is stuff we get and do, as guys.  This is a guy thing.  The subtle interplay of guy politics – and it can be extremely subtle – is a sort of metagame of things said.  Honesty is a general rule of thumb; politeness may not be.

Girls don’t seem to work that way.  I am not a girl, so I can’t really speak from first-hand experience, but watching and talking and more watching leads me to think that girls are less honest, but less…aggressive.  A girl doesn’t call a girl a “bitch”, for instance, unless it’s behind her back or unless some major breach in protocol has happened.  That shit gets held down and locked up tight behind smiles.  instead, little things convey everything.  Little things guys don’t notice, because we’re all focused on much bigger signals (like that person amiably calling us an asshat).

When you add to that the hostility between genders in school and the predominant feeling that gaming is a male activity (which comes through in multiple comments), then you get something of a volatile mix.  Yeah, girls are going to end up being shit on in this mix, because they’re invaders, a fearful presence which may subvert a beloved pasttime!  fear drives this, fear and protectiveness of some illusory destructive influence letting girls in might have.

It’s treated as a society of males by males.  Letting girls in is a rare thing.  You know, like the treehouse for the “No Girls Allowed” club.

Guys, eventually we have to grow up.  We have to figure out how to live with girls in our games, which probably means acting a little bit less like imbeciles.

Girls, for your part suck it up and come back swinging.  Learn guy language.  Hell, it’s easier than girl language, I promise.  Consider it from a pragmatic perspective: if you learn to deal with the guys on their home turf, you’ll have a huge one-up over them (and over a variety of other girls who haven’t figured that one out).  Because I guarantee very few guys will ever, EVER be able to learn girl language.

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Kotaku mentions a study which finds a correlation between attractiveness and IQ.

Let’s leave aside questions of the validity of the study and assume, for the moment, that it’s results are indicative of a real world correlation.  Also, we’ll leave aside question of definition (what is “attractive” or “intelligent”); I can guess they used some attractiveness rating system for the participants and then issued IQ tests or looked up publicly available IQ scores.

Instead, let’s examine hypotheses explaining this correlation.  The authors, effectively, make a causal claim; specifically, that intelligent males tend to be successful, attracting attractive females to mate with them, which then tends to produce both attractive and intelligent children.  This is…

Well, I was going to say something diplomatic, but fuck it.  What a retarded explanation.  Seriously, they basically just asserted that intelligence IS attractive.  Sure, they draped “success” on the intellect to pretty it up, but seriously, that’s what they said.  They then managed to infuse the entire explanation with a pretty blatantly sexist overtone.  No mention that hot guys might be attracted to successful women, nope.

Also, it fails to mention that, in pretty basic evolutionary theory less successful traits tend to go away or find new niches wherein they are successful.  Basically, they have put forth that the by definition giant chunk of humans who aren’t smart/attractive somehow continue to breed just fine without these qualities.  They aren’t being out produced.  How is this?

The real failure here is that this correlation could mean fucking anything.  It could mean attractive children grow up into attractive adults, and attractive children tend to get more attention in school, making them better, ultimately, at taking tests.  Or attractive kids are more confident (by dint of their attractiveness), which improves test taking.  Or fucking intelligence shines through your eyes and creates an aura of hotness (so a purely causal description).

But why is it then, that we have so many stereotypes of cute, dumb people?  Is this because cute people stand out in the cultural memory and society just forgets the hordes of average, ugly folks (who get married and continue to breed like rabbits, irregardless of the cute smart people shacking up off in their own world)?  Is it because we see hot people, expect (or hope) they’re smart and are continually disappointed when they don’t met our expectations and this stands out?  Conversely, are we all somewhat surprised when someone ugly is smart?

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Balance is mostly being left alone.  Cats and bears received (mostly) a string of nerfs (the mangle buff seems unlikely to fully offset the hit to bleeds, which form such a core component of cat damage).  Bears I guess were dealing too much damage; it doesn’t appear bears received any mitigation nerfs.  Oh, and berserk doesn’t break fear.  Lame.

Resto…well, resto received some interesting changes.  Malfurion’s Gift now provides Omen of Clarity for resto druids, meaning it has suddenly bumped to being a core talent.  If I had to guess, this is to offset the fact that, till now, it was a pretty low-priority talent.  Not bad; just not necessary.  Regrowth received some buffs, both by having nature’s bounty apply to it and the glyph getting improved.  Finally, Rejuvenation got a buff through a mana cost reduction.

The change to Nature’s Bounty is worth discussing.  Due to how swiftmend procs Efflorescence, it constitutes a major component of our AOE healing.  That meant that the CD reduction granted by Nature’s Bounty (which could be substantial if you’re just hitting SM, then spamming Nourish/HT and scaled with haste) provided a pretty big increase to our targeted AOE healing.  Obviously, that’s being nerfed.  Instead, we’re moving a bit back to rejuvenation layering.  With the cost reduction and the new bonus from Nature’s Bounty, it becomes much more rewarding to maintain rejuvenation on at least 3 people.

I guess we’ll have to see how that plays out.

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