Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wonder Woman, coming soon...

They're releasing an animated Wonder Woman feature in Spring of next year. It looks promising for the most part. The tagline at the end bugs, but the feature was co-written by Gail Simone, who is sort of like Awesome personified.

But, come on... you've spent the whole trailer pointing out how much ass she kicks, and how she's a born hero, but you finish with "Justice Never Looked So Good" and "It's not polite to hit a lady"?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oh. My. Gods.

That is very bad.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Creating better games...

I'm still touch-and-go as far as internet is concerned, and so I've only been loosely following what's been happening on other sites lately. Last week, I think it was, I read a post about a "Fat Princess" game, and the first four or five comments about it, over at Feminist Gamers. Well, it looks like there was sort of the expected reaction- i.e. lots of trolling and ridiculous name-calling- from the HardCoreGamers.

And while I don't have a lot to say that hasn't been said a billion times about these sorts of reactions, I do have a lot to say about game design. Because, quite frankly, there's a lot of room for improvement. So, I'm thinking of a few posts about gameplay and games and how they could be made better. I'm sure that some of this will rehash what other people have already said, for which I apologize, I'm just sort of letting my thoughts flow, here.

So, a month or so back, I finally got around to completely finishing Mario Galaxy- I got all of the stars with both Mario and Luigi, and I got the final bonus star. And yes, that is me pulling a muscle patting myself on the back. And I have to say, I thought it was tons of fun (except the damn "blow all of this garbage up with bombs that have long fuses even though you've got very little time" minigame. That was, in fact, the opposite of fun. Which is to say, stupid. But I digress). But, after I beat it, I started talking to Jaclyn about it. The conversation about Fat Princess reminded me of my conversation with Jaclyn, in that our conversation turned from "the ways that sex/gender are portrayed in Mario" into "ways that Mario could be made better".

Now, I'm hardly the first person to tackle a Nintendo game on this front, but I have to say, Mario doesn't fare that well in the ways it represents women. There are only a few female characters in the game at all:

Obviously, there's the Princess, whom you're out to save from a kidnapping at the hands of, who else? Bowser. She's hardly the most empowerful of characters, as presented. I mean, despite the fact that she's ostensibly the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, her main job seems to be "getting kidnapped. By an angry turtle. Repeatedly." I did, however, notice something interesting at the end of Mario Galaxy. Without giving away the story *coughMarioSavesHercough*, there's a scene where Peach, Mario and Bowser are all in the same place. I don't think it's a coincidence that the scene ends with Peach making with the soft eyes at Bowser. I'm just saying, maybe she's less "kidnapped" and more "run off"... Just something to consider. Or not.

Besides Peach, there's also Rosalina, a sort of mysterious woman who is the caretaker of the lumas, and your guide to the galaxies. The good news is that you're never charged with rescuing her from a kidnapping. The bad news is that she spends the majority of the game asking you to go out and find her missing stars. Which makes her only marginally less helpless than the princess for about 90% of the game. So, not so awesome on that front. There is, however, a really great part where she's responsible for blowing through a dozen or so of Bowser's warships without much effort. Which is pretty cool. She also seems to grow to about twenty feet tall, which suggests that she'd kick some ass in a fight. So, she's kind of a mixed bag, but for the majority of the game? Yeah, not so awesome.

Except that part where she tears through Bowser's fleet. Damn. That part was sweeeeeet.

The only other specifically female characters are secondary. I think that one member of the Toad Brigade might be female, but they're really there for comedy relief, and I paid very little attention to any of them. There's the Queen Bee, but we only really see her a few times, and, like the princess, she ends up asking you for help because she's incapable of doing things on her own. Her entire design is meant to make her look like a giant helpless creature.

The Lumas don't appear to have a gender, and neither do many of the enemies in the games, since most of them are things like plants, angry stone blocks, and walking mushroom creatures, although I suspect that most people probably read them as male. Bowser definitely reads as male, as does Bowser Jr., but the Kamella Koopa is almost certainly female. Still, most of the things characters that have a sex read as male.

Now, I'm sure that none of that comes as a surprise to anyone familiar with the franchise. In a game like Mario, we've come to expect certain things. We expect that the game will focus on Mario. He'll spend a lot of time doing ridiculous and dangerous things involving jumping on floating platforms. He'll be responsible for completely screwing up the local economy by discovering and recovering thousands upon thousands of gold coins. He'll probably put on a costume that gives him some insane and drug-induced powers like flinging fireballs from his nose or turning into a flying raccoon or something. And, he'll probably end up rescuing the princess. Again.

The thing I want to talk about for a moment is how a game could be made that would give us the Mario action we all love, but also do a better job with representations of women. Because it's my belief that we could get a great Mario game that wouldn't have to rely so much on archaic representations of women as helpless victims in need of prince plumber to rescue them.

Now, with that in mind, I actually think that Mario Sunshine was on the right track. Instead of having Mario start off having to rescue the kidnapped princess, Mario was charged with cleaning up graffiti being spread by a lookalike. Of course, it quickly became a case of rescuing the princess, but it didn't need to be. Or consider Super Mario 3, where, for the first seven levels, Mario was charged with saving various kingdoms under siege, with the belief that the princess was safe at home. It wasn't until the end of world 7 that it turned out to be a trick by Bowser to ... kidnap the princess.

At this point, it'd be downright subversive to have a Mario game where the point wasn't to rescue a princess. I'd love to see a Mario game where Mario sets out to prevent some other disaster being perpetrated by Bowser that doesn't involve a princess in captivity. Given that plot is really an afterthought in most Mario games, it's not like it'd need to be something particularly deep. Bowser is a stereotypical mustache twirling Dan Backslide evil villain, so it could be that he's planning to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom with his weather dominator or something like that, and Mario is out to save the kingdom, instead of just Peach. I mean, Bowser is exactly the type of character to do dumb evil things just for the sake of doing dumb evil things, why not capitalize on that?

That alone would go a long way to fixing some of the issues, I think. Getting rid of the helpless women cliche would certainly be a good start. I think that the next step would be to include women as characters that have some strength and agency. This is tougher, because pretty much everyone in the Marioverse is completely inept except for Mario, and even that's questionable. But, it'd be nice to see that there were women doing something active to help the situation. Instead of the princess just mailing letters, it'd be nice to see her doing something. Even if it was just in cut-scenes, it'd be nice.

One of the best ways that Nintendo could give some agency to the princess would be by making her playable again. I don't even think it'd be necessary to go back to Mario 2 style play (although I think that'd be awesome), but I think it'd be swank as hell to beat the game and discover that Peach had become a playable character. Or, perhaps spread some secret bonus levels through the game where you play as various Mario characters like Peach, Toad, Luigi, and even Yoshi.

Since they love to spread bonus worlds throughout the games now, anyway, why not do bonus worlds where you're tasked with playing levels from the perspective of other characters, and build the levels with those characters in mind? It'd be a neat way to get some of the other characters some screentime, and diversify the gameplay a bit. Imagine that you're playing and you come to a bonus level where you have to play as Peach. Peach has her hover ability, and the gameplay is designed around that. You get to the end of the level, and it's a Switch Palace, Princess flips the switch and, like in Mario World, it turns the yellow outlines into yellow blocks, thus making it so that the Princess is playing an active role in helping Mario defeat Bowser.

There's no reason, at this point, why princess Peach has to stay a 2 dimensional cardboard cutout of a character. Or why the Mario world couldn't include some new women. I'd love to see more villains like Kamella, and the supporting cast could use some women who aren't in peril. And I firmly believe that it could absolutely be done in a way that wouldn't require substantial changes to the gameplay we've come to love from the Mario franchise.

Would adding some sections where you play as other characters or bonus levels where you can choose characters ruin the game? Would having Mario set out to save someone other than Peach or even set out to do something that wasn't "rescue a princess" ruin the game? Would having more prominant female characters that aren't helpless victims destroy the franchise? Obviously, I don't think so. Nobody plays Mario for the deep stories or nuanced plots- I play because I like running around ridiculously impossible dreamscapes full of talking mushroom people and wacky, ridiculous costumes. There's no reason that I couldn't do that just as well without the Princess Being Kidnapped Again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This made me cry...

I'm on my way to work this morning, listening to the radio, when the news comes on.
A man in Lancaster, CA stabbed his girlfriend to death with a sword, in front of their four children after an argument. The 911 tape of their daughter pleading with the opperator to get help was played, and it was the most horrible, gut-wrenchingly sad thing I've heard in ages.

Now, it's been about an hour and I'm sitting here thinking about it, and the thing that's pissing me off right now is that I know that the thing that's going to get paraded out as soon as this starts gaining traction is that there was a history of domestic violence, and some people are going to start saying things like "Well, she should have left."

And while the question of why a particular person stays when they're a victim of domestic violence is an important one, it's not actually helpful in this case at this point. We'll never know why stayed, because he murdered her. And the fact that she stayed should not, in any way, excuse, validate, or implicate her in her murder. The question "Why?" is important in that it can allow the people who care to provide assistence and help the victim escape the cycle of violence. In retrospect, the why is less helpful, and if it's used as a weapon to implicate or denigrate the victim, it's in particularly poor taste.

I hope they catch this guy very very soon, and I hope that those poor kids get the care that they'll need. I can only imagine how completely screwed up you'd be after watching your father stab your mother to death with a sword.

..edited 9:06 am...

Apparently, there's already a discussion happening over at Feministe about the question "why don't victims leave?" It's not about this case in particular, but more about the general questions around domestic violence. I'm reading through it right now, and some of the comments are very good- the point about how the question "why" is too big and cumbersome, while questions like "what is preventing the victim from leaving" tend to get more concrete answers (some of which Thomas mentioned in the comments here already). I hadn't thought of that before, but that makes some sense. Anyway, just thought I'd point to it, since it was a weird coincidence, and since some of the points are very good.

Monday, July 07, 2008

I'm still alive...

I promise.
Still getting set up in Bean Town and trying to get all my ducks in a row so that I can start classes in the fall. Also, no internet at home yet. Annoying.

Anyway, nothing screams "triumphant return" like a meme.
The rules: Things I've done are highlighted in bold, and I've added one to the end.

01. Bought everyone in the pub a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain A small mountain. And I didn't make it all the way to the top. But I was climbing on it.
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone.
08. Said “I love you” and meant it.

09. Hugged a tree.
10. Done a striptease
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Stayed up all night long and watched the sun rise
15. Seen the Northern Lights
16. Gone to a huge sports game.

17. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
18. Grown and eaten your own vegetables.
19. Touched an iceberg
20. Slept under the stars
21. Changed a baby’s diaper

22. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
23. Watched a meteor shower
24. Gotten drunk on champagne
25. Given more than you can afford to charity
26. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
27. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
28. Had a food fight

29. Bet on a winning horse
30. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
31. Asked out a stranger
32. Had a snowball fight

33. Photocopied your bottom on the office photocopier
34. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
35. Held a lamb
36. Enacted a favorite fantasy
37. Taken a midnight skinny dip
38. Taken an ice cold bath
39. Had a meaningful conversation with a beggar
40. Seen a total eclipse
41. Ridden a roller coaster

42. Hit a home run
43. Fit three weeks miraculously into three days
44. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
45. Adopted an accent for an entire day
46. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
47. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
48. Had two hard drives for your computer
(Two? I've got three hard drives, an external hard drive, a thumb drive, and two disc drives right now.)
49. Visited all 50 states
50. Loved your job for all accounts
51. Taken care of someone who was shit faced

52. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
53. Had amazing friends (I like to think that I still do.)
54. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
55. Watched wild whales
56. Stolen a sign
57. Backpacked in Europe
58. Taken a road-trip
59. Rock climbing

60. Lied to foreign government’s official in that country to avoid notice
61. Midnight walk on the beach
62. Sky diving
63. Visited Ireland
64. Been heartbroken longer then you were actually in love
65. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
66. Visited Japan
67. Bench pressed your own weight
68. Milked a cow
69. Alphabetized your records (and my books, and my movies, and my video games, and...)
70. Pretended to be a superhero
71. Sung karaoke
72. Lounged around in bed all day

73. Posed nude in front of strangers
74. Scuba diving
75. Got it on to “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
76. Kissed in the rain
77. Played in the mud
78. Played in the rain
79. Gone to a drive-in theatre
80. Done something you should regret, but don’t regret it

81. Visited the Great Wall of China
82. Discovered that someone who’s not supposed to have known about your blog has discovered your blog
83. Dropped Windows in favour of something better
84. Started a business
85. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
86. Toured ancient sites
87. Taken a martial arts class
88. Sword fought for the honour of a woman
89. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
90. Gotten married
91. Been in a movie
92. Crashed a party
93. Loved someone you shouldn’t have
94. Kissed someone so passionately it made them dizzy

95. Gotten divorced
96. Had sex at the office
97. Gone without food for 5 days
98. Made cookies from scratch
99. Won first prize in a costume contest
100. Ridden a gondola in Venice
101. Gotten a tattoo
102. Found that the texture of some materials can turn you on
103. Rafted the Snake River
104. Been on television news programs as an “expert”
105. Got flowers for no reason
106. Masturbated in a public place
107. Got so drunk you don’t remember anything
108. Been addicted to some form of illegal drug
109. Performed on stage
110. Been to Las Vegas
111. Recorded music (In high school for a friend's album. It was horrible, but it happened).
112. Eaten shark (and gator, and snake, and boar, and buffalo, and bear, and grasshopper, and eel)
113. Had a one-night stand
114. Gone to Thailand
115. Seen Siouxsie live
116. Bought a house
117. Been in a combat zone
118. Buried one/both of your parents
119. Shaved or waxed your pubic hair off
120. Been on a cruise ship
121. Spoken more than one language fluently
122. Gotten into a fight while attempting to defend someone
123. Bounced a check
124. Performed in Rocky Horror
125. Read - and understood - your credit report
126. Raised children
127. Recently bought and played with a favourite childhood toy
128. Followed your favourite band/singer on tour
129. Created and named your own constellation of stars
130. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
131. Found out something significant that your ancestors did (helped explore and settle Canada, thank you very muchly)
132. Called or written your Member of Congress
132. Had them write back (Nope, but I did receive a letter from the head of the tourism board of Alaska once).
133. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
134. … more than once?
135. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
136. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
137. Had an abortion or your female partner did
138. Had plastic surgery
139. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
140. Written articles for a large publication
141. Lost over 100 pounds
142. Held someone while they were having a flashback
143. Piloted an airplane
144. Petted a stingray (I petted a tiger shark once, which is waaaay cooler than petting a stingray, if you ask me)
145. Broken someone’s heart
146. Helped an animal give birth
147. Been fired or laid off from a job
148. Won money on a TV game show
149. Broken a bone
150. Killed a human being
151. Gone on an African photo safari
152. Ridden a motorcycle (Ridden? Yes. Driven? No.)
153. Driven any land vehicle at a speed of greater than 100mph
154. Had a body part of yours below the neck pierced
155. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol (All three)
156. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
157. Ridden a horse
158. Had major surgery
159. Had sex on a moving train
160. Had a snake as a pet
161. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
162. Slept through an entire flight: takeoff, flight, and landing
163. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
164. Visited more foreign countries than US states
165. Visited all 7 continents
166. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
167. Eaten kangaroo meat
168. Fallen in love at an ancient Mayan burial ground
169. Been a sperm or egg donor
170. Eaten sushi
171. Had your picture in the newspaper
172. Had 2 (or more) healthy romantic relationships for over a year in your lifetime

173. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
174. Gotten someone fired for their actions
175. Gone back to school

176. Parasailed
177. Changed your name
178. Petted a cockroach (I've squashed more than a few, but who pets them? Why would you want to?)
179. Eaten fried green tomatoes
180. Read The Iliad
181. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
182. Dined in a restaurant and stolen silverware, plates, cups because your apartment needed them
183. … and gotten 86′ed from the restaurant because you did it so many times, they figured out it was you
184. Taught yourself art from scratch
185. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
186. Apologized to someone years after inflicting the hurt
187. Skipped all your school reunions (all one of them so far)
188. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
189. Been elected to public office
190. Written your own computer language
191. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
192. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
193. Built your own PC from parts
194. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
195. Had a booth at a street fair
196. Dyed your hair
197. Been a DJ
198. Found out someone was going to dump you via LiveJournal
199. Written your own role playing game
200. Been arrested
201. Written/filmed/produced your own pornographic material
202. Dated someone with a page on IMDB.