A good menu can set the tone for the rest of the game to come. I’ve
written five times before, and thankfully I have reason to write about them again. Hopefully (and doubtfully), this won’t be the last time.
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Deep into E3 and my ears are still buzzing with the sound of explosions. There’s an itch in my throat that is the telltale sign of a convention pox, and earlier in the day, I overheard an exhibitor say loudly, “I hate E3.” Understandably, at a consumer event that feels like the oppressive churning of an impossibly hungry machine, the games industry can feel like a strange mix of unbridled excitement (I’m looking at you The Last Guardian) and deep cynicism. It’s with this mixed message in mind that I want to make a concerted effort to celebrate some of the non-gaming moments that I find hopeful from the show.
Almost more shocking than the reveal of Shenmue 3 was the appearance of a surprisingly diverse group of protagonists featured in some of the most exciting games of this coming year. It seems some developers are finally learning that female protagonists do not doom a game from selling big.
The heroine of Recorp.
Of course Faith returns in the much anticipated Mirror’s Edge 2, as does Lara Croft in Rise of the Tomb Raider. They are joined by the heroines of Recorp and Horizon Zero, both brand new franchises (robot infused franchises at that). Meanwhile, Gigantic, a MOBA-like third-person action game, features a strong woman of color that looks entirely badass, as well as an old woman and a young girl. None of these games hypersexualize these characters, yet all explore entirely different aesthetics. These are not hastily created token characters made to check a box. Rather, they seem built from the ground up out of a genuine enthusiasm to include diverse and interesting protagonists in games.
While love, sex, and romance are topics considered in most mediums, games have not always had the greatest success in doing so.
That isn’t to say that the pursuit of the object of one’s attention is not a central concern of gaming. After all, from gaming’s earliest days, from Donkey Kong to Super Mario Bros., the idea of love as a central motivator for the protagonist of a game has been a mainstay. That being said, Mario’s quest to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong or Mario’s search for Princes Peach are merely narrative devices in those old Nintendo titles. They suggest a reason to ascend a tower of girders to face off against a giant ape or to vault chasms in quest of a princess, but the game mechanics that these goals promote are ones related to action, not romance. They are narrative justifications for gameplay activities. The activities do not reflect these goals themselves.
League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world. It also has the reputation of having one of the ugliest and most toxic communities in online gaming.
League is an unforgiving game. Playing as a team often with strangers to take objectives,while fending off and executing the opposing team, can be highly stressful and often brings out the worst in others. Since the power of a team is most often measured in the amount of gold that they have acquired, and much of a team’s gold income is based on gold acquired for getting kills, teams can be less than kind to their weakest links. The community is unforgiving to “feeders,” those who die often in game and are seen then as feeding the other team gold leading to the opposing team’s victory. Verbal harrassment and other toxic behaviors are the rule of the day in League.
It’s hard to talk about “controls” in games. At its most reductive, the word is meant to be a description of movement and the ease with which you can “control” your character. But describing “controls” is about more than describing movement. It’s actually a word that describes a myriad of interacting systems and aesthetics. Controls are affected by art style, animation, sound effects, enemy AI, level design—things that change our physical movement and our perception of that physical movement.
It’s such a vast concept that it’s no wonder that we’ve settled into certain standards. It’s easy to say a game has bad or good controls when you’re just comparing those controls to a predefined standard. I’ve played a lot of games that the act of playing them has become second nature, and many of them have become so standardized in their style of play that I can’t actually remember the last time that I had to learn how to control a game. I don’t just mean learning what button does what or learning the timing of new attack animations, but learning an entirely new scheme of movement.