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Tuesday, Apr 5, 2011
Arrival demonstrates an almost appalling similarity to American media, not just in the way that we create our own enemies, but in how we manage to disregard the ensuing violence as the Other's doing, surely not our own.

Note: This article contains spoilers for the Arrival DLC.


Ah, the batarians.


No species save humanity seems exempt from being a “racial spokesman” in the Mass Effect franchise, a problem when each species tends to get painted with a broad brush and rarely permitted to overcome that characterization. The asari are defined by their sexuality. The krogan are savages. The quarians are gypsies. The volus are Jews. But onto the batarians Mass Effect‘s writers have granted the special distinction of space Arabs, whose narrative role seems to consist almost entirely on their depiction as religious and/or political extremists who hate humanity and the American-dominated Alliance Navy in particular with bombastic fervor.


This has been evident in the games since their introduction in the Bring Down the Sky DLC, in which their codex entry first appears alongside a mission that has Shepard recapture a hijacked


plane asteroid from terrorists attempting to ram it into the World Trade Center

a human-colonized planet. In doing so, we’re repeatedly waylaid by the caveat, “not all batarians are like this.” But all the ones we see are.


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Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011
This whole outcry stands as a testament to why gamers need to get over notions of "fairness" -- especially when "fairness" isn't really fair.

So, in case you haven’t heard, they’re all bisexual.


You may also have heard that the romantic subplots of Dragon Age II are somehow dominating the discourse surrounding the game, presumably directly after whether it’s any good or not. (To which the answer is no—and yes. See my review for more.) This, too, might have been predicted considering the extent to which BioWare RPGs often get discussed with respect to their romances, but in this debate surrounding this release, we find a curious intersection between issues of systems and mechanics and issues of writing. To whit, is Dragon Age II “punishing” the player for rebuffing a romance he doesn’t want, and do we as players need to get over our search for happy, equitable solutions?


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Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011
If there's one thing I never expected a game to do, it would be to teach self respect.

I’m admittedly cynical about the phrase “owns her sexuality.”  Not the concept, but rather the application of it, which I seem to find ascribed to any female character who fits the “girl who kicks ass” cliche irrespective of how she is otherwise objectified and depowered. I have listened to the arguments for why Bayonetta, for instance, is empowering and pro-feminine. Some, such as that by my blogmate G. Christopher Williams, are quite well-argued— but I still don’t agree. My view of the situation is perhaps best articulated by the likes of William Huber, who contended: “I had found it difficult to explain the inadequacy - even the wrong-headedness - of this approach, my perception that these depictions still ultimately served male vanities and played on female anxieties, and that the male game player—his needs, desires, and qualms—still was being overwhelmingly served in games that were supposedly being targeted to both men and women” (“The perpetuation of a misguided notion”, zang.org, 12 January 2010).


As a game designed by men and targeted to men (as most games are), Bayonetta does not particularly convince me that it is either profeminine or empowering in its cartoonish portrayal of the female figure. I’m open to differing opinions on this matter, but I’m not certain that the weaponized sexuality of Bayonetta or Atlus’s upcoming Catherine are the same as women “owning” their sexuality at all, not when they seem to simply play on male anxieties of emasculation and continue to serve moderately conservative, heteronormative social views.


Dragon Age II doesn’t break down doors or revolutionize women characters, of course, but it still has some positive characteristics that I like. I’ve spoken previously about my adoration for another Dragon Age II character, Aveline Vallen and my appreciation for the Dragon Age universe’s gynocentric dominant religion, Andrastianism, which features a woman Christ figure. I’m not saying that Dragon Age is a safe haven of liberalism and positive representation of diversity in an industry sorely lacking it, but . . . Well, okay, so I am, but that isn’t to say that Dragon Age is absolutely free of problematic representation. Indeed, it certainly has issues aplenty. But if there’s one thing I never expected a game to do, it would be to teach me self-respect.


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Tuesday, Mar 15, 2011
Something tells me that despite its flaws, Dragon Age II is going to have real staying power over time, especially among the critical and theoretical blogosphere where already some important dialogue is taking shape.

As I wrap up my second playthrough of Dragon Age II in preparation of a full review, I thought it might prove salient to note some of the things I was especially (and thankfully) mistaken about when discussing the game in our recent Dragon Age podcast. Dragon Age II proves that it is capable of surprises at every turn, and while it’s far from a perfect experience, it knocks some balls so far out of the park that it would be a shame not to highlight them.


I’ll be keeping spoilers to a minimum in this, but as usual, please read with discretion if you’re still in the midst of your first run or intending to buy it. For the rest, including those who might still be on the fence about the game’s merits, read on.


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Tuesday, Mar 8, 2011
Dante's Inferno would appear to have set a bad precedent.

I would love to know what’s going on over at Namco. It’s bad enough that they’ve released three titles with astonishingly similar gameplay in the last few months—Enslaved, Majin, and now Knights Contract—but the shameless way in which two of those three pay homage to classic literature has me questioning the taste level of its developers.


Both Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and Knights Contract make deliberate allusions to classic fiction, the Chinese novel Journey to the West and German poet Goethe’s epic Faust respectively. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, while not appearing to be based on any specific story, also alludes to the mythic traditions of several South American cultures. The way that these story elements get worked into the game differs from title to title but there is a remarkable continuity among the three in which an AI-managed tagalong character is in essence the center of the game’s narrative thrust, while the player character is merely his or her protector or harbinger. This serves the function of deemphasizing the player-character as a source of agency while emphasizing their role as enactor, much like the situation that Janet Murray presaged with her Tinkerbell scenario in Hamlet on the Holodeck (“Immersion”, pp.100-125. MIT Press, 1997).


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