There are about a dozen named characters in Need for Speed: The Run, but aside from some incidental cops and gangsters, only two characters are actually voiced: Jack and Sam, the protagonist and his sidekick. Despite the marketing for the game, it’s clear that The Run doesn’t really care about the story of The Run, yet it still manages to hit one right chord. The characters that don’t have a voice still have a name and a back story, and those simple bits of story make it more fun to race against them than against the other nameless drivers.
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Being a woman in a video game would not be easy. There’s not a single decent, complete set of armor in the world that fits properly. Your mammary glands swell until you’re so top heavy that your skeleton may well warp. There’s plenty that’s already been said about how women are outwardly portrayed in games—as pornographic caricatures of an adolescent boy’s masturbatory fantasy—but what about female characters’ behaviors and mentalities? Women in games are useless as NPCs and passive, powerless agents when they’re controlled.
It’s nothing new to notice the sexualization of women in media, especially games. Neither the men or women of games are meant to look like people, they’re molded to fulfill a function—for men their function is violence, for women sex. The difference is that men are given justification. They are given motivations. They think and are driven by purpose. Women have no power outside of their ability to be consumed by men. They have some influence on when and which man they will be consumed by but otherwise they lack agency.
The easy fix seems to be to make more competent female characters. Characters that can be strong without defying their identity as women. They need not be warriors or even wholly suited to their circumstance nor do they have to defy every feminine stereotype (indeed, building a character opposite to a set of stereotypes is still acknowledging and yielding to them). What seems to elude developers so frequently is a female character that is able to make her own decisions and manage the consequences. She doesn’t have to have full control. She doesn’t even have to be the lead. She just has to have her own identity that doesn’t depend on a man.
While strolling along the vast expanse of wilderness between Skyrim’s major settlements, I chanced upon two mages dueling each other to the death. One was a fire mage, the other a frost mage. After killing them both (they were hostile, I promise), I took a moment to marvel at the consistency of it all. Here, in the middle of nowhere, I encountered something that I might have easily missed: a continuation, perhaps, of an eternal feud between fire and ice. While this duel might otherwise appear as a scripted event for my benefit, the fire/ice battle in a frozen landscape instead enriches the world of Skyrim. While the picturesque landscape and Nordic atmosphere constructs the environment, logic lays the foundation for an enveloping, albeit precarious, form of world building.
Penn and Teller: Smoke and Mirrors is an unreleased mini-game compilation for the Sega CD. Around the time of its planned release, the company that was publishing it collapsed. As a result, the license was lost and so a finished game fell by the wayside to seemingly become an odd footnote in the history of a failed console and a flailing console maker.
Among other things in the collection is quite possibly one of the worst games ever made: Desert Bus. In it, you are the driver of the titular desert bus, who must make the journey from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time. At 45 mph, the in-game bus’s top speed, that trip takes eight hours—in real time. Once you do this, you earn one point and the option of driving back for another point. You can’t just tape down the gas button and press forward because the bus will list to the right, and you have to correct for it constantly. If you go off the road, the bus will break down, and you will have to be towed back to Tucson, again, in real time. The game cannot be paused. What kind of madmen would make this game and what type of madmen would dare play it?
Be it writing online user guides for software programs or writing news articles, I’ve come to accept that the majority of what I write is disposable. An article for the newspaper will soon become the liner for someone’s bird cage. Another article will be quickly skimmed over and then forgotten as yet another article gets someone’s attention. It’s all part of the profession.
I could have worse jobs. As for others in the writing profession, I can’t think of a less enviable task than the writers for the 300-plus books that are scattered throughout the vast land known as Skyrim, the latest in the Elder Scrolls series. Last month, Bethesda’s massive, immersive role-playing game racked up more than $400 million in first week sales.