Monday, February 28, 2011

Busy Critic

Housekeeping info:

1.) Your Critic and her spouse, as many gamers do, have acquired a cat.  He is, naturally, the best cat in the whole wide world; doubly so as he is named Guybrush.

 Guybrush Ulysses Threepwood Cox, Mighty Pirate Cat.

2.) The PAX East 2011 schedule is out and ready.  I've been putting together my schedule, and if all goes well (i.e. if the lines aren't too long), I'll be at the following (as well as probably some others):
  • Friday, 10:30: Jane McGonigal Keynote
  • Friday, 3:30: What The Heck Is A Community Manager?
  • Friday, 6:30: Game Design is Mind Control
  • Saturday, 3:00: Females on Female Characters
  • Saturday, 6:30: The "Other" Us: If We're All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter?
  • Sunday, 10:00: Girls' Meetup
  • Sunday, 12:00: One of Us
I was pleased to find that in fact there is not a panel on gender issues in gaming; there are three!  As this is Your Critic's beat, I am most pleased and hope to come home with interesting insights.  Also with the live-blogging, and you can follow my Twitter feed.  Which, I am forced to admit, may be more along the lines of "I am by the Nintendo booth where are the rest of you?" than anything entertaining.

3.) Our year-long "Beyond the Girl Gamer" series is starting this week.  In that vein, there is a new site out there which has gotten a lot of attention in the last two days: The Mary Sue.  I'm not sure how I feel about it really, and I suppose it's too early for judgement.  I do think their "why this, why now" statement has a few ideas worth hearing, though:
We know the point at which you would be satisfied is to just be able to geek out with all geeks, of any gender, without feeling like your femininity is front and center for scrutiny.  To not feel like you have to work harder than guys to prove that you’re genuinely into geek culture. We want simple things, like to be able to visit a comic book store without feeling out of place.  To be able to buy a video game without getting the sense that the cashier thinks we’re buying it for someone else.
But mainly we just want to be able to pursue our hobbies with the other people who share them.  We want to play with the boys.
So there are two reasons why there should be more out there devoted specifically to the female geek.
Because even if we want to play with the boys, there is a value to having our own space.
 So there's that.  We'll see.  They seem to have good intentions at least.

4.) We haven't had an Open Thread in a while.  The last one was fun.  So: get to it, if you like!

P.S. The meditation on genre and adventure games is still coming.  It's long, convoluted, and problematic, and Your Critic has been required to do actual paid work at her day job lately.  When it's not 2100 words of ugly, it's coming here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Femininity vs. Nerd-dom

This is a quick run-by link dump, to remind you I'm still alive.  The Day Job is demanding a lot of my time and focus right now, and PAX East planning is taking up some of my other time.  I promise, I haven't stopped writing or thinking!

The juxtaposition of these two posts fascinated me.

First, Lesley Kinzel on female stereotyping in geek / gamer culture.

Second: Jezebel, on MTV "getting it wrong" with a female nerd.

The pair came to me within about 24 hours of each other, and really struck me: once again, it's a no-win situation.  But the money quote from Lesley sums up what I hope to take with me, and take away from, PAX:
Dudes, be human. Ladies and other female-IDing types, be awesome, no matter what you’re into or what you look like. Can’t we all just kill each other and not be assholes about it?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Admin Note II

Comments made prior to this past Sunday (the URL conversion) still exist in the system, but are failing to show up on the blog.  I'm working on it, I promise.

Edit: Aaaaaand we're back.  The fault wasn't with the comment system; it was with Your Critic, who was too foolish to figure out that the "migrate threads" button would migrate the threads.  Carry on!


Your Critic and her spouse are at an impasse.  For the first time since early 2007, we have no idea what our next "us" game should be.

We've played through a huge historical archive together, as he caught up on all the PC games he missed in his Mac-based youth, and as I found myself, for the first time, living in the same household as a PlayStation.  But last night, after completing the BBC Doctor Who adventure series from 2010, we sat on the couch and said... "Now what?"

Well, the truth is, I do know what I want.  But I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist.  I want an adventure game for grown-ups, for 2011.  I want a non-combat, thoroughly realized, full-world game, and not a cartoon.  I do love me some cartoon games (the entire Ace Attorney series, everything Telltale's put out in the last 3 years) but I want to be in a world that's fully explorable, with an open map, WASD-friendly... thinking and solving.

I suspect The Longest Journey is what gave me this bug, really.  It's a brilliant and wonderfully-realized world, just hampered by its decade-old technology.  I wish it could give me more.  I hated how the Doctor Who games pandered to brainlessness (family-friendly: good, could be solved by a 3-year-old without help: bad) and although I'm really loving how Telltale is handling Back to the Future, as a 30-year-old gamer I'm getting tired of feeling like I'm playing through puzzles and stories that I could have handled in 3rd grade.  (If full-color monitors and 3D graphics had, y'know, been a thing when I was in 3rd grade.)

I'm a particular fan of non-linear games with worlds to explore and smart writing.  Fallout New Vegas (and 3), Divinity I and II -- those are games where you're rewarded for opening every barrel and looking under every rock.  Not with things that necessarily advance your character or help with the storyline, but with things that are fun and that you feel clever for having discovered.

The problem is: adventure game worlds are almost always linear.  Even when they're not strictly linear, there's still a modular linearity -- as in the Myst titles.  You might have many Ages to explore and solve in the order you see fit, but that's still just rearranging the middle of the flowchart in a way that doesn't much seem to matter. Whereas when I'm running around Broken Valley in Divinity II, I can do pretty much everything there however I like, while working on the story or not, until such time as that area is forced to become unavailable to me.  The same applies to the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3, or the Mojave Wasteland in Fallout: New Vegas.

I've been unsatisfied with many of the latest Telltale offerings and with the BBC Doctor Who game, feeling that these games aren't relying on my intelligence or abilities.  I don't feel a genuine sense of suspense -- I'm not asking for timed events, but I long for a concept of urgency, for a real threat, for an unknown survival element.  I'm asking for puzzles with multiple avenues of solution.  I'm asking for the illusion of agency, rather than to feel like I'd be better off watching a TV show because at least then I wouldn't know what happened next before I got there.

I feel that the innate drama of the courtroom (even a wacky, WTF courtroom) in Phoenix Wright helps create necessary narrative tension.  The Longest Journey had necessary narrative tension due to sharp writing, and you learned to trust that early on.  Dreamfall is an entirely problematic game (omgwtf Kian, he had epic character development and apparently some Big Revelations... all off camera?  Show, don't tell!) but even it created a great deal of narrative tension -- although it also relied on the sort of artificial puzzle placement and combat moments that games we don't think of as adventure games use.

This post was going to be 2500 words long, so I'll break it up.  Coming next: a meditation on genre.  But in the meantime... why doesn't this game I need to play exist?  And can someone make it for me?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

PAX East vs Dickwolves

There's been a lot of uproar in the past few months about Penny Arcade, the Dickwolves fiasco, and the upcoming PAX East

I'm not going to go into the entire history of it all.  If you've managed to remain ignorant, thank your lucky stars.  For those who caught part of it, or who want to know what the hell happened, here is a good timeline linking to nearly all of the relevant players.

Here is my personal stance on the issue:
  • The original comic that is at the origin of the whole fiasco is not the most offensive P-A's ever put out.  It's also not the most clever work they've also put out.  Not the hill to die on, for any side or party.
  • Everything the P-A team, but most particularly Mike (Gabe), has done since the original criticism of the comic, is a huge problem.  That's where the fiasco came from.
My personal take-away is very in line with what Lesley Kinzel wrote here.  

All that said: this is a thing that happened, and it sucks, and was a mess.  But what do we do going forward?  I agree, and argue, that boycotting is not the answer.  If women aren't visible, then we continue not to matter. 

This is why we need "Women in Gaming" panels at events like PAX East.  I don't know if there's going to be one this year, but I hope there will be and I hope it will be better than last year's.  I know of two rejected proposals on the topic, one of which was ours. 

So in short: I am going to PAX EAST 2011, and here is why:
  • I am going to listen to what is said, and what is not said, and to who is and isn't saying it.
  • I am going to be looking to see if anyone questions Jerry on his silence, and Mike on his total failure to adhere to Wheaton's Law.
  • I'm going to be seeing if anyone's talking about this and, if so, what they're saying.
  • I'm going to the girls' brunch meet-up on Sunday, and meeting loads of lovely ladies.
  • I am going to be meeting fellow gamers of all kinds, and by my presence, reminding them I exist.
  • I am going to be meeting industry folks of all kinds, and by my presence, reminding them I exist.
  • I am going to be having fun, deeply immersed in the world of games and gamers, where I feel most at home.

 Also, thanks to my shiny new phone and a well-timed release of the official Blogger App, I will be blogging and Tweeting (@KCoxDC) from the event (March 11 - 13).

What I will not be doing, as mentioned above, is participating in a panel.  It's okay; I never really expected we'd be approved.  But what I will be doing is spending the next year -- from PAX East 2011 to PAX East 2012 -- blogging the Panel That Never Was.  We wrote up a good, robust outline and these are great topics for discussion.  So from March to March, you can use the "BTTG Series" tag over there in the right sidebar to catch up on "Beyond the Girl Gamer."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Admin Note

I'm currently working to redirect this site through a custom URL that I bought through a cheap registrar, rather than a hand-holding one.  I seem to have gone mildly stupid with web stuff in the last 3-4 years, so if this site goes offline or disappears for some stretches during the next few days, just know it's temporary.  We'll be back online whenever Your Critic can make Google's instructions match the registrar's.

Edit: And we're live!  Woo-hoo!  This  blog can now also be found at

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Imp of the Perverse

Last weekend, Your Critic and her spouse had an adventure.  We went to IKEA, south of DC, and were heading back up I-95 to take our (heavy) furniture home.  As it was a weekend, we were able to use the gated HOV lanes.

"Sometimes," I mused from the passenger seat, "I wish I could just be in, like, a big 4x4 truck, and ram through those wrong-way barricades.  I don't want to go the wrong way up the other side... I just want to splinter barricades."

"They should put that in the next GTA," my husband replied.  Then, after a pause:  "This is why we have movies and video games."

We -- all of us -- get in life impulses that we know are wrong, that we know are foolish, and that we would never, ever actually do.  But some little misfire in our brains says, "I kind of want to..." or, "I bet it would be fun if..." and we idly muse for a brief moment on our Oh Hell No moment.  A regular for me is wondering, when we drive under the Key Bridge,"I wonder if I could climb up that small mystery ladder and rope..."

We don't, in daily life, generally give in and do the wrong thing.  Nor do we (once we get past our adolescent years, at least) generally do the insane things that pop into our heads for a moment.  We have good reasons: most of these ideas are dangerous or harmful.  We've learned to filter out Bad Ideas.

But Your Critic's spouse had a good point: more than once I've saved my game very carefully and then done something incredibly stupid just to see what happens.  In EQ2, I've leapt from the islands in the Stonebrunt Highlands just to see if I could land on the lower ones. (Yes, with the right cloak on.)  In Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas and Divinity II and every other open-world game I've played in the last few years, I've often saved my game before turning in a quest or opening a door or climbing a tall thing, because I know it's a bad idea.  I know it will result in my character's demise, or in a negative consequence, or in something I don't want to happen.  It's not what I want to do.  It's not what I'm really doing.

What I'm saying here is, just... don't leave me in a room with a big red button.  Like, ever.  Unless you're really interested in an accidentally-triggered armageddon...