What Makes A Friendly PVP Environment?

SO ANGRY.

SO ANGRY.

A common issue that has plagued MMOGs and online tournament-style games since the birth of Starcraft lies in the gamers themselves. More often than not, we tend to take our games a little too seriously and get caught up in the moment, forgetting that there are actual people behind the characters you see on your screen. It’s understandable to an extent; you’re in a competitive environment, facing against people you’ve never seen and will very likely never meet in your entire life. So what’s stopping you, then, from telling them off when they mess up or, heaven forbid, kill your beloved set of pixels?

One would hope common human decency, but I think we’re all guilty of a little online aggression now and then (particularly those of us who played the original Diablo – permadeath, anyone?). The big question is why this happens. Is it solely the gift of anonyminity, or is there another force driving gamers to act unpleasantly towards one another?

I would argue that the situation is trifold. Yes, you have the anonymous factor; when there are no perceived consequences, it’s in human nature to do whatever the hell we want without regard towards other people. That’s what laws and social pressures are for in the “real world.” However, if that were a uniform case, every single forum on the Internet would be filled with belligerent users.

So what makes video games special? Why is it so uncommon to go through an online session without getting called “fag,” “retard,” or “slut”?

Two things, in my opinion: 1. the game’s offered means of communication, and 2., the community that the game’s genre attracts. Most of us are familiar with the hostile individuals that FPS games attract – in particular, those that are on the XBOX 360 appear to be even more aggressive than others. My theory for this is that there really is a lack of in-game communication; most of how you’re interacting with other players is reliant entirely upon headsets and, well, your gun. When there’s a lack of friendly actions presented in a video game, there is a lack of comradery. You can’t hit a button and give your fellow players a thumbs up, or say you’re sorry. Tension builds, and eventually, players become overly aggressive, to the point where they’re screaming obscenities at each other.

Compare this to, say, Resident Evil 6. I’ve been watching my boyfriend play online co-op in this game for the past couple weeks, and I’ve noticed something surprising: people are really utilizing the “good job” emote you can use in-game. This feature allows you to make your character give your teammates a thumbs up, a little reminder that you appreciate them helping you out. I believe this type of option has, in turn, resulted in a much nicer response from players who are also using headsets. I have yet to hear a single gamer yell something obscene at him. Mostly, all I’ve heard is, “hey” and remarks upon the campaign they are playing.

A pat on the back alone can’t be causing such a great difference, though, can it? Well, that’s where the community comes in. Let’s look at three examples here: the traditional FPS, the co-op RPG, and MMOGs.

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The Traditional FPS

As mentioned previously, this is the genre that attracts the most hostility between players. There have been many more in-depth studies on the subject, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to be as brief as possible here. It’s my belief that there a multitude of factors are pushing FPS players to be more aggressive: the fact that you’re playing the character in first-person being a major candidate. Players feel more attached to their character since it is a digital representation of themselves, rather than just a pre-established character in a game. Young males in particular are more likely to exhibit aggression and increased heart-rates after playing FPS games. Although FPS players tend to play less hours than gamers that favor RPGs (an average of 16 hours per week vs. 23-35), the time they spend in-game is much more heated and competitive. Placing young, red-blooded men in a competitive environment is naturally going to create more hostility – giving them the ability to communicate solely through headsets and pixellated guns leads to the logical conclusion that there’s going to be some pretty naughty words yelled into the microphones.

The Co-Op RPG

Unfortunately, due to its less volatile nature, there aren’t too many articles for me to cite in reference to co-op RPGs; most of what I’m saying here is going to be from extensive experience instead. I already talked a bit about Resident Evil 6, which has a quiet but relatively friendly player base. I’m going to mention a two other games here that I’ve been playing during the past few weeks (only two, again for the sake of  brevity): Borderlands 2 and, more recently, Chivalry.

Borderlands 2, from my experience, has a really excellent community. There are groups on Steam devoted to friendly players adding each other, along with the usual (groups based on nationality, sex, etc.). Every co-op experience I’ve had in this game has been pleasant – players are friendly and seem to enjoy each other’s company. Why? The game is based entirely around co-op. You’re fully capable of soloing it, but Gearbox Software focused strongly on developing a game where players were encouraged to help each other in co-op. The rewards are simple, but have a large impact: more players means more enemies, more loot, and in general, more fun. You can talk to each other both via text and headsets, which I believe decreases the anonymity factor. Hell, if you’re a Siren, you can even shoot your team-mates to heal them.

Chivalry is a new game that also, so far, appears to have a great community for much of the same reasons. It combines being able to communicate via text and headsets with positive in-game gestures, such as yelling incomprehensibly to rally your team. It is, in short, funny as hell to see a bunch of medieval dudes running around screaming like idiots; most of the players are laughing and, as a result, talking to each other in a much more pleasant manner than if the game had only, say, a taunt option. Humor does a lot to reduce hostility.

The MMOG

Finally, the MMOG. This is perhaps the most complicated example of a gaming community. Demographics for MMOGs are much more diverse than in FPSes, but as we all know, women can be pretty catty in games, themselves (which is getting into inter and intrasexual competition, a whole ‘nother topic that has entire academic endeavors devoted to it). If you login to League of Legends, you’re probably going to have a much different experience than if you’re playing  Guild Wars 2 (LoL being famous for its absurdly hostile playerbase, whereas GW2 is more levelheaded).

The reason for this is due to the wildly different natures of one MMOG to the next. All MMOGs follow a  basic formula, but they are sub-divided into so many different genres and markets that you end up with a really broad spectrum of players. Said players are presented with a myriad number of ways to communicate, without time restraint or other pressures. In short, you can talk about whatever the hell you want whenever the hell you want. A lot of strong friendships and even marriages are formed from MMOGs, although you can get the opposite, too. If you want a wild card – a control in an experiment about hostility – an MMOG would be a good choice.

A recent concept that’s been introduced into PVP in MMOGs is the random assignment of teams. For example, in a more traditional MMOG, you’ll select your side and stick to it. You play with the same people against the same people over and over. What does this mean? You can be an asshole, and people on your side will support you. However, more recent MMOGs have created a system where players either get to pick  between two sides and switch around, or are tossed with other teams at random. This eliminates the group-think situation introduced by the previous method, which means hey, if you’re a prick to that guy in round 1? He might be on your side in round 2. It behooves the player to be more mature when dealing with others.

The fact that MMOGs can appeal to any market based on their content makes them a great comparison for the other genres presented in this article. Go out and try it yourself – do a little PVP in SWTOR, then compare it to WoW, and see what you get.

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In conclusion, it all depends on the environment. Developers could make a huge change in gaming communities worldwide if they promoted more positive reinforcement techniques in games, rather than supporting hostile competition. Keep in mind that that’s not a plea for them to eliminate competition altogether – online games would be incredibly boring without it. What we need are more games that encourage players via in-game gestures and a mixed community to be more polite to the people they meet.

We all need a little reminder now and then that we’re playing with real people. Developers, this is your time – help us keep on track with positive features, and everyone will profit (both emotionally and uh, monetarily, hint hint) from it.

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Why I’m Not Offended By Sexy Halloween Costumes

Leg Avenue is a popular "sexy" Halloween costume designer in the US.

Leg Avenue is a popular “sexy” Halloween costume designer in the US.

Okay,  this is going a bit out of the usual range of topics for my blog, but bear with me, folks.

Please note that, if you are viewing Frag Girl at work today, this blog contains (linked) images that are not work-safe.

Googling "NSFW" yields interesting results!

Googling “NSFW” yields interesting results! Also, funny t-shirts.

This one goes out to the ladies. As a feminist and a woman who frequently criticizes oversexualization and objectification, I wanted to make it clear that there’s a difference between these complaints when they’re made in a legitimate format and when they’re just, well, egregious. For example, if I’m playing a video game and I see a woman in a chainmail bikini (in an environment that is otherwise serious), I’m going to roll my eyes and groan a little. In this case, the exposure is out of place and obviously meant for fanservice. It can occur in any genre, and, unsurprisingly, in real life – look at some of the women who dress up in about six inches of fabric for Comic Con, for example.

Pikachu, what are you doing!

Pikachu, what are you doing!

That said, sometimes you just have to have fun. To diverge from video games for a bit, I love the hell out of sexy Halloween costumes. Usually, they’re hilarious or adorable – just think of the little German barmaid costumes, for example. There is one day of the year where you as a woman (and hopefully of age – if you haven’t hit puberty yet, please dress as a princess instead) can dress up in something completely ridiculous and let loose, and that’s Halloween. Of course, if you saw someone in an outfit of this variety on any day of the week, it would be cause for frustration, but damn, don’t get your hackles up on a holiday that, in the adult portion of America, is celebrated with copious amounts of booze, candy, and bad taste.

After many long years spent in a coma, Link finally afforded the surgery he always desired.

After many long years spent in a coma, Link finally afforded the surgery he always desired.

In short, it’s fine to get upset when you see your gender exploited, but there are times when you can relax and just plain revel in audacity. It isn’t against the feminist code, so to speak, to dress up and have fun looking sexy for once. This is why you won’t see me complaining when I see a gal prancing down the street dressed as a “sexy” whatever on Halloween – as long as nothing illegal is showing.

As an unintentional bonus, sexy Halloween costumes also yield some hilarious results.  Go ahead and check out the Tumblr tag for Yandy, which showcases some of the best of the best.

Sexy Jane Goodall, I shit you not.

Sexy Jane Goodall, I shit you not.

PS -If you ever want a fun drinking game, play “Not A Costume” on Yandy.com (linked content is Not Safe For Work (NSFW)). The goal of the game is to go into any Halloween section of the site and see if you can find something that’s just plain lingerie mixed in, then take a shot. Have at it, persons of legal drinking age.

Thoughts On Sexuality and Diversification in the Gaming World

Although interesting, Barret was a mixed bag when it came to the representation of African Americans.

Although interesting, Barret was a mixed bag when it came to the representation of African Americans.

The past decade has seen quite a change in the gaming industry. Whereas the standard hero was once a strapping white male with similarly archetyped comrades, developers have been exploring race and sexuality as of late. Little by little, video games are becoming more reflective of the real world and its populace.

One particular company that comes to mind is Bioware, which, despite recent losses (the outrage in response to Mass Effect 3‘s ending, SWTOR‘s decline), has become a key entity in the industry when it comes to diversification. Taking a look specifically at the Mass Effect series, Bioware created characters that were bisexual (asari may be monogendered, but come on), lesbian, gay, African American, Japanese, and finally, one individual of Hispanic ancestry.

That’s a hell of a cast. Typically, such inserts often have the feel of a Burger King kid’s club, where minorities and alternate sexualities are included solely as tokens. In Mass Effect 3, that isn’t the case – the universe it takes place in is incredibly diverse both in race and species, making non-white, GLBT members a natural addition to the cast. It’s a great step in the right direction for making video games more accessible to more people of all races and sexualities.

Furthermore, Bioware is to be commended for their defense of the GLBT community. They have, in the past, outright decried players who complained about homosexual and bisexual options in the game. Go ahead and read the whole post by David Gaider – it’s worth a look.

Final Fantasy VII was an earlier game that included an African American cast member, and though we all love Barret for the right reasons (his story was much more complex and emotionally involved than the average Final Fantasy character), he had a lot to work on. Square Enix made the mistake of making Barret’s dialogue stereotypical. Aside from Cid Highwind, who still had better grammar, Barret was one of the only characters in the game that had a colloquial (some would call it Ebonics) dialogue. It made him stand out, and not in a good way. Even so, he was one of the most unique and recognizable African American character of the ’90s (in regards to games), which makes him an important figure in this discussion.

Contrastingly, take a new character over a decade later – Sergeant James Heller, from Prototype 2. James Heller is a man who has goals, a past, ambition, and personality. When I played Prototype 2, I had a blast listening to Heller’s quips about his surroundings. It was also a relief to see a minority as the protagonist of the game, rather than a side character. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a mainstream game yet that does the same for the GLBT community, with the exception of games in which you can create your own avatar (mostly, courtesy again to Bioware).

It’s inarguable that the diversification of video games is a great thing for the industry. Racism and homophobia have a way of subtly interfering with any form of media, whether it be in the deliberate placing of a character fitting the “type” or in the distinct absence of any such individuals. Addressing race and sexuality well by putting thought and time into these characters is an excellent advancement for video games as a whole, and makes them feel much more true to life.

Now, what kind of character would you like to see starring in the next generation of video games?