Criticism from Within

Spec Ops

Spec Ops: The Line

For the past few days, I’ve been watching as my boyfriend tore through Spec Ops. It’s a remarkable game: beautiful graphics, realistic characters who are truly affected by their choices, and a combat system that works very well with the player. However, while all of these factors are important, the most significant aspect of the game is its ability to force gamers to take another look at violence.

Most war games alienate the victims and enemies of the player. The targets you face are just that: inanimate objects, ones without realistic goals or emotions. In Spec Ops, this is not the case. The enemy you’re fighting isn’t comprised of random “bogies”, but is, in fact, a mixture of civilians, some foreign militia, and soldiers that used to be on your side. On top of this, they all have goals that are independent of “kill the player”, and the major characters in question all have proper reasoning for why they are doing what they’re doing.

Now, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to keep this rather close-lipped. Those of you who’ve played Spec Ops will know what I’m talking about exactly, though. Perhaps the most meaningful scene in the game is a criticism of a popular airborne sequence that occurs in every Modern Warfare title. You are treated to a view of dots from above, each of these vague shapes representative of a person. In most war games, you’re simply told to wipe out the dots and never have to see the consequences of your actions.

This is all your fault.

This is all your fault.

That’s not the case in Spec Ops.

In Spec Ops‘ version of this sequence, the player is forced to walk through the carnage. Not only that, but you also learn a heartbreaking lesson about shooting first – that bit I told you about how the “enemy” has realistic goals and isn’t comprised entirely of mindless villains? Yeah, that’ll punch you in the gut, here.

In the United States, at least, Spec Ops is the perfect starter for a discussion the industry has needed for a long time. We are often dismissive of conversations surrounding violence in gaming, but there comes a point where, regardless of your stance, that violence needs to be dissected and understood. Games don’t kill people, but they do sometimes train us to think of other people as inanimate objects; a little reminder that the “tangos” you shoot in games are representative of people just like you is key to resisting this.

Long story short? Play the hell out of Spec Ops. It’ll make you think. Just remember at the end: You Are Still A Good Person.

Advertisements

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.

—-

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.

—-

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.

Frag Girl’s Top 5 Female Video Game Characters (Spoiler Alert)

Since yon days of Peach and her constant state of distress, female characters in the realm of gaming have become much more complex – in a good way. Instead of women being portrayed primarily as vanity items, they have, over time, developed into full-fledged characters with as many intricacies as a real person. Sure, it’s fun every now and then to have something outrageous – look at Lollipop Chainsaw, for example – but the real challenge comes in creating a character that is dynamic and realistic, something that has posed itself as an obstacle to the gaming industry (primarily due to the comic book era; growing up with an abundance of male figures makes it more difficult to understand the other end of the spectrum).

So, with that in mind, which ones stand out the most? You could cover this topic a thousand times and come up with different characters. For me, the subject took quite a bit of thought; there are so many women to choose from now, which makes picking the “best” ones a difficult task.

With that in mind, let’s press onward to Frag Girl’s Top 5 Female Video Game Characters! Mine are listed below, but we also have a special guest writer this week who has provided his top five as well, for a little variety.

Aeris Gainsborough

“Mine is special. It’s good for absolutely nothing!”

5. Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII)

An Ancient with the power to save the world – all while dressed in pink from head to booted toe. Aerith Gainsborough was one of the first good female video game characters I encountered, way back when in the year of ’97 (now if that doesn’t make you feel old…). At first, I wasn’t tremendously fond of her; I was more of a Tifa fan, since her hair color was the same of mine – you can tell already that I had high standards as a kid. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve come to like Aerith more and more. She’s headstrong, intelligent, curious, and adventurous. Cloud tries numerous times throughout the course of Final Fantasy VII to keep her away from danger, but she always charges into it without hesitation.

Her determination, will, and the fact that she saves the planet all on her lonesome is what earns her a spot in my list as number five. It’s just too bad that Sephiroth had to come along and cut her role short.

Aya Brea

“Do you know where we are?! WE’RE IN HELL’S KITCHEN!”

4. Aya Brea (Parasite Eve)

Parasite Eve was one of the first truly “scary” games. Although it eventually had stiff competition, it was definitely a game that stuck out in my memory. Part of this is due to Aya Brea, a protagonist who utilizes the skills she learned as an officer for the NYPD to fight against a horrifying, mitochondrial monster, Parasite Eve. Aya experiences significant character development throughout the course of the game, something that really intrigued me the first time I played it. Although Parasite Eve has a few glaring plotholes and, at times, uncertainty about its characters’ backgrounds, Aya is strong enough to carry the game through these points.

There’s also the fact that she’s rocking some kickass pumps in the beginning of the game. What can I say? I love me some heels.

Heather Mason

“Listen, suffering is a fact of life. Either you learn how to deal with that or you go under. You can stay in your own little dream world, but you can’t keep hurting other people!”

3. Heather Mason (Silent Hill)

If you can’t tell by her eyes in the photo above, Heather Mason has been through hell. Specifically, she’s been through Silent Hill and lived (in the vaguest sense of the term) to tell about it, making her something of an oddity. Of even further intrigue is that she isn’t exactly a normal human being – she was born Cheryl (later renamed by her adopted father, another survivor of Silent Hill), but she is actually a reincarnation of Alessa, The Incubator.

What makes Heather truly special, though, is her personality. Before the events of Silent Hill 3, she’s a normal teenaged girl; she likes to shop, is relatively carefree, sometimes moody, and has a quick tongue that takes well to sarcasm. As she is forced to survive the horrors of Silent Hill, however, she really develops as a character and unveils strengths that you wouldn’t expect from a teenager. She’s surprisingly resilient and near-constantly adapts to her surroundings, allowing her to survive and surpass the terrible things she must endure.

Konami and Team Silent did an excellent job with Heather. It’s hard to make a teenager appealing as a character, but Heather has personality and strength in spades.

Kreia

“It is such a quiet thing to fall… but far more terrible as to admit it.”

2. Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic II)

Morality dilemmas, thy name is Kreia. Such is the toil of the Grey Jedi, of which Kreia is an excellent example. She appears to us in Knights of the Old Republic II as an old woman, but her will and strength of character (along with her ability to, you know, chop you in half with a lightsaber) are as sharp as her words.

In addition, Kreia is an excellent foil against the typical moral system of the Star Wars franchise. She isn’t the only grey jedi, nor is she the most famous (Revan might take that title – curiously enough, she was his mentor), but she’s definitely the most effective. Her morals favor wit and intellectual prowess more than anything; you won’t win her affections by being good or evil, but by outsmarting your enemies and, often, her. If you pay attention, Kreia lies to you at least three times within the first few minutes of meeting her; this, as the game goes on, will remain a constant trend. If you solve her riddles and see through her dishonesty, you’ll earn a place beside her – but be careful: she’s as dynamic as she is powerful.

Finally, her dialogue is simply stunning. If you cherish well-written dialogue, Kreia will truly be a treat for you.

The Boss

“Think you can pull the trigger?”

1. The Boss (Metal Gear)

If you look up “badass” in the dictionary, The Boss’s picture should be right there.

There are few female protagonists who are as cunning and hardcore as Metal Gear‘s The Boss. Oftentimes, these protagonists are masculinized to better suit their role as a “tough guy,” but The Boss maintains her strength while still looking like (one hell of a) woman. She mentored Naked Snake, founded the Cobra Unit, co-developed the CQC technique, and gave birth to Revolver Ocelot in the middle of a mission after getting shot in the gut.

In addition, The Boss is an excellent example of a successful mother figure, as Steve comments upon below. It’s rare to see such a complex relationship played out successfully, much more so in a video game; putting a woman in a position of power on top of making her a metaphorical (and literal, in one case) mother to the cast is a daring move on Konami’s part.

Now, after reading all that, is there any doubt as to why she earned the first place in this list?

Honorable Mention: Triss Merigold (The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings)

Alright, I’m a little biased – I love The Witcher series. Triss Merigold is an amazing woman in the sequel, but she’s so remarkably bland in the first game that she didn’t quite make the list. Still, kudos to CD ProjektRED for making her a truly interesting (and fiery) character in The Witcher 2: Assassination of Kings. I just wish she was more present.

And now, for our promised guest writer. Steven Doty has offered his top five as well, for a different perspective – check them out below!

5. Shale (Dragon Age: Origins)

The whole ‘this is my robot buddy’ thing, like most of Bioware’s limited stable of writing clichés, has been run well into the ground at this point (HK-47, Legion, EDI), but golems being made from people lets the game approach Shale from a different angle altogether.  Taking her to the golem registry results in a bit of a surprise (because let’s face it, I thought she was a dude and you probably did too) and opens some interesting conversations on gender and perception.  Credit where credit is due, I don’t think I’d seen gender dysphoria portrayed as something other than a punchline in a video game before Shale.

4. Faith Connors (Mirrors Edge)

I’m kinda partial to guile/stealth heroes, the ones who can get what they want without having to go in guns blazing and kick the door down.  Hell, Faith doesn’t even need guns.  Sure, she can use them, but if you have to resort to doing so, you’re bad at games.  She also has a refreshingly straightforward approach to sweeping authoritarian conspiracies (no time for overwrought monologues, there’s drainpipes to jump off and her sister’s name needs clearing) and drives the plot forward despite Merc’s constant whining about how “it could be a trap” (it always is).

3. Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2)

Yeah, I know, Alyx always makes it onto these lists, but just because it’s the go-to answer doesn’t mean there isn’t solid logic behind it.  There’s a sort of personal connection that develops from having her alongside you for most of the game, especially in the ‘Episode’ sequels – the fact that she’s actively backing you up in fights and suggesting solutions to puzzles makes you appreciate her a lot more.  (I loved the sniper rifle sequence in Episode One, and the fact that they repeated it in Episode Two suggests that either more people liked it or they had to cut the budget because Gabe Newell kept buying a second lunch.)  Bonus points for portraying the ultra-rare platonic friendship between two opposite-gendered people – you’d think those never happen, judging from most media.

2.  The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3)

Maternal relationships don’t get much exploration in games, probably because they’re more difficult to write than typical (and let’s face it, shallow) video game fare.  For this reason, I think, when they do show up they tend to be carefully thought out and maturely explored.  The Boss is a good example – she balances the usual MGS themes (most prominently ‘a soldier’s duty is to carry out their mission, regardless of personal cost, and this gets them exploited by controlling government/bureaucracy types’) with a distinct maternal edge that makes her character unique.  That’s not just in the literal sense of being Ocelot’s mother – she’s also referred to as the metaphorical ‘mother of the Special Forces’, she was the leader of the Cobra Unit, and most importantly, she’s the mentor figure to Big Boss.  She guides him through the mission, teaches him everything she knows, and forces him to improve, even when they’re on opposite sides.  And in the end, she passes her legacy and hopes for the future on to him, just like a parent should.

1. Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic II)

Take everything I said about the Boss being an awesome mother figure for the player character and compound it with the trappings of the trickster mentor and a surprising amount of maturity for the setting, and you have Kreia.  She uses the same adversarial style of mentoring, and its foundation lies in a complex morality that isn’t easily categorized by the shallow, cartoonish Star Wars cosmology (deal with it, nerds).  One thing that differentiates her from the Boss, though (and indeed, differentiates Chris Avellone’s writing from most of the stuff you see in games), is her willingness – and indeed, proclivity – to actively lie to and manipulate the player character in order to educate you.

You’re encouraged, with a higher Intelligence/Wisdom score, to discern the grain of truth within each lie and to understand that just because she’s your mentor figure doesn’t mean you should blindly trust everything she (or anyone) says, and when you take this lesson to heart and begin to weigh each situation carefully instead of committing to blind light/dark side partisanship, you win her approval.  The vaguely Nietzschean nature of her moral approach stands in stark contrast to both of the ‘official’ factions, both of which she’s tried and eventually rejected; the Jedi are bureaucratic relics who constantly hinder you for not meeting all of their exacting standards, and the Sith (Kreia’s former apprentices, whom you are going to surpass like mad) are Saturday morning cartoon villains with no depth or motivation beyond ‘aaaaargh kill all life’.  They almost come off as parodies of the typical light/dark players, which makes your eventual rejection of them doubly effective: Kreia teaches you to be superior to them not just because you don’t rely wholly on the Force the way they do, but because you’re not bound by the same behavioral dogma.

I like to think, after the events of the game, that she occasionally showed up in the Academy as a Force ghost to lecture padawans making out in the dorms about how apathy is death.

Honorable Mention: Kaine (Nier)

Not included in the final list because, uh…well, spoilers.  Either way, it left me sort of unsure and I erred on the side of caution by going with Shale instead.

Dwellings On the Revisioned Tomb Raider

Say hello to the new Lara Croft.

Say hello to the new Lara Croft.

Lara Croft was one of my childhood heroes. I absolutely adored her, and it’s not hard to see why – she’s beautiful, intelligent, rich, and most importantly of all, a brunette (represent). That said, there’s a lot of reasons not to like her. While I may have been able to look past these faults as a kid, she’s also a blatant sexual objectification of women, she destroys precious artifacts wherever she goes, and, depending on how you play, kills endangered animals without a second thought.

Needless to say, Lara and I have a complicated relationship. As an adult, I’m still terribly fond of her – I even dressed as her for Halloween in 2011. However, this maturation adds conflict to the matter; a girl can’t understand the many negative aspects of Lara’s character, but a woman most certainly can. It’s of little wonder, then, that I was thrilled to hear that Square Enix was pairing with Crystal Dynamics to remake the famous franchise with a new goal in mind: to make Lara Croft a dynamic and accessible character to all genders.

You go, girl!

You go, girl!

At first, this was purely delightful news, but it soon became evident that the new Lara came with a new reality. Every day, women face the risk of rape and sexual assault. Most of us don’t let it rule our lives, but it’s a constant presence in the back of your mind when you’re walking alone at night or stuck in a strange place by yourself. You have to be careful, and you have to be smart.

Lara Croft is not the former.

Kudos goes to the developers for taking on such a difficult subject. Rape and sexual assault are, unfortunately, a reality for all of us, but it’s rarely handled well in media. At best, it is a clumsily portrayed “gimme” used by producers to stir up emotional toil in its female audience, but, in actuality, mostly serves to alienate us, whether we are victims or not. To put it bluntly, it’s generally a bad choice.

The emotional weight tied to such a violating experience is something to be respected. I, myself, have never gone through such a thing, but one doesn’t have to be a survivor of rape or sexual assault to understand this concept. Thus becomes my wariness: I love Tomb Raider, but I don’t want to see the game ruin itself by mishandling an emotionally loaded scenario.

A screencap pf the infamous scene from the 2012 trailer for the newTomb Raider.

A screencap of the infamous scene from the 2012 trailer for the new Tomb Raider.

“But wait!” you say, “There isn’t actually any rape in 2013’s Tomb Raider!”

It doesn’t matter. The implication is there, the threat is present, and it’s something that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have both addressed directly. If you’re intent on disbelieving this notion, please take a few moments out of your day to view the controversial trailer below.

It’s troubling, to say in the least. How can a video game possibly cover something like this? Can it be done properly?

Tentatively, I’m going to say yes. I’ve mentioned before the rape scene from General Custard’s Revenge, which is what I think a lot of gamers are expecting from the newest installment of the Tomb Raider franchise, but perhaps a touch less cartoony. This is 2012. The game is coming out in 2013. Personally, I have high hopes for Lara Croft; Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have an admirable goal, and they’re trying to approach an underlying subject that was fumbled in the series’ past with insipid come-ons from male members of the cast.

There are going to be offended parties, regardless, and it would be incredibly insensitive of me to say that they’re wrong. Everyone responds differently to such emotionally charged subjects, regardless of sex and experience. Someone is going to be hurt, and therein lies an important dilemma – is it right to put this in a form of entertainment? It has been done well before in films (Deliverance, The Girl with the Dragon TattooIrreversible), which indicates to me that there remains a chance for this game to pull it off.

It’s all about respect and treatment of the subject matter. If 2013’s Tomb Raider can manage to handle the (very real) dangers that Lara Croft faces as a young, attractive woman alone in the wilderness, it may just set a standard for the industry that has yet remained untouched.

The Propriety of Guild Wars 2

Those of you that know me know that I love MMOs. Despite being repetitive (regardless of whether it’s TERA or World of Warcraft you’re talking about), something about the social and explorative nature of this genre always peaks my interest.

I got 99 problems, and plague-bearing dragons are all of them.

I got 99 problems, and plague-bearing dragons are all of them.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that I’ve gotten into Guild Wars 2. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the original; twenty levels was just too short for me, and I felt like the game was projected more as a single player with a multiplayer option (raids) than a true MMO. Apparently, other fans had the same sentiment. Guild Wars 2 is an almost complete departure from its predecessor, with a dynamic, social aspect that is crucial to the player’s experience rather than an add-on. For the first time since RIFT, players are actively rewarded for helping each other, but ArenaNet has taken this concept past TRION Worlds and developed it much further. Whereas RIFT rewarded players for competing actively with an open group, Guild Wars 2 grants extra bonuses to those that not only do high DPS on bosses, but also help the most in quests and stay with the events the longest. It’s a refreshing experience, to say in the least.

After having played TERA for the past few months, I was also pleasantly surprised by how well-clothed most of the females are in Guild Wars 2. Now, there certainly exist exceptions; female norns are, bewilderingly considering their environment, significantly less clothed than their male counterparts. Female elementalists have also retained their awkward and out-of-place schoolgirl attire. But as for the rest of the world, the clothing is in surprisingly good taste.

Sailor Moon? What are you doing in Tyria?

Sailor Moon? What are you doing in Tyria?

I was also relieved to find that, upon rolling my main, a female charr, the “animal” people of the game did not have humanoid breasts (really now, if you’re going to give an anthropomorphic animal breasts, chances are they’d have six and not two). The charr women are smaller in stature and slighter in frame than their men, but it’s great to be spared from hairy, heaving breasts for a change. Worgen, I’m looking at you.

Behold my true form and despair.

Behold my true form and despair.

Even so, not all of the norn women are scantily-clad. Take a look at the NPC below, a woman you’ll meet during your later travels in Tyria (level 55+). Her armor is remarkably decent for a busty war-maiden in an MMO, and her fashion is a common trend in the game.

What, no shank-me chic?

What, no shank-me chic?

As you can guess by the propensity of female cast members, women also take on a fairly important role in terms of politics and war in Guild Wars 2.  This, however, is not so much a rarity in MMOs, especially as of late. Chris Metzen has contributed much to the realm of powerful fantasy gals, although at times it would appear he’s a little too interested in the corruption of their prowess.

The game holds much intrigue beyond feminine concerns, though. ArenaNet also ensured that curiosity is well-rewarded: exploration provides a significant amount of experience and, to my delight, also often yields puzzles that aren’t labeled on the map. There are two types of puzzles in the game: one that is unique to each zone, and many others that are commonly referred to as “jumping” puzzles by the players. While the goal of the zone-based puzzles differs from one area to the next, the jumping puzzles are myriad and often do take a lot of time and patience to complete.

As for the mechanics themselves, the game has its ups and downs. Classes are delightfully customizable, thanks both to a traits/skills system and the way weapons work. Each class has access to different weapons and weapon combinations; equipping each weapon/combination will result in different unlockable skills on your skill bar. You can really tweak your spec in this game, something that has been lacking as of late. Rest-assured, there will eventually be cookie-cutter specs, but I don’t see any huge disadvantage to taking your own road at this point.

For an example, let’s take a look at the ranger. Ranger is a really versatile class in Guild Wars 2 due primarily to its weapon skills. You can take a more well-trodden path in the form of a marksman by equipping yourself with a bow and shortbow, thus relying entirely on ranged tactics to defeat your foes (another neat feature in combat – you can alternate weapons and, consequently, skills with the click of a button). That sounds pretty standard, right? Well, the customization goes deeper than that. If you want to be ranged, you can take things several different routes even from there. You can focus on traps, kiting, the power of your pet, or a combination of all three – it all depends on what your playstyle is. You can also forego the concept of a, ahem, ranged ranger altogether and instead equip yourself with an axe and a greatsword, if you so please. Warhorns are also available, allowing you to focus more on buffs than active DPS. Keep in mind, this is all in one class, and I’m not even getting into the specifics – every single class in the game is like this in its own way.

However, Guild Wars 2 is not without its bugs. The Black Lion Trading Company, an equivalent to the typical auction house, has been down since release. This has resulted in a crashed economy across all servers – definitely not a good thing during release week. Additionally, the size of your character can affect your ability to complete jumping puzzles. I found that, when I play my diminutive asura, I have a much easier time getting around those tricky jumps than I do on my charr, whose broad frame takes up the entirety of the screen in tight corners and makes it nearly impossible to figure out where to jump. I could easily see this discrepancy affecting PVP in negative ways. Events can also bug on occasion, leading many players to sit around and wait to see if they’ll ever get a chance to complete their quests.

Want an easier time exploring? Roll an asura.

Want an easier time exploring? Roll an asura.

That said, the game has been nothing short of a delight thusfar. If you enjoy a truly interactive MMO, then Guild Wars 2 is for you. If you prefer a pure action combat MMO, however, I’d recommend trying out TERA; Guild Wars 2 is a hybrid system of the traditional point-and-click and new age combat mechanics, very similar to that of Star Wars: The Old  Republic. Just be sure to keep in mind that ArenaNet’s latest baby is a game focused on exploration and teamwork – you can solo if you want, but as is the case in most things, the true fun comes from your company.

Overall, I give Guild Wars 2 a 7.5/10. Check it out yourself at the game’s official site and, if you decide to give it a try, be sure to join the Fort Aspenwood realm and keep an eye out for Maximum Catte the charr.

Upcoming Itinerary

Hello, readers!

First of all, thank you so much to all of you who have been reading and commenting on Frag Girl. I did not expect anyone to pay it much attention, and I am flattered that so many of you have been following my writings. On that note, if anyone would like to contribute a guest article at some point, please let me know – I would gladly welcome your opinions here on this blog.

As for the upcoming articles, the scheduling is as follows:

  • Tomb Raider Redux, A Woman’s Perspective
  • The Propriety of Guild Wars 2
  • Killer Vs. Killer: The Bleeding House Review
  • Frag Girl’s Top 5 Female Video Game Characters

Thank you for your patience. School is starting and I have been working two jobs all summer, so writing regularly is rough! I would be very glad to hear your opinions on scheduling, however. What days would you, the readers, like to see posts on from Frag Girl?

Adam or Eve: Diablo As A Feminine Representation of Evil

Eve. Delilah. Athaliah. Jezebel.

The common link between these names is obvious – each belongs to a biblical woman who either is evil or is often interpreted as such. We all know the story of Eve; Delilah was a Hebrew temptress, Athaliah a murderous worshipper of Ba’al, and Jezebel a false propet.

Added to the list of female evils based on religion is a new (and, at first, bewildering) character – Diablo. While Diablo of Diablo III fame is a much less significant figure in terms of culture, the pixelated devil has taken on the role of feminine evil in the latest installment to the Diablo series. Traditionally, Diablo has manifested itself as a male when infiltrating the mortal plane, but in 2012’s sequel, the devil took on a new form in the possession of Leah. Assisting the development of a female Diablo is the fact that it also consumed the soul of Andariel, who, up until Diablo III, was the sole female evil in the Diablo universe. These two factors resulted in the first manifestation of Diablo as a woman, which can be seen in the screenshot below.

Those hips don't lie, girl.

Those hips don’t lie, girl.

To read the rest of the article, please visit the post at Dualshockers.com.

A Fine Line: Sex Appeal vs. Gratuity

With the maturation of the gaming community at large, sex has become a much more influential factor in modern video games. Once upon a time, Colonal Custard’s Revenge was considered racey (and remains controversial to this day, for obvious reasons), but many games now feature sex scenes as cinematics – The Witcher 2: Assassination of Kings, The Secret World, and the Grand Theft Auto series are just a few of such titles. In terms of just how graphic these instances are,the scenes range from mere implication (the oral scene in The Secret World) to softcore pornography (every sex scene in The Witcher 2 – one of my all time favorite games, but the fact still stands).

Now, I’m not one to judge sexual content. Everyone likes sex. It sells. It’s fun. But what do we, the gamers, get out of having these racy scenes? Do they really add to the finished product?

Personally, I feel that there’s a very fine line between acceptable sexual content in video games and gratuity. A tasteful implication, which is difficult enough to manage on its own, can say so much more than a graphic cinematic. I have never found myself offended by sex scenes, but I feel oftentimes that the video game industry could take a hint from daytime television and instill limits on what sort of content makes it into their games. There’s a difference between sex appeal and fan service: the former can be subtle but powerful, whereas the latter is better suited for less mature venues. All that is required to make this transition is a little more effort on the developers’ part.

“Show, don’t tell,” is a cliche for a reason. We, the gaming community, don’t need our hands held to know what’s going on; treat us like adults, and the industry as a whole will benefit.

What do you think? Do you feel that graphic sex scenes have a place in games, or should we as gamers endeavor for a more conservative angle? Keep in mind that games with these scenes are rated “MA” and will not fall into the hands of a minor unless illegally obtained or through parental consent.

Finding Self-Confidence in a Previously Male-Dominated Industry

Women have been creeping slowly into the video game industry since its infancy. While it originally was a boy’s playground, women now comprise 47% of all gamers (thanks to ESA for the statistics), a fairly respectable number. Unfortunately, the time it took us to invade the lockers of gaming has resulted in a conflicted response from the pre-existing player base, particularly in MMOs.

The aforementioned is the focus of countless social studies, many of which I’ll admit are much more in-depth and informative than what I’m writing to you today. However, I write this not out of study, but of experience, like many female gamers do today. What we discuss is a common trend that needs to stop, and it will on two conditions: that women begin to stand up for themselves when harassed online, and also that the male playerbase raises their voice against the boys that initiate such interations. An excellent article written by Ernest W. Adams (an employee of EA) takes on a male perspective of sexual harassment online, and I feel what the author states therein is all too true for the opposite sex.

That said, there are plenty of men online who behave with dignity and respect towards women. Out of the many conversations I’ve had in MMOs over the year, the majority have (fortunately) been nothing but pleasant. However, there remain to this day the players that never truly got beyond the stage where the gaming industry was a men’s clubhouse.

The worst experience I’ve had, personally, was in a guild I briefly joined in World of Warcraft. The guild attracted a number of men from the latter faction; they would repeatedly harass women in the guild for naked pictures and digital sexual favors until they caved and provided them. This is exactly what we need to avoid doing. Women, if you’re reading this, don’t ever devalue yourself to these children – at the end of the day, they’re just faces on the Internet, and they certainly aren’t worth your dignity.

What have your experiences been? Opinions from either side of the fence are welcome here; although this blog focuses primarily on the female experience, it would be excellent to hear from men as well.