Playing Final Fantasy I with All White Mages

This summer I picked up Final Fantasy Origins, a rerelease of Final Fantasy I and II for the PlayStation. It had been a long time since I’d played Final Fantasy I, so I was excited to give it a try.

The awesome thing about Final Fantasy I that was lost in most later FFs was the ability to choose the classes of your entire party. You had six options: Fighter, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage, Black Belt, and Red Mage. Instead of going with a balanced party, I wanted to try something a little more challenging: all white mages.

White mages are very weak as fighters and are limited in their armor choices. Their only strength is their healing ability. Save the world with only healers? Sign me up!

This is going to be a lot harder than I thought

I picked my mages and gave them ominous names: Hate, Nova, Kick, and Vein. My Battlin’ Babes.

Hardly.

As soon as I left the safety of the first town it was apparent how difficult this would be. Within two or three battles, my party was annihilated. Time to start over.

For the first hour of the game, I played gingerly. I’d leave the safety of the town, kill a couple monsters, gather just enough gold to heal at the inn, then return to town to rest up. It was slow work, but eventually my characters leveled up a bit.

My Battlin’ Babes were terrible fighters. They were just kids, thrust into an epic quest because of some prophecy stating that they were the Warriors of Light. Maybe these prophets read the tea leaves wrong. Most of the time their attacks missed their mark, and when they did hit, only dealt a modicum of damage.

Even in this opening area I couldn’t defeat all the monsters. Half the time I had to run away. My girls were weak, and scared, and they had no idea what they were getting into.

After a couple hours of play, I was ready to face the first dungeon.

Wrong-o. As soon as I stepped foot indoors, I was defeated in the first battle. My party annihilated again.

We died a lot

Dying was the theme of the game. I learned not to overextend myself. I played timidly, venturing only a bit outside the cities, and then hightailing it back to safety as soon as trouble showed up. The journey back to town could still be dangerous, and my girls could still see battle several more times.

Final Fantasy I didn’t have the idea of front row, back row (in later games, putting characters in the back row protected them more, but made their attacks weaker). Instead, the person situated at the top of the party list was most likely to be attacked, the person at the bottom the least likely. The order was Hate, Nova, Kick, and Vein. Hate, being the woman at the front of my defenses, usually died first.

Most of the time, I could get back to the sanctuary with only one girl dead. Hate probably died 50% of the time, Nova 35% of the time, and Kick 15% of the time. Vein rarely had to be resurrected: if she died, chances were the entire party was gone. And those sanctuaries charge for each resurrection!

I began to create my own storyline for the game. FFI is bare bones when it comes to story (it’s understandable: it was the first FF and an NES game with limited memory). I spent so many hours leveling up that I had to create my own story to stay entertained.

The deaths were real, and so were the resurrections. Hate traveled back and forth to the afterlife so often that she began to lose her mind. She developed a fatalistic worldview and was the first woman to lose the ideals of our quest. She didn’t care about saving the world: she just wanted to live a little.

And get revenge on all those enemies who killed her.

A new strategy for dungeon crawling

I eventually made it past the first dungeon, and then the second. But after this point, I could no longer crawl dungeons to completion.

Normally, when I enter a dungeon I want to explore every room, open every chest, find every secret. But that was getting impossible. The enemies got exponentially stronger, and I still barely had any weapons to attack them with.

I had to start using maps of the dungeons so that I could take the most efficient route through. I only opened chests if they gave me useful treasures. Most of the weapons and armor I couldn’t use, but the good stuff I could sell. After a time, I stopped fighting monsters entirely in the dungeons. I just took the hits, ran away from every single fight, and saved my strength for the bosses.

Most dungeons took five or six expeditions in and out to clear. I would progress a little way, then leave, heal, and sell the loot. And begin the process all over again. If I was lucky, I made it to the boss with heal spells remaining.

And then we started healing

What my girls lacked in fighting ability they made up for in healing. Each girl could learn three spells of a given level. All had healing spells and a variety of protection spells: shield spells, and spells that increased their evasion.

On boss battles, our opening set of moves was always a series of shield and evasion spells. Our evasion was so high that most of the time the monsters couldn’t hit us, and if they did, they barely did any damage. From there we’d whittle away at the monster’s health. Some battles took 45 minutes to complete, during which time my Battlin’ Babes suffered almost no damage.

Eventually I had enough money to buy cabins, which let me heal and restore spells in the wild without having to trek all the way back to a town. Around hour 8 or 9, my girls were finally gaining some confidence.

Personality clashes

At this point in the game, though, it became apparently that not all girls were created equal. They started out with exactly the same stats. Usually they all leveled up at the same time, and most of the time their level-up stat boosts were within a point of each other. But occasionally, a girl would get a major stat boost, like twice as much HP as the other girls. These major stat boosts appeared random, but some girls got them more than others.

As I played, I imagined personalities for the girls. Hate was obviously an angry individual. Nobody knew her real name. She was mad at the world and sought revenge whenever possible. She was a decent fighter, but sometimes her rage caused her to miss. And that just fueled her anger.

Nova was the peacemaker. Because Hate was the one attacked first, Nova was the one casting protection spells on Hate. Nova was a nice, soft-spoken girl, rarely interjecting her opinion. The other girls didn’t understand her devotion to Hate. But no matter how irrational Hate became, Nova was still there protecting her, doing her duty to the de facto leader of the group.

Kick was aggressive, but not angry. Her battling ability was fueled by calmness and decisiveness. She was the best fighter of the group. I’m really not sure why, as the girls’ stats were pretty similar. Kick landed far more attacks than Hate, which just made Hate hate Kick even more.

Just as Hate and Nova had a special relationship (though Hate was seemingly oblivious to it), so, too, did Kick and Vein. Vein was the weakest fighter for some reason. She missed a lot and did very little damage. Vein was timid, the youngest of the group, shy. Kick looked out for her, protecting her whenever possible. Vein envied Kick. How could Kick be such a good fighter and spellcaster?

But over time, Vein proved her worth. As mentioned, the party died a lot, and Vein was often the one to bring the bodies back to the sanctuary. On those trips back to town, Vein would face hordes of monsters alone. This steeled her resolve. She was determined to be a valuable member of the party.

Leadership changes hands

Dying doesn’t just have a financial penalty. If a girl is dead, and the party finishes a battle, only the surviving members get experience points. Hate, being the one who died the most often, had the least amount of fighting experience. By mid-game, it was apparent that she’d fallen behind her sisters. Not only did Kick tend to get the super stat bonuses at level-up, but Kick was rarely dead like Hate, so she advanced through the levels faster.

Leadership had to change. Hate, being in the top slot, could no longer protect the party. Her defense was weak and she had the least amount of HP. Kick, proving herself as the strongest fighter, took over the top slot. Hate felt crushed and humiliated, being moved down to the third slot next to Vein. But a new alpha female was in charge, and Hate knew that she didn’t have the strength to challenge Kick and usurp her authority.

Losing leadership of the team was only one setback that Hate faced. Midway through the game, the party found Thor’s Hammer, an item that let the user cast Lightning on all the enemies on the screen. This was a huge boon to the Battlin’ Babes. Instead of attacking with a normal weapon with a 50% hit rate and low damage against a single enemy, now one person could attack every enemy on the screen at once with a 100% hit rate. One person could now do more damage in a single round than the other three girls were likely to do in four complete battles.

Hate received this weapon, back when she was still the leader. It seemed most appropriate for Hate to call lightning down from the skies to fry her opponents.

But Hate kept dying. And when she died, nobody else could use that item until it was swapped out after battle. This was a huge problem. So just as Hate was demoted from leadership, her weapon was transferred to Vein, the most survivable member of the group.

And at this point, Vein became the most valuable member. The other members’ function was not to win battles, but to keep the group alive so that Vein could attack and attack and attack.

The experience caves

Even though life was turning around, the girls were still too weak to fight most monsters in the dungeons. They needed to level up. They found two caves in the world that spawned mummies when they stepped on a certain spot. This was key: mummies were undead, and gave lots of experience and gold.

And the girls had one offensive spell in their arsenal: Harm.

Harm called light down from the heavens, which fried undead in their tracks. The girls would hit the experience caves with an array of Harm spells and annihilate mummy after mummy. They would kill hundreds of undead, slowly buy surely gaining experience and leveling up. They spent hours doing this, and the effort paid off, at least for a while.

Every girl an awesome item

Three-quarters of the way through their quest, all girls had an awesome item. Vein had Thor’s Hammer, and Hate used Zeus’ Gauntlet, which also cast lightning on the foes. The girls also found Heal Staffs and Heal Helmets, which cast basic healing protection on the entire party. By this point, the girls’ hit points were so high that a single heal spell didn’t help much. But two of them cast in a row each round while the other girls laid waste with lightning was extremely  successful. Soon, the girls were beating any enemy they faced and leaving battles with nary a scratch.

They were also dying a lot less. They finally felt like warriors, in charge of their own destinies. Hate and Kick patched up their squabble, and Hate acquiesced to Kick’s leadership. Nova now looked out for everybody, not just Hate, and Vein finally felt like she stood among equals.

The girls breezed their way through several dungeons, collecting so much loot and money they ran out of things to spend it on.

Life was good, until they went to the sky.

Hell in the air

After defeating the four Fiends that threatened the world, they had to travel to the sky to finish the fight and save the world.

But the air proved incredibly challenging. Despite their awesome weapons and their full assortment of spells, even the run-of-the-mill monsters were difficult to defeat, and running away was getting harder and harder. The enemies seemed to increase in difficulty 10 fold over those on the ground, and the girls weren’t as ready as they thought.

They left, leveled up, and came back, only to realize they were still too weak.

So they left, leveled up again, but still barely made any progress.

The girls were beginning to lose hope. Maybe the Enemy was right: maybe they couldn’t handle it. Hate began to adopt her fatalistic attitude again. The universe was surely playing games with them, giving them modest success only to pull the rug from under their feet and reveal how futile it all was.

And they heard the most disheartening prophecy of all. This final castle wasn’t the end. If they managed to get to the end, they’d have to revisit it a second time, the monsters of course even stronger.

There was no way.

* * *

If you’ve read to the bottom of this post, thanks for sticking through! I’m sorry to leave you on a sad note, but at this point I set the game aside. I know it’s possible to beat the game with four white mages, but I’m at the point where I now need to invest hours and hours and hours of grinding just to make my characters strong enough and I lost interest. Writing about this game, though, has gotten me excited to revisit my Battlin’ Babes and see what they’re up to, so who knows? Maybe I’ll finish the game someday.

What really blows my mind is that apparently this game can be beat with only one white mage! You simply let the other three members of your party die and progress solo. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must be. Here’s a walkthrough explaining how it’s done!

Game on,
~Dennis

Making a Stop Sign End Table

This post is going to be a slight departure from my usual posts about all things nerdom: I hope that’s okay with everybody! It’s a furniture-related post, my first end table. This table was practice for bigger furniture projects, which are video-game-related, so stay tuned in the coming months for those!

Anyway, back to the table at hand. Seven years ago I moved into a new apartment and saw one of those big construction dumpsters in the parking lot. The apartment complex was renovating much of the property, and for some reason, they got rid of a stop sign. I picked it from the trash, hoping to make it into a table one day. Crucially, I lacked the tools and know-how to do this.

Fast-forward to a month ago. I moved into a new place again and realized I’ve been lugging this stop sign around all these years. So my dad and I put our heads together and came up with a great way to turn this stop sign into a table.

First, my dad constructed a wooden frame around the sign. This softens the metal edges (they are quite sharp), plus gives the sign a bit of a raised lip.

Stop sign table top

The finished table top. Wooden trim, painted white, lines the edges.

Stop sign table back

Back detail of the table. The wood supports hold the frame in place. Plus, the wooden panel serves as a way to attach the base.

By giving the trim a raised lip, we were able to pour clear glaze across the surface of the table, making it smooth and protecting the sign. The sign itself has a few imperfections, and the glaze application isn’t entirely consistent, but the table top looks so much better. The stop sign has about a quarter inch of glaze.

Close-up of stop sign table top

Close-up shot of the molding and glaze.

Next we mounted the top of the pedestal. My dad had an old bar stool (long ago missing the seat) that worked well. I wanted an industrial pedestal rather than legs, as the stop sign is quite wide and legs would get in the way.

Top of pedestal attached to back of stop sign.

The top of the bar stool is attached with three screws.

To give the table top some added height, we added a small length of PVP pipe, raising the table about an inch and a half.

PVP pipe attached to bar stool.

The PVP pipe can always be removed, or shaved down, if the height needs to be adjusted.

Constructing the pedestal was the easiest part of the process. We cut a piece of wood to the shape of an octagon and screwed it to the bottom of the base. The octagon was painted white to match the sign’s trim.

Bar stool pedestal with white octagon base attached.

Stop sign table pedestal.

Because the stop sign is an awkward shape (and heavy! The top probably weighs 35 lbs, the bottom at least 10 lbs), I wanted the top to detach from the base for easier moving.

Here’s the stop sign completely assembled! Because of flaws in the pedestal, the table top isn’t sturdy: it wobbles a bit. However, put a lamp on the edge, just a little bit of weight, and the wobble goes away.

Assembled stop sign end table with lamp on top.

Completed stop sign end table!

Profile view of stop sign table.

Profile view of the base, pedestal, and table top.

The project turned out great and I’m very happy with the new table! Now, what sign should I turn into a table next?

~Dennis

Critique of Anita Sarkeesian’s ‘Women as Background Decoration part 2’

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency fame recently released a new video criticizing the portrayal of women in video games. This is part of her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series, a series that has gotten much acclaim–and 10 fold the amount of criticism. You can read my previous critiques of Sarkeesian’s videos to get up to speed on the nature of this discussion (“Ms. Male” critique and “Women as Background Decoration part 1” critique).

She defines the Women as Background Decoration trope as follows:

The subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players.

In this video, she continues that argument by stressing “how sexualized female bodies often occupy a dual role as both sexual playthings and the perpetual victims of male violence.”

Watch the video below first, as I’ll be referencing specific parts of her argument that are troubling or deserve more analysis.

My experience with these games

Let me start this critique by saying that of the 29 games she references in this video, I’ve only played one (Super Mario Galaxy, which isn’t even related to her main argument) and I’ve seen in action only parts of three games: GTAIV, GTAV, and Watch Dogs. As a game scholar and teacher, though, I am familiar with all the rest. So I write this critique not as somebody who personally plays these games for entertainment and takes offense at somebody else telling me my games are bad. I play very few Mature titles, as most of the time I don’t find those kind of games enjoyable.

On the whole, I agree with much of her argument. Women are often portrayed as sex objects in these games, far more often than men, and that’s a problem. The problem isn’t with any individual game, in my opinion, but with the proportion of games like this out there. I recognize the value of most of the games she analyzes as both forms of entertainment and in many cases social commentaries. It is troubling when you survey the entire landscape of games and find some many examples of these games.

But as I’ve long thought, individual developers can’t necessarily be held accountable for the actions of an entire industry, just because the games they make happen to be similar to the games others make.

While I agree with maybe 70% of what she says,she tends to overextend her argument,  as is typical of her videos, and pull on threads that, instead of having the intended effect of strengthening her argument, actually work against her and undercurrent the foundation she has successfully laid.

I offer the following critiques of parts of her argument, not as a way of nitpicking, but as a way of separating the chaff from the wheat. Every time she releases a video, the gamer community finds itself in a tizzy for two weeks. Sarkeesian receives ever uglier harassment and taunting (this time she even had to leave her house and call the police on account of personal threats against her family).

But there’s no need for vitriol: I write this critique for fellow gamers. Sarkeesian’s videos strike a nerve with many of us, myself included. When we separate the less-than-thoughtful parts of her argument, what we are left with is a reasonable critique about the state of women in video games.

What’s the difference between sexualized murder and murder?

Early in the video, she shows several examples of dead NPCs (non-playable characters). There is a difference between them:

A grisly example can be found in Bioshock 2 where mutilated eroticized female bodies are seen scattered throughout The Pink Pearl bordello area in Siren Alley.

Again we can compare the way the murdered male bodies are displayed and notice the distinct lack of sexualization in their presentation. The male corpses may be designed to evoke a sense of horror or disgust, but it’s not coupled with elements of sexual titillation in the same way that female bodies are.

Often in her videos, she presents an observation and considers that the critique. Okay, so female corpses are often sexualized, but is that the most serious issue here? Isn’t the fact that people are dead a little more important? A female character might be sexually assaulted before death, but maybe the male character was tortured (non-sexually) before death. Can we really say one is worse than the other, just because one happens to be gendered and one is not?

She attempts to explain why this is bad:

This Drop Dead Gorgeous trope, as it’s called, is commonly used in other forms of mass media, especially in fashion advertising. It is the collusion of violence done to women’s bodies and the fact that it is often sexualized. The idea being that a dead woman is still inherently beautiful, even if her body has been maimed, her life stolen from her, something arousing still remains available for male consumption.

Here she makes a big assumption. Perhaps the developers intend the dead, sexualized female to be “available for male consumption” (visually, I guess?), but how does she know that’s how players interpret it? In my experience, when I see dead characters in a video game, whether sexualized or not, I know something serious has happened. It can pack an emotional punch. Is she upset with the idea that a woman can still be inherently beautiful in death? How should a dead woman instead be seen: as inherently ugly and disgusting?

Cultures around the world often have immense respect for the dead (especially for family and friends). I don’t think viewing a corpse as ugly would be very honoring to the dead. I’ve been to four open casket funerals, and all individuals were dressed up by the funeral home to look as handsome as possible. So when we take away the idea that dead bodies can’t be seen as beautiful, and when we take away the assumption that men are “consuming” these bodies when they look at them, we are left with no explanation as to what the difference is between a dead, non-sexualized male and a dead, sexualized female, other than an observation about the manner of their deaths.

NPCs are necessary, but are always undeveloped

A main point of her argument is that sexualized females serve the plot in superficial ways:

During one mission in Far Cry 3 the players watch from the sidelines as a pimp beats up a female prostitute of color in a shanty town.

The women who fulfill this trope in gaming universes are sometimes designed to occupy minor narrative roles but more often than not they’re just hollow shells, empty representations with little to no personality or individuality to speak of.

A narrative in any medium–movie, novel, television, play, or video games–is filled with major characters and minor characters. By their nature, minor characters have little depth. The storyteller cannot give a fleshed out backstory for everybody (if you do you’ll end up with something bloated like The Game of Thrones). In the games she analyzes, there are plenty of male characters who are also beat, harassed, or killed in ways to advance the plot (though admittedly, often not in a sexualized way). But these NPCs don’t have much depth either.

I’m the kind of person who tries to have a consistent life philosophy, grounded in principles that work for many situations. I don’t like the idea of criticizing some certain instance but not criticizing other certain instances of similar quality. Yes, these female NPCs are undeveloped, but so are the males: so what?

Perhaps violence in general is Sarkeesian’s bigger concern

Sarkeesian is very prominently a feminist critic and a defender of women’s rights; that much is obvious. And while most of her material is focused on critiquing depictions of women in video games, occasionally she betrays a different motivation:

So in addition to helping paint a gritty picture for the rest of the game experience, this kind of sexualized violence against inessential female characters is exploited by developers as a sort of cheap one-note character development for the “bad guys”.

It’s a lazy shorthand for “evil” meant to further motivate the protagonist to take the villain down and help justify the excessive violence committed by the player in these games.

Some key words here: “lazy shorthand” and “justify the excessive violence.” Point taken: often times the villains in video games are shallow (I still don’t understand Bowser’s fixation with the Princess. He clearly has an empire in the Mushroom Kingdom and is a much more decisive and capable ruler than the Princess is). But if a villain was fleshed out and had depth, would that still justify excessive violence committed against him? Probably not. Notice the term she uses: excessive. I don’t know Sarkeesian’s motives for sure, as she never talks about violence divorced from gender, but maybe she’s equally bothered by the levels of violence present in many mature games.

From my experience with Mature titles, most of the violence is actually male-on-male, non-gendered violence. And that’s totally fine to be against excessive violence in video games–like I said near the beginning, I don’t play a lot of Mature titles, in part because the violence does get to be too much after a while. But excessive violence in games is a separate issue from gendered violence, and when the two are conflated in the same line of argument without proper analysis of one, then the argument falls flat.

The definition of “mature”

This is a small point, but as a scholar of communication, individual word choices and semantics are important to me. She wraps up most of her observations with this preliminary conclusion:

These women and their bodies are sacrificed in the name of infusing “mature themes” into gaming stories. But there is nothing “mature” about flippantly evoking shades of female trauma.

The games that she analyzes are rated “Mature,” but that word means: not appropriate for children. She even begins her video by saying the content is graphic and not appropriate for children. The “Mature” rating does not mean “sophisticated,” “nuanced,” or “deep.” A think many adults are well-aware that games rated “Mature” don’t necessarily contain deep and sophisticated philosophies and critiques of the world: but they do know that these games contain violence and sex.

But as before, Sarkeesian is making an assumption about how players react to these games. Perhaps to Sarkeesian, who is well-versed in feminist philosophy and is intimately aware of the issues of female harassment, gendered violence, and female trauma (I don’t mean from personal experience–I don’t know much about her personal life–but she’s certainly studied these issues for a long time), the rendering of traumatized females in video games is not sophisticated, but shallow. I understand.

People are at different levels, though, with their maturity. Perhaps to some people, these simplistic depictions of female suffering are deeply meaningful. As a male, I can’t understand what it’s like to be traumatized the same way women are. And in my media consumption, I don’t often come across depictions of female suffering. For me, then, when I see a female character brutalized in a video game, it does shake me out of my complacency and start me thinking about women’s issues.

Maybe other players have the same experience and find that these games are indeed “mature,” in other words, “sophisticated.”

The difference between replicating and critiquing

There is a clear difference between replicating something and critiquing it. It’s not enough to simply present misery as miserable and exploitation as exploitative. Reproduction is not, in and of itself, a critical commentary. A critique must actually center on characters exploring, challenging, changing or struggling with oppressive social systems.

But the game stories we’ve been discussing in this episode do not center or focus on women’s struggles, women’s perseverance or women’s survival in the face of oppression. Nor are these narratives seriously interested in any sort of critical analysis or exploration of the emotional ramifications of violence against women on either a cultural or an interpersonal level.

I’ve been an amateur student of the arts for many years. I’ll freely admit I do not know much about art theory and philosophy, but I do know a bit. And as an artist myself, I learned long ago that it is impossible to objectively replicate something found in nature. No matter what the medium is, there are always choices by the artist about what to include and what not to include. In this way, even the replication of something, like female oppression, is an act riddled with subjectivity.

Some artists even go so far as to suggest that their works do not have intended or subliminal commentaries associated with them. Some artists just create and let the audience draw meaning from there.

In this way, then, perhaps the games analyzed by Sarkeesian can be seen as critical commentaries on some aspect of life and society. She says that these narratives are not “seriously interested” in exploring these issues, but now she’s making an assumption about the developers behind these games. How does she know what the developers, as artists, intended? Perhaps to them, their games both replicate reality (albeit imperfectly) and critique it at the same time. Certainly many people have interpreted the GTA series as one long social commentary, in spite of GTA’s sexism, violence, profanity, drug use, and racism.

Now, we could argue that, if these games are indeed intended to be critiques that perhaps the critique isn’t effective, or isn’t effective for everybody. That would be fair. But when you remove the artist’s motivations behind their artwork, and open the door for individual subjective interpretations of art, then you’ll likely find an entire range of reactions to these games: some will see them as mindless and devoid of artistic merit, whereas others might be deeply impacted by the images they see.

Are viewers comfortable with these games?

The truth is that these games do not expose some kind of “gritty reality” of women’s lives or sexual trauma, but instead sanitise violence against women and make it comfortably consumable.

She makes this argument in many videos, that the depictions of women in media “normalize” violence and oppression against women, that frequent consumption of sexist media “desensitizes” people to reality. But again, she’s making an assumption about how players react to these games.

I think by the end of her video, I’ve finally hit on my main problem with Sarkeesian’s entire line of argument in all of her videos. She primarily examines content, not people. She is using a research technique broadly called “qualitative content analysis.” I’ve conducted both quantitative and qualitative content analyses over the years: I even published a qualitative analysis of the television show Death Note and its embrace of apocalyptic religion. Analyzing media content is one thing, but this research methodology has two serious shortcomings: it tells us little about what the creators of said media actually intended, and it tells us nothing about how consumers of media react.

If you want to know how people react to these video games, there’s a simple solution: go talk to people and ask them what they think! Observe them, survey them, interview them…there are numerous methodologies.

How does Sarkeesian know that gamers are “comfortable” with  these depictions of women in games? Just because a person buys a game doesn’t mean they are comfortable with 100% of the content (or even that they see the objectionable content). Just because a person isn’t publishing a public video critique on YouTube doesn’t mean that they are comfortable with the game’s content.

Video games aren’t just for entertainment and fun: a person can have many emotional reactions to video games. I know when I see a woman brutalized in a video game it bothers me. Does that mean I stop playing the game? Not necessarily. Sometimes I trek on because I think that the game does have a social commentary intertwined with entertaining game play.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies, but it’s very brutal and most of the time isn’t comfortable to watch. So I don’t watch it all the time. But I understand the value of the movie, even in its uncomfortableness.

Just because a game features something over and over again doesn’t mean that with each viewing, players get more comfortable with its content.

Maybe some people really do see violence as inevitable

These games also tend to frame misogyny and sexual exploitation as an everlasting fact of life, as something inescapable and unchangeable.

I’ve played my share of violent games over the years, and have seen plenty of ultra-violent movies as well. Currently, there is a media trend, as she identifies, of gritty, dark stories where even the heroes commit serious acts of violence. And sometimes at the end of these stories, the hero is miserable: think The Dark Knight. Now, I don’t understand the motives of any of these storytellers. Maybe some of them really do revel in the violence they create and are entertained by it.

But over years, I’ve come up with a different conjecture. Maybe some storytellers really do see violence as an inescapable and unchangeable reality of life. Certainly there is evidence for this (the entire recorded history of humanity is filled with violence). And maybe some storytellers haven’t been exposed to, or haven’t accepted, more hopeful philosophies of life. Maybe they really do live in the darkness and can’t envision a world without grisly violence.

While I don’t hold that worldview, I don’t begrudge those who do. Maybe that philosophy is the natural consequence of the life they’ve lived up to this point. Should those people be prevented from presenting their view of “reality as they know it” just because somebody doesn’t think that view of reality is accurate?

A mixed conclusion

She ends her video with this:

The truth is that objectification and sexual violence are neither normal nor inevitable. We do not have to accept them as some kind of necessary cultural backdrop in our media stories. Contrary to popular belief, the system of patriarchy has not existed for all of history across all time and all cultures. And as such it can be changed. It is possible to imagine fictional worlds, even of the dark, twisted dystopian variety, where the oppression and exploitation of women is not framed as something expected and inevitable.

When we see fictional universes challenging or even transcending systemic gender oppression, it subverts the dominant paradigm within our collective consciousness, and helps make a more just society feel possible, tangible and within reach.

Here’s what I take away. She’s saying simply: stop depicting sexual violence as an inevitable part of reality, because reality can be changed. I’m not clear what a universe that “transcends” systematic gender oppression looks like, but I’m guessing it means that, in a fictional universe, systematic gender oppression does not exist, and instead of storytellers focusing on that aspect of life, they can then be free to focus on other aspects, perhaps other forms of oppression. Am I getting close?

It seems like she wants these transcendent universes to be on display so that a more just society “feels possible.” In other words, these transcendent universes serve as a model in our consciousness, something to strive toward.

That seems a laudable goal, one I share, but I’d argue such universes already exist (the worlds of Final Fantasy seem pretty transcendent on the gender front, as does the Legend of Zelda [though Sarkeesian disagrees with that]).

Earlier in her video, she said this:

Now, to be clear, I’m certainly not saying stories seriously examining the issues surrounding domestic or sexual violence are off limits for interactive media – however if game makers do attempt to address these themes, they need to approach the topic with the subtlety, gravity and respect that the subject deserves.

So on the one hand, she wants developers to include stories of female trauma, but only if they fit a certain critical mold. But on the other, she wants stories that transcend gender, whatever that means.

But I’ve said too much as it is. For a proper conclusion, reread my section “my experience with these games.” Enough from me: what are your thoughts, Reader?

Game on,
~Dennis