Kay’s Korner: School-Live! Review

Hello, my name is Kayvious Campbell and I love video games and anime! After consulting with my good friend Dennis, I decided to write material to add to his awesome blog’s arsenal! I am a recent college graduate and currently just passing the time as I attempt to apply to graduate school. I hope to shed some light on some mainstream anime as well as some underappreciated anime. Feel free to leave comments and feedback to assist me in this new process or if you just want to generate conversation! Let’s get the show on the road!

School-Live girls

School-Live! is a relatively new anime that has a special place in my heart. I decided to make this my first review because it was a show that I just randomly scrolled onto it while on my CrunchyRoll account this past summer. From the first episode, I was hooked and it has made its way onto my list of all-time favorite anime.

The show revolves the main character, Yuki Takeya, who is a third year high school girl who is in love with going to school. So much that Yuki and a couple of her friends have created a club titled “The School Living Club” in which the members virtually live at school and enjoy each other’s passions and school.

The president of the club is Yuuri Wakasa. She is the leader of the group and the brains of the club who assists the club supervisor.

That club supervisor is Megumi Sakura, who is the one of the girls’ teachers. She is a lighthearted, caring person who is adjusting to her new profession.

The other three members are Kurumi Ebisuzawa, the athlete of the group, Miki Naoki, the club’s newest member who respects Yuki as her mentor or senpai, and the lovable club mascot and dog Taroumaru.

The School Living Club

Clockwise: Kurumi (Purple Hair), Yuuri, Yuki, Miki, Taroumaru

The manga series began serialization with the July 2012 issue of Houbunsha’ Manga Time Kirara Forward Magazine. The manga was written by Nitroplus Co. Ltd., a Japanese visual novel computer software company. The company’s other claim to fame or major associations is with the Fate/Zero series and Assassination Classroom series. They tend to focus on material with darker themes such as reanimation of the dead and murder (Spoiler).

The anime adaptation aired between July and September 2015. It was created by Lerche Studio, and thank goodness they decided to fund it. After the first episode was broadcasted, it sparked a dramatic increase in the manga sales; a ten-fold increase. The first episode has been viewed on Nico Nico Douga over 2.5 million times as of October 2015.

The manga steadily continue to thrive, however the sales for DVD are rather low, so the likelihood for a second season is slim. If you find yourself loving the series after you complete the anime adaptation, I definitely recommend that you continue with the manga series since it seems like it will be around for a while.

The School Living Club

The show is comprised of 12 episodes, 22 minutes in length. It began streaming stateside this past summer via CrunchyRoll and was constantly praised as one of the top anime of Summer 2015. At first glance, the show’s presentation conveys itself as a happy-cute-girls-doing-cute-things anime.

Yuki Takeya, as previously stated, is the central protagonist. The show constantly focuses on her relationships with the characters and her perspective of her life. She is airheaded and simpleminded, but her personality and actions help complement the group’s seriousness. All was going well until one unfortunate day and Yuki’s life and relationship with her friends would be changed forever.

As the show progresses and develops, it does a complete 180 and constructs serious reoccurring themes such as betrayal, despair, and even death evident by the end of episode one.  The phrase “Everything is not as is seems” rings true with this anime. The show contains several major plot twists that keep the audience captivated. The show leaves the audience in awe and scrambling to understand what has transpired or what may happen next. This thriller is filled with multiple elements and components that elevates its quality in my eyes, and I believe it deserves more attention throughout the anime community.

The art style is modern looking, and the show was done well overall. The one thing I noticed is that the main characters are very detailed while all the other characters throughout the show aren’t as detailed or look incomplete. I feel the artists and directors did this to put the focus on the girls rather than the background people.

The opening is very enjoyable as well! It is constantly changing and adapting to the follow alongside any major events. And the lighthearted J-Pop song will be forever etched into my brain. I will admit it was a tad bit annoying at first, but then it started to grow on me. Now, whenever I hear the opening, I can’t help but bounce along to the catchy tune.

Need more reason to watch this show? The show deserves attention because it is still an underappreciated and relatively unknown anime. The anime is subtitled and not available dubbed with English voices. I mention this because I have noticed a lot of people new to anime dislike having to read subtitles. But I firmly think this show is relatively easy to follow and the plot will keep you on your toes and wanting more.

~Kayvious

Video: Visual storytelling in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

After writing three in-depth posts about the visual storytelling in World 1, World 2, and World 3 of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, I realized something: the blog format isn’t well suited for what I’m trying to explain. So I rectified that oversight by creating a more complete analysis, this time of the entire game, in video form!

This video was a lot of work, but I think it turned out well! Thanks to everybody who’s been following my posts thus far. I had a ton of fun making this video, so I’ve started a new YouTube channel for this blog: Dpad on YouTube. Please check out my video and let me know what you think!

I’ve been watching Let’s Play videos for several years now, and after being an admirer from afar, I decided to finally tackle this new method of analysis. In this post, I want to talk about what went into the creation of this video. I’m sure there are plenty of resources out there for Let’s Players. Here’s my perspective on what I went through in the creation of this first video.

Research

First, I needed to play the game again so that I knew what I was talking about! I’ve already played DKCTF extensively for the write-up of the previous posts, but I went through the game for the umpteenth like, making notes on each level I played. I did this without capturing any footage; the focus at this stage was just to get information, and to figure out what footage I needed to capture.

I also played bits and pieces of the previous Donkey Kong Country games, as I knew I wanted to make comparisons to Tropical Freeze.

Gathering the assets

Next, I needed the assets: that is, the audio and visuals needed to make the video happen. I captured footage with the Hauppauge HD PVR Rocket. There are probably more sophisticated game recorders out there, but this one seemed intuitive to use and was fairly inexpensive at $140. That said, before I started gathering my assets, I played around with this recorder for a couple hours, learning how it connected to the system, troubleshooting errors that came up, and experimenting with short videos to see how big the file sizes were.

Once all that was out of the way, I played through each level, starting and stopping the recorder for each level so that I could better organize the data. Some levels I played all the way through, especially those levels where I knew I would be taking about them extensively. Other levels I knew I wouldn’t devote much time to analyzing them, so I played until I died, sometimes only 30 seconds.

One great feature of many games is the ability to adjust the volume of the music and sound effects independently. In 25 years of playing video games, I’ve never found a use for these options. But for this project, they came in handy! I turned the music all the way down, recording only sound effects. I knew that when I put the video together, I would have music playing on a separate track from the gameplay footage.

Then I needed to capture music. I readjusted the settings—turning the music all the way up and the sound all the way down. Luckily, DKCTF has many unlockables in the game, like soundtracks. I recorded 2-3 soundtracks from each world, usually for 3-4 minutes so that I had plenty of music to work with. The game doesn’t let you unlock all the soundtracks, so in a few cases I went to specific levels to record the music I needed.

Finally, I gathered some footage from the previous games in the series: DKC, DKC2, DKC3, and DKC Returns. I had the SNES games on the Virtual console, so I played them right from my Wii U. I also had DKC Returns on disc. No emulators were used in the creation of this video!

Recording the scripts

With all assets gathered, next it was time to write the scripts. This was a challenge for me: any follower of my blog knows that I write lengthy posts! The difference between reading and speaking, though, is that somebody can read something much faster than speaking the same words out loud.

The final script was over 6,000 words long! I tried to limit my discussion of each world to around 600-700 words, plus there was a little extra to introduce and conclude the video.

The scripts written, the next step was to record the voiceover. I purchased the Snowball iCE USB microphone by Blue from Best Buy. The mic is pretty good quality for $50. I figured, before I buy a ton of expensive equipment that I might not even use, it’s best to start with fairly inexpensive equipment and improve it over time should I really get into making this videos.

I recorded the scripts in chunks, only 2-3 sentences at a time. If I tried speaking longer than that, I usually stumbled over my words! I recorded the audio in Audacity, a free, open-source audio editor. After recording each segment, I combined the segments into one track, spacing my sentences apart as naturally as I could.

I’m not entirely satisfied with the voice-over work in this video. If I made the video again, I would spend more time editing my scripts for word choices (I tend to repeat certain words and phrases a few times, which makes the voice-over sound redundant in parts) and I would’ve rerecorded some of the sections so that the cadence was more natural.

Preparing the video

With all this prep work complete, it was time to put the video together! I edited the video with Adobe Premiere. I don’t own the program myself, but I’m a professor in a Mass Communication department, so I have access to this program on the school’s computers. I’ve used video editing software before, mostly Sony Vegas, but Adobe Premiere was considerably more sophisticated than Vegas. Fortunately, Google is a good friend! Typing in “How do I do XXX in Adobe Premiere” taught me a lot!

With the project open, I started by laying down my voice-over tracks. Then, I created text overlays for all the level names in the game. I relistened to my voice-overs, had whenever I started discussing a new level or world, I dropped a text overlay at the appropriate place.

Then I laid down the music. Each song would play long enough to cover the analysis of 4-5 levels of a given world. I think there are 15 tracks total in this video. I couldn’t have the music competing with my voice-overs, so I adjusted the audio so that the voice-overs were the loudest, and the music was quieter.

Finally, I was ready to sequence the game footage. I started at the beginning of the video and worked through to the end. I imported the videos, adjusted the volume so that the sound effects were quieter than the music, then cut the video into pieces, depending on what I discussed in the voice-overs.

I didn’t use all the footage from each level, so if I had unused footage, I put it toward the back of the timeline, as I knew I would need some general filler footage for the intro and conclusion to the video. By the time I got to editing the conclusion, I had a couple dozen clips to choose from. Almost no video repeats itself on this project!

Of course, there were several snafus I had to overcome in the creation of this project. Sometimes I forgot to record a tiny section of gameplay, or my voice-over just wasn’t good enough so I rerecorded it. Sometimes the video wasn’t displaying properly in the editor, so I had to fix it. And exporting the video took a few tries until I was satisfied with the final result.

Overall, I estimate that it took about 40 hours to produce this 37 minute video! Hopefully in the future, now that I’ve been through the process once, I can produce videos faster!

Since I am so pleased with how this first video turned out, for my next project I’m going to analyze the visual storytelling in the first Donkey Kong Country game: how did the inaugural entry to the series tell its story?

Stay turned for more videos, and more blog posts!

Game on,
~Dennis

Review: On My Own, by Beach Interactive

On My Own is an outdoor survival game featuring exceptional production values, pixel art, and calming music. With little fanfare, you’re thrust into the wildness, tasked with surviving on your own. The ultimate goal is to survive long enough to climb the mountain.

On My Own is dubbed a woodland survival adventure game by Beach Interactive and Close Studios. Released on Steam last month, the game is now making its way to iOS, Android, and soon consoles. Before I start this review, I’ll just mention that I personally know the designer and artist Kyle Weik. I hail from Fargo, North Dakota, where Beach Interactive resides. I’d talked to Kyle about the game for months before it released, so naturally I was a bit disposed toward liking this game.

That said, the subject matter itself was a natural draw. Ever since I was a kid I’ve gone camping with my family. As I got older, we did more extreme camping; I’ve been on about a dozen canoe and backpacking adventures over the years.

At an early age I fell in love with books like My Side of the Mountain and The Hatchet. I was also a Boy Scout, and trained in wilderness survival. Part of me has always longed to strike out on my own, to be alone in the wilderness with nothing but my wits and wisdom. While being marooned in the wilderness would obviously be a terrifying experience—especially for loved ones left behind—I’ve always wondered, Could I survive in the wilderness if I had to?

I’ll likely never know the answer to that. While I’ll always have a love of camping, the modern world is such that it’s nigh-impossible, without immense sacrifice that I’m unwilling to endure, to just drop everything and go into the wilderness. I’d leave too many loved ones behind, for one.

On My Own (OMO), though, afforded me a few hours to think through that possibility. You choose the sex of your character, read a brief letter about why you’re going into the wilderness, and then you’re there. You have a cabin, a hatchet, and a backpack. With little guidance, the game forces you to trap and hunt your own food, sew clothing from hides, construct weapons and tools, and start and maintain fires.

There’s a fair amount of variety to the activities, but time moves quickly through the seasons, which adds a welcome challenge. Berries only grow in the summer. Plants, needed for making bows, are only available in the summer and fall. The winters are cold, limiting how far you can venture from camp before your energy is depleted.

The first couple winters were brutal for me. I didn’t construct a bow that first winter, and berries barely provide any energy. My hunger meter gradually decreased as the winter wore on: I wasn’t prepared, and I thought I might starve at one point.

The second summer I worked hard to gather the materials for a bow so that I could shoot a deer. But the bow broke as I hunted a deer. Then my second bow broke. The rabbits closest to my home were already harvested. I entered another winter unprepared.

As the game progressed through the years (playing a year takes about 40 minutes), I got better at surviving. Soon I had a surplus of food and rabbit skins. The game is a bit unbalanced at times, where you might gather a ton of certain resources and then lack other resources. And time can move a bit fast—both the length of day, and the number of days in a season (ranging from 2-4 days for each season) could be extended.

But for your money, the game is still a great adventure. There isn’t a lot of variety to the music, but the twangy banjo music is uplifting and never gets old.

Conflict is minimal. The need to eat is an ever-present drive, and occasionally you might get mauled by a bear (I learned right away how close I could safely get to the grizzly bear, and where that line was!). The game does not present nature as an enemy, or as something to fear. Nature simply exists, I alongside the myriad animals.

Human contact is minimal, but I never felt alone or lonely. I felt content, satisfied. Often while I played my breath with hitch and I would deeply sigh, relaxed, fulfilled.

The loading screens are peppered with quotes about the natural world. For example,

Seeking means to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.

~Herman Hesse

The game doesn’t hold your hand, and provides very few hints on how to craft new items. I resisted looking up a wiki how to progress. When I finally discovered how to make a longbow, one that wouldn’t break like my bundle bow, I felt so accomplished!

If you are looking for an end-goal, the game provides one in the form of different environments. You can camp in four landscapes, the last being the bleak and lonely mountain. Make it to the mountain and you “beat the game.” This is a game, though, where the destination isn’t as important as the journey. Any woodsman will tell you that being in nature, in and of itself, is enough.

This game released during the Lenten season. As a Methodist participating in Lent, this game had some interesting spiritual parallels for me. Lent is a time of fasting, of journeying, of remembering. The 40 days of Lent mimics Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness, on his own.

The drive I feel to set out on my own is more than my ego speaking, more than me thinking about how awesome I would be at surviving in the wilderness. Anybody who’s spent significant time in the wilderness knows that being in Creation is one of the healthiest boosts you can give your spirituality. And you don’t have to be a Christian to recognize this: even non-believers recognize how clarifying the wilderness is to the soul.

For all the challenges those first two years posed to me, eventually I fell into a rut. Harvesting deer and rabbits became easy. I stocked up on berries, fish, hides, feathers, and wood. I accumulated so much that surviving was no longer difficult. As I played the game, I became complacent. I dared walk closer to the grizzly bears, knowing that even if they attacked me, it wouldn’t seriously set back my efforts.

To me, survival games are always most enjoyable in the beginning, when the danger is real. The first time I played Minecraft, back when it was in beta, I had no idea what to do. The first couple nights were actually frightening to me. I had no shelter, and I died over and over again by the slings of arrows from skeletons that I could not see.

But then I learned to build a shelter, mine iron, and craft weapons and armor. I started over many times in Minecraft, and the first few hours are always the most enjoyable. I eventually reach the point where I know how to craft everything, and the challenge is gone.

By the time I got to the third camp of OMO, I had so much stuff that I had nowhere to store it. I just left it on the ground, scattered around my lean-to. I had become rich.

The same thing happened to Sam Gribley in the My Side of the Mountain series, and Brian in The Hatchet series. The first books of those series are the best, when the boys are just learning how to survive. By the later books, they, too, become rich.

And I suppose that’s the natural way of the wilderness. Even alone, you are truly on your own for only a very short time. Then you have your stuff as company.

The third biome didn’t pose much struggle for me, and I was thinking of progressing to the final biome, the snowcapped mountain. With my goal of survival long since achieved, it was time to see the end game.

I loaded up Steam, and as usual, it went through an obnoxiously long update process (why does Steam need to update almost every day?). The OMO title screen loaded, and I went to “Continue.”

Unfortunately, my save was gone. I restarted my computer and Steam, but my adventure was lost to the ether.

It seems my destination is out of my reach for now. Anybody who’s ever lost a saved game before knows that, mentally, it saps your desire to start over again. I probably had six hours into the game: not a whole lot. But still, it seems like, for now, my time in the wilderness is finished.

Many great explorers get close to their destination but never reach it. Twenty-four Americans have visited the Moon, but only 12 have walked on its surface. Of the three people who’ve been to the Moon twice, Jim Lovell never stepped foot on it, orbiting around the Moon on the Apollo 8 and 13 missions.

And I’m sure there are thousands of people who’ve attempted to climb Mount Everest, only to turn back at the last minute, to be delayed by storm, or to die on the way up. Sometimes that’s how survival goes.

One day I’ll return to OMO after the melancholy subsides. Even though my journey ended in a way I didn’t expect, anticipate, or plan, I’m still satisfied with the game, and I’d recommend the game to anybody looking for an adventure.

After all, the destination was never the goal.

Game on,
~Dennis


Check out the On My Own blog for a cool look, with videos, about how the creators made On My Own!

Critique of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Strategic Butt Coverings” video

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency fame is back for Season 2 of the polarizing “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series with the release of “Strategic Butt Coverings.” Sarkeesian is retooling the series, in part due to the mental abuse of her critics and the physical toll this project has taken on her body. Though I disagree with most everything Sarkeesian espouses, I certainly don’t wish ill on her as a person. She’s had a busy couple years with the Tropes series, so the newer, shorter videos are a welcome change of pace.

In this video, Sarkeesian compares how the butts of female and male characters are depicted differently in video games. In short, games tend to emphasize the assets of female characters, but not male characters. Instead, designers employ a variety of visual design tricks to deemphasize male butts as much as possible, even in games that provide a third-person view of the character.

She uses a couple dozen examples to show the double standard, though admits that not all video game characters are treated this way:

Of course, not all games with male protagonists keep the character’s butt obscured or out of frame like these games do. The real issue is one of emphasis and definition; a significant portion of third-person games with female protagonists call attention to those characters’ butts in a way that’s meant to be sexually appealing to the presumed straight male player.

As far as her observations go, Sarkeesian showed me some things that I wasn’t aware of. Certainly female butts are emphasized in many video games: this wasn’t a surprise to me. I’m not interested in countering this argument with examples of non-sexualized female characters, like Princesses Peach, Daisy, or Zelda. Her examples from Arkham Knight and Gears of War of how designers will go to great lengths to hide male butts are illuminating.

What bothers me, however, are the implications of Sarkeesian’s brand of feminism as it relates to the bodies of real men and women. But before I get to that, watch her video: it’s a short one.

Getting to know a character

Sarkeesian opens the video with a very provocative assumption of game designers’ motives:

If you want to get to know a character, learn about their interests, goals, or desires, their butt is probably not going to give you that information. It won’t tell you much about who they are, or what they’re thinking or feeling at any given time. But video game designers often choose to put tremendous focus on the butts of certain characters, while going to almost absurd lengths to avoid calling attention to the butts of others.

Her opening is so full of hyperbole that I found myself laughing. In Sarkeesian’s view, female butts are the primary way designers want us to engage with a female character. Designers care more about the woman’s butt than anything else.

But if that were the case, why do games like Bayonetta and Tomb Raider have such lengthy plot lines and cutscenes? Do players really reduce female characters to their butts?

According to Sarkeesian, if a character has an attractive butt, then the player is somehow compelled to see the character solely through her asset, as if the butt is the lens by which players actually understand female characters.

Her hyperbolic outrage is a strawman, and made me think of this wonderful, off-color comic copyright Nathan Bulmer:

Man checks out a girl's butt

Modeling real-life fashion

Like I said in the intro, I can’t really argue with Sarkeesian’s observations. She says of Catwoman:

In Batman: Arkham City for instance, the player’s gaze is drawn to Catwoman’s behind, which is emphasized by her costume and exaggerated hip sway.

Then later says of male characters:

There are a few examples of male protagonists who are wearing clothing that calls attention to their butts but for the most part, men’s butts, even when visible in the frame, are deemphasized. Plenty of male heroes wear baggy pants or jeans…

And here is where Sarkeesian’s argument diverges from reality. Yes, digital artists design the butts of female and male characters differently. But if you think about the male and female sexes, aren’t there biological differences between the two? On a whole, on average? Women’s bodies tend to be shaped differently than men’s bodies.

Not exclusively, of course. But women’s bodies tend to have a higher percentage of fat than male bodies. And women, I think, have much more variability in their shapes, from hip size to bust size to hip-to-chest ratio to hip-to-waist ratio and waist-to-chest ratio. I think one reason women tend to spend more time looking for clothes than men is that they are almost forced to: their bodies have much more variability, and what fits one woman might not fit another woman. And because women have to hunt harder for properly fitting clothes, they naturally are going to know more about fashion than the average man.

After all, just think of one of the biggest changes a woman’s body can undergo: pregnancy. A woman’s body shape will change many times over the course of nine months, and after the baby is born, her new body will likely be different than her old body.

I don’t think it’s out-of-line, then, to point out that men and women, biologically, have different body shapes.

What also contributes, though, to the “double-standard” in how female and male butts are depicted are the real fashion choices of real women. Women often wear clothes, in real life, that emphasizes their rear end.

I’ve been on college campuses for 12 years now, in many different parts of the country, both as a student and a professor. I’ve seen thousands of young women. All generalizations fall apart on some level; all students, male and female, display great diversity in their fashion choices.

That said, there are several fashion trends of young women that emphasize their butts. Many students wear yoga pants or black leggings-as-pants. I’m not here to condemn them or support them for their fashion choices: I’m just making an observation. And while they might wear yoga pants or leggings because they are “comfy”, these garments are tight and they do emphasize the exact shape of a woman’s butt, jiggles and all.

Women sometimes where designer jeans that have sparkly rhinestone hearts plastered on the back pockets. Women athletes wear sweatpants with their last names emblazoned across the butt. They wear short shorts that show off not only the curves of their backside, but even their pelvis.

I lived in Florida for three years, and one fad that surprised me was the “under butt” style of shorts. Florida is hot, so naturally men and women don’t wear much clothing. And this was only a small minority of women, but some wore shorts so short that you could see the bottom curve of their butt cheeks.

Now, perhaps women are forced to show off their backsides because that’s the only kind of bottoms they are able to purchase in stores. After all, even women’s dress pants and skirts tend to be tight. But whatever shadowy forces are at work in society to shape women’s rears, wearing shorts that are so short that they show off a woman’s “under butt” is a conscious choice. Societal expectations of gender roles are not that controlling.

Sarkeesian says that men in video games tend to wear baggy clothes. That’s true in games, but that’s also true in real life. Whether men wear jeans, shorts, or dress pants (about the only three options men have for bottoms, compared to the multitude of choices for women), these garments tend to be baggy. Let me offer one possible explanation why men’s bottom garments are baggier: men have external genitalia, genitalia that can often change shape and size throughout the day, so men want more freedom in their clothes, not less.

(Discounting, of course, the minority of men who favor skinny jeans—that fashion seems so uncomfortable to me.)

To bring this long tangent to a close, I think many digital artists are simply modeling reality. They design male and female butts differently because 1) male and female bodies are different, and 2) men and women’s fashion options are very different in real life.

Of course, games are fantasy spaces, and plenty of video games (and related anime and comic book series) have pushed the limits of fantasy fashion. In other words, games don’t have to model real-world fashion choices, as they often do not. But even fantasy games have a basis in reality. That’s why male and female characters in fantasy spaces tend to look like men and women in real life.

Who’s being disconnected from the character here?

Sarkeesian’s observations are accurate, but her point misses the mark. Why is it wrong if a female’s butt is depicted?

[T]he emphasis placed on the butts of female characters communicates to players that this is what’s important, this is what you should be paying attention to. It communicates that the character is a sexual object designed for players to look at and enjoy. And by explicitly encouraging you to ogle and objectify the character, the game is implicitly discouraging you from identifying directly with her. [emphasis added]

Sarkeesian gives too much credit to the power of butts. Perhaps well-crafted butts cause her to disengage from a female character, but they don’t do that for me. I recently conducted a research project in which I analyzed games with overly sexualized female characters. The games were the standard culprits—Tomb Raider, Bayonetta, Dead or Alive, and Lollipop Chainsaw.

I chose to analyze these games for a specific reason. These games are often criticized for how female characters are modeled—and usually that’s where the criticism starts and ends, with the character’s appearance. After all, it’s impossible to argue that a character like Bayonetta is not sexualized:

Bayonetta 2 Box

However, when I actually played Bayonetta, I realized that she, along with the game, actually had quite a bit of depth. Bayonetta’s certainly aware of her sexuality, but she’s not a whore. She has a “look, don’t touch” mentality. She flaunts her body, but doesn’t really tease the male characters with it. Her main pursuer, a male journalist, gets close to touching her from time to time, but doesn’t succeed. Nor does he see Bayonetta as a body to be conquered.

Bayonetta has a tricky past, and she wrestles with the darkness (she is a witch) but also the light: she helps people, and cares for those closest to her. She is strong, courageous, and capable. She’s not prone to negative emotions, and she’s rarely scared or sad. There’s even an undercurrent of motherhood throughout the game, as a little girl insists on calling Bayonetta “mommy” even though Bayonetta insists she is nothing of the sort.

I really enjoyed playing Bayonetta. And honestly? Once the action gets going, she moves so fast, and so much is happening on the screen, that there is often little time to “ogle” her body. Sarkeesian insists that the design of female butts reduces these characters to their butts, but I think she’s the one who is reducing female characters to their bodies.

Are costumes like Bayonetta’s over-the-top? Obviously, clearly, undoubtedly. On the other hand, look at how cool her costume design is. The diamonds going up her legs, the neon heel pistols, the silky hair tied up with charms, the frilly sleeves. And as I pointed out before, many women love cosplaying as these characters.

The emergent view of the body, according to Sarkeesian

I’ve studied Sarkeesian long enough that I’m starting to understand what her feminism is rooted in. Now, I’m making some assumptions here; even though her body of work is quite largely, I don’t know what she thinks about other feminist causes, such as abortion rights, equal pay, discrepancies in women’s health care, etc. It might be safe to assume she holds standard liberal, feminist views on women’s rights issues, but I don’t want to assume.

I also want to be careful about labeling her philosophy in language she has not used. After all, while I hold a high view of women and believe that women are just as capable and valuable as men, I would bristle at somebody labeling me a feminist. That’s because my support of women is fueled by a different philosophy (namely, Christianity) and is not fueled by the contemporary academic well of feminism.

All that said, Sarkeesian’s view of the body, particularly the female body, does remind me of two philosophies.

First, for all of her liberal leanings, Sarkeesian’s view of the female body is strangely conservative, even Puritan. I really do wonder what she thinks of women who consciously choose to dress provocatively, who choose to flaunt their bodies, who choose to embrace their sexuality. As I’ve said before, there are strains of feminism that celebrate the female body, even going as far to support women who make a career out of pornography.

Occasionally Sarkeesian will praise a video game that depicts females “correctly.” And these women are usually covered up and have small chests and flat butts. Her conservative leanings on the female body get dangerously close to “body shaming,” the act of criticizing women not only for their fashion choices, but even the very shapes of their bodies, which are often out of their control.

When I think of the female college students I work with on a daily basis, most of them are thin. And body shapes vary dramatically in all the areas I’ve already enumerated. So when Sarkeesian criticizes somebody like Lara Croft for having the perfect, rounded butt, I wonder: what does she think about actual women with that same rear-end shape? What does she think of women who also wear tight shorts, just like Croft?

Every week I see women joggers run by my house in tight shorts and sports bras. Lara Croft is similarly athletic, climbing the ruins of ancient civilizations, often in places like jungles and tropical islands. In a way, her tight clothing is appropriate for the athletic feats she performs.

Second, a related philosophy, going all the way back to ancient societies, is mind-body dualism. This philosophy exists in many forms, and even early forms of Christianity (as well as other religions) have embraced this philosophy. It’s really hard to gloss over dualism, but essentially, dualists see the mind and body as completely separate entities.

And usually, dualists see the body as lesser than the mind. The body is a flawed, imperfect vessel for the mind. For example, in the Christian heresy of Gnosticism, the flesh is seen as wholly separate from the mind. Even farther, the flesh is seen as sinful and corrupted: the body is a prison that our souls need to escape from.

Certainly Sarkeesian is not Gnostic. But she seems to have some disdain for the female body. She says in this video:

Third-person games with female protagonists typically display those characters in a way that gives players a full-body view. A classic example of this is the original Tomb Raider games, which are presented from a third-person perspective wherein protagonist Lara Croft’s entire body is visible. In these early Tomb Raider games, Lara’s butt is typically right in the center of the screen…

I’m not sure what’s so offensive about her observation. Most video games feature a third-person view, the entire body of the character visible. This camera orientation goes back 30+ years to the days of Donkey Kong. Now, those who have played 3D third-person games know that the camera can often be adjusted on the fly. The camera might default so that the center of the person is in the middle of the screen, but the camera can also take many other positions.

And is it really so offensive that the butt is in the middle of the screen? If not the butt, then what part of the body? If it was the character’s head, would Sarkeesian be arguing that the camera supports a fetishization of the female head? The butt is roughly in the middle of the body: legs are below, torso is above.

This very practical camera orientation has nothing to do with butts. By this logic, the 2D platforming games also fetishize Mario’s butt. When Mario eats a Super Mushroom, he’s two squares tall: the bottom square is his legs and butt; the top square is his torso and head.

Super Mario World screenshot

Learning from a character’s appearance

To go back to Sarkeesian’s opening statement: I agree, you can’t learn anything about a character’s interests, goals, or desires by looking at their butt. But does that mean you can’t learn anything at all about them based on their physical appearance? Does not the entirety of their physical appearance tell the player something about who they are? Body shapes and clothing choices can tell us what drives a character, how they take care of themselves, even how they see themselves.

This is why I bring up dualism. Sarkeesian seemingly wants a world in which characters have no sexuality, dress plainly, have square, flat bodies, and do not let their body dictate anything about who they are. She ends her video by saying:

So to be clear, the solution here is not to simply show more butts of male characters. Equal opportunity butt display is definitely not the answer. Rather, the solution is to deemphasize the rear ends of female characters … This is not an impossible task given that game designers do this all the time with their male characters. It’s time they started consistently doing it with their female characters, too.

The rear ends of female characters should be deemphasized, should be depicted in the same hidden, shadowy ways that male butts are depicted. No butts for anybody!

Just as a person who shows up to a job interview in a suit versus somebody who choose up in jeans tells us something about the person, a video game character who wears tight clothes tells us something about who they are, and a character who wears baggy clothes tells us something as well.

Before playing Dead or Alive, all I’d ever heard was that the game oversexualized female characters, especially in the chest area. Each character has a range of costumes, and when you mix in DLC, you can get teeny tiny lingerie and bathing suit costumes for all the female characters.

However, the default costumes do tell us something about the female characters. Body shape and fashion choices matter. They aren’t a distraction, or objectification, as Sarkeesian believes. Just look at the range of DoA female characters. If you’ve played the game, you’re already familiar with who these characters are.

If not, tell me if you can’t figure out, at least a little, who these characters are, based on their dress:

Dead or Alive 5: Hitomi

Dead or Alive 5: Kokoro

Dead or Alive 5: Leifang

Dead or Alive 5: Lisa

Dead or Alive 5: Mila

Dead or Alive 5: Sarah

Dead or Alive 5: Tina

On some level, it’s the responsibility of every player to figure out what kind of characters they like, and which they don’t. Sarkeesian bemoans that she can’t identify with female characters, but insists that we should be able to identify with them as people. Yet she also argues that characters are designed by people, that they are not independent creations, that they are subjugated by game developers. She views female characters as being autonomous, though objectified, beings who are at the same time lacking in agency.

It’s becoming clear to me that Sarkeesian holds the female body in low regard, and believes that who a person is should be divorced from the form of their body. That’s not to say that a character’s personhood is wholly determined by the shape of their body. But there can be a middle ground: a character’s personhood and body are both important.

I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the matter for now: my analysis is 3+ times the word count of Sarkeesian’s video. At the very least, her views are generative of much discussion.

Game on,
Dennis

3DS Review: Witch and Hero; an amazingly simple game

I’ve purchased games from the 3DS eShop several times over the past couple years. And every time I’m in the shop, I see the game “Witch and Hero.” Built on the 8-bit aesthetic, the game’s always attracted my attention. And for less than $3, it has to be worth a look, right? I saw the following trailer, then bought the game, knowing nothing else about it.

The game is simple, only taking about 5 hours to beat. I had a lot of fun with it!

Then I looked up the reviews for it. Hrmm, not so good.

This is my Witch and Hero Review; alternatively titled “Why you shouldn’t always let the majority opinion dictate your game choices.”

Let’s get it on!

“Retro” games

As somebody who grew up on the NES, the 8-bit style has always appealed to me: the visuals, the sound, and the gameplay. Naturally I see something like Witch and Hero and am immediately lured in. While many “retro” games take shortcuts and do things that were never done back in 1985, Witch and Hero feels authentic.

The pixel art is simple, the music is catchy, and the gameplay is straightforward and challenging.

And this is where the criticism comes from.

In WAH, the Witch has been turned to stone by Medusa, and the Hero wants to revive her. There are 20 levels, all single screens. The Witch stands in the middle, and monsters converge on her from the edges.

When they hit her enough times, she dies.

The goal, then, is to protect her until you defeat the Boss monster at the end of the level. Simple.

For some gamers, apparently too simple. You attack enemies by walking into them: that’s it! No hitting an attack button, no sword animation. You just bump into them. Each time you hit them, they take some damage, and you also take damage.

When your hit points run out, you are stunned for a few seconds until revived.

After the first few levels, you gain the ability to revive the witch temporarily. You collect Monster Blood, bring it to the Witch, and when her blood meter fills up, she comes to life.

She has two magic attacks: an area of effect wind attack, and a fireball attack that’s concentrated in one direction. You spin her in place with the L and R buttons to aim the fireball.

Outside of the battles, there’s a simple shop where you upgrade your magic, attack, defense, and speed.

Repetitive gameplay

WAH was knocked by others because of the simple gameplay, but also on the repetitiveness. Each level is the same thing: protect the Witch, kill monsters, try to survive, and kill the Boss.

The levels, however, are inconsistent in their difficulty. While I flew through the first few levels, soon I hit a wall. The monsters were too strong, and they kept killing the Witch! I had to level up, which involved playing levels over and over again, gaining more experience, and more treasure to buy upgrades.

After the first couple walls, I progressed very quickly through the next four or five levels. Then hit a wall.

Grind and repeat.

The final boss, Medusa, finally switches up the strategy and requires a different approach.

Nintendo Life ended their review by saying:

Even if a title tries to sell over-simplicity and crudity by adopting an 8-bit aesthetic, that doesn’t excuse lazy, unimaginative design and execution. This lacks strategy and skill, and is as mindless as they come; playing Witch & Hero feels like a chore, and it would be served better as a free PC flash game than a paid-for 3DS eShop release.

And Destructoid said:

Witch and Hero takes a simple, charming concept and somehow manages to make it repetitive, dry, and unfun. Given the price, you’re better off skipping this retro-centric experience in favor of the endless sea of classics on the 3DS eShop.

For me, the simplicity actually worked in the game’s favor! And here’s why.

What are you looking for in a game?

People play games for different reasons. For example, I love the story-driven, complicated Final Fantasy games. FF is one of my favorite series! But even I can’t stomach FF after FF. They take a lot emotional energy to play, a lot investment.

In between “serious” games with “depth,” I like to play simpler games.

And where I’m at right now with my gaming, at this moment, WAH was a short distraction, a snack between meals. It didn’t take me that many hours to complete: I had it finished in four days.

That’s the right amount of enjoyment for $2.50.

Sure, the game is simple, but so what? If I compare this to NES games, I actually had a lot more fun in these few hours than I had in tens of hours playing certain games as a kid. While the game involved some grinding, it was fair. It was manageable. It was doable.

This game feels like it could’ve existed on the NES. Now, in reality, that wouldn’t have worked, as this game has too many objects on the screen at once, something the NES never could’ve handled. WAH feels like a natural evolution of NES-era technology, similar to how Shovel Knight also bends some of the NES rules slightly to make a quality game.

You have to tell yourself the story

I thought the story behind WAH was delightfully charming. Most games have you start as low level heroes, progress through obstacles, and then defeat the final boss. WAH starts with the final boss, and the heroes get their butts kicked!

WAH is like a sequel, the second part of a two-part story. The Witch and the Hero set out together to restore the Witch’s body, defeat Medusa, and save the town.

Some of the levels give a tiny bit of story in the form of grammatically incorrect text screens, but most of the time, the story is nonexistent.

Or is it? The top screen of the 3DS shows a world map, so as I progressed from level to level, I imagined my heroes in the woods, crossing the desert, crossing the mountains, entering the caves, traipsing through the graveyard, struggling through the ice lands, until finally I got to Medusa’s realm.

When a game doesn’t provide a story for me, I often make up my own story. I did a similar thing when I tried beating Final Fantasy I with all white mages, if you recall.

Even though you play as the Hero (I’m sure Anita Sarkeesian would see WAH as another example of the damsel in distress trope), to me, the Witch felt more important. The monsters want to attack her, not me! Sure, the monsters kill me sometimes, but that’s only because I attack them and they defend themselves. I’m like a mosquito that they keep swatting away.

The Witch is powerful. The monsters want to destroy her, even though she’s already stone. The Witch is the actual hero of the game.

Hero is just the errand boy who collects the monster blood for her and drags her stone body across the world.

A game doesn’t need cinematics or paragraphs of text to tell a story. The story can be told through the gameplay.

After several hours, I got attached to these characters. I felt bad when the Witch got destroyed (over and over and over again). I felt like I was letting her down.

The final duel with Medusa has a fun twist, which I won’t spoil. But it further deepened the story that I’d already developed in my head.

If you’re looking for a cheap, fun diversion, I highly recommend Witch and Hero. I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the game’s simplicity, I created some fun memories with this game, and I suspect these two characters will stick with me long after I close the 3DS.

Game on,
~Dennis