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Fuck NO Video Games

Apr 7 '14

On Luftrausers: content, critique, and why being offended isn’t a choice

There are a great many people alive today for whom World War 2 is not another history lesson. It’s a trauma that was deliberately inflicted on entire ethnic groups, communities, families - and people still bear the scars. This human cost is often lost in pop culture portrayals - particularly games, which gravitate towards experiences that the player is meant to enjoy.

Vlambeer’s arcade-action game Luftrausers is visibly influenced by Nazi aesthetics. Pilots and officers wear outfits inspired by German militaria; players control retro-futuristic superweapons named similarly to the German air force; players are eventually pitted against a tactician who resembles Winston Churchill. With Luftrausers is becoming more popular, people tied to the tragedies of the Second World War have had time to think about the game and voice justified concerns. Did the developers really put the player in the role of a Nazi pilot? Was there any logic behind it, any subversion in the game itself? Or is the player just supposed to accept their role?

Vlambeer did something that’s far too rare - they addressed the critique. Rami Ismail’s official response acknowledges and apologizes for the discomfort Luftrausers may have caused. He explains the ambiguous alternate history in which the game is set, and the core theme of battles fought with unknown technology. Vlambeer’s message may not assuage everyone’s misgivings about the game, but it’s an open and honest response from developers who care about the concerns people raised. It’s a solid apology, and it’s appreciated.

…and then Polygon got involved.

Owen Good’s article barely acknowledges those disturbed by Luftrausers. It definitely doesn’t address why they were concerned - in fact, the article is mostly rearranged scraps from Vlambeer’s press release. (The apology that leads the official response is conspicuously absent.) It’s an extremely one-sided article, and in the absence of background, it’s easily read as dismissive of the people who spoke up.

The author’s opinion became even more obvious when he took the discussion to his personal Twitter.

image

-Being offended is a choice. Now, some things make that a very easy and reasonable choice. But it’s always a choice.

No. If being offended were a choice, do you really think anyone would opt in? Anger is exhausting. It’s draining. It takes vast reserves of emotional energy. And when people build the confidence necessary to speak up and voice their concerns - concerns that are informed by real experiences - they get dismissed by “impartial” voices who insist that they are not offended. 

People aren’t looking for stuff to get mad about. They’re encountering issues that speak to them personally, and they’re responding. In this case, people affected by the Holocaust were offended by an apparent, uncritical portrayal of Nazis as protagonists - and somehow, they were in the wrong for speaking up. What?

Now, why does the name “Owen Good” seem so familiar? Oh, right - he wrote that tremendously uncritical piece about “race in video games” research a couple weeks ago. Meaning that this article is just part of a larger trend of lazy, empathy-free reporting on Polygon.


Sources:

Response to recent LUFTRAUSERS concerns.” (Rami Ismail, Vlambeer) 6 April 2014.

Vlambeer responds to concerns Luftrausers is about playing Nazi pilots.” (Owen S. Good, Polygon) 6 April 2014. (Linked without pagerank)

Mar 28 '14

Content Warning: The Witch and the Hundred Knight

Trigger warning: rape.

Presumably to contrast its cutesy visuals, The Witch and the Hundred Knight sets out to be as vile as possible. Marsh Witch Metallia doesn’t just spew gendered, whorephobic insults; at the end of the first stage, the witch defeats a rival, transforms her into a mouse, then summons a group of wild mice to rape her. Chased offscreen, the rival is instead killed and eaten by Metallia’s henchmen. The whole thing is presented as a jokey demonstration of how sadistic the deuteragonist can be - and instead reflects on the grotesque insensitivity of the developers.

Source: GamerFuzion’s walkthrough, on YouTube.

Mar 26 '14

Trigger warnings: ableism, suicidal ideation, racism, sexism, transmisogyny, rape.

Having been called out for a dismissive comment about mental illness, indie developer/artist/game jam organizer Devi Ever doubled down on her comments with a torrent of “ironic, satirical” racism, sexism, transmisogyny, and rape jokes. Participants in #cyberpunkjam and the upcoming #genderjam may want to reconsider their association, given the organizer’s toxic behavior.

Click through for details.

Read More

Mar 23 '14

On Saturday, Polygon reported on a pair of studies coordinated by Brad Bushman of Ohio State University. Through explicit and implicit testing, Bushman and his team sought to examine connections between violent portrayals of black characters in games and racial bias in players. Polygon’s takeaway of the whole affair?

"Study suggests playing as a black character can reinforce racist attitudes".

…Um. Let’s analyze, shall we?

From EurekAlert’s press release:

"The media have the power to perpetuate the stereotype that blacks are violent, and this is certainly seen in video games," Bushman said.

"This violent stereotype may be more prevalent in video games than in any other form of media because being a black character in a video game is almost synonymous with being a violent character."

By design, this study focuses on stereotypical portrayals of black characters in violent games. Any conclusions are based on that premise. No attention is paid to nuanced characters - and there’s no room for that context in Polygon’s headline. Just “playing as a black character can reinforce racist attitudes”.

Secondly, let’s examine the methodology:

Experiment #1. 126 university students (60% of whom were male, 100% of whom were white) were assigned to play Saints Row 2. Participants were randomly assigned black or white avatars, then given violent or nonviolent missions. Followed by a racially-motivated questionnaire and an Implicit Association Test (IAT). Participants who played with black avatars and violent goals exhibited higher rates of explicit and implicit bias.

Experiment #2. 141 college students (55% of whom were male, 100% of whom were white) were randomly assigned black or white characters in WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 or Fight Night Round 4. Followed by an IAT, and a “hot sauce test” designed to evaluate aggression. Participants who played with black avatars exhibited higher rates of explicit and implicit bias.

Again, this study is deliberately focused on a very small, specific group of participants, all of whom were white. These results cannot feasibly be applied to a larger, more diverse audience. Moreover - were participants questioned ahead of time to analyze prior bias? If not, how can you tell whether the conditions of the experiment actually affected their outlook? It’s possible that these questions are answered in the full text of the study, but it’s locked behind a paywall - and Polygon cites the aforementioned press release, not the details of the publication.

Studies like these are not to be regurgitated as headline news. They’re meant to be evaluated, cited, and critiqued as part of a larger body of research. This begs the question: why did Polygon feel the need to relate the broad strokes of this study on its own, without addressing its flaws? Having reported on Manveer Heir’s GDC speech about minority representation just three days prior, did they feel the need to play devil’s advocate against diversity?


Sources:

Study suggests playing as a black character can reinforce racist attitudes.” (Owen S. Good, Polygon) 22 March 2014. (Linked without pagerank)

Playing as black: Avatar race affects white video game players.” (Jeff Grabmeier, EurekAlert) 21 March 2014.

Effects of Avatar Race in Violent Video Games on Racial Attitudes and Aggression.” (Brad J. Bushman, Ohio State University) 20 March 2014.

Mass Effect developer makes emotional plea to eliminate social injustice in games.” (Charlie Hall, Polygon) 19 March 2014. (Linked without pagerank)

Mar 20 '14

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes and its handling of rape (severe trigger warning)

Much more information is now freely available about Ground Zeroes and its usage of rape as plot device. This content is extremely upsetting and I warn anyone who might be triggered by such details to avoid this post.

By doing side missions, the player can unlock secret audio tapes belonging to Chico, a young boy from Peace Walker. The villain has kidnapped another Peace Walker character, Paz. Chico himself also ends up being captured. Both characters are tortured, and Paz is gangraped. Chico is also forced to participate in her being raped. Later, the villain removes most of Paz’s internal organs to make room for a bomb. He plants another bomb, this one heavily implied to be forced into her vagina.

The game has been rated M for the violence and for including this content. I do not argue that the game should be censored by the government. However, a graphic depiction of sexual violence against a woman more in addition to all the other violence in the game certainly merits an Adults Only rating, which the game did not receive.

Additionally, even if the government should not censor the product, the content therein remains in bad taste. I believe there is no sufficient justification for such content, and even should such justification be possible, it is not present in the game.

Source: http://www.giantbomb.com/metal-gear-solid-v-ground-zeroes/3030-39575/forums/did-kojima-go-too-far-chico-s-tape-spoilers-1475676/#146

Mar 13 '14
Mar 9 '14

toxic-thrall:

Every time I think about buying another Games Workshop licensed product or going to one of their stores, this shit happens.

They’re like dogs, they don’t understand what they’re doing is wrong.

"How should we acknowledge International Women’s Day, an event based around the importance of feminism in social and economic justice?"

"Bikini pinup?"

"Perfect!"

Source: the official Blood Bowl Facebook page.

Mar 5 '14

metalgirlysolid reblogged your post and added:

Please don’t jump to conclusions. While Kojima is always pushing the envelope in many ways, there’s almost definitely not going to be rape included. “while there is no visual depiction, sounds of ripped clothing and struggle can be heard” is probably in reference to PAZ being forced into having a ‘package’ surgically inserted into her intestines, as seen in the Red Band Trailer.

Again, from the ESRB website:

The game includes an audio file in which a female character is sexually assaulted by male characters; while there is no visual depiction, sounds of ripped clothing and struggle can be heard.

Rape is definitely in the game.

Kojima also pretty much confirmed that the “Cosplay” aspect of Quiet was a ruse, to watch certain demographics/press outlets get upset over the sexuality of a character without context, while at the same time, showing how ignorant they are towards violence that isn’t sexually related, or aimed towards women.

I’m not sure how you reached that conclusion. When Kojima debuted Quiet, he made it very clear that the character was designed for sex appeal. When the backlash came in, Kojima insisted that everyone would be “ashamed of their words & deeds”. He stated that the design was meant to be a satire, but he failed to mention how deliberately objectifying his female lead in a very industry-standard way is supposed to be subversive. If that’s a “ruse”, it’s particularly uninspired.

Also, the fact that you call Paz a 16 year old confirms that you have not even completed Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker.

I am familiar with the final twists in Peace Walker, though I had no interest in spoiling them for people who hadn’t played. For the vast majority of the game, Paz is presented as a 16-year-old. When she strips down to her underwear and has a seaside date with Big Boss (for some reason), the player is meant to believe that she is 16. The example stands.

Again, just don’t jump to conclusions before you embarrass yourself. Wait for the game to come out and judge it based on context. MGS has always been a very serious series with controversial acts such as torture, male nudity, and also predicting SOPA 10 years in advance, but that’s nothing SJW’s would get bothered about, so it’s not brought up as much as MGSV has. Hell, you didn’t even bring up Child Soldiers which were even shown in MGSV trailers, which makes me wonder where exactly your priorities are.

Kojima’s use of child soldiers in the Metal Gear series is problematic in and of itself, and that’s certainly worthy of discussion - but that’s simply not what this article was about. I was trying to explain Kojima’s horrendous track record on the subject of sexual assault, and how this is likely to influence the narrative of Ground Zeroes.

As for the precedent of Metal Gear being a “serious series” - do you see the gulf between Kojima’s treatment of censorship, genetic engineering, nuclear proliferation, etc., and his treatment of sexual assault? While he attempts to approach the former with a modicum of seriousness, sexual topics are used for humor and titillation. That’s why people should be worried about Ground Zeroes - Kojima has not demonstrated the maturity necessary to address this topic.

Mar 5 '14

Sexual assault in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Trigger warnings: sexual assault, sexual harassment.

Hideo Kojima says that he’s “going to be targeting a lot of taboos, a lot of mature themes [in Ground Zeroes].” Apparently, rape will be among them:

The game includes an audio file in which a female character is sexually assaulted by male characters; while there is no visual depiction, sounds of ripped clothing and struggle can be heard.

In fiction, rape is seldom approached with the gravity it deserves. Instead, it’s frequently employed as a shortcut to character development, a way of proving how evil the bad guys are while quickly giving the victim a sympathetic backstory. Is it possible that Ground Zeroes will approach the subject with more respect? Well, let’s take a look at Kojima’s track record:

  • In the original version of Snatcher, the player can hit on a recently-orphaned 14-year-old.
  • Players can grope most of the women in Policenauts. (There’s transphobia in there, too.)
  • There are easter eggs in MGS1 and MGS3 based around voyeurism.
  • The protagonist of MGS2 is groped when mistaken for a woman.
  • Most of MGS4's bosses are women with PTSD, who strip down to skintight latex and moan when attacked. These characters were animated using motion capture; the actresses were originally asked to perform nude.
  • In Peace Walker, 16-year-old Paz Ortega Andrade is the frequent subject of male gaze; she ends up in her underwear more than once.

Paz is going to return in Ground Zeroes. For all we know, she could be the victim in the rape scene. The other possibility is Quiet, a bikini-wearing mute character who Kojima introduced “to make [you] want to do cosplay or its figurine to sell well.” In which case, Kojima would be actively sexualizing a rape victim, one who cannot speak for herself.

So… no. I don’t trust Hideo Kojima with a sexual assault narrative.

Feb 24 '14

Content warning: Sexualized violence in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Scheduled for release this week, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 revives Dracula as a shell of his former self. Emerging from his crypt with a hunger for fresh blood, the vampire sets upon a modern family - killing the father, feeding on the mother (from a grotesque first-person perspective), and leaving the fate of a child to the player’s imagination. It’s a scene that defines Dracula’s character, contributes to the game’s grim tone, and deliberately evokes imagery associated with sexual assault.

Sexuality is a consistent theme in vampire fiction. Some of it is nuanced; some is blatant. Castlevania approaches it in terms of shock value:

"We’re doing a game about vampires so we want to do some nasty, vampiric things,” explains Konami producer Dave Cox. "The family at the beginning, we did that because up to that point you’d played as a bit of a badass and then we just give the player a gentle reminder that you’re actually a really nasty piece of work."

Dracula is the game’s protagonist, and the “family scene” is the developers’ way of showing off his dark side. However twisted and evil the vampire may be, the player is expected to sympathize with him over the course of the game. The people in the crypt are one-note entities, existing only to be victimized. Given that this scene is designed to evoke shades of real-world trauma, putting the player in the role of an assailant is downright distasteful.


Sources:

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Shows Its Dark Side.” (Stace Harman, IGN) 9 January 2014.

Yes, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Did Make Me Feel Uncomfortable.” (Kat Bailey, USGamer) 13 January 2014.