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On sexism, misogyny, and rape culture

Posted by finedaysunday on June 30, 2013

Microsoft’s presentation during this year’s E3 came under heavy fire for a demonstration of Killer Instinct, during which one of the hosts let slip a verbal jab at his female counterpart the likes of which the videogame culture at large has taken for granted for years, and one which carries undertones of rape. Here’s what happened:

Improvised trash talk? Admittedly lame scripted attempt on Microsoft’s part at friendly banter? Either way, we’re living in the Facebook/Twitter era, and within seconds the social media universe erupted with backlash and disbelief at the guy’s poor choice of words. This incident became a lightning rod of criticism that all but eclipsed all of Microsoft’s misguided decisions at E3 (and there were many). Why is that? Well, the sexism and rape culture debates are much bigger and trickier to discuss than simple videogame-based trade shows. Sadly, it’s in that very same insular community where you’re likely to find some of the most offensive instances of misogyny and hatred. Over time, this has become automatic and ingrained into the culture to the point that the word “rape” has become so synonymous with defeating someone in a videogame that the offenders don’t even need to use the word itself anymore, but merely imply it. This unfortunate verbal exchange is the perfect, and most current example of that. “Just trash talk we use all the time”, you say? Yes, yes it is. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

To Microsoft’s credit, they did ultimately issue an apology for this whole mess, but by then several things had happened. Many had no idea what all the fuss was about, and were genuinely surprised that this had caused such a social firestorm at all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that if you personally didn’t find the guy’s choice of words to be suggestive of rape then that must mean you’re a misogynist and you’re therefore part of the problem. That’s not it at all. This is near-universally accepted trash talk in the realm of competitive videogames. Most likely if you watched this presentation without any idea of the controversy it caused, you might not have even noticed what the big deal was. That’s what’s interesting to me, is the fact that we don’t even flinch at this stuff anymore. I personally thought that his remark was ignorant and poorly timed, and that if it was indeed scripted then it wouldn’t be out of place with Microsoft’s numerous sad and transparent attempts to connect with a “young and hip” audience. Ever see that “youth abstinence school assembly” Family Guy routine? Yeah, same thing.

Again, discussing social issues like this interests me a great deal. But first we have to acknowledge that it’s there, and that it’s worth talking about. Yet there are some people who aren’t interested in having a discussion of any sort. Some people emerged to play the part of the apologist, not to express their confusion about how this became such a heated issue, but to insist that there was no issue at all. Sadly, this was always going to happen the instant any sort of controversy concerning rape culture surfaced, but the fact that it happened under the microscope of the biggest videogame trade show in the world led to some truly unfortunate strains of biology making themselves known. I was subjected to the most egregious example of such a person a few weeks ago, and as a result I decided to put some topics I’d rather be discussing on hold for the time being. E3 may be over at the time of this writing, but people like this may never go away.

Fair warning: This is 20 minutes long and, if you’re at all sensitive to the things discussed above, will more than likely offend you and put you in a shitty mood.

Still with me? Let’s dig in.

Hyperbole aside, this is one of the most shameful and corrosively hateful things I have ever seen on the internet. It is misogynistic to the last degree and no amount of hand-waving or excuse-making will change that. Most importantly, it is precisely the type of thinking that sets us back a long way in terms of having meaningful discussion on the culture surrounding sexism and rape.

Disclaimer: I am going to try my level best here not to put words into this guy’s mouth. However, the sad reality is that many of his views are shared with the cowardly cesspool of humanity known as “Men’s Rights Activists”, so there will no doubt be some overlap. So while I may try not to imply that he said something he did not, it’s probably not that much of a logical leap to conclude that he holds many of the same opinions that they do.

First of all, let’s throw out the idea that one’s hobby of being into videogames has been ruined and co-opted by “outsiders.” Drop the torches and pitchforks. You are not being victimized. If videogames have become such an intricate aspect of your identity that you reject any and all critical voices as hostile aggressors, maybe you’ve got bigger problems to worry about.

As for being robbed of the ability to criticize the Xbox One? Please. Criticism of Microsoft’s new console and awful business practices have been so all-consuming in the past few weeks that Microsoft has actually backed down and resolved to rework the Xbox One for the better. That concern has been addressed, the battle has been won. The sexism debate doesn’t have such an easy answer.

And I’ve grown weary of the perversion of the word “feminist”, this attempt to turn it into some sort of slur. This is by no means limited to videogames in general or this video specifically, and good lord is it ever prevalent among insecure, fearful boys. If you’ve reached the point of desperation that you must use it as an insult, as though the mere use of the word will cause the other person physical pain, that probably says a whole lot more about you than it does them.

Relatedly, feminism discussion is also where you tend to hear the word “agenda” being thrown around by these fine upstanding conspiracy theorists, and yet none of them seem able to articulate exactly what that agenda is. Tell me, what is their goal, exactly? Are they planning to take away your videogames? If so, how? Will they manipulate and blackmail the governments of the world into imposing widespread legislature? Or will one of them personally enter your home and hit your Xbox 360 with a sledgehammer? I was never quite able to understand what the hushed, worried whispers of this “agenda” are supposed to be referring to.

If there is anything even remotely resembling an agenda at play here, I’d say it’s the hope that we may have some meaningful discussions and possibly sway a few minds to be sensitive to equality and the issues that women face in the social and popular culture at large. Would that really be so bad? Would it offend you dearly if people became invested in exercising empathy and accountability through debates that you yourself don’t have to be a part of if you don’t want to?

Because that’s the other thing. For all the tearful diatribes about how Microsoft’s E3 rape joke debacle has ruined this person’s ability to enjoy talking about and reading about videogames, the games are still there. Nothing has been forced down your throat. Videogames aren’t going anywhere. It is remarkably easy to enjoy games without ever having to get involved in the sexism and rape culture debate if you choose not to. You can avoid it effortlessly. More often than not, I see these people who have allegedly had their lives ruined by “the feminist agenda” bringing it up in completely unrelated topics without any provocation. It’s enough to make me wonder if they’re deliberately seeking a reaction.

The point is that these discussions are happening and they can peacefully co-exist with people who’d rather just tune the whole thing out. But some of the louder and more reprehensible members of that latter camp would rather pretend that the former does not exist, and so they make broad, overreaching attempts like this video to silence them and preserve some sort of perceived “purity” in the videogame industry. It’s absurd. What’s more, it’s a straw-man argument if ever there was one. When people like this attempt to paint this spooky picture of “radical feminists” that are co-opting their supposed lifestyle, they are severely limiting any and all opportunities for discussion they could be having instead. That part where he mentions feminists creating a “boogeyman”? He’s doing exactly the same thing.

Oh, and the casual use of “faggot” is a nice touch. Way to lend your argument some real weight.

What makes “Men’s Rights Activists” so difficult to deal with is that any attempt to patiently educate them will only reinforce their beliefs in their made-up cause. I can’t speak to whether this individual can be counted among them, but the things he says in his video certainly represent the views of that particular group.

If I were to address “InternetAristocrat” directly, I suppose I’d ask him: Is this video a truly accurate representation of how you feel? If so, would you show it to any of your female friends or family members? If not, how would you react if they found it on their own and asked you about it?

I struggled for a long time while writing this. I kept asking myself, do I really want to give this person any more attention and exposure than he’s already gotten? Ultimately, I decided that the honest answer was yes. Yes, I want as many people to see this video as possible, so that we can at least have some sort of baseline, some sort of measuring stick for exactly the sort of attitude and viewpoint we don’t want compared to our own. It would be a good start.


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Let’s NOT Play Sonic 2006: A Look Back at the Pokecapn Odyssey

Posted by finedaysunday on June 2, 2013

In 2008, an intrepid young fellow with a mad glimmer in his eye decided to record a video Let’s Play of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. He called to his aid his ragtag band of adventurers (known collectively as the posse) to help him see his task through to the very end. The plan: to record a play-through of the entire game, beginning to end, in one sitting. With nothing but each other, the occasional tip from GameFAQs, and several orders of Chinese food to keep them company, it shouldn’t be that bad, right? What follows is something akin to a self-inflicted social experiment, a journey into the abyss that will test the limits of human perseverance, the strength of the bonds of friendship, and the very brink of sanity.

This a beast of a Let’s Play, recorded in one sitting, spanning almost 24 nigh-sleepless hours of footage. It’s all a massive and hilarious trip, is what I’m saying. And it’s a sight to behold.

“Welcome to an epic.” <— Enjoy.

~ ~ ~

Pokecapn: The fearless leader, the captain of the Titanic. A longtime fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, Pokecapn had already been familiar with the increasingly poor quality of the Sonic series that had begun with its transition to 3D in 1999. Like any reasonable person, he probably assumed that the pitiful reception of Sonic 2006 was simply par for the course. Sonic fans have been fed the gaming equivalent of horse manure for years by that point, so how much worse could this one possibly be? “Tempting fate” doesn’t even begin to describe what happens. Pokecapn is behind the controls for the vast majority of this LP’s running time, and, like Frodo Baggins before him, he is subjected to the most cruelty by the burden he bears. This is a mild-mannered person being gradually worn down into a ball of incomprehensible rage. What emerges from the other side is someone all the wiser for his experience.

Kung-Fu Jesus: A constant presence with his deadpan, despair-filled voice, KFJ has remained a Sonic fan through many hardships, and seems to have at least some idea of what he and his friends are in for. He speaks in a carefully measured monotone dripping with a unique brand of dry wit, but in spite of his wry, sardonic musings, he nonetheless remains even-tempered and poignantly observant throughout the course of the journey. He too, though, slowly sinks beneath the crushing depths of the game’s awfulness. It manifests not in the form of white hot rage like Pokecapn, but through a quiet, relentless, and downright pleasant coping mechanism that has to be heard to be believed.

Illuminatus Vespucci: The voice of reason, the straight man of the group. Ill Ves is equal parts pragmatic and stubborn, stepping in when needed and eager to keep the posse going for as long as it takes to triumph over this inconceivably terrible game. His determination shines through the brightest when things look the most hopeless, notably offering to take over the entire quest and finish it himself if he has to.

Medibot: The real breakout star of this entire undertaking. The goofy one. The Kramer. His unmistakable and oddly reassuring voice provides much-needed levity throughout the entirety of this psychotic adventure. Always optimistic, armed with an aloof, amused air of detachment and an unending fondness for bizarre non-sequitirs, Medibot seems to spend the vast majority of the LP with his head in the clouds. He’s also the only one to get any meaningful sleep, disappearing for several hours at one point and reemerging with quite a bit of his sanity restored. This would possibly explain why he remains the least affected by the lowest and most objectionable stretch of madness the game subjects them to. The true highlight, however, comes during that very same stretch when, for the first time, Medibot is struck by a period of true lucidity and launches into a thorough and comprehensive dressing-down of the game’s shortcomings. It’s an incredible thing to hear, revealing if only for a moment that there’s more to this oddball than meets the eye.

NoTimeForSocks: The enigmatic fifth member. He is the only one with any previous experience with Sonic 2006, and takes plenty of opportunities to warn them ominously of the dangers to come. He does what he can to offer advice and insight as the posse looks to hit the ground running, but there’s no way of knowing here just how much of this game he has played, or if he’s seen the kinds of things that will eventually drive his friends to the edge of insanity. Either way, he leaves early on, so if nothing else he might have been the smart one all along.

~ ~ ~

What really stood out to me when I first watched this mammoth video series (aside from the indisputably piss poor quality of the game itself) is that this is a group of friends that has each others’ backs. There are numerous opportunities along the way for them to grow bitter and lash out at one another, but they are never anything but supportive and encouraging every step of the way. This is even more impressive when you consider that they go nearly a day without sleep. It makes me wonder how well I would hold up under such conditions.

There is a stretch of video right in the middle of the series where something goes wrong with their recording equipment, so they lose a couple hours of the audio. To patch over this, they simply record some post-game commentary to fill that silence. Immediately noticeable here is the weary, glad-it’s-over relief that seems to have afflicted the four remaining members of the posse. It’s a fun bit of foreshadowing, because you don’t yet know what’s caused such a jarring shift. I can’t exactly talk any more about the marathon of horrible game design the group is repeatedly subjected to without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say that the triumphs that eventually follow are palpable and worthwhile.

And yeah, that’s pretty much how I’d try to sell someone on Pokecapn and the Posse’s Let’s Play of Sonic 2006. I wasn’t exaggerating earlier, by the way; they really do sit in a room for nearly 24 hours of uninterrupted footage, pausing only for brief nap breaks and food runs. It’s best watched like you would a TV series an episode or two at a time, and I’ve found it’s plenty worth going back to for the truly best moments (and there are many). If video-based Let’s Plays are your thing, this is definitely one I’d recommend, especially if you’re like me and can’t resist some good schadenfreude. Pokecapn and his crew have recorded numerous LP series since (most recently the impressive logistical/technical feat of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures) that also feature boundlessly cheerful posse staple My Name is Kaz. Each is worth watching in their own right. As much as I enjoy those (and along those same lines, Game Grumps’ own LP series of Sonic 2006), there’s really no substitute for this mesmerizing perfect storm, this testament to overcoming adversity through the power of teamwork.

“Why is this game so bad.”

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Blocks, blocks everywhere

Posted by finedaysunday on May 12, 2013

That is how you are introduced to Intelligent Qube, Sony Computer Entertainment’s well-received but criminally overlooked puzzle game. What I love about this intro is how well it sets an eerie, otherworldly tone that at first might seem ill-suited to a simple block-based title. Upon spending a few minutes with the game, however, it becomes clear just how well this particular aesthetic vibe can carry a game and help it stand out. The mood of this game is one of its signature intangibles. This is one you play with the lights off in the middle of the night, wrapped in a blanket.

The visual design could hardly be more minimalistic. You are alone in a pitch black void standing on an enormous three-dimensional grid of what I’ve always thought of as highly polished marble blocks. Several rows of these immeasurably heavy monstrosities are rolling steadily toward you, one echoing boom at a time. Most are the same colour as the grid itself, but a few are either glowing green or solid black. On the whole, it’s a very simple, instantly recognizable look that’s impossible to confuse for any other game in its genre.


Your goal is simple: Eliminate the blocks while avoiding getting crushed to death. Even without spending five minutes in the incredibly useful tutorial videos, the game trusts the player enough to be able to handle a lot through just a few basic commands. The foundation is simple: destroy each cube by marking one spot at a time on the grid, use the green Advantage Cubes to clear entire areas at once, and allow the black Forbidden Cubes to pass by untouched. Each mistake has immediate consequences (a row of the grid will crumble and fall away beneath your feet) that gradually leave less room for error before you plunge into the darkness yourself. Like all the best puzzle games, Intelligent Qube carefully scales its challenge level like an increasingly precarious tower of Jenga bricks. You may spend the first stage methodically taking down one neutral-toned block at a time, but before long the width of the grid increases, and suddenly you’re frantically darting in, out, and around fatal paths through these relentlessly tumbling armies of monoliths. Multitasking, spatial reasoning, and twitch-based reaction time, all emerging from a deceptively simple concept. It’s an incredibly engaging and harrowing experience.

That experience is made even richer by an orchestral soundtrack that is at once soaring, haunting, triumphant and, the closer you are to your imminent doom, panic-inducing. It most immediately calls to mind a John Williams score, but there’s even quite a bit of jazz influence to be found as well. If ever there were a puzzle game defined by its soundtrack, Intelligent Qube is it.

Few games today have as much lasting value to me as I.Q. It’s rare that I let a few months go by without attempting a run. It’s a game that’s aged extraordinarily well and is in dire need of a stateside re-release. It may not have the legacy of Tetris, but exposing this woefully under-the-radar gem to a new generation would go a long way to helping it establish the equally strong legacy it so richly deserves.


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