Tag Archives: movies

Bechdel Test for Video Games?

19 Dec

The other day I read an interesting review of the new Tron movie by Ashley F Miller. In her review Ashley mentioned the Bechdel test. What is the Bechdel test you ask? It’s simple:

This got me thinking, what about a Bechdel test for video games? I searched around but couldn’t find anything much besides this blog post by .tiff.

My question is this: how would the Behdel test apply to video games? Would it need to be modified? .tiff points out that one of the biggest ways video games differ from movies is in the player’s control of the character. Whereas in a movie we can only sit and wait for two women to talk to each other about something other than a man, in a video game it’s up to the player to make that interaction happen. This then brings up the issue of whether or not the game developers make it necessary to talk to a named woman about something other than a man in order to advance the story, or not.

Someone in the comments of .tiff’s blog post also brought up the point that many video games don’t have much talking at all, at least not by the main protagonist. How would this affect the Bechdel test when applied to video games?

What about video games that have female main characters? How would this affect the test if you had the ability to choose to play as a female or if you were required to play as a female? RPGs like Oblivion, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age let you choose to play as a woman, whereas other games like Portal, Bayonetta, and Mirror’s Edge require you to play a woman. Should these be counted differently? Should one be weighted more heavily than the other?

I think it’s important to keep in mind that the Bechdel test is only about gauging the involvement of women, not about the portrayal of women. I’m tempted to ask questions about how the video game has women dressed, how their bodies are built (are they normal people or super sexualized?) and whether or not they need rescuing in some capacity. (sidenote, if you play as a female in the Mass Effect series, there are a lot of times you have to rescue the helpless male, which I find extremely refreshing)

I think recent RPGs have really been doing a good job as far as including women goes. Games like the ones I mentioned above have a lot of female characters in them, with a bunch of quest important named females. (Not to mention the fact that you can play as a female, and in the newer RPGs can engage in relations with NPCs without regard to the gender binary) However, this still brings us back to the question of whether or not the bar should be at different levels for different genres of games. RPGs need a good amount of women in them to create a realistic world feel. (Because, surprise, women make up half the population in the real world) Should a game like that really be weighted the same as say an FPS that has a large female presence? Should the game developers of an FPS get more credit for including women in a genre largely devoid of them? (Whereas women are standard in RGPs)

Thoughts?

Do you live life like a game/movie?

13 Nov

Earlier today I was watching a short lecture clip discussing media’s impact on sexual fantasy. The hosts were discussing how the advent of images and film changed how we think about sex. One of the hosts pointed out that our very language is stuck on the technology: “The movie in my head” or “the sex tape.”

I’m not exactly sure how my brain made the transition, but this got me thinking about how computer games, along with movies, affect how I view the world. It didn’t take long for me to think of all the instances in which games and movies directly affect the way I think. This isn’t surprising. I grew up with video games. The first video game I ever got seriously into was Age of Empires. I was in the 4th grade and I became addicted to this real-time empire building strategy game. I played it constantly. When I wasn’t playing it I was imagining I was playing it. I distinctly remember having dreams that I was playing, only to wake up and realize I was simply dreaming…and I was doing so well! It was not until the second Age of Empires game came out, Age of Kings, that my life was changed. Age of Kings was set in the medieval era. I fell in love with the time period, joined a medieval re-enactment group at age 12, built a trebuchet, my own suit of armor, learned how to fight with a longsword, and went to college to major in history…all because of a game. (Well, no, the game was the gateway, I became interested in everything despite the game, but still, the game was the gate way)

Those strategy games influenced how I thought about the world. I guess I was frustrated at times growing up because the world’s mechanics didn’t match the game’s.

At the same time I was discovering games, I was discovering film. Throughout my teen years my friends and I were constantly working on film projects. I started to think of life like a movie. I started to look at things as “scenes” and people as actors. I wanted my life to be a perfect script. This was most evident in my romantic life. I my dates to be picture perfect. I’d work for hours before she came over to fix up the house, to make sure everything was set just right. I wanted what I said in romantic moments to be movie perfect too, like I was reading from a script, yet genuinely felt what I was saying.

For the longest time I viewed myself as an actor in a play. I was very upset because I felt that the story of my life was being told as if I was a secondary character in someone else’s  story. I always felt everything was about other people, never me; that they were all staring in their own movies and I was just an extra. I felt powerless to change this. I didn’t know how to wrestle the spotlight away from them so my life could be about me for a change. (I don’t mean that I wanted attention, I’ve never liked being the center of attention; I just felt I was always doing things for others, never for myself. I never did anything because I wanted to do it. Whenever I was in a group with my friends, we always did what my friends wanted to do.) Thankfully I’ve grown out of both this and the romantic movie scripting, but games and movies still affect my life in other ways.

One of the perhaps more normal ways they affect my life is with music. I love going places or doing things with my ipod. My ipod allows me to put a soundtract to my life. In fact, when I think back through the history of my life, I have a play list with a song for each period of struggle or triumph. My ipod lets me pick a soundtrack depending on my mood. When I don’t have it with me, I still play songs in my head.

I had a restaurant job as a teenager clearing tables and bringing waiters their food. I absolutely hated it, but one of the ways I made it somewhat fun was to imagine it as a game, or a movie. As dorky as this sounds, I used to imagine that we, the staff of the restaurant, were fighter pilots locked in deadly combat with the food and customers. We were constantly rushing around, weaving in and out of tables, swooping down to clear tables, running to refill drinks. Sometimes a waiter would be overwhelmed and would call for backup, at which point we would dive in to the rescue. Set to a high-energy soundtrack in my head, it was actually thrilling.

This fighter pilot game imagery carries over to other aspects of my life. Growing up in a navy town, on a street full of fighter pilots, I really wanted to be one as a kid, but my fear of heights, the falling sensation in my stomach, and my poor eyesight means the closet I will ever get is driving my car.

Driving is another activity that has really been affected by movies and games for me. Again, this might sound really dorky, but sometimes I like to imagine a fighter jet/terminator style HUD display when driving. Instead of a weapons targeting system, I’m tracking the curves of the road, the other cars, people on the sidewalk. When I come to a yellow light and I can make it in time, I imagine Peppy Hare from Star Fox telling me “Use the boost to get through!” (I know it’s silly, but it’s the little things in life…)

I also like to think of the car as an extension of my body, just like a character in a video game is an extension of myself. If you think about it, it’s just another layer for your brain to transmit information through. Normally when moving your body your brain sends the signal to the muscles which move you. In a game or driving you simply add the layer of physical controls, be it the mouse, controller, or steering wheel. When you are really in tuned with a game, or driving, you lose sense of your limbs interacting with the controls to make the character do something. You become that character or that car. You think and it moves, just like your body normally would. It’s an amazing feeling, especially in a car on the highway. To have the car as your body, to pull out into a lane, hit the accelerator,  feel the thrust as you lunge past another car, it’s exhilarating.

The last way gaming really effects how I think deals with objects and interacting with people. ( I know that sounds really vague, I’ll explain)

I think about things I have the same way I think of a role playing equipment list. Picking equipment has always been a favorite activity of mine since I first played Oregon Trail as a kid, having to pick what supplies to buy for the journey. I always like to be prepared. In college I viewed my dorm room as a colony from my home. I wanted to be self-sufficient, so I brought a lot of things with me. Whenever my housemates needed something that they didn’t think to bring, I usually had 3 of it. (You’re not going for a weekend sleep-over, you’re living there!)

In my car I would pack a variety of equipment I might need: an extra pair of clothes, a towel, a crow bar, 50ft of rope, a flash light, medical supplies, blankets, a fire extinguisher, emergency food rations, and my longsword. (I don’t know what events I had in mind, but I wanted to be ready for anything)

I also like to think of things in terms of abilities and spheres of influence the same way a character in an RPG would have abilities and spheres of influence. Again, it might sound silly to use game terms to describe it, but I have a repair ability, a research ability, a cooking ability, and a longsword ability. ~_^  (among others) I like to think of other people’s talents and skills in the same way you would an RPG character.

As for spheres of influence:  Your sphere of influence is you immediate surroundings along with as far as you can travel. For example, if I saw a stranger being attacked I’d help them in a heartbeat. My ability to help is obviously limited to my immediate line of sight, or sphere of influence. The people who I see while walking on the street don’t know that while they’re in my sphere of influence I would come to their aid if they were in distress, but nonetheless they would be helped. My secondary sphere of influence is as far as I can get in my car with the money I have for gas.

I realize I’ve kinda meandered all over the place. I hope this makes sense. Does anyone do something similar? Or should I check myself into a mental hospital? ^_^

The absurd scares me

12 Nov

Absurd: having no rational or orderly relationship to human life :meaningless <an absurd universe>; also : lacking order or value <an absurd existence>

I don’t feel that definition of absurdity really covers what unnerves me. I guess I would add “levity in a grave situation.” I’m not talking about dark humor, I’m referring to something more sinister, something Marquis de Sade would come up with. The feeling I am trying to convey is a bit hard for me to articulate, so perhaps if I point to some examples:

In the movie “The Pianist” there is a scene where the Jews in the ghetto are waiting for their turn to cross the street and the Nazi guards force them to dance at gun point. The song is very light hearted and happy, and here are these starving people condemned to death being forced to dance for the amusement of their killers.

In the BBC’s Masterpiece theatre production of “Casanova” there is a scene where Casanova comes across a love (I think it might be Henriette, but I’m not sure) who is holding a ball in a town that is about to be destroyed by a volcano. Casanova want’s to get out of there with the woman, but she just laughs giddily and says “We’re all going to die!” with a wide grin on her face. Casanova’s son Giac then proceeds to have sex with a woman he knows is his sister, all while ash is raining down onto the town.

I find this type of stuff most often in war films and holocaust films. People know they are doomed and so they go insane, creating a situation that is the exact opposite of what they are going through; like having a celebration with decorations right before you’re about to die.

Another scene that sticks out in my mind is the bridge scene from Apocalypse Now. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) comes to Do Lung Bridge to find what can best be described as a chaotic hell. It is dark, people are dying, things are exploding and burning all around them, nobody is in charge, and yet there are party lights strung around the place. People are acting as if everything is normal, listening to the radio, ignoring the fact that death and destruction surround them. (This was my first brush with the absurd when I was young and it stuck with me)

Absurdity also shows up in some of the video games I play. There is a memorable sadist scene in bioshock where a man is forced to play the piano in a costume and when he fails to meet his torturor’s expectations he is executed:

Currently I’m playing Fallout 3: New Vegas which is set in a futuristic 1950′s post-nuclear apocalypse America. There are plenty of absurdities around the game like people wearing funny costumes while murdering each other. The entire world has fallen apart and some people try to carry on the whole 1950′s middle suburbia mentality.

There is a particular song that I think ephitimizes this 1950′s conservative  white suburbia housewife feel:

So what scares me about this absurdity? Well, for me it has some what of an addicting power. It’s not the same addicting power of knowingly wanting more of something, like a drug, it’s more subtle than that. I feel sometimes that I need to fight giving into absurdity. I feel like if I come in contact with too much I’ll loose my sanity and start seeing the absurd everywhere. I’ll be infected and sucked down into the absurdity well that leads to surrealism, nihilism and ultimately suicide.

The girl that kicks ass

28 Aug

I spent today watching the film adaptations of the Millennium Trilogy by the late author Stieg Larsson and was blown away. The thing that struck me the most was just how amazing the main character is. Lisbeth Salander is an extremely talented “researcher” and works for a company that does security and background checks.  The second main character is Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who after being falsely convicted of libel, steps down from his magazine job and takes up work on solving a 40 year old murder mystery (which eventually blows up into the hunt for a religiously motivated serial killer.)  Lisbeth, having done a “background check” for a client on Blomkvist, repeatable hacks into his laptop and learns of the murder mystery. Blomkvist is unable to decipher a code of phone numbers in the victim’s diary, but Lisbeth does. After solving the code, she decides to make herself know to Blomkvist and the two pair up to solve the mystery.

Meanwhile Lisbeth has major problems of her own. At the age of 12 she attempted to kill her father after he repeatably raped her mother, once beating her so bad as to cause brain damage. Because of this murder attempt, and the fact that her father’s identity and status in the country was a matter of national security, a conspiracy ensued to have Lisbeth locked up until she was 18 in a mental hospital, and then made a ward of the state, despite being 25.

One of the things that is amazing about Lisbeth is how resourceful she is. Despite being a ward of the state, she manages to get a job for a security company and manages her life like any normal adult. That is until her elderly legal guardian has a stroke, only to be replaced with a new one. This new guardian seizes control of her bank accounts and acts as a parole officer, each week writing reports on her behavior. He alone has the power to completely destroy her. Not surprisingly, this new “guardian” uses this leverage to extort oral sex from Lisbeth in order for her to have access to her money. This is where Lisbeth takes matters into her own hands. She sneaks a video camera into her hand bag on a trip to her guardian’s apartment. To her horror, this time he brutally rapes her, but it is all caught on film. Knowing the police have been no help to her in the past, she comes back to her guardian a third time, but this time ambushes him. When he wakes up, he’s chained to the floor. She shows him the video footage of their last “encounter”, then tattoos “I am a sadistic pig and a rapist” in big black letters over his stomach. She informs him that he will write lovely things about her in his weekly reports, and that she’ll have full access to her money, or else the tape goes to the police. Thus she regains complete freedom.

Over the course of the three stories, Lisbeth becomes an avenger of sorts for woman who have been battered, raped, and murdered.  In the second story, “The girl who played with fire”, Lisbeth and Blomkvist take on a sex trafficking ring. There is an amazing bit of dialog when Lisbeth ambushes one of the perps (named Sandstorm) at his house. She ties him up and asks:

Lisbeth: In January you visited Irina in an apartment in Norsborg. Why?
Sandstorm: I don’t know… I wanted her. She was beautiful.
Lisbeth: Beautiful?
Sandstorm: Yes, she was beautiful.
Lisbeth: And that gave you the right to tie her up and fuck her?
Sandstorm: <silence>
Lisbeth: You’re a sadistic pig, and a rapist.
On top of being very resourceful and able to take control of things, Lisbeth is extremely independent. She moves freely around the world and even manages to consistently evade the police after she’s framed for a triple murder. There is this one scene, and it might sound trivial on the surface, but Lisbeth has just moved into a new apartment and is assembling all the furniture with power tools.
Again, it might be silly, but I felt the point of that scene was to emphasis that there is nothing she can’t do, simply because she’s a woman. Another interesting side note is her sexuality.  Lisbeth is bisexual, sleeping with men and women at various times in the trilogy. I interpreted this as another example of how she’s in control of who she is, and doesn’t let other people dictate her behavior. The same holds true for her clothes. For a good part of the films she is wearing dark punk goth outfits, with her hair and makeup to match. Oddly enough, she seems to dress this way the most whenever she’s in a place where it would be the most inappropriate (conventionally speaking) to do so; like an office or court room.  (I must say, I also very much appreciated how Lisbeth was never portrayed as a sex object. She is a fit and healthy woman, but at no point in the films does it come across like she’s being sexualized. She’s a normal, average woman doing great things.)
Another thing that really surprised me was the relationship between Lisbeth and Blomkvist. Whereas most movies are about the male main character somehow saving the weak female character, this story made them equals. Blomkvist is heavily dependent on Lisbeth in the first movie. He is unable to solve they mystery without her, and she even ends up physically saving his life.
There is some sex in their relationship, but at no point is it turned into a power thing, or as a form of payment/reward. (In fact, the first time they have sex, Lisbeth wakes Blomkvist up in the middle of the night because she just feels like it) But I digress… With Bloomkvist owing his life to Lisbeth by the end of the first film, the power balance quickly levels out as Lisbeth gets framed for three murders and requires Blomkvist’s help to clear her name. (Not to mention he saves her life too). The best part is that while she needs Blomkvist’s help in solving the conspiracy, she by no means sits back helpless. The entire time she’s out fighting and uncovering facts for herself while Blomkvist tries other leads. At the end, Blomkvist get’s a “thank you” instead of sex. This way the relationship remains one of equals helping each other out with mutual respect, instead of Blomkvist riding in on a white horse to save a poor damsel in distress and being granted sexual favors in return.
It was really nice to see an intelligent, strong, capable, independent, and resourceful female lead that wasn’t also sexualized. If anything, Lisbeth really reminded me of Ripley from Alien. I can only hope to see more characters like her.

We’re just entertaining ourselves

11 Jul

This is just an observation. We’re revolving around the sun, stuck on this planet, entertaining ourselves. What do I mean by that? Well sports are a prime example. Today is the world cup final. The winner will be decided until the next world cup final in four years. All sports are like this. Every season teams are put together and they battle it out to decide the champion, then they do it again. It’s like two prison inmates playing a game of checkers over and over again, each one declaring themselves the “world champion” at the end of every game. Ok, so that’s a crude example. Actual sports are a lot more complex with statistics, strategy, etc, but I hope you get what I mean. Basically we create drama as a way of keeping ourselves entertained. Sports are one way to create drama. One could say that sports are ultimately pointless (and as a nerd with no physical ability, I’m tempted to do this) but that would be misunderstanding the point of sports. It’s not to determine the champions, it’s to create artificial drama as a way of keeping us busy.

When we’re not busy with sports drama, we’re busy with war drama. Yes, wars are horrible things and they’re fought for a number of real reasons; but as bad as they are they keep us entertained. (And by “entertained” I don’t mean “oh wow, this is fun!”) War creates drama, something to do, something to struggle against with an end goal in mind. Then at the end of the war we make movies retelling the drama experienced by people in that situation. Every war gives writers, movie makers, and video game producers new material.

When real stories are not enough we invent new ones. We take elements of the real world, mix them up, alter them, and create new stories. The sci-fi genre comes to mind. How many video games/movies are there about saving the world, or saving the universe? They’re fun an all, but the themes start to get repetitive.  You, the lone hero, must battle against impossible odds to save the universe from some looming threat, yada yada yada.

So this is the perfect reason why we need to drastically increase the budget for NASA. We need to leave our solar system, meet other species, and kill them.

Just kidding, though space isn’t called the “last frontier” for nothing. It would certainly give us more material.

Well I can’t think of anything more to say on this topic, so I guess I’ll end here. Again, this was just an observation of the big picture, not a judgement. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love the stories we come up with. (Well, not Twilight) The human imagination is extremely powerful, and we create some great stuff. I guess I was just elaborating on that saying “there’s nothing new under the sun.”

All the more reason we should leave our solar system and conquer! For the emperor!!!

Atheists demonized in movies

2 Dec

You know what I’m sick and tired of? Atheists and skeptics being demonized in movies. atheists and skeptics are always portrayed as the bad guys. By the end of the movie they either are defeated by the righteous believer character, or realize the error of their ways and convert.

Take this clip from the movie Breach:

No, the USSR did not fall because of atheism. It fell because of a number of reasons, namely bad economics and poor organization.

Skeptics are always the first to go in horror movies. This I can sort of understand, but it doesn’t make me any happier. For one, in the movie, the beast (or whatever it is) IS real, not like in real life where it is not and the skeptic is right. (It is just a movie after all) In real life the skeptic would not be freaking out and screaming, they would try and find the actual natural reason for whatever the problem is, but this does not make for scary horror movies and so he has to go. This is pretty much universal in horror movies, but one I can remember doing this was the Lady in water.

Take this clip from I am Legend, here Will Smith’s character explains the reason he believes there is no god, namely the sudden and horrible death of billions and billions of people (nice god eh?):

Unfortunately, at the end of the movie Will Smith’s character “sees the light” because of some stupid coincidence with a butterfly tattoo and repents. (This still doesn’t change the fact that billions of people are dead

The movie Sohpie Scholl: The final days, a film about a woman of that name who was beheaded by the Nazi’s for distributing anti-war pamphlets. There is a seen where Sophie is being interrogated by a Nazi officer and she makes some comment about how what she is doing is write because of god or something. The Nazi officer bursts out angrily that there is no god. Way to go.

The film (which I love) claims to be based off of unpublished interrogation transcripts. If that out burst from the interrogate actually happened, then I’m not going to argue with it. There are good atheists and bad atheists, just like there are good theists and bad theists, but the Nazi’s were not atheists as a whole, they persecuted atheists along with everyone else, and firmly believed they were doing god’s work by killing the Jews, just like Christians had done for centuries prior, just not on this scale. (Kinder, Kirche, Kueche anyone?)

Hell, you even find Atheists being attacked in Star Wars!

While I’m on the sci-fi leg, Battle Star Galactica (the remake series) did the exact same thing with Gaius Baltar! He started out as my favorite character, this extremely smart atheist scientist, he even had this whole monologue with 6 about how there was no god, but then as the series progresses, he converts and becomes a religious zealot, and a major scumbag responsible for the near extinction of humanity.

Just this whole theme of “unbeliever repenting by the end of the movie” infuriates me. I’d like to see a movie where the believers repent at the end of the movie and realize that there is no god, and that being a skeptic is perfectly fine.

An Atheist’s take on Angels and Demons

15 May

*Spoiler Warning*

So I must admit up front that I didn’t read either of the books, just watched the movies. I went with some friends to see it this morning at midnight. It was kind of spur of the moment really, I was going to go see Star Trek with them, but we missed the movie time and decided to see this instead. I was really kind of nervous to see it with them considering how one of the friends I was with is EXTREMELY religious (albeit protestant).

I had a few fears entering the movie, namely that A) the movie would demonize Atheists and scientists (which looking back on it was a completely silly fear) and B) that Tom Hanks would “find god” by the end of the movie and stop being an Atheist, because we all know Atheists eventually come to their senses /sarcasm.

As the movie progressed, I started to think fear A was coming true. The “evil” illuminati Atheists were kidnapping and killing cardinals, and threatening to blow up Rome. I was really distraught, I kept thinking to myself “No! Humanists like the illuminati don’t do this shit! We don’t do the crap the religious do to eachother!” Needless to say, I was very happy at the end of the movie when it was revealed that the whole “scientists are trying to kill us and blow up the city” thing was really an inside job by Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor)

I was also happy that Tom Hanks didn’t “come to god” at the end of the movie. I can’t tell you how much shit like that irratates me. Atheists and skeptics are always villified in movies. In horror movies, the skeptic is usually killed off first, as punishment for not believing in the supernatural thing out to kill him, or eventually comes to believe in the ridiculous just like all the other characters. In none horror movies, they usually are “shown the light” and abandon their Atheists views by the end of the movie. (Like “I am Legend”)

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