Gay themes in “macho” games

I’ve always been a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid-series and I’ve always thought that Hideo Kojima’s characters were some of the most interesting in the game culture. He has a a way of writing interesting characters that are part cliché, part supernatural, part real and sometimes really far out - both in terms of backstory, presentation, preferences and… sexuality.

I was actually never able to figure out the last part on my own young as I was when I played my first MGS-games, it wasn’t until I got a new co-worker who was gay and a huge fan of the MGS-series. One day I noticed a tattoo of Gray Fox on the inner side of his upper arm (the one pictured above). I asked him why he had chosen Gray Fox and not one of the bigger characters? He replied that it was because it was his first experience with a really badass character who didn’t take shit from nobody and who could easily dispatch of his enemies while at the same time having strong homosexual vibes in his character and appearance. Over the next couple of weeks I replayed the MGS-games I had available and I noticed that a lot of the characters are experimenting with their sexuality, or should I say that Kojima is the one doing the experimenting. I think it’s incredible promising for the industry that a renowned guy like Kojima is so open to addressing homo-, hetero- and bisexuality in his games. 

A great example is the newest MGS: Revengeance that features Raiden as the protagonist. He was a much hated character when he was introduced in MGS 2 back in the days, but now he has a huge following of fans of all sexualities. And he is clearly toying with our perception of what sexuality is. Is he a stereotypical hetero game character who solves every problem with violence or is he a

Once more, I think it’s fantastic that one of the biggest franchises on consoles are actively raising questions of games and sexuality by actively making the question a topic of debate. Just google “Metal Gay Solid” and you will see that the topic is hot both in LGBT and hetero communities. At one point in the fourth installment of the franchise, the confirmed bisexual character Vamp (who sleeps with a male military commander) even has Raiden suspended in iron wires while he is engaging in a little S/M with knives. Shortly thereafter he licks Raidens blood of his knives and the sexual statement is not very subliminal here. Oh, the blood is also white, which is because Raiden is a cyborg - maybe one more reference to the complexity of the character and his sexuality. 

Nearly all of the bigger characters (besides from most of the women) in MGS has moments where they are at least playing a little bit with their sexuality. The protagonist Solid Snake is talking to Otacon about how he taught him to love, Ocelot kisses Snake and much, much more. 

David Hayter who voiced Solid Snake since it’s introduction to Playstation eved admitted that he was told to play out his scenes with the character Otacon as a romance. 

There is so much content regarding sexuality in this franchise that NEEDS to be talked about, researched and analysed. 

For a full list of sexual references from the franchise see here:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/HoYay/MetalGear?from=HoYay.MetalGearSolid 

Emergent narrative and fan culture

When ever my team plays bad or loses I always resort to football manager or fifa to correct the wrongs. I like to seek refuge in a world, where I am in control of things and I am the one to blame if things go wrong - and have the option of reloading.

For many summers my football team, Arsenal FC, never really did anything in the transfer window. I was an avid reader of just about every single fan forum google could direct me towards. Here I read hundred of pages of rumours about players the club was going to sign on deadline day. But alas, deadline day came and went but no one came in. All was status quo and I was in a transfer induced state of rage and despair. Where to go now? FIFA or Football manager.

You are the manager, simulating a real life situation of choosing between people. Some will lose their job, others will get one. You are suddenly in a position where, in real life, peoples’ feelings will get hurt by account of your actions.What started as a simple game of football is now about choosing your favourites, getting rid of the less desirable players who can even turn in to enemies in the dressing room.

But this is also empowering. If a player has a bad spell on the pitch in real life, I can turn on my Playstation and stick him in the reserves or glue him to the bench, selling him in the first arriving transfer window - unless he turns it around in real life. But this again affects peoples’ judgement of the actual managers who make their living on the sidelines.

“Why won’t he just bin that useless scumbag of a player?”

“Sell him to Tottenham - having a right laugh”

“We pay that nutter 50k a week? I wouldn’t pay him a pence over 50 pounds!”

These are typical posts in many football forums across the world wide web when a player on your team plays badly. Why won’t the manager just sel or sack him? Everybody can see that he is useless. There is a sense of insight in to the management side of things of football, that people experience when they play FIFA and to a much higher degree Football Manager. This new found “knowledge” is then utilised in the actual world on the forums and on the stadium, where people are screaming for blood if a team hits a bad spell - because they feel they could do it better. This virtual world of sports simulation, I would argue, is changing the real world, as the procedurality of the simulations give people a knowledge about how the industry works, but on a very basic level. In Football Manager you can sell/buy players in a matter of in-game days, real-life minutes, but in reality this is a drawn out process of negotiation and power games. Because the game systems cannot compute or present the same level of intricacy and interpersonal relations that goes on in real-life negotiations many players/fans fail to acknowledge that these are factors for real football clubs. 

This was a rather post, but for many years I have been playing Football Manager and FIFA while I’ve been watching a lot of football and being active on the fan forum of my favorite club. And I can see a change in behavior on the forums as well as divided opinion on the issue. The “old guard” who doesn’t play the games are usually more relaxed around transfer windows, while younger fans who play tend to drift into hyperdrive during this time of year. And it’s reflected on both twitter, television and sportssites. The last day of the annual two transfer deadline deads are dedicated to rumours and transfers on all major English sportschannels. Every newssite has a deadline day clock counting down to midnight while reporting the latest football gossip, and twitter goes absolutely mental. Why? Because who you buy or don’t buy is more important than the action on the pitch for many fans. This has become a game in itself. Again this can be referred back to the sporting simulators where the highlight of the game is often the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the virtual summer and winter, where you are allowed to players. I know many people who sim the actual gameplay to get to the transfer window faster. I think this is another interesting fact, that explains how important the transfer window has become for many younger fans.

I thinks it is really interesting to investigate, or at least hypothesise, how virtual games are changing our real-life relations and ideas about concepts such as fanculture surrounding football clubs. How does the football club navigate this new environment? Will the economic expansion continue - or will the “market” of football collapse onto itself due to continued fan expectation? Is it really the sports simulations’ fault that this is happening? So many interesting questions in regards to how our relations in the world of sports are being skewed by knowledge and meaning-making stemming from procedural simulations that are unable to represent the full picture of the system they so desperately want to simulate.

/Rant over



Gender and sports

Considering this blog is normally concerned with digital games, I thought it was about time to broaden the scope a little… Or maybe I just got this example of gender stuck in my head the entire day after reading Hargreaves’ “Femininity or ‘musculinity’. 

I have been watching NFL for the last six years and I must say that from a bodily point of view I doubt that there are many males in the world that don’t envy the professional players just a little bit. They are perfected competition machines; quick, strong and able to endure ridiculous amount of pain - every week. I always especially admired the ones that also were able to handle themselves well in interviews and came off as intelligent men. I think that there is a strong hegemonic acceptance of professional male athletes as being a little bit spoiled, dumb and chauvinistic - which is probably true for a large portion. Every portrayal in books and movies also tend to the represent the male athletes as such, which is certainly not are certainly not very flattering adjectives to have pegged to your back - but who cares when you earn 100k+ a week, huh? 

That was a long rumbling on the first half of the example. Second part of the example is how some clever businessman thought how you could possibly create a popular female pendant to the NFL. Considering there is an assumption that women can’t really perform to the same standards as men when it comes to pure competition (Hargreaves right there)  and intensity, how can it be made interesting? Enter lingerie. Playing right into Hargreaves argument, that the female body is admired as a sex symbol and not as a competitive vessel, the clever businessman decided to dress mediocre (but very pretty) female athletes in lingerie and how them pull each others hair while jumping, running and throwing. These women are probably not chosen because of their athletic prowess, at least their body types tend to look more like glamour models than other professional female athletes, but yet here they are getting paid for “playing” football while men (and women) cheer. 

Maybe not very video gamey, but a nice example of how one sport can represent two so different ideals of the human body. Men are portrayed as extremely competitive physical specimens, while the women can merely serve as a sexy sideshow (Lingerie Football started as a halftime gimmick in the men’s football final, the Super Bowl to make thing worse). I don’t even think there’s a draft….

Here are two comparisons of the the two leagues.

Textual:image

image

There is undeniably a focus on the sex appeal when the Lingerie Football is presented in media. Girls are looking seducing at the camera in almost no clothes. None of the male athletes are looking in the camera, but are looking focused and fired up. More interested in the game than who’s watching them play. They play for the competition. The women are presented as playing to pleasure the spectator.

Gameplay:image

image

This speaks for itself.

A few thoughts on performance

With a background in performance design, I have always been an advocate for broadening our view on games by looking at playing as a form of performance. There are the more straightforward examples of performing in a game. Everybody wants to perform to their highest standards if they are engaged in E-sports. Here the word performance is closer related to competition, and is as such not a highly contested word or term to connect to the playing of games. But this is not really my interest. 

My interest lies in the range of games that involve (more or less) fleshed out characters - and dare I say - a story. What happens when we as players (or performers) are given control of an avatar, character, persona or narrative container? 

In the WebsterMerriam dictionary performance  is defined as “the action of representing a character in a play” (Performance: 2012), which seems appropriate for the field of games, but maybe a little too superficial to have any real theoretical applicability in an analysis of the idea.

Richard Schechner is useful to look at here, even though he does not exactly narrow the term “performance” to any extent, as he defines performance as “showing doing”, which is to say that every action we can take is a performance as long as there is an audience. But this description is fitting for digital games with their dynamic and shifting stage. At one point the player is the actor and the game the audience and two seconds later the player is the audience and the game is the actor. 

Schechner never directly adresses games as performance, but he does mention that “It may be that a film or digitized performance art piece will be the same at each showing. But the context of every reception makes each instance different” before he continues to state that every performance unique, but the uniqueness lies not in the “materiality but in its interactivity” (Schechner, 2002: pp. 23).

The performance of player and game does then no longer exist only as a story in a game world/simulation but in the relation and interaction bewteen player and game.

More on perfomance will follow very soon…

Thought on aliveness

What is alive?

How can we as humans understand alive? 

One of my earliest memories are of a little sheep toy, that was so dear to me that I refused to go anywhere without it nor sleep and eat. We were inseparable in all activities. For me that little sheep was real in, in my mind it was alive. I never had any siblings living with me, so maybe that stuffed animal had taken their place? Oh the joy of being the late comer to the family party.

Of course i knew that the stuffed animal wasn’t real. But when I entered a certain state of mind, or window of play to be more correct, this toy was as real as anything else. It became an extension of my playful mind but had an identity of its ‘own’. 

Today kids play with a vast range of electronic toys that can all but think for themselves. They can communicate “needs” to the child, they can show “feelings” and 

This leads to the question of how we can label something as ALIVE? Does it need a conscience? Heartbeat? Language? I would argue that much of the technology in this sense is vastly more alive than, say, a jellyfish which is essentially a blop in the ocean without conscience, language or heartbeat. 

Does the fact, that we know it is designed life, make it any less alive?

My argument would be, that something can be considered alive when we as human consider that thing to be so. The aliveness of a NPC or stuffed toy becomes an alive extension of our mind and our own life.

But what is the difference between a toy and a computer/tablet/furby/tamagotchi/something?

In my example the toy would be alive, when I entered an active state of mind - but I was in control of when and where. With the new technology, the technology imposes on our decision making of when something is alive - and maybe blurs the line between playing at being and being at playing. Technology is as integrated as anything in our society, and it is arguably available everywhere at any time; you can bring your tamagotchi or nintendo ds with all the inherent NPCs with you everywhere. This require us to, an even greater extent, be able to switch between many personalities and characters and relations and extensions of the mind on the go. 

This turned into quite the un-edited ramble. This is just a raw stream of conscience, but I will return to idea of aliveness at some point I think. I need to get a better understanding on the concept before answering small questions like “what is alive” I think…. :-)

Returning to an old frienemy

For my analysis on incorporation/presence/immersion in video games I had to admit that my time and experiences with L4D2 had been too limited to any meaningful analysis of the game. Instead I tried to brainstorm FPSs that I could do the analysis on, and ended up returning to a game I played for hours and days and weeks back before I travelled to the US and subsequently started my academic gamer career on ITU. Ladies and gentlemen I give you Call of Duty: Black Ops. 

The hours I invested in this thing, or invested might be a little strong. The hours I killed while killing 10 year old kids online with AK47u and ballistic knifes. I think I spent two days completing the game on veteran, more because I felt I needed to do it before starting my goal to prestige level 100000 than actually feeling for it. I can’t remember if I really enjoyed it, only that I really looked forward to going online and getting the good ol’ endorphin rush in a TDM/Capture the HQ/etc.

I don’t know anybody who were particularly fond of the single player in Black Ops. Yeah, most of gamers probably thought it was fun, but the multiplayer was the main draw. Addictive as hell and easy to jump in and (8 hours later) out. In comparision with Battlefield, which I also kinda enjoy, Black Ops is the easy fix where you don’t have to gather all of your friends to play and be winning. If you’re good enough you’re good enough and can handle yourself without a team - for the most part. And the pacing is so frantic that the three seconds you have to wait to respawn feels like forever before you curse yourself for, again, forgetting to watch the killcam and 20 seconds later you get killed the same place by the same guy. But how I have yelled at the screen during some of my sessions with the game. The days where everything against me and I ended up staying online for 4 hours to finally become the ‘nemesis’ of a british kid who had been ripping me a new one over the span of maybe 20-25 rounds, but nothing compared to the sensation of actually beating an opponent who I knew was better than me, and how I imagined that he knew the same and that he had a temper just as bad as mine, and how his controller was scattered around his room in a thousand pieces. I still don’t care if he was only 10.

A few thoughts on Fifa 12 and Kinaesthetic involvement

Oh how I wish I could do some of this stuff….



I haven’t played that much Fifa since the Bergkamp-days back in 1996-2000. Every time I tried to pick up one of the newer versions, I played 5 matches and never picked it up again. The learning curve had become huge, and ‘12 is no different. It’s not something you just pick up and play. There are four (maybe more) ways to run with the ball, a HUGE variety of skillmoves (of which I have perfected one), three ways to shoot and the list goes on. Apart from all these things that is dependant on input, there is also a need to always be aware of your surroundings and whereabouts. Which way should you run with the ball, pass, dribble, shoot? Fifa 12 perfects the formula - the movement/input is unprecedented. I have never played a game where I feel this much in control and seen my thoughts (or lack of quick thinking) shown on screen. Screw Kinect, Move and Wii. This is the sense of kinaesthetic involvement I dreamed about when playing Amiga back in the days. This is why I feel like a total badass when scoring a goal - because it was all me (almost). Playing Fifa 12 is my chance of being an awesome footballer, even though I suck at the real thing. It’s that close to the real thing. I dare any FPS to do what Fifa 12 does for kinesthetic involvement…

A quick one for today.

Trying to find literature about protagonists in video games

As the title suggest I’m on a quest to find literature about how video games feature protagonists, but in my initial scan of the interwebz it seems as though this is something that has not been written a lot about. There is a lot of the usual Are games narratives?-discussion, which is a sensible one. But it doesn’t seem like a lot of researchers has dealt with the role of the protagonist (or player’s role in forming the protagonist). I actually feel like this could be a quite interesting study, so if anybody out there know about any research on the topic I would love to hear about it. 

More specifically I’m interested in how the protagonist of a game can sometimes lead players to do things they wouldn’t do if ‘they were the protagonist’. Think GTA, L.A. Noire. In these games the protagonist is a virtual character that the player embodies while playing - without necessarily having the choice to do whatever they want or the lack of creating a moral system for the character. Instead many games force the player to act in a certain way and do certain actions to progress.

This is still a quite raw idea floating around my brain, so it is still subject to change.

Minecraft is the size of Ur anus

True story. Apparently a generated world in minecraft is around the same size as a 2d cut of Uranus. That’s quite a lot of space for digging, building and getting bitten by zombies. Thanks to Bert Baker for that interesting fact about the size of Minecraft. Go see for yourself how big it is

Speaking of Zombies I have recently played some L4D2. I haven’t played that series since the debut of L4D1 back in the days, so it was nice to catch up and play a bit of ‘running away from zombies, and being afraid if the next special zombie is a tank’. Some of the additions Valve have made from 1 to 2 I’m less thrilled about. The melee weapons in the game just don’t cut (pun, hah!) it for me and they feel slighty detached from the controls I feel. I’m not always sure if I hit anything and sometimes the cuts are sooo random represented by wrong limbs being cut off, etc. I really wish it was possible to get some different feedback than vague audio and visual.

Today’s post was actually just so I could present that funny fact.

Till next time.

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First offline Minecraft-session

Today I found out that I have to pay 1.000 kroner to get internet again - apparently the router provided by ISP doesn’t work and I have to pay for a new one. Strange business strategy…. Anyway this forced me to start an offline game of Minecraft away from the ITU server I had been playing on. Before today’s session I only played a few minutes alone in my very own world. Frankly an offline session didn’t really do it for me after playing it online. It wasn’t the same feeling knowing that you wouldn’t bump into other players and had no chance of showing of your constructions without doing all the youtube-ing that Minecraft is ‘famous’ for. I still managed to put in a few hours, but this was mainly due to a stronghold underground that I explored - my very first stronghold. But my lack of enjoyment when playing alone made me think about why I prefer playing with others - even though I haven’t engaged in any exploration or co-building with my fellow students on the ITU server. I have pretty much gone around my own business on the server and only showed my constructions off to people wandering by. I really can’t pinpoint why I feel so unsatisfied playing alone. Maybe it is the knowledge that my building will forever only be for my own enjoyment. Maybe its the knowledge that IF I wanna go to the Nether I have to do it alone. Maybe its just that it is comforting to know that other players are wasting the same amount of time as me, and thus justify my own time put into the game. Maybe its that I dont always have to go to the wiki if I need advice. Maybe I haven’t been able to pinpoint it just yet - or maybe a combination of all of the above. I’m still pondering going back to my offline game, but it really doesn’t draw me in as the online survival mode does. 

Maybe its because I know its my world - and Minecraft worlds do not hold the dynamic feeling I get when I play e.g. Skyrim or Fallout. I feel like I can make a difference besides shaping the spatial dimensions. I can have friends and allies and make certain factions hate me. I know that I can kill stuff in Minecraft, lava burns, zombies bite and creepers explode. Other human players add another dimension of interaction with the world that I would normally get from NPC (although NPCs tend to add that to a lesser degree). Maybe I need that dimension to be fully present and not just play with blocks.

Till next time.

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