Much has been said about the lack of wellexecuted female characters in videogames. It’s recognised that while there is progress – the Tomb Raider reboot, Mirror’s Edge, Horizon: Zero Dawn, etc – we still have a long way to go. What’s not so well recognised is that very often a developer’s approach to female characters is internally inconsistent. It’s not just that many games lack wellexecuted female characters, but that even well-executed female characters can get lost in a stream of more or less discriminatory design decisions.
If we divide a game into four parts – narrative, gameplay, audio and visual – the inconsistency can be within or across these parts, and can be more or less subtle. For example, the Mass Effect effect: a character-creation menu tells you that the choice of female or male makes no difference to gameplay, but for some reason most female characters wear heels, tight-fitting leather and are shown predominantly from behind in cutscenes, even when they are mashing local flora and fauna into bloody bits. Or the Uncharted formula: there is a balance between the number of male and female characters, but the latter are usually in some way driven by, or reliant on, the former.
One would think that if a decision is made to tackle the representation of female characters seriously, that decision would be followed through at every stage of development. So why isn’t it? I suppose the charitable explanation is just that, because game development is such a large undertaking, it’s difficult to monitor consistency. Perhaps over time, under stress and across different teams, implicit bias ends up overriding good intentions. The cynical explanation is a lot more worrying: sex sells, so even if some progressive decisions are taken, developers must ensure that their female characters remain fundamentally, conventionally attractive.
It will be interesting to see if and how this gets tackled. Will there be a ‘consistency police’ on development teams, or a push from the modding community or from the leading videogame auteurs? Probably not. More likely, as with many other things, it will be the indie developers who show that one can turn a profit without discriminating. Leo Tarasov Beautifully put, though we’re not touching this because we would no doubt upset The Guardian again. A PS Plus sub is on its way.
Having started reading the latest issue of Edge ( E305), I can’t help but feel that even the best gaming magazine in the world can sometimes fall victim to a nasty bias. ‘Ubisoftbashing’ is seemingly in fashion and I find your reviews of two of their recent releases, well, unfair. But it’s mostly in contrast to the treatment other publishers receive that I believe some of you guys may be in urgent need of an examination of conscience. Breath Of The
Wild is a great game: it deserves all the praise and accolades it received, and not just from
Edge. But is Nintendo’s first truly open world a timeless masterpiece to Ubisoft’s unimaginative, iterative daubing? Hardly.
I guess it all comes down to what one expects from an open-world game. There is an incredible sense of wonder when exploring Hyrule’s poetically mysterious landscape, something conspicuously (and completely) absent from Wildlands, but for all its shortcomings, it still does make me want to visit Bolivia, in the same goofy way that the Top Gear special did a few years back. I can only assume that the game’s visuals do the country’s natural environment better justice than its plot and cast do its
“Over time, under stress and across teams, implicit bias ends up overriding good intentions”
inhabitants, but even if the real-world vistas are only half as glorious as their renderings, I won’t be disappointed.
So thumbs-up, Ubisoft: even though I wish you’d hire new writers and drop the awful ‘America First’ attitude (aren’t you a French company?), on aesthetic merit alone, your latest title certainly deserves much better than a 4. Fabrice Saffre We like Ubisoft a lot. But its open-world formula is wearing thin, and Wildlands’ politics were spectacularly ill-judged. Perhaps if Nintendo put out an open-world
Zelda every six months and had Link spout the UKIP manifesto, we’d feel differently.
I’m still stuck in the past, but I’m creeping closer to the present. In my letter printed in
E290 I mentioned how I haven’t caught up with new releases and hardware and have a stack of unfinished games gathering dust. That is still the case. I have, however, made the leap to the current generation by picking up a PS4. This is great but I still don’t feel like I’m up to date. This has been the strongest start to a year in a long time and I haven’t played a single one of these fantastic new games. My Twitter feed is full to the brim with gushing praise making me feel like I’m missing out.
It seems that most of the games I’ve picked up for my skinny new PlayStation are last-gen remasters such as The Last Of Us,
Uncharted and the Modern Warfare rehash. This is mostly to do with the fact that my last console was a 360 and I’m catching up on what I missed out on last time around. I haven’t had the time or the funds to get around to brand spanking new games like
The Last Guardian or Horizon and now I really feel like I’m missing out with the release of Switch and BOTW. And what with parenthood (an increasingly common theme among Edge readers) only months away I am not likely to catch up anytime soon.
I seem to spend more time reading about new games than actually playing them, which is OK because I enjoy reading as much as gaming. I’ve decided that I’m happy in my slightly out-of-date gaming bubble. I’ll do things at my own pace. Sod what everyone is playing right now. So, I’ll experience the future of interactive entertainment through the pages of Edge while I play through the past on my journey towards the present. PS, I still haven’t finished Okami or FFXII. Alex Evans People who try to keep up with new game releases knew all about Fear Of Missing Out long before there was an acronym for it. That said, this year really has been amazing.
As I finally watched my character send the dealer to his doom in Hand Of Fate, I thought once again of Roguelikes and permadeath. There is no question that Roguelikes have been an enormous boon for a great many independent studios. They create their own compulsive replay loops and allow a resource-strapped team to portion out their offerings in smaller amounts within any given play, extending a game’s play time on a smaller amount of content.
I have invested a significant amount of time on these games, from the star-faring of
FTL and BattleStation: Harbinger, the morbid survival of This War Of Mine and Don’t
Starve, the top-down action-shooter tendencies of Nuclear Throne and The
Binding Of Isaac. And having done so, what I feel a need to say to indies who are contemplating adding their own offerings to the permadeath-Roguelike pile is this: don’t.
Or at the very least, seriously consider if permadeath is sacrificing what might be a better game for the player in the name of serving the needs of the developer.
At this point, what is disturbingly clear to me is that the Roguelike/permadeath trend covers up a myriad of design sins, sins that sometimes become clear to the player over multiple plays, other times only upon cheating and discovering that what was presented as a contest of skill and preparation versus the odds was never really anything but a roll of the dice.
Even within the pages of Edge, games have received coverage that are capable of procedurally generating maps that are impossible for the player to complete. Not merely difficult. Impossible. I allow a little slack for games that only take a few minutes for a successful run, and a little more in acknowledgment of the fact that a team of four working out of someone’s basement may not have access to the testing resources of EA or Activision available to them.
But as I have entered my 40s, my tolerance for games that are willing to waste hours of my life on a bad random number has grown slim indeed. The pitch reads all too similarly to that of a predatory croupier, or even a carnival midway barker: “Ooh, too bad. Try again? It’s sure to go your way this time!” It is not too much to ask of designers that their games be fair, that any given procedural generation have a player-perceivable path that could lead to success, that the tools necessary for that success be made available to the player, and that a winnable set of assets not be locked away behind the gate of having failed 25 times. It’s entirely possible to make a game that ticks all of those boxes and is still challenging, engaging, and worth the player’s time and money.
And more to the point, if a team isn’t willing to give players such an experience, we need to hold them accountable. We need to stop accepting ‘shell game’ compulsion loops as a lazy substitute for thoughtful and wellimplemented game systems.
If your coding team can’t give that to us, maybe you shouldn’t be making games. Or at the very least, think twice about the flippin’ permadeath, will ya? Benjamin Kuhner have fixed the algorithm yet a while ago, let’s see if the IT bods We tried this joke.