All posts by dragis

ME2 Romantic Replay: It’s complicated


I recently finished my second full clear of Mass Effect 2,  which is also my first time beating the whole game as lady Shepard. Jennifer Hale really owns the character, to the surprise of no one. It also helps that I was busting heads whenever possible–the opposite of how most of my other Shepards have engaged with the locals.

Romance has always been a part of the Bioware formula, and ME2 was when I originally felt that in force. My first Shepard in the original Mass Effect never had anything to do with Liara, because his heart was set on Tali as soon as she stepped onstage. Smart, devoted, and slightly mysterious? Childbearing hips and weird feet? Boxes checked; cranks turned. The romances in Dragon Age: Origins were great, but my arc with Tali spanned the better part of an actual decade. We changed the galaxy together. It felt like an experience larger than an hour or two of dialog and cutscenes. Continue reading

Gender inclusiveness made Dance Central more fun

Pretty cool article from Polygon. Dance Central is a blast on its own, but as a role-play experience it gives players an environment  where they can have fun doing something or acting in a way that  might otherwise be uncomfortable. Experiences where just enough rules are provided to prevent you from feeling silly are common in tabletop gaming, and video games could use more of this.

Of course it also creates a space in which Katy Perry is enjoyable, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Pax Panel: Storytelling in Games

This is a pretty great panel hosted by experienced game writers (with very unfortunate audio, but it’s still worth it).

Its overriding theme is pretty clear from the beginning: story and gameplay aren’t mutually exclusive, but different games will pay different amounts of attention to both aspects. A more subtle notion involves the player’s thoughts once they walk away from the game. During play, mechanics and specific gameplay portions may have our attention, but months after playing games (or think about them in our dreams) the shining moments usually involve story: who did you romance, who did you save, did you kill him or set him free? Even in WoW, there’s something to be said about thinking of fights as “dodge the breath attack, kill the minions, then attack his weak point” versus “move out of particle effect, dps priority adds>boss.” There are times when I thought of the latter during a fight, but in retrospect I’d describe it as the former, and even those details are part of the mind theater.

This is one reason I can appreciate ludonarrative dissonance academically, but it isn’t usually a big problem for me if the story is interesting and the gameplay is good. My brain mostly shunts parts of games into their respective playing/reflecting corners. Story mechanics and their interface with gameplay is important, but the broader goal of creating an emergent experience where the player guides the story is by far the memorable portion.

Review: Gone Home

Review: Gone Home

Making new friends was awesome when I was a little kid…especially because I would get to see their homes. Old farmhouses, duplexes, little suburban cubes where the first floor wraps around itself in an attempt to seem bigger than it really is–I was always surprised at how differently people lived. Years later, the sound of pounding down a set of wooden stairs and the texture of carpeting against my face (after passing out playing Final Fantasy 8 until 5 AM) stuck with me. I grew to associate these tactile sensations directly with the people who lived there, and my memories are snapshots of people and sensations all shuffled together.

Gone Home is about the weird space between a dwelling and its dwellers–not quite in a way I could appreciate with my friends–at least, not at the time. Continue reading

New documents clarify politicians’ failings towards 38 Studios

No single human can honestly be expected to parse the entire mess that resulted in 38 Studio’s closure. A lot of good people lost their jobs, and a promising series dissolved before its time. Game Politics linked to new documents today, which suggest the waters are even muddier than they have appeared thus far. Who knows what happened or what was promised in confidence versus the public record, but what a depressing mess.

Sexism in Games: We can do better

Hawken Office Prank Has Surprising Result (

I think every creative realm has its own issues, especially at the intersection of diversity and marketing. I’ve never seen someone argue that gaming is not more friendly towards men than it is towards women, because the fact is men are usually the target for games, and men generally make them. Arguing that this is a problem can be very complicated for me because I’m a white man, and I have a lot of fond memories about games.

A lot of fury has been raised over the issue of sexism in games recently–probably to the point that some news sites are thankful for the controversy, so there’s reason to be skeptical about some arguments. The shortage of strongly characterized women in games bothers me as someone who thinks women are marginalized in most media. It also bothers me as someone who may have a daughter some day, and dammit I would want her to have at least a small appreciation for games because I think they are awesome. I’m not classically trained in social theory, and while I hold certain beliefs and can empathize with people who don’t often see characters who represent them, I can’t draw from  actual experience as to what that really feels like.

What I do know is that many women in games are built from rehashed stereotypes and cliches. Princesses who are polite virtue slates. Sexy leather-clad sidekicks who occasionally tell you what to do next or get in trouble so the male protagonist can save them. Cookie-cutter girlfriends who are immediately killed in a hail of gunfire so her boyfriend can go on an angsty revenge quest for the next 15 hours. This is the kind if plot that’s easy to come by because it’s easy to write.  Continue reading