Pondering Tuesdays – Reality Check Edition

LaraCroft

I’m just going to keep putting random “thinking about stuff” synonyms in the title field until I run out. Let’s get started…

Wanted: Strong Female Role Model. Ashelia (no full name given) played Tomb Raider and had a powerful reaction. Go read it and then come back.

I wish I could have my daughter read this. You hear about the need for female empowerment and role models all the time. It’s almost always well-intentioned, but there’s a point at which those become buzz words and not something genuinely meaningful. As a father, it makes it hard to know exactly where to steer her because you want so badly for your little princess, as she becomes a person who’s not so little anymore, to choose role models that represent the best in human nature and not Twilight’s pitiable Bella or some camera-starved reality TV whorelet.

Also, Justin Bieber. Le sigh.

No, I want Ana to know about real strength, the strength to persevere in the face of adversity and not be dragged down by it. Not Lara’s strength in a video game, though certainly she’s a well-conceived character in the reboot, but Ashelia’s in writing that piece. And not just to write that particular piece but to endure what she did and carry on, going out into the world and having a voice. Not everyone rises above that kind of experience. A lot of us sink and never get our heads back above water level.

Ana is nine years old. She’s too young to read this article, too innocent of the world still to understand what it means. She doesn’t yet know of the myriad things that go bump in the night and I want her to have that last for as long as possible, though I know there are far fewer of those days of blissful ignorance ahead of her than there are behind. No, she can’t read this yet, but there will come a time when this will have resonance for her, when it will mean something. And when it does, I’ll have the link stored away. I don’t mind waiting a little longer.

Where’s the Love? In a world where Bioware is something of a sad pinnacle for the idea of character love stories in games, I find this PAR article quote, from Torment creative lead Colin McComb, comforting:

“We do plan to have relationships in the game. I don’t know if we’re necessarily approaching romance, at least not in the way it’s been explored in games recently. There’s a lot more to the word love than simple flesh coupling,” McComb explained. “That’s frankly the aspect of it that’s least interesting when you get right down to it. It’s the interpersonal intimacy. It’s learning the depth and turmoil of another person that I think is more fascinating. That’s the aspect we want to explore with relationships with people.”

MassEffect3_Liara

It’s not that I think Bioware games are embarrassingly bad in this regard. Liara (pictured) has some magnificent turns to her character. And I’ve defended Bioware’s use of relationships in the stories for their games more than once. It’s just that they’ve never really done better at it than they did with Baldur’s Gate II and the original Knights of the Old Republic. They’ve never found the next level. They’ve designed relationships in the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series such that sex is the goal and that’s an anathema to telling stories with believable, meaningful relationships between characters. Great storytelling, stories that reflect the human condition as it were, need to be able to reflect that love is a powerful driving force in the proverbial Hero’s Journey. That the Torment team appears to get this is encouraging and, if they execute, it should make for an interesting step forward in how romantic character relationships play out in the framework of a story-based game.

Gaming: The Next Generation. King Art Games hit up Kickstarter, hoping to get six-figures for their turn-based strategy project, one that’s inspired by games like Advance Wars. It’s a solid, compelling proposal that was, not coincidentally, fully funded in a week’s time. There are 32 days left.

What Kickstarter is doing is making responsible game development possible again. What do I mean by that? I mean that in a world where Square can publish some very good AAA-budgeted games and still have their president forced to resign because of inability to make financial numbers, we see yet more evidence that AAA publishing is, in two words, Teh Stupidz.

The jury is in and the game industry is not nearly the big business it wants the world to think it is. It is not Hollywood. Trying to make the business of producing games into Hollywood, no matter how great $200M Bioshock: Infinite may be, is not a recipe for industry-wide success. These are exceptions to the rule, though I have my doubts that even this critical darling will deliver a serious return on investment. (It’s worth pointing out that $200M number could be completely farcical. My point still stands.)

This is what makes Kickstarter-backed games important. In a world with very few responsible game publishers, the upper-echelon of Kickstarter projects bring game development back into the real world. They’re taking game development out of the hands of supposedly Very Important Men and letting real gamers fund real projects based on real budgets; small teams of passionate designers making their kind of game, selling it for one fair price with the goal, not of making gobs and gobs of money for shareholders, but to earn a living. Yes, there are exceptions and there are plenty of pitfalls to spending money on games that may never see the light of day, but I’ll take my chances with inXile and Obsidian, Conifer and Stoic. They’re in the business of making games I want to play and they don’t need $200 million to do it. That’s something that I want to be a part of, both as a gamer and as a consumer. Clearly, I’m not alone in that.

*Originally published at NoHighScores.com, 3/26/2013
*Updated 2/23/2016 (minor text updates)

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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