Gender: From Indie to AAA

In the games we’ve seen in class, women have been shown in differing lights compared to AAA titles. The Twine based games have a more artistic and emotional basis. Her Pound of Flesh, for example, doesn’t describe the player character giving a more common feeling of “what would I do” for the player. Like a god creating life, we put undescribed character in our image as these games are making us choose. It shows  a creation in a lab recreating a woman who’s long gone (by death or other meansseems unknown) but the character’s feeling of longing for them drives the game.The game is described as horror, but the horror is heartache, a fear we allhave but won’t all admit. Moving on, Queersin Love at the End of the World had a profound concept of being timed. Onlyten seconds to get as far into the story as you can. All the options I playedwere tender and close. None of the violence and other themes that we’ve grownup playing while never batting an eye at them. The frantic nature of the gamecaptures those last seconds of the world before the end and asking what youwould do in that situation. It’s a question that passes through our minds andnot experience that a AAA studio normally would present.

Contrasting these small, open sourced projects is the corporate AAA market. Focusing on the word market as that is what drives the space forward. Not projects of passion not beholden to share-holders and some lawyers. As a AAA studio is run by big corporations who see art and message as secondary to sales. The art will normally take a back seat to something more for the common consumer. A great example is the Assassin’s Creed series and their recent installment. Kassandra from AC: Odyssey is viewed as a manifest of representation, but she is just a masculine representation of what a corporation thinks a strong woman is. She’s attractive, muscular, and fearless. Fighting mythical creatures, government and thousands of soldiers just for a good amount of money. She swears and acts tough with no real moment of weakness. Basically, she’s Lara Croft. How she looks and acts, is more appealing to men than women. It’s a female skin over Alexios, her story doesn’t change because she’s a woman in the highly misogynist Ancient Greece it just stays static. I’d argue that a stronger female character is not physically strong but instead strengthen by his or her experiences. This plays into games like Queers in Love at the End of the World, those who already have a struggle in life just because they express a human emotion of love. Leading to it all ending in a moment’s notice and knowing it will happen. Other games focus completely on masculinity and put the player in almost an action movie like setting. Characters with strength that is unreal and mental fortitude that is even more impossible. Normally adding moments of feeling that are more of a plot point than acting as a catalyst for actual human feeling.

In gaming, women are normally created to appeal to men. Normally they are designed in a masculine sense and have little if no real femininity. While the recent influx of women in game studios is slowly helping that, we have a long way to go. Characters like Max from Life Is Strange is a start but for every Max there are 4 Lara Crofts. The stigma of a beautiful badass is giving an illusion of feminism in a world that fears looking weak. However, weakness is what makes us stronger, Celeste shows that. We don’t need stronger female leads, we need more people overcoming “weakness” in gaming.

Kingdom Come (does it) Deliverance?

Kingdom Come Deliverance blindsided me with an alternative take on the Medieval world, rarely has a game take this time period and focused on the more Germanic side of Europe. Growing up we are taught of this romantic land of chivalry, heroics, and duty. Never noting and even ignoring of the gritty and muddled reflections that mirror from the sources. Instead, we take a fantasy approach to this world. Which why a game like this intrigued me. The game takes place in a small area in the modern Czech Republic, the character isn’t some knight but just a peasant. This son of a blacksmith while having the desire for more has no real path to it and only has basic sword training. That is until when war arrives in his town when the army of the half-brother of the Holy Roman Emperor has attacked the town. The player character now must roam Bohemia in a revenge plot in what the developers designed as an “accurate” world. Accuracy reflects somewhat in the day to day than in the narrative. The accuracy is almost comical at times such as your character being unable to read signs due to being illiterate which can be remedied (by teaching him Latin apparently). The world around you feels dirty and timely. Walking the streets, you feel like the renaissance fair is forever. In his quest, the character isn’t just given space next to lord he’s known since childhood. He starts at the almost the bottom of the military with quests to get him into his regiment. No special knight units, no promotions just a soldier.

History is static and impossible to change regardless of the character’s actions. The advantage that the studio has with using this setting is they get to constrain the story to a person’s tale. The effects of the event that happens to your character do not escalate to Prague, that 3 km area is your home. The story is about you retrieving your father’s sword and a vengeance that feels unreachable. Your status is always there even if you are monetarily rich, there’s no real chance to buy property, you’re stuck in this life as a peasant/soldier would. A seemingly simple but impossibly difficult task of regaining a sword while in the middle of a power struggle is intuitive. There’s no huge payoff and the game gives you no indication that there will be. The hero’s tale is simpler in that sense than the grandiose display of other stories based in Medieval time. Living in feudalism is very gritty and this is where the realism goes wrong.

Where this game falls apart is it uses history as a sort of bind on society. Women function more like objects for the player with no real positions of power or agency. While there are female characters, they are mostly there for romancing options and not much story related purpose. The main woman in the character’s life is pretty much a damsel in distress and a sex object, never being involved in character’s journey once that branch of quests is complete even though the quests hint at a relationship. There’s a quest line for a noble’s wife with the only reason for doing it is to sleep with her after she talks to you following your village being destroyed. After these quests, they function as quest givers, barmaids and bathhouse servants.

Another aspect of this game is its representation of religion as the Holy Roman Empire is controlled by the Pope, Catholicism plays a part in the lives of the characters, churches are used in some missions but the big one is a drunken and scandalous night with a priest. After the priest is too drunk to do his sermon, he has you repeat words he’d heard from Jan Hus in Prague. It calls into question the corruption of churches and the priests but never delves any deeper and the people who relentlessly cheered for you never bring it up again. A deeper conversation is buried in a comedy side quest that more resembles Medieval Animal House or an Andrew WK song in the Middle Ages. The point becomes mute right after this quest and wasn’t mentioned much prior.

Overall Kingdom Come focuses on a more gameplay and the difficulty the “realism” makes it. While that, in turn, makes the gameplay fun, the history of the game is mostly background noise in a game that screams a personal story. The game lives in the homosocial space while not really giving the character true historical agency.

Oregon Trail Analysis

The narrative structure while barren is evident in the gameplay itself. The story is crafted by a brief intro that essentially replaces the role of stat building in a Dungeons and Dragons game. It gives your character a backstory that doesn’t play a critical role in the game minus the amount of money you start off with. The occupation of the character basically is a difficulty mode above all else. The player can use that in a sort of role-playing method if they choose but the game will not provide a backstory.  The story of the game is told through text. The story of making it to Oregon is basically a series of dice rolls that only stop when the player chooses with minor lore the player can take part in if they choose; normally this lore expresses the hardship. The representation is that Western travel was brutal and unforgiving. The time in which you start the journey can make the game easier but you’re still at the game’s mercy as a rough image of how that time was.

The American West is represented as a harsh, untamed and rugged land. In the game it is an obstacle more than it is a setting, half of the gameplay is reacting to what the land throws at you (snakes, lack of food for ox, etc.).  Historically, there is a case being made that the trail was as rough as we make it out to be and that real sacrifices had to be made to venture out West before rail roads. The choice in occupations doesn’t make it seem like simple farmers (or escaped slaves) could make it out West either without a major increase in difficulty. For example, a farmer and carpenter have their final score multiplied, double for a carpenter and tripled for a farmer. This choice also effects the money your group can spare for the game. There’s hardly ever a positive in that world, for example you can find supplies but only because the wagon you found them in is abandoned with no leftover survivors or any trace. While barren and hostile, the West does have people.

`While in my playthroughs there is a lack of minorities and they seem to appear on certain parts of the journey, they are available to talk to. An interesting thing is that you cannot play as one or at least, it doesn’t’ seem that way. The names the game provides your squad are normally very white names like Mary, Beth, and John. Only your character can be named to follow that DnD style role playing, there’s no native style names or African American style names. That roleplaying aspect can only be done so much. Context doesn’t really exist in this game and thus you must make it yourself. In the end, there’s no way to reserve or effect history, your two options are making it to Oregon or die. You cannot turn around and go to New York. However, when you’re on the way West, you meet others in the wild, they are just trying to survive as well, there’s no need for weariness of attack from my playthroughs. No fear of attacks from natives or scavengers with bandanas over their faces. The way these previously mentioned NPCs speak is general as the writing is in a more modern cadence to help a young player understand or maybe to avoid controversy that games like Freedom! created.

In review of the education aspect of the game. From a very basic standpoint, the game hits the simple aspect of a grade school level lesson about the Oregon Trail. For an adolescent, this is a fun way to learn some very basic history that would normally be skipped in a early history class. While it doesn’t make a huge historiographical argument, it doesn’t need to. This was made to be a fun little history lesson to a mass audience and it clearly worked, we still talk about it in the forms of memes and other sectors of internet communication.