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June 26
2014

An Interview with Dani Landers of Studio Fawn

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Dani Landers is one of the four members of Studio Fawn, the creative team behind Bloom: Memories, an upcoming game set in a strange and beautifully-crafted world designed to evoke feelings of adventure and exploration, as well as including emotionally-involving storylines using game mechanics and themes that the larger games industry tend to avoid. Bloom has already seen a very successful Kickstarter having met (and exceeded!) their target goal, and their continued progress in developing the game is documented over at the Studio Fawn website. Dani’s role at Studio Fawn encompasses game design, art, writing and marketing, and the world of Bloom stems from her own creative vision.

We caught up with Dani to ask her a little about her vision for Bloom,  her experiences as a game developer, and her thoughts on the contemporary games industry.
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May 28
2014

It’s Hard Being Tomodachi With Corporations

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Recently, an uproar tore out across the internets when Nintendo decided not to include same-sex relationships in their life-sim game Tomodachi Life; people were incensed, Nintendo issued a fairly standard apology, people were mildly more optimistic but also still kind of sore. In response, there have been questions, confusions and concerns from folk criticising the backlash against Nintendo, for various reasons.

Many have echoed Nintendo’s sentiment of “social commentary” by claiming that games are “just games”, they’re escapist fantasies, they’re entertainment, and as such, they shouldn’t serve any “political agenda”. But games are not just “escapism”, they’re not just frivolous forays into time-wasting in between reading “Ulysses” or “Animal Farm”, they’re not “just” anything – there’s an entire side to the games industry called serious games! Games, like any medium, like any artform, like any kind of entertainment – both reflect the culture that created it and influences that society’s perspective. As Anna at BorderHouseBlog notes, choosing to abstain from “social commentary” on an issue IS social commentary — any action in a politically-muddied situation is political action. Similarly, Nintendo’s initial decision not to include same-sex relationships – and their subsequent decision not to – did not happen in a vacuum. They happened in an industry already hesitant about, if not inimical to, LGBTQ representation, in a culture where LGBTQ people are already marginalised, poorly represented and discriminated against.

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May 20
2014

Queer Mechanic #6: Relationships

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Relationship mechanics have become enormously popular in recent years, to the extent that it”s not uncommon to see forum threads of speculation about whether certain characters in games can be “romanced”, guides for the optimal way to romantically engage with Love Interests (LIs), or discussing the difficulties inherent in romance options in games. The creation of engaging and interesting romance options and mechanics is something that’s vital, timely, and, most importantly, wanted.

Nonetheless, implementing romance options isn’t as easy as just rubbing one character on another until hearts pop out (…figuratively speaking). For example,the complexity of the sexual politics involved in Dragon Age: Origins alone is staggering, before we even get to what Denis Farr refers to as the “Schroedinger’s Sexuality” of Dragon Age II and the fact that some players had reservations about how the in-game Love Interests were portrayed as “playersexual” rather than bisexual – that is, there is little-to-no reference to their sexual orientation except in the case of when the player-character puts the moves on them. And, in those instances when romance mechanics go wrong, they can go really wrong: case in point, Gaygamer’s Trevor Smith’s discussion of the abject horror of badly-implemented romance mechanics resulting in a deeply creepy ‘romance’ scene.

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So, it’s important that we have interesting and engaging relationship options – but it’s also important that these options don’t undermine themselves by cutting corners, which can lead to perpetuating tired stereotypes without commentary, creating one-size-fits-all mechanisms that take away nuance and context, and sending out mixed messages.

Unfortunately, the games industry has done all three of these things repeatedly over the years, to the point that whenever games include relationships or romance options that aren’t your regular cis-heteronormative man-kisses-woman-and-they-marry fare, they tend to be cliché, crude, or conflicted. And that’s if they include them in the first place.

But in this month’s Queer Mechanic, we’re not talking about “the gay romance option”. We’re talking about romance options, plural – using game mechanics to explore how we could model and represent alternative relationship structures like polyamory, open relationships, D/s relationships and more, and the possibilities and difficulties these bring with them.

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March 3
2014

Queer Mechanic #5: Queering the Male Gaze

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Queer Mechanic is a regular feature here on GayGamer – each month, we’ll be presenting a new game mechanic that could be used in games that include or focus on queer identity or culture. Queer Mechanic is a thought experiment, to see both what we could add to games, and to recognise what’s been missing from them; it’s a challenge, both to readers, to come up with novel, interesting and effective ways to use them, and to developers, to include them in games; and it’s a discussion for a more inclusive, more varied, and more innovative future for the games industry.

The concept of male gaze as we know it now was formulated by Laura Mulver in her 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, and has since been diffused throughout the fields of media critique and analysis, in particular that of film.

Finally Feminism 101 has an excellent FAQ on the male gaze over here, which is well-worth reading so that most of what follows makes sense, but, in summary: the male gaze is the name given to the idea that scenes in media are often constructed from the perspective of an assumed straight-male viewer and his (often, but not always, sexual) interests.

We’ve probably all seen movies where a female character takes a shower, and the camera takes its time to hover over her body, lingering at her hips, her ass, her breasts, perhaps a close-up of her lips, half-opened, or her eyes, closed as though in pleasure.

MadisonShower

Boom. That’s male gaze. The camera “stands in” for the straight male audience, watching the woman in a way that would probably seem jarring and unusual were it to be done to a male character. Not because male characters aren’t nice to look at – but because we’re so used to seeing only women framed as sexual characters (or objects).

Male gaze is an interesting topic to discuss in the medium of games, because video games in particular have borrowed a number of techniques, concepts and vocabulary from film that make it ripe for exploration – the most obvious of these are Quantic Dream’s games Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, but really, any game with characters moving around a scene and followed by a camera will inevitably borrow filmic techniques. And, as the concept of “male gaze” has similarly been applied to other non-film media, so to can we discuss the theory with regards to concepts unique to (or most prevalent in) games.

For this month’s Queer Mechanic, we’re going to take a look at ways of toying with, subverting, destabilising and queering the concept of the straight male gaze. So let’s jump right in!

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January 14
2014

Queer Mechanic #4: Transition

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Queer Mechanic is a regular feature here on GayGamer – each month, we’ll be presenting a new game mechanic that could be used in games that include or focus on queer identity or culture. Queer Mechanic is a thought experiment, to see both what we could add to games, and to recognise what’s been missing from them; it’s a challenge, both to readers, to come up with novel, interesting and effective ways to use them, and to developers, to include them in games; and it’s a discussion for a more inclusive, more varied, and more innovative future for the games industry.

Trans people are rarely represented in games, and when they are, the representation is rarely very positive; given that the vast majority of games fall over this first set of hurdles, it can be hard to imagine what games with trans-ness represented and catered towards would look like.

If I could bet on someone being able to imagine these games, though, it would be Eilidh, Emily Crosbie, and Moose Hale, three trans gamers who took part in this interview to share their understanding with game developers, players, and writers looking to address the massive imbalance against trans people, issues, characters and representation in general throughout the medium of videogames.

While reading, it’s important to note that transitioning is not the be-all, end-all of trans experience, as Laverne Cox recently attested to in an interview (alongside Carmen Carrera) with Katie Couric; it’s one facet of a massive, nuanced set of topics which overlaps with queer-interest games-based discussion, and (hopefully!) one of many more to come.

Enough from me, though: let’s have Eilidh, Emily and Moose take us through Queer Mechanic #4, discussing transition and representation of trans people in videogames!

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December 20
2013

PAX “Diversity Lounges”

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Back in November, I suggested the word ‘xbroglio as a catch-all term for the many-and-various ways that Microsoft have messed up with regards to creating and marketing the Xbox One. This week, thanks to a leaked (and now, officially confirmed) document regarding the addition of “Diversity Lounges” to future Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX) events – ostensibly areas for people interested in games and social consciousness, but which comes across as the Designated Diversity Zone of PAX – I’m forced to think of new nomenclature for Penny-Arcade related mishaps.

The best I’ve got thus far is “PAXccident”, although I’m willing to bet there’s a better one out there; hit me up if you got one!

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According to the document – which was originally posted up on IndieStatik – the “Roll for Diversity Hub and Lounge” will be a fixture within the PAX convention itself, dedicated to providing a space where attendees can “find out about all the different diversity related things happening in and around PAX”, “learn about diversity in the gaming industry”, “learn about diversity in general”, and “learn about geek businesses that cater to diverse communities”. On paper, this sounds like a great idea – a dedicated zone inside one of the biggest games conventions in the world, where folk interested in social awareness in games can find like-minded folk, listen to panels and speakers on subjects relevant to them, and check out games that cater specifically to them. Indeed, with some reading-between-the-lines (and divorced of additional context), this seems to be what the folks at Penny Arcade intended all along.

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November 27
2013

XBROGLIO: Xbox One’s “We Got Your Back” Letter

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I’m coining the word “xbroglio” as of today. It means, “any incidents occurring as a result of Microsoft assuming players to be heterosexual dudebros”. It’s quite a flexible concept, too – in fact, I’d argue it’s characterised most of the Xbox One’s life thus far, considering the previous discussion we’ve had over whether or not the Xbox One requires an always-on connection, what’s going on with its policy on used games, the shoddy treatment of trans folk at corporate events for it, not to mention that rape joke at E3how anti-consumer Microsoft’s policies about it seem, and how ambivalent most of the folk here at GayGamer felt about it - none of which seem to register as issues for a lot of hetero dudebros, it seems.

Well, today’s contribution to the continuing imbroglio can be found over on the site for the Xbox One – in the form of the “We Got Your Back” email template provided courtesy of Microsoft, replete with mad-libs style fields where you can customise a desperate e-plea for an Xbox One to a co-habiting human being and email it off. Which sounds fairly innocuous – if a little obnoxious – were it not for the weirdly gendered and heteronormative format of the entire letter itself.

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