Some late thoughts on “It takes too much time to make female characters”-discussion – part 1

A few weeks ago there was an amazing internet uproar because of Ubisoft’s claims that it would take too much time to create a female character in their upcoming Assassins Creed Unity. It really was the most pathetic comment that was indeed doomed to be ridiculed and disputed. And thank goodness for that! I’m so pleased that we’re at a place in the industry where we can stop and say “Wait a minute … what? That doesn’t sound right!”. I’m also so pleased that so many male developers are getting involved in the discussion. What depressed me was some of the comments that followed. And I know that I should never read the comments – but my heart just sank. 

The Norwegian game dev scene has so often touched me and given me hope that there is no need to fight on the barricades and shout anymore. I’ve had an amazing conversation with a game developer on female protagonists and how interesting complicated female characters such as Anna Karenina would be in a game. One company embraced their transgender team mate with open arms and another made sure to have females represented in their gaming inspiration presentation without making a big fuss about it. I adore some of these guys and I believe them to be true artists who have the capacity to challenge their minds to thinking differently, outside their own worlds and into the hearts of so many others. 

So perhaps I had been too smitten by this younger,  more independent generation of game developers, that I was temporarily was blinded and forgot my responsibility as an grown woman to watch out for sexist attitudes. So – for the record – here’s some of my responses to some of the comments I’ve been hearing about the issue. 

1) “I don’t want to be told what to create just because women are feeling left out! Let them create their own games!”

This comment annoys me on so many levels, I suppose mostly because it makes me feel guilty about not becoming a game developer myself – just to prove a point. Luckily we have so many wonderful women developing games, not just for their gender but for the mainstream gaming market. Like Brenda Romero, Kim Swift, Anna Marsh and so many more! It’s not about that.

I’m not saying that you – working on your very first game with a team of three should be forced to create female protagonists in your game – it would be nice if you did – but I’m not going to come knocking on your door if you don’t. I’m a big believer that all artists should start with what they know. 

But for a series like Assassins Creed – with 7 hits under their belt and rather large teams working on different areas – HELL YEAH, I expect them to consider female characters. And it really doesn’t take a genious to figure out that something else is going on when one representative says that it would be too time consuming to create a female character and an earlier AC-artist calls them out on the comment being bullshit. And yes … when you’re a series that has sold over 73 million copies – too f’ing right, I expect them to have diversity in their games. 

And urgh … Assassins Creed has already done this which made it kinda hurt some more. Ubisoft have later revealed that Unity, although having a cooperative multiplayer function, there’s still only one character you can play. 

As artists I feel that game developers have a responsibility to challenge their own world view. I expect you to think of more ways to express your story than through a white male. I swear – we really do want it. 

I have no idea if this is true but I sometimes get the impression that someone out there (perhaps marketing departments, which is my world) is telling game developers that gamers don’t want female characters, or any diversity what so ever. Which has to be bullshit – I refuse to believe this!

I remember being rather confused about some of the marketing for Tomb Raider: Reborn which portrayed a completely different Lara Croft than I experienced while playing it. Lots of the advertising was about sex, when the creators made an amazing female character that I respected and felt proud to play. There seemed to be a mis-match between the creators and marketing strategy which was terribly sad. Although, googling through some of the advertising now – I can’t seem to trace back to any of it – was I just dreaming?). 

 

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PAX 2013

I’d really like to go to PAX Prime! I mean … I really really really wanna go. It seems like the perfect injection of gaming inspiration that I need. Since I have no money – I’m looking for creative ways of getting me there so if you have any good ideas – let me know! I can write, talk, network and sell. I think I need about $3000.

There’s two game companies that I adore and would love to work for someday that are going; D-Pad Studios and Rain.

D-Pad

D-Pad’s lovely and gorgeous Owlboy has been picked as one of the PAX10. So incredibly proud of and excited for them! What an honour! I already have an beautiful image in my mind of Phil Fish and Wil Wheaton playing Owl Boy together with huge grins on their faces! Just look at the beauty:

And today they’re releasing the game Savant – which you should play as soon as it’s released!

Rain

Rain will also be there with their upcoming game Teslagrad! I love this game – or I guess it’s more correct that I love where this game comes from and I love that it’s just the beginning of a wonderful world that they’ve created. And I’ve certainly enjoyed playing the game.

They’ll also be at PAX! If you’re there make sure to stop by and be smitten! Thomas and Magnus will be representing and they’re definitely two of my favourites – SO worth taking the time to talk to!

They’re also on Steam Greenlight and they need your vote – so go do that now!

I’m also secretly hoping for both of them to officially release their games at Konsoll 2013.

I really need to come up with a plan to get myself there other than winning the lottery!

Programming with children

(Pictures shamefully stolen from Lær Kidsene Koding)

Last summer I was at Edinburgh Interactive and was for the first time introduced to the highres_245711632wonderful organisation Coder Dojo, which is a program or space for young people eager to learn about programming and technology. Bill Liao, one of the founders, took the stage and started reciting a poem which really moved me. He concluded with the statement “We’re teaching our children how to read but not how to write. We’re teaching our children how to use technology but not how to create and express themselves with it.” – it really got to me.

Ever since then the subject just kept on popping into a lot of discussions and meetings I was having last winter. Of course, a lot of the meetings I was having, were with very engaged technology enthusiasts. But it was uncanny the way I could be sitting in an introduction meeting between Jill Walker Rettberg and Henchman and Goon where w ended up having an opinionated and enthused discussion about the lack of programming in Norwegian education. And this just kept happening. General consensus was that something had to be done and we might as well be the ones to do it. Meetings were had between me, Jill Walker Rettberg from Digital Culture at University of Bergen, Anne Marthe Dyvi from Bergen Center for Electronic Art, some sporadic members of The Game Developers Guild, Martin Lie, Trygve Trohaug from HackBergen and one of my favourite librarians Sverre Helge Bolstad.

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Video Game Confidential: Susan O’Connor

From http://tedxbeaconstreet.com/susanoconnor
Video Game Confidential
Susan O’Connor

Susan O’Connor knew from the age of four that she wanted to be a writer. What she didn’t know was that she would grow up to work in the videogame industry, where the audience runs wild. “In games, agency matters,” says O’Connor. “Players want to control the action.” Out of necessity and desperation, she (and writers like her) have found new ways to tell their stories.

Like magicians palming quarters, some game developers hide their plots in plain sight. Their sleight-of-hand gives players the freedom they expect and the storylines they demand. But these magic tricks come at a surprising cost. What are these game narratives telling us about our world – and ourselves?

Games in O’Connor’s portfolio have sold over ten million copies and generated more than half a billion dollars in sales. In her thought-provoking TEDxBeaconStreet talk, O’Connor spills the beans about what she’s learned about writing, illusion, and desire.

A native of Austin, O’Connor now lives in San Francisco and splits her time between game projects, TV assignments, and surfing.

Konsoll

I’m extremely embarrassed that I haven’t been blogging for such a long time! I have so much to tell. I haven’t even mentioned Insert Coin here yet – which is an insult to my communications profession. Can we just say that I’ve been very busy and I’ve been having a hell of a lot of fun!

So remember how I was writing about a game event in Bergen in October? Well we frakin pulled it off!

We collaborated with several others in getting this done so the program tended to confuse people, and at certain times even ourselves. So it was a difficult concept to communicate which will be much better next year when we’ll be more independent.

 

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T.L. Taylor and e-sports

When I was writing my masters I became a fan of T.L. Taylor and her incredible knowledge of play and play culture. She seemed to have an excellent grasp of what was happening with online gaming and the players. I’ve been out of the game for so long that I wasn’t aware that she was researching e-sports and she’s recently written a book called, “Raising the Stakes. E-Sports and the Professionalization of Compute Gaming”. I’ll be buying it and I look forward to reading it. I’m curious about e-sports and T.L. Taylor is such an enjoyable writer that I’m certain I’ll love it. I don’t know why e-sports baffles me because I generally do enjoy watching others play. I’m starting to think it has something to do with the commentators.

Anways … she shares a lovely and powerful video of spectators and players at EVO 2o11 on her blog (which I also just found – I am so way behind!). I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

 

Naval War: Arctic Circle

I’ve been looking forward to this game being released for a long time. And I therefore have to give a little personal rant before talking about the game:

I’m a huge fan of Turbo Tape Games. They’ve done so much excellent work in bringing the computer games industry into the spotlight in Norway and doing an excellent job in preaching the value of the industry. These guys have opened so many doors and broken down so many barriers for the future of game development in Norway – I hope that we can do it justice. I remember meeting Fredrik Sundt Breien (Managing Director) at a First Tuesday event about games (OMG! 7 years ago!). He has the charisma and enthusiasm to charm any audience into believing that games are worth investing in – which he’s done! And continues to do so as he’s speaking at (Bergen’s new innovators and The Nordic Media Festival). In many ways I guess I’m kinda jealous, cause I’d like to do the exact same thing some day.

I met the technical director, Jan Haugland, at the Industrial Gaming conference, which was also one of my first presentations of Machinima hungover – thankfully come a long way since then! We had an indept conversation about game mechanics and the genious of Tetris, the details elude me, but I remember the happy feeling of meeting a good friend that day.

As for the rest of the gang – we still haven’t reached the threshold where hugs are a natural greeting. 

So when Turbo Tape Games was established, it was only natural for me to invite myself and the cHixOrs (pre Spillpikene) to visit the headquarters at Pixel Park. My what a long way they’ve come! I remember spending a good hour in their cramped office and still having absolutely no clue what Naval War was about. All I saw was a lot of code I did not understand and a lot of indication that this game was going to be just a tad too complicated for my taste.

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But as you may have understood from the long personal rant and reminiscing – I adore them and on launch day of Naval War: Arctic Circle – I wanted to stop by and wish them good luck. I incidently had a meeting next door and thought I’d stop by with the gift of coffee and wish them good luck. They were surprisingly calm and relaxed and I felt like such a fan girl being so enthused and excited for them.

And then … I was allowed to try the game and I was scared.

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Wonderful geek tv!

Will Wheaton has a great new show on table top games on the new YouTube channel Geeks & Sundry. I wasn’t expecting to, but I actually watched the whole thing! So he invites guests and they play through a table top game entertainingly and informatively. This time around was Small World. There’s some great camera angles and it’s beautifully edited so that I learn the game as I chuckle and I don’t get bored. Extra kudos for inviting a woman! I hope they do Android at some time because it’s still in my closet after ending play with a big unison sigh after a dinner party over a year ago. Having a program like this to make me understand the goal and rules of the game will be lovely. And Mr. Wheaton is just the perfect game master for such a show! Very cool gaming table!

PS. For non Disneyland explorers, this is the freaky dolls he’s referring to in his intro.

Leigh Alexander on being a female game journalist

I just watched this wonderful keynote by Leigh Alexander on the challenges of being a female journalist and being labelled a feminist journalist because she writes about things such as computer games. She really gives a lot of her own personal experiences and I’m very thankful for that. I recognise a lot of what she brings up. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and a bit daunting being asked to have an opinion or a voice for an entire gender, speaking on behalf of all woman everywhere. I don’t even feel comfortable talking on behalf of female gamers. But Alexander is great at pointing out that we already have some wonderful female role models in the game industry out there and that we shouldn’t let ourselves be silenced for our gender or that the pressure of talking on behalf of a gender is too awesome. Her conclusion was absolutely great: “I believe that games can speak to more people than they already do and in order for that to happen they need all of our voices – they need you!”. Thanks Mathias Poulsen for recommending it!

World Peace Game Bergen part 2 – The Players

So sorry for the delay of this post. Real Life has claimed my full focus the last couple of weeks and I also had to reach some deadlines applying for funding

Kristian Bjørkelo - journalist

to do the game again in Oslo in February. So thanks for being patient. I hope that my memory of the events are still somewhat intact.

I can’t take complete credit for the conclusions that I’ll be writing here. On the last gaming day we had a great debrief session and a lot of the observations I will mention here are from that. Almost all of the players had something they wanted to share in the debrief, so I credit them all with these observations.

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