Friday, April 12, 2013

Scarlet Blade: The Strip Club of MMO's

Scarlet Blade… wow.

Okay, I’ll deal with the female avatars later.  First let’s just do a quick once-over of the game ignoring the models.  The TL/DR version is Free 2 Play MMO, classed level advancement, targeted combat, grind questing, with auction house, microtransaction store, limited crafting, limited gear options, skill trees, and giant robots.

SB shows the finesse of an Asian game engine with high detail and a huge portion of pleasing ascetics.  I love a good sci-fi game and this one has a great girl-merges-with-robot feel.  The start zone is a nudge big and can take (IMO) too long to travel from quest to quest even with the monocycle you get for free at 10th level.  The game contains a “good” feature whereby you can just click on the quest object linked in your quest log and your avatar will auto-run to it.  Most of the critters in the start zone are passive so you don’t get a lot of agro.  While convenient, it gets boring as you don’t even need to look at the map.  The map is also pretty crap—being too small and non-intuitive about where you are in relation to your objectives.  It’s functional, but I’d call it below average.

There are 6 classes and 2 sides.  The two sides have no differences—one is “good” and the other is “evil”.  On my server there were a lot more evils than goods.  The 6 classes are totally predictable with a sliding scale of DPS, tank, and healer.  I played Punisher (ranged DPS), Sentinel (faster ranged DPS), and Medic (healer?).  The Medic is, of course, a healer class, but as far as I could tell you never need it… so what’s the point?  Class selection seem mostly a choice of which avatar you find prettiest and combat style (big guns, pistols, whips, or melee).

The quests are 100% “go here and kill X bad things”.  The quest dialog banter is laughable and sexist without even being intelligently flirty which I suspect as the Producers intent.  However, you don’t need to read any of the text as you just need to accept the quest and then click on the auto-run to zone link.  Thinking is not required.  While grindy, it wasn't heavy grinding.  The scenery is pretty and mobs are interesting.  Nobody I fought had any unusual traps or tricks in combat.  Fighting was all just button-smash all your powers in a timed sequence.

There is an auction house, but with no alternate gear options, the AH is pointless.  All your gear is presented from questing.  You can’t use the gear or get the quests until specific levels so there was initially no variation between characters (up to 20th level).  It takes a few days of casual play to get to 20.  The same limits apply to the skill tree.  There are not a lot of options in the skill tree.  There doesn't seem to be any way to create meaningful variety in builds.

The coolest feature so far has been the robot form you gain at 15th level.  At first I was like “YES THIS ROCKS” and then my energy ran out.  You see the robot form drains “CP” as a resource at a constant rate.  CP isn’t used for anything else except robot form.  It depleted in about a minute and took about 10 minutes to slowly restore.  In robot form I gained access to a number of untargeted AoE attacks which were fun.  But the extremely short duration of the form and the really long recharge time detracted from the experience.

Overall, I’d rate the game as nothing special.  It’s okay, but nothing about the game play was unique, the writing was annoying, and most of the options were on rails.

Okay, time to deal with the giant 44 DDD’s in the room.  SB has no male avatars.  Each class as a static female form.  You can change the face and hair, but nothing else.  Every model is dressed in a thong one-piece swimsuit and all of them are impossibly endowed *except* the Sentinel model who is child sized… Nipples are barely covered *sometimes*.  Other times they are not covered or are clearly visible through translucent costumes.  A great deal of CPU is given to independent breast physics.

On one level, SB is a male gamer fantasy come true.  We have skin movies, skin magazines, skin websites so why not skin video games with giant guns and robots?  It’s not high-brow.  It is pandering to the same audience that might also like visiting a strip club.  It isn’t good for you.  It’s fattening as all hell, but curiosity draws you in.

From a feminist perspective, the game is yet another ridiculously biased title squarely aimed at the teen male market.  The only unique bit to SB is its complete sell out nature.  It doesn’t even attempt to hide the focus on naked women as robot pilots where those women are pretty sexual objects.  It is a naked anime game.  Typical of the sex and titillation industry the game makers hope you’ll spend extra money to see your avatar completely naked and dressed up in a small variety of sexier outfits.  Scarlet Blade isn’t trying to be a forward thinking title or an innovative game.  It isn’t going for good writing or an awesome story.  It is going straight up for sexy women/objects as a hook.  Playing feels a lot like visiting that strip club on the really bad side of town.  1 part sexy fun and 2 parts uncomfortable adjustment.  You know instinctively this isn’t “right”, but I guess we all make a trip to the Adult Bookstore at least once.

I'm not defending Scarlet Blade or the gaming industries wide-spread problems with inclusion and diversity.  SB is just another sexist title on a heap of sexist titles.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Not the Few, Butt the Many

Sexism in video games is a slippery problem because it isn’t a problem with one game.  The problem is with the trend or the mass of games in total.  Most of us spend more of our lives as adults than teens so it isn’t completely inappropriate for adults to want to play adult / playful games where there are sexy options.  If the ratio to sexy was some arbitrary number less than 80% sexy to 20% not applicable (i.e. games that don’t feature humanoids of any kind), then maybe we would be on the right track.  But honestly, every game that features a female character seems to make sure that character is sexy, objectified, or straight up abused.  A “good” game might only suffer one of these traits where a bad game just says “fuck it, slap that bitch.”  There are exceptions, but these shining gems numbering only a small handful.  This is the problem.  It isn’t that any one game can’t just be “good fun” or “just a game”… it’s that all of them are.   So we might have titles like Tera Online and that’s okay as long as for every one Tera there should be at least one Mass Effect (where even ME suffers Miranda Ass Syndrom).

The excuse that these are games marketed for men is bullshit.  The excuse that this is all that teenage boys want is bullshit.  The excuse that this is all that sells is bullshit.  I would buy, “We sorta suck at game design/writing so we put in a lot of boobs”.  This I would believe.  So get some better writers.  Follow some real world examples… We don’t have strippers on Wall Street.  We have a special section of town for that.  Build worlds with adult options in certain locations.  Make them age restricted.  Sure kids will get around it, but really if the kids want sexy online options, they have plenty.  What I want is a place where I can play “normal” and maybe go visit “Online Amsterdam” if I feel like it.  We can develop social values inside these games and we should.  We actually already are, we’re just not paying attention to what we’re developing.

So again… it isn’t that sex is wrong or sexy is wrong or any one sexy game is wrong.  It is that having sexy women in *all* games with no options to avoid it is wrong.  Not OMG it should be illegal wrong… but “Please, for the love of Mike give us some realistic options.”

I'll add one more easy to understand concept.... Simply let everyone pick all options.  If design requirements mandate separate modelling for female vs. male characters make sure that both genders can opt in to all the available options where some of those options should be not-sexy.  Let men where bikinis, let women put on full body coverage.  Options to be what you want instead of what the game designers want you to play.