Skeptimus Prime » Video Games One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Wed, 22 Apr 2015 06:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Assassin’s Creed Unity, Ubisoft, and the controversy over their lack of female characters. Fri, 13 Jun 2014 00:51:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 573bede7a5682575c91707e6f6a9f36e63ccadc6So, for those who don’t know Ubisoft demoed it’s new Assassin’s Creed game at E3 recently and it was reveled that, like previous Assassin’s Creed games, the main playable character was male. This sparked some criticism, which in turn sparked defenses of this criticism from both Ubisoft and from other gamers. As a feminist, and one of the rare male gamers who usually plays a female character if there is an option to do so I thought I speak about the issue a bit.

I’ve played a fair share of Ubisoft games over the years and have mostly enjoyed them, though I have several critiques of Ubisoft’s game design beyond possible gender issues, but before any of that let’s take a look at some of the defenses offered for this choice.

Ubisoft points out that they actually wanted to include an option for a female lead but it would have doubled their work load. Now, I’m not sure that It would have doubled their work load but it would have increased it significantly, not just in terms of animations, but in scripting and voice acting. Hiring a voice actor for the female lines, and recording any lines of dialogs that name the character or refer to them in gender specific pronouns, plus the time needed by the writers to hunt down those instances if done after the fact. I don’t doubt that this would have added at least a few weeks to the total time for game design, and increased their budget requirements.

On the other hand, plenty of other game companies have done this quite well in games that were often larger in scope than any Ubisoft game has been till now. The new dragon age game seems to have drastically increased the size of the explorable game world, and added the ability to ride horses while continuing their tradition of letting people play as either gender and then set about seducing your fellow party members. I realize that the two games are different and don’t expect all games to be the same, but if they could do all that in their development time it seems Ubisoft could have spared the time for a female lead option if it had been a priority.

So it wasn’t a priority, big deal right? Many of Ubisoft’s defenders point out that they have the right to make any game they want, which is true enough, but I think irrelevant. The point that people are making is not that Ubisoft must add female characters, but that it represents a larger failure on their part to make women and equal part the worlds they create, and people would like them to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem.

Another defense gamers put forward is to ask if feminists expect every game to offer a female lead option. The sort answer to this is generally no. I’m a fan of the Witcher games and don’t expect they will add a female lead any time soon, but this game is built of off existing lore and the characters that already exist in that lore. It also manages to present a host of strong female characters in the story despite being set in a culture that is generally fairly sexist. So I don’t think anyone is expecting ALL games to have female leads in them, simply that there be a bit more balance, and thoughtfulness when writing female characters.

So what do I think about all this? Well first I point out a general critique of Unbisoft’s games, despite enjoying them, every time I play one I get the distinct feeling that I’ve done it all before. Far cry, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, virtually ever Ubisoft game ever made uses the same basic game mechanics. For instance, unlocking sections of the map and/or side quests by climbing to some high place and unlocking a tower or view point of some kind. This is in EVERY game I play by them, and nearly no one else uses it at all. It’s not a bad game mechanic, I just think it is being over used. They changed it up a bit with Assassins Creed 4 by adding a new type of combat with ships, but the basic mechanic was unchanged. How does this relate? I think Ubisoft’s games have become a bit “paint by the numbers,” I hope they grow beyond it, but there it is.

All this being the case, it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t add a female character. I’ll go one step further, this “paint by numbers” tendency is precisely why Ubisoft has found itself increasingly criticized. It’s not that they left women out this one time, or they failed to address certain problems in their characterizations of minorities in one game. They do this over and over again. Watch Dogs was rightly criticized for the way it “fridged” every female character in the game. Far Cry 3 was criticized for it’s “white person saves the natives” plot, as also seen in Dances with Wolves and Avatar (why did people like this movie?) The point is that these plots are examples of lazy writing and are far too common in all kinds of media, and Ubisoft games in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting a boycott or something. I’ll probably play Unity and enjoy it, though I suspect I will enjoy The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age 3 more. I just also think that we should, at the same time, encourage Ubisoft to do a better job.

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Video games made me a better person. Wed, 18 Sep 2013 23:09:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> There is a pernicious idea that has worked it’s way into American culture particularly in the in the religious right, but in many other places as well. It’s the idea that video games are harming kids. I’ve written on my blog before about my time as a fundamentalist Christian in college, but believe it or not I was a gamer even back then, and I was often told I shouldn’t be by religious friends that I had. I was told that it was a waste of time and I was told I should spend that time sharing the gospel with people and other similar arguments.

Further in culture at large video games are blamed for even worse things including several of the school shootings which have happed in the last several decades, and the recent shooting in D.C.. Teaching people to be amoral murder machines in virtual worlds where there are no consequences will turn them into such things in real life eventually so the argument goes.

Most people reading this are probably familiar with some of the arguments gamers have made about these issues. Poor reporting by the media was responsible for people associating a false causative relationship between the violence perpetuated by these youths and the video games they played. So most people reading this are probably on board with the idea that video games don’t actually make people less moral. However, I’m going to argue that my so called misspent youth playing video games actually made me a better person today than I would have been other wise.

To explain let me give an example from a game I played years ago, Suikoden III. It’s an eleven year old game, but just in case there is anyone out there who hasn’t played it and plans on doing so there will be some plot spoilers here. The game has an original way of telling it’s story, it had three main characters. The game was divided into five chapters, the first three of which had to be played through by each of the main characters. What makes this particularly interesting is that each of these characters are leaders in a country which is at war with the other two.

Suikoden_ChrisThere is an iconic scene in this game that involves two of the main characters. Chris, a Zexen Knight, and Hugo, son of the Karaya Clan Chief. While playing through Chris’s story your government orders you to attack the Karaya clan’s village after an attack on Zexen that you later find out was wrongly attributed to the Karaya clan. While Chris is leading the attack she sees a suit of Zexen armor in the village that she recognizes as belonging to her father who disappeared without a trace years before. She assumes that the Karaya must have killed her father and taken the suit as a trophy and in a moment of anger orders her knights to exterminate the village. She is unable to carry out the order because Hugo shows up with some others and drives her knights away, though she does kill one of Hugo’s friends in the process of retreating. While playing through her story her actions, while perhaps extreme, make sense. She isn’t a bad person, but she has spent her whole life wondering what happened to her father and thinks she has found his murders. She also regrets her order and later becomes angry at those who call her a hero for attacking the village.

Suikoden_hugo1On the other hand while playing through the same sequence as Hugo, he returns to find his village in flames and a Zexen knight ordering the death of everyone in his village. From his perspective she looks downright evil. Further, you know from his story that the suit of armor belongs to someone who lives in the village. It turns out Chris’ father is actually alive and living in with the Karaya. It turns out he left Zexen to protect Chris from assassins that were perusing him.


I know, this plot probably seems super typical of high fantasy novels like Lord of the Ring and such, but this story confronted the young 20 something me with an idea that has stuck with me to this day. In this story both Chris and Hugo held a perspective about the events going on around them that made sense given their world view and the facts that they had available to them. It is undeniable that both of them, while right about some things, were incredibly wrong about others, yet from their perspective the choices they made seemed totally rational. Now some might say that you could talk about this idea in a movie or a book ,but I think this idea was actually far better communicated in game form than it could have been in those ways. See in a book or a movie you are passively watching other take action, but in a game you are taking action, you feel as if you are influencing the world the game exists in and in effect you become the character. While playing a game I often come to identify with and understand the main characters motivation in a way that I don’t with movies or books because I feel as if I take on the role of that character. With this game it meant that I could actually understand and empathize with both the feelings and motivations of two people who hated each other in the first chapter of the game. In short it this game encouraged to me to think about complicated philosophical questions like epistemology and ethics, It also forced me to conceder the notion that an idea can seem reasonable from one perspective but still ultimately be untrue.

These ideas helped me grow as a person, and probably contributed to my willingness to abandon my religious beliefs, but this is hardly the only game out there that encourages people to think about complex moral issues. For instance games like Skyrim which allow you to make opened ended choices to resolve quests make people think about ethical dilemmas. I find it absurd that video games are often billed as a special type of cultural phenomenon that only wastes time or even worse is dangerous and causes people to become killers. Yet I’ve seen people who watch 40 hours a week of TV claim that people shouldn’t play video games because it is a “waste of time.” I’ve also seen news casters immediately ask after a school shooting if the shooter played video games (and sometimes if they were an atheist) which is an absurd question because in this day an age almost everyone under forty has played a video game. They wouldn’t assume that someone’s TV watching or book reading habits caused them to go on a shooting spree so why video games?

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Video games, Atheists and insults… Fri, 06 Sep 2013 01:56:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’ve been playing the rerelease of Final Fantasy XIV since it came out, which explains why I haven’t been blogging lately. There are a lot of things I enjoy about playing MMO’s, not the least of which is the personal interactions. There is something I find interesting about joining a group of people from around the world that I may have never met and working together to to accomplish a goal, even if the goal is imaginary.

However, I often find myself in a love/hate relationship with the social aspects of MMO’s, as I happened to find myself last night. I was in a party I joined through “duty finder,” which is a queue system for the dungeons in the game. Since the dungeons cannot be completed by yourself the queue will put random players looking to complete the same dungeon in a party together. You can meet some cool people this way, but you can also meet some not so cool people as I did last night.

Within ten minutes one of the players made a mistake which made another person in the group angry. What followed was 20 minutes of listening to the two people complain and name call, including homophobic slurs like “faggot.” I kept my mouth shut and just finished the dungeon. Perhaps I should have said something, but I usually find that asking people to not use such language causes them to simply start going after me under the false assumption that I’m thin skinned. I also know I only have to listen to them for a bit and then they are gone for good. Of course, it disappoints me when I see gamers behave this way. As a large group of nerds we have plenty of reasons to be more sensitive to the other humans hanging out on this tiny ball in space we call earth, so it disappoints me when I see people fail badly at it.

Now, as much as it disappoints me when my fellow gamers behave like this, it disappoints me even more when fellow atheists do so. As with gamers we are a group of people who ought to recognize the need for respect but often do not. Take this recent story in which a bakery who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding is now closing down as an example.

Now, let me be clear about a few things. I am not on the side of the bakery in regards to their choice not to serve their customers. They were running a secular business and thus are subject to civil discrimination laws. Nor do I accept the owners argument that they were not discriminating.

It’s definitely not discrimination at all. We don’t have anything against lesbians or homosexuals, It has to do with our morals and beliefs.

This argument doesn’t work because discrimination is an act not a belief. I accept that their religious beliefs were the cause of the refusal to serve these homosexual customers, but it doesn’t change the fact that they refused to serve them because they were gay. This is pretty much the dictionary definition of discrimination. You can argue that companies should be allowed to discriminate if you wish, but don’t pretend it isn’t discrimination.

I am also not particularly sad that they are closing down. Ideally this is how capitalism works. If your company does something that makes people not want to shop there then you go out of business. It’s tough luck for you that you are on the wrong side of history and you went out of business because of it.

However, there is a part of this story that I do have a problem with. Due to this story the owners have reported receiving abusive/threatening communication from fellow atheists and supporters of LBGT rights. Including, according to the Blaze, threats that they be raped, and shot.

One quote from an email they received:

You stupid bible-thumping, hypocritical bitch.  I hope your kids get really, really, sick and you go out of business

Such behavior should be unacceptable, these people, despite their discriminatory attitudes, are still human beings, and their children are innocent of any wrong doing in this so they should not be a target in any of this. We really ought to aim to be better people than this and to treat people with more respect.

This certainly isn’t to say the other side does any better, the article on the blaze about this story is full of comments declaring that anyone who thinks the bakery should have served the lesbian couple are secretly communists who want to turn America into a fascist police state, while simultaneously failing to notice their behavior is no better than those they are criticizing. However, our opponents irrational behavior should not be treated as an excuse to behave irrationally ourselves.

Whether you are playing a video game or trying to enact social change we should at least start the conversation with the assumption that people can be reasoned with. We certainly do not know these owners well enough to conclude that they are beyond reasoning with about these issues. We might be able to reason them out of the prejudices, however, insults and rape threats are most certainly not going to change their minds.

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What I’ve been up to. Mon, 08 Oct 2012 03:53:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Sorry I haven’t been posted so much lately.  I have been busy though.

First, this past Monday I was invited to debate the topic of abortion with local evangelist Vocab Malone.  The same one I debated morality with a few weeks ago.  I, unsurprisingly, have some thoughts about the debate that I have been writing down.  Should be a long post, but to be fair to Vocab as well as my readers , I’m going to wait until the debate is posted in a couple of weeks to post that up.

Click to see full size.

I just purchased a new guitar, my old one had been sold when I was out of work a year and half or so ago.

Pictured here, it’s a Les Paul Standard Plus.  I’ve been annoying my neighbors with this, I’m sure they love me.

Maybe I’ll post a video of my playing something if you asking nicely.

I’ve also been playing Skyrim again lately.  For those of you who aren’t gamers two expansions came out for it in the last month.  So I had the job of killing vampire hordes who were threatening to blot out the sun or something like that.  I also found the time to build a kick ass house for my character. 

Yes, my virtual avatars live much better than I do, but on the other hand they amassed their large fortune by killing dragons, trolls, and undead.  I would totally be willing to do that, but since none of them exist in real life I have to settle for being tech support.

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The post in which I am a huge nerd. Fri, 13 Apr 2012 01:19:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So my weekly hikes with the local atheist group have been making me feel a bit out of shape and I thought I should maybe exercise a bit more.  This left me a bit of a conundrum though.  See I am a huge nerd and so as a rule I am at least 2.38 times more likely to do something if it involves a high score.  (I did the math) 

The resolution I came up with was to start playing Dance Dance Revolution again.  The problem with that is that the dance pads you need for it are not only hard to come in electronics stores these days, but the cheep 20 to 30 dollar pads wear out in about in a few weeks of hard use, and usually slip around so much that neck breakage is a serious risk, and I really like my neck unbroken.

Enter this monstrosity I order over the internet:

Its solid metal, about 3 inches thick, and has a bar to hold onto to protect my precious neck.

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Those damn Reapers Wed, 07 Mar 2012 07:35:00 +0000 I was going to make a post today but instead I had to spend the day trying to raise an army to fight back the Reaper Scourge that is trying to wipe out all life in the galaxy.

….your welcome.

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