New York Made History Last Night

I think, no matter where you stand on the political or religious spectrum, it’s likely that most us have loved ones–family and friends–who are LGBT. The way I see it, by accident of birth, I have legal rights when it comes to love (that basic of tricky, wonderful, painful, enlightening, maddening things) that some of my fellow New Yorkers were denied until last night. Religious groups got extra protections to make sure that they may still run their organizations according to their faiths, and New Yorkers became more equal. There will be more jobs here due to this legislation. We will welcome more tourists. All New Yorkers will benefit somehow. And all it took was bipartisan leadership, state senators listening to what constituents wanted in the state, and careful deliberation. It’s easy to be jaded with the political system sometimes. And other times, it actually works.

“No Girls Allowed” – Chicken or the Egg?

I wanted to comment on the recent piece “No Girls Allowed” by Lydia Heitman over at Kotaku. Heitman is a woman working in gaming PR. Her take on the PR side of the business in light of the sexism that still goes on made some refreshing points. For all the insistence that gaming is male-dominated and that’s where companies should focus their marketing, it becomes a chicken and egg question. Do women not play as much in certain categories because they’re uninterested or do they not play as much in those genres because they feel unwelcome or are simply not marketed to?

That holds true for recent controversies over not just Duke Nukem Forever, but Brink, which touted its extensive character customization options but featured no female character models at all, supposedly because including them would’ve half-assed the development on all customization options. The message there was simply, “You’re not worth it to us”. Unfortunately, not all signs of being unwelcome are so blatant nor communicated with gamers at large.

There are also focus groups for which women are never even considered for invitation. I understand that there are target demographics for different games, and the audience is not necessarily the same for Hello Kitty Online as for Age of Conan (though in my case, they are). But as far apart as those extreme examples are, they are just that: extremes. Somewhere in the middle, there are many games and potential game ideas that could have much wider appeal than people think at the concept and marketing stages. Developers and publishers are throwing away potential money by ignoring the needs of customers and potential customers. Blatantly saying female avatars aren’t worth the development sink is a slap in the face. It turns me off to anything developed by Splash Damage. Brilliant marketing work there, isn’t it? Any company that says to me, you are not worth even considering isn’t worth considering when it comes to where I send my money.

The default marketing target is usually a young, white male customer. According to the EGSA, the average gamer is now 37 years old, and women comprise over 40% of the audience. There is still a sense of elitism and an insistence on looking down on those one might not consider “real” gamers among pockets of the community at large. If that’s the case when the audience numbers are actually heading toward parity,  when most developers are still overwhelmingly white and male, perhaps there are remants of similar biases among them. The example Heitman uses about the party illustrates that facet of things well.

My sister is seven years old. Whatever she chooses to play shold be open to her, with devs and community willing to listen and respond positively to their female audience members. But the issue is not just applicable to current customers. Games are art to me, but they are also a busess. Part of running a successful business is drawing more customers into the fold. And as Heitman’s piece and examples like Brink illustrate, there are still a lot of blocks to that, whether because those in charge of marketing the games can’t wrap their head around women’s interest in their titles, lingering culture issues, or both. On a somewhat brighter note, most girls now grow up playing games, so the importance of acceptance by devs and by gamers is hopefully something that will be less of an issue in years to come.

No PvP Safeguards in Age of Conan?

During Funcom's GDC presentation, Game Director Gaute Godager responded to a reporter's question about player-versus-player combat, and the problem of ganking with a potentially worrisome solution: Don't join a PvP server.

Depending upon your point of view, this is either the most logical thing in the world or a complete cop out. Godager's statements reflect what seems to be a complete free-for-all option on these servers. At least several months ago, it seemed that there would be safeguards in place to prevent players of very high levels from attacking or engaging players of much lower levels. The rules appear to have changed, and PvP, while in some cases restricted to within designated areas, seems to be open to a large problem with griefing.

Most MMO players know that griefing can be extremely frustrating to deal with, especially in the lower levels. These cyber bullies can even turn players off from renewing their subscriptions. So why make this decision? It seems the vocal members of the PvP audience, in many instances on the official community forums, figured that if the game were aiming for realistic, violent, and mature combat, then it might as well be "realistic" in this aspect as well. Thus, as the game currently stands, a bored level 80 may attack and kill a level 25 without consequence.

I'm not a big PvPer. I engage with friends or guildmates, or occasionally one on one when I'm in the mood. The promised rules blocking high level characters from ganging up on low levels represented the one thing making the possibility of playing on a PvP server remotely tolerable. I don't want other people to dictate how I spend my game time or be allowed to ruin my fun via griefing. If my character has a fair shot of beating someone, then that is tolerable on a PvP server. But to allow free-for-all attacks is just inviting trouble. Bad decision, Funcom.

A Few Thoughts

I caught part of American Idol last night, and saw Jennifer Lopez perform. In a way, it was a proud moment, seeing one of the biggest shows on television feature a huge star singing in Spanish on national television. Regardless of anyone's personal opinion of Lopez' musical career, the fact that this milestone was achieved is pretty important. It's a good demonstration of how Latinos are ever more out there, and how pieces of our culture are shown to be completely at home among all the other diversity America has to offer. At the same time, nobody made a big deal out of it being a sort of milestone. It was just a seamless blend with the rest of the show. That's important, because it normalizes such a performance and the occasional Spanglish and Spanish-language advertising I see on a regular basis.

 I bet most of the audience didn't understand the song and yet they seemed to get into it anyway, simply enjoying the music and the performance for all it was worth. That's where the pride comes in, knowing that enjoyment and music are things that cross cultural and language barriers.

On a related note, I saw this headline via E! News the other day: "Salma's Spicy Studio Deal" which was referring to the recent production deal signed between Salma Hayek and MGM,  to form Ventanazul, a company to develop and distrubute Latino themed film projects. "Spicy"? Way to stereotype. Now, I know most of us are very proud of being a passionate people, but these terms only serve to marginalize and give people a certain impression of us, especially of us Latinas. We're "spicy", "spitfires", "feisty", "hot tamales", etc. But wait – I'm geeky, nerdy, calm, passionate, yes, but whatever happened to celebrating the whole of a person instead of attempting to water them down to an adjective or two? Ventanazul is actually trying to do just that, says Salma, saying that the projects will be involved in "telling uniquely Latin stories like that of Frida Kahlo, to creating unforgettable characters—who just happen to be Latin—like Ugly Betty." Then why such a ridiculously stereotypical headline from the E! writer?

Not that I necessarily disagree that "spicy" may truly describe some people, but it's a tired adjective when attached to stories involving Latinos, and it's about time someone gave these writers a new thesaurus. In the end, I'm happy to hear of the Ventanazul production company and look forward to what kinds of projects will come out of it.