Tuesday, April 6, 2010

wed. section

“I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experiences, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror” (Of Other Places, Foucault).
“Programs like flash allow our cursors to activate lively sequences of motion before we even click. Again, the cursor seems to embody our trajectory, an expression of our movement and our will. We are increasing aware of ourselves as database, as part and parcel of the flow of information” (203, McPherson).

“Other, ‘hardcore’ games often require extensive use of keyboard and mouse or utilize a modern, complex controller with a plethora of buttons, directional interfaces, motion control, etc.”(Soderman, 48)

When you look at yourself in PhotoBooth, the screen essentially acts as mirror, a heterotopia, a placeless place. Yet in the program and on your computer, you have a mediating tool between this digital mirror and your bodily being – the cursor. In PhotoBooth, you are able to employ various effects like X-Ray, sepia, dent, stretch, etc. In a mirror, Foucault posits that you are able to see yourself where you are not that, in an unreal, virtual space. In a mirror we only exist as the literal world, but now we (or the cursor we control) has allowed us to command the mirror. The computer has provided viewer a set of tools to distort, enhance and really just change the output of the digital mirror. The cursor, of course, acts as a mediator between reality and virtuality – a command-able, useable interface tool in the placeless place.

I’m interested in exploring how this related to the above Soderman quote. How can “causal games” be so addictive and with respect Csikszentmihalyi’s theory, allows players to enter the “flow zone” while only have the cursor as your desires and/or virtual actions embodied. It seems that the more connected with your computer during a video game, the more control you have, and the more “sucked” in you become. Having more mediators between a player and his/her play seems ideal to get people to “lose time.” Soderman might argue that women’s lives revolve around interruptions, and thus they may not have enough uninterrupted time to learn a whole new grammar of action; yet they can grasp the easy world of “Diner Dash” as the cursor is the only necessary element/tool to achieve the objective. I guess I wonder what is going on as you place more and more elements in which to mediate the virtual-you, and why this is associated with “hardcore”/ boy games.

On a different note, Braxton references Faith from Mirror’s Edge who is pictured below as “evidence that critiques of sexist avatar design have had some positive impact on actual game development” (10). The main point of his article is that the “re-emergence” of “regressive discourse” and sexist content is simply a symptom of “historical invisibility.

As a non-gamer, I am simply fascinated by these video games and the video game scholarship. I also never thought that videogames should be considered an art-form and something that is worthy of academic scholarship. Yet it certainly is a popular media and its effect on society is certainly worthy of investigation. I’m still in disbelief that games like “Diner Dash” exist nevermind that is in the top 5 best sellers in downloadable games.

In a New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/27/technology/27casual.html?ex=1277524800&en=9fb9da1047557d35&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss) , the co-founder of GameLab is cited as saying "We wanted something that people can easily relate to. There is something about very simple play that gives pleasure. You can just click on it and enjoy the game." In a USATODAY.com column (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/marcsaltzman/2005-08-01-diner-dash_x.htm), the author begins his review with:
The latest heroine on the video game scene isn't a scantily clad, acrobatic adventurer who blasts away bad guys with a ridiculously powerful arsenal of weapons. Instead, Flo wears a plain blue apron, relies on a pen and paper instead of a pistol, and her spatula-wielding sidekick sports a dirty undershirt.”

I’m so disturbed by the storyline of Flo. I am all for people created their own restaurants and casual games… but why did she have to feel so overwhelmed with her business career? It seems as though the co-founder is much more interested in ludology than narrative, but this narrative is riddled with so many cultural implications and historical regressions – Flo made it in the male-dominated business world yet she missed “being in the kitchen” and “serving people” so she creates her own restaurant – an individual “regression” for herself. It seems absurd that the two female avatars that exist are hypersexualized or utterly rendered domestic. What would happen if the creators of the game decided that Flo was a man? Following ludologist logic, I might say that it would have a big effect as the rules and grammar of action is the same. Or does the gender of the avatar really matter to the player? What’s at stake when the gender of the player and the character is not the same? Do men feel feminized and in danger of losing their masculinity if they were to play with a female avatar?

The diner-dash does not provide the player with the choice to stay at the super-stressful business job – players are forced to submit to Flo’s actions…. We have to read that she left the male-dominated world to retreat and work in a restaurant as a waitress, a stereotypical female job. While I am pretty offended that this game was made and disturbed that it is consumed, I would be more OK if there wasn’t any mention of Flo’s background and she’s just a woman that wants to create a restaurant. Why include that she hated her business career? Is this to encourage more women to not enter male-dominated sectors? I would be happier if there were games that promoted women into players in the business world. Why not Banking Dash? Or Consulting Dash? I’m sure you can think of very similar actions that must be done in these sectors like the restaurant… but we don’t have a regressive situation on our hands.

I want to focus more on the hypersexualized female avatar now, which I find interesting that Soderman does not focus any attention. I’d like to focus your attention to the video game Bayonetta. In an article “Bayonette: empowering or exploitative,“ Leigh Alexander confesses that Bayonetta is “hardly a realistic woman.” Alexander writes:
“Bayonetta takes the video game sexy woman stereotype from object to subject, and it's tremendously empowering. The title character uses the mantle of her sexuality as a power source. Between Bayonetta and her equally fierce rival, Jeane, it's a women's world -- the boys just play in it. The Umbra Witches aren't to be messed with. With this unique theme, the game itself is an artistic representation of the concept that female sexuality is its own kind of weapon. This stylized love letter to femininity is signed and sealed with all of the game's tiny details, from the kiss-shaped aiming targets to the subtle grace of Bayonetta's butterfly-shaped shadow.

For years, video games have struggled to define what constitutes a positive portrayal of women. We've learned what isn't, over our checkered history of anime panty shots, gratuitous cleavage and breast physics. And thanks to the likes of Half-Life 2's Alyx Vance, Beyond Good & Evil's Jade, Silent Hill 3's Heather Morris, and Portal's Chell, we've got some idea of what is.”
I am really interested in the (re)claiming identities and finding power within that. I believe that Alexander argues that this avatar is certainly hypersexualized, she is not rendered helpless and a mere object to be objectified. Rather, she embraces and accepts her sexuality and displays it on the screen in her own way and on her own terms -- like killing enemies with fashionable, gigantic purple heels.

Finally, while on break, I met someone who writes narratives for videogames. She told me that it is very difficult to find a job because the game companies don’t usually have full-time writers for their videogames. Instead they just hire a few freelance writers for a certain videogame. Therefore, in the debate between which paradigm is more important to study: ludology vs. narratology, I think that they are both equally valid. This is because the videogame producers are obviously placing more of emphasis on the technical aspects of a videogame and almost no money to the narratology of the games. I think it is really interesting that this is how the videogame industry has progressed…. What would happen if they concentrated on narratology and less on ludology? And as Jenkins writes:

“We need critics who know and care about games the way Pauline Kael knew movies. We need critics who write about them with that same degree of wit, wisdom, and passion. Early film critics played vital functions in documenting innovations and speculating about their potential. As a new media, computer games demand this same kind of close critical engagement.”

So when are writers and theorists going to take control of these new media and hopefully shrink the historical blindness of the industry?

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