June 10, 2007

Characters Done Right: Midna, a feminist hero

Filed under:Characters Done Right, Legend of Zelda Series, Videogames, Wii — Lake Desire @ 9:56 am

I complain enough about videogames. (I’m finally spelling that word without the space.) I think it’s about time I talk more about those characters who are done right: from heroes I really want to be to little nuggets of delight that jump out of a game I’d never expect to find them in.

midna feminist hero legend of zelda: twilight princess

The first subject of my praise is Midna from Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Midna, servant of Zelda and later revealed to be the ruler of the banished Twilight Realm, meets Link when she rescues him after he’s been transformed into a wolf. Midna becomes Link’s guide and friend, and he ends up serving her through much of the game (while he’s also helping other powerful women like Zelda, the Zora queen, Telma the Barkeep, and the goddess).

Midna is an example of how a princess-in-peril can work as a plotline while that princess is the biggest player, the most active agent, of all parties involved. She’s not an invisible force in a tower somewhere, she’s with Link on her entire journey and the player utilizes her own powers as much as she uses Link’s.

Twilight Princess overall has really stepped up characterization from the old Zelda games, so I found Link rather likable in this title, but I easily saw the story through Midna’s eyes. I felt like I was her, on the back of her trusty wolf-Link mount. Midna is feminine but not sexualized, petite and imp-like but still a woman. She’s smart, cheeky, and initially is ambiguously motivated.

Midna is so important that she’s the game’s namesake, the Twilight Princess; the game is about her, and she’s definitely worthy of the spotlight. I predict that Midna is going to become the descendent of Beyond Good and Evil’s protagonist Jade as an iconic feminist videogame hero. When folks as me for game recommendations with strong women, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is going to be the first out of my mouth.


June 4, 2007

I finally beat Twilight Princess

Filed under:Personal, Videogames, Wii — Lake Desire @ 11:44 am

I finally beat Twilight Princess this weekend. I’ve been playing it since December, but I’m slow like that. I’ve placed my thoughts on the ending at the end of this post (behind the “more” button) so skip that if you don’t want to know how the game ends.

I just started playing the GameCube Paper Mario game. I’ve also got my roommate hooked on it, and we’re both graduating from college in a week and a half. Oops! On that note, I’m finally getting my BA. A week later, I’m starting a language intensive Spanish course (6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks) because I need another language for graduate school. I’m starting a MA program for English lit. this fall at my same university (Western) and also am teaching English 101. Wait ’til the first years find out I’m a videogame blogger. (Probably on the first day, the darling Googlers.)



May 8, 2007

More reasons for a magazine for gaming women

Filed under:Gamer Culture, Sexism, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 2:18 pm

I love it when folks write blog posts so I don’t have to, especially when men are calling other men on their sexist shit. Example: Kotaku Commenters Prove the Necessity of a Women’s Gaming Magazine on the blog Molten Boron. See, Kotaku linked the first issue of Cerise and the comments are among some of the most hateful things I’ve ever read. Zach calls them on their shit:

There aren’t a lot of defenders for Cerise in those comments, as of this writing, which isn’t at all surprising. Kotaku’s commenting environment is utterly toxic, as demonstrated in part by this very thread. Feminists and others who don’t believe that Women Need to Shut Up are quickly shouted down when they voice an opinion not in line with that of the average Kotaku commenter. Thus, Kotaku has become a place where everyone is free to comment, provided they don’t think that women need their own space to discuss video games. The dissonance is delightful. If you express feminist opinions at Kotaku, you are told to shut up and take your arguments elsewhere. If you build your own site to have those arguments, Kotaku links to the site and commenters tell you that you don’t need your own site and if you want to stop being second-class citizens you should be commenting at Kotaku. If you are a feminist, then, Kotaku commenters are not particularly pleased with you expressing your opinion anywhere. Which, I suppose, is the whole point of the endeavor.

Well put, eh?

The first comment on Kotaku is awful: “I’d mash.. with a paper bag over her head..” I hope that the Cerise cover model never stumbles upon the verbal rape waged against her. Talk about punishment for a woman daring to be nonwhite and un-skinny and allowing her picture to be on the internet.

Kotaku commenter IlliniJen does make a lovely point, however. I’ll post it here so you don’t have to wade through the misogyny (although I don’t care for the word douchebag ’cause I don’t think vaginas are dirty).

People wonder why some women may want a gaming mag for women. Most gaming mags/sites are targeted towards male readership, despite not being labeled as such. It’s just an industry habit, because it is their largest demographic.

While it would be great to get a site that gave all perspectives, without gender segmentation, women often have to put up with small-minded individuals who make gender a differentiating factor because of their insults and disrespect.

I suspect that most women would be happy to frag people in Halo, Counterstrike, et al. without being called out for being a girl as soon as they talk on the mic. But unfortunately the questions, harassment and insults usually start flying because of the untoward attention GIVEN TO THEM by members of the opposite sex.

So, if you don’t want women to separate themselves and feel the need for their own mags and sites, stop treating them like they’re different or that you have a right to harass them ingame.

Guys that LIKE playing games with girls and have an enlightened point of view: next time some douchebag makes a girl gamer’s ingame life hell, let him have it. The more guys like you who stand up to douchebags…whether said douchebags are sexist, racist or whatever…the bigger effect you can have on making games more fun for EVERYBODY.

Guys can call other guys on their shit so women will want to be around. Not a bad idea, eh?

And there you have it, folks, a few reasons that a magazine for gaming women is a worthwhile pursuit.


May 6, 2007

On being the token “girl gamer”

Filed under:Gamer Culture, Gender, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:38 am

Last month, my post What I Learned About Being a Woman from Final Fantasy XI was included in the Carnival of Gamers on a site called Gaming Nexus.

I wanted to write a blogpost on this a while ago, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for being included in the carnival. I didn’t want to discourage the blogger, Charles Husemann, from making a space to discuss gender, because I know he’s trying to do the right thing. But I really am unhappy with how I was called “the fairer sex,” and how my post and tekanji’s were set aside to be the representation from women (or girls, as we were called in the subheading). Or that Husemann’s apology made it look like it was men over there who were the problem, and the very gender rules he used to frame his apology:

Speaking of the fairer sex, New Game Plus has an post on what Final Fantasy XI taught her about being a woman. It’s such a shame that online gamers constantly prove the Penny-Arcade anonymity theory over and over again. On behalf of all civilized gentlemen everywhere I’d like to apologize for the total douchebags that seem to haunt the internet now.

I read this as the following: sexism in gaming culture is a problem, but it is a problem over there. The guys who aren’t the problem get to be the civilized and elevated to the esteemed (yet still confining) peak of high class masculinity: the gentleman. Those who are sexist are douchebags and compared to devices that clean out vaginas because they’re “dirty.”

It took me this long to speak up. I’d rather be included than not, and don’t want to upset that and be locked out from participating in future Carnival of Gamer posts. And I don’t want to attract flames from any men who might read this post and want to berate me for being uppity and unpleasant.

It’s one thing to talk about how women and people of color and queer folks and people with disabilities are cast as other than normal and occasionally allowed to be present in the mainstream as the diverse but well-behaved minority. But I’m not used to it being me who is “other than” the norm, who is so obviously filling that token role.


Blogging lull, but not a gaming lull

Filed under:Personal, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:08 am

Don’t fret, my lack of blogging lately isn’t a sign of a disinterest in video games. I’ve been busy working on Cerise and posting on the Iris Gaming Network Forums. I’m currently playing (and enjoying!) Pokemon Pearl, and trying to get back to finishing Twilight Princess and Final Fantasy III.


May 1, 2007

Cerise Magazine Released Today

Filed under:Gamer Culture, Gaming Women, News, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:19 am

Happy May Day!

The first issue of Cerise Magazine was released today. The deadline for submissions for the June issue is May 15. Check the submissions page for details.

My own contribution: a review of Final Fantasy III on the DS.


April 8, 2007

Silencing of Women in Gamer Communities

Filed under:Gamer Culture, Gaming Women, Gender, Sexism, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 10:00 am

While blog commenters might feel deprived their freedom of speech when they are banned for calling us hateful names or being dismissive our writing, what bloggers like myself are trying to do, in banning them, is protect our own voices. The male “right”, rather privilege, to always have men’s voices heard deprives women of our own speech in both public and private discussions. Men use their power to be invalidating, bullying, and harassing, and this shuts women down. (I’m focusing on gender in this post, but people are silenced based on all sorts of identities: men who don’t fit into this macho paradigm, people of color, transgender individuals, people with disabilities, young and old people, poor folks, etc. We should be talking about that, too.)

In an in depth and thoughtful post on her blog called Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities, tekanji shows how such silencing discourse is permitted and endorsed in online gaming communities. In response to her post, I’d like to make a few points about how gamer culture and the hate-speech within it silences women.

  • tekanji’s father could have asked her to stop blogging after a threatening letter from a banned Shrub commenter was sent to her house. Harassment and threats would have unfairly silenced her voice by shutting down her blog in exchange for personal safety.
  • Telling women we should just tough it up and take it blames us for not being “strong enough” to survive in male dominated spaces. It also expects us to work twice as hard at having a thick skin.

    If you’ve never been yelled at by a large man for speaking up, if you’ve never been called a bitch, let me tell you: it’s scary. Those words carry with them the institutional, cultural, and physical power that men have over women. There are times, even as a confident adult woman, I am successfully silenced because I don’t want to face that.

  • Whether threats come online or off, I have know way of knowing if it is just going to stop at words. There isn’t a clear boundary between online and off. Take tekanji’s example of the threatening letter sent to her house. In my own life, when I was in junior high, two former friends (gaming was a big part of our friendship) threatened violence, my family, my pets, and my friends online, and went as far as vandalizing the yards of my friends. Online, they called me a slut, prude, accused my mother of incest, and posted pictures of pornography on my website. This was beside my first and last name, which could draw dangerous attention from uninvolved parties. When these young men attacked my character, my parents advised that I didn’t say anything back lest it provoked this young men into further “retaliation.”
  • Popular game blogs like Kotaku and Destructoid are among the widest read and hold more weight than the voices of small-time bloggers who end up with trolls when their posts are linked. On this, tekanji writes:

    The editorial content on these sites are “official” which, especially when we’re talking about sites with a certain amount of popularity, gives them more weight than a personal blog or a comment in the post. What this means that, when women read these sites — and if you’re a woman interested in gaming you will come across them, most likely long before you find any woman-positive sites — you are shown time and time again that your perspective and your opinions are not only lesser than that of men’s apparently pressing need to drool over boobies, but that if you speak out against it (and even if you don’t) you set yourself up to be an object of ridicule — and who is going to be taken more seriously, the bloggers at these popular sites (many of whom have some sort of journalistic training behind them) or you and your personal site?

    In commenting on mainstream game blogs, women have to think twice as hard about what they say, when others can spit out stream of consciousness posts, to anticipate what won’t provoke the wrath of other commenters. We’re unfairly accountable for both our own actions and the actions of others.

  • Trolling silences women. About a year ago, a feminist game blogger, The Geeky Feminist, shut down her blog in part because of harassment a link from Kotaku brought to her website. tekanji writes,

    The loss of her voice was felt by the feminist gaming community, and because of the rampant trolling (which were the same kinds of comments that I highlighted in my previous section) encouraged by a post that mocked and misrepresented an issue raised by several people in the gaming blogsphere, Kotaku bears some responsibility for chasing away one of the unique voices in the gaming community. Exactly the kind of voice that Brian Crecente claimed he was having trouble finding.

I want to be able to speak up in mainstream places without being ignored, having my character attacked, or called names. But I’m not willing to grow a thicker skin, to censor myself, to have to constantly, preemptively watch my back. I’m not asking for special treatment, just to be treated with respect owed to all human beings. Until the mainstream is ready for that, I’ll continue to blog from the margins where I can call some shots.

Cross-posted on Feminist SF – The Blog!


March 25, 2007

What Final Fantasy XI taught me about being a woman

Hello Vana’diel, goodbye real life

I don’t regret going through a MMORPG phase. It was a grand waste of my total playtime of 60 days of my life, but my life as Herbi the mithra shaped who I am today. I started playing Final Fantasy XI when I was 18. It was the spring or summer before I left for college, and my then-boyfriend got a copy of the game’s English beta version. We were both pretty obsessed with Square, so we were giddy to spend our summer in doors.

I’d never played a MMORPG before, and I was frustrated with how long everything took and how set back I was if I decided I wanted to play a different race (I picked a hume female who looked like me–good thing I’m white or I would have been sorry out of luck) or even just change jobs. I hated being a warrior, but kept playing and didn’t want to throw out the time I put into her and start over. When beta ended and retail came out, I was excited to finally have my own account so I could play with my boyfriend. I created Herbi the mithra thief, and he was a little tarutaru named Tofutie. We joined the Midgardsormr server with our other friends from beta, many of whom I continued to play with until I finally quit for good at age 20.

Sex kittens aren’t real live girls

Mithras in FFXI are a race of cat women where males are apparently a rarity. It was a joke that mithras are always played by men, and we called them manthras. A guy cross-dressing for some risk-free thrill was fine, but it was like there wasn’t supposed to be a real, live female subject behind the sex object.

People called me he sometimes, but not as often as I got called dude when I tried out World of Warcraft as a tauren and undead. (Can you imagine calling male characters “she” by default?) In our linkshells and parties, people often were surprised that I was the woman. Tofutie is one of those nice guys who goes above and beyond the rest by being a decent human being. He certainly was a lot more patient with other players than I was. He was a healer–a white mage and eventually red mage, and I switched was a paladin, the tanking class. I absolutely loved tanking, and miss it even now. “What! Tofutie is the dude?” our linkshell friends would say. “Girls don’t tank!”

I liked surprising people. I wasn’t supposed to be an actual girl playing the sex kitten. I wasn’t supposed to be blunt and crude and sexy and after all that reveal that yes, I actually was a real live woman behind the computer. That was just weird. And yes, I did like attention, but who doesn’t like to be rewarded with /praise?

Marriage is for heteros only

We’d do some casual role-playing in FFXI, but Herbi and Tofutie couldn’t get married because they were both women. Even video games have institutionalized heterosexual privileges.

Synth me a pie, bitch!

A friend and I tried to start a linkshell called FemmeFatale for girl gamers. I macro’d an advertisement and dropped it regularly by the auction house. I got mixed praise and criticism. Guys begged to join (some pretended to be women). We did let male-identified people in, which was kind of problematic because it was like a little club of “alright” guys who thought they were super special for not being misogynists or something. (I actually learned the word misogynist from another mithra thief, Nekomasa, that I admired.)

One time, a guy told me that there wasn’t a need for a linkshell for women, and that I should shut up and synth him a pie. I blacklisted him, but I was upset.

The linkshell fell apart when the leader’s in-game boyfriend said he was going to move to live near her. He was 19, she was 13. I found out her phone number and got another player to call her parents and tell them. I still think we did the right thing: no way the power dynamics in that relationship were equal


FFXI put me in situations where people used my gender against me. I used it to stay in a romantic relationship longer than I should have been, although Tofutie was a nice shield from being preyed oncourted by the creeps. And I never did reach endgame, I got too screwed over by other players. But I’d go back. I miss being Herbi and being an honestly good tank and I even miss a lot of the friends I played with. I’d go back and play again if I hadn’t quit to fill my time with studying and novel writing and bike riding and making new friends.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stopped being so reclusive, stopped dating, stopped being so unfriendly, stopped being so uninterested in school when I quit FFXI.

That’s it for my pithy conclusion.


Final Fantasy XII: Why Vaan

Filed under:Final Fantasy Series, Gender, Privilege, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:54 am

I recently started a thread on Final Fantasy XII on The IRIS Network forums and realized why it bugs me so much that the protagonist of FFXII is Vaan, a 17-year-old street kid: entitlement.

The story is told through the eyes of the supposed audience of the game. Even though the plot revolves around Ashe and role in international politics, we see it through a peasant kid. I really do enjoy stories about fighting imperialism told from the point of view of everyday people (hey, kind of like my life), but Vaan never justified why it deserved to be him. He’s got a grudge against the Archadian Empire because it’s their fault his brother died, but so what? Same with Penelo’s family. So of course the main character is a teenage boy. That’s taken for granted. It’s privilege that Vaan can just be the star, no questions asked, without having to prove why he is interesting enough to be the protagonist of the world’s most popular RPG franchise.


March 13, 2007

I love Yoshi

Filed under:Nintendo DS Lite, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 5:34 pm

I just ordered a used Yoshi’s Island DS copy from Amazon. I have a hankering to throw some eggs, and I can’t find my copy of the original port for my Gameboy Advance. (I hope it’s at my parents’ house!)

I’ve loved Yoshi since back in my single-digit days. I played the heck out of Yoshi’s Cookie on my old brick Gameboy, and I lived for Blue Yoshi in Super Mario World. She had wings!

I know Yoshi isn’t a “girl”, necessarily, but why should we call Yoshi a he? As cool as it is that the dude lays eggs, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to pronoun swap on everyone’s favorite intersexed dinosaur.