Sorry, Mom – I prefer Zelda

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I was barely ten years old when the Super Nintendo graced our household.

Admittedly, it was a Christmas present for my brother. But my parents counted it as an extra blessing when I picked up the controller and started playing Super Mario World in tandem with my older sibling. The colours were mesmerising, and the clear-cut premise reduced a complicated world to its bare system requirements: move your character forward to achieve victory.

If only life could be so simple…

Back in those days, Super Nintendo titles were notorious for their three-figure price tags, so my brother and I resorted to renting games from our local video store. The months that followed would see us tackle classic fare such as Bubsy the Bobcat, Street Fighter, and even Starwing. For my brother it was a test of skill – for me, an opportunity to see characters fully realised outside of accessible books and television shows.

I was in the minority when it came to popular culture. While my friends were going on about gorgeous teenage heartthrobs, I was harbouring a scandalous crush on Blossom’s Mayim Bialik. I gawked at the concept of Barbie dolls, instead adoring the cuddly antics of my Littlest Pet Shop toys, which included single mother dogs with five puppies to suckle and no paycheck. I was expected like any good ten-year-old girl to keep a diary with all of my secrets to share with my “best friends” – mine was filled with elaborate lies about my feelings for a random boy in our class.

It was clear what was coming, even if I didn’t know what it was.

The day that I walked into the video store and saw Zelda: A Link to the Past on the shelves was the day that I started to figure out why I was different to my friends. It is only today that I can look back and realise why it was happening.

Zelda had a male protagonist, who happened to be the character driven by the video game player. However, it seems as if the reason that the game, and indeed the series, did not take its title from this avatar was because it also had a strong female protagonist. This was the character that I grew to love. She was not another ‘damsel in distress’ being held captive by a reptilian overlord, and a 16-bit home console could not even render her as a piece of eye-candy for our male gaming comrades. She represented a young woman, wise beyond her years. Her interactions with Link did not show the traditional princess who needed saving – instead, she acknowledged Link for his aid in helping her escape. She demonstrated the equal contribution to her escape from Hyrule Castle’s dungeon.

The distinction is an important one, and subverted the traditional power roles between the captive princess and the brave hero who saved her. It has been a distinguishing element of many of the games in the Zelda franchise – a female protagonist who has abilities that equal the skills of her male counterpart.

Princess Zelda is not a character who falls into the trap of a stereotypical character design. Far from Nintendo princesses such as Peach and Daisy, Zelda greets the gamer with an implied complex character history.

Looking closely, this is not the only character in Nintendo’s family that has had the critical treatment. When Metroid was in its late design phases, the designers decided to change their protagonist’s gender entirely from male to female. In an interesting social experiment, they did not even specify the character’s gender in the instruction manual, leaving it as a shock to young gamers who discovered that their avatar was actually a woman. Creators of the original Metroid have noted that this was a deliberate move to silence a cultural requirement that would dictate ‘necessary femininity and sex appeal’ for Samus Aran. The result is a character in her own right – not categorised by traditional signifiers that would elevate her status as female.

Zelda cosplay from "Enchanted Collection"

In my youth, these were the women who owned my respect and my heart. They demonstrated values that were culturally universal without being stereotypical, in a time when plumbers rescued princesses and anatomically-augmented archaeologists rendered adolescent boys speechless. Princess Zelda and Samus Aran were able to acknowledge their contributions as equal to other video game heroes without making an obvious reference to their gender roles and sexuality. A more recent addition such as Mario Galaxy’s Rosalina can be viewed as a delicate hybrid of damsel and sage – neither powerless to control her destiny nor arrogant to believe that she can save her galaxy without help. However, we do not see Mario as her “rescuer”, or a powerless character. Instead, both he and Rosalina share the responsibilities of their quest equally.

These were characters that defied gender identity and the social requirements tied to that identity. They shared power roles equally with their male counterparts, and also did not approach their roles with an arrogant desire to prove themselves in a man’s world. They were characters that were pioneers of their time, and role models for those who, no matter what the reason, could not fit those standard social requirements.

So when I taped posters of Link in my room and in my locker at school, complete with his femme haircut and skinny tights, it seemed as if the masses were finally at ease. They interpreted my art as an acknowledgement of a man in my life, and that would restore the balance of my confusion over “gender roles”.

Sorry, Mom. The truth is that I actually preferred Zelda all along.

Review: Sonic Classic Collection

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One day, I had a nagging desire to play Sonic the Hedgehog.

These days, such a craving is easy to satisfy. With some version of the spunky, blue rodent available to purchase on all of the gaming consoles, the issue is not “I want to play Sonic” – rather, it is “which Sonic game should I play?”

While I could have downloaded an old Sonic game on Wii Virtual Console, or shell out some dollars for a copy of SEGA Ultimate Genesis Collection, I decided that my trusted DSi has been deprived of my love and affection, and forked out the cash for a copy of Sonic Classic Collection.

This is the point where I go into the tirade that is my experience of retro gaming. Firstly, I grew up in the generation where gaming fandom involved hideous fanart of the plumber and the blue spiky thing causing grievous bodily harm to each other. The console wars were a brutal binary opposition that destroyed friendships, increased console sales, and created a horribly defiant culture of video game fans.

So, to have Sonic the Hedgehog – the mascot that personified SEGA for so many years – on the family of Nintendo consoles? That must be quite a kick in the teeth for the darling console company that now makes third-party games for all of the gaming consoles on the market.

Some of the previous Nintendo incarnations of the little blue rodent have been the underside of horrible. However, this is the first time that Nintendo can say, with pride, “Just because we are dealing with a Sonic game on a Nintendo console, doesn’t mean it is automatically shocking.”

The publishers have gone to great lengths to make sure that this is not just another failed handheld port like the mockery that was the GBA version. This is a complete, faithful collection ready for play by Sonic enthusiasts. This set contains the first four Sonic titles available for the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive, as well as the “lock on” variations made possible by the Sonic & Knuckles game. Already we can hear the joyful cheering from the Sonic purists, who were bitterly disappointed when this content was left out of the PS3 & Xbox collections. Sure, the visuals have been squished a little bit vertically to make all of the pixels fit, but it is still somehow a good fit.

Similarly, I was expecting the gameplay to take my memories of Sonic on the Mega Drive and throw them in the blender, but I have to admit that Sonic the Hedgehog on a handheld device is an experience that is eerily reminiscent of the Mega Drive. The DS controls are far more user-friendly and responsive than even their Wii Virtual Console counterparts.

There are only two downfalls that I can see with this particular port, and these are probably only major issues for those who require a fanatically accurate representation of Sonic’s glory days. The first is that there is a little bit of lag from time to time, but most noticeably in the bonus stages. This is quite a downfall for a game that seemed to base its mission statement purely on fast-paced action in. But for people who would take the game slow, this is most likely not a problem.

Another sad departure from the originals is the lack of multiplayer options, or even the lack of any options, in the game. With Nintendo marketing the DSi as a wireless titan in comparison to its predecessors, it is quite odd that a developer would not spend more time to examine even some of these options. The Start button is also a lost component – if you want to pause the game, you have to use the stylus and touch the bottom right “Pause” icon. Yes, we can acknowledge that SEGA tried to make the stylus a part of the gameplay, but I have to give them zero points for effort.

A Sonic fan has to look at this compilation for what it is: an emulation of the original product. So far, no compilation has been complete, or without fault. And maybe this compilation has some of the magic that you admired back in the day. It really depends how you as a fan wish to remember and play Sonic the Hedgehog. Some people are willing to give a handheld version a go, others are not. Some focus on speed, others focus on collecting rings for bonus stages, and others just wish to play a level every now and again for fun.

Sonic Classic Collection still rates next to its predecessors:  the graphics and sound are completely up to par on the DS version, and some people are willing to turn a blind eye to some of the idiosyncrasies that have been used to tie it to the DSi’s hardware. For this reason it is a worthy addition, and a sturdy competitor, to the various compilations that have graced the store shelves in the last few years.

Published on GamingAngels – 29 April 2010

Why I will never finish The Sims

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It seems as if every long vacation screams for a game of epic proportions to give us a sense of fulfilment. Some people head over to their MMORPGs, staying awake until the early hours to dungeon-crawl with their comrades. Others choose to purchase a console game such as Guitar Hero or Rock Band and spend weeks practicing until they have mastered every song, and then show off their talents to family, friends and acquaintances.

I choose The Sims 3.

Does this make me a pathetic, stereotypical ‘girly gamer’? Perhaps. But I have chosen The Sims 3 during every semester break for a very specific purpose: I will never finish the thing.

I like to believe that the reason that I will never finish The Sims is that, once I have created my character and set her on her way, there are no true beginnings or endings, or even segments, to the game. While not as flexible as other sandbox games on the market, it is in its very essence, a game where you outline any and all goals that you wish to achieve.

In his text Man, Play and Games, the French sociologist Roger Caillois maps out methods of play on a continuum, ranging from ludus (structured activities with specific rules and parameters) to paidia (unstructured and spontaneous activities). In its simplest translation, ludus can be seen as the structure of the game, and paidia analysed as merely playfulness without boundaries. While many papers have examined the application of these polar opposites to current video game models, I can see The Sims 3 approached as a game which has the ability to reach both extremes based on the desires of the player.

For example, the character creation screen and the home building options can be seen as the equivalent of that initial exploration of a child in a playground. That initial examination of everything in the play space is the epitome of the paidia paradigm. As soon as our darling Sim is placed in his or her first home, ludus is evident. The player starts to direct the character’s action towards a specific goal – often created by choices in the character selection screen, or the player’s curiosity. An item in The Sims 3 can be used towards a goal of the character or the game (learning a skill or fulfilling a ‘happiness goal’), or set upon by the AI of the character for its own purposes.

From this point onwards, the player is in conflict between that initial feeling of wonder and curiosity, and trying to adhere to the rough semblance of structure in the game. Your character is supposed to have a career, fetch the newspaper every morning, have babies, grow old and die. Many players rebel against this progression, others find their own structured parameters (see the Legacy Challenge) and create elaborate blogs outlined their progression in the game in order to create aspects of the game that can be “won”. But whether we want to admit it or not, time will pass for our characters – the game’s own laws of time dictate that.

The reason that I will never finish The Sims 3 is because I will never want to move beyond that paidia moment, when I am discovering my darling Sim’s character traits and environment for the first time. Fulfilling goals from that point on, as required by the game, seems to ruin that curious moment of joy that I encounter on my first examination.

And, really, what better way to spend a holiday than to just explore, enjoy, and fulfil no structured goals at all?

Australian Games Classification: Atkinson’s gone, but where are we now?

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With the South Australian election still considered “too close to call”, it came as a shock to state and national gamers to hear that Michael Atkinson, the member for Croydon, decided to retire from his ministerial portfolio and resign as Attorney-General. Despite a 14% swing away from the Labor Party, Michael Atkinson has still easily retained his seat in Croydon.

GamingAngels staff Naomi and I were outside the Mana Bar when the news filtered through, which we shared eagerly with our fellow bar patrons. The news was met with immediate cheering, high-fives, and hugs. Breaking the news to bar owner Guy Blomberg, he performed his own victory dance in the Mana Bar. Several hours later, a new Bloodthirsty Cocktail was announced on Mana Bar’s Facebook page, with the gleeful declaration, “NO MOAR ATKINSON!”

However, what does Michael Atkinson’s resignation truly mean for both South Australian and national opinion on R18+ games? There is no doubt that Atkinson’s resignation is a victory, but is it only a small victory? After all, Atkinson has still won the seat for Croydon, and will still be in politics until the end of this electoral term (early 2014).

At present, the Federal Government discussion paper regarding game reclassification is still being reviewed and considered by Australia’s Attorney-General Department, headed by New South Wales minister, the Hon Robert McClelland. With over 55,000 entries, it is understandable that the date for publication of results has not been set.

We now also await the appointment of a new South Australian Attorney-General. Gamers4Croydon candidate Chris Prior states, “Opposition to the R18+ classification wasn’t actually a Labor policy; it was a Michael Atkinson policy.” It also seems as if a new crusade against R18+ classification would be practically political suicide in Australia. However, until the final postal votes are tallied in South Australia and a political party definitely elected as the new South Australian government, the nation will have to wait to see how the new South Australian Attorney-General will decide to handle the controversial issue. While game censorship is not a Labor policy, there is still no guarantee that the new Attorney-General won’t reignite the debate. With Atkinson still the member for Croydon, this means that he is still in the Labor backbench (i.e. a party member, but does not contribute to a ministerial portfolio). We can only wait and see whether his presence in the party room will still ignite vicious debate.

At this stage, the focus is now on all state Attorney-Generals and their response to the Federal Government’s discussion paper. No other Department of the Attorney-General has present strong disdain towards the game reclassification idea, but there is no guarantee that all of the state Attorney-Generals will vote along party lines. If Atkinson’s personal conscience could hold back the introduction of R18+ classification, it could happen again. Australia awaits the result of the discussion paper, and whether there will be unanimous support by the state representatives. Whether this will be a long wait is still unknown.

In the interim, we as gamers can still educate and inform about the need for R18+ classification. We can discuss the need for appropriate classification information for consumers, the right for responsible adults to be able to have access to mature content, and the benefit of streamlining classification information across all Australian media. The issue still requires support right up until a decision about the Federal discussion paper has been made.

For more information about the R18+ debate, please visit Naomi’s excellent summary article here: Australia’s Gamer Controversy: The R18+ Issue

(n.b. quotes from Gamers4Croydon’s Chris Prior referenced from http://www.itwire.com/it-industry-news/strategy/37738-gamers-4-croydon-hails-fantastic-atkinson-resignation)

Reel Art: Legend of Miyamoto

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It is not often that a vid can transpose in-game animation to an animated response to said in-game animation…

But Luis Logam managed to do so, and all in the name of academic assessment.

“Legend of Miyamoto” is a cute solution to Logam’s thesis, “What would happen if Shigeru Miyamoto was trapped in his own games?”. Taking inspiration from three classic Nintendo titles – Super Mario Bros 3, Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, and Donkey Kong (and to some extent, Donkey Kong Country) – this university project is beautifully polished.

Some have disagreed about the choice of music, but I enjoyed the element of good humour that a brass ensemble brings to this clip, even if it is remixed by Fat Boy Slim.

 

N.B. Any comments to the author of this clip should be made to the original Newgrounds submission, which is here: http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/465005. Animation converted to Youtube without permission.