Because of the taboo against talking about sex, especially masturbation and kink, a lot of safety information that should be common knowledge not only isn’t circulated, it’s only now beginning to be researched. What I have here is a collection of best practices I’ve learned from a(n appropriate adult) lifetime of being interested in frank discussions of sex and sexual health and safety. I’ve listed my sources at the bottom so you can do more detailed reading if you like. Sexual expression can be an important part of a healthy life, but like any other recreational activity, there are some general rules and guidelines that can mean the difference between having good fun and maybe needing good insurance. Don’t let embarrassment or shame keep you from becoming knowledgeable about this subject. Read reviews of the toys you buy, and become familiar with the company that’s making them. Keep yourself informed as to best practices for your sexual health.
The first thing you need to know about sex toys is that they are considered novelty items by the US government, and therefore are not regulated at the levels they should be. Some manufacturers take advantage of this fact and will label their toys “for novelty use only” in order to avoid taking responsibility for their products. A “for novelty use only” label is a massive red flag for anybody that cares about their health.
An example of where we are in general sex toy knowledge can be seen in the argument regarding phthalates , a plastic additive that gives flexibility to shower curtains, car dash boards and yes, dildos and dick sleeves. Phthalates are on the FDA’s list of probable carcinogens, but they are also in children’s toys and pill casings. The industry response to the phthalate scare has been, on the whole, rather enlightened. Progressive stores don’t carry toys with phthalates, most others offer a clear description of the product’s composition. People worried about phthalates should stay away from any product that claims to be made of PVC, or “[j]elly, which is a widely used material designation, [that] has turned out to be plasticized vinyl (PVC). The plasticizer content may be very high up to 70%, which means that more than 2/3 of the materials consist of plasticizers. The plasticizers used are of the phthalate types (DEHP, DNOP; DINP).”  If you’re interested in flexibility, silicone is a trusted alternative to jelly. Medical grade silicone also has the benefit of being non-porous, which keeps bacteria at bay and makes it easy to keep reliably clean .
Once you’re equipped with a safe, non-porous toy, anything you’re inserting into yourself (back, front, top or bottom) would do well to have a flared base. Vaginas are easier to fish things out of (or just stand up and let gravity do it’s level best) but better safe than sorry I always way. A flat flare wide enough to prevent slippage, or a set of (rather silly looking, I think) balls at the end will serve this purpose fine. If you’re using the toy anally, a flare or a string is basically mandatory. Unlike a vagina, a butt doesn’t have a conveniently placed cervix to stop things from getting lost in there, and it tends to create rather more suction. One thing all your orifices have in common, though, is sensitive tissue that can tear or even puncture. An untreated injury in the esophagus, vaginal canal, or colon (especially here) can lead to infection, sepsis and even death. It’s good to stick with soft edged penis shaped objects.
Vibrating toys and constricting toys can also be an issue if used improperly. A constant, unchanging vibe can lead to nerve fatigue and even damage, while constricting toys like cock rings should never be left on for more than two hours, nor should they be too tight. There is some conflicting information as to weather metal is good for you  or bad , but the general consensus is that you shouldn’t be too rough with the boys if you want them to stay your boys, if you know what I mean.
At some point you’ll probably run across the need to lubricate. A Danish study from 2005  recommends the use of water based lubricants with toys in general, as the chemicals involved in their construction are far less likely to be water soluble and far more likely to oil soluble. Oil based lubes like silicone and petroleum jelly are generally not good safe sex lubes anyway, as they can deteriorate the latex of a condom. Most toy stores, online and in real life, are clear about which of their lubes is water based or oil based for this very reason. Your better lubes will also state on the bottle weather they are water based or oil based.
Most toys can be cleaned with soap and water. Some can be boiled, and others can go in the dish washer’s top rack. If you are ever in doubt about a toy’s origins, or when sharing toys, the best, fastest, and most trustworthy way to ensure your health is to put a condom on the toy. It also makes for easier clean up when switching between any combination of mouth, vagina or anus. But don’t take my word on any of this. Ultimately, you shouldn’t rely on any one recommendation or review when shopping for your next toy. Do your own research to make sure a product is well made and safe before you bring it out to play.
Around the time of MisterGhost’s initial post, an /r/askreddit thread also went up asking the larger community what could be done in defense or /r/gaymers. By Monday morning, the thread had made it to the front page, inciting the full fury of the now infamous reddit army. Under the weight of their mighty bandwidth hammer, gaymer.org went down at around 10 a.m. and is still down at the time of this writing (10 p.m.) Threads and comments of solidarity flooded /r/gaymers, and the community itself posted a flurry of images and comments in defense of their home.
Offerings of financial and legal help flew in. It was suggested by one redditor that the solution to their trademark problem might be as easy as filing a $300 challenge with the US Patent Office.
Under 15 USC 1064 you can file a petition to cancel a registration of a mark “within five years from the date of the registration of the mark, which in this instance is March 25, 2008*. Further, you can file a petition at any time if the registered mark becomes the generic name for the goods or services for which it is registered.
Now, there is a fee involved ($300). The likelihood of success is hard to say given the fact that this mark has been in use for so long; however, if it can be proved that the mark is generic in nature (as it describes ALL gay gamers) or it is merely descriptive, then the mark might be cancelled.
In response to reddit’s argument that gaymer is a common word and therefore untrademarkable, Vizzini claims that he had to issue the C&D in order to prevent just such a situation. In other words, gaymer is not currently a common word, but could become one if communities like /r/gaymer keep using it. Unfortunately, the gaymer.org owner seems to be running up a down escalator since the word can be traced at least as far back as a 1997 Usenet post in which user Lovecraft referred to themselves as a “gay gamer (gaymer?)” Although the usenet post could have been a fluke, a single incident that would have been lost to Internet history if not for the recent scandal, there’s also a Yahoo group founded in 2000 and a post on a now defunct D&D blog called gamegrene.com suggested that the terms “gaymer” and “dice queen” be admitted into the gaming lexicon, on the basis of their common use.
This isn’t the first time ‘gaymer’ has made trouble for Vizzini. Back in 2007 when he started the process of trademarking the word, gaygamer.net wrote an article touching on the scandal it caused. Unfortunately, due to gaymer.org’s aforementioned bandwidth issues, I couldn’t get on their forums to see first hand what the debate was on that site, but the comments on the gaygamer.net article indicate gaymers being concerned that just such an instance as this might happen if “gaymer” were to become a trademark. Gaygamer.net editor Fruit Brute asked “Should one person have control over the use of a blanket term that many people like to use to describe themselves be it online or in real life?” A user who called themselves DCGaymer wrote “Respectfully, I disagree that he and he alone should have control of who uses the term ‘Gaymer’ as it relates to Computer services and online gaming communities. If granted no one could register any name using the term gaymer in it, Gaymerdate.com, Gaymerlove.com guygaymers.com, girlgaymers.com….no one but Chris. That simply seem’s[sic] wrong to me,” but went on to say that if Vizzini decided to trademark gaymer.org instead of gaymer, they would be the first to donate to the legal fund. In the gaygamer.net article posted today, writer gogoedward pointed out that, considering the changes in the Internet at large since 2007, “the legal situation here becomes even murkier than it already was before.”
He addressed the question redditors had asked regarding why GaymerCon had been promoted by gaymer.org even though it used the same name, saying that his trademark only covers online communities, and “should they ever add an online community, then I would have issue with that.” At aproximately 8:00 p.m. PST Monday redditor demoncorp spoke for the GaymerCon team, stating “We understand the legal challenges potentially at issue, but we feel that “gaymer” is a widely used, generic term and that what affects our brothers, sisters, and allies at Reddit affects us as well. We are in full support of our communities, and wish to lend our support however we can.”
At approximately 2:00 p.m. PST Monday, /r/gaymers mod synspark posted a thread in which he stated that the mods were in contact with an attorney, and that “the goal of any legal action would be for the sole purpose of liberating the term “gaymer” for use by the community at large.”
I exchanged messages with MisterGhost, who declined to say one way or another if they were definitely going through with the challenge to Mr. Vizzini’s trademark. He did acknowledge that the mods had several options, and were getting a lot of support. As for gaymer.org, MisterGhost said “I have never spoken to Mr. Vizzini, I was completely unaware of his site, I chose the name gaymers for lack of a better term after I had made a steamgroup. I wasn’t using his name to try and improve my own subreddit, that is fucking ridiculous. Like I said, Mr. Vizzini made no attempt to contact myself or any of the mods, we could have made a really great community had we even been aware that his site existed.” MisterGhost expressed remorse for gaymer.org’s crash, saying “he basically just tried to hit a baseball made of wasps with his dick.”
UPDATE: (5:14 p.m. PST Thursday) Chris posted on the Gaymer.org forums saying “Ill be addressing this issue tomorrow in detail but I’m not taking the gaymer name away from reddit. You will still have use of it. “
Today at 1:00 p.m. PST, 5 friends and I had a panel discussion on gendered bullying in gaming. We ended up talking about bullying in general, as well as what to do about it as gamers and as consumers. We had a lot of fun recording this, and I look forward to having a conversation with you guys in the comments.
The first 4 mintues are basically us setting up, the real discussion starts at about 8 minutes in.
So the gaming world is all atwitter about the new, $99 console that’s set to turn the industry on its boring, old ear. Gamers are tired of the same old consoles, they want the excitement of another consumer opportunity. Which is why we were all so excited to jump on the Playstation Move and the XBOX Kinect, right? Oh wait…
I find myself completely baffled by the excitement everybody has for a chance to spend their hard earned money for a thing that basically does the same stuff their current consoles already do. Frequently, the gaming industry confuses me. Nobody’s jumping down my throat to hype me for another microwave, or blender. Even my computer, which is definitely an appliance with a shelf-life, gets to wirrr out the rest of its days on my desk without much threat of being pushed out by The Next Big Thing before it’s short career is at an obvious end. Yet the gaming community seems to be enamored by a past where consoles went in and out of style like polo shirts. In his Engadget editorial, Tim Stevens laments the dullness of the industry, and decrys the domestication of gaming systems. He pines for a time when “videogame consoles were put to pasture just as they hit their stride.” In my opinion, the console industry isn’t getting borring, it’s maturing, and I am glad for it. The level of constant device turn over and product waste of the past is appalling.
Maybe it’s because while Stevens was deep in the heat of the console wars, I wasn’t allowed to play video games, and then family situations changed and we couldn’t even afford living room furniture let alone videogame consoles. After that, I was on my own, and food was my main priority. So the idea of buying a system, waiting until it got awesome, and then throwing it aside for the a newer system is altogether baffling to me. It’s like buying a hamburger, loving it like crazy, but throwing it in the trash half-way through and going back to buy a cheeseburger. Not that you shouldn’t get the cheeseburger after the hamburger is done, and when you’re hungry again, but double fisting burgers is weird and people will stare at you. Especially if you’re fat.
We have what I consider to be a really nice TV. I’d never bought a TV before, but it became a necessity when the TV we inherited from our old roommate grew increasingly impossible to play videogames on. Batman Arkham Asylum was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I thought I hated that game when I first played it, but it turned out that I couldn’t see anything because our ancient TV’s resolution was so low, half the graphics were just blurs. I tried to give the TV away, but even our youngest and poorest friends turned their nose up at our old CRT. Eventually, it went to a Goodwill in Hollywood where it was likely turned into an art installation by some uninspired undergrad.
What does our shitty old TV have to do with the OUYA? Frugality. which is why I hate the idea of the OUYA, but it’s also why I like the OUYA itself. Let me explain: I like that I haven’t had to buy a new gaming console in 7 years. I like that the XBOX is our entire entertainment system. Want to watch TV? Turn on the XBOX. Listen to music? XBOX. Movies? XBOX. Gaming, socializing with my friends online or at a party, even exercise: XBOX, XBOX, XBOX. I love that stupid box, and you can pry it from my cold dead hands. I feel, as a frugal gamer, that by some miracle, we’ve managed to convince console developers that we won’t be buying another $500 piece of hardware anytime soon. Veterans of the console wars have grown fat with console satisfaction in this protracted and beneficial peace. Others of us who are new to the scene are spoiled by the lack of turn-over. We are familiar with our one or two consoles and we don’t see the need for anything else. Ever. You should have seen me when we had to switch from original XBOX to the 360. There was much crying and rending of garments. It’s as if my pet had been run over and my boyfriend tried to pretend that this younger, healthier purebred was really my same dog. Fool me once….
I don’t like change. It usually costs me money. And I know, the whole gaming culture is based firmly in consumerism, which makes me very much an odd duck. But since we’ve become more serious about gaming, we’ve actually saved a ton of money. The XBOX360 and the PS3 combined cost about $1000, the Kinect was free because we were beta testers. Our cable bill was about $100 a month when we turned it off after we bought the 360. In just 10 months, both consoles paid for themselves (although I should mention that the PS3 was actually purchased years after the XBOX). A game costs about $60 new, but aside from Bioware titles, I’ve never met a game I couldn’t wait for the price to drop on. So, for $40 at a time, we get literally hundreds of hours of entertainment, when any other non-free activity would cost at least $10 bucks an hour.
Which is where my liking the OUYA comes in. The entire system costs a cool hundred bucks. As cheap as I am, I’ve spent more than that on a romantic steak dinner… twice as much once if memory serves me. The fact that every single title will either have a free demo, be free to play, or have some sort of subscription model really catches my eye as a consumer. Not to mention that the console is extremely developer friendly. It’s no secret that the big three haven’t exactly courted the developer set. They’ve never needed to. Until now, which brings me back to hating the OUYA. If OUYA is anything close to successful, it’s going to jump start the industry, and I’m not interested in seeing what kind of Bing-style crapbox Microsoft rushes through development in order to compete. I’m especially not interested in having to buy that after all my favorite developers start making games for it and abandon my beautiful XBOX.
From where I’m sitting, the OUYA is going to be a great thing for independent developers, casual gamers, and low-income families who can’t afford to invest in expensive consoles or $60 games, and need an alternative source of entertainment to paying ever-increasing cable and satellite bills. We know that because it’s an android system, players will have access to android apps, like netflix and hulu in addition to their games. I’m going to be watching this system, and the big three with interest as it develops further. My hope for the OUYA is that it will find a niche in the aforementioned categories, that the big three will maybe learn a valuable lesson in developer service, and that none of it will cost me a dime.
I know we’ve all been asking ourselves: Why do gamers suck so much? I’m mostly referring to the recent Anita Sarkeesian bastardry, but really I could be talking about how gamers started an attack campaign on BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler for saying that she’s not a fan of combat, and that she doesn’t have time to play (seeing as how she had a baby trying to kick its way out of her abdomen at the time), or the nasty response we had to the original Mass Effect 3 ending (even though that kind of worked out and we got that awesome extended cut DLC that we would never have gotten if it weren’t for the trolls.)
If a comet hit the earth tomorrow and killed us all, the aliens that excavate our data in 100,000
years will write papers on ‘the gamers.’ Rowdy gangs of unattended 15 year old virgin boys, hopped up on testosterone and caffeine, who roamed our information exchange centers menacing every female and every person over the age of 20 that dared to cross their path as they tore down entire companies and ruined lives and families in the wake of their impotent, virginal rage. A generation of progeny so completely coddled, living in a world marketed to, and created just for them, such that any upset in their regular pop cultural feeding time can cause mass hysteria and rioting. Hell, if you’re following the news about gaming lately this is already what gamers are in our own society. And as much as my Internet search history might tag me as a 15 year old boy, I’m a grown up lady, and I suspect that if you’re reading this, you might be too (non-ladies: this is not an exclusionary tactic, you are welcome to read this article as well.)
Obviously I’m addressing my article to the grown up lady (and non-lady) gamers because when the aliens exhume the server that has all the gearedforgamers.com articles on it, I want them to know that we existed. If 99% of the writing about games on the internet is produced by entitled little brats screaming for products and services to appease them and only them, I want this small artifact to say: Hey aliens, we’re not all unwet adolescent jerk offs, some of us are grown up ladies and non-ladies and we’re just too busy with grown-up stuff (if you know what I mean) to make a stink about shit on the Internet right now.
In other words: GET OFF MY LAWN.
Aliens won’t get that joke, but rest assure it is hilarious and culturally relevant.
At this point, you may be asking yourself ‘is Marina OK, most of her articles aren’t this… weird/disjointed/terrible. Should I call someone?’ No, do not call anyone, unless it’s to tell them to read this amazing treatise on gaming while grown-up, as it is a miracle of modern gaming journalism/bloggerism. I am fine, although I have been reading a lot of Hunter S. Thompson and I think I have a second-hand literary induced psychosis because of it. Also, I’m sick of writing and reading and hearing about what shits the gaming community is made of. So I’m sitting here at my desk shouting expletives at the Internet in an effort to effect social change.
How am I doing? You gamers feeling less tolerant of being represented by tiny assholes whose parents always gave them exactly what they wanted, but never what they needed, and now they’re making games about punching Anita Sarkeesian in the face, and threatening to rape her (as if you would know where to put it, Jr. Nightstalker) because she has something to say about a medium they falsely believe is theirs and no one elses?
To be fair, while I completely respect Sarkeesian’s work on identifying and thinking about the way women are portrayed by pop culture, she is an instigator. No one deserves rape threats, least of all for trying to make the world a more informed place, even if you’re kind of condescending. I personally disagree with her feminist theory, which seems to be that women are fundamentally different (better?) than men, and that women like me who enjoy gratuitous sex and violence don’t exist. She doesn’t ever seem to address what women like me are doing instead of loving the sex and violence that we love. Maybe I’m just pretending to like all the shit I like so that I can reap the benefits of the patriarchy for myself. Yeah, that’s going real well so far (not.)
As for the ‘punch Antia in the face’ game, I’m actually kind of enamored with how completely ridiculous it is. In the game description the creator states that Sarkeesian “claims to want gender equality in video games, but in reality, she just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path.” So, in order to deal with their feelings that Sarkeesian is a fraud they decided to make a flash game where you can completely wreck her pretty face with a barrage of ‘gender equality’ style right hooks. I tried to play the game in order to corroborate this claim, but it’s no longer available. I can only assume that there were multiple levels, with each one adding creative weaponry and in the boss battle you had to carve her up with a razor as punishment for being so entitled to her own equality. Because what do we do to people we believe are fraudulent? Threaten to rape them. And if that doesn’t work: the sky’s the limit. After all, this is the Internet.
On the more rational side, Redditor pikatu put it succunctly when they said “to be honest, Anita Sarkeesian comes across as a douche. However, that’s not something that she deserves abuse over. Even with everything, i’m sure she’s laughing all the way to the bank with her funding.” I think most gamers feel this way, I know I do. She’s kind of a troll (although I really do believe that her trolling is at least constructive), so when there’s a troll to troll flame war going on, my goal is just to stay out of the way. I can see this Sarkeesian thing being something I really super cared about in college. But right now, I have dishes to do. If I didn’t have a weekly obligation to Geared for Gamers, you probably wouldn’t be hearing about this from me. Even though I blog every weekday on my own site, I avoided this issue because I thought ‘trolls will be trolls’ and I wrote about the random celebrities I’ve seen living in Los Angeles instead of a myriad of other socially relevent things a person could blog about. Because I’m frivolous.
But as long as we’re here, is there a story, other than another set of gamers acting like jerks and another set of journalists and bloggers trying to get high minded about it? I know I’ve set up a dichotomy of young and entitled verses old and apathetic, but I think that gamers of all ages can be entitled, or apathetic, or both. People don’t usually get smarter as they get older. Sometimes they get better at hiding their stupidity, but usually that doesn’t even happen. We just mock them less for it since they’re grown-ups now and there’s some unspoken grown-up rule that we all pretend we know what we’re doing, even when we obviously do not.
I know this article has sort of been a collection of devilishly well constructed sentences on top of an otherwise tenuous thesis, which if you didn’t catch it, is that I’m tired of being afraid to tell my friends at work that I play video games unless they think that I’m incapable of doing my job. The gaming audience is getting more sophisticated all the time, but when is that going to show up in the ways we’re represented? Do we, as sensible gamers have a responsibility to ourselves and our community to change that public perception for the better, or are we just the victims of bad apple-ism? Furthermore, if we do have this obligation, how to we meet it? I’d love to see some answers in the comments, what do you think? I want to have a discussion about this.
Despite the fact that they didn’t take my suggestion to run with the indoctrination theory (it’s okay guys, I understand), I think that the ME3 Extended Cut DLC ending is basically the best thing they could have made while still touching on all the same points that the original ending laid down.
Before we get into anything serious, I want to say this: there will be spoilers. If you want your brains to remain pure, turn back! Seriously, how are you even on the Internet right now?
The Extended cut answers a lot of questions the community brought up after the initial Mass Effect 3 launch back in March. It shows in greater detail how Anderson got to the arm controls before you, how Hackett knew Shepard was on the Citadel; and through dialogue options, the game offers more insight on each choice before you pick it. But the real meat of the Extended Cut is the protracted ending. Each of the three main choices has a narrator explaining what happened after the end of the reaper war. In all three main outcomes, Shepard’s name is dramatically added to the memorial display on the crew deck of the Normandy. It shares a central place with Admiral Anderson, and the crew stand around sentimentally as the love interest sticky-tacks a plate that says “COMMANDER SHEPARD” onto the memorial display. I got a kick out of imagining them all sitting around trying to figure out why no one knew Shepard’s first or middle name. Vega probably tried to convince everybody to put “Lola,” but I bet Garrus gave him a shitty look.
Even with the memorial scene dramatics, the Destroy ending still has the little shot at the end of the cut scene with the N7 armored soldier coming back to life in the rubble, and I’ve heard that if your EMS is high enough, the love interest won’t place the plaque and instead the player sees the Normandy flying away.
Although in the synthesis ending, EDI totally guilt-trips anybody who destroyed her in order to save Shepard in their previous playthroughs by dramatically exclaiming “Because of [Shepard], I am alive, and I am not alone.” But then after that, she hugs the love interest, and not Jeff. I guess synthetic/human hybridization can put a strain on a relationship.
If you don’t like the three main options, the DLC introduces a fourth choice, which is basically just telling the sky-child to eat a dick because Commander Shepard does what she wants! lt also has a cut scene, although it’s shorter. I like it because the Stargazer and child at the end are obviously not human, and they talk about “the archives.” The alien Stargazer also says that she’s “only told [the child] a few of the stories” teasing more Shepard stores even harder than the success ending Stargazer does.
I wish that the DLC had somehow allowed you to load the game at the real beginning of the extended cut. Because I just started the citadel mission over again, I didn’t know until I was doing research for this review that I missed the extraction scene, which occurs on the beam approach. I’m not sure what happens if you don’t have a love interest in your approach party, but if you do, there’s a chance for a tearful goodbye and a little bit more closure than there was before. Also, an explanation (however far fetched) for why the whole crew is on the Normandy at the end. I think it’s a little hilarious that Joker is leading an assault on the reapers when all of a sudden, he’s like “BRB, guys, gotta go pick up my Commander’s boyfriend. He’s got a boo boo on his mandible.”
Overall, I think that this is a great showing from Bioware. I wasn’t one of the people that rage-quit on the first time around, so I have no insight into how they might be feeling, but as a genuine Mass Effect fan, and a general BioWare fan, I feel like they made good on their promise to flesh out the ending, and I appreciate the fanservice.
A comment on my Tomb Raider article from last week has got me thinking in broader terms about “rape culture” in video games. Geared for Gamers reader Poco Puffs asked me what I thought about the Hitman trailer, which had been getting a lot of negative attention for Hitman beating the ever-living crap out of some extremely sexualized bondage nuns. Having absolutely no familiarity with Hitman whatsoever, I went and read a couple of other people’s articles on the trailer, and I responded in my own comment. However, I think that my answer wasn’t long enough to articulate what I really wanted to say, not just about Hitman and Lara Croft, but about sex, violence and video games in general. So, here is my current opinion on rape culture in video games, to the best of my ability, with the resources available to me at this time.
I want to start out with two disclaimers. First, we’re going to be acknowledging that rape exists and I’m going to use the word rape… a lot. Second, I’m a feminist, but I’m not a very good one. I basically operate off the principle that men and women should be treated as equals and that’s kind of it. Then again, I think that this is the way most people operate when they identify with a doctrine that’s as massive and varied as feminism is. Not all democrats think Bill Clinton is amazing, not all Christians think homosexuality is a sin, and not all feminists cry ‘rape culture’ whenever a female character gets injured in a piece of media.
If you want to see what a professional feminist thinks about women in videogames, watch this space. Aside from being a little bit of a hard-on (by which I mean that she can sometimes come off as self-righteous and condescending to men without acknowledging women’s roles in our own oppression), Anita Sarkeesian is basically the best voice the Internet has right now on feminism and pop culture. I am massively interested in what her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series will bring us, but until then, here’s what I have to say on the subject.
First of all, I want to talk about rape culture. Rape culture is basically any cultural practice or feature that makes it easier for people to rape other people and get away with it. Different people have different views on what specific factors create rape culture. For example, most reasonable people would agree at this point that telling a person who has just been brutally attacked that they brought it on themselves, either through their dress of their actions creates a hostile environment for victims and probably contributes to victim silence, which in turn contributes to rapist freedom. And yet, that still happens with surprising frequency.
On the other hand, some feminist scholars have made arguments that pornography reinforces rape culture. Ostensibly, the idea, as far as I can tell is this: Men are the majority of porn viewers, as well as the majority of rapists, and both porn and rape involve sex. Therefore porno leads to rape. Again, a concept most reasonable people would find ridiculous. Saying pornography leads to rape is like saying that cooking shows lead to cannibalism.
Sexually objectified characters are rarely more than two-dimensional eye candy, it’s true. The argument against misogynistic portrayals of women and the argument against tacky, sensationalist media can frequently be one in the same. As much as I love video games, female characters are largely absent, and when they are present, they tend not to be heroes, only prizes or window dressing.
One of the things I said in my comment in regard to the Hitman trailer, is that they had a perfect opportunity to sexualize him at the beginning when he’s cleaning the blood off himself. Sadly, the game developers didn’t recognize that opportunity, which makes the objectification of the nuns at the end of the trailer seem more out of place than it really needs to be. The failure isn’t that they’re sexualizing these women as they get beat to bits, it’s that they’re not sexualizing Hitman as he beats them to bits. If Hitman is going to be a no-holds barred gore and whore-fest, make it an equitable one. Let’s not pretend that we’re so socially evolved that most of us no longer enjoy a little bit of baseless debauchery.
No one, and I mean no one, turns on the private browsing feature in order to abuse themselves to eloquent descriptions of someone’s glowing personality. We all participate in some level of objectification in our daily lives. Shaming people for our interest in sexy images is like shaming people for our love of processed sugars. The reason those products are successful is because they operate on supply lines we’re evolutionarily bound to respond to. Pretending that we as a society don’t appreciate sex and violence is disavowing about 80% of both our literature and our history. And pretending that only men enjoy sex and violence is almost as misogynistic as pretending that women can’t make good heroes.
Now that I’ve told all the boys and girls at home that it’s alright to get tight-pantsy about the Hitman bondage nuns, does that mean that rape culture isn’t relevant in gaming? Hardly. The games we play are inextricably linked to the culture we created them in. We still live in a culture where rapists are protected and victims are punished. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it still kind of sucks.
“Against our Will: Men, Women and Rape” by Susan Brownmiller was published in 1975 and is considered by some to be the origin of the term rape culture, although Brownmiller’s phrase was actually “rape-supportive culture.” At the time, the majority of Americans didn’t believe that rape, sexual assault, and sexual molestation were common crimes. The extremely low level of awareness allowed sexual predators to operate largely undisturbed. It’s only because of the consciousness raising work that feminists have done in the ensuing decades that we have the kind of society where people wax academic over Lara Croft and Hitman ‘contributing to rape culture,’ or ‘objectifying women.’
But the journey from raising awareness about rape and rape culture, to debating what is and is not rape culture, or where and how rape culture develops has had some side effects that aren’t altogether helpful. For example, in emphasizing how frequently (1 in 5, according to some studies) women are the victims of rape or molestation, we now consciously live in a society where a woman is more likely to be a rape victim than almost any other thing. We’ve started to exist in a continuum of those who have already been raped and those that still might be. Which, while productive in raising awareness, also hangs a sword of Damocles over our collective heads.
Suddenly, all of our actions become suspect/dangerous. A woman riding the bus, going to the store, or jogging in her neighborhood alone is a potential victim. As is any girl who drank too much at a party, any female under the age of 12 more than 10 feet from a guardian or any woman anywhere. After all, 1 in 5 of us will be or have been. It’s starting to get to the point where we get that women are rape victims. What we don’t get is that women, in addition to whatever their personal history, are also bus riders, and consumers, and exercise freaks. We’re drunks, and little girls and we have the potential to be any damn thing we want, despite the fact that we still live in a rape culture. Just because rape exists, and just because 91% of rape victims are female doesn’t mean that women have any less agency in our day to day existence. Sometimes we lose sight of that fact.
Which is how some of us can look at the Hitman trailer, see that the nuns outnumber Hitman 8 to 1, and are clearly carrying superior weaponry, and still consider them the victims. If gender roles had been reversed, and we caught sight of a scarred and bleeding female character being charged by 8 guys armed with submachine guns, who use an RPG to reduce her hotel to flaming ashes, the feminist bloggers would be going crazy about that too. But our preconceptions of women as victims or potential victims is coloring our experience of the trailer.
Earlier I said that my feminist convictions are basically that women and men are equal, and that they should be treated as such. In a perfect world, nobody would be bothered by Hitman because he’d be just as likely to be an ass-kicking woman as he would be an ass-kicking man, as would his or her opponents and allies. We wouldn’t have to tell little girls that they can be anything little boys can be, and Legos and Barbies would be just as appropriate a present for a girl or a boy dependent, not on gender, but on the personal preferences of each child.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where little girls get books on make-up tips and BFF bracelet makers while boys get building tools and books on snake-bite safety. Where you’re so unlikely to see a female in a video game or an action movie that people actually wrote blogs thanking Marvel Studios for having women in the background of their hot-dude sausage-fest, The Avengers (not that I’m complaining, it’s more than anybody else is doing.) If striving for a future where women really are equal to men, then we have to be able to inhabit every space our brothers inhabit, regardless of propriety or morality. Which means that, not only can we be bad guys, but we should be bad guys. Women can and should have every bit as much inclination to take a pop at Hitman as men do, and Hitman should have every right to dispatch them as summarily as he dispatches his male opponents. We can not be equal to men if we are continually casting ourselves as the victims.
The problem I had with the Tomb Raider trailer isn’t that Lara Croft is chased by men, or that she is harmed by men, or that she is harmed at all. It’s that the whole time this is happening, her fear-responses are almost pornographic. The shuddering whimpers, the wide-eyed gasping, the pitiful crying are all pathetic. The heavily armed, adult women in the Hitman trailer are active participants in their own gory destruction. Lara Croft, on the other hand, is a scared child fleeing and fighting for her life. Lara truly is a victim, a role I personally am tired of seeing women cast in. Compared to yet another rabbit-scared lady, hiding in the shadows, Hitman’s nuns were a breath of fresh air.
I imported my comments from GearedforGamers.com
I admit I’m not familiar with the Hitman games. I assume you’re referring to the nun trailer, and not the one where he kills all those dudes to get to the woman in the shower who should probably have significance, but who I don’t know at all.
I see there’s been some guff about the game ‘normalizing violence against women,’ and I don’t go in for that at all. I think it’s an unfair world we’re building where bad guys have to be guys. Hitman (as the name implies) kills people. So to have a trailer where he helps little old ladies across the street and kisses kittens on the top of their furry widdle heads would be ridiculous.
The women in the Hitman trailer are 1) bad guys 2) adults 3) seriously armed 4) not the player character. I don’t have a problem with Hitman pulling a Neo on a crowd of sexy, armed, evil, bitches. Bad guys get slaughtered. That’s point of most games.
In her article Michelle Starr (http://www.cnet.com.au/how-hitman-is-insulting-us-all-339338883.htm) talks about how “we’re supposed to be turned on by their brutal murder” and that the game is attracting “the kinds of people who get off on hurting women.” I think that statements like this are an oversimplification.
As if anytime a woman gets injured we should all weep tears of blood for her brutalization. It’s not the injury, or the duress, or the blood I have a problem with in the Tomb Raider trailer, it’s something more nuanced and difficult to articulate. It’s her helpless whimpering and her doe-eyed terror, her lack of power and her pathetic crying. None of which are present in the Hitman trailer.
And can we take a break from being morally superior here and just acknowledge that violence and sex are very close together in our brains and in our lives? You find me a human who’s never had one violent sexual thought and I’ll show you a human who’s never had sexual thoughts at all. I personally loved watching Hitman slaughter those ladies. I thought it was sexy. I have a feeling a lot of other people did too, that doesn’t mean we’re bad people.
Not to say that Hitman trailer is a shining beacon of equality. I think it is a failure that the Hitman character is not as equally portrayed in the shots of him cleaning the blood off himself before the nun fight. I say, if you’re going blue, go all the way. Have sexy nuns and a sexy Hitman sexily murdering each other, if that’s what you’re going for.
In response to someone who said that focusing on the rape and ignoring the murder was counter intuitive.
I play games to straight up murder dudes. In God of War 3 when Kratos totally beats Zeus to death and you can see it through his increasingly blood filled eyes, I was overjoyed. I have absolutely no moral ground to stand on in regard to violence in games. However, there’s about a million miles of bullshit between me wanting to snipe guys heads off and watch them explode like melons, and me wanting to watch my own character get raped. And I know that she doesn’t actually get raped, but it’s still bullshit. And shoveling rape and murder into the same category doesn’t work for me. Rape is such a different, more terrible crime than just shooting someone. People I know have served in wars, where they killed people, and everybody understands that they were doing their duty to serve their country. If we suddenly found out they were raping people in addition to killing them, I have a feeling the majority of us would no longer be their friends.
I’m sure anybody who plays games has already heard about the Tomb Raider situation, but if you haven’t, I’m here to refresh your memory.
When the latest trailer for the Tomb Raider reboot was shown at E3, people started getting grumbley: rape grumbley. Here was a strong, capable character from many of our childhoods being thoroughly broken by game developers right before our very eyes. People were upset, and that wasn’t helped by executive producer Ron Rosenberg telling Kotaku writer Jason Schreier that they set up an attempted rape in the game so that players will “want to protect her” since it’s not like they could relate to her… being a lady and all. Sophie Samson sums up the issue fairly well in her post I’m a Person, You’re a Person when she says “I don’t want to shepherd a whimpering, broken teenager through her brutalization.”
Taking into account the obvious assumption by Rosenberg that only men play videogames; what man would come home, sit down on his couch and think ‘I know, I’m going to watch a twenty-one year old girl sob and whimper for the rest of my afternoon, that’s sure to clear the stress of the day away.’ I can understand doing that for 10 of 15 minutes, sometimes that kind of stuff can hit the spot, but then you clean yourself up and you play some real videogames. With real heroes. Not little girls you’re supposed to want to ‘protect.’
In an effort to curb the backlash, Crystal Dynamics has released a series of statements disavowing any knowledge of Rob Rosenberg or his mission. The front page of the Tomb Raider website has a statement by studio head Darrell Gallagher defending the trailer, and trying to clarify the rape situation by stating: “While there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly.” So they picked the rapiest part of the game to feature in the trailer. It’s not really that type of game, they just wanted to make it look like it was.
Holly Green at Destructoid says in her interview with Crystal Dynamics creative director Noah Hughes that after seeing more cut scenes and gameplay footage, the difference between the game and the trailer is so significant that “even being told directly that Tomb Raider plays on dis-empowerment does not faze me.” She goes on to quote Hughes as saying that “the difference between genuine character exploitation and a valid point of view IS context. My hope is that they play the whole game and realize that it isn’t just these little clips of her getting hurt and moaning and being in a vulnerable position.” Basically what Hughes is saying is that we’re getting our hackles up without all the information, that the attempted rape of a young Lara is sort of nothing, and we should just buy their game before we write it off. Isn’t that nice of Crystal Dynamics, offering to clear everything up once we’ve purchase the product?
Hey kids, maybe we try to rape your childhood hero, and maybe we don’t. If you could just sign this pre-order form and give us sixty bucks, you’ll be the first to find out! Now that we’ve hyped it beyond all belief, I’d hate to be the only person who doesn’t know exactly what the ‘death’ scene looks like if you fail to pull the trigger on that thug who’s laying on top of her in the trailer. Collectors editions come with a replica of the rape-kit Lara is forced to craft out of jungle detritus if you don’t press B fast enough.
You can’t make attempted rape a feature of your trailer and then send a bunch of dudes into the media shrugging their shoulders and telling us that it’s really not that big a deal after we get you all the free advertising that is every single angry article.
I’m not saying that gamers shouldn’t buy the game. If you want to play Tomb Raider, play Tomb Raider. There’s actually nothing wrong with media that portrays sexual assault, at least not inherently. My problem isn’t with the a game I’ve never played, but with a marketing campaign I’m very familiar with at this point. We’re all falling for a bait and switch and everyone should be aware of it. Crystal Dynamics told us all a knock knock joke where the answer to ‘Who’s there?’ is ‘Attempted rape’ and when we all said ‘Attempted rape, who?’ they answered ‘Well, not really attempted rape so much as general creepiness… you should really buy the game.’
I get that the whole point of advertising is to get people to buy stuff. That’s basically the whole point of our entire capitalist pig-dog society. But there’s a difference between good advertising and bad. There’s a difference in the way the marketer treats the consumer. Is your customer a trusted friend, a loyal partner in this symbiotic relationship of producer and consumer, or are they an idiot that needs to be tricked into buying your product? Can you present something to your potential customer honestly and openly, or do you need to put a warning label on the outside that says ‘If you don’t buy this, you’ll die fat and alone in a pile of angry cats.’
The fact that Crystal Dynamics felt that this was the appropriate way to market this game speaks to their perceptions of us as a community. It’s not like they just threw together the first footage they could find. The advertising campaign for a product like this is truly monumental. A lot of thought went into what we would see at E3, and they decided that the most important thought they needed to convey to gamers about the Lara Croft reboot was suffering and victimization. Certainly the number of gamers who would play a game based only on the sniffling and sobbing that were featured in the trailer is very few. I’m loathe to attribute to malice (or craftiness) what can be adequately explained by stupidity (or carelessness) and yet, I find myself hoping that this was a planned backlash. It’s hard to imagine that no one realized the kind of waves they’d be making by turning the franchise on its head like this. The alternative is that they saw this young woman cowering in fear or crying in pain for 3 minutes and thought ‘this is great stuff.’
Neither prospect is particularly attractive to me as a consumer. Either Crystal Dynamics thought that they would make something offensive so I would squawk about it and raise their PR points, or they didn’t consider me at all and assumed male gamers base would love the blood and the gore and think nothing more of it.
The reboot of Lara Croft could have been marketed as a journey of strength, a young woman’s coming of age. But instead, the label we see is ‘maybe there’s rape.’ Crystal Dynamics could have a great game on their hands, only time will tell. But they do deserve our ire for the torture porn marketing campaign they’ve given us.
So a couple of weeks ago, I bought just about the most fun, addictive game ever: Dance Central 2. It was on sale at the Best Buy, and I was already there to replace my crapshack controller (pro tip: the $20 controller is not your friend.) Turns out the Kinect is good for more than just shouting “Liara, singularity!” This game is crazy fun, and since Dance Central 3 was just announced at E3, I thought I’d have a dance party with my friends and take pictures of them because that’s vaguely related.
I had the idea for a dance party on Wednesday and by Saturday, the date of the party, I manged to wrangle two whole friends! Which is actually a good thing, because I don’t think anymore people would have fit in my tiny living room. My amazing boyfriend is absent because he wasn’t feeling well and actually slept through the entire party, much to our surprise.
Anyway, meet Jono and Big Ben, two of my best friends. They are totally awesome people and all-around great (single) guys (ladies.) I dare you to find a more giving (ladies,) selfless (ladies,) helpful (you know what I’m saying) pair of gentlemen. Seriously, I didn’t even have food in my fridge. I invited them over to dance for this article and then I made them pay for their own dinner. Maybe there’s a reason only two people came to my dance party. (I only just realized that I should probably have had food and drinks. There’s a reason I play videogames so much: No social interaction.)
We all took turns alternately dancing and taking pictures. As you will no doubt realize, none of us are photographers.
To the right of Jono and Ben, you can see that I had to move the couch into the kitchen in order to have enough space for two 6 foot plus dudes to dance in my house. We also had to move the ottoman into the hallway, although I didn’t get a picture of that.
Before any dancing could be done, we ran into some difficulty with the Kinect. It recognized me, it recognized Ben, but it wouldn’t pick up Jono for anything. It caused a lot of consternation.
We finally decided that it must not have liked Jono’s black jeans, even though that made no sense because it had no problem with Ben’s black jeans. I ended up lending Jono my red basketball shorts and it picked him up just fine after that.
The one thing I really find difficult with Dance Central is the menu selection. It doesn’t pick up arm movements very well, and when it does get that you’re waving your arm to select a menu item, actually getting the Kinect to track you long enough in order to let you select that item is a pain. This is specially true with two players, because if the other player even shifts their weight, the screen will suddenly switch from pink to blue, and start responding to the other player instead of you. Ultimately we just had the cameraman/extra person select everything with the controller.
You should also make sure you’re not dancing in front of a window, like I was here because the window completely washes you out and you end up getting thirty-nine thousand points on “Whip My Hair” by Willow Smith when you know you killed that song. Granted, Jono was really good at this game. Like, crazy good. Bitch please good.
Ben and I, on the other hand.
Let’s just say that we had fun.
One thing that you should watch out for when you have tall friends and are playing this game, is that they have a much smaller range of movement available than the rest of us. Big Ben is about 6′ 5″, and as you can see here, the Kinect viewfinder cut off his head whenever he got too close to the entertainment center.
In the two weeks since I bought this game, I’ve played it more than any other game in my collection. Running through fitness mode is now my favorite work-out, not least of all because I don’t have to leave the house in order to do it. The calorie calculator basically just assigns 25 calories burned to every song, which I think is inaccurate, but I don’t really care. I just enjoy jumping around in my living room to pop songs and being able to call that exercise.
My friends and I had a crazy fun time playing this game. I got all red from jumping around so much, and we had to cool down with a couple rounds of Trials Evolution once we pulled the couch out of the kitchen. Best three person Just Dance 2 dance party ever.
JAM Live Music Arcade is a music creation game from Reverb Publishing/505 Games available for $9.99 on XBOX Live Arcade and Playstation Network. 32 tracks cover the spectrum of musical genres ranging from up and coming indie artists to chart toppers like Modest Mouse, Atmosphere and Owl City. JAM Music Arcade lets the player deconstruct and recreate songs through an interactive and intuitive graphic interface and also features a standard see-and-then-do mode. In JAM mode, the player is rewarded for their creative use of musical elements and off-book stylings. In Arcade mode, the player follows a Guitar Hero style guide to produce songs element by element.
The first time you play JMLA, only the JAM mode is unlocked. In order to play with your first track, you have to successfully navigate the tutorial, which lays out the mixing board style interface for the new player. 5 different bays belong to a different musical element: drums, bass, guitar, synth, vocals, and sometimes FX, and each instrument has 5 elements, one for each of the 5 keys of the guitar. The game can be played on a gamepad, but the tutorials are geared towards the guitar controller, and I really think it would be a lot more difficult to navigate from a gamepad.
Players used to Guitar Hero, will notice that JAM turns the guitar into a much more dynamic controller. Using a combination of up-strum for on, down-strum for off, the different keys for different bays and elements, and even the whammy bar later on in the game to switch from board to board, JAM is easy to learn so players don’t spend a lot of time trying to remember the rules.
As for gameplay itself, we’re really looking at two different games. JAM mode, where the player uses the mixing board to add and subtract each element of a known track to create and record a completely musical remix, and Arcade Mode where the song is already playing and the player has to work to keep up and imitate the elements in the track before time runs out.
JAM mode was my personal favorite mode. I lost time playing in Jam Mode. There was actually a point where the sun had set and I didn’t even notice it. One moment it was light outside, the next I was sitting in a dark living room, with a plastic guitar in my lap, and my legs had fallen asleep from being crossed on the couch for unknown hours.
I’ve always loved music, and making music. I was a band in high school for about 6 weeks. I think we had ‘practice’ about 2 times and I never met the drummer. We were Metallica inspired, but that’s probably because the only songs we played were Metallica songs. I want to say our name was Mystic Spiral, but I’m pretty sure that’s actually the name of Jane’s brother Trent’s band in Daria. The problem with Mystic Spiral, or was it Warrior? Anyway, the problem with the band is that we sucked. Also, none of us had cars so we had to take the bus with all our instruments or get our moms to drive us. But the reason we really sucked is that music is hard. Even if a person has an aptitude, which 5 years of violin practice have taught me I don’t have, it takes years to master even a single instrument. With music simulators like JAM, you’re on a highway to awesome in the time it takes to pass the tutorial. Finally, I can rise to the heights that my crappy Metallica cover band once could only dream about.
I was entranced by this game, however, the idea of scoring was pretty much a joke. I had no idea how to score points, except that switching tracks on a beat got me something, all other points were basically a surprise for everyone involved. The tutorial didn’t seem altogether helpful either. It mentioned switching tracks on a beat, and how the number of times you switch tracks on a beat will grant you higher and higher scores, and it mentioned something about ‘good use’ of elements, but who in the world knows what that means in this day in age. Some of the synth pop songs I thought I was messing up on all over the place, but when I went back to the track select menu, they sounded like a seizure anyway.
Which leads me to music. Aforementioned synth-pop aside, I love just about every track on this game. And my favorite part about it is that most of them are from artists I’d probably never have heard of if it wasn’t for this game. Some of these guys are so indy they’re post-indy. Nick Africano doesn’t even have a website. I mean, nickafricano.net is a thing that exists, but all that’s there is a placeholder trying to pass itself off as a maintenance page. His only album was released May 1 of this year, just 15 days before JAM’s release. Incidentally, Nick’s album is $9.99 on itunes (where it only has 2 ratings, this is how underground this guy is), the same price you would pay for this game. Yeah, there’s only 1 track from him on there, but there’s 31 other tracks by new and familiar artists, some of which are sure to find themselves into your musical repertoire. I especially like the selection of hip hop they’ve collected. It’s definitely different from anything you’ll hear on the radio today. Long story short: this game has hipster cred.
Now that I’ve gushed about JAM Mode, I have to come down on the Arcade Mode. In the way that the board layout and element choice make Jam mode so free-flowing and creative, it makes Arcade Mode into a nightmare. The developers didn’t simplify any of the controls, or even the boards when they made Arcade Mode, which makes it really difficult, but on top of that, they added a tetris-style moving horizon for when you mess up and miss a key combo. For every combo the player misses, the drop point for the key combo slides one notch closer to the spawn point. When you get a combo right, the span point moves one notch back to it’s original place until it stays there, but if you get another wrong, it drops back down. There are about 10 notches in which the player can make mistakes and then it’s game over. In a three minute song, I never made it past the 40 second mark. The only person I can think of who would enjoy this horrible torture is the Guitar Hero player who plays the Dragonforce song on expert and yawns the whole way through.
Overall, I had so much fun with JAM Mode, that the unplayable nature of Arcade Mode is almost a non-issue, especially for $9.99.
When I was writing this, I did some research on the game and saw that a lot of reviewers were giving it horrible reviews. One even pronounced the entire music game genre “dead,” and used this game as an example of its corpse. Dramatic much? I think the gamers pronouncing this a stinker are not the audience for this game anyway. They’re expecting Guitar Hero style points racking with clearly defined skill levels based on obvious goals, and this isn’t that. It’s a musical playground for people who find themselves fascinated with sound and creating something beautiful out of sound. This is a game for people who never get Guitar Hero because they’re too used to their real guitar, people who make up drum solos for the songs on the radio, people who get asked “where’s that song from?” and say “I don’t know” when the truth is it’s from them.
I’m giving this game a 7 out of 10 because it’s not really a game, it’s a synth toy. But it’s a really good synth toy for $9.99. Points added for music selection, points off for Arcade Mode.
The Xbox 360 version of this title was provided for review by Reverb Publishing.