Rin:Maybe it’s something that comes with age, but going into E3 no longer has the hype it used to. In the years before, there was at least one game I was interested in hearing about. This year, though, I came in at a hard neutral: what I knew was going to be shown I wasn’t interested in, and I had no hope about the things I didn’t know about. Yet, maybe it was this neutral stance that led to me being pleasantly surprised in some cases, and saved me the disappointment in others.
As industry veterans struggled to remember what they should even do on the E3 stages, the year’s themes of inclusion and the importance of the gamer community were surprisingly not entirely off-base. I’d even hazard to say that companies may even be starting to care about diversity, likely in no small part due to the success of other diverse titles like Overwatch. And overall, the presence of non-male, non-white people on stage and in the games shown was much higher than I was anticipating. There’s a lot to cover, so thankfully this year I’m joined once again by BrothaDom. You ready to jump in?
Dom: Yep! I was feeling a little bored and jaded going into the conference, but it definitely had some pleasant surprises sprinkled in. Let’s do this.
With E3 just around the corner, it’s difficult not to get hyped up about the video game industry!
…No, I lied. Given the last couple of years, on the whole E3 has kind of been lacking on what the emerging, diverse gaming populace want to see in their games. Some game companies are trying, like Guerrilla Games and their game Horizon Zero Dawn, but still end up missing the mark; for example, with Horizon, many Native players and onlookers found that their culture was appropriated and misrepresented because there were no actual Native people serving as consultants or even on the writing team. With game companies being so strangely reluctant to actually collaborate with people from the culture their game is going to represent, I found myself keeping away from one game series in particular: Far Cry.
The Far Cry series has been around for more than a decade and the gameplay within its more recent installments (FPS with both action and RPG elements) always attracts praise from critics and players alike. However, what put me off the series is the way it seems to embody the idea that cultures not our own are in some way barbaric and in need of liberation. For instance, 2012’s Far Cry 3 stars Jason Brody—like, seriously, have you heard a more “white guy from Orange County” name in your life?—who is captured by a pirate crew during a party along with his friends and brother on an island in the Indian Ocean, and gets caught up in some slavery ring/drug cartel businessbecause of course that’s what’s happening. 2014’s Far Cry 4 feels like it takes a step in the right direction, having its (still male) protagonist Ajay actually have ties to the Nepalese-inspired culture of Kryat, where the game takes place. However, I can’t find anything that leads me to believe that Ubisoft actually consulted anyone from the Nepal area to help with their worldbuilding, and instead simply sent their team to Nepal to draw their own conclusions.Yet with the upcoming Far Cry5 I can’t help but be excited because for once, the protagonist won’t be restricted to being a dude. Additionally, there’s no uncomfortable feeling of going overseas and bringing American justice to foreign people. Far Cry 5 takes a controversial–or perhaps just controversial given the political climate—look at a villainous group that’s been avoided for far too long in the series: white people.
Going into another year’s E3, a shared sentiment around the gaming community seemed to be one of disenchantment and exhaustion. The landscape of gaming is in a position where some things are trying to change, but other things are staying the same more than ever. People are tired of seeing the same old thing, yet there are so many complaints when new things are tried. It’s a game no one wins, and yet both sides keep trying. From the looks of things, the call for inclusion is starting to be heard. Nevertheless, the status quo is trying to hang on harder than ever, and it in turn produced some of the most lackluster entries in E3 that I’ve ever seen.
Rin: Honestly, this year I wasn’t sure what to expect from E3. Sure, we had the old stand-bys of another Call of Duty game and another Mario game to look forward to (if you’re into that), but for the most part, viewers were going in blind. In lots of ways, I was pleasantly surprised, and even in some cases I got to revisit the emotions that E3 should give its audience: whimsy and unmitigated excitement. In other cases… uh, not so much.
Since this was such a jam-packed year, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow games enthusiast, BrothaDom!
Dom: Hi Rin! Yes, I’m in agreement with you there: this year definitely brought some enjoyable highs, and some disappointing lows.
I’m sure most of us have faced a situation like this: a friend or acquaintance has some problematic views and, in turn, we point out what’s wrong in hopes that they change their ways and recognize why what they were doing is problematic. Results of this, of course, vary, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if the changes these people make are because of an honest desire to fix their errors, or if they’re just trying to appease you in particular, to get you off their case. This is the predicament I’m in with Ubisoft right now.
After the “let’s make fun of Ubisoft” fad started fading, so too did my interest in their upcoming Assassin’s Creed game. If they weren’t going to give my gender a proper playable character, or any character for that matter, then why should I give them any more of my time? But, as with most things in my life, both the developer and the game found a way back onto my radar.
Ever since Ubisoft’s conference at E3, it seems like the whole internet has been shitting on them, and why not? If any gaming development team—or any development team of any media—in this day and age seriously expects to use “it’s too hard” as an excuse to exclude female characters from their games, then they need to be told by thousands of people that their stance is wrong. Period. For once, though, the incensed denizens of the internet weren’t alone. We were joined by several prolific voices in the gaming community, from those who worked on Assassin’s Creed (the series being scrutinized, in case you forgot), to mocap specialists, and even other game companies. Yes, indeed: the public and the industries seem to be ready for more games with female stories.
So, game companies, why aren’t you doing anything about it?
I’m not complaining: companies that willingly agree that this trend of throwing female characters under the bus in favor of more comfortable male characters is kind of fucked up is, well, unexpected and appreciated. Yet it’s easy to agree with these things—especially when they make your company look good—when you don’t actually have to do anything about them. While I did, and still do, laugh at the jibes made at Ubisoft’s expense by Insomniac Games and Breakfall, they’re not exactly remedying the issue. But they’re not alone; I’d hazard to say that most everyone else is in the same boat of confusing the representation of women in video games with video games that feature female stories. While both are very much needed in this medium, we are suffering a drought of the latter.
It seems so long ago that I was attentively staring at my Twitch stream, praying that it wouldn’t go offline so I could see all of the tasty tidbits this year’s E3 had to offer. While I didn’t leave this year feeling like I had gotten a full plate, the main five developers—Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo, for those new to the scene—definitely served their audience a hefty appetizer. Here’s what I would go back for seconds of and what I’d scrape down the sink.
There’s nothing worse than seeing a game not getting the love it deserves. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve never heard of this Child of Light game,” you’re not alone: the game was barely advertised and most—if not all—publicity was generated by word of mouth. This isn’t any surprise; I mentioned in an earlier post how games directed more towards a female audience receive much less advertising in general than games that are clearly intended for a more male-centric audience. And unless produced by a larger name developer, indie games don’t really get advertised anyway. Though Child of Light has that indie feel, it doesn’t change the fact that the game was still produced by Ubisoft. Not only that, but by their largest development studio—Ubisoft Montreal—as well. There’s no excuse for the lack of company generated buzz. I mean, look at it: wouldn’t you want to hype this game?
Just as soon as it started, E3 has come to an end, leaving us with fantastical highs and long side-glances of apprehension. But what was good and what was bad? Certainly I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll give my opinion on the games that I think should be watched with much interest.
Unfortunately, my fears about Microsoft and the Xbox One were not alleviated, but neither were they exacerbated. It seemed like there was a general sense of hopelessness about the whole conference, and really, not too much stuck out to me. At least nothing that made me want to buy the damned Xbox One. Though the controversies I brought up last time weren’t exactly mentioned, they were more than content to make some new ones. During a play demo of the upcoming re-vamp of Mortal Kombat, one of the female developers, who was losing the match (playing a fighting game on a touch pad against someone using an arcade stick isn’t exactly a fair playing field), was told to “just let it happen” because “it [would] be over soon”. Something I absolutely do not watch game expos for is rapey side-comments about women losing games. It was gross, and it was clear that the developer wasn’t having any fun—which, when people already don’t like your system, is not the best way to go. All around, Microsoft came off as extremely unsupportive of their female playerbase. No one is amused.
However, Microsoft did have a couple good games at their showing. The ones I’m most excited for are Sunset Overdrive, a Borderlands-esque shooter which takes place in a futuristic setting that almost reminds me of Jet Set Radio, and Titanfall. People are already getting excited over Titanfallfor two reasons: it’s developed by a sect of people that left the Call of Duty camp (people who were the good part of that camp, some would argue) so it’s clear they already know their way around the genre—and it stars a non-sexualized female in a position of power. Unfortunately, from the gameplay it doesn’t seem as though she will be a playable character, but I’m happy that she’s there, at least. In such a male-dominated genre, baby steps are definitely the safe method to integration, but we’ll see if it’s more than just a novelty in the coming years.