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Speaking Up: Why Female Game Writers Shouldn't Be Ignored

The Melbourne Freeplay 2011 games festival did what it does every year: encouraged gamers, developers and writers to think deeper about the medium they love and the issues that surround it. So when a panel titled "The Words We Use"--originally intended to be a forum to discuss games criticism and writing--was derailed to the subject of gender in games writing, it drew attention to an important and contentious issue.

Here, two female game journalists weigh in on some of the ideas raised in an email correspondence about the role of female writers and critics in the games industry.

Laura Parker is the Associate Editor of GameSpot Australia, a finalist in the Walkley Foundation Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards in 2009 and the winner of the IT Journo Game Journalist of the year in 2010.

Tracey Lien is the Acting Editor of Kotaku AU, a winner of the Walkley Foundation Super Media Student Award and a finalist in IT Journo Best New Journalist category in 2010.

From: Tracey Lien
To: Laura Parker
Subject: B**ches Ain't S**t

I was at Freeplay this year. I sat in the audience during the "Words We Use" panel, in silence, as the chair of the panel said that he felt that there was a divide in gender in video games, and that he didn't "tend to get a lot of critical, serious comment or articles from females in games". I sat there as a member of the audience suggested that we move off the topic of female games writers because "the problem would solve itself naturally as the industry matures". I sat there and I said nothing.

I said nothing for the same reason I have said nothing since I started writing about video games (unless we count the odd angry tweet). And that reason is fear.

At Freeplay I was afraid that had I said something I'd have been dismissed or ignored. I was afraid of being on the receiving end of sexist comments. I was afraid of hearing someone say (or tweet) that I should just suck it down and deal with it, that I'm making a big deal of something that means nothing to them, that no one cares, that my kicking up a fuss was just a sign of my weakness. As a woman, I felt that my gender somehow made me less qualified to speak about gender issues that directly affected me; that people, especially those who needed their views challenged, would be less willing to listen to a woman (yes, I see the irony). As a writer, I had long held the belief that if I worked hard and tried to not think about the gender imbalance in the games writing industry, I would eventually earn my credibility and be able to have an opinion and speak out, sans fear, about an issue so close to my heart. And there I was at Freeplay, quiet, still feeling crippled by my own gender.

When you contacted me about writing this, I hesitated for a moment, but ultimately decided that now is a good a time as any to stop being silent, and maybe even stop being afraid.

You've now listened to the recording of the panel and read the Freeplay tweets; I'm curious to know: what made you get in touch with me about this?

Tracey

From: Laura Parker
To: Tracey Lien
Subject: Re: B**ches Ain't S**t

When I first heard about what happened at Freeplay I was amused. Female game writers are the minority. That much is true. So we're used to this sort of thing by now, aren't we?

I've always maintained that the majority of people in the industry have no issue with women, be it female writers or developers or gamers; as with any other part of society, minorities will struggle. I can see how getting drawn into yet another debate about sexism in the games industry is not a worthwhile venture. It's all been said before. Much like the "are games art?" question, most people are tired of talking about gender imbalance in the games industry..

My personal take on this is that gender will stop being an issue when we stop acknowledging that there is a divide.

But then I asked myself: "How would I have reacted if I had been present at the 'Words We Use' panel?" Would I have rolled my eyes and shrugged it off? Or would I have grabbed the microphone and shouted: "Excuse me? I'm right here!"

I know what you mean about being afraid to speak. The majority of gamers are not forgiving. We haven't yet learned how to deal with the growth and change of our industry; we haven't learned to accept difference of opinion or shifts in ideology. Minorities are not given the freedom to speak without the threat of suppression. You can blame a large part of that on the medium's naiveté. But how long do we go on excusing this?

You mentioned that someone in the audience said that things will change with time. This is true: in time the industry will grow, diversify, and learn to accept change. But this cannot happen without us driving this change. It cannot happen if people like you and me remain silent when things like this happen.

So I've chosen to speak up. The fact that not a single person on a panel discussion about games and the games industry could name a female games writer is not acceptable. This isn't about asking for special treatment because we're female; it's about making sure the issue is addressed and corrected.

From: Tracey Lien
To: Laura Parker
Subject: Re: B**ches Ain't S**t

Hey Laura,

We're not asking for special treatment, we're asking for equal treatment. When a male writer is criticised for his work, how often do people use gender-specific terms to put him down? How often do they talk about his physical appearance or blame his masculinity for his bad writing or the ideas that he expresses? We're asking to be given a fair go. Being a woman is not a handicap.

Ignoring female game writers--as some people clearly do--means ignoring what the other half of the population has to say. We break news, write thought-provoking pieces of criticism and reviews that contribute something to the field of games writing, investigate stories that no one else is looking into, and have ideas worth sharing--just like our male counterparts.

What I'm trying to say is that we're not different from male writers; some women write absolute drivel in the same way that some men write absolute drivel. But you also have some really, really good female writers in the same way you have really, really good male writers, and if you choose to ignore female writers then you're ignoring the voices of the people who make up the other half of the population. Diversity in opinions is important and the more types of people we have writing about games the more ideas we'll be exposed to, and I can only see this as a good thing.

You've worked your way up to be associate editor of GameSpot Australia, which is a pretty big deal. I can imagine that some people might argue that being a woman hasn't stopped you from getting so far... so how would you respond to those who might say that you have nothing to complain about?

From: Laura Parker
To: Tracey Lien
Subject: Re: B**ches Ain't S**t

Hey Tracey,

Well that's the thing: we're not complaining. This is simply about exercising our right to speak on an issue that directly concerns us.

When I first began writing about games I couldn't shake the thought that I had to prove myself. Coming into a male-dominated game journalism industry, particularly one as small and insular as Australia's, I felt the onus was on me to show them that even though I was a girl, I could write about games just as well as they could. After three years I feel like I have successfully proven myself, but the fear that people read my work differently because I'm a woman is still there, and it will probably remain there until this is no longer an issue.

Let's talk video journalism for a second, since we both have experience in that area. How worried were you, when you first started, about how people would react to seeing a girl talk about video games on television?

My work also includes a lot of on-camera video presenting. At least in writing I know I have proven myself enough to no longer be judged by my gender but by the quality of my work; in video, I am never judged on the quality of my work. I am constantly judged on how I look. "Laura, you know you would look a lot better if you cut your hair"; or "You should wear more lipstick"; or "Can you wear a shorter dress next time?" It's been three years and the comments have not changed. Comments that actually critique what I am talking about in the video, either in a positive or negative way, are few and far between. So what's the incentive for me to keep going? Why should I care about the stuff I'm talking about, researching and presenting, if all anyone else cares about is how short my dress is or how much lipstick I'm wearing?

If gender continues to be a problem in disciplines like theatre and literary criticism, which have been around for a lot longer than games criticism, shouldn't we find ways to ensure that our industry learns from past mistakes? Should we continue talking about this to make sure people understand that it is a problem?

From: Tracey Lien
To: Laura Parker
Subject: Re: B**ches Ain't S**t

Hi Laura,

Oh man, video journalism. If I thought I was up against a tough crowd in my print and online work, I certainly was not prepared for the dismissive comments that followed each of my video stories. The short answer to your question is that I was quite worried about how I would be received when I started working in television was incredibly conscious of my gender. The more detailed answer is that the worry never really went away and it became increasingly frustrating having people ignore my work and critique my physical appearance instead of the stories themselves. I often found it unfair that the male presenters on the show were rarely criticised for their appearance - if someone took issue with an opinion they had expressed or disagreed with them, the comments and discussion would be reflective of that. This wasn't often the case when it came to female presenters.

The attitude that if we don't talk about it it will just go away, or that gender is only a problem because we make it a problem, is such an ignorant way of looking at things. I understand that this is a widespread problem and gender issues aren't exclusive to the games writing industry, but just because something is widespread doesn't mean it's okay, and just because other industries are experiencing the same issues doesn't mean we can't lead the charge to bring about change. I agree that we have to talk about it, and that it's definitely a problem--when people like you and I are still afraid of being judged on being female instead of the merit of our work, how can it possibly not be a problem?

I don't know what the solution to this is, but an open dialogue, one where we don't feel afraid to speak up, seems to be a good start.

From: Laura Parker
To: Tracey Lien
Subject: Re: B**ches Ain't S**t

Hi Tracey,

I think a lot of female game writers are just tired of the same old arguments, and more importantly, the same old reaction. It seems there's little point in speaking out or maintaining this open dialogue if no one is listening.

Personally, I have never liked discussing this issue. This is the first time I have really done so publicly.

As we've both said during the course of this conversation, we don't believe females in this industry deserve special treatment because of their gender; this is not what we are asking, nor what we are advocating.The whole reason we're having this discussion is because someone chose to ask the question: "Well, what about female writers?" Someone chose to separate male writers from female writers. Someone chose to make this an issue.

There are times when the differences between a man and a woman are relevant. But this was not one of those times.

I asked Alison Croggon, a revered Australian theatre critic, fantasy author and poet who sat on the "Words We Use" Freeplay panel discussion, to give me her thoughts on how the discussion surrounding gender in the games industry compares to similar discussions in the literary and theatre world.

"There's obviously a whole lot of issues simmering beneath the surface and the panel worked as a
catalyst for these things to explode."

"I've been reading the follow-ups on the web with deep interest. It seems to me that there's a bunch of intelligent discussion out there, working against some entrenched attitudes that are equally present. We
can't pretend literature or theatre are any better, given the figures, but it's rare to come across the raw sexism that you see in some comments. Addressing endemic prejudice is a deeply complex matter,
which can only happen if there is the will and intelligence to address it. The first step, as always, is acknowledging that there is a problem."

I Love Bees

Anyone remember that? Did you participate?

I'm writing about it as an excellent example of an alternate reality game. Although ARGs haven't taken off that much in the world of experiental advertising, it seems like a good path for the games industry to embark on.

Wouldn't you love it if instead of bus shelter ads publishers spent their advertising money on making game campaigns similar to Halo 2's I Love Bees?

The answer is YES.

Duke Nukem and sexism

I wrote an opinion piece about the whole Duke Nukem Forever vs. sexism debate. Response has been mixed. Most people agree with me; some people think I am wrong because they see that Duke Nukem Forever is actually harmful in its portrayal of women; and finally, and most bafflingly, a small number of people think I am being a raging feminist (even though I'd defending the game).

Hmm.

Anyway, the point is that discussion is happening, which is a good thing. It's always good to debate topics like this. So yes, if you didn't catch it, here it is:

----

Two weeks ago, Fox News alerted its readers to Duke Nukem Forever's "awfully sexist" treatment of women. Women's rights groups were consulted. Committees were assembled. Someone started a petition. The media began combing the history of video games for other examples of the medium's misrepresentation of women. Not surprisingly, plenty of examples were found.

It's no secret that the video game industry has long struggled with its portrayal of women. Games are often accused of being sexist or perpetrating stereotypes by celebrating male characters and depicting female characters in a limited way. Some of these charges are sound. The way a story is told usually depends on who is telling it: Video game stories are about men because they are told by men. Men have been writing stories about other men since the time of ancient Greece--the Greek myths, for example, often depict men as the subject, with women playing supporting roles as the object of desire, the giver of help, or the demon hindering the hero's progress. Many video game stories don't stray far from this same formula. How often does a video game explore themes related to family, motherhood, or female sexuality?

There is really no one to blame for this fact. Video games have always appealed more to men than women for reasons that have to do with ingrained environmental behaviors and gender roles. This set of social rules that dictate how women and men should behave in games has a lot to do with the lack of female game developers currently in the industry. It's also the reason for such things as the hesitation that some women feel when it comes to video games or the view of video games as an inherently unsocial and detrimental pastime.

However, these cultural constructs do not let video games off the hook. They do not justify the lack of strong female characters or the repeated representation of stereotypes that hark back to ancient Greece. So why then does Duke Nukem Forever not deserve to be labeled a sexist game that depicts women in a harmful way? The answer is context. Duke is probably a sexist character. I say that because no one has actually played the game in its entirety yet, so at this stage, all we can do is draw conclusions from what we have already seen and played. But let's assume Duke has the same personality in this game as he's had in the past few games with his name on it. Duke is a fictional character--he is not designed as a realistic interpretation of the male sex. You are not supposed to look at him and think, "This is how real men act in the real world." How do we know this?

Because of context: Duke mistreats everyone around him. He doesn't care for anyone except himself, regardless of age or sex. He is absurd. He is a satirical--not realistic--representation of men. Duke is a sexist pig. But Duke Nukem Forever is not a sexist game. The sexism, the absurd violence, and the caricatures of men and women are not without context. Context is important because it offers us a framework by which to judge behavior and action. Of course, not every game's context excuses its representation of women, but looking at only those scenes from the game where Duke displays sexist behavior is taking the situation out of context.

When John Lennon told a reporter from the London Evening Standard that The Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" in 1966, he was talking about the nature of religion and comparing rock and roll to Christianity. Taken out of context--as an American teen magazine did five months later--Lennon's quote saw The Beatles' music banned from radio stations, their records burned in community bonfires, and their mailboxes flooded with death threats. In Duke's case, context is paramount, as is the idea that portrayal does not equal endorsement. Duke Nukem Forever's portrayal of sexism is not an endorsement of sexism.

The game is not saying that this is how the world is, nor is it saying that this is how it should be. This is the same problem with the conversation about violent video games supposedly endorsing violent behavior. In this case, however, it is much easier to see Duke as an intentionally over-the-top character that is not meant to be taken seriously. When Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita in 1955, he wasn't endorsing sexual relations between an adult male and a 12-year-old girl; the character of Humbert Humbert is a satirical representation and not meant to be taken at face value. Taken out of context, Lolita might just look like the filthy pornographic novel some thought it to be at the time.

Not everyone agrees on context. This is an important fact to consider during the classification process of video games. This process not only assumes that players are rational human beings, but it also keeps in mind cognitive development. For example, an 8-year-old child is probably not going to be able to recognize and understand irony the same way as an adult. An 8-year-old child might look at Duke Nukem and think that there is nothing absurd or ridiculous about his behavior. But that's why we have classification systems in place: to serve as a guideline for minimizing harm among those who consume the content. Ratings should not be ignored.

The ESRB rated Duke Nukem Forever Mature (17+) for blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs and alcohol--all good reasons why anyone under the age of 17 probably shouldn't play this game. The media often forgets the role classification plays when it comes to video games. Rational adults have seen this content, have understood its context, and have deemed it suitable for a particular age group. Not all classification systems are perfect--just look at Australia--but they exist for a reason. No one over the age of 17 could take Duke Nukem Forever seriously or misinterpret it as a realistic representation of men and women. And if they do, Duke has perfect retort, "What are you? Some bottom-feeding, scum-sucking algae eater?"

Jolly Rover review

So, I played Jolly Rover, and really enjoyed it.

Here is my review! (I am posting it here even though it's on the site because I want people to comment on whether they too enjoyed this fine indie game).

--

Jolly Rover
PC, MAC

Gaius James Rover is a polite dachshund with an affinity for Earl Grey tea and the unfortunate talent of attracting drunken pirates, who insist on plundering his ship and forcing him to cook delicious 17th-century salads. Luckily, James' anthropomorphized charm and knack for inductive logic turn Jolly Rover into a highly enjoyable 2D point-and-click adventure, one that successfully marries a great cast of characters with an engaging story and generally satisfying puzzles.

After escaping from indentured servitude on an enemy pirate ship, James finds himself tangled in a series of mysterious swashbuckling quests that involve lost treasure, family secrets, a toothless old man, a tribe of lady-dog pirates, a waterfall, some mangoes, and love--but not necessarily in that order. To find his stolen cargo and fulfill his lifelong dream of juggling balls, James must traverse a series of islands and solve an assortment of puzzles all while learning about the magic ways of "pirate voodoo," which proves useful in situations where he must do things like scare beasts or heat cauldrons to make jam. The game's story is engaging and easy to follow; it doesn't take long to understand what makes James tick. And it doesn't take long to understand why he doesn't tell people his first name is really Gaius or why he doesn't drink rum before sunset. He is a fun character to play, particularly if you're the sort of person who can appreciate a good pun when you hear one. The rest of the cast of Jolly Rover is just as colourful and enjoyable to listen to, from the drunken ramblings of loose-lipped pirates to the dulcet tones of hot **** term that means "sexy female pirate dogs" here. The dialogue is biting and often features astute observations about such cerebral things as the meaning of life and why dogs chase balls. The game's soundtrack also adds charm and atmosphere to the adventure with its musically diverse mix of toe-tapping sea shanties, orchestral arrangements, woodwind ensembles, squawking parrots, and renditions of "Ahoy there, matey!"

There's a lot more to Jolly Rover than just dog puns, though. While most of your time is spent talking to other characters, collecting items, and solving puzzles, there's also a big emphasis on doggedness. The game rewards you for paying close attention to detail when examining items, with some items serving different purposes according to your situation. So, for example, an oily rag may serve one purpose in one scenario, but it may also be used again in a completely different way in another scene, which certainly keeps things interesting. There's also an unobtrusive hint system in place should you need it: James keeps a parrot named Juan, who dishes out a series of clues when bribed with crackers. The first hint is free (and highly cryptic), while the rest require one cracker each (and, thus, become less and less obscure). The best thing about this system is that experienced players don't even have to know it's there, or if they do get into a spot of trouble, they can safely opt for the free hint without suffering the shame of having the entire puzzle spoiled.

The puzzles themselves are inventory-based problems that can be solved in a straightforward way and don't require you to backtrack. The problem here is that most of the puzzles are too easy and become quite repetitive after a while. You don't have a lot of free range when it comes to interacting with your environment, meaning you only ever have to solve a problem with a few number of items so there will be little to no room for experimentation or good bouts of strategic thinking, which can be disappointing. More items to work with could have also made it harder to work out what fits together in exactly the right way, adding to both the longevity of the game and the complexity of its puzzles. That said, there are a few instances where the puzzle-solving breaks away from this pattern and becomes interesting. The first is with the aforementioned "pirate voodoo," a series of problems where you will have to use pen and paper to write down certain sequences of movements found in James' handy "Voodoo for Pirates" handbook, which he must then perform in order to do particular things (aforementioned beast-scaring and jam-making activities included). The second is one of two mazes you will have to navigate with the use of a compass. And, the third is a visual puzzle where you must use the birthdays of certain characters to unlock a combination.

There are a small number of other things to keep you busy besides puzzle-solving and paying attention to the well-written storyline, like coins hidden behind barrels, and pieces of pirate flags, which unlock bonus content like concept art, theme music, and character biosm, all equally great. There's also a light scoring system--more for hilarity's sake than anything else--which sees you achieve points for various actions, raising your rank from "lily-livered land blubber" all the way to "seasoned adventurer." In addition to its playful sense of humour, Jolly Rover gets points for its visual style. The hand-drawn characters and environment are lively, bright, and well detailed, and there are also plenty of visual jokes thrown in for the shrewd observer, particularly if you pay attention to signage.

It's the little things that make Jolly Rover a delight to play. The array of memorable, albeit mostly drunk, characters; the insightful dialogue; the careful attention to detail, including the art, the music, and the story, all contribute to Jolly Rover's charm, as well as its triumph in this reinvigorated genre. The puzzles could have done with more complexity and variation in some areas, and James would have certainly had a better time had he been able to interact with more objects, but neither of these criticisms are enough to stop Jolly Rover from being a highly enjoyable, high-spirited adventure.

Mindjack: Hands On Impressions

So, yeah, it's been a while. But I am dedicated to updating this blog regularly, because: a) it's important to keep in touch with you guys b) it's a good way to vent, and c) because no one reads this anyway so I can pretty much just say what I want. Woot!

Recently I had a chance to play Mindjack, which comes out this week. It was fun, and there was cake, which is always good. This is what I wrote. Not an official preview (although it is up on the site) but more of an interesting analysis at the different ways that the game can be played.

And so:

--

Mind control is an alluring concept. It has been the subject of artistic exploration for decades; a partial fulfilment of our inexplicable desire to know what it's like to think and feel like someone else. While science fiction, film, music, and the visual arts have all helped bring to life the countless possibilities and scenarios of our collective imaginations, it's really video games that have allowed us to take control of these ideas and put them into practice in a virtual space. We had a chance to explore the concept further during a recent hands-on session with Square Enix's upcoming title Mindjack at Ubisoft's offices in Sydney.

Mindjack is not the first game that allows players to take over the bodies of non-player characters (NPCs). However, it is the first that tailors its experience around the involvement of other human players, throwing unpredictability and human error into the mix. At its core, this is a third-person shooter with a basic cover mechanic and a sci-fi storyline that revolves around a federal agent and a woman he has been assigned to protect. The game is set 30 years in the future, when governments have mastered the technology of mind hacking, allowing its federal agents to "jump" into the minds of other humans, animals, and smart machines. The interesting thing about Mindjack is that you have a few options regarding the kind of experience you want out of it.

The first option is to play the game as you would any other third-person shooter, with AI-controlled NPCs and without employing the mind-hacking abilities that your two characters have during combat (it is still necessary to use hacking at certain points in the story in order to progress; however, it is not compulsory during combat). So, it is possible to play through the 15-20 hours of gameplay and only use the game's central mechanic when absolutely necessary--if that is what you want.

The second option is to play through the game employing the hacking abilities, but not going online. This means that your character will be able to take control of other NPCs, as well as animals and machines, and you will also have the option of turning defeated enemies into "mindslaves" in the first five seconds after a kill, a move that permanently converts enemies to allies in the game. To turn on the hacking mode in the game, you must press both thumbsticks at the same time; this pauses the gameplay and allows you to scroll through the "host" options using the right trigger. Your host option will include any NPCs that happen to be around, including your partner, various machines such as self-detonating robots which you can control to explode in the middle of a large group of enemies, flying gun turrets, mobile shields, and on some occasions, animals. While we didn't actually get to witness the latter option in our demo, we understand the cool thing about controlling animals is that you can crawl into small spaces, be more agile, and throw your own faeces at enemies if you so wish (not guaranteed). It is also important to note that NPCs will automatically become equipped with a weapon when you jump into their bodies, meaning you can continue the fight from a better vantage point. As it's no doubt clear by now, the whole point of the hacking ability is to allow you to gain the upper hand during combat. A smart player will position their main character under cover, and then hack into various hosts closer to the action (the main character's body becomes AI-controlled once you decide to go wandering off); once an enemy is down, the mindslave option allows you to convert them to your side, thus making it increasingly easier to win a fight.

The third--and in our opinion, the most interesting--option is to play the game online and allow other players to infiltrate your single-player campaign as either enemies or allies. For this, you have two options: play through a level and accept human hackers into your game (up to four human players per game), or go hacking into someone else's game. The most interesting thing about the former option is that while you play through normally, employing the hacking ability, you won't know if the hosts you're hacking into are AI-controlled or human-controlled. This also works for the enemies: when you are employing the latter option and hacking into someone else's game online, you have the option of playing co-op with them, or against them. Of course, human-controlled enemies are a lot tougher to deal with than AI-controlled ones, which is where Mindjack becomes really fascinating. Is that dude who just won't die an AI enemy or some punk 14-year-old kid from Brazil? And is he going to blow your head off if you get any closer? Adding to the confusion is the fact that you cannot, at any stage, let your main characters die--if they are wounded while you're outside their body, you only have a limited amount of time to return and heal them.

With its ability to introduce the element of surprise and tailor its gameplay and difficulty according to individual player's gaming habits, Mindjack promises to be an interesting experience, either online or off. The game is out February 10.

Laura Parker Ornament

This blog is a part of the scavenger hunt.

Share a couple of items on your Christmas wishlist this year.
A new Wii (old one broken!), chocolate, a new iPhone, Woody Allen films and some more chocolate.

What games will you play during the holidays?
Unchartered 2, Halo: Reach, Limbo.

What are the kinds of food or drinks you must have during the holidays?

Cake! Wine! Cake! No, seriously, cake.

ORNAMENT HUNT ANSWER - CLUE 38

The Long-Awaited Update

Okay, so here I am, writing.

You said you wanted to know what I'm doing. Well, to be honest, I'm not doing a lot. But I am doing some stuff, so I guess I should keep going with this entry.

On the topic of video games, I am still making my way (very, very slowly) through Red Dead Redemption. I'm basically wasting time until Halo: Reach comes out. But I really like RDR and I'm having fun just dawdling through it. By now numerous people have ruined the ending for me so it's not like I'm hurrying to finish it to find out what happens. I'm just enjoying the ride.

I saw the first few missions of Halo: Reach at Microsoft's offices this week and I am well and excited to play it. Halo 3: ODST was a big let-down for me - my biggest complaint of that game was that it didn't feel like a Halo game. It just felt, well, like any other FPS. Halo: Reach doesn't score many more points on the personality meter either (mostly due to the lack of MC) but it looks amazing, it's got beautiful, bright outside missions and it's supposedly darker, faster and more serious. I actually don't want it to be more serious, because I know Bungie know about funny. But this is what they wanted to leave us with, and I have to admit it's a good parting gift.

On the topic of films/TV, I'm watching a lot of Mad Men, in-between episodes of Australia's Next Top Model. I don't care if you're screwing up your face in disgust right now -- I like that damn show! I don't know why. It doesn't have a single redeeming quality. It's just pure indulgence for me. Mad Men on the other hand, is a greatly crafted show and I enjoy the slow-building tension and all those seemingly meaningless scenes of Mrs. Draper doing housework.

I saw Inception (twice) and enjoyed it immensely. This led to several hour-long conversations with random people here and there (including my mother) about its themes, its missed potential and the fact that most of the plot holes are filled in with a second viewing.

On the topic of books, I am currently making my way through Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (for the third time) because I have this thing where I have to read Book Six and Book Seven in the series before one of the Harry Potter films comes out - just to refresh my memory.

Before that I read Maupassant's short stories (all about 19th century prostitutes, great value, great prose) and after Harry I will probably read Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket books, on Darryn's recommendation.

Are there any books/films you re-visit every year? Besides Harry Potter, I also watch Star Wars (episodes IV, V, and VI) every year as well as the Indiana Jones triology. I don't do this because I have to; I just find that I feel the need to watch and read these things very often.

On the topic of work, I've just posted a long but very important feature about the upcoming federal election and how each of the major political parties views gaming issues such as classification, tax breaks for the games development industry locally, broadband speeds and the proposed internet filter. If you haven't done so already, please read it. It's important everyone gets behind this and reads up - we need to vote for the right party on August 21. Of course, gaming is not all we care about, but given we're all gamers, it's important.

I also just wrote a Scott Pilgrim vs. The World preview, which you can read here. It was fun to play! Old-school gaming is back.

In terms of reviews, the last game I reviewed was Lego Harry Potter (DS and PSP) AND the next game I'll probably review is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now, I know what you're thinking. BUT I am not a Harry Potter nut. Actually, I am, but not like a crazy nut. I don't have HP bedsheets or anything like that. I just like the games. And the films. And the books. And the cutlery set...

Okay, that's about enough from me.



Halo: Reach Multiplayer

Actually, before I do post about games, films, books and cake (which I will, trust me!) I've got a more pressing matter.

I'm going to be talking to one of the multiplayer producers on Halo: Reach tomorrow so if you guys have any questions you'd like to ask then please post them and I'll try and squeeze them in!

What should I write about?

It's been terribly long between blog entries. I don't know why. I usually like talking a lot of crap about stuff. I guess I've been busy.

But I'm getting back into the creative side of things (with an awesome new feature in the works that I think everyone will like) and a few new projects that will hopefully get some debate happening around the more interesting things happening in games right now.

Meanwhile, I really need to update this blog with something substantial. Suggestions welcome. I'm taking the easy way out. Just for now, mind you.

-Laura

More on R18+

Oops! Clearly I've been too busy to write anything here in a while. Or have I? Yes, I have.

But, as you all know, we are no closer to getting an adult classification for video games than we were the last time I updated this blog, so woot for freedom of speech.

Anywho, we were going to put this up on the site but never got around to it so I thought I'd post it here. It's an opinion piece I wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald in February this year, right before the end of the public consultation. I updated a little to include recent events. The sentiment, as I'm sure you'll agree, is still the same.

Original here.

Bye! Oh and let me know your thoughts. If you want. (Oh and sorry for the lame ending. They like that crap in newspapers).

--

A bitter irony engulfs the Australian Government's stance on video game classification. Australia remains one of the only Western nations without an adult (R18+) classification for video games, meaning those games whose content is deemed unsuitable for those over the age of 15 are refused classification and ultimately banned for sale.

Ignoring international criticism and cries of censorship, the Australian Government remains adamant that the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia will allow extremely violent and sexual material to fall into the hands of children and vulnerable adults. But this is already happening. The lack of an R18+ classification is forcing the Classification Board of Australia to leave classification decisions pertaining to video games with contentious material to the discretion of its board members, rather than the guidelines laid out in the National Classification Scheme, resulting in often inconsistent and unpredictable rating decisions. Video games that should otherwise be rated R18+ are slumped into the MA15+ category, and games that should otherwise be MA15+ are refused classification altogether. The only way out is to introduce an R18+ classification for video games and fall in step with the rest of the world; the only thing standing in the way is public ignorance of the issue.

A federal government public consultation into the R18+ for games issue was first proposed in March 2008 by federal, state, and territory attorneys-general, who finally agreed to ask the public their opinion on the video game classification issue via an open-to-the-public discussion paper. Australia's gaming community sat up and took notice: finally, a chance to have their say. But the discussion paper was delayed twice over the course of almost two years. At the helm of these continual upsets was South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, a fervent opponent of the R18+ classification whose stance is mirrored by a handful of other attorneys-general who wish to remain anonymous. Their collective view was that video games differ to films and other forms of media because of their interactivity, which can have more of an impact on those who consume their content. It's on this point more than any other that Atkinson and his colleagues have so determinedly fought with the Australian gaming community: the community has repeatedly pointed to the fact that no real scientific proof exists to show that the interactivity of video games has a negative effect on those who consume the medium.

While the discussion paper made some effort to outline the arguments for and against the introduction of the R18+ classification for video games, albeit briefly, it failed to point out and explain the biggest misconception spouted forth by the government to date: that an R18+ classification, if introduced, will allow more violent and unsuitable games into Australia and increase the number of children and vulnerable adults exposed to this material. In late 2009 the Sega-published action game Aliens vs Predator was refused classification for its depiction of ". . . human characters being subjected to various types of violence, including explicit decapitation and dismemberment as well as locational damage such as stabbing through the chest, mouth, throat, or eyes", (according to the Classification Board's report). However, following an appeal from Sega to the Classification Review Board, the original ban was overruled and the game was re-classified MA15+, with absolutely no content changed or removed. In a similar vein, some games have been refused classification in recent years for showing positive effects from in-game drug use, while other games have been rated MA15+ for showing exactly the same effects.

This is why R18+ for games is urgently needed: so that video games, like films and other media, can be classified correctly. So that there can be no room for doubt. So that a 15-year-old can't buy a game that contains material only an 18-year-old should see, and so that parents can clearly see the R18+ sticker when shopping with their children.

Five months since the discussion paper's release, the preliminary results have come in: an overwhelming 98 percent of the 60, 000 submissions received by the government were in support of an R18+ classification for video games. But it was revealed last week that the government isn't happy with the submissions received, claiming that too many of them came from "interest groups" such as retailer EB Games and the pro-R18+ group Grow Up Australia. Ideally, it wants people who don't care about the issue to have their say. Why? One can only guess to delay the process even further. Let's face it--video game classification is not at the top of a federal government's list during an election year.

When Atkinson announced his resignation as South Australian attorney-general in March this year, many Australian gamers thought the battle for free speech had been won. Instead, they were met with further resistance from Atkinson's peers, whose views and opinions on the matter are grossly outdated. It may be that Atkinson had a point when he said this issue cannot be decided by a referendum of gamers. It appears the real enemy to defeat here is public ignorance. If ordinary Australians can get behind R18+ for games, voice their opinion and support the abolishment of censorship and the modernisation of Australia's archaic classification laws, we might just beat the high score.

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