Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Some Thoughts on Feminism

I've noticed lately that I've written quite a lot about feminism in the past few months, kind of like how in my first few months I talked about gun control a lot. It's a bit odd too, because I wouldn't have necessarily considered myself a feminist. I mean, I support women's rights and equality, but just what that means to a more vocal feminist often leaves me confuzzled. However, I've been mulling over a few feminist subjects recently and figured I'd work them into one giant feminist theory extravaganza. I'm not promising that all of these thoughts will be positive, but I believe they are fair at the very least.

Let's smash it, together!

Okay, first of all, this whole line of thought stemmed from this article about rape culture. Women's rights campaigners have really been pushing the notion of rape culture recently, but I'm not so sure that they're doing a great job of conveying to the general public exactly what they mean by it (I have a similar critique about the public expression of many women's rights issues, it's like they expect us to agree with them without explaining their positions). But anyway, I agree with the article overall, but when I was thinking about it afterwards, I came to the realization that feminists have appropriated rape. What I mean by that is that rape is a major issue and overwhelmingly occurs to women, but in order to push rape culture, feminists have turned rape into a women's problem. Yeah, that shouldn't be all that revelatory - really, it's rather obvious, but the realization of it is almost ironic. Feminists want to eliminate rape (and, well, let's be honest, every decent human being wants to eliminate it), but in order to do so they have to take it on first.

That said, trivializing rape against men is a byproduct of such a move. Yes, men are raped far less than women, so it's fair enough, but it occurs just the same. I also wonder if other forms of sexual violence are also taken into account here, because when someone says "molestation", I think "little choir boys" rather than women. Perhaps that's why the focus is just on rape though - it is overwhelmingly a women's issue.

Oh, and I just want to comment on this passage from the article quickly:

"Most women and girls who travel abroad, who take public transportation, or walk to a dimly lit parking lot at night experience that "what if" panicky moment. Women reading this know what I'm talking about. Men, in general, do not. And knowing that most men don't rape, and that most women will never be victims of rape, is not enough to erase that fear. Because it's real, and it's the legacy of a culture where rape (and rape denial) exist in too high numbers."

I'm not going to trivialize that, because I really don't understand that sort of daily existence (well, unless I was in prison anyway), but I do have a bit of an analogue. If I walk through city streets late at night, I'm not afraid of getting raped... I'm afraid of getting jumped and robbed and/or stabbed. Sure, I'm not getting jumped, robbed, stabbed and then raped, so it's not exactly as "bad", but even men don't exactly walk the streets 100% securely. I attribute that to the media creating a state of fear, especially since crime rates have been dropping for decades, so such fears should really be unfounded.

...sigh. *Facepalm*

Anyway, next topic. This one has really been confounding me, so if you want to offer some perspective then please leave a comment below. The topic boils down to this question: is objectification inherently wrong, or is it only wrong when it happens to women? I really wonder about this one because a good deal of my posts on feminism have been dealing with my irritation at the objectification of women, whether because they are reduced to plot points or because they're considered nothing more than a walking pair of T&A. However, I've been noticing a rising trend in films in the last few years of men becoming objectified, with nary an outcry. It's a bit confusing, and it's what has made me mull over this question. Is objectification the bad thing, or is it that the target of the objectification is women? Is there an acceptable level of objectification? Is objectification of men acceptable because it is counter-cultural? If we're truly looking for equality for genders, shouldn't the goal be no objectification for either (or are we settling on equal amounts of objectification then)?


The most obvious example of this in action is the wolf pack from the Twilight movies. They basically only exist to be oogled at and give audience members lady-boners. Hell, the guy on the left is barely even wearing those pants. Even Jakob isn't much of a character, being about as well-defined as a brick wall. In fact, being prone to fits of rage and violence makes him sort of sexist against men for that matter. Of course, Jakob's the most egregious example I can think of, but what about Thor in The Dark World or Finnick in Catching Fire? Both appear in their respective films in really pointless topless scenes which clearly only exist to provide female audiences with some fan service. Their characters complicate things a little bit though, because while they're briefly objectified, they are actually given pretty good characterization in spite of that. Is that the key right there - is objectification not as big a deal if it doesn't define and overwhelm the character? It should also be noted that these characters may have gotten characterization simply because they were men, whereas objectified women simply aren't allowed out of the background (such as in any Michael Bay movie ever). It's a bit of a puzzle and I'm still not sure where I stand on it.

"Hey look! Someone doesn't understand how feminism works!"

Finally, I've been wondering lately whether feminists can be insensitive to cultural differences. For example, I reacted pretty much the same way as the rest of the internet when Quiet from MGS5 was revealed. However, having taken a step back since the reveal, I'm beginning to wonder just how different North American and Japanese culture is. Quiet is obviously designed from a Japanese perspective, and from my understanding, sexualization isn't equated so much to objectification there as it is here. Perhaps there is something more to her outfit than mere titillation? Kojima seems to suggest that this is the case, although we'll see when The Phantom Pain is released. Similarly, the Dead or Alive series of game have a reputation as nothing more than softcore porn, but their creators insist that they don't intend it to be that way. Looking at some of the character models, I have a hard time believing that, but could it be that they see things much more differently than us? I mean sure, it's possible that they're lying through their teeth, or are just ignorant of how sexist they really are, but I think there's at least a certain level of cultural difference clashing here.

Anyway, hopefully you found this article at least a little enlightening. If you want to say anything, please leave a comment below!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My Thoughts on the State of Battlefield 4...

If you follow video game news, you might have heard that Battlefield 4 is a broken piece of shit which has essentially tarnished the reputation of one of the biggest franchises in gaming. In spite of that, I've logged about 150 hours into the game and have been playing from launch to now (and will continue playing into the future for that matter). I've been meaning to write a BF4 guide for quite a while now, but the issues with the game made me postpone that for a long time because I couldn't be sure how much it was going to change things. However, I think the time has finally come where I can start talking about the game properly, and address some of the claims about it.


First of all, I played the BF4 beta on PS3, and despite being a tad buggy, it controlled fairly well and was a lot of fun (although the draw distance bug on the rooftop of the C flag was pretty egregiously broken). All-in-all, the game seemed to be a clear improvement on the foundation of BF3. At the initial launch, I played BF4 on PS3 for about 2 weeks waiting for the PS4 version to release... and it was buggy as shit at launch. The game would freeze up pretty frequently and I ended up in one server where you couldn't even kill anyone. Oh, and Defuse mode, the game's take on a Search & Destroy mode, was absolutely broken. Seriously, there were so many bugs just in that mode that it was insane - players would spawn but couldn't control their characters, the killcam would randomly appear when you were still alive, the bomb carrier would randomly appear on the enemy team's radar (LOL), etc. Things were worse on PC, where the game would crash frequently and wouldn't even play on many systems. In spite of that, I figured this had something to do with a combination of the PS3 hardware and the launch period - the game clearly wasn't built for last-gen hardware, so they weren't going to give it as much attention as they were the next gen versions. On top of that, I remember BF3's launch being very rough as well, freezing very frequently until about 3 months in, when a large patch took care of most of the issues (although Seine Crossing in Rush was still notoriously freeze-prone and never got fixed).


Anyway, come the PS4 launch, the game was in even worse state. For the first day or two, PSN servers crashed and so you couldn't even play the game online, forcing me to play through the godawful single player campaign... twice. Yes, I got the notorious single-player-game-deletion glitch about 4 hours in. And for some reason, my copy of the game seemed to think someone who had English (UK) as their language meant that they wanted to play the game in Spanish (oddly enough, it was fixed when I changed my language to English [US]). Things actually got worse when PSN got back up because Conquest mode, the main attraction in the series, was broken to the point where DICE had to remove it from the game for weeks. This was especially egregious because my favourite mode in Battlefield games, Rush, was poorly supported by the maps in BF4 - very few of them are fun to play Rush on, whereas every map in BF3 was a viable Rush level. On top of all this, the game still crashed quite frequently. Simply put, it was a bit of a mess, but when it worked, it was a lot of fun.

As time went on, the game kept getting patched and issues started to go away. I can't really speak for the PC version, which sounds like it had the biggest performance issues, but the PS4 version hasn't crashed for me since perhaps mid-December, and the game got way more enjoyable when Conquest was reinstated. I also managed to complete the single player campaign without losing my save game again*, so that was nice too. However, for each patch, it would seem that something else would end up getting broken - there have been a few separate patches which have rendered the game damn-near unplayable for me due to horrendous lag and rubber-banding issues, although these have usually been patched yet again within a week. The China Rising DLC added more issues as well at launch, but I didn't really like it all that much anyway so I can't really remember everything that was wrong with it. There was also a notorious glitch which was only patched a couple weeks ago, wherein every loading screen a game of Russian roulette - basically, after the load screen for a map completed, a final loading indicator flashes for a second and then you enter the match. However, with the bug, the loading indicator would flash indefinitely, forcing you to return to the home screen and reload the game. That particular glitch was so bad that I'd estimate you had a 1/3, or maybe even 1/2, chance of encountering it the first time you tried to load a map.


That said, significant progress has been made. The game is pretty much playable now, with nearly every major issue now patched (including some stuff which we didn't expect, such as significantly lowering the time it takes to spawn in and making DMRs better... however, the kill cam is totally broken for some reason). The DLC has also improved since China Rising, with Second Assault being fantastic fun (and bringing back 4 awesome Rush maps in the process). Naval Strike also looks to shake things up and make me happier to have bought a Premium pass at launch. The only real issue right now is that the netcode is probably worse than it was at launch - players seem to lag behind the action by about half a second (I actually spotted a guy before he even showed up on my screen the other day), which is pretty fatal in a fast-paced FPS. DICE is promising to patch this soon, so I hope that they can at least get it to the level that BF3 was at (although even then, BF3's netcode wasn't exactly great - if you didn't die around a corner a half dozen times per match, then you could consider yourself lucky).

All-in-all, BF4 is still a bit of a mess at times, but it is fun in spite of all of its issues. I wish that the game had worked out of the gate, but I don't regret buying the game (or Premium for that matter). I am pretty annoyed at EA though for forcing the game out of the gate when it was in such a poor state. I wish that game producers would learn to put quality ahead of release dates - Ubisoft seems to understand this, hence why they pushed Watch Dogs back instead of releasing an unpolished game that would just disappoint everyone. Worse still, I fear that EA might try to annualize the Battlefield brand, putting out a new game every year in order to compete with Call of Duty. Please, please do not do this EA - Battlefield: Bad Company 2 won you fans, such as myself, because it was so much more refined than Call of Duty had been for years. Give us another year to enjoy BF4 now that it's working half decently, and we might even forget this whole launch fiasco ever happened...

Oh, and make the P90 available for the Assault class again. Who the hell wants to run a PDW on the Engineer class anyway?!

*The single player campaign is absolutely horrendous. It's only about 5 hours long, maybe, and features absolutely no logic. Stuff just happens as you listen to infuriatingly annoying characters banter and then mow down useless mooks one by one. I would never even touch it if I didn't need to beat it to unlock the P90 and M249...

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Quick Fix: International Women's Day Fails

I've been labouring for quite a while on what to write this particular blog post on. I had pretty much no inspiration, aside from lots of little developments which could make for a half-decent (if scatter-shot) quick fix. However, Saturday just dropped a topic into my lap like a hilarious gift from the heavens. In case you didn't see the Google doodle, it was International Women's Day, and the fails were (expectedly) abundant on my Facebook feed.

Anyway, first off was Blood Bowl's post. As a bit of background, Blood Bowl's a bit of an odd tabletop football spinoff of Warhammer Fantasy. It has also had a couple PC games, a new one which is coming out sometime soon. I'm actually looking forward to the game, but my enthusiasm was tempered a little bit when they posted this picture as a celebration of International Women's Day:


"Today is March 8th! Be wary when on the Blood Bowl pitch, as the Amazons are fiercer than ever on this precise day! Happy Women’s Day!" - Actual caption

That... uh... wow. Predictably, pretty much every comment on the photo was very angry at the insensitive nature of the post - after all, the picture represents an objectified male fantasy of a woman. On any other day I doubt anyone would have batted an eye at it, but trying to tie this into a celebration of women and women's liberation was just stupid... that said, I'm still gonna buy the game probably. When I reposted it though, the first commenter said something particularly dumb: "Honestly, it's lest sexist than another 'get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich' joke"... well no shit, but that doesn't mean it gets a free pass either.

However, the Blood Bowl team has supreme tact compared to the official Morph Suits' photo celebrating Women's Day:


Literally, they posted this photo with the caption "Happy International Women's Day". This one doesn't even bother to hide the fact that it's sexist... in fact, I find it hard to believe that is isn't an intentional middle finger to the concept since it's brazenly putting the girl's breasts on front-and-center. Would you have even noticed there was a morph suit in the picture? Probably not (although maybe that says more about the male brain than anything). Anyway, on behalf of men who aren't total douchebags, I apologize for how stupid many of us were on March 8th... sorry!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Video Game Review: Gravity Rush

It's no secret that I'm a big PlayStation fanboy - I've owned every PS console and handheld and loved them. However, even then I wasn't really planning on jumping on the PS Vita. For one thing, when it was released it was obscenely overpriced, and the proprietary memory cards were even worse. Then there's the typical memes on the system that you can see plastered across the Internet which display the common knowledge about the system...



Well I want to do a bit of mythbusting before we hop into the meat of this article. I bought a Vita on a bit of a whim after the price drop a few months ago. However, I wasn't getting a ton of use out of it until I got my PS4 and PS+ subscription, at which point my eyes were opened to the awesomeness. PS+ carries across all PS devices, and so suddenly I had access to a ton of free games. Seriously, whoever said that PS Vita has no games has clearly never played one - I've been spoiled with Gravity RushUncharted: Golden Abyss, Hotline Miami, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, Guacamelee! and Kick Beat - all of which I got for free or heavily discounted thanks to PS+. Then there's the games I happily paid full price for, including Ninja Gaiden Sigma +, Ninja Gaden Sigma + 2, DOA5+, MGS3 and Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny (oh, did I mention it plays PSP and PS1 downloadable games too?). That's not mentioning the games I want to play soon enough, like Killzone: Mercenary and Borderlands 2, but am too swamped with games to justify the purchase quite yet. Plus you can remote play PS3 and PS4 games, such as Battlefield 4, via the Vita. Bottom-line: PS Vita has an excellent games library, and people need to wake up to this fact.

Is it probably still better to get a 3DS? Yes, probably, if you want only one handheld. However, you can't really go wrong with a PS Vita, it's still a great little handheld with a ton of potential still in store (such as the epic-sounding PlayStation Now cloud streaming service).

Anyway, with that out of the way, onto the real purpose of this article - Gravity Rush. I had heard that this was the best game in the Vita's launch lineup, but I wasn't entirely sold on it until I played the incredibly fun demo. As soon as I got PS+, I downloaded the game (which I got for free, remember) and booted it up. I finally finished it a couple weeks ago and knew I needed to write a review as soon as the credits began to roll.


Gravity Rush is an open-world adventure game about a mysterious girl named Kat who is befriended by a celestial cat she names Dusty. Dusty gives Kat the ability to "gravity shift", allowing for them to reorient the direction of their personal gravity. This gives Kat a plethora of abilities, from being able to float, fly, launch objects, set up a high-speed kick, walk on walls/ceilings, etc. Gravity shifting is a fantastic central mechanic and is an absolute joy to perform. It's a little difficult to control at first, but quickly you'll build up your skills and be soaring and aligning yourself with total precision. I got about 12 hours out of the campaign and didn't grow tired of shifting once, which is quite a feat - I loved the Assassin's Creed franchise, but ended up ditching it because of how irritating and repetitive free running a city for 5-10 minutes just to get to the next objective would get.

The story was also surprisingly engaging. It's told in a rather silly and whimsical manner, with all sorts of random stuff just showing up out of nowhere, but it manages to stay engaging and fairly coherent. Kat was also a fun, light-hearted protagonist, which is refreshing compared to the dour, self-serious heroes we have to put up with these days. Her asides provide quite a bit of humour to the proceedings. The game also features quite a diverse female cast, a rarity within the games industry (especially since they aren't extremely sexualized either). In addition to Kat, the game also features Raven (another gravity shifter who is notably more dark than Kat), Cyanea (a "creator") and Yunica (a hardboiled soldier who is second in command of the army). Considering that many games don't have female characters outside of minor supporting roles, this has to be commended. That said, Kat and Raven aren't exactly feminist icons - both are somewhat sexualized (especially Kat in a fanservice DLC costume, a mission where she's hunting for a boyfriend and a couple very random shower scenes), although it's not to a particularly untasteful level at least. Outside of those shower scenes, I didn't really feel like the game was ever objectifying the characters, their garb was just the norm of the shifters.


Beyond the story and gameplay, the graphics are just gorgeous for a handheld, and a launch title at that. The game has a distinct cel-shaded look with fairly sprawling and detailed city-scapes, featuring plenty of citizens milling about. It'll seriously make you reconsider what is possible on a handheld system. On the negative side though, the draw distance isn't as good as it probably needs to be and the cities are lacking in stuff to do outside of explore and complete a few side missions, but at least shifting to find gems is fun in itself.

The only major fumble is that combat can get pretty irritating. The enemies, called Nevi, all feature requisite glowing weak points and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They're not too bad usually, unless you have to "gravity kick" them mid-air. This involves shifting and then launching a kick at them, which makes Kat shoot towards them for a monumental kick. Unfortunately, Kat has a limited lock-on to the target and it's too easy to overshoot them. In some of the later fights, I was having to line up 4 or 5 gravity kicks just to hit the target, which got especially annoying when I would have to cancel my kicks to dodge projectiles. However, this was hardly game-breaking.

I was also annoyed by the tacked-on "gravity sliding" sections. A lot of PS Vita games have annoying features to taut the system's touch screens and tilt functionality. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a particularly egregious offender in this regard, but Gravity Rush is usually pretty good at incorporating swipes for dodging, turning pages in cutscenes and tilting the camera. However, the gravity sliding sequences were just way too imprecise as you tried to tilt the camera so Kat wouldn't run into anything. Luckily, gravity sliding is largely confined to side missions and isn't a major requirement to complete the game, but it was definitely a cause of frustration.

Also worth noting is that the ending of the game isn't particularly satisfying. The game ends with a lot of loose ends still hanging, which is clearly just done because Sony sees the game as a potential franchise. Luckily, Gravity Rush 2 was recently announced, so hopefully it will give us more answers and improve on the combat.


So what did I think of Gravity Rush? I thought it was slightly flawed, but very charming and it kept me engaged for many an hour. I can't wait to step into Kat's shoes again for the sequel, and will be sure to buy it as soon as it comes out. If you have been thinking about getting a PS Vita and are looking for a good game for it, or you have a Vita already and haven't experienced the game yet, I heartily recommend Gravity Rush.

8/10