This Week in Games Coverage – LauraKBuzz’s Top Picks

Hello and welcome to This Week in Games Coverage, my new weekly feature funded by Patreon where I collect up some of the best writing, podcasts and videos about video games into one place, making it easier to find interesting articles worth reading. This week we have discussion of Game Of The Year 420 BLAZEIT, problems with review embargos and a look at ethnicity in a AAA franchise. In no particular order, here are the articles I want to draw your attention to this week.

Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos: Assassin’s Creed and the Power of Representationassassins creed freedom cry main

First up this week we have a fantastic article over on Paste Magazine from writer Justin Clark about the history of representation when it comes to black lead characters in the Assassins Creed series. It was a piece that opened my eyes in many ways to the importance of some of the things being done in the series in spite of it’s recent negative press. You can read the full article here.

Why Do People Love to Draw Dicks in Games? An Investigative Report

Hmmm, I wonder why I chose not to put an image with this one 😛

Initially posted back in 2013 and this week reposted on Kotaku’s UK counterpart, this article digs into the kind of people who dedicate their lives to replicating phallic shapes within video games. Build a giant working shlong in Minecraft? Maybe replace the world’s fastest hedgehog with the worlds fastest penis. Who are these creators, why do they create and what value does it provide for our industry? The full investigative report can be found here.

What it’s like to jump into Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire as a Pokemon newbie

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As someone who started playing Pokemon back with Red and Blue, my perspective on the series can sometimes be a little off balance. Things I assume are common sense or natural parts of the formula due to my lengthy history with the series can look very different to outside eyes like those of Danielle Riendeau over at Polygon. It was rather refreshing to look over the series with the eyes of someone who is new to the whole concept and get a fresh look at what does and does not work about this animal collectathon. Read the full piece here.

Grand Theft Auto is dangerous again – Polygon discussing 3rd to 1st Person Games

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Another interesting opinion piece this week on Polygon from Ben Kuchera centres around GTA V’s new 1st person view. This Opinion piece delves into the ways that GTA V starting life as a 3rd person game has impacted it’s transition to 1st person view, and how those aspects help refresh this re-released game. You can read the full article here.

The Jimquisition: The Reviewbisoft Problem

The Jimquisition is always good for a bit of apt critique of the games industry, and this week Jim has his sights set on Ubisoft and their review embargo practices. Simply put, Jim wants people with terrible games to stop hiding reviews from consumers. Video embedded above for this one.

THE HUNT FOR THE HORROR OF AOONI

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Based on a fantastic talk from October’s VideoBrains event in London, this feature breaks down a fascinating RPG Maker horror game and how it paces it’s engagement curve when it comes to puzzle solving versus jump scares. It’s a really interesting look at horror using minimal resources and made me eager to give Aooni a look. You can read the full article here.

MEMES, CONTEXT AND TEEN GIRLS: HOW ‘JUST WARLORD THINGS’ RINGS FALSE

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Companies love to try and be down with the kids. Meme’s are a cool thing the kids are into. Companies try to use Memes and fail spectacularly. It’s the circle of life.

This wonderful blog post by Apple Cider Mage delves into Blizzard, World of Warcraft and the mistakes made when trying to tweet using the #JustWarlordThings hashtag. It’s a great look at why businesses should stop trying to force themselves into meme culture and can be found here.

There’s no way any game is wackier than GAME OF THE YEAR: 420BLAZEIT

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Last up is another post from Polygon that drew my attention to a fascinating satirical game titled GAME OF THE YEAR: 420 BLAZEIT. The game was made as part of a game jam to create FPS games that subvert genre expectations and this satirical experience certainly seems intereresting. You can find out why Polygon had their interest caught by it here.

And there you have it, my reading list for the last seven days of gaming critique. This weekly feature was made possible by the support of my Patreon backers. If you want to throw in $1 per month to help me make writing a viable career, you can do so here.

A Death In Heaven – Doctor Who and Respect for the Deceased

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The following article contains plot spoilers for the recent Doctor Who Season Finale, A Death In Heaven.

I came away from the finale of Peter Capaldi’s first season as The Doctor with a rather large set of mixed emotions. While I loved Capaldi’s performance, Clara’s stint masquerading as The Doctor, every facet of Missy’s performance and the entire ending narrative between our two protagonists as they parted ways, I still came away from the episode unhappy and emotionally drained.

I did not like the way this episode of Doctor Who and it’s preceding first half treated the lives of the current day, real earth, recently deceased within the setting of a pre watershed family program.

To clarify from the start yes, I know Zombies as a concept appear within children’s programming and I do not bat an eye at that. I believe there is a very important set of differences between the average zombie portrayal within media and the way that the dead were here employed as Cybermen. The key differences are the real world present day setting and the specificity used when pinpointing who was being forcibly brought back.

The two part season finale to Doctor Who made me uncomfortable because it is very clear to specify that it is set in present day London on earth. It is very specific in telling audiences that the souls of the cremated suffer and loose their connection to our earth. It very directly tells us that every grave, every crematorium, every morgue and every other place in England where the dead may be is being effected. It goes out of it’s way to say that every recently deceased body in the country where I and my partner live is being held against it’s will, being brought back to life to do unspeakable things. By the end, it acts as if bringing back the non cremated deceased from the dead is not only possible, but not even a big deal. It tells it’s story, but it’s specificity made it impossible for me not to imagine these events were implied to be happening to those I know who have recently deceased.

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Once again some clarification, I know the difference between fiction and reality. I know this is not happening to those I love. The difference however is that while usually media keeps a level of distance between our reality and it’s own with depictions of the dead, either by implying a limited area being affected or a fictional setting. In this Doctor Who finale however, they make a point of saying that “every person who has ever lived” is being effected, that includes those close to my life. That hurts. That was much more difficult for me to watch than most examples of zombie fiction.

You may well disagree with me, and that’s okay. The joy of media critique is every interpretation of the subject material is equally valid. However, this is why I struggled with Doctor Who and it’s depictions of life after death.

Guest Post – Trans Representation in Dragon Age Inquisition

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Today’s article is a guest article by a Cis man about Trans representation in media. I know that might send alarm bells ringing for some of you, but I promise you it’s a well written article that brought a really interesting positive Trans portrayal to my attention. The author J.L. Oakman is a Sussex based writer and gamer, currently studying towards an MA in creative writing. You can follow his writing on his website, www.fortknightstale.com or on Twitter @JLOakman”

So, before I start this article proper, I want to mention I am a cis male and this article is about trans representation in gaming. If you are uncomfortable about that, that’s totally fine. I may not be the best voice for these issues, but this excited me, and I wanted to write about it. If you would rather not read this piece knowing the above, I completely understand.

It’s common knowledge that Bioware games are often at the fore of diversity in triple-A games; though that isn’t a difficult competition in the modern gaming scene. Because of this I went into Dragon Age: Inquisition with certain expectations: I knew I’d be able to romance someone of my gender, or of a different race to my character, I knew I’d be able to play a person of colour, or with giant horns if I really wanted. What I did not expect was to meet a trans character in a triple-A game, even a Bioware one. Imagine my surprise then when the trans character in question turned out to well handled.

Spoilers abound for a couple of characters below, though all of these conversations happen fairly early on in the story.

Iron Bull is one of the companions you meet early on in your career as person-with-a-glowing-hand, and should you accept his offer of service he’ll bring along his mercenary company, Bull’s Chargers.

Bull’s second in command is the strong but insightful Krem, a Tevinter warrior who left his home for a new life. You can talk to Krem whenever you like at your base, and learn facts about his history and his life under Bull. After gaining Bull’s respect, however, he will invite you to drink with him and the Chargers, where you can optionally talk to Krem and learn that he is “passing”: a term used both in the real world and in Dragon Age to refer to someone who is trans, but who is able to generally avoid their status as Trans being noticed unless revealed.

So, why do I love the way Krem is handled? There are a few reasons:

You don’t find out right away that Krem is trans. When you first meet Krem, he doesn’t know you from anyone else; he might respect your accomplishments, but he doesn’t know you as an individual. As you build a rapport with him and his boss, you will share more time with the Chargers and eventually Krem will be willing to discuss this piece of private information in front of you.

You also learn the qunari has a word for those who ‘pass’: Aqun-Athlok, those who are born as one gender, but live as another. Iron Bull then makes me love him so much more: he explains that Aqun-Athlok are treated just the same as anybody else in qunari culture; according to their skill. Being a trans person is simply a detail to the qunari – it doesn’t affect how you are seen or treated.

You have the option of questioning Krem quite a bit on his life decisions and you learn the real reason he left Tevinter. It turns out the culture that loves slave-trading and demon worship also hate trans people and thus he was forced flee if he wanted to be accepted by those around him.

Something I found quite odd is the questions I could have my inquisitor ask him, even in private. I saw a mage only dialogue option appear to ask him if he had considered using magic to alter any physical aspects he might want to change about himself.

I suddenly flashed back to hearing my friends rudely questioned about matters that should be treated as private. I dreaded the response I was about to receive. Then, Krem gives my character a slight look of what I would describe as disappointment, and simply explains that he isn’t interested in any magical intervention, and that’s that.

Next time I talked to Iron Bull, I saw a new option had opened up. I could question Iron Bull about his thoughts on Krem, and specifically what he thought about his ‘passing’.

When questioned, Iron Bull would simply answer “He’s a good solider, and a better second-in-command. I don’t give a nug’s ass that it’s a little harder for him to piss standing up”.

So I decided to hit the option I really didn’t want to, as I had to know what lay beyond. The option was titled “Him being her isn’t an issue?”

It got worse. It was then made pretty clear that the glowy-handed herald knows little of this world, as she asks “You don’t care that he’s a woman?”

Ouch. I knew then that whatever Bull said, I was going to reload my save. It might not affect the game in any way at all, but I wasn’t having my character ask these questions.

The moment my herald asks the question, Bull looks right at her, and he looks pissed. “He’s not a woman. […]Look, I’ve got giant horns and you’ve got those pointy ears, we’re not the best to go around deciding what’s normal.”

I love you, Bull.

So that’s that. A well handled, three dimensional character, who happens to be trans. Awesome.

Oh, also he’s voiced by Jennifer Hale. That isn’t all that significant, I just F*&king love Jennifer Hale.