Laura’s 2014 Wrap Up

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So, 2014 is without a doubt the year that changed my life. Seriously, a year ago I was a relative nobody in video games. Sure, I was someone with a small devoted fanbase, but I was also someone who had never done paid work for any known name outlet at all. I’d done some paid work for magazines and programmes, but never anything for places anyone actually knew existed haha. I was working a soul sucking day job I hated, trying to make a career as a writer on the side.

Yeah, this year has changed an awful lot for me.

My first paid thing for a big name site

So, January kicked my year off to an amazing start when I got my first paid feature for The Guardian. Funny story behind this actually, I got this not by formally emailing Keith Stuart, but by tweeting some offhand thoughts which he saw and jumped on. He asked if I had an outlet an to email him, I wrote up a pitch and my first article on a known name site was born.

How World of Warcraft Helped me Come out as Transgender

That article was a bit of a crazy springboard for me professionally as for a number of the contacts who were instrumental to my year this article was the first piece of my writing they had seen. Following it being published I got followed on Twitter by a number of people who were really important in the year to come.

Things that came as a direct result of that article? Mainly me briefly appearing on American TV over webcam at 3am UK. That was surreal.

Downsides to that article? All anyone wanted me to write about was being Trans. I had some big name sites ask me to write articles that felt like a real invasion of privacy. I turned down a number of opportunities in the early part of the year to get myself onto the big sites because I wanted to do it on terms I was happy with. I took a fairly long break before pitching any more paid features to convince myself I could get where I wanted to without having to be pigeon holed as that Trans games critic.

The start of my journey to podcast dominance

In February I launched the first of what ended up being several new Podcasts I created during the year, titled The Geek Night In. The idea for the show was to get a bunch of geeky friends together for a ‘drinking in the pub’ style weekly geek culture catch up. I’ve not been as regular as I would have liked with this show but it’s fans are lovely. We also unfortunately lost one of our initial cast members through unfortunate changing circumstances, but we currently have a strong core group of 4 lovely geeky ladies. We’ve also seemingly become a welcoming safe haven for guests who might not feel comfortable on other podcasts, yay for lady formed safe space podcasting 😀

The Indie Haven Podcast kept up it’s weekly posting schedule during 2014, with some of my particular highlights being having Jonathan Blow, Rami Ismail, Lucas Pope, Hilary Goldstein, David Gallant and William Pugh on as guests. We’re now up to 76 episodes of the show, with no plans to stop recording any time soon. We recently crossed 30K downloads of the show, which I thought was pretty cool.

In late May I launched possibly the most professionally rewarding of the podcasts I do, Category: Video Games. C:VG is one of those all too frequent video game news podcasts, but with a slight twist. Each week, me, Patrick Dane and Andre Miller would aim to get the biggest name game critic or podcaster we could get our hands on to join us for an hour of discussion.

Considering we had zero background we somehow managed to get Adam Sessler onto our Pilot episode, before having the audio corrupt beyond recovery. One huge apology and a whole lot of fail-safe measures later we made another attempt and launched the podcast to a surprising amount of success. Some of our most noteworthy guests this year included Jim Sterling, Mitch Dyer, Max Scoville, Ben Kuchera, Jim Rossignol, Carolyn Petit, Arthur Gies, Total Biscuit, Emily Gera, Movie Bob and Alex Shaw. Not bad for three relatively unknowns, just goes to show what happens when you go for the seemingly impossible haha.

On the 1st of July I was very excited to be made a permanent cast member on the Oh No! Video Games! Podcast. I had been a fan of the podcast for a pretty long time before July, guesting on episodes here and there, but my addition to the show as a permanent cast member came a little by surprise. I was listening to an episode a few weeks before and the all male show cast got into a discussion about the fact they disliked the fact they were an all male hosted show and how that effected their perspective on the industry. It was a really interesting open discussion and I decided there was no harm in offering myself as a new cast member. Within a mater of days I had been snatched up by the long running podcast. You can hear my first episode as a permenant member of the cast here: ON!VG!

I also launched two other new podcasts this year, but I’ll get to both of those a bit later in this post for reasons that will become apparent soon.

Game dev stuff

One of the more interesting parts of my year was my journey as a game developer alongside my work as a critic. This year I released three small Indie Games, as well as bringing the demo for a much larger project to show at a public games event.

In January I discussed Why You Are The Reason has a Transgender Protagonist.

In June I wrote a lengthy post about my experiences going from video game critic to video game developer and touching on my experiences showing off the demo for You Are The Reason at London’s Radius Festival – Developer Blog – From Critic to Creator (Developer Laura Kate Dale)

I also Released “Tomorrow” on Itch.io, a depressing game about Trans stuff, Video Game Critic Simulator, my first Unity project in which you mash your keyboard to write a satirical review and You Only Get One, a game I made loosely themed around my step dad. Side note, he saw the game about 9 months after it went on sale and was a real bonding moment for us.

Appearances on other peoples things and times I got mentioned on things by people

I spent 30 mins talking about Hatred on BBC Radio 5 Live recently. That was pretty amazing!

I had the chance to talk at a couple of events during this last year, all of which went really really well.

Early in the year I was part of a wonderful panel event being held at Loading in Soho called the MMM Panel Royale, which had be beside people like Guy Cocker, Mitu Khandaker and Sophia George. In August I spent several days doing talks about Indie Games at NineWorlds in London. I was listed for a panel at Pax that unfortunately never happened due to an ocean getting in my way.

In October I did a talk at London’s VideoBrains event as part of a fantastic group of panelists. ME, Emily Gera, Christos Reid and Phillipa Warr all sat down together to discuss Indie Marketing: How To Promote Your First Game. At the November VB event I did a solo talk titled “WHY THE INTERNET SCARES ME”.

In terms of guesting on other people’s podcasts, this year I was fortunate enough to be invited to guest on episodes of Justice Points, Not a Game Podcast, Fangamer, The Guy Cocker Podcast, Sensible Gaming, Beta Wave Radio, Digital Drift and GameBurst. Wow, what a year!

Also, this year there was a Jimquisition episode about me. My goodness that was surreal haha.

Thanks to the fact I got Jim Sterling to do some VO for You Are The Reason I ended up getting mentioned on the Gamespot Podcast, A number of Dismal Jesters episodes and Jim Sterling Youtube videos, which was really cool as a fan of his work. I also got mentioned during an episode of The Campfire, Quoted in a Polygon article by Ben Kuchera and mentioned in Masako X’s Alcon Review.

I also got interviewed a couple of times during the year, including “Interview: Laura Kate Dale on games, writing, diversity” and “Video Game Critic Simulator Interview”.

More new outlets

So, in the summer this year Kotaku UK was being put together as a UK counterpart to Kotaku and I was informed by a work collegue that Keza who was running the new site had a budget for launch window pitches, particularly those with a UK focus. I pitched her two articles, one on “How an RPG Desecrated My Hometown” and one on “What Grand Theft Auto Could Learn From Orange is The New Black”. She really liked both of the pitches and took them both on, with each of them helping me on my road through the year. I was really touched when I was thanked by Keza in the Kotaku UK GMA Award win acceptance post.

Shortly after this I finally moved out of my parents home and into a flat with my wonderful girlfriend Rebecca Tilley. I had some technical issues for a little while with regards to internet acess but it really allowed me to focus on my writing in a way I had not been able to before.

Shortly after that I got invited to start doing Youtube content for a channel called Family Gamer TV. I got paid to do weekly videos about Indie games and how suitable they were for families with children. It was really fun to start getting my face regularly on camera and was a huge confidence boost.

Following that I got an offer out of the blue to do a couple of days of freelance news writing for Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I really love the RPS audience and the work was really a great part of my year. Hopefully I get some more opportunities to return to the site in the near future.

Going full time freelance

Sooooo, it’s at this point in the year that I took the terrifying leap into full time writing. To make a long story short, I had not enjoyed the job for a very long time and when a series of events all lined up I took the terrifying leap.

I set up a Patreon, which has done surprisingly well and covers my minimum basic living costs. It’s not great, but it’s enough that I can justify the leap.

Kind of hilariously, one of the big driving forces for the Patreon gaining momentum early was Laura’s Gaming Butts, a joke I made on Twitter and was then forced to commit to xD

Jim Sterling and his impact on the end of my year

So, Jim Sterling had followed me on Twitter for a few months before the start of this year and I somehow had managed not to scare him away. I got him to do some VO for the YATR demo, he mentioned me on a load of his stuff and I was even the subject of an episode of the Podquisition. We talked semi regularly on Twitter and I was really excited to think that someone I admired actually liked my work.

Then, out of the blue, I get a message from Jim. He had a couple of months prior started up a Patreon of his own and gone independent which was going really well for him. He contacted me with an offer, would I like to record a trial episode of his new podcast, The Podquisition, with a view to being a permanent host? How could I say no?

Being on the Podquisition has been insanely imporant for me. It brought a huge number of fans my way who really enjoy my work, it gave me a creative outlet to get a bit silly and rude, as well as being a really strong piece of promotion. Suddenly, a lot more people knew who I was.

The final new outlet

So, just before Christmas I found myself as the UK news writer for Destructoid. I tweeted Jonathan Holmes out of the blue to ask about work, he told me to drop him an email and he picked me up then and there to fill the gap while the UK is awake but their American staff are asleep. What a way to end the year!

Links I had no good place for but wanted to share

Songs I did this year – Me and Tilley – On The Internet – Console People

Deep Silver, Sexism and Women

Why I Can’t Stand Jared Leto’s Oscar Win

Titanfall: Ignoring my Commanding Officers

Owning a Childhood: Thoughts on Microsoft Aquiring Mojang

Reviews, Personal Perspective, Buyers Guides and Academic Critique

Three Fourths Home: I Should Call My Parents

Childlike Wonder in the Face of Terror: Over The Garden Wall

Game Of The Year Awards Show – Category: Video Games

I did a preview of Volume at Radius Festival which got a really interesting response from Mike Bithell.

Thank You

So, before I say Thank You to people, be aware that I will without a doubt forget to thank someone instrumental to my year, it always happens, super sorry if that person is you. If that person is you, here’s your thank you… THANK YOU!!!!!!

I to start by giving a huge thanks to Stuart and Shalimar over at MCMBuzz.com. If they had not given me my first oportunity to write for an audience a few years ago I would never have made it here today, as a full time writer. Your mentorship and access to both materials and guests was invaluable. Thank you so much for the time you put into getting me where I am today. Oh, and thanks for not revoking my email address when I left 😛

A huge thank you to Andre and Jose at Indie Haven. I’ve not been as consistent on IH as I would have liked this year and you both helped keep this place afloat through thick and thin. Not only that, but you’re both wonderful amazing friends.

Thank you to every editor who gave me a chance. Thank you to Keith Stuart, Keza MacDonald, Alice O’Connor, Jim Sterling and Jonathan Holmes for giving me the chances that made this year possible.

Thank you to every one of my friends out there. There’s too many of you to mention without leaving someone out, but you know who you are. You’re the people who keep me sane day to day. Thank you all so much.

Thank you to every one of my podcast guests, interviewees and article subjects this year. Thank you for taking a chance and trusting me to handle our work with care.

Thank you to my 142 Patreon backers. I cannot thank you enough, you are the only reason any of this is possible. You’re all my absolute favourite people, thank you for letting me go on this wild ride.

Lastly, thank you to every one of my Twitter followers, fans, readers and listeners. I do this for you, thank you for helping me live the dream. I hope every one of you is still here with me this time next year. You are the best.

Youtube, Let’s Plays and the Video Game Literacy Issue.

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Ed – A big thanks to both @Gshowitt and @Newsmary for a fantastic talk at Videobrains on December 11th that got me thinking about Video Game Literacy. As someone with a non gaming partner who loves Let’s Plays, their talk did a great deal for helping me verbalise myself properly on this topic and where LPs come into providing value for someone in my life who wants to explore games, but died on Goomba 1 of Mario.

Video Games as a medium have undergone a scary number of core mechanical changes over their incredibly short history. In a approximately 40 year history as an industry we’ve seen more changes to not only the way video games are controlled but also the basic understanding required to enjoy the medium than perhaps any other form of media in history.

Books require you to understand the alphabet, a core amount of reading comprehension and the ability to look up the meanings of complex words. That has not changed much in the history of the written word, with vocabulary evolving over numerous generations rather than just a couple of decades. Films require an understanding of framing, scene transitions and the way narratives and dialogue traditionally flow. There are films that break these core conventions, but they break them on the understanding that the core concepts are taught from a young age and that people will understand the changes in relation to the understandable core.

If you watched films, read books or listened to music growing up in the 70’s you may not enjoy a lot of films released today, but you’ll understand how to watch them, with the possible example of understanding how your DVD player operates compared to your old VHS player. You could grow up with any of those media in the 70’s, walk away for 40 years and still understand the language of those media as they have evolved today.

Video games on the other hand are incredibly different now to their inception 40 years ago and their design today is built on the understanding that everyone who wants to play video games has an extensive knowledge of the medium’s evolution.

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So, here’s an example: My mother used to play video games. Rewind back to 1985 and she was more than happy playing Mario. She had a controller with four directional inputs, one button that let her jump and one that let her run. It was a manageable amount of information to jump in with, she could process the number of available inputs and their results quickly, holding that information in her mind and enjoying the experience.

My mother could not get the grip of Super Mario Galaxy when I tried to bring her back into playing video games in 2007. She had taken approximately twenty years away from a form of media and the required language for her to jump in was just far too high a barrier to entry. There’s an assumption that you’ll have played Mario 64 to learn basic camera controls in a 3D space designed to give you time to react very slowly for a very long time until those controls felt natural. The curve of that game took into account how unnatural 3D camera control would feel for people new to it and taught players how to look around at a comfortable pace. Mario Galaxy assumes you know how to control that camera among a whole host of other things and doesn’t pace itself in a way that allows learning those skills naturally.

It’s a long standing problem for me trying to introduce my family, friends and girlfriend to video games. I tried to get my girlfriend to play through Gone Home but she struggled with the camera control and her difficulty with it caused her to become motion sick part way through a story she was invested in. I tried to introduce a non gaming friend to Spec Ops: The Line as critique of military fetishistic attitudes in pop culture, but she didn’t have the core literacy required to play a twin stick shooter despite being excellent at playing Plants VS Zombies.

There are valuable narratives and experiences locked behind a complex set of controls, with the biggest problem being video games no longer assume new people are coming into the fold. An assumption is made that everyone playing games understands how games work and as such they are designed with a difficulty curve that caters only to those who know what is assumed knowledge.

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So, I guess you’re wondering where I’m going with this? Obviously we need to better accommodate new video game players with design that is easily digestible, but can be easily jumped into for core fans of a genre. Still, that’s not what my article today is about. I do not know enough about video game design to claim I can solve the problems inherent in modern video game design, but I can point out a solution to this problem that has been rising in popularity. Video Game Let’s Plays.

Where Video Game Let’s Play videos really succeed in my eyes compared to actual modern video game’s as things to be played is that they strip the mechanical and design language complexity from video games, allowing them to be digested by people who could not otherwise digest the medium. Watching someone play through Gone Home on Youtube not only cuts out the required base literacy required to traverse that world, but also through commentary can teach viewers more about the conventions and language of those genres. I have friends who did not have the level of genre awareness required to play through Dark Souls, but after watching let’s plays of the first game were better equipped to jump in and play Dark Souls 2. They watched someone play the game, they learnt from commentary all of the core skills that series required them to know going in.

The vast majority of my partner’s video game vocabulary comes from watching Game Grumps videos every night before we head to bed. She gets to see little snippets of a variety of games, learn about them without playing them herself, experience the narrative and learn about the skills required to play the games. It’s a safe space free of consequence to explore video games as a medium without having a huge amount of existing knowledge expected of you. You jump right into the experiences, rather than having to fight 30 years of assumed knowledge to get to them.

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That said, watching video games being played online is obviously not a perfect solution for this medium for a number of reasons, the biggest reason I see being the loss of agency that effects a lot of what the experience playing video games has come to be about. Watch a video of someone playing Mass Effect and you lose the ability to make choices, see how they play out and get connected top the character in the way the series is loved for. You can still discuss the choices as they come up, but it’s not the same. Likewise, you can watch someone play The Stanley Parable, but when you’re not the one making choices, exploring and directly being addressed, something is lost in the experience.

TLDR; Video Games need to get far better at keeping new fans in mind as a core tenant of design, LP’s are a great way to experience games if you don’t have those core skills, but something is inherently lost when you don’t have direct agency as a player.

Review: Heinz Peppa Pig Pasta Shapes

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Today I went to my local Tesco Express in search of some tinned spaghetti hoops for lunch. My to my shock I was unable to find a single tin. I stormed up to the manager demanding an explanation and was told that they were unfortunately sold out, but thankfully they did still have Heinz Peppa Pig Pasta Shapes in stock, which I was assured would taste just as good. Cue me trying to decipher the plot of a children’s TV show from the contents of a miniature tin of tomato covered pasta shapes.

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First thoughts, this show appears to be about the massacre of an entire town. All those bodies dumped into a large blood stained hole in the ground, just what I need to start feeling hungry.

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So, character one in this show appears to be some kind of penis bee grinning like The Joker? I’m going to assume Penis Bee is the main character as there were so many of him in my meal. Hopefully our next pasta shape will give his character a little more context.

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Okay, so this is clearly a crown. I guess it’s King Penis Bee then. Not much else to say, sorry I did not give his highness the proper title right away.

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Right, so next up is this guy, Edwin the Evil Elephant Spy. I suspect he’s trying to sneak into the king’s castle during most episodes trying to find out the secrets of the aforementioned penis king. Not today Edwin, you are now safely trapped in my cavernous stomach prison.

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Next up we finally come to what I’m guessing must be Peppa Pig, the true unsung hero of our tale. Remember the bloodbath from the beginning of our review? Peppa was the only survivor of that massacre. He pulled himself from the pile of bodies and returned to defend his king to the bitter end.

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Last up is what I assume must be some kind of rodent. I initially thought mouse, but eventually settled on rat. Reginald Rat is some kind of double crossing informant, the character who ultimately betrays King Penis Bee and sells out his weakness to that bastard elephant.

So, how did it taste? Not bad, pretty good actually. Just a shame so many poor animated characters have to be slaughtered for each tin. The tang of fresh blood did fill that hunger I had been feeling when I initially went to Tesco for pasta so I guess this was a success. Perfect if your kids like meals made from the slaughter of the innocent.

Childlike Wonder in the Face of Terror: Over The Garden Wall

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The idea of holding on for dear life to a sense of childlike wonder and hope in a world that tries to tear you down is a pretty beautiful thing.

Over The Garden Wall is a ten episode long mini-series recently released by Cartoon Network. Each episode is around ten minutes long giving the entire series an approximately movie length 100 minute or so running time. Within those constraints Over The garden Wall tells a brilliantly paced narrative that says a lot about how the current generation of parental aged artists views the world we have left for today’s children.

It’s a simple premise for a story. Wirt, a boy in his early to mid teens, accidentally gets lost in a strange set of woods with his younger brother Greg. Together the pair try to find a way to get home while exploring a set of small set piece stories that all start off welcoming and cheerful, but with subtleties setting the scene that something is not quite right. Things become super sinister, they find a way out of the situation and everything works out okay in the end. That said, everything is a little less okay every time.

Where this story truly becomes interesting is as a character study of childhood innocence and being hopefully optimistic contrasted with early teenage cynicism and fear of the unknown. At it’s most basic level the first three quarters or so of the show are a battle of perspective between Greg’s childhood belief that everything will turn out okay if he trusts those around him and keeps on smiling versus Wirt’s teenage terror at the almost Miyuzaki-esque fantasy world the pair have found themselves in.

Wirt is understandably tense and defensive, he’s responsible for the safety of his brother in a world he can see is full of countless horrors and dangers. From monstrous old women who can control actions with the mere ring of her bell to towns of skeleton men pushing the pair to dig their own graves, he sees the horror of the world he’s in and has to struggle to keep himself together in spite of that.

Greg on the other hand doesn’t seem concerned by the events unfolding around him, perhaps because he’s young enough that the average day to day world still doesn’t really make sense to him. Being young enough that any kind of unknown is the same, he keeps a stiff upper lip and trusts that those around him will pull through and keep him safe in the end. Even when isolated and facing the worst possible odds, he grits his teeth and smiles, optimistic far beyond the point it seems possible to see hope. The world doesn’t make sense to him, but he knows that the people who care about him will keep him safe and as such just doesn’t worry about it.

Over The Garden Wall succeeds at successfully portraying the benefits of both outlooks on life, without talking down to either. It understands that it’s cast and it’s audience have all experienced optimism optimism and cynicism either first hand or second hand in others. The viewer may be a child with a cynical teenage brother, a cynical teen with an annoyingly optimistic little sister or even an adult looking back on themselves at those ages. It never looks down on those changing perspectives, but presents them as perfectly understandable perspectives for different stages of life.

In the end, I feel like this show says a lot about the people who created it. It has been born out of a generation of adults watching children pressured into growing up faster than ever before, a generation of adults mourning the increasingly rapid loss of innocence and naive trust in the world that used to define childhood in western society.

Over The Garden Wall celebrates the idea of holding on for dear life to a sense of childlike wonder and hope in a world that repeatedly tries to tear you down. The way it builds to it’s equally heartwarming and heartbreaking conclusion is beautiful, and reminded me that while fear and cynicism are important tools for self preservation, I need to let a little childlike wonder out every now and then.

Bayonetta – Love the Woman, Hate the Gaze

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Bayonetta, a magical woman who wears hyper sexualised outfits and becomes near naked when using her most powerful attacks. She’s a completely unrealistically proportioned woman, with curves, breasts and a backside that no human could ever achieve. She’s crafted to a very feminized idea of perfection. Oh, and she’s constantly suggestively sucking on a small lollipop. If you’ve not played either of the games in the Bayonetta series you’d be forgiven for assuming that this was another straight forward case of female objectification within video games without any redeeming qualities.

What might surprise you is there’s actually a raging debate on the internet, respectfully carried out between those who feel Bayonetta is a feminist icon for the medium and those who think her games are defined by their pure reproduction of the male gaze. So, time to explain both sides of this debate with an equal level of depth.

Bayonetta the Feminist Icon

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Let’s start with the benefits of Bayonetta’s portrayal. Put simply, she’s an empowering female character because of the confidence with which she chooses to use her body. The provocative manner in which she uses her body is a means of control, a weapon, a challenge to those around her. She’s sexy, but she’s also a badass who knows how to handle her sexuality just as skillfully as any other weapon at her disposal.

The view of Bayonetta as a figure of empowerment comes from the level of agency we attribute to her as a character making decisions, rather than assigning that agency to the largely male creative team behind her. We make the connection that the as a character wants to tease you, to hold back just as much of herself as she wants and to weaponise herself in the manner that she does. We effectively assign her actions to a woman, a woman making her own choices about how to utilize her looks and more power to her for using her femininity as a calculated weapon.

She’s an over the top character in an over the top world. Her sexualisation is the literal source of her strength rather than something used to imply weakness. She’s the example that sexualisation does not have to come at the expense of empowerment. Her sexuality isn’t inherently bad, as she controls it in a way that acts as an internal critique of it’s own use. She is a feminine woman, but one who understands how crazy her world is and allows her sexuality to be as much of an over the top aspect of the world as everything around her.

Bayonetta as Male Gaze Reproduction

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So, why do some people feel Bayonetta and the games she appears in are detrimental to the representation of women in video games? It’s primarily due to the fact that the game’s camera in cutscenes is given agency, it’s treated as the agency of the largely male staff on the game, and it’s treated as a critique free reproduction of the male gaze.

As Bayonetta throws her guns into the air we see the camera pan up her legs, across her crotch and rise to linger on her breasts, before eventually capturing the moment she snatches her weapon from mid air. When she transforms, attacks or walks it’s the same, the camera lingers for extended periods of time.

It screams of a male creative team designing a character to be objectifiable, then using the camera to explore her to their heart’s content.

Bayonetta as a character has no agency, any agency she appears to have is that of her creators. She acts the way she does not to empower herself, but because a creative team infatuated with the idea of objectification had control of her every movement and from what perspective we saw everything she did.

The camera acts as reproduction of the male gaze and without any agency of her own, Bayonetta cannot perform responsible internal critique of the lens through which she is viewed. The camera’s gaze and the creator’s choices are not critiqued knowingly within the media, meaning she is reproduction of the male gaze without transcending that to become an example of positive female portrayals.

So, Which Side Am I On?

I fall somewhere in the middle personally. While I think the camera at times can perpetuate critique-less objectification of Bayonetta as a female character, I ultimately give her as a character agency over her actions. For me, I am able to ignore the creative process that resulted in her creation and look at her as a fictional character written with the internal consistency needed to relate her actions to an actual person. She is designed to be sexualised,but written in such as way that every little nod, every walk and every sentance reinforce a character aware you’re going to try to objectify her. She’s written to know and take advantage of her own objectification, and ultimately I find that aspirational.

I wish I had that kind of confidence when it came to my body. I wish I were as badass as her AND as good looking as her AND as confident as her when it came to who I am and how I am seen by others. She inspires me, and that’s enough for me to praise her representation.

That said, I totally understand if you disagree, the camera can be pretty leery at times.

Want to support my work? I have a Patreon that funds paying my bills while I write about video games. My Patreon can be found at Patreon.com/LauraKBuzz.

The Catharsis of Pokemon Art Academy

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Catharsis – The purification or purgation of negative emotions through art, resulting in renewal and restoration.

I’ve spent the last few weeks playing Pokemon Art Academy, a 3DS game marketed at teaching children art skills through lessons centered around their favourite Pokemon. It’s a game I would never have gone out and purchased for myself but I ended up with a code for a free 3DS game and it was the only game on offer I did not already own. Knowing I had a copy anyway I decided to give it a look and while playing it’s opening levels I experienced some weird and and interesting observations.

The early levels of Pokemon Art Academy are all incredibly simple, and not really lessons in becoming an artist as much as they are lessons in mimicry and detail oriented repetition. Mechanically, they’re all about various degrees of tracing, colouring within the lines, following detailed instructions and working within pre defined boundaries.

The problem is, I stopped enjoying Pokemon Art Academy the second it started requiring me to actually step outside of those closed off boundaries and do some actual art unaided.

Here’s the problem, Pokemon Art Academy for me was a game of catharsis. I’m not an artist by any means, I have enough co-ordination effecting conditions that even my handwriting is fairly illegible. I cannot translate a mental image of a shape from my mind to my hands and replicate what I see in my head. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t like to pretend temporarily. Pokemon Art Academy allowed me to do that.

I was able to lose hours of my time slowly and carefully tracing lines, colouring in painstakingly, focusing on nothing but attaining perfection at my own pace. The world slipped away and I found myself incredibly refreshed. It was the cathartic experience I had been looking for. Something about emulating a skill slowly enough and with enough hand holding to achieve good results allowed me to achieve an important emotional state.

However, once it started giving me only simple geometric shapes to flesh out by myself, my lacking art skills quickly came creeping into visibility. Without a solid set of rules to work using, there was a noticeable drop in the quality of my end results and the satisfaction I got from the experience. To put it simply, I enjoyed spending endless hours carefully tracing and colouring my way to a state of catharsis more than I enjoyed having the game remind me that I suck at art.

I think this is why I love playing Guitar Hero for endless hours, but repeatedly gave up trying to learn to play an actual guitar. There’s a certain wonderful emotional state I enter when emulating perfection at a skill that helps me emotional purge, clear myself out and end up feeling refreshed creatively. I don’t get that emotional state from failure.

I want the escapist fantasy of pretending I can produce things of value, the mental distraction of focusing intently on creation and seeing nothing but good results. As counter Intuitive as it is, I enjoyed the hand holding tutorial in Pokemon Art Academy immensely but cannot stand the actual “game”.

Is that weird?

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72 Hours with Amiibo

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My first 72 hours with LinKBuzz, my Fierce Deity Link Amiibo figure, have been eventful. Three days ago it was useless. Now it’s routinely kicking my ass. But let’s pull back a little for the uninitiated…

What the heck is an Amiibo?

Amiibo figures are basically Nintendo’s answer to Disney Infinity and Skylanders figures. You buy a figure of your favourite Nintendo character, you touch the figure to the reader and the figure does something in your video game. The Link figure above can be used in Mario Kart to unlock a new costume for your character, in Hyrule Warriors to get extra weapons and in Smash Bros. Wii U, he allows me to fight with or against a CPU fighter that levels up the more you fight against it.

So, are they any good?

I was dubious about Amiibo figures right up to launch day, I really did not see the point of them. Sure it’s nice to be able to pick up some cheap-ish official Nintendo figurines that have a uniform design to them, but I was not really sure if I was going to get anything out of their video game functionality. Turns out I was pretty wrong.

I primarily play Smash Bros. as a single player game. I work my way through the challenges, I play through classic mode and I do all the special types of fights in the game. I collect trophies, I practice my skills in things like the Home Run Contest, but most of my time is devoted to the traditional Smash mode. I load up Smash mode, I set up a 1:1 match with a level 9 enemy (the highest available level of computer controlled enemy) and practice fighting against the computer ready for the next time I play against local friends.

The problem is that level 9 CPU characters are a little under my skill range at this point. As someone who has played the series since the early 2000’s, I’m now good enough to beat level 9 enemies without too much difficulty, but not yet up to the level that some of my friends in the competitive scene are up to. I needed something to push me to play Smash Bros better on a regular basis. In steps LinKBuzz.

My Link Amiibo started off as less than useless. At level 1, it would walk toward me and wait to be hit by charged attacks, making no effort to return to the battle when knocked away. Still, it improved round by round.

By level 15 LinKBuzz had cottoned onto the fact I have a preference to heavy smashes and was playing much more defensively. He dodged and blocked with a reasonable degree of speed, requiring me to practice dashing in and performing fast paced attacks more often. By level 30 he had picked up on that too and was getting good at timing smash attacks to hit me just as I committed to a dash and before I had time to cancel my attack pattern.

By level 40 I was struggling to beat him with anything but the characters I considered myself best with.

By level 45 I couldn’t consistently beat him with any of my characters.

By level 50, the level cap, he posed a real challenge for me. In a three stock smash I’m lucky if I get even one stock from him before dying. He’s the high level player I had been looking for to practice with. As someone with minimal local friends and poor internet, he had quickly become the challenge I needed to improve as a player.

At first I did not get the appeal of Amiibo figurines for Smash Bros. on Wii U. Three days later I entirely understand what they offer me as a player. Needless to say, I’ll be picking a couple more of these up down the line.

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