Fire Emblem: Awakening is easily one of my favorite games of the year so far, from a design perspective. No question. However, after rolling credits I noticed a couple of things which made me raise an eyebrow, and those were already on top of a problem I had with the game even earlier on—essentially, Awakening has quite a bit to say about female characters and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues, while never overtly saying anything at all.
2012 has been an amazing year for games. I had meant to put together a post extolling the virtues of the top candidates for game of the year, but the list kept getting longer and longer, with more and more games that would have been obvious choices for a top-five list in any other year. The task was clearly beyond me. So, I enlisted the talents of Michael Abbott, Brandon Bales, Mattie Brice, Kate Cox, Denis Farr, Brad Gallaway, Brendan Keogh, Justin Keverne, Cameron Kunzelman, Kris Ligman, Eric Swain, and Dan Weissenberger. With my superteam thus assembled, let's look at some of the year's super games.
Used games, gender uncertainty, ignoring player feedback, invigorating cutscenes, Transformers shopping advice, Kirk vs. Picard—All that and much, much, MUCH more on the surprisingly wholesome 69th episode of the GameCritics.com Podcast. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard "Thumb Integrity Means Nothing to Me" Naik, and Tim Spaeth.
Fable III isn't exactly challenging, as far as game play, story, or game design go. And yet, it has challenged me in a most unexpected way. I knew, offhandedly, before I started playing that this was considered a "mature RPG." And yet I was surprised (pleasantly so, but still taken aback for a moment) to find that among the character attributes for nearly every adult NPC in the game, there is a sexual preference qualifier.
During the "Females on Female Characters" panel at PAX East 2011, Susan Arendt argued briefly in support of Tripitaka (Trip), a character from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. This appreciation seemed bizarre to me, so the moment stuck in my mind. Enslaved was a gorgeous game with phenomenal voice acting, decently expressive gameplay, and very bad writing, of which I thought Trip was a prime example.
It's not often that you get to play a part—however small—in the development or marketing of a game. BioWare is giving fans such an opportunity. Illustrating one of the ways social networks are actually useful, BioWare has launched a promotion where fans can vote via Facebook, on the "default female Shepard" that will be used in Mass Effect 3. Fans get to chose from six different looks—actually it's just different faces while the bodies remain the same—and you vote by liking the image that you want to see win.
At first, I held off writing this article because everyone was too busy talking about how Final Fantasy XIII is a terrible game, then it was because the game was "too old" to talk about. Fortunately, the recent release of Metroid: Other M has reignited conversation about the portrayal of women in games, and given me the perfect opportunity to get this article out of my mind and off of my back. This article does contain major spoilers.
We have a new writer in town, a self-proclaimed feminist by the name of Alex Raymond, who at the time of writing has graced our site with three op-eds on the representation of women in video games. While I think issues of gender representation in video games are a perfectly valid and worthwhile topic, I'm consistently finding Alex's articles to be misguided and occasionally misinformed attempts to promote dubious and unscientific ideals about female equality. But it's her attack on the creative freedom of game developers that I find most worrisome.
Overall, Mass Effect took huge steps forward for inclusiveness in games. Its racial diversity is unlike any I have seen in a game: nearly all of the major and minor human NPCs are people of color, and none of them are stereotypes. In another impressive step, not only is there an important character—the Normandy's pilot, Joker—who happens to be disabled, but a conversation with him reveals the many different layers of ableism he has experienced throughout his life. Unfortunately, the game stumbles when it comes to gender inclusiveness.
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