IC2S Playlist Update 25/11/2015

First up this week we have “Kashmir” by Led Zepplin from their album Physical Graffiti. I know that you know this song. Everyone knows this song. It’s just so damn good and the usage of middle-eastern-style sounds was just inspired… and there’s not much more I can say than that. I didn’t intend for this entry to be so lazy, but it’s occurring to me while I’m writing this that there really isn’t much that I can add to the conversation on Led Zepplin or “Kashmir” which hasn’t already been said. As a result, I will say “enjoy!” and move on to the next entry.

Secondly we have “Long Live the Party” by Andrew W.K., from his album The Wolf. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been really getting into this album and have been listening to it almost every day. As much as I like I Get Wet, The Wolf is just a more interesting album in almost every department. The songs do skew towards Andrew W.K.’s reputation as the “god of the party”, but there are also some which show his current status as a “positivity activist” of sorts, such as “Never Let Down”, “The End of Our Lives” or “I Love Music”. Apparently telling stories about positivity is what his whole radio show on The Blaze is about which, considering the rest of The Blaze’s raw sewage output, is rather strange and just baffles me on how Andrew W.K. managed to secure it.

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Circular Logic (aka, Let’s Blame the Feminists for Gaming Sexism)

So recently my morning started off in fantastic fashion as one of my friends on Facebook shared a forum post by Merlynn132 which blamed feminists for the issues with female representation in video games (click on the picture for the full-sized image):

Now admittedly, I actually found this guy’s points to be quite interesting at first glance and there may actually be some kernels of wisdom in here. However, the more I thought about the points that he was actually making, the more I realized that his argument is fundamentally flawed and falls apart under just a little scrutiny. So you know what time it is then, good reader: it’s time for yet another I Choose to Stand feminism post!

One big disclaimer before we move on though. I get the distinct feeling that Merlyn132 is directing some of these criticism specifically towards Anita Sarkeesian, but unfortunately its context has been removed to make it “shareable”. Admittedly, I haven’t looked into Sarkeesian’s criticisms myself, although I have found some of her examples to be at least somewhat suspect. If this post is intended to be a direct response to specific criticisms that Sarkeesian has made, then that’s fair enough (I would still disagree with its ultimate conclusion, but I could at least get behind some of its points). However, the tone and body of the post is written in such a way that it ends up being directed at feminism in general, which makes it fair game for a general response as far as I’m concerned. The lack of overall context for the post is unfortunate, so be sure to keep that in mind as the reality of the original post may somehow be shifted if we could see the whole conversation it was a part of.

As usual with this kind of criticism, Merlynn132’s first problem seems to be a lack of understanding of what feminists are actually campaigning for. His critique opens up with a statement that female characters aren’t allowed to have negative traits or feminists will cry out “sexism”. This could actually be the case with Sarkeesian based on some of the examples that I have heard her use for Feminist Frequency, but even that could be a misunderstanding of her intent when using these examples. As I have written previously, these examples are likely not intended to be blanket moratoriums, but rather ways to make writers make more deliberate choices when they write characters and to avoid lazy stereotypes (such as objectification, sexual violence for shock value or the desire to “fridge” a female character to give the male lead a motivation). An example of this in action would be the Tomb Raider games. Critics (not just including feminists) complained for a long time about how ridiculous Lara Croft’s boobs were, for good reason. However, they also praised Lara Croft for being a great character, in spite of the game constantly sexualizing her. Consequently, when Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider series, their much more realistically-proportioned Lara Croft was praised as she was still a very interesting character with a much less garish visual design to go along with it. Despite what Merlynn132 would suggest, this actually earned Crystal Dynamics two separate purchases of the game from me (not to mention that I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the Xbox One’s exclusivity deal on Rise of the Tomb Raider, whereas before I wouldn’t have even looked twice at a Tomb Raider game). All of this is comes down to Crystal Dynamics deciding to listen to their critics and making a better product for it.

Let’s tackle Merlynn132’s assertion directly though, that women can’t have a negative trait or it will be deemed sexism. Merlynn132’s own examples are less-interested in physical traits and more in reference to their character, so we’ll leave objectification out of this. I’ll address his second example first because it is just flat out wrong. He claims that women aren’t allowed to be mentally unhinged as they walk across a hellish battlefield, but this is just not true. Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot is made far more interesting as she feels remorse as she is forced to kill for the first time (although the gameplay-narrative dissonance in this aspect is annoying admittedly). I also just replayed Metal Gear Solid for my upcoming retrospective series, and found Meryl Silverburgh’s admission that killing for the first time made her not want to be a soldier anymore to be a fantastic character moment. If anything, I find it offensive that more men aren’t given this sort of treatment, as most big shooters just force you to stupidly mow down hundreds of enemies like a psychopath (with the Uncharted series being one of the most egregious offenders in this regard).

The first example that Merlynn132 gives is that men are allowed to be lecherous drunks, but women are not, because “sexism”. “Sexualizing women and what all” as he puts it. This is an example that I can actually see possibly happening, but the context of the character is probably the most important part in whether it will be accepted or not. Does her character start and stop at “lecherous drunk”, or does she have some actual depth? Are they a main character? Or are they background dressing that exists just to give the player something to ogle at? Such considerations make all the difference in this sort of situation, as there is no quick-and-easy answer. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s a contextual difference as well, since men are rarely sexualized in video games whereas women are quite frequently. Since it’s so prevalent for women to be reduced to sex objects, it can come across as very lazy if you put in a lecherous drunk background character unless you’re being very deliberate when doing so. Think of it this way: if I made a white character who loves watermelon and picks cotton, it would be fine. However, if that character was instead black, it would obviously be ridiculously offensive. This is because meanings change based on the contexts that they are placed within, so you have to be aware when you’re falling into a stereotype and, if you are aware, you have to have good reason for doing so.

Merlynn132’s third example revolves around a theoretical situation where Guybrush Threepwood is replaced with a female protagonist in Escape From Monkey Island. He is convinced that “Galwood” would never be allowed because she would be a cowardly, weak and socially awkward character hated by everyone around her. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that this would cause a feminist uproar or even be considered sexist for that matter (depending on how the game handles these elements in a female context, as I said before). For one thing, this sort of character actually sounds rather interesting and would fit into the very different sort of characterization which feminist critics have been asking for for ages. I can’t be the only one who thinks that this description fits Amanda Ripley, the extremely well-received heroine of Alien: Isolation, right? Ripley is a strong, positive female character, not because she is a Markus Fenix-style meathead, but rather because she is absolutely terrified, avoids confrontation as much as possible and just tries to stay alive by being resourceful.

Secondly, Escape From Monkey Island was just a poor example for Merlynn132 to use for this argument. The main thrust of Merlynn132’s overall argument is that feminists are actually being sexist, and by being sexist they are making female-led games economically unviable. Using the Monkey Island games to support this idea is very strange to me as they are hardly a mega-selling franchise. In fact, the Monkey Island games have far more in common with the modern day indie-game scene where female-led games are far more common and interesting than in the AAA blockbuster space. I can’t even remember the last time that we had a proper adventure game, although Quantic Dream and Telltale-style narrative adventures seem to be the closest analogue… and what do you know, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Beyond: Two Souls and Until Dawn all tend to have pretty solid, flawed and interesting female characters without causing a feminist uproar.

The third, and probably most ridiculous, aspect of the argument is in regards to Merlynn132’s conclusion. Basically, they believe that feminists force female characters into a very specific mold, which makes female characters boring, which doesn’t sell, which is why we don’t have female characters leading our games. This is just so obviously bullshit that I shouldn’t really have to explain why… but will, naturally. The games market would be boring if there were more female-led games? Seriously? The market has ALWAYS been dominated by male characters, many of whom are the exact same macho-fantasy repackaged over and over again (Contra, every Call of Duty ever, Gears of War, Booker in Bioshock Infinite as the generic/requisite action game hero, etc). Despite featuring the same stereotypical leads over and over again, they still continue to sell and are often some of the highest-selling games of the year. It’s not feminists’ fault that female-led games are in the minority, it’s because publishers believe that their teenage male target demographic won’t play unless they offer them a male fantasy.

Just to look into this claim a little further, I decided to check the list of best selling video games of all time. I was actually surprised to discover that most of these games feature no distinct characters at all, either being 100% gameplay-based (Tetris) or 100% player determinant (Minecraft). Only three franchises dominate the list. Mario has the most entries, with 8 games selling over 15 million copies each. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that Mario has a personality that is anything other than boring, not to mention that the franchise formulas of his various franchises have been nearly the exact same for well over 20 years now. Call of Duty comes in second with 7 games selling over 15 million copies. The franchise is notorious for featuring paper-thin characters, iterating very lightly from game-to-game and for its macho-fantasy, male-dominated plots. While I, along with many others, would definitely argue that this franchise has gotten extremely tired in the last few years, the fact that the series still continues to sell is proof enough to me that the claim that “boring” female characters are the reason why they don’t get any representation is bullshit. The third highest-selling franchise is Grand Theft Auto with 5 games, and it’s a bit of an oddity since these games actually are known for their interesting characters and writing. However, I have a strong feeling that this is not the main reason why these games have had so much success, but rather that their core gameplay is extremely appealing. If this is truly the case, then the picture that these three franchises and the characterless mega-sellers paints for me is that characters are not a major factor in determining the success of a game, but rather fun gameplay. As a result, whether or not a “feminist conspiracy” caused female characters to end up being a bunch of bland copies, it shouldn’t matter because we already have a bunch of bland male copies running around and raking in the cash. Of course, if the actual argument being made is that “real gamers” don’t want to buy games with female protagonists, then at least be honest…

As I said in the opening paragraphs, I don’t really know the exact circumstances that prompted Merlynn132’s original post, but I kind of wish that I could understand where his perspective is drawn from. Is he directly responding to arguments made my Sarkeesian? As I have hopefully shown, his arguments will still end up being incorrect in the end, but if Sarkeesian’s arguments are just as flawed then that might make a difference in the way that this is all handled. Or perhaps Merlynn132 just misunderstands the whole point of feminism, having equated feminism with the opinions of its more extreme or unlearned factions, or worse, with the gigantic strawman feminist which is so often evoked in these sorts of rebuttals. In all honesty though, I’m glad that I came across this post. While I think that the overall argument is extremely flawed, it is quite interesting and is a good reminder that feminists could actually hurt their own cause sometimes with their critiques. I hope that Merlynn132 is open to this sort of critique, as I think that both sides in this debate could learn things from one another and hopefully come to a point where we can understand one another.

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IC2S Playlist Update 18/11/2015

If you’ve been reading the blog for a long time (hi Matt!), then you might find it sort of conspicuous that I haven’t written anything on the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday. The simple truth is that I have tried on a couple occasions, but everything I’ve come up with just feels hollow in the face of the enormity of that evil. It also doesn’t help that the story has still been unfolding and, while we seem to have a decent grasp on what happened now, it’s hard to say what the repercussions of this attack may be. I might write up something eventually, but at the moment I can’t say for certain.

First up this week we have “Whip It” by Love and Death, from their album Between Here & Lost. This is actually a cover of a song by DEVO, which I hadn’t actually listened to before picking this for the playlist. It’s… wow, it’s such an enormous difference that I’m having a hard time articulating it properly. The DEVO version is a really fast, silly, goofy-sounding 80s pop track, whereas Love and Death’s version is a very heavy, crunchy, serious and slower-tempo track. It makes me wonder how the heck Love and Death got the inspiration to cover this song, because it’s just so far removed from the original version.

Secondly, we have the title-track “Nostradamus” by Judas Priest. Last week I was going on about how I was (finally) starting to get into Iron Maiden, but still wasn’t a big Judas Priest fan. However, I am¬†a big fan of this song, which just so happened to play on Metal Rock Radio when I was thinking about how underwhelming I found Judas Priest to be. This is just the sort of metal that I love: dark, epic and lengthy. It sounds more like an Iron Maiden, Mastodon or old-school Metallica song rather than what I’m used to hearing from Judas Priest, but maybe I’m just not familiar enough with their discography yet.

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IC2S Playlist Update 11/11/2015

It’s Remembrance Day here in Canada, and if you haven’t read my Quick Fix related to it yet, then you might find it interesting. Naturally, it’s going to be a sombre and respectful day around here though, especially since I have family in the Canadian Forces.

On a more positive note though, I’m making quite a bit of progress on the Metal Gear¬†retrospective. I’ve completed 4 games in the franchise thus far and have their retrospectives all written up and ready to go, with a 5th game maybe an hour away from completion and the writing portion should take an evening to put together. It has been pretty fun thus far and I’m glad that I decided to take the plunge, because I doubt I would have gotten to experience the MSX Metal Gear games without it. It’s also giving me a better appreciation for the series, but I’ll leave any formal analysis for the retrospectives themselves. It’s going to be pretty great and I’m putting quite a lot of work into this, so I hope that you guys enjoy when it’s finally ready to go.

First up this week, we have “The Sneaking Chair” by My Heart to Fear from their album Algorithm. Back when Weathered Steel was still on the air, this song just dominated their Top 40 playlist. Most songs only last a week or 2 before disappearing entirely, but “The Sneaking Chair” must have been the #1 song for at least a month. It’s a pretty great song, I’ve been meaning to put it in the playlist for a really long time. In fact, the last time I put a My Heart to Fear song in the playlist (“4th Dimension Opera House”, way back in May), I had originally intended to use “The Sneaking Chair” but made a last minute switch. On an unrelated note, I have no idea how My Heart to Fear comes up with their song titles, some of them are just all over the place. Some will be really straightforward (“Wish You Were Here”, “Angst”, etc) and then others are… well, “The Sneaking Chair”.

Secondly we have “Blood Brothers” by Iron Maiden from the album Brave New World. It had always been a bit of a secret shame for me that I considered myself a through-and-through metalhead, but wasn’t really into some of the genre heavy weights, such as Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. However, since Weathered Steel shut down I have switched my Internet radio over to Metal Rock Radio, which plays the metal classics and modern metal all the time, and has been getting me quite into Iron Maiden. “Blood Brothers” might be my favourite thus far, it’s just a really badass song that makes you want to sing along. As someone who likes Sabaton and Disturbed, you can probably tell that this sort of “comradery”/battle song really appeals to me and is making me want to have an “Iron Maiden week” where I just fire up Spotify and blow through their entire discography to find all their gems.

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Quick Fix: Advances in Poppy-Wearing Technology

So Remembrance Day is coming up here in Canada, that transitional period between Halloween and the Christmas blitz where we honour our veterans. There’s one little squabble which seems to flare up more and more in the past few years though, and that’s in regards to the “proper” way to wear your poppy. If you aren’t familiar with Remembrance Day traditions, basically you give a donation and receive a poppy in exchange (not a real poppy though, obviously) which you pin onto your clothing to show your respect for the veterans. However, the pin which is used for the poppies is notoriously problematic and causes quite a few painful jabs every year, which prompts some people to replace the default pin with something more secure and without the exposed pin, such as a “butterfly clutch”.

In fact you will notice that the style of pin used with the poppy isn’t even offered from this custom pin website. The long pin is the closest analogue, but even then it is far more secure and safe than the traditional poppy pin.


However, Veterans Canada has stated that they do not condone replacing the pin, and this has caused many people in the public to shame those who do so. In fact, this whole post was inspired by this one Facebook picture someone had shared:

As you can probably tell, I’m totally in favour of relaxing the standards of what “acceptable” poppy-wearing should be, but the whole situation as it currently stands leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, the whole point of the poppy is to show respect for the veterans, so I feel a need to wear it as they would like us to when it comes down to actually displaying the poppy. That said, I also feel like veterans should be more open to improvements in poppy-wearing technology, since these pins are notoriously inadequate and rather unsafe.

Maybe I just hate adherence to tradition for tradition’s sake, even when there’s a better way to do things. After all, wasn’t one of the key lessons of WWI that soldiers died due to the generals’ insistence on adhering to old, outdated traditions? Or what about our modern veterans whose injury and death is kept at astonishingly low levels thanks to technological increases, innovation and efficiency over the past few decades?

Again, if the vets say that it’s disrespectful to wear the poppy any other way then we’re probably going to have to deal with that, but I do think that they should be open to the possibility of change. I’m sure that there are some people who will bristle at my position on this, perhaps justifying the poppy’s current pin by saying that the pain is nothing compared to what the veterans suffered. That’s true obviously, but it’s a pretty poor justification as far as I’m concerned and is little more than a shaming tactic to try to eliminate any questioning of potentially outdated tradition. As innovation has helped to improve the lives of soldiers, so too should innovation improve the lives of us who don’t want to get pricked every November for choosing to openly support the vets.

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IC2S Playlist Update 04/11/2015

First up this week is “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses from Use Your Illusion I. For years, I considered this my all-time favourite song. While it has since been dethroned by “(*Fin)” by Anberlin (which, even then, was my 2nd favourite), I still really like it and Guns N’ Roses. If I had to guess, I’d imagine that my cooling attitude towards the song has to do with moving past teenage angst, so a breakup song like this is less appealing than a more thoughtful/theological/philosophical song like “(*Fin)”.

Naturally I decided to pick this song since it is the first week of November. I used to have a tradition on Facebook where I’d post a line from the song every day until the end of the month, at which point I’d post the song’s epic music video. It’s really too bad that Axl Rose is such a crazy asshole – it’d be great to get the original lineup back.

Secondly, we have “Down the Rabbit Hole” by Sovereign Council from their first album, New Reign. This is probably their best song from their debut album, although due to lineup changes, they aren’t able to play it anymore without a guest guitarist (since the song requires 2 lead guitars. This was disappointing, but it really reminded me just how good this song was and how much I wanted to hear it.

By the way, this entry how puts us to 56 songs and just short of 5 hours of music! That’s a pretty big accomplishment as far as I’m concerned, but it does make me wonder how long I’m going to keep the playlist going. I’m currently thinking that I’d like to keep it on a weekly update schedule at least until the playlist’s 1 year anniversary, but after that we’ll see how it goes.

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