To My Valjean, Carmen Sandiego: History Still Marches On

“A famous writer once said: ‘Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.'”

— Carmen Sandiego, Boyhood’s End: Part Two

To those of you who grew up playing edutainment games, I ask this: what was the biggest lesson that stood out to you? Can you remember the name of every historical figure? The capital of every country in the world? The difference between a preposition and an adverb? Or how to subtract fractions?

Upon revisiting a few of my childhood favorites, I discovered there were some lessons I remembered and others I didn’t. When I replayed Cluefinders 4th Grade Adventures, for example, I learned that I still hate, hate, HATE fractions, but I adore the delightfully over-the-top villain. Edutainment games were gifts I received after attending all of my summer camp lessons, or sometimes as a surprise at the end of the school year. My favorite was always the Carmen Sandiego series. Perhaps it was the spy setting, or the endless puns, or even getting to fantasize that I really could save the world with little more than a basic working knowledge of geography.

But in hindsight, the most fascinating part of the series was — and still is — Carmen herself.

Truth be told, I didn’t know what to make of Carmen as a kid. She could be ruthless, charming, clever enough to get away with legendary thefts, and bold enough to leave her mark on the world. Carmen was the villain; therefore, we should root to bring her down, right? She stole things like the Mona Lisa’s smile. How did she even do that? I didn’t know and couldn’t begin to guess, but that didn’t matter. My role was to catch the crook regardless of intent. Wasn’t Carmen Sandiego the Jean Valjean to my Inspector Javert?

Okay, I didn’t know about Les Misérables back then, but I think the comparison will become clear. Especially because it’s been almost nineteen years since I first played Carmen Sandiego’s Great Chase Through Time.

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#BadassBitchesTour: Dismantling the Patriarchy One Museum At a Time

Our tour group in front of the Florine Stettheimer exhibit. I’m second on the right! 🙂

In 1989, an anonymous group of art activists calling themselves the Guerrilla Girls dropped a little factoid that rocked the art world: the Metropolitan Museum’s Modern Art section included less than 5% of women artists, while 85% of the nudity on display featured women. Think it’s gotten any better come 2017? Uh, no. That staggering number now stands at only 6% of featured women artists to the tune of around 70% nudes. If you’re a fairly regular visitor to the Met like I am, you’ll be hard-pressed to find decent representation.

Enter: Museum Hack. Their team is working to offer an affordable set of tours that attempt to dismantle the inaccessible, overly academic language that so often surrounds museums. They’re also out to challenge the patriarchal stereotypes that exist throughout the art world in a fun and interactive setting. It’s a tall order, but somebody has to do it.

So when I was recently invited to attend a tour of my choosing, I was surprised to find so many options at my disposal. Museum Hack covers five major cities in the U.S. (Chicago, D.C., L.A., NYC, and San Francisco), and of the tours available in my area, I went for the one appropriately titled “Badass Bitches.” Because of course. Also, the intro sounded amazing:

“Remember when feminism happened, and Georgia O’Keeffe kicked butt, and now museums and the art world totally treat male and female artists with equal value? JK JK IT’S STILL SUPER BAD!”

As you might have guessed, this officially marks FemHype’s first foray into pop culture. We’ve covered events and conventions alike, but now we’re excited to open up the floor to talk about more than just games! (Shoutout to the women enthusiastically swapping Overwatch stories before the tour began on Saturday, though. It made me giddy.) If you’ve been waiting to submit something unrelated to games, congrats! Your time has come. Swing on over to our submissions page and we’ll get you started. ❤

While I was invited by a member of the Museum Hack staff to write this review, I was strongly encouraged to be honest about my experience. If I had a bad time, I definitely wouldn’t be recommending it to any of you now, but I think it’s still worth noting that I was asked to tag along in the first place. All good? Onward!

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An Open Letter to Nintendo From a Lifelong Fan

Dear Nintendo,

Another E3 has come and gone. You unveiled a plethora of games that your fans, myself included, are eager to pick up and play. However, despite my excitement for what you have planned for the near and distant future, I still can’t help but feel disappointed in your continued stance on the subject of “politics” in video games. Remember what happened on June 15th? A brief interview surfaced involving Reggie Fils-Aimé, Nintendo of America’s president. He spoke to a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and during the interview, Reggie had this to say:

“Making political statements are for other people to do. We want people to smile and have fun when they play our games.”

This statement continues your long history of claiming that video games are apolitical; that gamers from all walks of life can simply play your games and have fun, similar to the Walt Disney Company’s marketing strategy of a “family-friendly” experience. However, this claim is widely inaccurate, as all video games — no matter who developed them — are political in the same way that all forms of media are. While you’ve certainly developed a number of games that make players “smile and have fun,” this is not a phrase that many of your fans would agree with.

Queer gamers have faced the brunt of this, specifically during the Tomodachi Life controversy where you did not wish to include same-sex marriage because you “never intended to make any form of social commentary” in the game. However, by making this statement, it further showcases what many queer people, myself included, have already known: that merely by existing, our lives are seen as inherently political to you.

Displays of heterosexual love and affection — be it a chaste kiss on the cheek from Princess Peach in so many Super Mario games and subsequent spin-offs — are extremely common. Other examples include the numerous women who fell in love with Link in The Legend of Zelda franchise, which plays into a masculine power fantasy. Then there’s the ability for (straight) couples to flirt, marry, and eventually have children together in recent games like the Fire Emblem franchise. Heteronormative narratives are pervasive throughout all of your games. Meanwhile, queer gamers have been told time and again that our presence is undesirable.

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Poll: Should We Expand FemHype to Cover Pop Culture?

Did you know that we’re rapidly approaching the three-year mark since opening FemHype? It feels totally surreal to me that only a short time ago, I hadn’t met any of you amazing folks who continue to make this space such a joy to run. Let me start by thanking you — all of you — for sticking around and teaching me new things every single day. I’m a better person having known you, and I’m so glad that you’re here with us now. ❤

When Paige and I started discussing new ideas for FemHype’s future, I knew I wanted to make sure we opened up the floor to our community for feedback. It’s important to both of us that you have a say in any big changes we make, which is where this quick poll comes in!

For almost three years, FemHype has offered women and nonbinary gamers a positive space to chat, critique, and share their personal experiences related to games. We’re still very much committed to that vision, but we thought now might be a good time to expand just a little bit. Would you like to see articles related to movies, television, and all of pop culture, too? What about other subjects? The sky’s the limit!

Please take a few minutes to participate in our poll below. You’re also encouraged to drop into the comments section with any questions, concerns, or ideas you might have. Paige and I are here to ensure that FemHype remains your space — just as it’s always been. We need your help to make that happen!

Secret of the Scarlet Hand(y Changes): ‘Nancy Drew’ From Page to Screen

[Editor’s Note: All screencaps are courtesy of littlenancydrewthings.]

Last time, I discussed how the adaptation of Stay Tuned for Danger (STFD) was a mixed bag. Most changes were made for the better, but the game could have lived up to and beyond its potential if it were willing to take more risks or otherwise to seize upon missed opportunities from the source material. Secret of the Scarlet Hand (SSH), however, goes in the opposite direction. It takes missed opportunities from the original book, expands upon them, and creates a far more engaging experience. It’s easily one of the strongest titles in the entire game series.

As a book, SSH isn’t really one of the better ones. It has many tedious red herrings that are only tangentially connected to the main mystery, which could have easily been cut or condensed. For example, Nancy goes to a secret society meeting where a suspect is in attendance, temporarily ends up in peril, and is quickly saved by yet another suspect (Alejandro del Rio). In the end, this secret society turns out to have almost nothing to do with the actual mystery — apart from amounting to bored, rich white people appropriating Mayan customs for their own personal amusement.

While that event is somewhat important because it helps Nancy discover that Alejandro isn’t the bad guy, it could have been removed and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Even when the culprit makes a half-hearted attempt on Nancy’s life at that meeting, the threat could have been replaced by anything else.

The game does away with this entirely. Instead, almost everything you learn about is directly connected to the events at the museum in one way or another. Every clue that points to any of the suspects — even ones who are not the culprit — is still relevant and tied in with the mystery and its resolution. You get the chance to learn more about another series of thefts related to the current one, and slowly unravel the deep and tangled web behind the stolen Pacal carving and its history. The game also takes this one step further by setting up two background characters who make recurring appearances over the course of the series: Prudence Rutherford and Sonny Joon.

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Who Gets to Be a Hero? A Case Against the Default Protagonist

The phrase “default protagonist” has been used quite commonly in recent years in order to examine and critique issues concerning representation in media. This “default” is affected by the cultural context that any given piece of media is produced within, as well as the long-standing canon that has shaped popular cultural and academic perspectives.

Regardless of the medium, you have probably observed what the most common trends are: the protagonist is usually a man or a boy, he is white (or has a noticeably lighter skin tone), and he is heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and neurotypical. Many a marketer in the world of multimedia has claimed that this character is most “relatable” or “identifiable,” but viewers who do not fit one (or all) of these categories will probably tell you differently. Seeing this same protagonist, day in and day out, is boring at best and self-esteem impacting at worst.

Video games provide an interesting take on the discussion of default protagonist. Many video games — especially ones that focus on a specific narrative such as Night in the Woods or the Ace Attorney franchise — follow the story of specific player character(s) through the typical three-act structure. However, not all video games follow this narrative design. Instead, some games provide a story type that no other medium can: one that focuses on the player as the main character.  

Thus, the protagonist of the game is no longer a character with a pre-determined appearance, personality, sexuality, and skills, but rather, they are a character based on the player’s actual or idealized self. Granted, several of these games have their own pre-determined plots for the player to undertake, but the fact that the player is able to play as themselves provides a very different connection to both the story and the game world. This feature is especially prevalent in role-playing video games, which makes a great deal of sense as you are essentially viewing fantastical worlds from the perspective you want to pursue as opposed to a specific linear progression that is associate with other game genres.

With this ability to create one’s player character becoming more widespread, one might assume that developers would continue to expand upon those available customization options. Unfortunately, the video game industry still lags behind in terms of providing gamers with a diverse range of options. This can be seen most recently in the lack of romance options for gay or bisexual men in Mass Effect: Andromeda, the Pokémon franchise’s continued reliance on the gender binary for their player character, and the lack of options available to black gamers who want to create an accurate representation of their hair and/or skin tone when creating a character.

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