Telltale’s Leading Men Are Trapped in the Closet, Bro

Batman

OSWALD: I have great affection for you, Bruce.

Telltale’s latest venture, Batman: The Telltale Series, is a wonderful little romp through familiar territory. I’m not even that much of a comics fan, and yet I found myself swept up in all the excitement of Gotham’s seedy dive bars and dimly lit alleyways. I desperately wanted to unravel the secrets lurking behind the Wayne family, and I was utterly delighted by the complex discussions regarding Harvey Dent’s health. Therapy option? Better mental health facilities? Hell yes. Telltale even subverted the time-honored tradition of fashioning Catwoman into a walking trope, offering her agency and motivation in spades.

And yet, it was the introduction of Oswald Cobblepot that gave me pause.

Since attending grade school with Bruce Wayne, Oswald has gotten himself into quite a bit of trouble — there’s a laundry list of illegal activity and jail-time, which visibly upsets Bruce. You see, the two used to be very close as children, and Oswald wants to meet up again after all these years. Their little reunion is sidetracked by a flurry of close combat, and you have to fight off a few criminals alongside your old flame. After, Oswald licks his thumb and reaches forward to tenderly wipe a bit of blood off Bruce’s face. The moment is undeniably charged, and Bruce doesn’t so much as flinch — as if he’s familiar with that kind of intimacy from Oswald.

But you never get the opportunity to seal the deal. Unlike with Selina Kyle, who you also fight alongside and share a romantic moment with, there isn’t any dialogue choice to close the distance between Bruce and Oswald. You’re not allowed to explore bisexuality in Batman: The Telltale Series, and as I reflected on all the games I’d played from them in the past, a distinct pattern began to emerge. Every time the leading men of Telltale edge closer to a revelation that challenges their heterosexuality, the narrative rushes to reassure us that the moment never took place. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Let’s take a look at what signals the characters are sending us, shall we? There will be some minor spoilers for Tales From the Borderlands, and a major spoiler for Telltale’s Game of Thrones.

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Sunday Loot: Jams, Jobs, & Getting to #GDC2017!

overwatch

Happy Sunday, friends! It’s time for another list of all the super exciting opportunities waiting for you in the games industry. Many of the following recommendations were kindly brought to us by Miss N and Imogen, so send them some love whenever you get the chance.❤

In particular, we’ll be focusing our attention on boosting any and all efforts to provide folks with assistance in order to get to next year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC). If you know of any scholarships that we haven’t mentioned in this post, please reach out! We want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to attend one of the most anticipated events in the industry, and that means providing some much-needed help.

As always, if you know of an inclusive gaming space or games project you’d love to see promoted on our Sunday Loot series, drop us a comment below or check out our contact list! We’d love to hear from you, especially about new and exciting spaces where all gamers can hang out.

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The Game Isn’t Over: Picking Up My Controller After the Election

Dishonored 2

So: last week was a bit of a colossal trashfire. Like so many of us, I’m still shocked, scared, and angry. However much the optimist in me wants to believe that it’ll all be okay, that we’ll get through the next four years somehow, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that even in the single week since the election — even in the scant hours following the results — events have shown that we’re already entering an era of extreme hatred, ignorance, and backlash for all the social progress this nation has made in the past decade. This election wasn’t just about a woman not being elected president of the United States. It was about a man being elected on a platform of bigotry and hatred.

It’s very easy to say that, right now, playing and talking about video games isn’t going to do a damn thing to effect change. That escaping into fiction won’t fix a single one of the world’s problems. That representation and diversity in popular culture is the least of our worries right now.

I say it matters more now than it ever fucking did.

Video games — and popular culture in general — are more than just escapism or entertainment, though they are singularly valuable as both those things. Popular culture is, literally, the form of culture that is being consumed by the most people at a given time.

Linda Holmes, pop culture blogger for NPR, once wrote that pop culture might not be what people ideally should be consuming, but it is what they’re actually consuming. It doesn’t matter whether a piece of pop culture is created for love or for profit; it’s the medium through which, for better or for worse, so many of us see the world, and that can influence people in unknowable, far-reaching ways.

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Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan

Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan

Blanket Fort Chats” is a semi-regular column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft of making games. In this week’s post, we feature Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, a Berlin-based game maker who’s teaching herself how to make experimental games. She loves ideas, creative expression, and french fries.

Miss N: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into making games?

Marie: My path was not straight. My work is mostly in social enterprises. I’ve done work in alt-education with high-risk youth, created social arts experiences, and used my hands and hours on community building. I’ve led small, scrappy DIY organizations.

I founded Wyrd, a national non-profit dedicated to encouraging, documenting, and connecting creative expression across Canada. I am the Editor-in-Chief of Weird Canada, a website that celebrates and documents do-it-yourself, experimental, and emerging music, books, ideas, and art. I also made a day for the celebration of drone music.

A year ago, I felt like there was no more room in my life for me. I decided to move to Berlin and make experimental games. I had made one game, Þink, with DMG four years before, but otherwise had no exceptional background or experience playing or making games.

For a long time, I thought I hated games, but I was just playing the wrong games. I’m generally not very excited about competitive, complicated, disempowering, rule-heavy experiences where I am enacting a vision that fundamentally misaligns with my being. I’m into experimental narratives, soft experiences, deeply transformative ideas, ritual, and strange expressions of play.

In my very first days in Berlin, I signed up to volunteer at the Wikimedia Free Knowledge Game Jam, and they asked me, “Why not participate?” I said, “I have no idea what I am doing,” and they gave me a name tag that said “Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan: Game Designer.” That was that.

I pitched an idea at the jam, found a team, and made TexTiles, a paper prototype of a pattern-matching game using textile samples from the historical archives (and we actually won third place!).

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You Should Probably Skip ‘Watch Dogs’ Before Playing ‘Watch Dogs 2’

Watch Dogs 2
Our hero. The blood on his hands usually isn’t literal.

Watch Dogs 2 (or WATCH_DOGS 2, as it’s stylized) is coming out on November 15, so if you’re among those preparing for the launch with its selfie reveal app, you might be wondering if it’s necessary to play the first game to get the full experience. My answer to that? No, not really. I’d even personally recommend against it, because there are lots of problems with the original both in terms of story and gameplay, but especially in story.

Spoilers ahead (some major).

The main carryover from the first game is DedSec, a group of rebel hackers who really love their skull motifs. While DedSec is the main focus of the sequel — and also more keen on branding than ever — they barely factor into the original game at all. They’re out there, they’re watching, and they’re even nominally represented by one of your hacker accomplices, but they’re ultimately inconsequential.

Despite what its title implies (y’know, who watches the watch dogs … particularly in the fully networked surveillance state that is the game’s backdrop), Watch Dogs is mostly about one man’s quest for revenge. That man is Aiden Pearce — perhaps one of the most unlikable video game protagonists ever written. Everything about his demeanor suggests Ubisoft was aiming for the cool lone wolf type, but overshot and depicted the other type of lone wolf: the type neighbors inevitably describe as a “nice, quiet man” before adding they never dreamed him capable of such terrible things.

But the terrible things in Watch Dogs don’t begin and end with Aiden. One of the game’s most prominent gameplay elements — apart from hacking almost everything in the world — is the ability to scan any person in sight. By hacking into Chicago’s Central Operating System (CTOS), Aiden’s phone can bring up anyone’s age, occupation, income, and a random fact about them. The tidbits vary wildly and can reference everything from nationality to sexual peccadilloes. They can also out an NPC as HIV positive, asexual, or trans — all traits that frequently lead to real-world harassment.

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Thick as Thieves: Your Analysis of Video Game Siblings

Mass Effect Andromeda

I tabulated, categorized, and scrawled down all your thoughts and hope to present them in a somewhat coherent format in this followup to part one of “Thick as Thieves.”

It might seem like investigating the theme of siblings in games seems less relevant in comparison to other representation problems. I argue that it could be equally as salient, seeing as ‘family’ is a particularly complex sociological concept. Ask anyone who they consider their family to be, and wholly differing answers will be received. Change the question to what they consider a family to be, and once again, definitions will vary massively with each interpretation.

And that doesn’t even get started on the question, ‘What does family mean to you?’ The only commonality to be found in countless translations of the concept is the theme of “emotional bondedness and ‘we-ness.'”

What players and audiences are shown as ‘family’ can challenge and reinforce societal convention, both within the individuals who comprise those concepts and by holding up a mirror for the player to examine their own relationships. As one respondent identified, some players view their favorite characters as family, and others have found family in gaming communities and fellow fans.

All in all, family is an abstraction that also interacts with the intersection of gender, race, sexuality, disability, and other identifiers, and should be considered as seriously as the aforementioned markers in media.

Now for your comments! To begin, let’s look at what you like about sibling characters in games right now.

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Sunday Loot: Games Writing, Funding, & More

Life Is Strange

Happy Sunday, friends! We hope you’re enjoying a fun and safe Halloween weekend if you decide to celebrate. For anyone who might have missed our previous Sunday Loot posts, this series aims to elevate the people and projects working to make the games industry a more inclusive place. If you’ve always wanted to get involved, but never knew how, that’s what we’re here for!

This time around, we’ll be offering up a few opportunities where you’ll be able to challenge those creative juices and meet up with others — both virtually and in person! Not only that, but there are quite a number of initiatives in need of boosting, too. With your help, we can spread the word and reach more people who want to make games a better place for everyone. Let’s get involved!

As always, if you know of an inclusive gaming space or games project you’d love to see promoted on our Sunday Loot series, drop us a comment below or check out our contact list! We’d love to hear from you, especially about new and exciting spaces where all gamers can hang out.

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Perfect Illusion: The Sinister World of Fame in ‘Tuber Simulator’

As you can see, I'm still trying to become a dragon.
As you can see, I’m still trying to become a dragon.

If you’re not entrenched in the dizzying, Labyrinth-like world of YouTube personalities, Tuber Simulator may just seem like a fun little distraction for your phone. (It’s free, by the way. Just saying.) But if you’re a content creator — particularly one who carefully monitors the number of subscribers they have in hopes of one day scraping together a living wage — this game might make you a little uncomfortable.

And it’s supposed to.

While PewDiePie needs no introduction, his game development company might. The team is called Outerminds, and the concept they came up with is fairly simple: you’re a budding YouTube star who must produce as many videos as possible in order to generate more views, which will allow you to purchase new items. As you proceed to each new level, your chosen handle rises up the list of actual YouTubers who exist in real life. It’s fun to see your own name among such a star-studded lineup, but the road to achievements is presented as far less savory than their perfectly edited vlogs make it seem.

None of this comes as news to the YouTube community at large. Many, many popular content creators have bravely opened up regarding their struggles with mental health in the wake of their popularity, including BFvsGF, Chris Oflyng, Michael Buckley, and the SHAYTARDS — just to name a few. The pressure is real folks, and it’s important to remember that real people are affected by it. I sincerely hope that anyone looking to enter into this tumultuous platform remembers that there are many resources at their disposal.

The siren call of a massive YouTube following can lure you in and consume every part of you, which is precisely what Tuber Simulator does.

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Sunday Loot: Joining the Inclusivity Movement

geek girl con

Happy Sunday, friends! We’re so excited to bring you even more amazing opportunities in the games industry this week. Make sure you’ve got the calendar app open and you finished brewing that coffee, because you’re going to be busy this month!

Today’s lineup consists of several ways in which you can join the teams that have been pioneering a new era of geekdom. Your work is so important in ensuring games become and remain inclusive to all players, which means we want to hook you up with like-minded industry folks! Whether you’re looking to show off your cosplay, want to sharpen your gamedev skills, or simply have some spare time to volunteer at a con, this list is for you. Keep being the awesome person we know you are!

As always, if you know of an inclusive gaming space or games project you’d love to see promoted on our Sunday Loot series, drop us a comment below or check out our contact list! We’d love to hear from you, especially about new and exciting spaces where all gamers can hang out.

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The Biggest Missed Opportunity in ‘Skyrim’ (Cry Moar, Ulfric)

Skyrim

[Trigger warning: brief mention of abortion.]

When I first popped a copy of Skyrim into my Xbox 360, I had no idea I was about sign away the better part of five years to a love affair with RPGs. I’d played video games as a child, but I never felt like those types of games were something I’d be interested in (or, quite frankly, that I’d even be good at them). I began to realize I might have miscalculated after I checked the number of hours I’d spent just rearranging Breezehome in Whiterun.

I still haven’t stopped playing, either. For me, revisiting the snowy, winding steps up to High Hrothgar felt like coming home in a way that playing other games didn’t. I’ve found myself repeating lines like wrapping a well-loved blanket around my shoulders, familiar and safe. Sure, I took issue with the way most women were represented (or rather, rarely represented at all), but my affection for Skyrim never dwindled. It’s ultimately a good thing that I stuck with it despite the flaws, because I recently discovered a plot point so staggering you’d think I’d been hit with an arrow to the knee. (Forgive me, I had to!)

Before we proceed, I’d highly recommend that you play (or watch) the Thieves Guild quest in Riften. Minor spoilers ahead! If you have played it, did you pay close attention to Karliah? She was a dark elf, formerly of the Thieves Guild inner circle alongside Gallus Desidenius and Mercer Frey, and current member of the fabled Nightingales.

What’s so special about her apart from the obvious, you ask? Not only is there strong evidence that Karliah was directly descended from Tiber Septim (yeah, that Tiber Septim), but she could also very well be Dragonborn. Poor ol’ Ulfric. He might want to consider a career in shouting at people on the streets of Whiterun instead of taking over Skyrim. Just my two cents.

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