Researchers Talk the Exciting Rise of Queer Representation in Games

Hey, folks! This is Jess Zammit and Alayna Cole (who has written for FemHype before) from Queerly Represent Me, and we’re excited to share some new projects with you! 

If you haven’t heard about Queerly Represent Me, we’re a research organization focused on exploring representations of sexuality and gender in games, and supporting queer folks who love to play games or who work in the games industry. We create resources and speak at conferences about queer representation, and provide links to all sorts of wider reading that cover a wide range of topics.

We also maintain a database of games that feature queer characters and themes. It currently includes over 800 games, and we’re adding more all the time (with the help of our readers who provide tips about what games we’re missing).

Researching awesome queer content has inspired us to create more ways of connecting with our wonderful community — people like you! If you’d indulge us, we’d love to share some of the games we’ve had the joy of researching, the ways they inspire us, and the new projects we’re working on.

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‘The Arcana’ Developers Cast a Spell Over Fans & We’re So Here for It

When it comes to mainstream gaming, being late to the party is not usually considered a badge of pride. Although attitudes are thankfully shifting, it can sometimes feel as though the flurry of initial engagement has waned for players who discovered an older title too late. Reviews, livestreams, Easter eggs, entire walkthroughs of each and every ending — they’re published with such immediacy that the impact of all this content can bleed into the expectations for a game way before the player has even reached for a controller.

By contrast, The Arcana welcomes latecomers with a gripping episodic storyline, enchanting setting, and gloriously enthusiastic community of fans. And that fandom is still going strong for one very important reason.

The development company is Nix Hydra, which is based in L.A. and founded by women. They are committed to “making magical, colorful, bold products for young women and anyone else traditionally ignored by the gaming industry,” as per their Kickstarter. One of the team’s latest ventures is The Arcana, which is an otome-inspired visual novel for iOS and Android that flirts with a sinister mystery beneath its rich illustrations.

The player character is an adept magical apprentice, honing their natural gifts in fortune-telling. The wandering, secretive Asra is your mentor, and while packing up to leave on another mysterious journey, he entrusts his prized tarot deck to you. Whether you challenge Asra’s repeated disappearances or defer to his judgement, he becomes dreamy and melancholy, tangled up in thoughts of words he should have said.

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Robots Don’t Interact: Why Humans & AI Will Never Understand Each Other

Lindsey is the co-founder of F-BOM.com, a science fiction, fantasy, and feminist book club. Every quarter, F-BOM hand-picks a talented, self-published author and distributes a special edition of her book to club members. F-BOM is more than just a book club — for as little as $5 a month, members will be actively investing in the future of women in science fiction and fantasy.

Artificial Intelligence has long been a mainstay fixture in the science fiction genre. Indeed, AI as a plot device can carry an entire movie or television show and keep us riveted to the screen. The cultural significance of AI in entertainment increases as we grow ever more tantalizingly close to achieving human-like artificial intelligence in real life. As early as a month ago, Snopes investigated the slightly exaggerated claim that Facebook would be shutting down their AI. This was allegedly due to the fact that AI were creating their own incoherent language to more efficiently talk to one another.

It makes sense that human language (especially English) would not be efficient enough for a robot’s taste. Let’s look at some examples of AI that struggle with human communication — and vice versa.

GLaDOS, Portal

This game is a great example of how grammar and vocabulary are not the only thing necessary to communicate. The star robot of the popular Portal series is GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence that has made it her life goal to test humans under inhumane conditions. It’s a fantastic example of misunderstanding human culture.

Not only that, but the laughable (yet paradoxically much-loved in fandom) companion cube is clearly intended to help the human player bond to something. Of course, it’s only a grey metal cube painted with hearts. This makes it difficult to anthropomorphize the cube to form even the smallest attachment, yet GLaDOS is oblivious to this failure. One of her other hilarious incentives for the player is that “you will get cake” at the end of every level. Spoiler: there is never any cake.

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Stand By Me: Love & Vulnerability in ‘Final Fantasy XV’

Final Fantasy XV centers around love between men. If you’ve played the game, this is not a contentious statement.

It’s been almost a year since the release of the latest installment in the Final Fantasy franchise, and after playing it, I would argue it’s one of the most emotionally nuanced stories in the series’ history. The game follows Noctis Lucis Caelum, a prince of the kingdom of Lucis, as he undertakes a road trip with his closest friends. His goal to wed his fiancée, Oracle Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, is dashed when the expansionist empire of Niflheim invades the capital city of Lucis. Noctis’ journey refocuses on harnessing the power of Lucis’ old rulers to free the land of Niflheim’s corrupting influence.

FFXV continues the series’ legacy of exploring themes of vulnerability, loss, and intimate relationships among its title characters. While there are women in the game, they feature less prominently than the “chocobros,” and struggle with their own host of problematic representation.

Oracle Lunafreya, Noctis’ promised, takes the role of white mage and, while self-sacrificing, is effective at rallying the gods to save the world until she ends up conveniently dead halfway through the story. Iris Amicitia, sister of the burly Gladiolus, is a cutesy tagalong, but it’s only mentioned in passing that she grows up to be a famous monster hunter.

Aranea Highwind is the sarcastic, jaded mercenary and powerful warrior (that boob armor tho) while celestial servant Gentiana is an enigmatic, helpful spirit, but also a giant, dead, half-naked goddess who’s not actually dead. Pure Final Fantasy. There’s also the expert mechanic yet highly sexualized Cindy Sophiar (don’t even get me started). Characters often comment about how she’s married to her work, which is a slight improvement.

The main focus of FFXV is — for better or worse — on the relationships between Noctis and his three friends; the beefy bodyguard Gladiolus Amicitia, his tactical advisor and perennial mother Ignis Scientia, and his best friend and gun-toting precious little cinnamon bun Prompto Argentum.

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Sunday Loot: A Roundup of Breakout Indie Games Featured at #PlayNYC

Happy Sunday, friends! This weekend marks the launch of Play NYC, the first-ever games convention to hit New York State. It’s a long-awaited event for all of us (myself included!) to finally see the games industry celebrated over in our neck of the woods. While I unfortunately couldn’t attend this year, I wanted to make sure I boosted all the games I was most excited about getting to play at the event!

For those of you who know the deal with this particular series of ours, you might have noticed that we updated the formatting just a bit. Every game listed here is unique, and we wanted to make sure to convey exactly what they all entail in the quickest way possible. Think of it like a drive-thru indie game store — you can scan the list, choose your favorites, and hit the gas!

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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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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