Housewives vs Zombies: Interviewing Adam Clark on ‘Aberford’

Aberford

If you haven’t heard of the indie game Aberford, you haven’t been paying attention. Recently, this smash-hit of a concept has been sweeping through Tumblr like a doo-wop doomsday. As someone who wasn’t ever all that much of a ’50s era fan? This game has me by the poodle skirt. Silly jokes aside, it’s billed as the answer to all our undead prayers: a zombie game with an all-women cast. It has yet to drop on Kickstarter, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help to build the hype. What’s more, Aberford is set to offer both a main story and multiplayer mode for all the folks out there who enjoy co-op campaigns.

Sketchy Panda Games is new to the scene, but what the team lacks in previous titles they more than make up for in unbridled enthusiasm. Over the past few months, they’ve been answering nonstop questions via their Tumblr account, tackling everything from racial representation to gameplay mechanics on a daily basis. It’s truly refreshing to find a team so earnestly devoted to diversifying the playing field and taking fan suggestions into serious consideration—though the incredible game concept definitely helps their cause.

On behalf of Aberford, Adam Clark was generous enough to take some time out of his busy, zombie-infested day to answer some of my questions. We’re digging into what makes a ’50s style video game more diverse and inclusive than the vast majority of titles out there, and how other folks interested in diving into the development scene can join the fray. Are you ready for a little zombie hunting, ladies?

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Down the Rabbit Hole: ‘BioShock’ & Women’s Agency

Bioshock

I had heard lots of good things about BioShock, which prompted me to buy it. (The sale on Steam didn’t hurt either.) I’d heard that the worldbuilding was interesting, the gameplay wasn’t bad, and there were great twists to the storyline to eff with you. Those seemed like good recommendations to me. I had also heard that there was a degree of horror to the game, which I am not a fan of, and that women were not treated very well in the game overall. Since this sexism has been discussed in a number of places, including in the “Tropes vs. Women” series, you can understand that it was with some trepidation that I began to play.

BioShock freaked me out a good bit; let’s get that out right off the bat. The atmosphere of the game, all gloomy, flickering lights, and structures that were breaking down with leaks everywhere was an exceptionally creepy aesthetic. It made everything feel rundown and broken. So, well done there. But that’s not what really got me freaked out. The visuals, while powerful, were not the biggest factor of my fear. The sound work in the game is downright brilliant. While you can hear your own feet and occasionally the panting you do when running (which was very cool), what caused me to hunt for corners was the sound of various enemies wandering about, yelling nonsense and ranting. Just hearing the moans and stomping of a Big Daddy made my heart start to race and check and recheck my ammo. The sound engineering, with the excellent Foley and scratchy dialogue, set the mood far more effectively than any of the visuals were able to manage.

However, that being said, there are aspects of the visuals that are more disturbing than engaging, making me almost recoil from the game rather than stay immersed in the storyline. It wasn’t the creepy shadows, watching the figures of distant people do things, or the ruins of Rapture. No, that fact was the bodies. And, more specifically, it was the fact that the majority of corpses lying about were female. Sure, I got the fact that I was playing in the ruins of the Ayn Rand’s Wonderland pretty quickly as the game is upfront about it—that all the social nonsense had come to play and destroyed itself. But why were the majority of the dead female? That was a nagging thought and made me uncomfortable. Thankfully, the majority of them were dressed like ’50s housewives rather than in very skimpy nothings, but there were a few of those as well. It was … problematic.

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Giveaway! Enter to Win ‘Life Is Strange’ & ‘Defender Quest’

life is strange

In honor of International Women’s Day, Lindsay has graciously offered free Steam keys of two games paving the way for leading ladies. It’s not enough for a game to include women NPCs or even a lady protagonist. We need to cultivate friendships between women if we’re ever going to make progress, and these games are doing just that! Let’s give them some love, yeah?

You could potentially win the first episode of Life Is Strange, which Nicole has already covered in her excellent review. Seriously, check that out if you missed it. The second possible prize is Defender Quest: Valley of the Forgotten. It’s a tower defense/RPG focused on tactical gameplay and a rich story with powerful women. Praise be!

So, you’re all about supporting women in the games industry. It’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Then help us honor International Women’s Day by celebrating the games making huge strides toward fully-realized lady characters, their friendships with other women, and the developers who tell these stories.

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Male (Is Not) Default: Exploring the Gender Disparity

the-legend-of-zelda-wii-u
Nintendo trolled everyone at E3 by cheekily pointing out: “No one said that was Link.” They clarified shortly after that it is indeed Link, and he is male.

Last summer, right before E3 2014, a lot of rumors started circulating on the internet that the new Legend of Zelda game for the Wii U was going to introduce a huge change that would shake up the entire series. If the comments online were anything to go by, I was not the only person whose immediate reaction to this news was to scream at the top of my lungs: “FEMALE PROTAGONIST!” We were all wrong, of course. When the game’s promo trailer was released at E3, the “big change” turned out to be that the new Zelda game would be open-world as opposed to the more linear, controlled design used almost exclusively in the rest of the series. However, Link’s new, somewhat androgynous design emboldened many of the vocal “FemLink” fans to press the question: Why couldn’t we have a Legend of Zelda game where Link was female, or where Zelda was the main playable character?

Of course, that’s such a crazy idea it couldn’t possibly work, and those who dared to voice it online were quickly shouted down by those who disagreed. “You can’t change a character that already exists!” was a frequent complaint—this, despite the fact that Link and Zelda have gone through no fewer than six major character redesigns apiece, and the series has a timeline so convoluted it’s now a multi-branched tree with three different parallel universes. The retort that really bothered me, though, was the stock response: “What would be the point of making Link female?” What would be the point? We have talked over and over again about the point of gender representation in popular media. Right now I want to ask a slightly different question: What was the point in making the hero of The Legend of Zelda male in the first place? Why are we treating “male” as the default?

Male-as-default is not a phenomena restricted to games with a recognizable male hero as the face of the franchise, or to games released as part of a mainstream series. It’s widespread even in games with a selection of male and female characters, in games with one single protagonist whose gender is selected by the player, and in games where the player’s gender is not immediately specified and is largely unimportant.

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Retro Representation: Coming of Age as a Girl Gamer

Princess Zelda, Mario, Super Smash Bros

When I was younger, I never thought about gender in video games. It was as if I didn’t care and could project myself into whatever was going on. For the longest time, I thought Link was a girl and that he wanted to save Zelda because they were going to hang out and learn how to shoot arrows or something. The same thing happened when I was playing as Mario. Even though he was a man with a moustache, I never thought much about gender when it came to him. Mario had a moustache and was a little plumber dude, but I could totally see myself in him and channeled my inner moustache to jump on Bowser’s head a bunch of times.

It was when the graphics in games began to get better that I started noticing the differences in men and women. With the more retro graphics, it was harder to pick out the difference between genders. I know now that Link was a man and that princesses got captured. This was despite the fact that they could run around volcanoes while dressed up as a man and disappear into thin air. I still didn’t think much of it, though. I enjoyed the games and would just pick female characters like Zelda when I was playing Super Smash Bros. When I couldn’t play as Zelda, I would play as Marth because it never occurred to me that Marth might be a man. Since I didn’t understand androgyny at the time, I decided that Marth was a female.

Roy was so obviously male that surely Marth was female. She was badass and strong and they protected each other. That was as far as my thought process went at the time, and I still didn’t feel like things were all that bad in gaming. After all, how could I feel weird when there were awesome women like Marth who could easily knock down people with a single blow of her sword? Or what about Alex from Eternal Darkness who, despite the increasing craziness of the world around her, was brave enough to risk madness? What about women like Saria who was a goddess in her own right and Zelda who could run around as Sheik?

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