Analysis, Feminism

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.

Continue reading “To My Valjean, Carmen Sandiego: History Still Marches On”

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Feminism, IRL

#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!

Continue reading “#BadassBitchesTour: Dismantling the Patriarchy One Museum At a Time”

Feminism, LGBTQA

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.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to Nintendo From a Lifelong Fan”

Analysis, Feminism

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.

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

Analysis, Feminism

Stay Tuned for Danger(ous Adaptations): ‘Nancy Drew’ From Page to Screen

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

When Her Interactive (HI) was still a division of American Laser Games in 1995, there were at least 128 titles in the main Nancy Drew book series and a handful of spin-offs, including the darker and more intense Nancy Drew Files. I can only imagine it was not an easy task for developers to choose a precise starting point and tone when adapting a single game or even a series from these books.

A lot can be said about the books and games individually, but I haven’t come across anything — apart from the occasional HI board topic or Arglefumph book review — that directly compares the books to the games upon which they are based. On the one hand, they shouldn’t have to. The Nancy Drew games must be able to stand on their own, and they definitely do. You don’t need to read the source material to understand the stories or characters because you can appreciate them as they are.

But are there instances where the game missed opportunities that the book provided? Or even moments when the game actually managed to surpass the book? It’s more complicated than an absolute yes or no, as the games are only loosely based upon the books. Generally, they are used as a blueprint in order to set up the mystery and suspects rather than as an absolute rigid guideline.

Therefore, I’m not going to cover every single book that was adapted or write an in-depth ‘book versus game’ analysis for the entire series (or, at least, not in one article). Instead, I’ve chosen select titles among the ones I’ve read that were adapted into games. Namely, the books that two of my absolute favorite games in the entire series were based: Stay Tuned for Danger (STFD) and Secret of the Scarlet Hand (SSH). [Warning: Major spoilers ahead!]

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Analysis, Feminism

Horror Movies Are Full of Leading Ladies. Why Not Horror Games?

Across every genre, horror is one of the few anomalies otherwise dominated by men that we, as an audience, are regularly exposed to. When you think of horror movies, a series of scrappy women likely parade through your mind. Many of the most famous horror movie franchises feature women at the center: Halloween, Scream, Alien, Friday the 13th, The Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as foreign films such as The Ring and The Grudge, just to name a few. In fact, horror is one of the few film genres that produces more movies with women leading the narrative than men.

Yet, for whatever reason, this preference for women is not as readily apparent in its sister medium: video games. Though by no means devoid of women, there is a clear tendency toward men in many of the most popular horror games.

For instance, last year, GamesRadar compiled a list of the 20 best horror games of all time, and only four out of the 20 had leads who were explicitly women: Alien: Isolation, Resident Evil 2, Fatal Frame II, and Until Dawn. Even then, only two of those four games had a protagonist who featured a woman as its sole lead, and the other two games split the narrative between a woman and a man.

The protagonist is often a man even in first-person perspective horror games that feature a lead with no character design or voice actor. For instance, the named protagonists of the popular Five Nights At Freddy’s games are men, and even the unnamed protagonists are implied to be men.

Continue reading “Horror Movies Are Full of Leading Ladies. Why Not Horror Games?”