We Could Be Heroes: Revisionist Gaming & Representation

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I’ve been revising and reinterpreting video games for as long as I’ve been playing them. As a kid, I grew up with only a handful of computer games like Math Blaster, LEGO Island, and The Amazon Trail, which my brother and I played over and over and over again until we knew the games by heart and ran out of things to do and places to explore. And when that happened, we’d start making up our own stories to revitalize the gameplay.

LEGO Island in particular got an extensive backstory. The police were secretly evil and in cahoots with the Brickster, and Pepper and a couple other people were leading a rebellion of some kind—but I digress. We got what entertainment we could out of these games, and when they came up short, we stepped in and made up our own additions.

Fast-forward to college. I just played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Portal for the first time, and now I’m completely hooked on video games and thirsting for more. But the gaming world is big and aggressive and overwhelming, and I have no idea how to find more games that I like. So I did what I always do when I’m trying to figure out where to start a new game—I began looking for protagonists like me. Specifically: women.

Seeing a key part of my identity made trying a new game less of a gamble, because I assumed that a game with a woman as the protagonist was probably made by people with at least the absolute baseline understanding that women are people, not objects, and have stories worth telling. (Alas, if only this were reliably true.) I discovered Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge, and Beyond Good and Evil.

I still clearly remember Googling “Can I play as a woman in Skyrim?” one day because the promo pictures only ever showed a man. “Yes,” Yahoo Answers helpfully informed me, “You can have boobs.” Um … thanks, Internet. You’re really making me feel welcome in the gaming community.

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You Wouldn’t Download a Date: Kissing Cassandra

Dragon Age

[PART 1] [PART 2] [PART 3]

Hey, FemHype community, and welcome to the first installment of “You Wouldn’t Download a Date!” You’re going to be seeing a lot of me until 2016 rolls around, so let me take a couple seconds to run through what I’ll be talking about this month. In honor of FemHype’s one-year anniversary, I rounded up five of my favorite mods, patches, and fangames that provide romance options for non-straight players that weren’t included in the base game itself. I’m going to check back in every Tuesday to share some thoughts about each of them with you!

For this week, I played Dragon Age: Inquisition (for the very first time!) to romance Cassandra Pentaghast using the “bi Cassandra” mod, and I had a couple of thoughts about fanmade mods for games and how we talk about them.

And wow, was DA:I an unusual experience for me! I found myself constantly cross-referencing with its Wiki and looking up brief references to past games that I, as someone who’d never really personally engaged with the Dragon Age series before, didn’t get off the top of my head. Its lore is so sprawling and there were so many opportunities I didn’t take the game up on that it feels like I won’t ever engage fully enough to grasp the world that’s being presented.

There are a lot of character-altering mods I could have covered for this column. I played with a handful of different small ones in this run—especially loving the ones to make Sera look like her concept art and the one that gave my Adaar larger hornsand struggled with figuring out how to install them all for the first time. As someone who’d never played DA:I before and had never tried to set up the Nexus system, I ended up laughing my way through most of the problems (cutscenes where my Adaar spent most of her time clipping her way through the top of the frame or embedding her fingers in other people’s arms) and got so frustrated I had to walk off some of the rest (Origin’s buggy interface choosing to shut itself down under FPS- and mod-related stress every five minutes).

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Bi Cassandra Mod Backlash: The Creator Speaks

Dragon Age

[Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault.]

I’ve done as much research as I can in order to feel comfortable enough to write this out. I’d like to start off by saying that I am a straight woman who benefits from the current society in which we live in today. Although I am not white (I’m half Japanese), I look the part of a white person and therefore I benefit from that as well. I am represented everywhere—my sexuality, my skin color, the gender that I identify as … it’s plastered in every major media outlet, and video games are no exception.

If you’re unfamiliar with the bi Cassandra mod, it’s exactly what it sounds like. A user created a mod in which the player could romance Cassandra as a woman and, for lack of a better term, it seemed like the fandom lost its shit. To be quite honest, this is the first I’ve been hearing of it. I had heard of the straight Dorian mod a couple months back and that was infuriating. (I’ll come back to that, though.) The creator of the mod reached out to me, and out of respect for their privacy, I will have them remain nameless. When I asked about why they created the mod, it was because:

I always kept an eye on the romance thread there, and nobody had done the Cassandra edit yet, so I gave it a go. It worked. I was pretty happy because wowzas I did the thing. All it required was removing one flag for gender. I was honestly surprised nobody else had done it yet.”

The creator of the bi Cassandra mod had their content deleted and was harassed so badly that they then deleted all of their social media accounts. I want to point out that it is in no way okay to harass someone. It is not justified. Being upset is reasonable, but being so angry that you effectively cause someone to flee from an environment that promotes equality, fairness, and community is wrong. I understand that a lot of the Dragon Age fandom was upset about this mod, but they were in no way justified to react by harassing a user from the community into leaving.

Continue reading “Bi Cassandra Mod Backlash: The Creator Speaks”

Skyrim 2.0: Adventures of a Gamer & Her Mods

Skyrim

I love Skyrim. It’s possibly my favorite game of all time; it’s definitely the one I’ve clocked the most hours in. I’m also pretty sure the number of hours Steam has listed is not even remotely close to the number of hours I’ve actually sunk into this game. Half the time I spend fussing over my Dragonborn isn’t actually spent in-game, it’s spent on the internet looking for more great mods to install.

It all started innocently enough—I just wanted to turn off Skyrim’s kill cam. I didn’t particularly care whether it was there or not, but I knew it might bother one of my good friends, who often gets queasy at blood and gore but loves to watch me play video games. The game itself didn’t have an option to disable it, but a quick search online revealed that there was a mod that could easily turn it off for me. I downloaded it and a copy of the Nexus Mod Manager (the main platform for installing Skyrim mods, apart from Steam Workshop), and ten minutes later I was happily slaying bandits without being treated to an up-close, blood-splattered view of where exactly my sword was going.

“Well, if it’s that easy,” I thought, “maybe I can find a mod to better sort my inventory while I’m at it.” It wasn’t long before I had moved beyond trying to fix specific elements of the game and was reading through lengthy lists people had made of “essential” mods for Skyrim. It’s two years later now, and my current count of installed mods is … oh dear god. Well over 75. Does that mean I’m almost halfway to madness?

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