Designing a fantasy, and how devs can do it wrong

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(I’ve been inactive here for a while; busy with a project, promoted to guild leader and doing guild stuff, and general summer things. Anyway, I’ve still been posting on my Tumblr where posting is a lot easier and more convenient for quickie posts, and sometimes I think the posts can go up here as well. This is one of them.)

 

More Extra Credits, because they do great stuff. And more that can so easily be used to explain why women so often feel unwelcome, or at least a little put off, in the gaming space.

The episode itself is rather broad, but briefly mentions something that comes up a lot in discussion: Power Fantasy. And then it advises you create every aspect of your game, but specifically the visible stuff like art and sound design, in a way that fits this fantasy. Later on, it also talks about the importance of figuring out who your audience is to better tailor your fantasy to their demands.

And here lies the problem. Devs almost never consider women as part of this target audience. At best, “women also play games”, which basically means “yeah, we make this game for men, but we’re okay with women playing, too”. And that’s bullshit. You cannot complain that your sales numbers aren’t rising for all eternity when you so steadfastly refuse to include women in your audience right from the beginning.

When you are selling a fantasy, and you want to sell it to women as well as men (which is my shorthand for “anyone but straight white cis men”, which is a rather unwieldy phrase, so forgive me for stuffing it all into the “women” bag for this piece, because while I mainly talk about women, this goes for the entire huge and hugely diverse gaming audience), then you need to create your game for men and women. I’ll tell this bit specifically to the AAA devs, though if you think it applies to you… well, if the shoe fits and all that. Anyway. Don’t just expect women to keep buying your games when you don’t care about making games for women – in this day and age, we have an entire indie market to choose from, a market that increasingly caters to us because you clearly don’t bother.

But AAA games keep creating their fantasies primarily for men, and how they design their female characters, playable and NPCs, reflects that. Women are always a little sexier, a little more conventionally attractive, a little more generally feminine than male characters. Even in a game that is expressly a power fantasy, the female characters don’t cater to the female power fantasy the same way the male characters cater to the male power fantasy. They, too, cater to the male fantasy, with the most bizarre but logical extreme being the infamous bikini armour glued onto Escher women.

This isn’t a power fantasy any more once you leave the assumed main audience of straight dudes behind. And that’s when a game starts falling apart, because when you do not look at a game in this very specific way anymore (as even a lot of straight men don’t), then the pieces don’t fit the puzzle. You can’t have a buff guy decked out in battle-worn armour and realistic-looking weapons when his absurdly busty-but-petite companion is wearing a chainmail croptop and skintight leather leggings into battle, and then expect the image of the power fantasy to hold up for everyone in the audience. When you do this, you have no right to complain about people criticising your game for lack if artistic cohesion and realism, strange design priorities and obvious sexism. When you do this, you should at least admit that this is what you wanted to make instead of cowering behind excuses and “at least we have playable women!”. If you really wanted to include women and target them in the same way you target male gamers with your product, you would give as much thought to the female fantasy as you do to the male. And since you barely seem to consider the fantasy aspect in the first place, and when you do, you do it from a purely male perspective, you shouldn’t pretend that you consider women an equal part of your audience.

Small tangent before I stop lecturing: This ties into why people have a hard time accepting video games as an art form. Art ist criticised all the time for every little thing. Creators of video games so often try to shield themselves from this kind of criticism, or have their fans do it for them. They don’t give any thought to how their product reflects the world, presents ideas and opinions through its worldbuilding, design and characters. Art has to consider this. It doesn’t exist in a bubble. Good art has to consider how it affects those that consume it, how those consumers will receive it, or it will be rightfully criticised for it. A work of art has all its parts come together as a cohesive one to express its message. Video games often lack this cohesion, and thus deliver either really mixed messages or downright problematic ones. They can and should be criticised for that.

Video games are art. So stop acting like petulant children and start acting like actual artists. Until then, you have no right to complain about not being treated like artists, and your work not being valued as such.

Review: Captain America – Civil War

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Score: 7/10

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passed – barely. Natasha and Wanda are sort of talking to each other in a group conversation about their current mission.

Racial Bechdel Test: Passed. Rhodes and Sam are talking directly to each other in a group discussion about the Sokovia Accords. T’Chaka and T’Challa are having a short father-son-moment before the congress in Vienna.

Mako Mori Test: ….ahahahahaha …no. Yes, it’s still technically a Captain America flick, but seeing as Tony, Bucky and T’Challa got their arcs in addition to Steve, when we’ve never seen T’Challa before and Bucky was a villain the last time we saw him, it’s still somewhat annoying to see this trend continued, especially after Winter Soldier gave so much room to Natasha and her way of dealing with the situation in a film that wasn’t hers. Plus, it seems the writers have no clue what to do with Wanda, either, and she of all people could have used a nice character arc from who she was in Age of Ultron to who she needs to be as an Avenger. Especially in light of what the film is about.

So, with the score out of the way and only two of the three lowest bars cleared, let’s get to the review proper.

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Minor spoilers to follow, but nothing that wasn’t given away in the trailers or the after credits scenes of previous films.

Captain America: Civil War is a perfectly entertaining film. That said, it isn’t as good as it could have been. In part, I think, this is due to the writers not really knowing what to do with a large cast of characters. They did well in Winter Soldier, when their main cast was Sam, Steve and Natasha, and everyone else was relegated to supporting cast, but with a main cast as bloated as Civil War’s, they met the limits of their writing skills. The other big factor here is that the MCU’s first big story arc is nearing it’s conclusion. We’re close to Infinity War and thus the likely departure of many core Avengers (either because their contract is up or because someone needs to die in a film that’s ostensibly about a war on a cosmic scale). So the characters who will be left need to still be present in our memory, and appear in a film every now and then. Thus, we got not only Hawkeye back from ‘retirement’, but also Agent 13 and a random Ant-Man, plus introductions for Spider-Man (because we haven’t got enough Spider-Man yet) and Black Panther. Out of those, only Black Panther has any business being in this film in a larger role. Agent 13 at least has a role that justifies her presence in the plot (to a degree, anyway), and Hawkeye can maybe be justified, if you squint, but then his role makes Ant-Man’s completely unnecessary. Spider-Man doesn’t need to be in this film at all, neither for the plot nor for an introduction. We know who he is. He doesn’t need introducing, especially since they’ve gone with Peter Parker again, and we all know that dude well enough by now. That Joss Whedon has written everyone into a corner with a really overpowered Vision who now has to be kept away from most of the action lest he obliterate anyone who opposes him isn’t doing anyone any favours, either, so he’s pretty much swinging wildly between ‘unstoppable’ and ‘completely useless’, depending on what the scene demands.

This inflated number of heroes makes it nigh impossible to really focus on all of them in a satisfying way, so the focus is only on some, making the other characters’ randomness stand out even more. The ones who get character arcs are, as I mentioned, Tony and Steve, and to a lesser degree Bucky and T’Challa. Everyone else is just sort of there. We can guess their motivations from bits and pieces here and there, but for me, there’s a lot of comic background that helps with that, and the friends I went to see it with don’t have that, so occasionally, they interpreted things very differently.

The antagonists/ambiguous figures are much too numerous as well and thus have too little screen time and influence on the plot individually to really have an impact on the viewer; some are downright wasted. Cutting down their numbers could have helped flesh out the remaining characters by allowing more room for their personalities and motivations.

All in all, with how chock-full of characters the film was, we had too little time to explore each side’s motivations. Again, a lot is implied, but sometimes in ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments. Overall, Team Iron Man comes across as arrogant and uncompromising, and Team Cap lacks any clear counter-solution. Which isn’t that bad, seeing as opposing another solution because you think it will only make things worse isn’t too bad a stance in itself, but going a little deeper into the reasons why they thought the Accords were a bad idea and how they could have been done better would have been nice.

So what did I like about the film? Enough, apparently, to still give it a relatively good score. For one, the theme was interesting. In a world where superheroes exist, should they be under someone’s control for the ever-popular ‘greater good’, and if so, who should that someone be? Here, that’s not explored through the usual hero-villain conflict, but our heroes are divided into two groups, so we can’t tell who is right and who is wrong from the get-go. It’s not a good guys vs. bad guys scenario, where the good guys are an audience stand-in and thus automatically right. The audience stand-in itself is divided, and thus, the audience is as well. We are squarely in the grey area without the film being grey and gloomy and broody about it in any way, which is refreshing in a superhero film.

What little we saw of certain characters was also interesting – namely, T’Challa, Natasha, Bucky and Wanda, with Wanda and T’Challa being my favourites here. They would have profited the most from more screen time. Natasha, we already know well enough to make sense of her actions (which doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have had more presence; more Widow is always better). Wanda and T’Challa, we barely know at all, and the glimpses we got of them in Civil War had me very intrigued.

I’m still divided on a few things, but as of now, I’m inclined to weigh them on the plus side because of the sheer potential they had. Like Bucky’s storyline and the aspects the writers took out of Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier run, which could have been amazing and a great starting point for a Black Widow/Winter Soldier duo film, considering how little we know about Widow’s past, and what’s hidden in a certain location could very well have Red Room ties as well. All we know so far is that Natasha was supposedly born in 1984, but also ‘traded in the KGB for Hydra’, which is odd, since the Russian KGB stopped existing in 1991, so what’s the deal with that? Lots of room for exploring her and the Winter Soldier’s backstory here, but wasted for a cheap moment of surprise.

Wanda’s arc is also something that’s super-interesting, but tragically underdeveloped. When Age of Ultron ended, she was fresh out of quasi-Hydra’s clutches and a newly-minted Avenger. She had just lost her brother, come out of a devastating fight she helped start, and was trying to find a new place among the good guys. Now, she’s suddenly thrust into this world where it’s not clear who the good guys even are, and what being one means. The first scene is hitting her really hard with this, and one should expect more exploration of her arc during the film. That doesn’t happen, save for two conversations with Vision that are much, much too short to properly delve into that.

Lastly, Cap’s character was coming along well in this film. Around here, he still has this image of being this unquestioningly patriotic figure that stands for the awesomeness of the grand US of A. Winter Solider started rapidly moving him away from that, and Civil War had him continue down that path. After starting out as a symbol wrapped in a flag and promoting a war, he’s now at a turning point after a difficult conflict about authority and how much power it should have, and it will be interesting to see where his character goes after this.

Those points saved the film from being simply mediocre, but they also served to show how much better it could have been with a little restraint, and if TPTB had refrained from putting characters into the film just so we wouldn’t forget who they are and thus taking away much-needed time from other characters. I was debating a 6/10 for a bit because of this, but the parts that stuck out so positively elevated it enough to give it a 7/10 after all. It’s still a trademark Marvel film and I still had a good time – it just could have been a lot better.

Maybe it would have worked better as an actual Avengers film. It certainly was a better one than Age of Ultron.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones – it’s pretty good

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(Cross-posted from my Tumblr)

Score: 9/10

Jessica Jones has been on Netflix for a few days, and I made it halfway through already, mainly because “just one more episode” is one of the biggest lies people tell themselves. Anyway. Have a review.

Of course, as always, there are people who don’t like it, which is also completely fair. But probably the most hilarious bad reviews of Jessica Jones are the ones that claim the series is “unoriginal”, and that Daredevil was “refreshing” and compared to DD, JJ is boring.

Okay then.

I’m not bashing DD, that show was okay, but it wasn’t more than just that precisely because it was fairly unoriginal in its choice of protagonist! Jesus, how many “change the world, do good, and with great power comes great responsibility” heroes have we had these past few decades? Marvel’s franchises are full of them, starting with Captain America and Spiderman and ending with freaking Iron Man and Black Widow, who may have started out as a bad guy (in an origin story we never got to see because reasons) but ultimately is trying very hard to be a goody two-shoes hero like the others.

Jessica Jones is pretty much the first Marvel hero who isn’t behaving like all the other heroes before her. She is super-human, but she is also completely human, a quality that many Marvel heroes sorely lack. This is the first time in god knows how long that I have seen a hero I can really relate to because she isn’t depicted as some paragon of justice and virtue. Even Tony Stark, alcoholism and all, is always ultimately portrayed as A Good Guy. In Jessica Jones, we finally get to see the other side of having superpowers. People not trusting you, others expecting too much, and then the ones that just want to use you, all portrayed in varying shades of grey. No-one is completely perfect, and so far, also no-one has been shown as being irredeemably evil (though I have only watched until episode seven, so not sure how they will ultimately handle Kilgrave).

Maybe this surplus of “good” heroes took some enjoyment out of Daredevil for me. If there hadn’t been so many like him before, it wouldn’t have felt so boringly familiar. On his own, he’s an idealist who had terrible things happen to him but who wants to use his gift for good, to protect and defend his home, and I can totally get behind that sort of motivation. But after years of heroes just like him, I’m getting bored of that archetype. It was time for something new, and from what I’ve seen, both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage will have different sorts of heroes.

JJ isn’t perfect, either. For one, Luke plays a big role in the first half of the season, and if it turns out that Jessica (or someone like her, anyway) won’t be in Luke Cage in the same way, I will take it was what it probably is, yet another sign that Marvel thinks women can’t carry a show on their own, and that will impact how I watch both subsequent seasons of JJ and Luke Cage.
It’s also a bizarre-but-unsurprising example of Hollywood diversity, which is basically “add white women + black men”. Even I see that, and I live halfway across the globe from where the show is set. The extras and minor roles are a little bit better, I guess, but the main cast is weirdly uniform, in that almost all women are young, white and at least decently attractive, right down to Jessica’s weirdo neighbour, and if there are men who aren’t white guys, they are black and that’s about it.

All in all, though, I like the casting choices, and they managed to avoid the most obvious stereotypes.

The characters are refreshingly distant from the usual roles women get to play in superhero franchises. Of course there is the titular Jessica Jones, who gets to play a brawler with a traumatic past and a severe drinking problem who still manages to make a somewhat decent living for herself by using her powers in her job as a P.I. to have an advantage over the competition. And then there are Trish and Hogarth. God, I love Hogarth in all her self-centred, no-nonsense glory. I admit I didn’t know at first who Hogarth is in the comics (might have read that name somewhere, but couldn’t really place it), but with the way she’s written on the show, I immediately thought “They wrote that role for a dude, didn’t they?”. Turns out the original Hogarth is indeed a guy. I think I read somewhere that they wrote the role for Moss first, then added Hogarth’s name and Hogarth-ness as an afterthought, but it works. Breathes some new life into the archetype of her role. It adds a role where Moss can shine, and it adds a female character to the show who is allowed to be just as complex and complicated as the male characters that usually occupy this role. They didn’t even adjust her age (although she doesn’t seem to have kids, like comic-Hogarth does, but I suppose that would be too “radical”, right?). They also didn’t change the role of Hogarth’s wife into Hogarth’s husband, and she still has an affair with her female assistant. I’m still not entirely sure how the writers got that past the Marvel executives, but they did, and it’s amazing.

Trish is great in that she is both a badass and elegantly feminine. She wears dresses and skirts and also has an affair with a dude she barely knows and can hold her own in a fight (as long as that fight doesn’t involve one-sided tasers, which is just unfair to begin with). She isn’t one single thing, character-wise, and she’s also a perfect counterpart for Jessica. Where Jessica just wants to be left alone and use her powers to make a living, Trish wants to be a hero badly but is just a regular human being, so she has to work around that limitation.

Oh, and of course, David Tennant is brilliant as Kilgrave. Terrifying and suave and a perfect fit for the way the role was written for the show. A great villain in the same vein as Loki, but a lot scarier.

Overall, I already love the show. It’s something I have been waiting for for years, and now Marvel finally delivered. It’s still just one female-centric franchise among many regular dudebros, but with it’s solid 9/10 rating on IMDB and 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the upcoming Luke Cage, I have some new hope for more diverse superheroes in the future, casting-wise and character-wise.

As for my own rating. I’m going with IMDB here. Nine out of ten bottles of Whiskey.

Chaos in Hollywood

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The new Ghostbusters barely started filming, but people all over the place are already (and have been since its announcement) declaring that it will absolutely and inevitably suck. Some attribute this to the general tendency of remakes to be… less than great. Others blame the director. Most, though, don’t even bother to hide that it’s because of the cast. Specifically, because the cast are women. And then get all defensive when you ask them if they’d be as angry at the remake if it were to star a cast of men, and if they maybe, just maybe, might be a little sexis-
“You only like this because it’s women, what if we genderswapped Alien, you’d be up in arms about that!”
Yes, that happened. And it actually got me thinking. I’d be pretty much okay with that. Why? Because, and let’s bask in the delicious irony here for a minute, in that case, the cast would still be female by a vast majority. Five of seven crew members of the Nostromo were men in the original. Genderswap the cast, and you’ll have a film with a crew primarily made up of women. Somehow, I don’t think Original Commenter would be okay with that, either.

So how about this, Generic Brodude Commenters suggesting to genderswap female-led films: We genderswap all films. As in, every single film Hollywood is going to make for, say, three years from now. No exceptions. And no cheating – you write the exact same scripts as you would now, but the cast will be 100% genderswapped. So yes, you get your dude-led films you seem to want to much. But we also get the lady-led films we want so much. And it will be glorious.

Let’s look at this for a moment:

(Infographic from Lee & Low Books)

This is sci-fi and fantasy only, and it’s marginally better if you take all genres into account, but the problems this hints at are still there. So, according to this lovely (and also sad and disgusting) infographic, the next three years would be amazing (especially for me, because yay sci-fi!). In fact, let’s take it a little further. Let’s genderswap the directors, too. Also, every role that would be cast with a white person now gets cast with a person of colour, and vice versa. As would directors. Let’s also take about… let’s say 15%, that’s a manageable number for now, so 15% of those films and write the lead as homosexual, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, with a disability… or any combination of these. And then cast with actors accordingly. So every gay man on the screen is played by a gay man. Every trans person is played by an actual trans person. Every disabled character… You get the idea.

…I admit I’m kind of in love with this idea. Too bad I’d need a magic want to make it happen…

If you now say this is ludicrous, there’d suddenly be women and people of colour and gay people everywhere… please, enlighted me: How is it any less ludicrous when there are straight white men everywhere?
So far, no-one had an answer for that that wasn’t the old “people don’t want to see that” crap. Which is bullshit no matter how you look at it. The Hunger Games films are doing pretty well. Still Alice made back eight times its budget so far, and isn’t out on DVD yet. Annie did well enough. Spy and, god help me, but Fifty Shades of Grey and The Fault in Our Stars are making tons of money, too. And even though people keep insisting they are crap, the Resident Evil films so far have made almost a billion dollars (spoiler: Some of that money is from me. Because I like them. A lot).

The point is, the “argument” that people don’t want to see films made by and/or starring women is bullshit. I mean, the most kickass charactes in RE are Alice, Rain and Claire (please let Rain be back in the last one…) – and before you try and argue the quality of those films, go look at Fast & Furious and tell me how, exactly, those are better. Or Rambo. Or any other brainless action film that has a plot thinner than my patience. And yet somehow, those films all keep making money.
Marvel has proven with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man that people will see anything as long as you slap the big red logo in front of it. So how come I need to wait for almost twenty films in the MCU to see one that stars anything other than a white man? And Alien proved over thirty years ago that you can make amazing all-time classics with a woman in the leading role.

So, for our little experiment, I predict absolutely zero change in box office money. Because people like me finally have a ton of reasons to go to the cinema, and brodudes have so few options that they would have to go see films with all sorts of people but straight white guys in them if they want to have some entertainment at all. Pretty much just like it’s now for me. And it sucks. But that’s the point. Depressing as that sounds, most people will only really try and change something if it negatively affects them personally. People, in general, are assholes. So “making” them watch diverse films for a few years might be the only way to shake Hollywood up enough to bring about real change, and not at a snail’s pace. And it would, I’m pretty sure of that, drastically improve the overall quality of Hollywood films.

And then we go and do the same for video games!

*crickets*

…no? Too much?

*sigh* Fine. Too much. But one day, we will. And it will be amazing.

-Ricarda

So. Age of Ultron.

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Score: 5.5/10

Disclaimer: I enjoyed the film. I really did. I had a hella good time at the cinema, with only the occasional facepalm moment. Age of Ultron has a high entertainment value. But that never has and never will excuse shitty things, and AoU is no exception.

Also, spoilers ahead (for pretty much the entire MCU). And swearing. You have been warned.


Joss Whedon has one thing down cold: Tricking you into thinking whatever you’re watching is amazing while you are watching it, covering up the, once you think about it, glaringly obvious issues whatever product you’re consuming has. Firefly suffered from this. I watched a few episodes and sort of enjoyed them, then didn’t have time and took a break, and while I had time to think about what I’d watched, I realised that, even without the obvious problem of “I’m telling you that humankind is basically a mash-up of the USA and China at that point but I will proceed to show you mostly white people”, no, the show isn’t all that great. Same for Cabin in the Woods. It was fun while it lasted, if you will, but its supposed subversion and parody of common tropes and clichés was actually just mostly common tropes and clichés.

Age of Ultron has the largest gap so far between the fun I had watching it and the number of things that have been driving me nuts about it since I left the cinema. Now I think the writing wasn’t really that good, the “wit” of many conversations was mostly just bad puns and thinly-disguised insults (mostly directed at poor Hawkeye and Cap), and the most genuinely funny thing was everyone teasing Steve, the eternal gentleman, about being opposed to swear words. Clint, on the other hand, got told that his (allegedly) not having a girlfriend is something that needed fixing, and that he’s supposedly impotent. Hilarious.
The short(est) end of the stick goes to Natasha, though. She gets flashbacks alluding to her training in the Black Widow program, telling us a little more about how and why she became who and what she is. Oh, and that bit about being a monster because she can’t have biological children. Nope, that’s what she says, pretty much a direct response to Bruce telling her that he “can’t biologically have children” and therefore isn’t good enough for her (a notion that’s problematic on its own). Now people argue she’s not referring to the sole fact that she was forcibly sterilised as part of her “graduation ceremony”, but rather means that the entire thing, being trained and basically brainwashed to become a merciless killer, but the way the dialogue is written has the line about not being able to bear children come directly before she says to Bruce (probably paraphrased, I’m translating here) “you’re not the only monster in the room”. There is a direct connection made by the script, and you can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. And Bruce doesn’t react. He just looks vaguely doubtful, instead of, dunno, telling Natasha that she’s not a monster because she had this procedure done to her without her consent that rendered her infertile, maybe giving her a chance to say that she doesn’t think that specific thing makes her a monster, but that she meant the whole ordeal she went through when she was young, making it clear that she was referring to her being an assassin for so long, and that she only told him about the sterilisation to make him see that there are other people out there struggling with their inability to have children, that he isn’t alone with this and that it doesn’t make him worthless as a romantic partner. That the monster comment indeed was meant to make him see that because he becomes the Hulk and possibly hurts innocent people when he can’t control himself doesn’t make the Bruce here and now a monster, just like her past as an assassin killing innocent people doesn’t make present-day Natasha a monster (returning to the red-in-her-ledger theme from the first
Avengers).
Buuut instead of exploring the struggles of both Natasha and Bruce and how they bonded over sharing the burden, if you will, we get a stupid-ass conversation that measures a human’s worth pretty much entirely by their ability to have biological children. It occurs for both Bruce and Natasha, but in Natasha’s case there’s a whole string of issues attached to it, from centuries of measuring a woman’s worth almost exclusively by how many children/sons she had to the stigma women face even today when they don’t have children (by choice or by circumstance), making the whole thing so much worse for both her and the women in the audience who, for one reason or another, don’t or can’t have children (not to mention that this hints at the horrible notion of what defines a “real woman”, and subsequently a “real man”).
Also, there’s this weird romantic subplot between Natasha and Bruce that just came out of nowhere and progressed from friendship to smooching hella fast. Figuratively speaking. Actual smooching did occur, but only because Natasha needed to distract Bruce for a moment so she could push him into a giant hole in the ground to make him turn into the Hulk to fight Ultron, which turned the already weak romance into a hot mess of “wait, so was she pretending the whole time or was she just desperate for the Hulk in that specific moment?” I’m still not a hundred percent sure.

Let’s move on to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Oh boy.
I like those guys. I really do. And Olsen’s performance was really good. But… can we talk for a moment about how they are basically just Wanda and Pietro by name in AoU, and pretty much nothing else except their superpowers? Sure, they couldn’t make them mutants, but why did they have to go and make two Jewish Roma people into two very white people who actually volunteered for fucking HYDRA? As in, the super-Nazis of the MCU? I mean, if they didn’t know it was HYDRA and they just wanted revenge on Tony Stark, okay, but that never gets mentioned? And neither does their heritage? If you had to be an asshole and cast non-Roma actors because you don’t have the balls to break Hollywood’s unspoken “token and no more” rule (and you already had Rhodey/War Machine and Fury and Dr. Cho, so of course you couldn’t cast any more non-white actors, jeez!), then at least don’t completely erase every part of their heritage? Is it too much to ask for a throwaway line or two to tell us that they are Jewish and/or were raised by Roma parents? I mean, Steve gets his line in Avengers about how there is “only one god, and he doesn’t dress this way”, hinting strongly at a (probably protestant) Christian background, so why not give one of the twins a line like that? Someone mentioned a possible comparison of the old church where the twins first meet Ultron and their old synagogue which “is a lot nicer”. Or maybe have them talk privately in Romani, or give one of them a one-liner about how fighting an evil robot isn’t how they “imagine a quiet passover” or whatever. Anything that hints at their comic origins that doesn’t paint them as mutants would have been possible, you chose nothing at all. Awesome. Another lost opportunity.

Those were my biggest issues, but the rest of the film is far from perfect. I remember watching the scene where they try to lift Mjölnir when the teaser came out, and when the scene played in the cinema, I was hella confused. Everyone gets some kind of quip when they try to lift the hammer, and Tony made the hilariously funny “joke” that, when he’d lift the hammer and get to rule the world, he’d reinstate prima nocta: the alleged right of feudal lords to sleep with anyone’s new wife before the husband did. Basically legal rape. Yes, they went there. Even though that right is pretty much a myth (at least in Europe, apparently it did exist elsewhere, in different versions, but it never was a wide-spread law).
The original line was something about him being “firm and fair” – not a rape joke. It was good. Fit Tony’s personality as a megalomaniac with a ginormous ego. Why they decided to make him joke about sleeping with someone else’s wife whether said wife consented or not is beyond me. That’s not even something one could attribute to the playboy side of his personality. He’s a womaniser, not a fucking rapist.
The stupid kidnapping of Natasha by Ultron, that served no fucking purpose at all except to give Bruce an opportunity to rescue her. Literally nothing happens, Ultron has no reason to even keep Natasha alive, so why did you just have to include that? Was Natasha too independent for your taste? Couldn’t you imagine a better scenario to show us that even super-spies sometimes need help, and Bruce can be a hero without the Hulk, too? Something that’s not completely stupid and lazy writing, and actually is grounded in the plot and not a done-to-death trope?
Then the suggestion that the fact Clint is supposedly single is something that needed to be “fixed”. Why? What the hell is wrong with people who think that single people are somehow inherently broken? Screw you, Whedon. Seriously.
Speaking of Clint, he’s married and has a family and that’s good for him. And he kept his family a secret from SHIELD and his fellow Avengers to keep them safe. But his wife’s last name is Barton, according to the cast list? For the love of god, why? That’s about the easiest measure to take to prevent anyone from finding out about your family, dude! I’d say something about masculine insecurities here, but a) Hawkeye is fictional, b) he’s probably the least traditionally macho type of the group, and c) my mum kept her last name, too, and it hasn’t shattered my dad’s ego, either, so there really is no excuse for the secret government agent/superhero to not take this extra measure and ask his wife to keep her last name to eliminate one more official connection to him that could be found.

And the myriad of other things that just didn’t make sense in the larger context of the MCU. How did Steve’s search for Bucky go? How did Natasha become so close with Bruce and so good at calming the Hulk? What’s up with the new heroes we saw in previous films, like War Machine and Falcon, where are they when the killer robot shit goes down in Sokovia? Chilling on Hawaii? Somewhere without cell reception? And didn’t Tony basically retire from being Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 3? Shouldn’t he be way more reluctant to don his suit again? Where is Loki hanging out? Shouldn’t he have a vested interest in getting back his Infinity stone if he wants to be king of Asgard? And where the fuck did Fury find an intact helicarrier that he could just take on a ride to Europe after Winter Soldier?! I’m guessing he actually made an ass pull joke in that scene, going by his line in the German version? But that is not a satisfying explanation! Making random shit happen yelling “Magic!” and expecting people to just swallow it is fucking lazy.
A lot of what happened in previous films just doesn’t seem to matter anymore in Age of Ultron, and the writer in me is really angry that someone so famous can get away with this lazy bullshit, and so many people seem to think he and his creation(s) are somehow immune to criticism. No. No, they are not!

I’m pretty cross with Marvel in general and Whedon in particular right now. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if he didn’t constantly talk about how he’s so much of a feminist, and then mention that declaring one’s alignment with specific political views destroys one’s art (in reference to people telling him that writing lines that shame people, especially women, for making choices he doesn’t agree with is not feminism). He even said that you “change people’s (sexists, in this case) minds” through your actions, not through words, and then proceeds to do stuff that’s 100% not what feminism stands for. He says all these things and then throws us lines like the monster one, or the “single people need fixing” reference, and renders his pretty words little more than lipservice to an audience he wants to appeal to because he likes money, I guess?
I’m glad he’s not doing Infinity War. I hope Marvel get their shit together and learn from the criticism they got for AoU. But I probably won’t go see Infinity War at the cinema. I didn’t go see the last few MCU films, and then went to watch AoU because Winter Soldier pleasantly surprised me. Shoulda stayed home and saved me some money.
For me, it’s just not worth it anymore. I just want a fun ride that has some sort of overarching plot attached to it that pays off in a huge, loud, colourful showdown, and instead get told by the film that I’m a broken human being because I don’t have a partner or kids, other people apparently don’t exist because they aren’t “white” enough, and rape is funny. Sorry, but I’m not giving you money to get insulted. Do better in the future, and I might reconsider. The last scene was a good start, with the “new” Avengers being trained by Natasha and Steve. There’s potential there. But I have a feeling it’s going to go to waste one way or another…

-Ricarda

Paid mods, and why that’s a bad idea

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UPDATE 28/04/2015: The paid mods system has been pulled from Steam. While I do appreciate this quick reaction to community feedback, it’s a little weird that the defense of the system and the 180 they did with pulling it from Steam are so close together. Still, it serves to show that they maybe still do value their customers as more than ATMs with opposable thumbs. For some reason, I can’t read the original article because I get rerouted to the German blog that doesn’t have it, but from the quotes I read on other sites, I gather they actually meant well, in a strange “let’s do this it’s for their own good” kind of way. maybe they decide to scrap this system altogether, maybe they rework it according to our feedback and bring it back later as an improved version, I don’t know. But for now, I hope that both Bethesda have learned a lesson and the conspiracy theorists/screeching banshees of Reddit have been taken down a peg.

In light of this, I ‘d like to revise my earlier assessment (a.k.a. test run for community-created DLC). Perhaps their intentions were good right from the start, and they just messed up the implementation. Probably mostly because they a) were so secretive about it and b) tried it with a game that has a large community working within an established system already. Had they tied this experiment to the next game and stated clearly that it was just an experiment, and free modding would still be allowed and encouraged to exist beside this option, the backlash wouldn’t have been nearly as bad as it was.

We’ll see what happens next.


A few days ago, Bethesda and Valve announced a new feature for the Steam Workshop: Paid mods. The reaction was pretty instant, ranging from “good idea, terrible execution” to “go f§%k yourselves!”, from modders pulling free mods from sites like the Nexus and putting them on Steam for money to, polar opposite, modders pulling mods from Steam and hiding the free versions on the Nexus in protest. There are a few civil discussions and many, many people frothing at the mouth about this, for various reasons.

Now I had some time to think (and a really freaky dream about bumbling around in a hopelessly broken modded Skyrim…), and I have to admit, this whole situation gets me on several levels. It’s not just the fact that the system is here now, it’s also some of the reactions from the community. Posts talk about how modding is a passion and shouldn’t be done for money, that the cut of 25% for the modder is outrageous, how the system is overall terrible and won’t work for anything that’s not purely cosmetic – all the way to very volatile, generalising posts about “you shouldn’t expect to get paid for something you like to do anyway”.

Modding is hard work. People put dozens, hundreds, thousands of hours into their creations. They keep them up to date. They create patches so they work with other mods. They take community feedback into account and update accordingly. All for free or optional donations. I understand completely when someone would like to see a little financial appreciation for their hard work, the time and resources put into the project. But. Modding is still not a job. Can’t be, in fact. Mods are piggybacking on someone else’s product. They are fan creations. Like fanfiction, fanart, cover versions of your favourite song. You can create all these things, but you can’t sell them for profit (Fifty Shades of Grey notwithstanding, though that is basically a shitty original story with someone else’s characters).

Now Bethesda tries to “license” mods and generate a profit from a previously untapped well of potential customers (a.k.a. the modding community). They are essentially offloading the “risk” and initial investment of time and resources on the modder but at the same time collect a large portion of the money people are willing to pay for the mod. No risk, high reward, and an overall shitty move that ignores so, so many aspects of the hows and whys of modding.

First, there is the legal aspect. Many mods rely on each other to work. Now say Mod A is for sale, but relies on Mod B that isn’t. Say Mod A makes 500$. Does Mod B’s creator get any of that? Can they prohibit Mod A’s creator from selling the dependent mod until they make a version that doesn’t rely on Mod B? And what if it’s the other way around – SkyUI will be a paid-for mod as of version 5.0. SkyUI is used in so many mods that won’t work properly without it. Say someone steps in and creates a new free UI mod to replace SkyUI that emulates its functionality – if SkyUI is a licensed mod now, can they or Bethesda take down the replacement mod for copyright infringement?

Then there’s the technical aspect. Mods are never guaranteed to work with any given game. Every modder knows that, and anyone messing around with mods does, too (should, anyway). And even if they work with the vanilla game, as soon as they are going beyond merely cosmetic changes, they probably won’t work too well with each other. Requiem and Frostfall are popular mods often installed together, but they need a patch to work with each other (and a shit-ton of tweaks to the load order *sigh*). Now add the Civil War Overhaul and Dragon Combat Overhaul to the mix, and you have a compatibility nightmare that is mitigated by patches that sometimes are not made by the mod creators, but by someone else (also, legalities here: Would that still be possible with the pay model?). Would these mods still work together if they were put behind the Steam paywall? Where is the incentive to create compatibility patches (or go for compatibility in the first place) when you get paid before the customer figures out that the mod won’t work with their game? Who can guarantee that the mods I download will a) work and b) not break my game? No-one, that’s who. A DLC is guaranteed to work with the game I already have. It won’t break my game or my saves. A mod could do both – so basically I could pay for a product that isn’t only broken itself, but will proceed to break other things as well, and with the god-awful return policy, I’m cheated out of my money either way; you don’t get your money back if the mod doesn’t work, you get the money transferred to your Steam wallet – store credit, basically. Say that happens with one out of ten mods, and each mod is 2$ (which is generously cheap, since my mods tend to be a lot bigger than “reskinned sword”). I currently have 100 mods in my list, and ten of those don’t work, so I get 20$ in my Steam wallet that are tied up now. I can not use the money for food, a new shirt, nothing. Valve can. They can work with my money now, even though the product I purchased was broken, and I can’t get an adequate replacement in the store (which store credit should be for). They are free of any responsibility, and Bethesda is as well. They are not responsible for creating a working DLC, which they would be if they made and sold it themselves (but they sure like getting money for it anyway).

Which brings me to the next point: The questionable ethics surrounding this step. There are huge mods out there, mods of DLC scope like Falskaar, Wyrmstooth and Frostfall (which is at least on par with Hearthfire). If these mods were made by Bethesda, they would need to hire a team to work on them, make sure they are compatible with the base game as well as existing and future DLC, and keep them updated, fix bugs etc. That calls for an initial investment by Bethesda (a.k.a. hiring the devs necessary to make the content), which will be repaid once the DLC is being sold. I’m about 99% sure that, if mods like Frostfall, Requiem, Falskaar etc. were made and sold by Bethesda, they’d sell like crazy, because they are amazing and would be 100% compatible with Skyrim and each other. With the Steam Workshop system, Bethesda doesn’t have to invest a single dime. The modders work on their own time, and only ever get paid if the mod sells well enough to make 400$ minimum, but Bethesda gets their cut no matter what. That doesn’t sound like such a good deal to me, and it certainly doesn’t sound very fair to the modder. The idea “pay modders for their hard work” is a good one, sure, but this system is a horrible way of doing that.

I’m not saying I’m completely against modders getting some money out of the hundreds of hours of work. But as I said above, the entire concept is iffy. It’s “early access” all over again, selling possibly horribly broken products and leaving the customer in the dirt when something goes wrong (worst case, but the entire concept of modding makes it infinitely more complicated than “we need a bugfix for this and the devs won’t give us one!”). It’s a recipe for disaster, and until Bethesda (and probably other studios who now think they can get away with the same thing) come around and rethink this, I won’t support it. The system as it is shows very little respect for content creators, treats them worse than freelancers, denies them any firm legal boundaries to operate within, and overall turns the amazing thing that is modding into a travesty. It’s like someone looked at the Nexus, thought “Hey, what if people would pay for these like they do for DLC, and we got a share of the money?” and then went to concoct the worst possible way of treating mods, modders and the community. And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened.

Why was that even necessary? We already have the (unpopular) DLC system in place, and that would’ve been a great place to start: Approach the creators of large, popular mods like Falskaar and Frostfall, offer them access to better tools and some measure of compensation for their work and have them create a proper DLC to sell for something like 2,99$ on Steam, possibly with a percentage of the proceeds going to the modders. I’d say that’s a far better deal for everyone, including Bethesda.

Lastly, I’d like to address the “don’t expect to get paid for your hobby” comments. I’m not sure if the people making them just didn’t think about it or if they genuinely believe that, if you like your work, you shouldn’t get paid for it. Either way, those comments did get me riled up a bit. I’ve been on both sides, the fanwork side and the original work side of something that’s generally seen as a hobby and “not a real job”: writing. Not getting paid for the fanfiction I write and publish has never been, and never will be, an issue for me. I’m playing with someone else’s intellectual property and giving the results away for free. I’d never dream of asking for money, even though I did spend hundreds of hours writing those stories, simply because, when it comes down to it, they don’t really belong to me. Modding is pretty much the same. Modders play with someone else’s toys and put the results up for anyone who wants them to use for free, because the basis of their product doesn’t belong to them. For decades it’s been clear that, unless you are under contract and create a licensed product within clear legal boundaries (like merchandise, film adaptations, tie-in novels…), you should and can not expect to get paid for your fanwork.

People, do not lump these in with original content, with novels and games and music people create and wish to sell to maybe make a living (or just a little cash on the side). These things do not belong to someone else; they are our creations, and we do have the right to ask people for money before we hand them out because we are not leeching off of someone else’s work. If you don’t get it, it’s a simple legal matter of intellectual property. My Doctor Who fanfic is me playing with someone else’s intellectual property for fun; I can’t expect to get paid for it. My novels are my own intellectual property; I created the worlds, the characters and the stories myself, and I am not obligated to give them away for free because they belong to me 100% and I can do with them whatever I want, including selling them. THAT is the difference. Stop using the “if you like doing it don’t expect to get paid for it” argument, it’s insulting and despicable to think that way. You don’t not pay a prostitute because she happens to like having sex with her boyfriend, do you? Or not pay for that delicious bread because the baker happens to like cooking for his family? Why are creative endeavours any different, according to you?

___

I’m still not suite sure what to make of this entire situation. I’d give Bethesda and Valve the benefit of the doubt and say that they watched the modding scene for so long and thought “Hey, those guys deserve some recognition, let’s give them a way to legally make some money!”. But I can’t. I think this is a test run, just like ESO was. ESO came with very few features of a traditional MMO; features that aren’t necessary in a single player RPG, but very necessary in a game designed to be played in a group. Minimap, buff bar, loot designation… you need addons/mods for that. Player-made mods. For things a game like this needs in order to be playable without a constant headache. This was testing the reaction of players to having to add features in themselves, for free this time. Now they are running a second test – what will players do if the features aren’t a necessity, but a luxury, but they have to pay for them? None of the mods on Steam are essential in any way (technically speaking, though there are some that I’d argue are very much essential – the unofficial patches, mainly, and a few other fixes for bugs that have been in the game since launch and that Bethesda hasn’t seen fit to fix in an official patch). They are luxuries, enhancing a full game, and it’s easier to make people pay without complaints for something they (think they) want rather than something they need. Now Bethesda is at E3 this year for the very first time, and everyone’s expecting a big announcement, either TESVI or Fallout 4. Both are franchises that are kept alive for years after their usual shelf life by mods. People are still playing Morrowind because of mods. People are still playing Fallout 3 because of mods. And Skyrim wouldn’t still have a player base this large and people willing to pay for the game more than once without the multitude of free mods (myself included, I went from PS3 to PC for modding purposes). Until last Friday, I hoped it would be one of those games; I was fully prepared to buy either one close to launch, a rare exception for me. But now I can’t help but wonder what else will be announced. Whether they are willing to piss off a large portion of their player base by announcing that all mods will be behind a paywall in the future, and they are going to try and make sure those are the only mods the game accepts. They might cite “stability” as a reason, or “anti-piracy measures”, or “appreciation of the hard-working modders”. And hope people fall for it, just accept it and hand over the modding scene without a fight. I hope that won’t happen. I don’t think it will happen. But when money calls, more than one moral compass might turn around (not that I blame them, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it). But this new paid mods system didn’t go over very well with a large part of the modding community, if not just for moral reasons, then simply because it isn’t feasible. How do they expect someone with several hundred mods to pay for each and every one of those? Pay the price of a brand new computer for your mod list? I’d say most people are going to answer that with a resounding “Hell no!”. Not because we don’t appreciate the modders and the work they put into their creations. It’s because we can’t. Even with a relatively low price of 2$ on average for a mod, I’d have to pay 200$ for my current list, more like double that amount for every mod I ever had for Skyrim, and that’s not counting my other Bethesda games I modded. I just can’t afford that, and even if I could, I wouldn’t, especially so long as the next mod I buy could potentially break my game and all the other mods I bought with it. It’s just not worth it. I’d rather buy a different game.

And somehow, I don’t think that could be Bethesda’s goal here in the long run.

-Ricarda

I’m lazy and my brain is melting

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Well, that’s partially true. I’m not so much lazy as I’m very much unmotivated to do my job at the moment. Mainly because it involves polite written conversations and summarising. I mean, how is it that I had very little trouble writing this book, but putting an adequate description of the events into less that two-thousand words is hell? Even editing wasn’t as excrutiating. Boring, yes, but this is beyond just unpleasant. This is agony. (I dare you to call me a drama queen, dearest reader. I dare you!)

I should just self-publish and be done with it. Screw agents. At least I won’t have to figure out how make fifty words into one.

…okay, that doesn’t sound so bad. It’s probably just a little tedious.

I still hate it.

Whyyy?

Can’t I just go back to Dragon Age and play that horrible, horrible Lost in Dreams quest? No?

Did I mention that I hate this?

-Ricarda