Fighting to Survive: How Lara Croft can learn from Sara Del Rey

I'll start this blog by admitting this is more about wrestling than video games. Technically, what I discuss could apply to any game or piece of media with women characters, but Lara Croft seems like the best analog to the type of persona I'm discussing. Gender issues in media may seem like a tired topic to most on the Internet at this point, but perhaps some positivity will prove to lighten the mood. Obviously viewpoints are all my own and subject to criticism, I don't speak for every person in the world who wants strong female characters in media. Anyway, enough preamble.

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As you skip through your first Chikara wrestling show, things may seem a little odd. A tag team of a baseball and football players wearing cartoonish outfits secure a victory of a two occult demon worshippers. A trio of masked men with outfits and names derived from ants take on a bizarro version of themselves. A man in a red tie and wild hairstyle strums a guitar while leading a chorus of fans in a song about coming to Chicago Ridge. It's immediately obvious Chikara is not the kind of professional wrestling you were used to. Your main event for the evening? "The generic luchador" El Generico vs. "The queen of wrestling" Sara Del Rey.

Chikara is a surprising wrestling promotion.

Professional Wrestling has a horrendous history when it comes to female representation. The WWE alone has had story lines involving necrophiliac rape, business related miscarriages, and more skin than a Playboy magazine. Although they've cleaned up their act in recent years, the women's division in WWE is in shambles and hardly passes as entertainment. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I found out Chikara's women wrestlers are respected on the same level as their men. Sara Del Rey vs. El Generico, a mixed gender singles match, headlined above contests involving the tag team and solo champions in Chikara at the time.

Let's break down why this match is an example of women characters done right, starting with Sara Del Rey's ring attire. While a lot of her body is exposed in her outfit, it doesn't feel overtly sexual. Her top covers her entire chest, revealing no cleavage, and her bottom doesn't ride up her ass and covers her body tastefully. Areas that aren't concealed are assumably bare to show off her fit figure and muscles. This is wrestling, after all. Intimidation is still an inherent quality. A woman can show off her body without being a sexual object, and this is an example of that very thing.

Sara Del Rey enters the ring for her main event match.

Next, let's consider her offense. She executes a variety of attacks on Generico including power moves like suplexes and the LeBell lock, a submission hold currently used by WWE superstar Daniel Bryan. The crowd is never lead to believe her moves only happen by chance, pure luck, or mistakes by the male performer. Sara outsmarts, outpowers, and outperforms Generico on occasions throughout the match because she is a talented wrestler. Viewers know that if she wins, chances are it's because she earned it and not because she lucked into a victory.

Finally, we have to remember that she's not invincible. Generico, despite initial misgivings about wrestling a woman, puts up a strong fight against Del Rey. Multiple Yazuka kicks to the head, a variety of slams, and even Sara's own suplex finisher are employed by Generico in an effort to put the queen of wrestling down for a 3-count. Sara's chest starts to turn a crimson red from all the chops Generico administers throughout the match. Despite the punishment Sara takes, she never appears to be in so much danger she's lost control. "Let's go Sara," chants fill the arena many times throughout the main event, a clear indication that the crowd believes she is, in fact, capable of winning the match on her own.

Vulnerability is a difficult aspect of life to convey appropriately.

So how does this all play into Tomb Raider? Mostly for this quote from Ron Rosenberg "When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character... They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'" Lara, much like Sara, shouldn't need to be protected. We all know Lara is the same badass, killing-dinosaurs-with-dual-pistols chick from the Playstation One days. We shouldn't be expected to believe she needs to be saved. There's nothing wrong with showing vulnerability in a female character, but when that vulnerability exists only for pity, the character never enjoys empowerment. Hopefully this quote is just one big misunderstanding and when the game hits next year, all my worries will be washed away. I'm still very excited for the Tomb Raider reboot, I just hope the new Lara has a little bit of Chikara's Sara in her.

You can watch highlights from the Chikara match here (as long as you can put up with Senses Fail)

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The Internet is Broken: Six Months of Boy's Club

That's right, the Internet is broken. Or perhaps more specifically, the people on the Internet are broken. Recent events have been riddled with negativity, hate speech, and an incredible amount of sexism that I'm just sick of. This post isn’t about whether or not you think women in video games are poorly represented, it’s about how Internet watchdogs don’t like anyone asking questions about the industry they love. The last six months have not only made me ashamed to be a gamer, it's made be ashamed to own an Internet connection. I'm ashamed to know that I love a medium that breeds demons as vile as the ones I've seen over the past few months. It's no wonder news organizations think gaming is rotting our brains.

Mass Effect 3 featured a 'story' difficulty for players uniterested in combat.

Let's start with Jennifer Hepler. A writer in the games industry dared to say that she was more interest in video game stories than gameplay, and the Internet threw a hissy fit. A witch hunt ensued as pitchfork wielding trolls targeted her gender, weight, and competency as a writer in an effort to, I'm not sure, make themselves feel better? The story becomes even muddier as many of the quotes attributed to the poor writer were entirely falsified by the mob itself. The wildfire they started grew hotter via the coals mined by their own efforts. This was a horrible moment in gaming, truly, and I'm disgusted to say it preceded a trend.

Pictured here: sexual harassment

Then we move into the story of Aris Bakhtanians and Miranda Pakozdi. During Capcom's Street Fighter X Tekken reality show, Cross Assault, we got a glimpse into the mind of a man unable to understand limits. Aris not only manages to harass fellow teammate Miranda so much she seemingly takes a dive in her match to leave the show, he provides us with some amazing soundbites. Claiming that Street Fighter and sexual harassment are one in the same is true food for thought. While not an example of a mob attack, the event still exemplifies the sexism in our industry and how commonplace it feels to some people. Aris, for all his misguided beliefs about harassment, is obviously not alone.

Whether or not Lollipop Chainsaw is sexist is not the real issue.

Finally, we have the recent attacks on Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs. Women in video games series. This is, perhaps, the most severe of them all. It combines the worst aspects of the Hepler mob attacks with the normalized sexism in the Street Fighter X Tekken story. A blogger with a successful web series about female stereotypes in media decides she wants to do a series about video games. Why? Not because she believes games are evil, but rather she believes they are the future of entertainment. Gaming has a lot of power, and she knows it. Just the mere thought of a woman asking questions about her gender's representation in games sent the Web into a firestorm. So began a maelstrom of disgraceful youtube comments, Wikipedia vandalism, and absolutely ignorant statements on any article that dared to give Anita an outlet for discussion. The whole event felt like trying to take a ball away from a 3-year old to let other kids play with it. It's as if they lack the empathy to respect other people's perspectives. It's time to grow up, Internet, you're not in pampers anymore.

2012 has been a bad year to be a female gamer. Hell, it's been a bad year to be a morally sound gamer. It's been a bad year to associate yourself with the kind of crowd that plays video games. You don’t have to agree with Hepler’s opinion on gameplay, think Aris was out of line, or believe Anita is onto something to understand the real problem here. Whether or not female representation in gaming is good or bad is irrelevant. Our gaming peers, however large or small, have decided that harassment and personal attacks are justifiable when someone questions their industry. If we numb ourselves to the outrage, we’re no better than they are.

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A closer look at the "One Console Future"

Originally Posted here!

   

I think we’ve all had that moment.  That moment where we come across a gameplay video, or a screenshot, or a presentation and we say to ourselves “This game looks amazing... if only I could play it.”  For the past few years I’ve felt exclusivity to consoles has been a major hamstring on the industry’s appeal to wider audiences.  Whether it’s a hardware standard that would drive down the cost of game development or just a service that connects all the platforms together, I feel the industry is in dire need of some standardization.  With the recent news of the PS3 copy of Portal 2 containing a way to get your hands on the PC and MAC versions free of charge, I think we’re closer to that goal than we’ve ever been.

A lot of people have described this idea as a One Console Future, but where does that come from and what does all of this mean?  From what I could find, the concept evolved out of an idea pitched back in 2007 by then EA Executive VP, Gerhard Florin.  "We want an open, standard platform which is much easier than having five which are not compatible,"[1] he explained.  Soon after, Silicon Knights founder Denis Dyack and God of War creator David Jaffe expressed similar beliefs on the future of the industry.  Dyack has even gone so far as to say that this standardization is “inevitable” and is the originator of the One Console Future moniker.  

So what happens to the industry when the console makers are all forced to play friends with one another?  I believe the consumer benefit is the most obvious.  For us, it means universal access to any and every title released to the masses.  Much as you can purchase any DVD and any DVD player and have the two be compatible, you would be able to purchase any game and any game system and achieve the same result.  It also makes being a hardcore gamer a lot easier, allowing for a cheaper, single solution to accessing every title the industry has to offer.  For developers, it offers a lower cost to entry for companies wanting to penetrate the entire gaming market.  This generation has seen a lot of the best titles be mutli-platform, and the ability to reach the largest market and get the largest amount of buzz around your title is essential.  It would also mean stronger competition on the software side, both in terms of games and operating systems.  Without exclusivity deals, Microsoft and Sony would have to focus more heavily on software features like XBOX live and PSN to entice gamers to their specific console.  Developers, similarly, would have to compete for sales with the newly homogenized market, leading to higher quality games overall.  There is a lot of benefits to the One Console Future theory, but also a lot of detractors.    

There’s been no shortage of forum post and commenter outrage about the idea of a universal gaming standard, but I’d like to address some of the more professional complaints against the theory.  A quick google search for “One Console Future” brings up a lot of negative headlines.  “A one-console future: Pray it never happens,” “Dyack Drones On About One Console Future,” and “Why David Jaffe Is Wrong On The 'One-Console' Future” are especially prominent.  So what brings out all this negativity, and might it be misplaced?  A major point brought up time and time again is that this would lead to less competition or even a monopolistic industry.  As previously stated, it would not remove competition and may in fact increase it as console manufactures need to differentiate their products in ways other than technical prowess.  The belief that it could lead to a monopoly is slightly ignorant to what the One Console Future is truly asking for.  It does not propose that a single company makes a single console that the industry all develops for.  Instead, it proposes that a consortium of game industry heads get together and create a base for which console manufacturers can build off of.  In this way, allowing for every game to reach every audience available.  

Another strong complaint against the theory is that it’s just not reasonable to believe that Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony would be willing to settle on a standard.  Former Sony Exec David Reeves brought it up in November of last year,  "When you're on the first-party side, you realise how really, really expensive it is to develop a platform. Whether it's PS3, or Xbox 360 or even Wii, they cost millions - maybe not billions, but absolutely millions. You don't know when to put that stake in the ground of technology and move on. You know, say 'that's enough.’”[3]  He goes on to state the rising cost of console manufacturing could lead to a gaming standard as early as two console cycles from now.

Similarly, the trend of multi-platform games seems to imply that the days of exclusivity and console makers dominating the industry are numbered.  The three big console manufacturers may not come to a standard on their own, but with the rising cost of game development I have to wonder what happens when it reaches a breaking point.  Could top selling publishers and developers sway future consoles to be more similar to allow for easier multi-platform access?  When the best-selling games of the industry are by third-party multi-platform giants like Activision’s Call of Duty series, why would they continue to put up with consoles that make multi-platform development difficult?  By all accounts, the power differences between the PS3 and 360 are minuscule to the average gamer, and I can assume that as we reach the top of the bell-curve of graphics power the differences will lessen even more.  In a potential future of similar consoles and artificial differentiation through exclusives that console manufacturers have to pay for, such as the GTA IV DLC on 360, I think even Sony and Microsoft could come to terms with one another.  If a group of publishers, developers, and console manufacturers could come up with a standard to unify the gaming populace I think it would be very beneficial for the industry.


For all the complaints, even the games press seems to agree that the One Console Future is indeed the future of the industry.  But while developers like Dyack and Jaffe think it’s in the next couple decades, the press seem convinced that it’s the far-flung future of space cars and robot maids.  As Valve sets to make the PS3 version of Portal 2 the best version, I have to wonder if there is more potential Steam integration in the PS3’s future.  Could this partnership be the catalyst to a unified purchasing standard?  I’m not sure, but there are representatives from every major part of the industry that seem to think it’s beneficial.  Like it or not, the One Console Future is our future, but when that day comes remains to be seen.

Sources

[1] http://www.computerandvideogames.com/174055/news/eas-one-platform-vision/
[2] http://www.computerandvideogames.com/174193/news/dyack-one-console-future-inevitable/
[3] http://www.computerandvideogames.com/276488/news/xbox-and-playstation-could-join-forces-ex-sony-boss/
[4] http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2008/01/why-david-jaffe/
[5] http://www.destructoid.com/a-one-console-future-pray-it-never-happens-84995.phtml
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