Honest Review: “The Solus Project”

I think it says something about me that all my Steam games are creepy, atmospheric survival horror while most of my Xbox library is shoot ‘em ups with a story.

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There was a lot to like about this game. It was creepy and atmospheric, it was simple yet involved and it was engaging and beautiful to look at. But there were a couple things about this game that gave me pause, including the depiction of the alien overlords at the end of the game and the player movement speed, an important game mechanic in an atmospheric walking simulator.

Teotl Studios and Grip Digital did a really good job of introducing a slow build from a strictly survival-based game to one with elements of mystery and horror intertwined. It could have felt really tedious in the beginning (and did, to a certain degree), but instead I was drawn in wondering how the Solus spaceship crashed and who could live on the capricious watery island setting even before the game introduced the concept of a prior civilization.

As I walked beneath the surface of the islands and deeper into the complex cave system, I could feel the constant pressure to survive easing, replaced instead by the burning desire to solve the mystery of who had lived – and died – here before I arrived, who the Sky Ones were and what they had done to the planet’s inhabitants, and how all of it related to the spaceship crash at the beginning of the game.

I got irritated with the game’s mechanics occasionally, but overall I think “Solus” managed to enforce the game’s mechanics in a way that didn’t take too much away from the overall mystery and atmosphere of the game.

solus project wilson skyline
I was surprised by how little the survival mechanics came to matter towards the end, but I honestly didn’t mind all that much as I mostly play games where eating and drinking are secondary to exploration and fighting. (Source: Gamespot.com)

This game really shines in its graphic and epic world-building aspirations. The game world is huge with several large cells of various weather situations and topographic builds and multiple similarly designed cave cell systems.

[READ: Good story vs. good looks in game design]

However, that carefully created world and all its intricate topography, hidden caves and tunnels, and mountainous hills of geometric columns, felt a little too big sometimes. It often drove me to distraction and I spent countless hours roaming the open wasteland of the islands or the claustrophobic insides of the watery tunnels searching for secrets or relics or hidden caches of alien food.

And while “Solus” was no doubt designed for that sort of aimless open world roaming exploration, it often crossed the line between fun discovery into painfully boring walking.

solus project island topography
Incredibly ambitious and beautifully designed, I was really drawn in by the intricate configuration of the islands’ topography and the alien flora, although I would have liked to see just a little bit of fauna — assuming those angry spike balls were more like sentient sea urchins and less truly living animals. (Source: YouTube.com)

Part of that may have been the movement speed enforcing a glacially slow pace. Although there were relics to increase the overall speed, it never felt fast enough to justify a slow trip across the swaying fields of red island grass. The swimming speed was also incredibly slow and while I would have loved to explore under the fickle waves of the various islands, the swimming speed was never fast enough to allow me to do so.

Essentially, I got bored and frustrated with a lot of the exploration mechanics well before I found all the notes and relics. While some might say I just wasn’t determined enough to find all the extras in the games, I think part of my frustration was justified due to the slow movement pace that didn’t really increase no matter how many relics of speed/movement I found.

In addition to my concerns with the speed of player movement, I also had a serious problem with the ending. Not with what happened, exactly, but how everything was wrapped up and all the questions it left unanswered.

[READ: Twelve questions ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ raised and three it definitively answered]

For example.

  • What exactly did the Sky Ones do to the previous inhabitants of the island?
  • What is the genetic relationship between the humanoid previous inhabitants and the humans of the Solus Project?
  • And what in the flying hell is that black ball of rage and why is it constantly trying to kill me?
solus project smoke monster
To be honest, I never really figured out what this thing was or what it wanted with me. And, because of the slow movement speed, I never really found because I spent more time trying to avoid it at all costs than explore the area it occupied for notes and relics. (Source: YouTube.com)

Some of these questions might have been answered in all the tablets and drawings I know I didn’t find among the giant map cells of the game, but I don’t think all of them were.

Regardless, I think the reliance on such a stereotypically alien image — a giant UFO, a strange green power emanating from a staff held by a cloaked leader, the final survivor being taken away for questioning with strange medical devices positioned around them, etc. — was a little trivial and banal. It felt a little hackneyed, not to mention disjointed at times with the supposedly advanced cloaked aliens carving notes into stone tablets while simultaneously using television screens to monitor the island’s inhabitants.

Despite the rushed ending and its clichéd reliance on alien stereotypes, I really enjoyed the game and I definitely think it merits a playthrough if you like survival horror walking simulators. It’s important to note that this game was designed with VR capability in mind as the game asked me every time I launched it whether I wanted to play it in VR, normal game, or a number of other fancy game modes available through Steam.

[READ: Real talk: A VR skeptic talks future of gaming]

However, as I don’t have and probably will never have a VR system, I played it like another video game and still thoroughly enjoyed it.

In any case, game on, from Prolus Command, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

creepy as fuck dolls

A brief history of Gamergate and why it’s still important today

We need to remember Gamergate because we need to create a better Internet, one that isn’t defined by hate groups and the vitriol they’re allowed to spread under the banner of Internet anonymity.

My first exposure to Gamergate was in the research I did for my English 105i term paper (the one that inspired this very blog, as a matter of fact). While the paper itself focused more on Lara Croft as a representation of what future female game protagonists could look like, I read a lot of articles, both scholarly and not, about the Gamergate controversy and what it looked like for women in gaming in the initial stages of research.

What first appeared like another Watergate rip-off — incidents likened to the Nixon scandal by the –gate names that have becoming increasingly (see: too) common over the years — morphed into a reactionary flood of antifeminist and anti-diversity sentiments.

It started with Zoe Quinn, an independent game developer, and the 2013 release of her game “Depression Quest.” While some argued that the game drew ire because of its unusual format — it’s extremely nontraditional, a “game” where players read and then choose text “actions” based on an evolving story paired with a moving soundtrack — the closer you look, the more it becomes about gender and about the angry white men that make up the “traditional” gamer demographic.

zoe quinn
“Depression Quest” was based partly on Quinn’s personal struggle with depression, and yet her genuine expression of vulnerability and heart was met with hostility and contempt by many. Source: Vice.com.

Shortly after her game was released, an angry ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, posted a series of blog posts about Quinn’s alleged emotional abuse and infidelity. In a scathing six-part series, he explained that Quinn slept around with industry leaders, including a Kotaku game writer, in order to get ahead, claims both Quinn and the writer, Nathan Grayson, denied.

While Gjoni’s posts can easily be read as the ravings of a mad ex-boyfriend, some Twitter users took his view and rolled with it, spouting off claims of journalistic misconduct and ethical violations. Some took it one step further, making anonymous usernames and taking to Twitter and 4chan to harass Quinn, posting her address online, leaking nude photos on social media and even sending her death and rape threats, some of them so vile and specific she was forced to flee her home.

At the time, most Gamergate supporters tried to minimize the latter part of their “movement,” emphasizing that the real problem was the journalistic misconduct and that the threats were just the protests of a small minority group. But the “minority group” then turned their sights on another independent developer, Brianna Wu, and feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, making the Gamergate conversation less about journalistic ethics and more about gender and inclusion. Or rather, the extreme resistance “traditional” gamers had to it.

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Internet culture allows for a dehumanization of women and other objects of derision, allowing violence to be further perpetrated against them under the protection of Internet anonymity. Source: BBC.com.

It’s important to remember that none of this would have been possible without the protective cloak of Internet anonymity.

Walter Isaacson of “The Atlantic” described anonymity as the “bugs in the foundation, bats in the belfry, and trolls in the basement” of the Internet and online communities.

“For years, the benefits of anonymity on the net outweighed its drawbacks,” he continues.

But if Gamergate has taught us anything, it’s that the opposite is becoming true in an era where claims of alternative facts and fake news dominate information cycles with increasingly regularity.

While it’s true that there are people willing to share their vile beliefs in person, in public, without any regard to who might or might not be listening – the Pit Preacher at my school and the things he screams at passing students is proof enough of that – Internet anonymity makes it frighteningly easy to do so without any of the traditional repercussions the public sphere provides.

Internet culture has created a “boy’s club” environment that is characterized by hostility towards women, gay men and other minority groups. It’s gotten better in recent years, but there’s no denying the fact that while the Internet may provide important and unprecedented avenues for interpersonal connectivity and expression, it has also allowed mean-spirited trolls to flourish anonymously with no real repercussions for their actions.

Which brings us to this: Why is Gamergate still important?

For one, Gamergate never really went away. It just kind of receded into that dank, dark Internet hole trolls and offensive memes hide in, just waiting for the right time to rise and strike again.

You can see it resurface from time to time in anonymous hate directed at female industry leaders, characters and players, and those who critique existing and upcoming games. You can see also it in the number of female video game professionals: 22% compared to a male 75% according to a 2015 international survey. You can see it in the “buxom babes,” “femme fatales” and “damsels in distress,” or the persisting female stereotypes as outlined in “Pixel Pinups: Images of Women in Video Games” by Nina Huntemann.

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These are the statistics about gaming’s shifting demographics, one that frightens many who identify as the traditional straight white males many companies advertise to. Source: Theesa.com

More importantly, you can see it in the larger divisions in our cultural dialogue, beyond just those concerning video games, the male demographic readily involved in Gamergate, and gender and gender harassment.

Caitlin Dewey of “The Washington Post” said it best in her analysis of Gamergate, “The only guide to Gamergate you will ever need.” In her article, she described the movement as a question about “how we define our shared cultural spaces, how we delineate identity, [and] who is and is not allowed to have a voice in mainstream culture.”

“It’s about that tension between tradition and inclusion,” she continued. A tension that is still relevant – and painfully present – in our culture today.

In order to alleviate that tension — or, at the very least, allow us to talk about it civilly and humanely — Internet anonymity needs to be reconsidered and revised. Isaacson suggests a number of reforms in his article “How to fix the Internet,” including a voluntary system of identification and authentication. But any real proposal to reevaluate and rectify our divisive Internet culture would need serious consideration by industry professionals, users, and government officials.

At its heart, Gamergate was a confluence of antifeminist sentiments from a white male demographic afraid of female power in “their” industry and small-minded hatefulness made possible by Internet culture and anonymity. It’s important today because the hateful discourse at the center of the Gamergate storm is still on the Internet, indiscriminately targeting online communities over a variety of social issues from feminism to birth control to abortion to gay rights to #BlackLivesMatter to intersectionality to equal pay to trans rights to bathroom bills to any number of social and political issues.

Gamergate isn’t going away. And it shouldn’t.

It should serve as a reminder to us all about what happens when you allow the very worst of humanity free reign over a powerful and influential media like the Internet. It should also serve as the motivation for a better Internet, one that isn’t defined by anonymous hate groups and their rage.

Until we have that kind of Internet, game on and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

internet hate

Top 5 intersectional women in video games

Or why a “color-blind” approach to women in gaming isn’t going to cut it.

It’s no secret that the gaming industry loves the heterosexual white male protagonist. While some steps have been made recently to break the mold (both in the gaming industry and in a larger pop culture context), of the most popular games of 2016, white men were often the featured protagonists.

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Female players make up nearly half of the gaming population, but a paper published in New Media & Society reveals that nearly 90 percent of primary game characters are white males.
Source: Valkymie.tumblr.com

Don Reisinger of Fortune reported on the most popular games according to data from the research firm NDP and the results might not surprise you. Of the top three games – “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” “Battlefield I” and “Tom Clancy’s: The Division” – all of them featured a white male in a main role.

To be completely fair, some had multiplayer or differing story options where players could choose from a variety of characters, but giving players the option to choose from a diversified range of characters is different from actually giving them one intersectional character to play. It’s the same idea behind letting players choose between a male and female character, like many RPGs have done for ages, versus forcing the player’s hand in choosing a female protagonist.

But that’s an issue for another blog.

Setting the issue of diversified men aside, if you’ve kept up with this blog, you probably know I’m in favor of more female protagonists in video games. So I’ve compiled a list of gaming’s top five intersectional women to increase awareness and to advocate for a future where not just more women are featured but more intersectional women are featured as gaming protagonists.

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Aveline de Grandpré ~ “Assassin’s Creed: Liberation”
A mixed race Assassin born of a wealthy French merchant and an African slave, Aveline is a badass lady whose biracial and multinational identity is an integral part of her quest to liberate New Orleans from Templar influence. She recognizes many of the contrasts in 18th century American society and works to correct them, as much as she is able as one lone Assassin against the innumerable and immeasurable forces of injustice and oppression.
Source: Walldevil.com

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Chell ~ “Portal” series
While little is actually known about the “Portal” and “Portal 2” protagonist, the video game canon has generally concluded that Chell is of white European and East or Southeast Asian descent. She is also most likely the daughter of an Aperture Science employee with strong ties to the company as their number one test subject and as one of the only living employees/characters encountered in the game’s universe.
Source: Secondtruth.com

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Clementine ~ “The Walking Dead” series
Simultaneously the cutest and most badass zombie apocalypse heroine I’ve every had the pleasure of playing, Clem is the most notable character out of the entire “Walking Dead” series, one who keeps coming back even when other characters drop like flies around her – or like distressed humans being eaten by their undead brethren. Although the Walking Dead wiki lists her race as African American, I’ve, personally, always believed her to be at least partially Asian. From the first episode of Season One, it’s apparent that she is of a middle class suburban background, but everything about her life pre-apocalypse is either assumed or dropped in hints throughout her interaction with Lee and other characters. Regardless, she’s an emotionally deep and incredibly real girl who players watch grow throughout the Telltale series.
Source: Thatvideogameblog.com

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Faith ~ “Mirror’s Edge” and “Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst”
Another badass gaming gal of mixed Asian and Caucasian descent, Faith Connors is the protagonist of the dystopian “Mirror’s Edge” series. In both games, she makes a living by running from an overzealous police force all while jumping, kicking and flipping her way in style through the City of Glass. Her story changes pretty dramatically from “Mirror’s Edge” to “Catalyst,” but Faith’s appearance and kickass attitude stay consistent. If anything, Faith becomes even cooler in the reboot as her hand-to-hand combat and parkour skills are revamped for the Frostbite 3 engine.
Source: Wallpapersite.com

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Nilin ~ “Remember Me”
I did a lot of scouring to try to uncover the actual racial makeup of Nilin, but as far as I could tell, she was only ever listed as “of a mixed ethnic origin.” While a lot of people on the internet were curious as to her official racial identity, a lot more seemed to think it didn’t matter. However, I say it does matter. While her ethnicity may not have played a large role in the game – as Connor’s Native American heritage did in “Assassin’s Creed III” – I still think it’s important to note racial distinctions because a deliberate diverse choice is better than the vocal equivalent of a shrugging emoji which is passed on as an attempt to minimize the effect of a potentially impactful choice.
Source: Wall.alphacoders.com

Even as I wrote this list, it became apparent to me that nearly all the characters that I chose – based on previous playing experience and critical commentary – were of a mixed racial or ethnic background. While I’m not saying that a mixed racial or ethnic identity is not important, I just think it’s something to note that game developers and designers felt they needed to throw a bit of white in with their diverse characters in order to get players to connect with them.

And if that doesn’t say anything about the state of female diversity in video games right now, I don’t know what does.

This isn’t so much a critique of the women in video games right now as it is a reminder that while we all work towards increasing female representation, we can’t just throw more white women at the problem and assume that fixes it.

If we truly want to increase female representation, then we need to take a long look at the intersectional makeup of our society and try to design and develop characters that reflect our multiethnic, multiracial, multinational, complex and beautiful female identity.

So game on, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

more intersectional women

Condescending casual sexism or gaming’s “Girlfriend Mode”

I find the term “casual sexism” to be a bit of an oxymoron.

 

There’s nothing casual about sexism.

It isn’t a lazy Sunday afternoon spent reading books or lying in a hammock somewhere with a fancy cocktail in one hand. It isn’t a Friday at work where you can wear blue jeans instead of blazers or a flowy dress instead of a tight pencil skirt.

Sexism is men cat-calling women on the way to work, following them down darkened alleys to scream obscenities at them to then get unreasonably angry when those women don’t respond favorably.

Sexism is women being beaten for the mistake of being born female, being paid less on the dollar, and being told they are somehow less than men.

Nothing about sexism is casual and yet casual sexism exists. And it’s more prevalent than you might think.

Sexism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women” (emphasis theirs). As the definition implies, sexism is often intentional and based on perceived social roles and the violation of them.

What’s different about casual sexism is that it’s sexism that is so ingrained and common that we forget it’s even there.

It happens when women aren’t hired for jobs because their bosses are worried they’ll only work for a few years before popping out babies and draining the company’s paid leave reserves. It happens when men make jokes about hairy lesbians or bright young things that are too pretty to work or too gorgeous to have brains. It happens when women take leadership positions and the confidence they would have as a man is described as having a “bossy” or “bitchy” attitude.

It happens in a hundred different ways every day in our society, our media, our everyday lives and even our video games.

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Alanna Vagianos at the Huffington Post compiled a list of #QuestionsForMen tweets that perfectly describe the hundreds of ways sexism is ingrained in our society.
Source: Huffingtonpost.com.

Examples of casual sexism in video games are all too common. Most of them involve rewarding player characters with women (particularly prostitutes) in games like “God of War” and “Grand Theft Auto,” and violence against women (of which prostitutes are a significant number) in “Red Dead Redemption” and “Bioshock.”

[READ: Stuffed in refrigerators, or why gaming’s number one trope has got to go]

But casual sexism is more than just outright violence. It’s often as little as a thoughtless disregard for female players or their representation in video games of all genres.

Take for example the Gearbox hit “Borderlands 2.” Out of the two female characters, at least one was specifically designed with female players in mind, and not in a good way. Gearbox lead designer John Hemingway wanted to, “make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree.”

Thus the DLC mechromancer, Gaige, was born.

Although Gearbox quickly condemned Hemingway’s description of the character, the “Girlfriend Mode” skill tree, officially dubbed “Best Friends Forever,” still exists in all its condescending glory.

gaigeeeee

Called one of the cutest characters ever made by lead designer Hemingway and given a condescendingly named “Best Friends Forever” skill tree with gems like “Close Enough” that don’t require players to aim and a potential reference to women in the kitchen with “Cooking Up Trouble,” it’s easy to see casual sexism at work, once you start paying attention.
Source: Playbuzz.com.

Hemingway presented Gaige’s “Girlfriend Mode” as a way to be more inclusive of non-player audiences, but he actually just alienated women, nearly 48 percent of the gaming population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Nuances of language and meaning aside, there’s a significant percent of the population that definitely did not take issue with Hemingway’s statement. And that’s what’s so scary about casual sexism.

Because it’s an attitude that is generally assumed and co-opted by men that refuses to allow any deviations or changes in belief. Pew did the math, and 60 percent of Americans agree with the statement “most people who play video games are men” with 31 percent disagreeing and another 9 percent unsure if it is true or not.

It’s something I assumed until I started really looking into the demographic breakdown of video game players when I started this blog. And if everyone holds this idea, nothing is going to change and casual sexism will continue to be a problem.

Because it is a problem. Whether you’re violently murdering a female character or “helping” gamer girlfriends play by condescendingly lowering skill requirements in a “Girlfriend Mode” created just for them, casual sexism in video games is a problem because it reflects casual sexism in society.

And if we change our attitude in our video games and other media outlets, then maybe we change our attitude in society as well.

So combat sexism, both casual and not, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

casual-sexism

Honest review: “Firewatch”

This game’s quiet moments are the loudest in a game with a story narrative driven by dialogue and achingly real characterization.

“Firewatch” is the other walking simulator I played recently, one I enjoyed much more than FunCom’s “The Park.” Although this game too involved the death of a child (spoiler alert), the story was less horrific than “The Park” and featured more honest dialogue and engaging suspense than the jump-scares and disturbing interpretations of mental illness in “The Park.”

Full disclosure, the game did manage to lose my interest for a period, but that had less to do with its story and more to do with a stressful school week and the fact that walking across the map and taking in the stunning scenery of “Firewatch” doesn’t provide the kind of visceral stress-reliving pleasure that comes from shooting pixelated people.

That said, “Firewatch” was truly beautiful in every sense of the word: Beautiful dialogue, beautiful setting, beautiful characterization and a beautiful story. At the end, I was both wistful and heartbroken because the game had ended and I wanted to spend more time with Henry and Delilah.

I was also heartbroken because the story had ended and hadn’t answered all of the questions raised throughout the game play, but I’m incredibly hard to please, especially where a good story is concerned.

The game begins with down-on-his-luck novelist Henry who enjoys the happiest moments of his life and endures the worst any person can experience all within the first three minutes of the game. Although we see nothing of his life in those minutes, we read everything in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

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In the first few minutes of the game we get an introduction to Henry’s personality and the reason he might be running away from the world in a unique but unsustainable format.
Source: Thenextweb.com.

Although interesting, this style is abruptly abandoned after the first couple of minutes of the game as we’re caught up to speed on everything about Henry’s sad, lonely life.

The rest of “Firewatch” unfolds in a series of dialogue and story-heavy choices that follow Henry as he traipses through the Shoshone National Forest with the disembodied voice of fellow firewatcher and supervisor, Delilah, guiding him via the two-way radio gifted to him courtesy of the game’s time period, good old 1989.

Their conversations over the radio are at times unbearably charming and painfully pedantic, but, in the end, they give you the entire story in a format that’s less about what’s actually happening and more about the characters themselves and how they respond to what they see.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been more delighted in a game than in the moment where I made Henry adopt this turtle. It’s moments like these that really made the game outstanding.
Source: Firewatchgame.com.

The game really shines in the way it presents the character of Henry and Delilah. They are ordinary people with ordinary personalities and ordinary character traits dealing with decisions and situations both extenuating (a death, a mystery and a fire that threatens to consume all of the Shoshone) and ordinary (a desire to reconnect, to find a new identity and to run away from the real and sometimes overwhelming problems of our daily lives).

Although all of this ordinary may seem boring, it’s actually quite extraordinary because it gives us, the audience, a chance to play and interact inside a novel-like narrative.

Because “Firewatch” was a novel. It was a visually stunning one with interactive capabilities never seen before in the plain print medium that’s nearly as old mankind, but, at is heart, it was a novel with a lifelike and engaging story and real, connective characters.

Now, this isn’t the first time that games have been compared to the literary medium. Naomi Alderman of The Guardian has compared video games to literature with games like “Journey” and “Kentucky Route Zero.” Robin Burks of Tech Times has also compared the two in titles like “The Walking Dead” and “Mass Effect.”

But “Firewatch” is different in its refreshingly simplistic approach. Although the ending left a little to be desired and the end result (a dead kid) is still something that’s hard for some audiences to grapple with, a lot of “Firewatch’s” redeeming qualities are found in the quiet moments of its story.

And quiet moments are few and far between in the fast-paced, combative gaming world, a fact that may merit further consideration as games get more and more elaborate.

So watch on, dear gamers and firewatchers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

Stuffed in refrigerators, or why gaming’s number one trope has got to go

It’s a problem common enough to have a name, even if it’s one you’ve probably never heard before.

Even if you’ve never heard of the term “fridging” before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Picture this. The main character of your favorite book/movie/video game/what-have-you is a male with a female girlfriend/mom/sister/whatever. Everything seems normal, nothing is out of the ordinary and life continues on in its perfect comic book/movie/video game universe.

Then suddenly, the female friend-with-benefits/sister/girlfriend/mother/etc. is gruesomely slaughtered and left out for the male character to see. Often times, the character is stretched out in a dramatic pose across the bed she shared with her lover, or slumped over the kitchen table where she used to teach her son to make cookies, or dumped in a slummy location with a trail of clues leading the male character to her body where he’ll fall to his knees with grief and vow eternal vengeance on whoever and whatever caused the death of his sweetheart.

This is called fridging and it is one of the more disgusting examples of casual sexism, something that is sickeningly common in pop culture. With the stroke a pen, writers the genre over turn fleshed-out female characters into nothing but a clichéd plot device meant to further the main character’s man-pain.

The term comes from an old-school Green Lantern comic where the one of the lesser members of DC’s Justice League, Hal Jordan, comes home to find his girlfriend literally stuffed in a fridge by one of his enemies.

The term was coined by DC comic writer Gail Simone who read the comic and noticed that the fate of Green Lantern’s girlfriend was only the latest in a long line of dead women used as plot points to motivate male heroes. As a result, she started her own site, Women in Refrigerators, and compiled a list of all the females in comics who had been raped, killed, mistreated or abused in some way to advance the storyline of their male colleagues.

But this problem isn’t limited to comic book heroines with their big boobs and skin-tight costumes. Fridging happens in just about every setting you can imagine from comic books to video games to literary fiction to movies to TV shows and everything in between.

Setting aside the moral and societal implications of this practice of routinely normalizing violence against women, what’s so scary about fridging in video games and beyond is that it happens regularly enough that we often forget it’s there or don’t notice it at all.

And why would we?

We’ve been conditioned to accept women as both a brainless sex object and a simplistic plot device. Starting from games as banal and mindless as “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.” women have been used as the carrot on the end of the stick to motivate the player along.

From there, the role of women has snowballed from kidnapping to murder to rape to purposeful, calculated annihilation to leave the male main character vulnerable or incite his vicious rage.

Part of this is the result of early advertising techniques used by game companies to try to entice male customers. But the fact that it has continued into this digital age and is a more ingrained plot device than ever is distinctly worrying.

The examples are nearly endless.

The pointless death of Talia al Ghul towards the end of “Batman: Arkham City.”

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Dead. Source: Heroes-villians.wikia.com. 

Clara and Nicole described as cliché plot devices and living set-dressing  in a “Watch Dogs” review by Cameron Kunzelman of “Paste” magazine.

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Also dead. Source: YouTube.com.

Angel’s martyred death in Borderlands 2.

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Very dead. Source: QuotesGram.com. 

The before-game death of Kratos’ wife and child in the “God of War” series.

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Do you see a pattern here? Source: Paste Magazine. 

Paz’s horrific death via implanted bomb in “Metal Gear Solid,” a death that occurs after the player character has already torn one bomb out of her in one of the most graphic scenes in gaming history.

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And, what’s that? Oh yeah, she’s dead too. Source: YouTube.com. 

The list goes on and on.

If you think I’m exaggerating or putting too much emphasis on something that isn’t really a big deal, put a man in the role of each of those women and see what happens.

In this context, fridging becomes less of a trope and more of a grisly, but necessary part of the literary life cycle – which it definitely isn’t. Tragedy often forces the hero’s hand, but does it have to be this tragedy? And does it have to happen all. The. Freaking. Time.

There are plenty of other micro tragedies that can inspire a superhero to take up the mask or force the protagonist on an epic quest to hunt down the villain. More than that, there are plenty of ways to motivate a character beyond watching their lover die or coming home from a long day of work to find their girlfriend stuffed in the fridge right next to the leftover takeout.

Most importantly, there are ways of motivating characters that don’t normalize violence against women. Because at the end of the day, that’s what fridging is doing. It’s establishing a routine or a cycle of violence that starts with the death/abuse/rape/etc. of a female character that, in turn, leads to male man-pain, which leads to a burning desire to fight crime/kill the beast or whatever mode of vengeance works the best, which can lead to even more violence against whatever woman in the hero’s life is the most vulnerable, and so on and so forth.

It’s a horrible, horrible cycle that needs to end not only for female pop culture consumers, but for the moral health of the writers and companies who are willing to perpetrate this cycle of violence and death.

Until that point, speak out and avoid refrigerators, my dear gamers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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Honest review: “Assassin’s Creed” The Movie

I am Ubisoft trash and will be until the day I die. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize the flaws in the recent “Assassin’s Creed” movie.

Video game movies never work out.

And neither did this one.

While it wasn’t particularly terrible – it was very much a Common Core action movie complete with the minimal story and significant plot holes that are run of the mill for Hollywood action – it wasn’t quite what I had expected.

And I hadn’t expected much.

This movie had a very patchwork feel to me. While I’m glad they didn’t try to adapt Desmond and his story for the Silver Screen, instead they took the setting of the most popular set of games – Spain from Ezio’s “Assassin’s Creed II” and “Brotherhood” – and combined it with the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, a setting eerily reminiscent of the Crusade time period of the original “Assassin’s Creed.”

The main protagonist, Callum Lynch, goes from adventurous child to hardened criminal in the span of minutes in much the same way Jyn Erso transitioned in the recently released “Rogue One.” And also like Jyn in “Rogue One,” Callum’s criminal past is never really explained except for a brief mention in the tin man exposition towards the middle of the film.

While I liked the action sequences involving Callum’s assassin ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha, they were admittedly shallow and superficial, filmed simply for the sake of the subject matter with zero to no dialogue included between crazy acrobatic flips and impressive real-life game assassinations.

Despite that, I liked Aguilar’s parts the most because they were scenes that I could have easily seen in one of the games. Not that there weren’t plenty of nods to the game throughout the 2 hour odd long runtime, but a man falling into a haystack and a heavy handed eagle metaphor/transition/cinematography shot were nothing compared to Aguilar’s quest to protect the Prince of Granada, a quest that could have easily been an in-game mission.

However, I hated the death of Aguilar’s partner, Maria. I’m so sick of bad-ass female characters being killed off to further the male man-pain. But that’s an issue for another blog.

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You don’t deserve a girl like that if you’re going to kill her as a cliché plot device ~ Source: Gamespot.com. 

And finally, the finale.

The last few minutes of the movie, while appropriately melodramatic and epic-looking, were underwhelming to say the least. The lore of the AC games is too much to be crammed into one movie and the last scene made that almost painfully clear.

After Callum assassinates Dr. Rikkin and takes the apple, we see his daughter Sophia whisper a few words over her father’s body before she steps out into the London street vowing to bring pain and death upon the Assassin Order.

Setting aside the improbability of the Assassins actually being able to get into and out of the Templar stronghold with the Apple, and the fact that Sophia may or may not have seen herself as an assassin in the shadowy group hallucination after Callum broke the Animus, the ending was a pale imitation of a grand finale.

I had expected something more dramatic from the self-serious movie that “Assassins’s Creed” tried to be. Maybe a final battle for the Apple, or a grand resurgence of the Assassin Order.

Instead I got three people stealing the Apple while Sophia – whose face remained in the exact same expression throughout the entire movie, I might add – shed a few tears and the other Templars screamed and fled their stronghold like civilians instead of the supposedly feared and badass order they are.

All in all, I wasn’t impressed, but when you try to take a video game that, by its definition, is interactive and engaging even when the storyline is pre-determined, it’s hard to properly translate that into a flat, detached movie.

I would even argue that it’s not possible, but that’s an issue for another blog.

All grievances aside, I’m still tentatively on board for an “Assassin’s Creed” sequel, if only so they can expand upon the story they established in this movie and so they can maybe get Michael Fassbender a shirt that he won’t inexplicably take off.

Until then, game on, deadly assassini, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the view, I just don’t understand why he took his shirt off in the first place ~ Source: Justjared.com.