Re-post:‘Through the Gates,’ ep. 31: Jess Tompkins on women in gaming

Indiana University’s Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President featured me on a segment of their weekly podcast, ‘Through the Gates.’ You can give it a listen on SoundCloud. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Tompkins describes her life-long enjoyment of video games and the gender politics that manifest in the game design industry and gamer culture. She explains that, in her early years, the sexualization of women in games “seemed normal,” saying, “I was being exposed to sexualized women in advertising, in films, long before I saw sexualized women in games.”

-From ‘Through the Gates’ official blog.

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Video Game Character Design Study Seeks Participants

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I’m looking to speak with game designers, developers, concept artists, etc. about character design for video games. Please don’t hesitate to contact me regarding any questions. All interviewees will remain anonymous.

Feel free to share the text via email and social media:

If you have worked on a video game development team you are invited to participate in a short interview that will investigate the process and decision-making behind character conceptualization and video game design. As you may be aware, video game content has been scrutinized by both the public and academics alike with little consideration of the industry’s perspective. This study seeks to understand the design process from the practical and economic considerations of the industry in order to balance out the academic research that has overlooked these factors.

The interviews will be conducted by Jessica Tompkins (Ph.D. student) and Dr. Nicole Martins of the Media School at Indiana University, Bloomington. Jessica and Nicole have previously conducted research on video games and Jess herself is an avid gamer. Participation involves a single interview via Skype or phone. All participants will be entered to win one $50 Amazon gift card, the odds of winning dependent on the total number of participants (about 1 in 20 or 1 in 25).

If you are at least 18 years old, have worked on character creation for games, and would like more information about participating, please contact: Jessica Tompkins at jetompki@indiana.edu or Nicole Martins at nicomart@indiana.edu.

Interviews will last approximately 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes. Participants will remain anonymous in any papers or presentations that may emerge from this study.

Game Design & Game Studies: Building Bridges between the Industry and Academia

Research on games and game design lacks dialogue between those who make games and those who study games and game design as a profession. I’m hardly the first researcher to make this observation, I’m sure, and I’m certain a similar disconnect is present for researchers within other areas of media studies, such film production and criticism. Still, it’s a big challenge to overcome, and one hurdle I hope to see diminish with time, for the academics who study games and hope to instill some kind of positive change.

It’s easy to see where this weak relationship stems. Since the introduction of violent games such as Mortal Kombat and Doom in the early 1990s the medium has stirred an ongoing debate about graphic interactive content and potential negative effects on players, particularly youths. Unsurprisingly, many industry professionals harbor a general distrust towards academics given the breadth of media effects research which links violent and aggressive outcomes to video game players. Additionally, communication, media, and gender scholars have investigated the prominence of sexualized female characters in games and the potential detrimental effects associated with exposure to such stereotypes within interactive and virtual environments. Industry professionals may perceive such scrutiny on video game effects as attacks on creative work and on the medium as a whole. Yet, both academics and professionals, I think, could benefit from investing more trust and understanding in one another.

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Presentation on designing historical video games, International Communication Association 65th Annual Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico (May 2015).

Academics, in conversation with game designers and producers, could be made aware of the variety of constraints and other factors which influence creation of game content. For instance, studios may have a financial incentive to continue production of stereotypes in games over time if such representations have proven financially successfully in the past. This may also place some accountability on game consumers and not just the studios who market and make games, which might even be a source of frustration to some creatives who want to diversify content yet are limited by financial pressures to conform with money-making formulas. Additionally, game developers might reflect upon such constraints from a more critical context in conversation with researchers who are concerned about game content and advocate for more variety in design.

Academic publications on video game content and effects often end with a generic ‘call to action’ – that designers should make content less violent and more diverse; that the Entertainment Software Association should create more nuanced and varied ratings to inform families of inappropriate content. Such statements have the best intentions for players and families but, in the echo chamber that is a paper’s “Recommendations and Conclusion” section, somewhat lack sincerity and genuine passion. Games research which makes suggestions in consideration of designers, developers, and the industry as a business might actually have more impact than research that lacks the perspectives of designers and creatives.

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An aca-gamer conducting serious research.

Why this post, why now? Because I’m currently attempting such a study and I’m running into a few road blocks. I’m seeking interviews with professionals in the game industry who have worked on character design and, while I’ve had several fantastic and articulate people reach out and speak with me so far, I’ll need to hear from more voices in order to have a more representative collection of insights for the complete study. I hope that such a study, as well as others, might strengthen the dialogue between game researchers and academics and improve the quality and scope of games for all.

Please feel free to share the below study information.

Video Game Character Design Study

If you have worked on a video game development team you are invited to participate in a short interview that will investigate the process and decision-making behind character conceptualization and video game design. As you may be aware, video game content has been scrutinized by both the public and academics alike with little consideration of the industry’s perspective. This study seeks to understand the design process from the practical and economic considerations of the industry in order to balance out the academic research that has overlooked these factors.

The interviews will be conducted by Jessica Tompkins (Ph.D. student) and Dr. Nicole Martins of the Media School at Indiana University, Bloomington. Jessica and Nicole have previously conducted research on video games and Jess herself is an avid gamer. Participation involves a single interview via Skype or phone. All participants will be entered to win one $50 Amazon gift card, the odds of winning dependent on the total number of participants (about 1 in 20 or 1 in 25).

If you are at least 18 years old, have worked on character creation for games, and would like more information about participating, please contact: Jessica Tompkins at jetompki@indiana.edu or Nicole Martins at nicomart@indiana.edu.

Interviews will last approximately 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes. Participants will remain anonymous in any papers or presentations that may emerge from this study.

Male ‘Nudity’ Plays Against Logic in New Final Fantasy Game

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Mevius Final Fantasy’s hero gets a wardrobe change.

I normally don’t follow mobile gaming news – but this caught my attention. The latest promotional video for Mevius Final Fantasy (or Mobius, I’ve seen it translated as both) revealed a wardrobe change for the game’s protagonist, Wal. According to Rocket News 24, Mevius Final Fantasy producer Yoshinori Kitase explained that Wal’s new, more conservative attire was requested by fans of the series:

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Wal’s original… shirt-thing.

Kitase explains that they’ve since decided to slap a little more fabric over Wal’s hairless canvas of lean muscle mass. “After we released the screenshots in December, we looked at the various reactions we were getting online, and in the end, showing this much skin…”

“It’s kind of sexy…” offers Asuna, the sole female presenter, before adding “A little too sexy.”

Kitase says many people shared Asuna’s sentiment about the revealing peek the developers had given the public back in December. “For this game, we’re moving forward during development and letting it evolve while taking into consideration users’ opinions, so I asked the character designer to make a change.”

Kuja proudly displays what his momma gave him.

 

The image at the top shows the outcome. Essentially, fabric is now slapped over the rib-cage area of his torso and he no longer looks like he’s wearing an awkward apron… I can’t help but question this decision, though, when I consider other character’s clothing in the series. The Final Fantasy series has never shied from showcasing proactively dressed characters. Final Fantasy IX’s Kuja is sans cloth in the abdominal region and sports a cod piece, to boot. Even serious characters like XIII’s Lightning received the ‘cat girl’ treatment for one of her multitude of costumes in Lightning Returns. Clearly, Wal was not the first ‘flesh-baring’ character featured in the games.

What I wonder is where the criticism of Wal’s original costume was coming from… male or female fans? Kuja’s attire shows that revealing costumes for male characters in Final Fantasy is not without precedent – but, Kuja is FFIX’s villain. He is not the hero of the story and his identity is not assumed by or forced upon the player… a male player, perhaps? Needless to say, I don’t think that Wal’s costume would have received the same criticism if he was actually a she. After all, Square-Enix didn’t shy from this presentation:

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… but Wal is ‘too sexy?’

Interestingly, Mevius project leader Naoki Hamaguchi and managing producer Hiroki Okayama expressed a different opinion from Kitase. They expressed:

“But I want that naked outfit,” and “He looks like a model…You can see the body line of his lower back and hips… If enough people say they like those hiplines, then we might bring the original costume back.”

Personally, I’d wish they’d stuck to their guns. It’s not that playing a chiseled Wal entices me as a gamer – but I think if it’s the original vision that was conceived for the character, why deviate from it?

Source: “Too sexy!” New Final Fantasy’s hunky male lead has his revealing costume toned down

Rise of the Timed Exclusive: Why a Deal with Microsoft is Unfair for Tomb Raider Fans

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Photo: GameSpot

I think I get how the video game industry works: 1) Develop an amazing video game that’s widely available on all consoles and PC; 2) Ensure that said game builds a loyal player base; 3) Sell millions of copies; 4) Plan the inevitable sequel; 5) Secure a sequel deal with the publisher that offers the most $$$; 6) Agree to exclusively distribute the sequel on the publisher’s console; 7) Potentially alienate about half of the loyal player base; 8) … Profit!

The sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot may be one of the the worst examples of scummy backroom console exclusivity-deals. Several game journalism outlets have discussed that Rise of the Tomb Raider will release exclusively on Xbox 360 and Xbox One for an undisclosed period of time later this year. What I haven’t seen discussed is how this deal is simply unfair for Tomb Raider fans who play the games on PlayStation consoles and PC. In case any gamer needs reminding, the 1996 debut of Lara Croft arrived as a multi-platform release on DOS, PlayStation, and Saturn systems.

What irks me about this unfair deal is that it’s not supported by much logic. Sure, I’ve heard the news that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is also rumored to release later this year and that this last entry of Nathan Drake’s saga risks competing with the sequel to Lara’s re-imagining. Frankly? That’s bull. The genre of both of these games may be similar but they also have the same fan bases – Nathan’s fans are not going to not buy Lara’s game just because the titles are released in the same fiscal quarter. If anything, the original Tomb Raider series inspired Uncharted which in turn influenced the TR reboot; they practically advertise each other!

If my argument hasn’t convinced you yet – here’s the evidence that’s the real linchpin of this whole debacle. Tomb Raider sold far, far better on PlayStation systems than on Xbox consoles – and that includes the PS3 version as well as the ‘Definitive Edition’ on PS4. But don’t take my word for it; VGChartz.com has the numbers to prove it.

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The Xbox version of TR ranked 35th best-selling game of the year on the 2013 global video game sales chart: http://www.vgchartz.com/yearly/2013/Global/

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The PS3 version of TR ranked 21st best-selling game of the year on the 2013 global video game sales chart: http://www.vgchartz.com/yearly/2013/Global/

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The PS4 version of TR: Definitive Edition ranked 98th best-selling game of the year on the 2014 global video game sales chart: http://www.vgchartz.com/yearly/2014/Global/; the Xbox One version did not break the top 100 sales of 2014 global video game sales chart

I’m not “whining” about this particular timed exclusive deal just because I played the 2013 Tomb Raider on my PC. I’m thinking about all of the loyal Lara Croft fans who own PS3s, PS4s, and PCs who will have to wait longer than Xbox gamers to play the sequel. Personally? I won’t have the money – or time – to play the game when it launches Holiday Season 2015. Heck, I’ll be lucky if I have a chance to play it to completion by Holiday Season 2016. This little rant is for all the fans who are dying to play Rise but won’t be able to – not due to a shortage of money or time – but because they don’t own the right console.

The VGChartz.com sales data is the cold hard facts, ladies and gentlemen, why the timed exclusive release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox consoles is unfair to the most loyal and dedicated Lara Croft fans. PlayStation gamers were a huge reason why the Tomb Raider reboot was the massive success that it was – to give them the sloppy seconds is simply unfair and unjustified.

Wanted: Generically good-looking brunette male to rescue a damsel in distress.

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I recently consulted Google for images of Bioshock Infinite and this fan-made wallpaper appeared on the results page. You know, many female video game characters get a lot of beef for being attractive in very similar ways, but I suppose the same argument might be mounted against male protagonists if Uncharted’s Nathan Drake is similar-looking enough to be confused with Bioshock’s Booker DeWitt. Somehow, I don’t get the impression that this wallpaper is promoting crossover DLC or someone’s fanfiction…

Returning to the Blogosphere…

Hello! I started this blog, briefly, in 2012 to archive a few of my video game related postings. They were previously published on another blog, The Nerdemic, which was taken down by hackers. So, I gave my musing a home here. Of course, I initially intended to maintain the blog but starting graduate school in August 2012 put a damper on my freelance writing.

However, as I am currently applying to doctoral programs I thought it best to resume this blog to give myself, my thesis research and media project a web presence. This blog will predominately focus on my graduate school experiences, research, current design project and any discussions related to video games and serious/persuasive game scholarship.

Coming soon, I will provide a more detailed blog post on my current thesis research and video game design project, so keep your eyes peeled!

Thanks for reading!