Mapjabbit Run

Exploring the Spaces Between Wildstar and Feminism

July 15, 2014
by mapjabbit
0 comments

A Month Later

Five players stand in a fiery dungeon.

Wildstar clicked over its’ first month recently and because everyone was given a free month, now is when people are making the choice to throw the towel in and move on elsewhere. This is a good as time as any to describe what I like about Wildstar and why I am going to be sticking with the game for the foreseeable future.

1.) There are women everywhere. 

There are women literally everywhere in and out of game. Everywhere you turn, there’s women NPCs doing something – helping you train your tradeskills, giving you quests, keeping up with the daily life of your faction, and chattering away about some random topic to another NPC. There’s big names like Avra Darkos, Queen Myala, Artemis Zin, Belle Walker and Sergeant Kara running the show, as well. There’s women in the overarching story like some of the Eldan you interact with via datacubes as well as someone like Drusera.

On top of all of that, I’ve noticed quite a few women in the community as well as at Carbine. Every time I look at pictures of the company, there’s always women being showcased at every level – everything from QA to senior developers.

2.) There’s very few “skimpy” armor designs forced on you.

It almost makes dressing in skimpy outfits impossible. Aside from the occasional pair of early-level booty shorts that gets foisted on you, there’s almost no boob windows and most of the armor in the game for women looks practical and badass. The cut of the armor pieces, even on the more “epic” stuff looks fancy versus being sexual. It’s such a radical change and one that I embrace, even if some people feel it’s swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction. I’m completely okay with my female character being able to costume into the same leather duster chestpiece as a male character and have it look identical.

Overall, there’s only small hints here and there of a world where women are sexualized. My nitpicks about the relative rigidity of body types aside (because they do still embody a very hourglass, typically “sexy” shape), the game balances out the sedate with the sexy with regards to women’s bodies.

3.) Community outreach, attitude and interaction is plentiful as well as positive.

I cannot tell you about how mind-blowing it is to have Carbine so innately in touch with their fanbase. Everyone’s on social media and always turning around to highligh the best and brightest efforts of the community. Whether it be devs having real time conversations with players about bugs on Twitter or joking around on the livestreams (SHADOWBLADES!), there’s never a moment where I don’t feel like my voice is being heard, praised or ultimately recognized in a meaningful way. On top of all this, I’ve generally found the community to be a lot more low-key and positive than other gaming communities. I don’t feel like an outcast for being a feminist. The forums are well moderated and chill, Twitch chat is funny versus frustrating and generally even fan-created content isn’t too overtly problematic. Gaming is overall still a hotbed of toxic behavior but Carbine really goes the extra step (whether it be having a T-rated livestream or having some of their senior developers personally talk to fans) to making me feel included and more importantly, safe.

Basically, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t want to go to a barbeque with some of Carbine’s more well-known personalities. That should say quite a lot.

4.) Despite the game being oriented towards “hardcore” players, there’s still a lot of stuff for a “casual.”

Whether it be questing, path missions, shiphands, adventures, crafting or housing, I don’t feel like there’s a lack of things for me to do, even as a more casual player with limited time to play. Housing in particular has been a giant draw and far and away one of the best PVE features of the game. It’s something that I’ve actively wanted in a game for so long and it’s such a great addition to Wildstar. There’s a lot of love and care in many of the other features I mentioned, but housing has really carved out a niche in my heart. Giving players the ability to goof off, create their own space or generally experiment with the tools is not only creative but will keep me around for quite a long time. I might not be building a skate park or a Rain-beer Road but I really like that I made my own 4-poster bed with drapes.

Besides extolling the virtues of housing, I truly enjoy the path system in the game. Exploration is not 100% where I’d like it to be because every game always includes invisible walls, but it gives me enough cool side content as an explorer to not care so much. Whether it’s getting to take cool pictures in lonesome vistas, or getting to stumble into a secret side room, Explorer is a great path for someone like me. I recently started Scientist on an alt and that is a great path as well. It feels like the progression through the path system is a fun character growth mechanism that is more about adding fun and additional information to the world versus progressing your gear or score.

5.) The tone is fairly internally consistent, even regarding more dark or serious elements. Nothing feels shocking or “out of place.” 

I’ve written about this before, but I feel that it bears repeating. The game does not take itself very seriously, even though it has a serious story thread running through all of it, and I believe that helps balance out what could be considered slightly more darker themes are elements. Upon leveling slightly farther than when I made my last assessment, I will say there there is some troublesome content but given that the game balances it delicately with a slightly more elevated sense of humor and a touch more empathy, I don’t feel like there’s brutality just waiting around the corner to jump out at me. I don’t have this constant sense of dread or “gross” feeling. I don’t feel demoralized as a player on a regular basis, especially as a woman. Your mileage may vary in this regard but I’ve spent the game feeling fairly light-hearted even when I approach more adult motifs in the story.

6.) The game is just FUN!

“Fun” is a heavily subjective, fairly nebulous concept to pin down, but for me, Wildstar is pretty unadulterated fun. Whether it be getting immersed in the lore of the world, enjoying the light sci-fi/fantasy elements or just playing around with vanity stuff, I enjoy spending time doing everything (or nothing, as the case may be.) Wildstar has presented me with a game that I’m enjoying and I feel that that’s a big factor for me in terms of sticking around. It gives me a nice, relaxing thrill no matter what I’m doing and I find myself smiling and laughing whenever I die or level up. I won’t say that Wildstar is a shiny, polished game right now, but I’m wondering if I care all that much? Given Carbine’s trend of plowing through bugs on a regular basis and putting out content on a fairly demanding schedule, I’m enjoying being a part of a new game’s release more than I thought I would.

I don’t think Wildstar is perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I don’t want people to think this glowing positivity means I won’t be critiquing it still, but overall, I’m pretty happy with how this MMO has turned out so far.

 

 

July 8, 2014
by mapjabbit
2 Comments

A Squirg Hat By Any Other Name

squirg-hat

Last Thursday, a news post went up on the forums that basically outlined that, as a reward for being part of the first month of Wildstar’s life, all players would get this gross unique looking squirg hat, The Facehugger, as a way of saying thanks.

This was a cause for hurt feelings in some , as apparently this was a model first used for a rare hat called the Squidora. Many people had no idea about the item, let alone acquired it yet as it was a low drop chance off a mob in the Genetic Archives. For the few people who had the hat, they saw the model go from what you saw above to a variant color of the more well-known squirg hat model and much of the “rareness” of it go with it.

I’m of two minds about this particular change. On the one hand, I’ve come from a long history of dealing with people in World of Warcraft who felt very entitled to many things for the sole reason that “no one else can have it or deserve it” and that the motivation for obtaining the rarest items in the game was solely to feel more special than us regular plebs. On the other hand, I can see why some people would legitimately be hurt that something that was essentially very lucky RNG after getting through a very arduous attunement to only see the cooler model vanish away to be given out to everyone else.

Unfortunately, a company can do what it wishes with it’s art assets, but I was under the impression before that it was something that had merely  been data-mined before and therefore not already in-game for people to obtain. I hope at least that for the people who had gotten the hat, that they get another version of the model, perhaps with a more intense color pattern (if that’s even possible at this point.)

I guess it’s really hard for me to wrap my head around some of the logic here even if I feel really dramatically opposed to a lot of the motivations for high-end raiders about vanity stuff. Wildstar is sold in a lot of ways as the MMORPG that caters specifically to players that are looking for the high-end challenge; doing a bait-and-switch on a rare drop model might not be in line with that ethic. Still, on the other hand, it is just a hat. It’s a low chance hat and it’s a squirg model and I am not sure why anyone would want to wear that on a regular basis. I also don’t feel that it’s entirely fun to see people upset because other people might be getting something that they had hoped to have all to themselves.

This is what keeps me from committing fully to sympathy for this particular situation, this notion of “deserving” and how it always seems to come from the top players in video games. Their motivations often come from this place that they will do something hard and be given the attendant rewards, the rewards being motivated by a need to have something that other people do not and cannot have access to. It’s a fairly immature position to me, especially as I get older, because it feels very misplaced. My gains in video games have sometimes been rare, sometimes not, but it was always motivated by the challenge, not by whether other people had something or not. In an MMORPG, I can get wanting to stand out. It’s a huge sea of people that are no different from you in most material ways, and the highest levels of challenge make you stand out. But at the end of the day, the entitlement that starts to come with that and the feeling of superiority over others over video game pixels is what evaporates my sympathy somewhat.

All in all, I do hope Wildstar does fix this inasmuch that it looks pretty bad to their core audience to not retain some unique rewards for those who manage to raid the content, but at the end of the day, I wonder if these people think about why they want it so badly to be unique.

 

July 1, 2014
by mapjabbit
0 comments

An Infected Birthday Cake

Mapjabbit watches fireworks from her deck.

 

Yesterday was a pretty awesome day and today looks to live up to the same level of excitement. Much like a year ago, it happened to be my birthday! I was having a pretty rotten time given the SCOTUS rulings but I decided to send a tweet to Tony and Frost asking for a shout-out on the Nexus Report today. What I got back on Twitter blew my mind:

frost-tony-birthday

I was pretty flabbergasted but at this point I shouldn’t really be surprised. Every time I turn around, Wildstar devs and CMs alike are doing their level best to make everyone in the community feel like a friend, and that they are welcome. We saw this with Jennifer, but if you look at any Carbine employee’s twitter or even their official Tumblr, there’s always this push to build a fun, friendly community where people’s contributions and existences feel validated. It was a pretty amazing end of my birthday.

And it was not without more shenanigans:

crb-non-birthday

and then finally:

chris-hanel-birthday

It feels very sappy but the idea of a game company taking time out to wish you goofy birthday greetings on Twitter is something that really speaks profoundly to me since a lot of game companies don’t really have an image that affords that kind of community interaction. All in all, I think it was a pretty sweet gesture.

But why are we talking about my birthday today? It’s a special day today!

It’s REX MANNING DAY!

Wait, no, it’s STRAIN ULTRADROP DAY!

The Strain patch is live and now all of you folks hungry for Glowbellums, sick purple drops and tons of gooshy gross housing decor can go do it to your little wicked heart’s content. I am not level 50 yet, so it might have to wait, but if any of you trot on off to Northern Wastes (the new level 50 story zone), please let me know if you see Sadie around?

Teeehehe.

June 20, 2014
by mapjabbit
2 Comments

The Lives of Women NPCs

Screenshot of datacube lore about the Falkrin and their women leaders.

It all began by questing in Galeras, though I suspect that this idea had been percolating away in my brain for quite some time. I came across a datacube called “Female Leadership” and it stated thus:

I find it interesting that the Falkrin females have been chosen as the voice of their new god, especially given how dominant the males were designed. That being said, the females are far more intelligent and inherently skilled than their male counterparts. This, of course, is not surprising at all.

How often do you see something like that blatantly written into a video game? In my limited travels, never. Here it was stated in black and white (or rather blue and darker blue) that there was a species on Nexus that had female leadership (versus a player race like the Aurin)! More importantly than that, was the snarky little comment at the end from Aviel underlining that it was not surprising that the women were the leaders. In two sentences, it underlines a bit of lore about the Falkrin and how Osiric, the god of the Falkrin and primevil of the Focus of Air made them his prophets, due to how dominant the men were. In short, the men were too aggressive to lead anyone and certainly not keep the race in contact with a powerful being. It’s putting a lot of gaming tropes of male leadership over on it’s head. It’s also prizing intellect and skill over brute force when it comes to leadership.

My feelings snapped back when I realized that maybe like other games, Wildstar wouldn’t include the Falkrin women, as important as they were, as NPCs. I’ve grown too used to a particular MMORPG not taking the time or resources to model women of NPC races unless they were duplicates of player races. Up until this point in my questing, all I had seen were male models. Continue my surprise when I battled deeper into the Falkrin fortress and found tons of women NPCs, mostly casters, with the major figures being called Brides of Osiric. An interesting choice to be sure and the Wiki on Falkrin eludes to the fact that the Brides are the ruling class that report directly to Osiric and also guide the Falkrin spiritually. Basically, these high-ranking female Falkrin are nuns. They rule over and advice the male broodlords, which literally rule the roosts of the Falkrin. However, there’s non-Bride Falkin peppered throughout this fortress.

A Falkrin woman stands at the ready.

A Falkrin woman stands at the ready. Remind me again why bird people need boobs?

It was really interesting to see women having their own models and to be organized in a leadership role. What stood out to me though, especially after starting to quest further in the zone, is how scantily clad some of these women are. Granted, it seems to not be horribly different from how the men are dressed. Both males and females seem suited for the warmer climate of Galeras and only wear a small loincloth and some chest garb.

An Osun woman attacking a player.

An Osun woman casts a flame spell at a player.

It’s when i moved to quests with the Osun that i noticed the trend of the big-chested battle bikini. It’s cartoony in a way, much like the rest of Wildstar but it makes me wonder if I’m going to keep seeing it occur in later zones with humanoid NPC races. In the case of a race like the Torine, I don’t even think there are men, let alone scantily clad ones (Animalistic races like the Lopp seem to be exempt from this.)

A granok woman flexes for her audience.

The reason I bring this up at all is because it stands largely in opposition from how the rest of Nexus is populated. It’s hard not to run around the areas full of player race NPCs and not notice that there are women everywhere. They are doing everything from military positions, trainers, newbies and veterans. There’s women taking to either, working on things and overreacting with you in quests, holocoms and keeping the daily fictional world of our factions going.

An interesting intersection between these two disparate groups seems to occur in Whitevale’s Thermock Hold, where other players regarding my last post pointed out the granok lady who is dancing for patrons. Or should I say flexing? She’s fully clothed and showing off her generous muscle mass in a haughty, confident way. It turns the whole premise of a strip club in this seedy town on it’s head and pokes fun at the concept.

So why are the races native to the Nexus seem to different? I can’t tell if it’s a conscious decision or not, but if I had to guess it seems like a demonstrated effort to imbue the foreign with sci-fi sexiness, much like the pulp comic books we’ve seen from the 1950′s, maybe save for fem-bots (sorry, Mechari!) It’s obvious that aesthetic is an influence if you’ve been paying attention to the Tales from Beyond the Fringe books in-game.

Still, I think maybe the reason I don’t seem to mind as much is probably due to the fact that it’s largely restrained to NPC mobs and not our factions. It’s a blow that’s softened by the plethora of women out in the world, being kick-ass and doing many more things than just standing around wearing metal thongs. It strikes a balance between objectification and merely an homage to some other non-video game genres and overall, the feeling I’ve gotten while walking around the world is that women are here in force, in multitudes. I will keep track of this as I progress further in the game, make no mistake.

June 10, 2014
by mapjabbit
1 Comment

Around the Pole

A mordesh facepalms in front of a player-built strip club stage, pole replete with a mannequin.

To protect the guilty, I am not putting their player names. Gracie facepalms in the foreground.

When I blog about social justice issues, it often tends to be leveled quite heavily at the game designers themselves, over something that is in their game. However, when you are playing a social game, the necessity of analyzing and critiquing the behavior of other players that you interact with is high. Interactions with other players is a fairly rare occurrence and toxicity or oppressive behavior can make someone leave a game permanently and we don’t magically leave behind societally-ingrained nonsense when we enter someone else’s fantasy world.

All of this started the other night when my guildmate Gracie and I were looking at various public houses on our server’s list. It can be a pretty fun pastime that a lot of us in the guild enjoy; getting ideas from other players on how best to creatively expand our housing plot or just marveling at their ingenuity can be a nice way to while away the hours. However, this was pretty different from what was going on as we were hopping from house to house. We were noticing a rash of houses designed to have stripper poles, strip clubs or in one case (that I didn’t screenshot) a brothel. It was less surprising and more confusing. I had joked when we had first heard about garrisons in World of Warcraft that at least one person would “use it as a brothel” and now my words were becoming all too true. The question remains is this: given how much time, effort and in-game money it takes to build something elaborate on your housing plot in Wildstar, why the hell would you want to waste any of those things on a strip club?

A darkly-lit room with a neon beer sign, seating, and a stage with a stripper pole.

The more I think about it, the more it perplexes me. The purpose of setting your house to “public” (meaning anyone can drop by and see it if it shows up on their server’s housing list , or if they use an addon like The Visitoris often so that you can find new people to become your neighbors or so people can come and gawk at your creations. This means that when given a sandbox with admittedly finite resources, especially only a week or so into the game, a bunch of people decided that the best use of that was to build a strip club. Not only just build it, but lay it out there for other people to see. The fact that there’s some level of pride about is the sleazy part, to me. 

Where did the inspiration for this come from? I could make a few guesses, but strangely none of those would be “from Wildstar.” As far as I’ve seen in game, Wildstar keeps the overt sexualizing of the Nexus’ women or traces of sex work relatively absent (quibbles about body types or armor aside). This goes for not just for the lore but also the in-game structures.  I have not run across a strip club or brothel in-game. There’s even scant few housing plugs that gesture at women in a sexual manner – Draken bar sign and Granok Poster Bed notwithstanding. Even those are fairly tame in comparison and don’t overtly suggest that any woman in the Nexus occupies this world in a capacity any stronger than a cabaret girl at a saloon. In that respect, it’s been nice to see a game keep the sexualizing a minimum and even being a universe where sex work basically doesn’t exist is nice.

This, however, does not mean that players are not recreating motifs found elsewhere, in other universes, including our own. Westerns and sci-fi have revolved around the same old ideas that our actual world does – that not only sex work natural and inevitable, but that it’s cool. You have brothels over saloons (which is historically accurate) or things like science fiction-based games like Mass Effect including sexy dance clubs where you can watch Asari shake their butts. In fictional universes that are a merging of the two, you even get the idea of the “enlightened prostitute” where women not only are respected for going into a semi-mystical profession of being a courtesan, but are treated well. (Firefly, I am looking at you, despite the fact that you weren’t even consistent on that whole “universal respect for the career” nonsense.)  It’s really not surprising that players would emulate that, especially since it’s so ubiquitous here and elsewhere. Strip clubs are both a real world and a sexy space fantasy all rolled into one.

I guess it comes down to how I, as a woman, feels about it. It’s really fun to play a game where I don’t have to think about being sexy or that the world sexualizes my character inherently on a regular basis. When I run to see other player’s housing, for the most part it’s been to wonder at their efforts and creativity. Coming across a rash of strip clubs and brothels reminds me very firmly that I can’t escape any level of the world around me, that it keeps coming into the game spaces I play by hook or by crook. The fact that it is mostly other players this time only makes me feel even more unsafe and dismayed as it them injecting that into a public area where I can’t help but stumble into it, only to feel like shit for the rest of my evening.

One of the more depressing examples of this was that one of the server’s more well-known houses (at least to my friends and I) recently adding one (seen up in the middle of the article) to their elaborate town that they constructed on their housing plot. We had been spending quite a bit of time on their plot, looking at how detailed and “real” it seemed, and here we come back only to find out a strip club had been added. The owner of the plot was actually there when we were sad about it in /say, and he went around cheekily with me about how it might be a theatre, if I use my imagination (It looked slightly different at that point.) I got mad and left. When I came back later to take a screenshot, it had morphed into what you see now, an even more overt reference.

It just feels so unsurprising and depressing at this point that even my escapism doesn’t really escape this.

 

June 4, 2014
by mapjabbit
7 Comments

A Pleasant Surprise

mapjabbit-140601-214447

I’ve hit the point in my leveling where I’m firmly entrenched in Galeras and I’ve been largely enjoying the mixture of alien farmland and war-torn Holland in the landscape. Part of the initial quests in the zone are doing active work for the Exile armies – you’re running around assassinating key officials, rescuing ammunition, bandaging the wounded and helping to blow up tanks. It’s fun stuff and it always feels like you’re running through enemy lines to do something important. Near the end of this story, you capture one of the Dominion airman in order to find out information about why precisely the Dominion are in Galeras.

A pit in my stomach formed because, frankly, I always know how these things end.

When it comes to relative brutality, video games always like to take a sharp dark turn when interrogation is concerned. I’ve seen relatively goofy games go straight into the “forceful questioning techniques” and games actually designed to be hyper-real take it to very extreme levels. I do not want to torture someone for information in a video game or beat them with an inch of their life. The narrative that violence perpetuated against other actively fighting people in a violent context is one I can adopt, even in fluffy story settings. Struggle is intrinsic to humanity. But gunning down opponents on a battlefield is very different from sitting down and torturing one person for information – it brings out a disconnected brutality that I do not not like mimicking in video games.

So when “Show and Tell” showed up in my task list, I braced myself to just get through it. My character would never, ever torture someone for information, despite being a pretty aggressive spellslinger, so I’d just sidestep the canon-ness of it and that would be that. Consider me entirely shocked when the quest, while still an actual interrogation, stayed firmly true to the tone and goofiness of Wildstar.

Mesmer Radu, a Mordesh esper of some stripe, has you help him use illusionary animals to prod the airman’s fears. First you try a jabbit (he laughs, mocking you that maybe it’ll tickle him to death), then a large ox-type creature, and finally a buzzbing. The airman quakes at the idea of a giant bee (who wouldn’t, actually), so Mesmer Radu has you capture an actual buzzbing from the surrounding whimfiber trees to bring back so you can extort information from the airman. You do so and the guy caves at the sight of a literal giant bee. Mesmer Radu commends you for your skill.

And that was it. No red hot pokers, no savagely beating someone up to obtain the information. Just some rather believable and goofy esper magic and animals to get the Dominion to squeal. It captures really what the essence of Wildstar does – straddling that line between having serious subjects like war or violence mixed into a world that is, let’s be honest, goofy and candy-coated. It knows what it’s about. The fact that it displayed it here, in possibly the darkest kind of quest, makes me glad that I am not going to run into more serious problems in the future of the game. Maybe I will. If I do, I will definitely confront that when it happens, but given my patience for hyper-realistic atrocities, abuse, torture or sexual assault being handed out as story hooks in other video games, give me my bunnies, psychic constructs and double jumps. I am pleasantly surprised that so far, I’ve been able to really lose myself in the world of Nexus without worrying what’s in the deep end.

June 2, 2014
by mapjabbit
0 comments

Headstart: First Impressions and Criticisms

A space grub looks up at a window in a space helmet, cartoon hearts around her. Moon is in the background.

I heart you too, tiny grub.

Your intrepid blogger is very tired, my friends. Wildstar‘s headstart descended upon us and left me a shivering, underslept waif. Thankfully I am to the point in my life that even when having fun, I try to do it responsibly as my body doesn’t handle things like it used to. So while I did have fun this weekend, I did not have too much fun.

Wildstar is, at its heart, an intense game. I was worried that I might overdo it with the closed and open beta periods in terms of chewing through too much content but given that each faction is presented with two separate leveling paths before you hit 15, the choice to not really touch most of the Human/Granok zones was a good one. The feel of those zones adequately helped me embroider my character’s storyline appropriately as well, as it’s a straight up space cowgirl adventure with robots, mining and varmints! Gallow is especially notable as having a Borderlands-meets-Firefly feel to it, with settler law and technology problems. It’s so frontier.

Overall, despite trying to keep up with guildmates, I cannot think of many long stretches where I was out and out bored. This is pretty key considering that one of the things new games should do, especially MMORPGs, is hook you in the first hour or so. Two days and 16 levels later, I was still running around, looking at things and doing quests. While there were some bugs that should have been ironed out in beta, my experience was relatively stable and only with a modicum of annoyances. Vehicle quests worked as they should, mobs weren’t terribly broken in places and the only thing that really stymied me throughout the process is the quest and UI panels having elements not working, forcing a lot of reloading.

 

In some ways, the game feels more fleshed out than it did in beta. All the real fixings are in place, especially in places like the housing UI panel and crafting. It was a lot of fun to be able to take it all in and not have to hold back for fear of burning myself out. Questing was ponderous, more so than I had initially anticipated.  Your level goes up faster than the quests can keep up but you still get decent XP for clearing out a zone and in order to see most of the big story-lines, you’ll want to. The only issue I had was that all of this lore was just sitting there and yet I am still too used to rush-leveling where I don’t stop to read things for comprehension. I’ve gotten the overall gist of what’s been going on in broad strokes but the real implications are escaping me. There’s was a point where I felt I took way too long in one part of a zone and that was in the Excavation base camp. It’s at least 100 quests alone (or feels like that) in order to get the big story pay-off at the end. You’re dealing with setting up defenses, clearing out enemies and then you get to the Belle Walker’s exploration into what precisely is going on in the quarry with Eldan technology. It’s a great place for lore and Belle Walker is easily one of my favorite return NPCs (A brainy, overambitious scientist in Daisy Dukes? I love it.) but it did take a very long time to get through. The mobs are fairly punishing and the quests keep going on and on. It doesn’t help that while you’re trying to do questing, you’re also looking for nodes to gather, perhaps, or do things related to your path or one of 7000 challenges that pop up. There is no lack of content while you are out questing to sink your teeth into but it did feel at times a bit overwhelming. I would say that it’s better to have more than less and Wildstar does that in spades.

Having variety of things to do while questing did also spice things up a bit but having so many people in those areas the first few days did make the challenges popping up less fun and more of a drag, especially things like clearing out a cave of yetis only to have a challenge pop up and no spawns around because everyone else is trying to do the same quest and challenge. Having challenges that are more reliant on your ability to chew through the terrain works a lot better than simple clearing challenges (see Thayd for the sprinting challenge) but overall, given that you can go back and re-do challenges at any point, every 20 minutes gives me a good incentive to go back and try them once the rush is over. The persistence of the rewards too also makes them attractive. I found myself re-doing things just to get extra FABkits or material satchels.

I did manage to get an adventure in as well and I still find that incredibly fun – it’s a little less punishing than a dungeon (so I hear) and the story choices mix it up a bit even if you do them a couple times in a row.

Crafting also felt a lot more enjoyable though I suspect that had to do more with my ability to understand how it worked versus any significant changes from the beta (so much so that I might do a crafting tutorial) and I picked up Architect against my better judgement instead of Technologist, because creating lamps is way more fun than potions. (Sorry Chili and Cornbread!) The tech tree is still a little confusing to me but I can see how it directs your work in a meaningful level versus creating 40 couches in the hope of a skill up. This way you learn new schematics in a timely fashion and you make only a modicum of things with the grid.

Overall, the game is still truly fun and fresh to me and adds a lot of experiences onto the whole MMORPG thing that I really hadn’t gotten to do up until this point – costume layer and dyeing especially. The game really is a diverse mixture of recognizable attributes and a whole lot of amazing new ones, all jumbled up in a colorful fun pile. All of the zones have a unique feel and look to them, the story is kept moving at a fairly consistent pace and the game itself doesn’t take itself too seriously. It feels infectiously enjoyable and I am glad to feel that again after a long time.

 

 

May 27, 2014
by mapjabbit
2 Comments

From Just One Tweet

In case you missed it last week, Tony Rey, Wildstar’s community manager, posted a really touching and heartfelt video that featured him and Wildstar’s social media manager Sean Clanton flying out to Indiana to meet one of the game’s fans, Jennifer Baugh. What makes her special is that she happened to tweet in response to a Vine regarding Wildstar’s launch saying that the game coming out was going to help her keep her sanity while her son went off to boot camp. Tony and Sean thanked her for her service as being a service mom but also dropped a ton of swag on her head.

It was supposed to represent the power of social media, but I feel that it made a much larger statement about community. Wildstar dropped this video the same day that the now-infamous editorial on Polygon about a lack of inclusiveness in gaming, and here was at least one video game community saying, “Hey, it doesn’t matter who you are, we will help you out and care about you.” This feels special for the fact that the video game community at large is exceptionally unfair to women, especially those who are older. This video threw all of those notions out of the window – that gaming moms are only ever the befuddled Angry Bird gamer, casually playing Bejeweled on their iPads. It’s uncharitable to everyone and it’s not even true.

All of the women I interact with online who are hyped for Wildstar (and even some who aren’t) were crying out of happiness for this mother in Indiana because it felt nice to see a woman gamer, a mother, unfailingly accepted and supported in the community. No checking of her “credentials”, just a warm welcome to someone who was in need of some cheer. She looks like some of us. That’s a big deal.

This is starting to not be surprising to me, this idea that Carbine in particular is full of pretty welcoming folks, especially in their social media presence. As someone who has seen many gaming companies lose goodwill or credibility by how some of their employees interact with their audience, I spent the weekend seeing all sorts of Carbine employees from top to bottom be courteous, thoughtful, gracious and kind. Whether it was Cougar putting up with our jokes about protecting the servers from raptors, Non wondering about gendered terms, or Jen Gordy being her usual stunning self, it feels like Carbine is a company that is friendly and appreciates what their fans do and say in the social media sphere. I don’t feel terrible for being a woman, having social justice concerns, or approaching people with possible problems.

Speaking of positive tweets…

Sadie Might Not Be Dead?

Thanks to Soragrey, my blog post went straight to the eyes of Wildstar’s Creative Director Chad “Pappylicious” Moore and he actually responded! Seeing this kind of response from Wildstar’s premiere story guy was kinda mind-blowing, as was this admission:

While I do know why most people presume her to be actually dead and the story finished (for the reasons I stated in the blog post), it was nice to see not only a reflection of the concerns we have but it was nice to see a developer listen and respond with transparency. It might not be the 100% perfect response I was hoping for but it was miles better than anything I’ve ever seen, especially since I was not expecting him to read my blog! Whoa!

I think the take away message from this is that Carbine feels like a company with more awareness of what an incredible tool social media is, not just for interaction but for fostering the kind of community they want around Wildstar. By being so friendly, accepting and open on Twitter, Reddit and Tumblr, they have the ability to let players feel like they are “in” on the discussion going on and in a way that makes people feel comfortable.

I can only say that I support this all the way.

Note: At the time of this blog post, Jennifer Baugh’s GoFundMe for her husband’s cancer treatment/bills has not been completely funded. Maybe stop by and donate?

May 22, 2014
by mapjabbit
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Women in Cryo-Freezers: Sadie Brightland

A blue glowing hologram of a pregnant woman, flanked by a sad wolf.

Deadeye Brightland’s creepy hologram of Sadie.

The entire time I was playing beta weekends and then eventually open beta in Wildstar, occasionally I’d hear a guildie (who was almost always a woman) saying, “Gosh, I just hate this quest.” It was pretty remarkable as everyone seemed to generally like, if not tolerate the quests in Wildstar. Every single time, the quest in question would be the story from the Northern Wilds zone involving the ship taking survivors to Thayd. Namely, Sadie Brightland dying in a spaceship.

I am not the first person to discuss how problematic this quest line is, if only for Sadie’s involvement in it and Deadeye’s own strange, almost fleeting reaction to his pregnant wife dying.  See, for anyone who hasn’t really paid attention to the story or hasn’t yet been able to play Wildstar on the Exile side, here’s the rundown of your interactions with Deadeye and Sadie thus far:

  • Deadeye looking for his wife is literally the first thing you are aware of in the game when you roll a new character. The reason you are brought out of cryo-sleep is because Deadeye thinks it might be Sadie. Let’s not discuss why a pregnant woman is in cryosleep.
  • Sadie is eventually found after you are woken up and Deadeye tells you that she’s got “cryo-sickness.”
  • Part of your opening tutorial quests is to go and retrieve medicine for Sadie. You bring it back and it seems to work. Enough that I believe she actually thanks you for your contributions and Deadeye offers to buy you a drink. The day is saved! (Keep in mind that this is the sum total contributions Sadie herself actually has on the story.)
  • If you chose the “human/granok” starting experience of going to the Northern Wilds and Algoroc, you eventually get to see Sadie at another camp, which is comprised of survivors of the space wreck that you’re in trying to get from the space station to the Northern Wilds. Sadie’s model is literally in a rictus of pain or sickness with her legs splayed. It’s bizarre. (see image below this section)
  • In the questing, Deadeye figures they can get people who have been badly hurt to Thayd via a working jump ship that’s coming to rescue them. Thayd is not that far, so don’t ask me why this is necessary.
  • Ship comes and picks up survivors (you see generic models going into it) and before it’s 3 feet off the ground, it gets somehow utterly demolished by Dominion forces who just happen to be close enough to know that there’s a ship there and didn’t blow it up before then.
  • Turns out that Sadie was on that ship, despite not seeing a stretcher or her model being helped onto it.
  • You know this because Deadeye mentions it almost idly in quest text immediately after.
  • This is what fuels Deadeye’s thirst for revenge in the narrative for the rest of the time.

This is weird on almost every conceivable level, which makes Sadie’s death even more unforgivable. But let’s talk about what’s going on here, first.

A pregnant woman is splayed out, sick on a stretcher.

 

As most people have recognized by now, it looks like Sadie is more than just a victim of cryo-sickness, but rather the Women in Refrigerators trope. Sadie’s story is not central, not developed in any way, because it is actually Deadeye’s story. Sadie isn’t developed as a character, because she’s a prop and her death is meant to instill feelings and action to our actual protagonist. In a way, two people are dying for the price of one here and it’s pretty weak all around. Pregnant wives being shuttled off to non-existence or death seem to be popping up recently and I don’t like it one bit.

The part about this that makes me really annoyed is that other more lore-savvy Wildstar players found that there were earlier mentions of Sadie’s life in one of the Tales books. According to this, she was a Justice (Wildstar equivalent of a galactic policewoman, I believe.) I don’t know whether this is writers throwing players a bone or what, but it’s a key to creating an actual three dimensional character that they are never going to use now. And barely anyone will ever know it’s in the game at all.

Sadie as she stands now has been nothing more than a tool or a prop to create angst in Deadeye, a man who admittedly a) has a very weak reaction to seeing his wife and unborn child killed before his eyes b) needs literally no reason to hate or kill Dominion.  He seems only vaguely sad but still has weird hologram of her at a camp immediately after. It’s used to further his need for revenge, which is part of the trope but he would have shot Dominion anyways. Part of faction conflict is that it’s two groups of people fighting over resources. You don’t necessarily need revenge to drive that story forward, much less senseless death. In the eyes of the Exiles, the Dominion are a pretty awful group of people. You wouldn’t need overly justified reasons to hate them outside of the ones you hold already. This forces an already flimsy story further into being pointless. Sadie died for nothing, without much of her own life.

Pushing aside the sheer implausibility of the ship blowing up in the first place, what really made me confused is how well the parallel quest in the Aurin/Mordesh starting zones works in making you, as the player, feel hatred towards the Dominion. You go to all this trouble to help awaken a tree that’s been infused with Eldan technology and it might hold the secrets that the Aurin and the Mordesh both desire to hear, especially about the disappearance of the Eldan. Chua come along right as the tree is going to speak to you via a communicator panel and blow it up. I felt legitimately upset about this! I did not feel this way about Sadie. Nothing about Deadeye’s very discreet reaction or the story-line felt believable or emotionally purposeful. It was very flat and out of left field. There’s nothing there that makes you feel for the Brightlands. All it did was reinforce this idea that gaming in general has a problem with how they use women characters as emotional speedbumps for the male protagonists.

The reason I think a lot of people felt that this quest line in particular stuck out like a sore thumb is because you really don’t expect it in a game like Wildstar. Nothing about the game, despite having warring factions, suggests a particularly grim, tragic tone. Women are pretty present in a lot of ways, especially if you play through Aurin zones. Having an actual matriarchy in the game that works suggests the idea that the creative development team grasps the idea that women are a realistic and needed part of diversity in the lore. Seeing one be killed off for the benefit of one guy seems really immature and in contrast to that competency you see everywhere else.

Granted, people have been upset about this since December and nothing has really been done about so I doubt we’ll see any movement on this, but it just bears remarking upon. This isn’t just a problem that just Wildstar has, but more that it is a problem that writers within gaming and even larger popular nerd culture have. But it does make me sad to see it turn up so soon in a new video game that I have been enjoying otherwise and has been doing a decent job making me feel like my female character is part of the world.

Sadie could have been such a great character. A policewoman, living on the edges of space with her husband and pet wolf, with a new child and all the problems that come along with that kind of settler life (a life that many, many women have lived in real life before, even) combined with intergalactic war? How neat is that?

And now we’ll never know.

May 19, 2014
by mapjabbit
2 Comments

End of Open Beta: No Sleep Edition

A giant lopp glows over the proceedings.

With heavy hearts, we all saw the end of beta last night on our respective servers. Wildstar is now going into it’s final dormant period before it springs back to life in two weeks for the headstart on May 31st, so what better time to celebrate with developer shenanigans? A bunch of us piled onto Mumble in order to watch the ensuing chaos and none of us were left wanting. Granted, a lot of that chaos was at 10 FPS and gave us high repair bills, but I don’t think anyone truly minded.

Thank you to CRB Cougar and CRB Grug for making the Olyssia server’s celebrations full of death, merriment and an employee god-fight or two.

A purple glowing Rowsdowser floats above a crowd of people with a line of code.

This particular command would cause your browser to open and RickRoll you.

A lot of the amusement came from watching the devs spawn monsters and change their shape. Over the course of the night, Cougar was a spirit woman, an Evil Caretaker, several lore characters, a giant Western Lopp, as well as many other notable shapes. Grug spent most of their night as a Rowsdowser of some flavor.

A Protostar representative towers over the masses.

A spirit woman looks over the proceedings, all gathered to her.

Let’s not forget that most of the night was them spawning huge, multitudinous enemies, some more deadly than others.

tentacle crotch

 

Do you hear them screaming, Clarice? The lamps?

Do you hear them screaming, Clarice? The lamps?

Most deadly of course was the tasteful, if angry decor.

Then of course to round most of the night having low framerates and attempting to rez with level 50 raid bosses standing on top of you, the devs treated us to a final battle or two between themselves. With God Mode not turned off.

CRB Grug vs. CRB Cougar

 

We also got to attack them later as well.

Finally, at long last the servers went down and all of us scampered off to bed. A lot of good times were had, especially with guildies on Mumble and hilarious commentary from the Twitch stream. All in all, I haven’t been to many events in games like this and it felt unique and worth being awake when I had no right to be (I am paying for it today, I assure you.)

Thanks to Carbine for such a fun night!