Mapjabbit Run

Exploring the Spaces Between Wildstar and Feminism

August 18, 2014
by mapjabbit
0 comments

This Old Housing Plot

A raised wooden loft in a red room.

My half-floor loft in my spacious Exile house.

I’ve mentioned last week that one of the biggest roadblocks to me playing Wildstar right now isn’t just that I’ve been busy but that I am having a lot of trouble decorating my Spacious Exile House. The big houses seem a lot bigger, but given that they break rooms into actual rooms versus the spaceship house, it feels like a lot of less available space to design in. I’m a huge fan of open floor-plans, and the spacious house doesn’t let me do this in a manner I find satisfactory.

However, I’ve decided that I’m going to stick with it, given that I spent 3 plat on the thing. A good way to get my juices flowing has been to visit other people’s houses or places like Nexus Cribs. Another way is that I decided to start streaming again and specifically focus on building projects. Since I was born in the 80s and remember all of the really amazing house building shows on PBS, I’ve decided to name it after that.

If you want to catch whenever I stream, you can follow my account or you can watch Twitter on Sundays, since I’m planning to have the show consistently around 11 AM CST. If you have suggestions for things you’d like to see my build, shoot me a comment or a tweet. See you there!

August 15, 2014
by mapjabbit
0 comments

Odds n’ Ends – What Have I Been Up To Edition

Mapjabbit enjoys a taxi ride over Algoroc.

 

Hey folks! I know I haven’t written in a couple of weeks. It’s been decently stressful in my real life between work and other things (a sick kitty) so my energy to blog has been depleted, but rest assured, I’m still thinking about things.

What have I been up to in Wildstar though?

Most of my time has been spent leveling, actually. I’m still not 50 (I’m 36 at the moment, if you can believe that) because I’m taking my time and taking the sights in. It also doesn’t help that I work full-time and the only times I get a nice parcel of time to level is on the weekends. Oops. The questing has been a lot of fun, especially because I just got done with Farside. I will miss you, low-gravity space. The different biomes were a real treat and broke the monotony that some other questing zones fall into (I’m looking at you, Whitevale.) I’m looking forward to heading to Wilderrun this weekend, as all of my guildies have hyped the zone up so much as something I’m really going to love.

Being 36 though means I could partake of the first of three Drusera instances. Really amazing stuff. I love that Wildstar has chosen a woman (of sorts) to be the figure-head of a giant world story surrounding the Eldan’s disappearance. I won’t give any spoilers so far if you haven’t done this stuff yet, but you should! Drusera is awesome and I know I’ll be seeing more of her in the future.

In addition to getting to start the Drusera instances, I also managed to buy my Spacious Exile house. I thought this would be really neat but upon inspection inside, I found myself getting really upset. The spaceship, for all of the issues I had with decorating the outside of it, was a really amazing open space to build in. The spacious houses, while very big, deliberately break up the space in a house-like fashion, versus giving you a giant box to play in. There’s stairs and rooms and alcoves and things. It means that I have left a bunch of buff items around on the floor and have done nothing else. I don’t want to feel like it is a waste of 3 plat. Anyone who reads this blog have any spectacular house pictures I could look at? I need some inspiration sorely.

Other than that, I’ve just been fussing around with an alt and her housing plot and so far that’s been more of an experiment than anything else. It is fun working with Aurin architecture as it’s way more aesthetically consistent.

So far, my Wildstar experience has slowed down some, but never fear, I’m still here. Wildstar is a very fun game. I just wish I had more time and energy to play lately, as I’ve been needing an escape pretty badly for a while.

See you in Nexus!

July 31, 2014
by mapjabbit
4 Comments

Sexual Politics: The Armor of Wildstar

Mapjabbit stands proudly in Thayd.

 

I really feel like some days, Wildstar differs very wildly from other sorts of games and communities with some of the trends it bucks. Case in point: a thread on the Wildstar forums devoted to a player’s scantily clad male character Photoshops. Not only would something like this not really be seen on other game forums (maybe I’m wrong) but the poster would be flamed out of town. Not only is this guy exceptionally good at what he does (even if the subject matter is codpieces) but it gave me a really good reference point for a topic that I usually do have to talk about. One of the reasons that Ixum made the thread is because there’s not enough skimpy armor for men and he wanted to try and recreate what he’d think it’d look like. Man abs aside, it made me realize something I’ve been kinda nattering about for a while: there is a considerable lack of skimpy or otherwise sexy armor in this game.

It is interesting to me that this is one of the features of the game considering that some of the criticisms of Wildstar early on was how sexualized female body shapes seemed to be. During their initial beta, it was pretty clear that many of the female body types had very little variation and were entirely hourglass, often with bust sizes that looked impractical, if not downright painful. Wildstar did take the criticism to heart, though, and changed them up a bit more and reduced bust sizing where necessary. It’s still not perfect (perfect would be body sliders) but it’s better.  Jeremy Gaffney, head of Carbine Studios, also remarked about how they wanted to give players starting outfits that were not too revealing as well. They wanted players to be able make choices they would be happy with and not feel like they were thrust into wearing something that would make them uncomfortable.

From what I’ve seen so far in game, the armor veers towards fully covering and looking fairly practical. Despite having cross-armor type costuming capabilities, armor you receive for your class also looks appropriate for the type of combat your character would naturally do. Light armor looks like actual cloth in most cases, same with heavy and medium armor.  Very little of it has any eye-rolling skimpiness, and one of the few places it does seems to be a handful of  “booty shorts” models that are peppered into the questing experience. There’s almost no boob-windows, definitely no backless chest pieces, and nothing that reads immediately as a “sexy” outfit, though players could (and have) thrown something together in that direction using the costuming feature. But the point is that the game lets you make that choice, versus having it be most of your options. I would even go far as to say that the “skimpier” armor isn’t immediately sexual looking – anything that is strips of clothing looks appropriately alien (think the Eldan costume) or is either modeled after something we might wear in real life (The starting outfit tunic looks like a simple tank top I own, actually.) I believe that one of the reasons that more revealing armor doesn’t look like lingerie might have something to do with the fact that it wears exactly the same on men as women.

See the duster coat I am wearing in the header graphic? That looks exactly the same on myself as a male player. Not delineating between women and men with how an armor sits on a character model is a great way to make sure that your armor doesn’t look sexual on one model (females) and not on another (males) and therefore stressing a very problematic message about women’s bodies. One of the things I really hated about World of Warcraft was that due to design choice or bad modeling, robes and plate armor would magically turn into giant cleavage windows or plate thongs on women, but not for the men. There’s really none of this in Wildstar at all, and it leads the player to feel that they are allowed to wear whatever armor they want and they can expect that it will look how they choose. It also means that none of the armor feels innately gendered. While some armor feels “dressier” than others, character models of any gender can wear it and have it feel “appropriate.” Granted, swinging the pendulum hard in the direction of gender neutrality might leave some cold but after seeing a sea of MMORPGs make women characters look like they have no choice but to run around in negligees, it’s nice to feel a bit more covered up. I usually play spell-casters in RPG games and being free of a feminine robe that fits like a dress is pretty amazing.

The armor is not the only thing about Wildstar that feels less gendered and sexual – a lot of the world itself is like this. I don’t feel that when I’m running around, questing or whatever, that I’m supposed to feel like women in Nexus are sexy. Granted, there’s a handful of instances I can think of where women are sexualized but overall, the game does not focus on this as either an explicit or implicit motif. (And I will talk about these instances in my next blog post, barring an asteroid hitting Carbine) It’s one of the ways I’ve felt more comfortable as a player in Wildstar, mostly because being bombarded with grotesquely sexual content in a video game bothers me on a really personal level.

All in all, the armor in this video game is easily one of the best features I’ve found so far. It feels practical (boots and pants that look rugged abound), non-gendered and ultimately a lot of fun to wear and style appropriately. It makes picking up gear an event I look forward to, rather than something I dread, especially as someone who plays exclusively women characters.

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.