Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation

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The problem with Neptunia isn’t that the source material doesn’t translate well to anime. The problem is in the process after translation. The content translates smoothly, but there’s just too much of it and the creators can’t make sense of it.

They did make some brilliant decisions. The anime jumps headfirst into the story without exposition. It doesn’t need to. Introducing characters is pointless. If your characters are developed enough, just show them walking around, talking and doing things. We will learn about them as the plot goes on.

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That movie is brilliant and works. The cast is wonderful. Most of them are archetypes, but they’re deliberate. The key to making these archetypes work is how they relate to their environment. Blanc is your flat-chested stoic girl, but in a happy-go-lucky world she sticks out. Vert’s breasts are an extension of her motherly persona, which sticks out when everyone around her are children. Neptune is the embodiment of the franchise and, in a satirical way, the audience. She’s a lazy airhead who just wants to play games and can’t take anything seriously.

Even when characters are similar to each other, there are differences. Uni  is a tsundere like Noire, but she doesn’t have her position of power. So she’s more friendly and easier to get along with. These personalities constantly clash and interact. Although the anime throws all kinds of external challenges at our cast, it never feels like they drive it. Every line of dialogue, every act is modified by the personalities.

That’s why the move to more serious ground isn’t stupid. You don’t need realism for effective drama, but characters who feel real enough. The cast of Neptunia is strong, but the poor pacing throws drama way too early.

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As developed as they are, we still need some time to get to know the cast. There are about 8 characters so, and you can’t make the audience know them in just 6 episodes (especially when there are plenty of action scenes). Already around episode 5 or so, we get dramatic scenes, the world on the brink of extinction and nobody laughing.

The drama is ineffective both because of its placement, and how it’s handled. The drama is too serious for its own good. The creators forget they’re dealing with a world inspired by gaming consoles. It’s not like the introduction of seriousness also comes with extra thematic depth. If your drama doesn’t add any depth, just make it as over-the-top as the show itself. It also appears too early, way before the viewer can get a basic understanding of these characters.

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A departure scene later in the series is great, but that’s because it doesn’t rely on the characters being serious. By the time it arrives we know the characters much better. We saw them on various adventures and learned how their relationships work. It’s also more subdued. The previous drama scenes were overly serious but not over-the-top. Since this one is more subdued by nature, it can tone the ridiculousness down without losing any effect.

The franchise’s premise doesn’t sound like it’ll be friendly with tonal shifts. Still, it’s easier to make you care about a bunch of weirdos than it seems. The pacing is too brisk though. The show keeps throwing events and interaction and jokes at you and there’s never time to take it in.

There are no build-ups. The story doesn’t build towards a single conclusion. Rather, it follows a collection of arcs that end with the a Huge Dangerous Object. If the series built up towards that conclusion, then the fast pacing would have been easier to take. Since the arcs aren’t really connect, it’s like a show is constantly on fast forward, jumping from one idea to next and showing only beginnings and conclusions.

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The brisk approach also works against the aesthetic. Neptunia‘s style is cutsie and bright, sometimes too much. The voice actors, especially Neptune’s/Peashy’s/Abnes’ are trapped with a pitch that’s too high. Their performance is suited well to the characters, but plenty of times I wished they’d put on some effect to lower the pitch. It was too much on the ears. Blank and Plutia are a blessing just because they speak in a calmer manner. If the series was a little slower, then the voices wouldn’t feel like an assault. It does get better in the second half though.

Despite this small bump, the aesthetics are still one of the franchise’s strong points. The character design is astounding. Every character looks distinct. Even characters who are meant to be similar have their clear and subtle differences which make them unique. The show is moe, of course, but it finds so many variations on it.

There’s also the aspect of fanservice. While there are a few uncomfortable moments, the fanservice is well-integrated most of the time. The character design is beautiful, and but the series rarely slows down just to remind us that. It always constructs scenes and shots that both advance the story/characters and let us enjoy the view. It’s also never too profane. The sexuality is elegant, never shoving itself in your face. The characters just happen to look good. The ‘fanservice episode’ is a great example how they do it, and also of the self-aware humor.

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One thing the anime lacks, compared to the source material is the self-aware humor. It surfaces occasionally and it’s always better than expected. The fanservice episode was great, poking fun at tropes but integrating the personalities into the humor. There isn’t enough of it though. I understand the fear of breaking the fourth wall. It can easily slip into trying too hard. Just look at Deadpool. Neptunia doesn’t have Deadpool‘s macho bullshit, though. It never pretends to be cool (It disregards coolness completely. That’s why everyone is feminine but also sexualized), so it can run wild with the self-awareness. It’ll just be a part of the general absurdity.

It’s a curious thing. Here in the West we want our heroines gritty and tough. We love Furiosa and Rey for how macho they are. They scream at men to stop holding their hand and don’t wear skirts. Yet here we have Neptunia, which is a big franchise where all the heroines are unbashedly feminine. There are no apologies here. How can they create a diverse cast of females with both great looks and great personalities while Hollywood directors struggle with one heroine? It’s so pathetic to praise Black Widow when we have the whole cast of Neptunia.

The anime is fun, but it feels like there’s more to do with the franchise.

3 plushies out of 5

 

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Scott Cawthon & Kira Breed-Wisley – Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes

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There has been a lot of transitions from video game to literature. Many were bizarre choices. Were people really interested in the stories behind Halo? Didn’t it mainly exist for multiplayer? Even video games that had potential are mostly better off as pulp adventures.

The Freddy’s franchise has potential. The game is like no other. It’s not just scary but brilliantly designed and deeply psychological. Shitty YouTubers couldn’t ruin what is one of the most original games, the kind that doesn’t rely on advance technology. It’s a prime example of how video games can be an art.

Thankfully, Cawthon isn’t an exploiter. His approach to horror is unique and not just because of the lack of gore. The sequels elaborated on the themes and ideas of the games, rather than just up the shock value. The transition to other forms of media was inevitable. There was so much you could do with it.

Sadly, The Silver Eyes isn’t the novel the franchise deserves. To Cawthon’s credit, it fails mainly because it reads like a first-timer. The novel actually does try to push the franchise into a new direction. Cawthon does try to humanize the story and give us fully-developed personalities. He’s just not sure how to do with it.

If the failure of the novel surprises you, keep in mind this is completely new territory. Cawthon dealt before with general psychology. He never had to create specific and diverse personalities. Here, he’s faced with a challenge of creating a cast and giving each of them a different personality.

He tries, but he stumbles. It’s amazing how a novel can be at once character-driven, and yet not develop any of its characters. The reason it takes so long for action to happen is because the story isn’t all action. Cawthon is aware jumpscares weren’t what made the game great.

So he spends a lot of time with these characters, having them interact and show us their relationship. Sometimes it seems like it’s just postponing the moment the slasher comes alive. Then you notice Cawthon lingers on it for too long,

He’s not catering to the target audience. He spends so many pages with these characters because he’s trying to inject a face to the franchise, but nothing happens. None of them come alive. Our protagonist is the worst. There isn’t even a hint towards who she is. She’s your generic protagonist who just observes the events and acts like she should.

It’s when the novel goes to the franchise’s main themes that it improves. The main idea behind the games wasn’t horror. It’s growing up, realizing our childhood wasn’t so glorious. It’s the difference in how children see the world and how grown-ups. A description of a house early in a novel, how it decayed and how the toys are still there is powerful. The descriptions contrast the decay with the toys. They also point how the toys were never much in the first place, but just robots.

There aren’t enough scenes like that. The novel gets especially lost in the middle. Although it never slides into cliches of horror, it doesn’t know how to translate Freddy’s brand of terror into words.

The horror of Freddy’s came from not knowing. There was no gore in that series. What made it so scary is the fact we never knew what was going on. We didn’t know why Purple Guy killed those kids and we don’t see the animatronics move.

It may have something to do with the writing style. It’s not terrible, but it’s generic. Sentences lack a unique structure or tone. Similes appear from time to time, not too much to annoy but there’s nothing unique about them.

Literature isn’t just a collection of facts that form a story. You’re also supposed to use a style of language that will fit your story. It’s just like how visuals in a film don’t merely give us a setting. They don’t just show us the layout of the house, but how it’s decorated expresses something.

To his credit, he tries to do things his own way. They hint at a romance but never work on it. It wouldn’t belong, anyway. Characters that can die aren’t killed, so we’re not given a cheap death to heighten the excitement. Even the grand death of the bad guy isn’t narrated in gory detail. Fans of the game know how it happens, and just like in the game we only get the basic idea of it. The rest is up to our imagination.

The desire to go in a new direction backfires too often. Lack of cliches is fine, but the novel isn’t as weird as it should be. The lack of the Puppet is also disappointing. He’s the most frightening and mysterious thing in the series. It’s nice how the horror and mystery have a more thematic importance, instead of a puzzle for a reader to solve. These routes aren’t developed enough.

It’s a decent novel. It avoids the pitfalls of a transition. The story stands on its own and it’s written in a way that’s accessible for newcomers. It’s meant to be a stand-alone horror story and doesn’t have fanservice. The themes of the franchise dominate it – childhood and growing up – instead of the stereotypical jumpscares. The novel reads too much like a first-timer. Cawthon needed help from someone more professional. Still, it’s good to see him stretching himself. So far, he’s pushing the franchise in new direction. If it fails, at least it’s not because of a re-hash.

2.5 animatronics out of 5

The Fallout Series

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To the west, you can see a natural light. For the first time in your life, you are looking at the outside world.

I was introduced to the Fallout series via Bethesda’s entry. If your exposure to RPG’s consist of their fantasy series and Dragon Age, you were probably a little shocked by the angry vitriol aimed at Fallout 3. The cries went beyond Bethesda’s changing the gameplay. The series wasn’t known for its fantastic turn-based combat that’s based on luck. Bethesda were criticized with ruining the original spirit of Fallout, and New Vegas was praised with reviving it.

Playing the original Fallout‘s failed to convince me Bethesda did a disservice to the series. It did the complete opposite. Although New Vegas had plenty of references to the old games, and a lot of characters made a comeback, Fallout 3 felt like an actual continuation of the series, at least continuing what begun in the first game. New Vegas continues Fallout 2 and how it turns the wasteland into a wacky, fantastical world. That wasn’t the heart of the series though. No amount of name-dropping things from previous entries will help you capture the old spirit.

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“The Unity will bring about the master race. Master! Master! One able to survive, or even thrive, in the wasteland. As long as there are differences, we will tear ourselves apart fighting each other. We need one race. Race! Race! One goal. Goal! Goal! One people . . . to move forward to our destiny. Destiny.”

The forums in RPGCodex define players as either storyfags or combatfags. I’m deep in the storyfag party. Combat in video games is mostly for easy fun, something to do while checking out the latest records and thinking how overrated the canon is. Perhaps one day I’ll see the beauty of a million algorithims that decide whether my character dies or becomes a banana octopus, but until then it’s the storytelling that’s much more exciting. Fallout didn’t have an interesting combat system either, but its strength was always in its storytelling.

In the first game, you are not born in the wasteland, unlike 2 or New Vegas. You emerge from the vault into a world that’s completely alien to you. It’s not just alien because it’s supposed to be the first Fallout experience. The wasteland reveals itself slowly. You do not immidiately hear about the booming center. You do not meet fantastic events in the beginning. The game begins with a small, unremarkable town. Later, the towns’ size increases, which turns your first encounter unique.

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The wasteland is neither depressive and gloomy nor a huge satire of humanity. It thrives on weirdness, but not weirdness for the sake of cheap amusement. The litany of absurd things – two-headed cows, an irradiated maniac with the name of an egyptian God and the various cults are here to show us the absurdity (and beauty) of still trying to make it through a wrecked world. It makes little sense to try to survive in the wasteland. Mutated animals, radiation, anarchy – the future doesn’t seem to exist, yet people are still trying to make it.

Fallout 3 continues in that vein. Worshipping an undetonated atomic bomb and people pretending to be superheroes makes perfect sense in the wasteland. It’s a place that will most likely break people down mentally, instead of keeping them normal. The gameplay and the actual fictional world are not the same thing. The gameplay always makes it easier to survive, but imagine if you were really there. The world that surrounds you is wrecked, most animals are distorted and you probably heard old tales of how bright the future could be. You might also be pretty lonely. Putting on a superhero suit makes sense in this setting. It will drive you crazy, and the suit might intimidate some people.

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New Vegas and Fallout 2 can’t keep this theme going. Fallout 2 actually starts fairly well, even if the tribes would have been more comfortable somewhere in Planescape (Unlike the cult in Megaton, Bright Brotherhood or the Unity Church, the tribes have little connection to the game’s themes). Broken Hills and Modoc are great places. The former is an experiment where the three races live together and the latter is a depressed, doomed community that the wasteland is bound to have hundreds of. Things start to get worse once you get to New Reno. The gang wars aren’t updated to fit the wasteland. This isn’t a case of taking an inspiration from something real and changing it to fit the wasteland. Instead, Black Isle lifted mafias with all their drama and visual style and just placed them in the wasteland. The bouncers wear fedoras. The families are powerful. The casinos are prospering. Later on, you’ll encounter a strange Chinese cult. Fallout 2 may be a frankenstein of sorts, consisting of parts from RPG’s buried in development hell.

New Vegas is slightly better, but it’s a western more than anything. Most of the people act like cowboys and ranchers. The whole look of the place relies on how we thing the wild west was. The Mojave is treated more as just a desert, instead of a wasteland. The general view of Fallout 3 is full of ruined buildings and dark skies. New Vegas has the great outdoors that are a common feature in country music. Again, we see here imagery lifted straight from an unrelated genre with little change to it. Obsidian did slightly more with the material they lifted up. This form of wild west does make sense in a post-apocalyptic world. Fallout‘s main source of inspiration, Mad Max, was a western in a post-apocalyptic setting. The people in the Mad Max films though were just as weird as those of the Fallout series, but they had their own culture and myth. New vegas’ culture is just a slightly altered western.

Fallout 2 and New Vegas are praised for their amount of choices, unlike Fallout 1&3. It’s a cool gameplay mechanic, but unless these choices are meaningful storywise, that’s all they end up. They become as meaningful as your choice between a shotgun or a submachine gun. Caesar’s Legion is a boring faction which consists of bad guys with no motive. At least the Enclave look like good guys as seen from their point of view. The NCR and Mr. House are much better, and represent ideas more complex than good and evil. New Vegas‘ plot doesn’t really develop these, though. There’s a point where you make your choice, and the main quest becomes a series of hoops to jump through in order to get to the big battle. At some point, the game stops delivering new informations about the factions. In Fallout 3, you keep learning about the wasteland throughout the various quests. It’s only the final one that is just one huge action scene. I won’t even start on Fallout 2. The terrible Scientology parody and the Chinese took me out, and I keep finding better games to play.

Video games are themselves all about choices. Something happens in a video game only if you choose to do it, even if it’s as dull as moving to the next level or keep hanging around this one. The choices mechanic in RPG’s is just an expansion of it. Good storytelling in video games doesn’t need choices, and choices only improve the storytelling if they help to develop more meaningful stories. The choices in Planescape: Torment are great not just because they add a bunch of different routes. These choices increase the number of meaningful and great stories that the game can tell, and that’s what increases the replay value. The choices in New Vegas don’t offer a particularly new story, and Fallout 2 is just a mess. It’s the first and the third just offer great stories, and if they have to be linear to do it then it’s a sacrifice worth making. They also both deal with the theme of race with more depth than most fiction, something I will elaborate on in a different post.

Pictures are taken from the Fallout Wiki

All Games are Storytelling

All games are interactive stories. The dictionary defines ‘game’ as an interactive pastime meant to entertain. Before video games, it’s easy to see why this would be the optimal definitons. There are no characters in hide-and-seek or in basketball, but let’s describe them. Basketball is about two opposite teams trying to complete an objective, preventing the other one from completing theirs and thus coming out as winners. Hide-and-seek also has this structure of two opposite teams, only this time one team has just one person. Doesn’t this simple descriptions sound like a plot structure waiting to be filled? Isn’t Star Wars also about two opposite teams, trying to achieve their objectives and preventing the other from completing theirs?

It wasn’t apparent then. Basketball and hide-and-seek contain no characters. There’s no good and evil, and the opposite team don’t represent anything. This carried itself into the early video games, like in Pong. The two sides of Pong have no difference between them. Quickly, though, stories begun to appear. Pac-Man is a story. It’s a story of a creature running away from his enemies, collecting MacGuffins and occasionally finding the strength to face them by eating special fruits. Somewhere, someone wrote an article about Pac-Man being a story about drugs. Space Invaders is also a story. What’s the difference between it and a stereotypical action film? Both feature a hero killing a lot of bad guys in order to reach the Big Bad.

The story is told via the game mechanics. For a specific analysis, see my essay about Five Nights at Freddy’s where I noted how its game mechanics contribute to the storytelling. The game mechanics are the tools and obstacles the heroes face. The way they’re being used can tell us about the character. Pac-Man can try to collect the dots as fast as he can, or he can take his time and try to avoid the ghosts more. He can immidiately for the fruits, or keep them until things get tough. The ghosts also have their own behavior. They can either be programmed to follow you if they spot you, or merely go in a set movement pattern. I’m not sure what is actually programmed in Pac-Man, but that’s irrelevant.

All of these can tell us what the story is about and what it means, both what’s automatic and the choices that are left to the player. In literary analysis, a choice like whether the hero hurries to his objective or be cautious matters. It tells us about his general character. The enemy AI tells us about their character, too. If the ghosts have a set movement pattern, the hero faces a dumb, predictible enemy. If they follow him, he has a bigger challenge. The main difference between fiction and video games, however, is the element of choice.

This is what Klosterman said in his essay, “Pong X Infinity”. The analysis of video games should not ask what does this mean, but what could it mean. As I pointed out, you can choose Pac-Man’s behavior, and thus can lead to multiple different stories. RPG fans love to praise Fallout 2 and New Vegas for their amount of choices, but in fact all they do is expand on the element that defines video games. A choice whether to be more evasive or more confrontational may seem like a gaming preferance, but for literary nerds this is one of the most important character-telling moments.

That’s why praising a game for having a lot of choices as good storytelling is silly. Choices, as a storytelling device, are only useful if they expand the meanings the story can have. The choice in Pac-Man’s story are irrelevant because itx story leads nowhere. In the end, it’s just a cute arcade game. In Planescape: Torment, the choices matter because each influence not just the outcome but the meaning of the story.

It seems that recently, most games that are praised as story-reach are just games with a lot of text. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t take advantage of the unique medium. There is some ground to the criticism that games like Fallout and Planescape are sometimes like interactive novels, like a visual novel with more action. However, the sandbox style is a great example of mechanic that’s just as important for storytelling. Visual novels is merely steering a novel in a few possible direction. In Fallout and Planescape, you have much more freedom of what to include or exclude from your story. You even have the option of forgetting about the main story and be a boring, homicidal maniac. This freedom is useless unless, of course, we’re given interesting choices.

This is not an attack on the visual novel or text-based interactive fiction. Both are great formats that can tell good stories, but they don’t take advantage of the video game medium. They’re an extension of literature, more than anything. Fallout, Planescape: Torment, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and Five Nights at Freddy’s are examples of games which take the advantage of the mechanics to tell a great story.

While the mechanics how the game tells its story, sometimes they go against it. I’ll explore in a later post when does a game mechanic exists for both storytelling and gameplay purposes, and when it exists solely for one of them. An example is how Bonnie in Five Nights at Freddy’s teleports. If you played the game, you can think about this and whether it exists solely to offer gameplay challenge or also to add to the story. I’ll write my views in a different post.

Five Nights at Freddy’s

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There are people out there who still think Five Nights at Freddy’s relies on jump scares. They can’t be blamed. The game was a hit among YouTubers, and their acting is so bad it would shame the Raspberry Awards. Things don’t just become popular. Sometimes, it’s the result of appealing to the lowest common denominator. Sometimes, it’s simple innovation.

The big game companies must be embarrassed, not because it topped the Steam charts* while being made on a much smaller budget. The companies should be embarrassed that their huge team couldn’t come up with such a unique game that’s both fun and artistic, challenging the notion of what a video game is. Then again, if the popularity of Call of Duty is anything to go by, the gaming community doesn’t want to be challenged either.

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In popular horror games like Amnesia or Outlast, you are active. You may be in a position of weakness, but this position is not new. Even in Pac-Man, you are much weaker than your enemies. They can always kill you, but you can only kill them sometimes and for a limited time. It also disables them for a short period, not really killing them. Five Nights at Freddy’s makes you passive.

It’s not just that the game consists of looking at pictures. There is no physical way for you to stop the animatronics. The doors are the only thing that can truly prevent them from entering, and even they are not that helpful. They drain a lot of power, and once it’s gone so are you. Your behavior influences the animatronics’ behavior, true, but it’s not something that prevents them. Freddy stays in the same place if you watch him a lot, but you only need to neglect him for a few seconds and he’s in the next room (Personal anecdote: On the sixth night, I watched Freddy and Foxy so much they remained in their starting places).

You win not by doing anything, but by simply killing time. You do not escape the terrible place, or defeat the Big Bad using the single bullet that is conveniently found right before the battle. Even when you win, your character’s action actually don’t change anything. It’s almost like a Russian Roulette. There’s no real winning. There is just no losing.

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That is why the jump scares are so effective. They are more than a grotesque robot screaming at you. You do your best to avoid them because a jump scare is game over. In fact, there are many ways to predict when the jump scares will arrive. Malfunctioning lights or moaning noises while looking at the monitor means your favorite furry friend is in the office. The jump scares are not that surprising. They are just a really unpleasant Game Over.

There is also the element of unpredictability. The antimatronics get more aggressive as the weeks goes on, and they do have some fixed movement patterns, but there are subtle changes in the way they act on them. It could be they will move off the stage very early, but approach the office only once or twice. They hang outside your door for minutes, or come and go constantly. Even when you know how they work and how aggressive they are, you still can’t predict their movements

The scariest element of the game is its art, a form of ‘innocence lost’. For some reason, things related to childhood and kids are always scarier. Stephen King seems to have something with that, too. The game relies heavily on this contrast. The poster in front of you shows the antimatronics singing on stage in bright colors. A child would most likely enjoy the hell out of it, but you don’t get to experience this bright side. Instead, these cute animals want to kill you. Looking at the cameras, places that are meant to be for celebration are looking derelict, dark and abandoned.

If you pay attention to the story behind it, it gets even worse. The place that is supposed to be a haven for children reveals itself as dangerous. Parents describe the animatronics as having blood and mucus leaking from them. An animatronic bit someone’s head. The second game gets into that more in the minigames, where children dying becomes an important thread. There’s something more frightening about a horrible place acting like it’s safe and child-friendly while it’s very dangerous ot kids, than a house that’s filled with body parts. It’s the same reason the pedophile scene in Running Scared is the most effective scene in that movie.

The animatronics are also bad beyond their homicidal tendencies. Their design puts them right in the middle between grotesque and cute. They don’t look like outright monsters, but action figures of them would only fit Sid’s room. Thus, they look cute in the poster but scary in the dark. Artists exploit these qualities, sometimes focusing on a single aspect and sometimes fusing them.

There’s also the hallucinations, which may be considered a form of jumps scare because they’re just pictures flashing rapidly on the screen. However, there are also hallucinations that are easy to miss. Your character is also hallucinating small changes in the rooms. One character is even speculated to be one giant hallucination. All of this hints at a haunted place, but it can also hint at the player character’s mental breakdown. Some asked why would anyone continue to work there, but the player character doesn’t have certain proof the animatronics are deadly. He might just think Phone Guy is bullshitting him, because there’s no way the cute bear can kill anyone. The idea is still there, and the animatronics do move, and their danger becomes harder to deny as the nights go one. The hallucinations are an expression of the player character’s paranoia, not the player himself. You are literally playing as a character who’s breaking mentally.

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The only weakness is that the game is exhausting. It’s more stressful than scary, and being stressful is a surefire way to lose. It’s all about clicking at the buttons at the right time, which is much easier when you’re calm. However, the game is so effective in its presentation that it’s hard to play it for more than one or two nights (levels) in a row. The game gained a reputation for being an ‘I dare you’ thing, for good reason. It’s joyless. It’s not a game you play in order to have fun, but in order to immerse yourself in an emotional experience.

A game is an activity that consists of overcoming obstacles for amusement and pleasure. It doesn’t mean that games shouldn’t be hard, or challenge us, but in general they contain a certain element of joy. Even serious and artistic games like Planescape: Torment had the joy of exploring, reading and learning about different perspectives. Five Nights at Freddy’s has none of that. It’s about immersing yourself in an emotional experience. Some nicknamed it Stress Simulator 2014.

Five Nights at Freddy’s will probably not cause any change, other than perhaps give more power to indie developers. It has a unique structure, but it’s also a minimalist one that leaves very little to built upon. Nevertheless, it’s nothing short of brilliant. Once in a blue moon, the popular opinion is right, although I doubt how many thought beyond “man this game is scary”. That said, stay away from YouTube. One of the best games ever produced one of the worst internet phenomenons ever. Nothing is perfect.

Male Privilege?

You’ve probably heard a lot about privilege, especially male privilege. It became a pretty popular discussion in feminism. It’s pretty weird that feminists stopped talking about women’s struggles and experiences, and moved on to the male experience, but males and females are in constant interaction so I guess there must be a reason. This is a response mainly to Jonathan McIntosh’s article, which also appeared in Feminist Frequency.

McIntosh is the prducer of the fantastic series of Topes Vs. Women in Video Games. If you listen to some rap music, you’ve probably heard a lot of talented producers who can’t rap. Anite Sarkeesian is CL Smooth and her series is “They Reminisce Over You”, while Jonathan McIntosh is more like Pete Rock. I’m thankful for his producing, but when he stepped up to write the drop in quality is drastic.

I’m going to address specific paragraphs and then the whole list. I might drop some comments on the articles he linked later, but don’t consider them a definitive response to them. Also, I will frequency say Lack of Misandry here, so for the rest of this article I’ll just abbreviate it as LOM.

“This backlash, along with a number of other recent high-profile harassment incidents targeting women, has highlighted sexism in the gaming community and brought the issue to wider public and media attention”

He didn’t bring evidence for the frequency of harassment of women, but I can live with that. We have Anita’s series, and the responses of male gamers to Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and others. I have no disagreement with him over the amount of misogyny in the gaming community.

“Working towards solutions requires that, as male gamers, we become aware of the ways in which we unconsciously benefit from sexism. We can’t work to fix something unless we first see and understand its effects. When women as a group are systematically targeted by discrimination, it means that men are elevated by default.”

There are a few problems here. First off, the problem with misogyny is that it makes women suffer. How men benefit or not doesn’t make it any less or more wrong. Misogyny is a women’s issue, and it should not be turned into a male one. Men do benefit from misogyny, but later he shows us that it’s more that men benefit from LOM.

He also says that we all benefit from sexism, and that is almost as calling everyone sexist, or at least that I should feel guilty for not suffering from LOM. He says that we are all taking part in misogyny just by being male and benefitting from what he later shows as just as LOM. Also, his use of the word ‘systematic’ is wrong here. Systematic means methodical, having a plan, involving a system. That’s a claim that needs to be backed up by showing me a system whose agenda involves misogyny. Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games show that misogyny is not really systematic, but rather a system unaware that women are more than just stereotypes. It’s still sexism, but not a systematic attempt to oppress and silence.

If video games were systematically misogynistic, they would have been consistent in portrayal of women. However, women are portrayed as many things – evil seductress, blank love interests and as decoration. These are all bad stereotypes, but there’s no method here. For misogyny to be systematic among gaming, well, he didn’t back that up.

(Related: Her videos regarding Lego’s ads have a similar idea. Women are being kept out less because of pure hatred or to make them suffer, but rather because the guys who make the ads are ignorant and think women and men are just stereotypes.)

In order to understand whether the privilege comes from LOM or from misogyny, we need to ask: Will males still enjoy this in a world without misogyny?

“One of the luxuries of being a member of the dominant group is that the benefits afforded us often remain invisible to us.”

I’m not sure. There are a lot of articles and discussons about privilege recently.

1.I can choose to remain completely oblivious, or indifferent to the harassment that many women face in gaming spaces.

True.

2. I am never told that video games or the surrounding culture is not intended for me because I am male. – LOM.

3. I can publicly post my username, gamertag or contact information online without having to fear being stalked or sexually harassed because of my gender. – Again, LOM. If misogyny didn’t exist, this wouldn’t change.

4. I will never be asked to “prove my gaming cred” simply because of my gender. – LOM

5. If I enthusiastically express my fondness for video games no one will automatically assume I’m faking my interest just to “get attention” from other gamers. – LOM

6. I can look at practically any gaming review site, show, blog or magazine and see the voices of people of my own gender widely represented.

Imagine if a Jew complained that DJ Khaled’s albums are full of black rappers, and contain little to no Jews. There is nothing wrong with a certain group being the dominant one in a certain medium. It becomes a problem when people don’t let people outside that group participate. Eminem didn’t complain there are a lot of black rappers, he made fun of those who thought that because he was white he was somehow shouldn’t rap, or was ‘trying to be black’.

In order for this to be evidence of sexism, we also need to see how many women are trying, or interested, in getting into gaming journalism/blogging/whatever. If a lot of women express interest and yet they can’t get there, then it’s safe to say it’s because it’s a hostile enviroment that they don’t feel welcome in.

7. When I go to a gaming event or convention, I can be relatively certain that I won’t be harassed, groped, propositioned or catcalled by total strangers. – Agan, LOM. It would be more correct to say that, “I can go a convention, sexually harass a women and people will blame her because of what she wore”. This benefit is because of misogyny. Howeve, the ability to go somewhere and not be harassed is something we also want women to have – there’s nothig wrong with males enjoying it, and pointing it out is stating the obvious.

8. I will never be asked or expected to speak for all other gamers who share my gender. – LOM

9. I can be sure that my gaming performance (good or bad) won’t be attributed to or reflect on my gender as a whole. – LOM.

10. My gaming ability, attitude, feelings or capability will never be called into question based on unrelated natural biological functions. – LOM. I’m glad he mentioned “biological functions”, because these are the way we distinguish males from females. Later, he will mention ‘white people’ and won’t define it. Sadly, I don’t think he referred to Handsome Boy Modeling School.

11. I can be relatively sure my thoughts about video games won’t be dismissed or attacked based solely on my tone of voice, even if I speak in an aggressive, obnoxious, crude or flippant manner. – LOM

12. I can openly say that my favorite games are casual, odd, non-violent, artistic, or cute without fear that my opinions will reinforce a stereotype that “men are not real gamers. – LOM

13. When purchasing most major video games in a store, chances are I will not be asked if (or assumed to be) buying it for a wife, daughter or girlfriend. – Kind of makes sense, but it feels like a very silly thing to complain about. Misogyny expresses itself in much crueler ways.

14. The vast majority of game studios, past and present, have been led and populated primarily by people of my own gender and as such most of their products have been specifically designed to cater to my demographic. – A lot of rappers are black, therefore rap music is racist and discriminates against people from Polynesia. Black people should check their privilege!

There is the topic about targeted marketing, when something is marketed as gender-specific. Anita Sarkeesian covered it nicely in her Lego videos. This is an issue that deserves its own article. It can’t be just summed up in a single point.

15. I can walk into any gaming store and see images of my gender widely represented as powerful heroes, villains and non-playable characters alike. – Again, a good issue that can’t be summed up in a single sentence. It’s something Sarkeesian covered and explained, and why my Black Rappers Argument doesn’t negate this. This also deserves its own article. He also acknowledges that males dominate not only the protagonists but also the villains and other NPC’s. The worlds are full of almost only males. If you’re like me, and you’re big on extracting meaning from stories, this is a problem.

16. I will almost always have the option to play a character of my gender, as most protagonists or heroes will be male by default. – I think a lot of story writers write stories that, somehow, relate to them. Since a lot of them are male, it follows they would write their protagonists male too because that’s what they understand. Writing women as a male is a challenge. The solution to this is not to attack male people for writing stories about males, but to encourage females to write stories about females.

17. I do not have to carefully navigate my engagement with online communities or gaming spaces in order to avoid or mitigate the possibility of being harassed because of my gender. – LOM

18. I probably never think about hiding my real-life gender online through my gamer-name, my avatar choice, or by muting voice-chat, out of fear of harassment resulting from my being male. – LOM

19. When I enter an online game, I can be relatively sure I won’t be attacked or harassed when and if my real-life gender is made public – LOMIf I am trash-talked or verbally berated while playing online, it will not be because I am male nor will my gender be invoked as an insult. – LOM

20. If I am trash-talked or verbally berated while playing online, it will not be because I am male nor will my gender be invoked as an insult. – LOM

21. While playing online with people I don’t know I won’t be interrogated about the size and shape of my real-life body parts, nor will I be pressured to share intimate details about my sex life for the pleasure of other players. – LOM

22. Complete strangers generally do not send me unsolicited images of their genitalia or demand to see me naked on the basis of being a male gamer. – LOM. Even if I met a random girl while playing LoL, I would prefer her to send me nude pics.

23. In multiplayer games I can be pretty sure that conversations between other players will not focus on speculation about my “attractiveness” or “sexual availability” in real-life. – LOM

24. If I choose to point out sexism in gaming, my observations will not be seen as self-serving, and will therefore be perceived as more credible and worthy of respect than those of my female counterparts, even if they are saying the exact same thing. – I’m going to comment on that in the next point.

25.Because it was created by a straight white male, this checklist will likely be taken more seriously than if it had been written by virtually any female gamer. – First off, McIntosh failed to define ‘white’. Race is pseudoscience. As for what he claims, I actually think the opposite. I think that because this list was created because McIntosh had a bit of White Male Guilt, so he wrote an article attacking White Males to make himself feel better.

Based on this artifcle, it doesn’t look like McIntosh’s particularly cares about women. He didn’t sought to write about women’s experiences and to understand them, but instead he wrote about the male experience. He mentioned sexual harassment, but instead of talking about how women experience it he talked about how men doesn’t experience it.

Feminism is about women and it’s concerned with women’s issues. That’s why when MRA’s point certain discriminations against men, it does nothing to weaken the main feminist premise because it’s off-topic. This is a similiar case. Almost every privilege has nothing to do with misogyny and everything to do with men not experiencing misandry. If this was an argument against people who claim misandry is a serious issue, it would be relevant. In a discussion about women’s issues though, he might as well have written about the biology of eggplants.

Men do benefit from misogyny. By pushing someone else down you can lift yourself up. Discussing how men benefit from misogyny is important because it helps us understand why we still have it, and to point to some people who are having sexist thoughts without acknowledging it. However, none of the benefits McIntosh showed are gained by pushing women down. His article says almost nothing.

This is my general problem when discussing privilege. I will probably write more about it, but the basic problem is that a lot of the discussions forget that it’s not wrong for one group not to experience discrimination – it’s wrong that the other group does.

Calling Out on Thunderf00t’s bullshit

Anita Sarkeesian’s video series, “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” is great. It’s like a feminist version of Jerry Mender’s Four Arguments only for video games, and without dismissing the entire medium. Sadly, there are a lot of nonsense out there disguising itself as a ‘response’ of some sort to the video series. Thunderfoot’s is popular. It’s also pretty long and very, very serious.

I can go off like Thunderfoot and start calling him idiot and repeat “Look how ridiculous this is!” without end, but that would be wrong. I would also look ridiculous.

Why Feminism poisons EVERYTHING

The first thing we see is the ‘face of feminist atheism’ throwing a sexist insult at an unnamed male atheist. I call this joke sexist because it deals specifically with the target’s sexuality. I fail to see, however, how this backs up Thunderfoot’s argument. Show me a single feminist who says something stupid, and all I can conclude is that Watson said something really stupid. He later shows more example of ‘bad feminists’, but they don’t hold up. He also says it was directed at the “entire male atheist audience.” Sure, a single insult directed at a single person is an attack on entire audience.

Anita Sarkeesian appears in about 1:23 into the video, and is accused of lying 1:46. His evidence of her lying is one instance where Anita shows a picture of her playing Super Mario, saying she has “been playing game for quite a while”. Then there is a video where she introduces her project, saying, “This is a fandom. I’m not a fan of video games. I had to learn a lot about video games while doing this,” and “I’d love to play video games, but I don’t want to go around shooting people, ripping off people’s heads, that’s gross.”

Playing video games and being a part of the fandom are not the same thing. There are people who listen to the band’s hits, and people who buy merchandise and go to shows. Yes, that means she has less knowledge of video games. That’s why she also she says she needs to learn a lot about them. She drops a lot of names in her videos, so she probably did her learning. As for the second quote, it says Anita isn’t really into the aesthetics of violence. She probably won’t see what’s the big deal with John Woo. That’s okay.

Thunderfoot uses the second quote to ask, “Why does sexism in video games bothers Anita, while violence doesn’t?”. Violence in video games and women in video games are two different issues. Anita focuses on the latter, and her videos never pretend to be some sort of general analysis of all aspects of video games. As I said, it’s Four Arguments, only from a solely feminist perspective. That’s not minimizing other issues. They’re just off topic.

The ‘video games influence people’ topic appears about 3 minutes into it. Thunderfoot’s interprets Anita’s saying (“Video games help shape our society by challenging or reinforcing existing values, beliefs and behaviors”) as: A video game teaches exactly what the character does. His examples: Left 4 Dead teaches people to survive the zombie the apocalypse, Assassin’s Creed teaching people it’s okay to assassinate for the guild, and Call 4 Duty teaches to solve problems using a headshot.

This is not a strawman. This not understanding the basic idea of ‘imagery influence people. If he read serious writers on this topic, like Neil Postman or Jerry Mender he’d know that the influence is not obvioua, monkey-see-monkey-do thing (Sometimes, it is). I admit I have not read all of this, but notice how it refers to “aggressive behavior”, and the final paragraphs, which offer conclusion, do not speak of specific acts (Unlike Thunderfoot), but general aggressive behavior or thoughts. If this is anything to go by, video games do have some sort of effect. I don’t really know what’s with the GTA guy though.

Anita didn’t bring evidence regarding this idea, true, but the purpose of her videos is to analyze women’s representation in video games, not the influence of video games in society. She only talked about the impact on the real world in general terms. Yes, it would’ve been better if she had a study or something, but even great people sometimes make mistakes.

Thunderfoot goes off on the “What’s your priority?” yet again, missing what I pointed above, while using murder statistics to prove “video games have no effect on reality”. I refer to the study I linked to yet again, which talked about “aggresive behavior”, not killing people. Killing people is merely one act of violence. So video games don’t influence the murder statistics, but that’s not it. Also, Anita doesn’t talk about “saving this [Peach from Mario] princess”, she talks about how much this trope appears.

(According to Thunderfoot’s graph, murders had a peak somewhere around after 1990. Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, and Quake were all released from 1992 to 1996, but no matter).

Around 4:58, I get told that “It would be hard for Anita to play the victim when all she has is not liking these first persons shooters” (Not the exact quote). I don’t see how Anita not liking violent video games somehow makes her argument less valid. Violence against women isn’t the only thing she talks about. Thunderfoot himself shows us she also talks about the damsel in distress.

TIME OFF FOR FUN: A comment by “Cynthia King” criticizes Anita for wearing beauty enhancing products while talking about serialization in video games. By addressing this, Cynthia King distracts us from the much more serious problem: None of Anita’s videos contains a well-placed bass drop.

If Thunderfoot actually paid attention during Anita’s videos, he would know that she’s not on a crusade against FPS games. It takes a while before FPS games even appear.

Anita’s “These games are made by men, for men, and if girls are want to participate they need to shut up.”

This isn’t the best phrasing of that idea, but like I said great people sometimes make mistakes. Anita talks about the exclusion, the whole idea of boys-only. Thunderfoot counters it by going to ‘Games2Girls’, and says that according to her logic that site is sexist because it doesn’t feature a random FPS in the middle of ‘puzzle games for girls’. Let’s forget that he still thinks this is only about FPS’s, but that Anita would probably think that a ‘Games2Girls’ site is also wrong. Never in her videos did she ask for games only for girls. She only asked for games which are not dominated by males, and her examples of what does it right are, among them: Beyond Good and Evil, To The Moon, Papo & Yo. Watch her videos for the details, but the gist of her argument is that these games are only male-targeted, reject the female voice and thus reject a whole audience which is interested in them*.

6:38 – Here comes more of, “She’s a liar because she’s not a real gamer!”

Madonna appears as an example of women who disassociate themselves from feminism because of “those who vocally associate themselves with feminism”. Considering how much bullshit I found in Thunderfoot’s video, I’d say the feminists are doing much better. Watson’s stupid comment is nothing compared to all of this.

There’s more – here comes the examples of why feminism is so bad:

– A woman saying “If you’re not a feminist, then you’re a bigot. There’s nothing in between”. I think she creates her a false dilemma, but I can see her logic. I’d say she’s wrong, but it’s not total bullshit.

– The snippet with the red-haired one is a mess. She seems pissed off, but it’s also implied the guy was interrupting her reading. I have no idea what to make of this. Maybe he really acted like an asshole. Maybe she needs anger management. This says nothing.

– A woman telling me there is a school of art that focuses on the female body parts. No opinion is expressed here. “Focusing on body parts” doesn’t tell me anything. She might as well have said that a lot of party songs are about going to a party and probably find someone to have sex with.

– Anita making a bold statement about women being “oppressed all the time”. Thunderfoot cuts off before giving her a chance to present anything.

– A woman talking about how ‘bitch’ is an insult based on gender. ‘Bitch’ also means female dog, and is used casually when referred to women sometimes not an insult. Female rappers commonly call themselves bitches (Trina had an album “Da Baddest Bitch”). Talking about this word can be a pretty good idea. Nothing wrong here.

– Anita calling something “Choose Your Own Patriarchal Porno Fantasy”. Thunderfoot doesn’t show us what it is. I AM DYING TO KNOW.

Wikipedia makes a wild apperance in 8:20. Feminists claim Wikipedia is biased, and Thunderfoot claims their evidence is that ‘they say so’. No evidence of that appears. What does appear, though, is the “Are Women Weaker Than Man?” thing. I agree women and men are structured differently, but what we do with this difference, and when exactly it is relevant, is what matters.

Dividing the Olympics makes sense, just as dividing wrestling according to weight. I’m not a biology expert, so feel free to tell me more. The Olympics merely acknowledge a difference exists, but not that one is worse than the other, or something.

He dismisses a study (book) solely because it is described as ‘feminist’. I’m serious. The book describes itself as feminist, therefore it is invalid and he will not even bother to read it. The studies he does think are okay talk about a very small part of the human body. Grip and elbow muscles are not the only things that make up strength.

Anita should have brought evidence, true, but even if the premise “Women are generally weaker than men” is true, it wouldn’t undermine Anita’s project (To show how prevalent sexism is in video games, and explain why it’s problematic).

Thunderfoot has more videos against Anita. I watched another one, which was also filled with bullshit, but that’s for a later post. Thunderfoot, like a lot of others who don’t agree with Sarkeesian, completely miss the point. You’d think such a well-thought video series would start an interesting and engaging dialogue. I don’t agree with everything Anita says, but nevertheless she says a lot of interesting things and this sort of critical thinking is what video games need to progress.