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All Bound Up: Art, Pornography, and “Ladykiller in a Bind”

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All Bound Up: Art, Pornography, and “Ladykiller in a Bind”

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Hello, gamers!  In (belated) honor of Valentine’s day I’ve decided to get sexy and talk about porn: specifically the erotic and controversial visual novel Ladykiller In A Bind.  But, before we get started, let’s talk about art, pornogrophy, and what defnines each of them.

It seems that everyone has an opinion as to what does or does not constitute ‘art.’  At the first PAX convention I attended, an audience member asked Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins if he considered video games to be art.  Holkins thought (and I agree) that this was a silly question: how could something that hundreds of artists work on for months possibly be anything but art? This school of thought has been spreading, especially since Anita Sarkeesian has so famously subjected video games to the same thorough analysis that academics have used to look at literature and film for generations.

So, assuming we can agree that video games are art, we still haven’t answered the question of what ‘art’ actually is.  It’s a question I’ve thought about a great deal, especially while I was working on my BA in a creative field.  Novelist and educator John Green describes art as ‘something someone put into the world to make my life more interesting(1).’  My personal definition is similar, though not exactly the same.  I believe that, on the most basic level, art is a form of communication: something created by an individual to inspire a reaction in an audience.

This is why I’ve always thought the dichotomy between ‘art’ and ‘pornography’ to be false.  Many years ago, I found myself interviewed for a ‘man on the street’ segment of some sort, where I was shown a series of pictures and asked I considered them to be art or pornography, and why.  I probably skewed their results, since I classified every single image as ‘art’ (though I recall describing a few of them as ‘art with pornographic subject matter’).  Putting aside ‘I’ll know it when I see it,’ pornography is generally described as media designed to titillate or sexually arouse.  Which, going by my definition of art, doesn’t separate pornography from art at all.  It places it as a category: a form of communication meant to instill a particular response in the audience.

So is a pornographic video game art?  I would unequivocally say ‘yes.’  Mind you, that doesn’t mean it has to be good art.  We can probably all agree that film is an artform, but that doesn’t mean all movies have equal artistic merit.  Some films are thought provoking while others offer little more than base escapism and toilet humor.2906863-ladykiller+in+a+bind+2016-12-17+2_38_02+pm

Ladykiller occupies a nuanced position on this continuum.  It stars a young woman (the Beast) who has been forced to masquerade as her twin brother while his high-school graduating class take a cruise ship across the Atlantic.  If she acts too suspiciously she’ll be thrown into cargo hold, ending the game.  The mechanics revolve around accruing ‘votes’ (for an in-game contest that may or may not be BS), while avoiding ‘suspicion.’  Conversation options appear and disappear as they occur to the player-character.  There are two main romance storylines to chose from or combine, as well as a number of side-stories involving minor characters.  The player gets to chose the names of each character as they appear, either from one of two default options or by entering a custom name.  For the remainder of this article I’ll refer to the characters by the default names we chose in our longest playthrough.

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Review: Pokemon Snap

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By: Iris the Keyblade Master

Ah, Pokémon Snap, the only Pokémon-related video game that I ever got to play when I was a kid.  It was made for the Nintendo 64, but it’s also currently available on the Wii U Virtual Console.  I recently bought a copy for my N64 and found that it still held up for me as an adult.

First, I told myself that I just wanted to test the game out to make sure it still worked.  About twenty minutes later, I had furiously headed back to the Beach level to prove to Professor Oak that the size in my pictures was NOT “so-so!”  It’s one of those games that is so simple and yet so addicting at times.

Unlike other Pokémon games, you don’t get to capture, train, or trade any of the wild Pokémon that you find in the different levels.  You take pictures and send them to Professor Oak, who then gives you points based on its size, position, how many of the same type appeared in the shot, etc.  (And boy, does he have high standards for “size!”)  However, to get to the next level, you must complete a variety of objectives.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking a certain number of pictures of unique Pokémon.  Other times, you need to trigger something special within a level to get to the next one.

Additionally, certain Pokémon won’t appear without the help of tools that Professor Oak gives you throughout the game.  And sometimes the ways to get new Pokémon aren’t so obvious.  For example, there’s a Charmeleon that walks around a lava pit towards the end of the Volcano course.  If you knock him into the pit with an apple treat, he’ll evolve into Charazard.  This interaction increases the replay value of the game, since it encourages you to go back and try new tricks to find hidden Pokémon.  (Side note: it’s also worth mentioning that because it’s an older game, you won’t find any Pokémon that came after Mew. Mew himself doesn’t even appear until after you’ve unlocked the final level.)

Technically, the player character has a name, Todd.  But like Link and the early Final Fantasy heroes, you get to pick what you want to call him.  He doesn’t have much of a personality in the game beyond, “Oh boy, let’s take a lot of pictures of Pokémon!” but it works.

Pokémon Snap is a fun, colorful game.  I love the different environments that you get to view through Todd’s safari vehicle.  Hopefully, some day, Nintendo will make a sequel.  They could really make it work by including the other generations of Pokémon, and maybe add new features, i.e. editing your pictures or getting to explore open world settings instead of following the same track.

If you like the Pokémon series, but never got around to trying this game, then I recommend checking it out if you still have your Nintendo 64 or access to the Virtual Console.  It’s a lot of fun!

Games to Get Excited About: April 2017

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Did we skip a month? Sort of, but not really.  I realized that giving you games to be excited about in the same month as the article doesn’t give you much time to get excited, so the editor Goddesses have let me shake it up a bit and give you a little over a month to let said excitement build.  There’s a few games coming in April, including another Switch title, but the game I’m really excited about is Little Nightmares.

Little Nightmares is a puzzle-based platformer in which a nine year-old girl named Six is trapped in a creepy old house.  The girl is taken to a place called The Maw, which is a twisted resort for the rich and demented.  Given the chance to escape, you must navigate The Maw, looking for a way out, and solving the puzzles in each room with the items you find in each room.

Why We’re Excited

This game looks like Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro got together and produced a cute, twisted interactive movie.  Watching some of the gameplay videos showed a creepy game with some very cool art style and sound.  It looks like you can explore just about anywhere while to look for ways to unlock rooms and find your way out.  It has a great use of lighting and sound to enhance the experience.

I’m also excited because this reminds me of classic games like Myst and The 7th Guest.  While I enjoy games with combat, fighting, and adventure, sometimes it’s fun to sit back and enjoy something different.  I loved that about both the Portal games as well.  Exploring, solving puzzles, and working my way through a game without having to blow things up and kill imaginary people.

Finally, the art style is probably what hooked me the most.  The game looks beautiful, and unique.  These days any company can give you a realistic world with great character models, and some of them look as real as any CGI in a movie.  It’s getting to where the realism of Battlefield or Arma is the rule rather than the exception.  With Little Nightmares, the art isn’t realistic at all.  It’s got a very unique, exaggerated style that looks like that world would probably look to a frightened child.  Everything is overly large, and strangely distorted.  The bad guys are all grotesque and demented looking.  It looks like something right out of a childhood nightmare, and it’s not like anything I’ve played myself when it comes to the graphics.

Little Nightmares comes out in April of this year and will be available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Notable Releases for April

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – A port of Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Switch, this version will feature all of the previously released DLC.  This will bring the franchise we are all familiar with to Nintendo’s new platform on the 28th of April.

Dragon Quest Heroes II – A continuation of the popular hack and slash, Dynasty Warriors style game comes to PS4 on the 25th.  This series combines the play style of the popular Dynasty Warriors with the characters and monsters from the Dragon Quest franchise.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 – Is an open-world FPS in which you collect intel to find missions and complete your objectives.  From CI games we’ll see this on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on the 4th.

Persona 5 – Officially the 6th installment of this popular RPG, Persona 5 comes to PS3 and PS4 on the 4th of April.  The game is described as a social simulation and RPG, as you take the role of the silent protagonist living through a year of high school

Influential Female Characters: Chun-Li

Influential Female Characters: Chun-Li

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Let’s just be honest about this from the jump; Chun-Li is a boss. She is the first female playable character in fighting games. The unofficial First Lady of arcade games. She has a great backstory and an unwavering sense of justice. Also, it is just so fun to play her and kick the actual snot out of people.

Chun-Li is also one of my favorite characters because she is closely tied with my early childhood.

When I was a kid, we went out for pizza a lot. Most of the local pizza places had some arcade style games. The real arcade was too far, so this was where my brother, my cousins and I played these games. One of these restaurants had Street Fighter. My brother and I loved Street Fighter. I always played Chun-Li. I loved how strong she was. I particularly loved how she could kick forever and kick so high. Thankfully, the owners thought it was cute to have me yell; “KICK! KICK! KICK!” as Chun-Li would decimate her opponents in battle. You can get away with causing some shenanigans as a cute little girl in pigtails bent on slaughter till your pizza is ready.

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There weren’t a lot of choices for me as a little girl to play a female character that were not a damsel in distress. Chun-Li was that option. She has always been a capable and highly ranked character in the games. She high kicked her way into my heart and let me know I could get myself out of situations and even be a little sassy about it.

Now that I am older, I can also really appreciate her backstory. Most of the time her origin story is that, as a little girl, she was very interested in martial arts and her father trained her. Her father was a detective who would go missing. She became a detective herself to find him. From there, she goes to all sorts of places and lengths to stop villains. 

chun-li_various_agesChun-Li fights for justice. Sometimes she fights for vengeance. She is a police officer and an overall likable person. She has been voiced and played by some pretty cool actresses, including Ming-Na Wen in the movie of which we do not speak from 1994.

Chun-Li is a fun character. She doesn’t have to be someone’s girlfriend. She is a career women with a backstory that is a part of her but does not define her. She uses her talents to help others. Chun-Li is also a favorite of cosplayers and who could blame them with her cool outfit? Honestly she is just a really great character to play.

Let us know what you think about Chun-Li in the comments below!

Always keep sparkling (and kicking), my friends!

Overwatch Just Can’t Catch a Break

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It wasn’t long ago that one person managed to complain hard enough to get Tracer’s pose changed in Overwatch.  Nevermind that the new pose isn’t really that much different from the original, or that the original is just like many of the other character victory poses.  Ignore the male victory poses that have them thrusting themselves forward as if proclaiming their victory with a burst of manhood at the screen.  This one character had to be changed, and Blizzard changed it.  They didn’t change it so much though.  She still shows her backside, looking over her shoulder, flirty look; not much difference at all.

Then comes winter.  Blizzard releases a fun holiday skin for Mei and people get upset.  It’s a fun skin, perfectly matched to the season.  It fits her character theme, and her original costume design.  Again, Blizzard apologizes, for a design choice!  They wanted to create something fun, fun being an entirely subjective word, and the company says sorry.  Of course gamers have a right to voice their complaints, but when’s the last time a painter apologized for a painting, or a writer apologized for a book?  It doesn’t happen all that often does it?  The artists that create our games, however, they always seem to be apologizing.

If only that were the end.  Now comes the Lunar New Year update and people are upset about Mei again.  Now, while the profile view looks odd, and yes it could either be her clothing or a strange bug, people weren’t just complaining about that.  Take off her thick fur parka and voila, she’s still a curvy girl but sans a thick parka.  Blizzard is saying this bug will be fixed, and granted they may not change her all that much.  How can we know, at this point, whether it was a bug, a design choice, or just a mistake?  Is it Blizzard just apologizing again?  We won’t know for sure, because they’ve set a precedent.

It’s not just them though, and no this isn’t going to turn into an ‘entitled gamers’ rant.  If you don’t like a game, something about a game, or the company that makes it, say so.  Don’t buy the game, express your suggestions, and do whatever you think best.  What I have a problem with is every company bending over backwards in an attempt to please everyone.  It creates an environment where if a few of us yell loud enough we can make an artist change their creation however we want.

It’s one thing to apologize about a mistake, a large number of bugs, or delays of release.  The list of apologies for design choices is long however.  Christina Love recently apologized and censored her own game because of complaints about one sex scene.  Just this past year a handful of games were censored because of outrage, localization or fear of outrage as in the case of Uncharted 4.  Watchdogs 2, a game featuring male genitalia, had to be changed to remove one instance of female nudity that was found (not readily on display), and shared to social media.

We’re creating an atmosphere where creativity is chained by fear.  Where art has to run through a checklist of things that are allowed and aren’t, and where artists are always questioning their decisions because someone might be upset.  I’m here to tell you someone will always be upset.  I’ve seen games change things to please one group, only to piss off another, then change something else that pisses off the first group again.  I’m a writer, and I can tell you there’s nothing less creative than having to work off a checklist of things you can and can’t do, things you have to do.  Then there’s the realization that even if you check off all those boxes, and do your best to make sure it doesn’t seem like you’re just checking off boxes, someone will still be pissed.

Don’t get me wrong.  Voice your opinion and give feedback.  Let them know when a game’s broken or that you are upset at a ridiculous delay.  Report bugs and offer suggestions.  Just remember that those hard-working artists that put all those hours into the games we love are people too.  They’re creative, caring, and real people.  When criticism turns into just a mob crapping over a design choice, or getting offended by a joke, we’ll wind up with games created by automatons rather than artists.  I don’t think any of us want that.

Artists, stop apologizing so much.  If you have to change your art to please some people, then you inevitably lose others.  If some people don’t want your work because of what it involves, guess what…that’s normal.  Not every person in the world is going to read my book, like someone’s painting, or play your game.  Make the stories you want to tell.  Create the art you want to share.  Never apologize for creating what’s in your heart.  If you make an honest mistake then own up to it, but when you bring something artistic out of your mind, or your heart and soul, that’s not a mistake, a bug, or an error.

Games to Get Excited About – February 2017

Games to Get Excited About – February 2017

Now that February is upon us, it is time for another installment of Games to Get Excited About. We’re looking at another upcoming game that may not be on your radar and running down some of the notable releases for February. February is usually a slim release month but with a slate of 1st Quarter Japanese game releases and the Nintendo Switch looming on the horizon, the release calendar in 2017 just isn’t letting up.

The Dark Souls series, along with its predecesor Demon’s Souls and spiritual successor Bloodborne have popularized a design ethos that has begun to inspire other developers to try their own hands at it. An emphasis on difficulty which demands patience and skill to master, winding levels to punish the unwary and reward the observant, and an experience system which turns every step into the unknown into a pull of risk versus reward. This formula has inspired straight copies such as Lords of the Fallen, been adapted into character action such as Team Ninja’s upcoming Nioh, and even found its way into 2d exploration heavy games like Souls series and metroidvania homage Salt & Sanctuary. The next upcoming game to try to put a new perspective on this style of game is our spotlight game of the month.

EITR

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EITR is an upcoming action-RPG from two-person developer Eneme Entertainment. It harkens back to the old school dungeon crawlers like Diablo with its locked isometric perspective and recalls an era of 16-bit graphics while pushing sprite-work that is more detailed and intricate than anything possible from that era. While the aesthetics are pure nostalgia, the game design itself promises to hew close to the Souls formula, with a focus on varied enemy types that challenge players to choose the right play style for each encounter and punishing bosses that demand that their attack patterns be learned and test the players reflexes.

Why We’re Excited

EITR tradeseitr-2 the Gothic fantasy trappings of Dark Souls and the Lovcraftian Victorian fever dream of Bloodborne for a dark adventure drenched in Norse mythology. In EITR players take the role of a Viking shield maiden as she tries to discover the source of a corrupting plague that is marching across the land. She will face undead warriors as well as more monstrous corrupted horrors. The story will be told through interactions with NPCs and the lore that can be pieced together through item descriptions and exploring the nooks and crannies of the game’s world. The game looks simply incredible in motion and we hope that it will manage to hit the tightly tuned sweet spot of difficulty and mastery that makes this style of game such a joy to play.

EITR is taking quite a few pages from the Souls design book, but it is turning a few of them in interesting way. Whereas in the Souls series character stats are king, in EITR a greater emphasis is put on the stats and special abilities of your equipment. This makes the Diablo style random loot more of a draw. Another departure from Souls is the way that experience is handled. In the Souls series and many of its imitators, you lose your Experience Points (souls) if you die, and must try to get back to the place you died in order to reclaim them. If you die again before you claim them, they are gone forever. In EITR, you do not gain Experience Points for killing enemies. Instead, you gain Favor Points for completing milestones in the story. Favor Points give you a bonus to damage and defense and make the game more survivable. The trick is, if you die while holding a Favor Pointeitr-3, it’s gone for good. If you want to keep a bonus from the Favor point, you can spend it to increase a stat of your choice by one point permanently. Do you risk losing the buff and give yourself an edge in the coming fights or do you spend it to give yourself a permanent but less powerful power up? Hopefully the game can live up to the series that inspired it while putting its own mark on the sub-genre.

EITR is currently slated to release on the PC, Mac, and PS4 sometime in 2017. Updates can be followed on Twitter @EitrTheGame or EitrTheGame on Facebook or Tumblr.

Notable February Releases

Nioh – Speaking of games with a Souls influence, this month sees the release of Team Ninja’s return to character action, NiohNioh is a Japanese flavored game that marries the design ethos and progression systems of Dark Souls with the technical depth of games like Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry. The game began development all the way back in 2004 (!) and has undergone multiple restarts and revisions to finally become the game that is releasing this month. I have played the pre-release Alpha, Beta, and last chance demo and I found the game to be incredibly satisfying. I can’t wait to try the full release.

For Honor – The two previous games looked at Vikings and Samurai. The next game, For Honor, pits them against each other in battle and throws in Medieval Knights for good measure. For Honor is a multi-player focused action game that sees players playing in team based skirmishes as these factions fight it out. The game will also feature a single player campaign but early previews make it clear that the meat of this experience is in the online play.

Halo Wars 2 – Halo Wars became a cult classic following its release on the XBox 360 in 2009. It traded the first person perspective of Master Chief for a pulled out Real Time Strategy game. Now the sequel is arriving on XBox One to continue the story of the first game. The game has been developed by Creative Assembly, the developers behind the well loved Total War series.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – Horizon: Zero Dawn is a new game and new IP from Killzone developers Guerrilla Games. The PS4 exclusive is an action RPG set in a world where humanity has regressed to primitive technology after a civilization destroying calamity and huge robotic beasts now roam the land. Players will need to hunt, craft, hack, and sneak to upgrade their abilities and turn the tide in battles against both human opponents and mechanical monstrosities. Sony clearly hopes that Horizon will become a flagship title and has been pushing the game as a technical showcase for the recently release PS4 Pro.

Review: Slayaway Camp

Dev/Pub: Blue Wizard Digital
Medium: PC

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My inner horror nerd was squealing with gore-filled joy when I received this game. Of course, I fired up everything and started playing the game. The interior of a 1980s/90s video store popped up in my view. My first thought was, No Shit, well done! I haven’t seen a video store in nearly 10 years and it brought back that nostalgia of going to Blockbuster on Fridays with my parents to rent some VHS tapes for the weekend. Everything from the shelves, the tube tv in the corner playing previews to the cheesy overhead music was amazing. I’m pumped and I haven’t even started playing.

So what is it?
It is a 1980s horror puzzle where you control the killer. Your first killer is Skullface and you have to move around the board and slaughter teens at the summer camp you may have died at. Sliding around leaving bodies in your wake before disappearing into a demonic portal.

What did I think?
OMG THIS IS AWESOME.

The pixel graphics are only making this game more awesome for me. Not only that, it’s hard and easy at the same time. The game itself is easy to understand. Even when they add more elements in, those elements are easy to understand, yet hard to master. Not to mention, there are different types of deaths to be had! Sometimes, when you slide over to that annoying teenager about to have premarital sex, there pops up a cut scene and you are shown a comical and brutal scene THAT YOU PICKED.

You earn coins throughout the game so that you can buy other murderers and ways to die. I haven’t unlocked a lot, but I love the ones I have and am excited to see more. However, sometimes you just slide over and put a butcher knife in their forehead. Clean and classic. I appreciate the simple murders as much as the cut scenes.

It gets super creative. From using bookcases to murder unsuspecting teenagers or just to block the way so you can redirect your murder to his exit hell portal.

I’ve only played through 3 movies and have unlocked very little but I’m not stopping anytime soon. This is provides me with endless entertainment and it’s less than $10 on Steam. I can’t say enough good about this game. Actually, stop reading this and go buy the game and murder some teenagers yourself.