Rising Above Gatekeeping: Games Belong to All

Apr 28, 2015 by

FemHype Kiva Bay comic

Humans and other animals enjoy play. Let’s focus on humans for the moment, though. “Playing” is not something you grow out of and it’s not something you have to do in a certain way, at a certain time, or to have a certain experience. More people seem to have realized that video games aren’t something one grows up and magically stops liking as if some prerequisite of adulthood. I like to think we’ve made some progress when it comes to our thinking about games, gamers, and how we participate and interact, as well as matters of access to those games, but this isn’t always clear.

It’s a week where some were confused or disappointed by seeing eSports broadcast on ESPN2, but this is only one symbol of change. Yesterday, FemHype published a comic by Kiva Bay (and Sam Slater) about her experiences with homelessness and how the ability to play games occasionally, plus see gaming Let’s Plays, shows, and coverage, helped her get through the days and feel better about life amid those struggles. Yet, the idea of identity came into play, and worries about not being accepted as a gamer since she didn’t have the opportunity or means to play most of the games she came to care about and experience virtually through others. The comic spoke to me since, while I’ve never been homeless, I did grow up poor with my mom, who has MS. We relied on her disability payments, as well as food assistance and even sometimes the church pantry in order to get by. One thing my mom and I shared were video games.

Yes, we had consoles, but they were often a gift from a family member as a combined birthday and Christmas present that required lengthy periods of saving up. When it came to games, we had a couple for each console. Sometimes we borrowed games from my great aunt, who kept an NES for her charges to come play (she was a teacher). My mom and I would browse used games on the shelves at E.B. and sometimes get one if we could afford it that month. Sometimes, Mom would drive us to an arcade and give me eight quarters. Those quarters meant the opportunity to get out there and enjoy some games, often with other kids. That was multiplayer. Other times, we would manage $2-3 for a rental.

When I began writing about games and even getting people to pay me to do that, there was a voice deep inside that peeped at me about my experiences, that my gaming history was “broken” or that my experiences, my insight, were inferior because of rentals not always giving me enough time to finish games, for missing out on games many consider classics, for having holes where other people’s console or PC gaming experiences were. We had consoles that we held onto for a long time since that’s what we could afford. I pushed that nagging little voice down, but it did undermine my confidence for a while.

In addition to humans liking to play, we also generally like to feel like we belong, that we can relate to others in this vast weird experience we call life. A few billion of us share the planet right now. A shared passion is a powerful thing, and when it comes to gaming, that’s true as well. Yet, it pains me that other people sometimes personify that little nagging voice that I’ve had to deal with –except this time, they serve as gatekeepers, as rule makers, or even as the gates themselves. There’s enough room to listen to one another and not disparage what we each like, what we connect with, or how we play. And even if people can’t access the games others play, they can still be passionate about those things. How about we stop looking for ways to disqualify people or to stop attempting to qualify them in the first place? It is tiring and exhausting to see people attempt to police others’ identities, on any front.

Games are something that have been part of my life since I was about three. A friend recently mentioned that she felt it shameful that she had never played games in several popular series. I told her, as we chatted over dinner, that everyone starts somewhere, and that there was no shame in it. I’m glad to see people discover games, whether that’s through active play, video, or even if someone discovered Heroes of the Storm via ESPN2.  People have different experiences, with many aspects of life, and making others believe it’s shameful not to have played something, it’s counterproductive to connection. Connection, including sharing our experiences, it’s one of the things I enjoy most about the power of games. They appeal to our human need to play, and in turn, give us one way to relate, open our eyes, learn, and care.

Connection is what I saw in that comic, and it reminded me of that nagging voice that even pops up still, once in a rare while. However you arrive, your experience is valuable. Welcome.


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Silent Hills: Silence in the Distance

Apr 27, 2015 by

P.T. game image

The Silent Hill series remains one of my favorites. Once Team Silent was no longer in charge of the development of the series, several Western developers tried and mostly fumbled when it came to producing new Silent Hill games. If you haven’t played Silent Hill through Silent Hill 4: The Room, please get yourself copies and play through them. Silent Hills, announced last year via P.T. (Playable Teaser) as a project from Hideo Kojima’s team and Guillermo Del Toro, looked to have the potential to return the series to its more nuanced, strange, creepy charm.

The nature of which horror games succeed has also shifted over the years to a more action-based crop of challenging games, and even roguelikes. Bloodborne is popular among both critics and players right now, with its concept designed around challenges to players’ skill and habits, and an expectation of many likely deaths before succeding. For a game like Silent Hill 3, dying wasn’t something you were supposed to keep doing over and over, were sometimes mysterious ways you could die, including a push from a mystery entity onto subway tracks and a room with a giant mirror that looks innocent for a moment or two before the room you’re in begins to fill up with bloody tendrils with squishy sounds, as all begins to look like the other version of the world –except in the mirror, where the reflection remains clean, except for your own reflection, which also eventually freezes in place and stops copying your movement. And then you die.

One of the things that initially drew me to the Silent Hill series was the average, everyday person as protagonist drawn into a horrific other world. I played things backwards, since Silent Hill 3 was the most recent at the time, I played that one first and was instantly hooked. Silent Hill 2 followed and became one of my all-time favorite games. While Silent Hill 3 is a direct sequel to Silent Hill and spoiled a few things about the original, it was still worth playing. And still is today if you haven’t.

Silent Hill 4: The Room wasn’t initially conceived as a Silent Hill game, and this is notable, but it still succeeds in keeping key elements like the average protagonist and a sense of creeping dread and horror. After Silent Hill 4, the series went to Western developers that tried to make it more action-oriented, as well as spread to other platforms. It’s not that these were all terrible games. Some of them did retcon or reference the previous games a bit heavily, but there were two main things that bothered me as a series fan. The everyday, average protagonist was replaced by someone combat ready (though in the case of Silent Hill: Homecoming, we find out that the military vet really wasn’t one). Additionally, the developers tried to ape the Silent Hill film. The games began to look like Silent Hill: The Movie: The Game.

An average person, someone without military, police, or other form of combat training, dropped into a mysterious horrible world, having to face a world of creatures he or she is unprepared for, terrified by, and must learn how to survive and unravel what the hell is happening is scarier by default. That sense of helplessness is the best foundation for a horror game, and the series lost sight of that.

P.T. (though I have only watched, not played it myself due to the lack of a PlayStation 4) seemed to toss that aside in favor of something mysterious and, yes, scary, again. While actor Normal Reedus was attached to presumably play the protagonist of Silent Hills (that last S still bothers me), there was no reason to immediately leap to the conclusion that his character would be some combat-ready, trained badass. Despite Reedus being well-known for his role of crossbow-wielding Daryl on The Walking Dead, the actor has shown range in his roles and is capable of playing a character with layers. I hoped we’d get to see that in the mix of influences both Japanese and Western (filtered through a Japanese team) that Silent Hill initially brought to the table and that which made the series special in its first several installments. Having both Kojima and Del Toro aboard didn’t hurt my anticipation levels either.

When P.T. was released last year and players uncovered the Silent Hills teaser, like most series fans, excitement was inevitable. Recently, the game’s fate was put in jeopardy due to an apparent creative fallout between Kojima Productions and Konami. As of this past weekend, news that P.T was being pulled from PlayStation store as well as quotes from Del Toro and his associates seem to indicate Silent Hills will never get off the ground. Konami then confirmed that Silent Hills would never be made. I wonder if those of us who have waited for a return to form for the series might never get it. Although the company claims to be dedicated to the series, at this point, it’s like a fiery love that faltered to embers, found a spark, but is now back to a faint glow.


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