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Column: The Aberrant Gamer

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Flower Girl

November 16, 2007 12:02 AM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats – those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

Where there are games, there are conventions, and where there are conventions, there are people in character costumes – doing cosplay. The images of these devout fans in costume are part of gamer culture, especially online, where pictures of elaborate, pitch-perfect character clothing frequently make the rounds of blogs, forums and news sites. The people behind the pictures can be objects of wonderment, when the costume is good, or the butt of jokes, when it’s not so much. In either case, seeing a photograph of a person who has spent weeks or months preparing, through meticulous craftsmanship and hours of styling, to look – sometimes eerily – like a video game character can provoke plenty of curious reactions. Some wonder at the cosplayer’s efforts – despite spending hours and hours on gaming and game fandom ourselves, the level of detail on display makes some people wonder if the person’s quite well mentally. Have they begun to cross that line, beyond which fantasy and reality are becoming difficult to distinguish? Are they flagrantly attention-whoring, hoping to cash in on the attention and affection popular game characters receive? Are they high-strung detail-obsessives?

According to Adella, one cosplayer who’s earned a reputation in the close-knit hobbyists’ community, “there are plenty of psycho cosplayers.” But when she decided to do a series of Aeris costumes, it changed her life. And it wasn’t because of psycho cosplayers, but because of psycho gamers.

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': HUGE SUCCESS_

November 8, 2007 8:02 AM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

This column often treats archetypes and conventions – those standards in story, art and characterizations that repeat again and again in our media – because it’s often those things, whether subtle or broad-stroked, that ring, in their repetition, the knell of our social identity. “Conventional” is not a word with a positive connotation, however; overly weighted reliance on a standard theme is often the result of an absence of creativity, and a production in any media that cleaves too close to archetypes runs the risk of creating a two-dimensional experience, a story told in symbols instead of emotions, in words instead of thoughts.

One such convention that appears often enough in video games is that of the laboratory – partly because science fiction is a popular genre, and labs also make good backdrops for horror. We’ve seen a lot of experimental labs in our most classic franchises, from Metal Gear Solid to Resident Evil and even titles like Final Fantasy VII and, more recently, BioShock, to name just a few. These are often places where we can find clues to the origin of the central conflict – this is where the employees were killed, for example, this is where the antagonist was created. They can be haunting and informative, in that they generally retain an echo of something that happened prior to the protagonist’s involvement in the plot. They also retain shades of the organization that spawned it, often in its clean, orderly white lines, refined aesthetic and frighteningly advanced technology, personified by a soothing computer voice still maintaining her omniscient eye over the space, her digital impassivity oblivious to the fact that the world has changed.

But Portal taught us that even computers can get a little nuts when they’re abandoned.

The Enrichment Center would like to inform you that spoilers following the jump may result in decimation of ignorance, violent rages, and hives. The effects of prolonged exposure to spoilers are not part of this article.

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Haunted Doll

November 1, 2007 8:02 AM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

In honor of Halloween (though, by the time this column runs that holiday will likely have passed), Aberrant Gamer will this week revisit another horror title, after the fashion of our previous examinations of Silent Hill 2 and 4. An earlier also dealt specifically with the role of little girl-children in the genre. As with the others, this column contains spoilers of an older title.

Horror as we know it in the West is often married to a few common conventions that have existed since before the dawn of the gaming era. The classic black-and-white horror clip often depicts a young lady screaming a shrill soprano just outside the reach of monstrous clawed fingers, highlighting the archetypal vulnerability of the female. In recent years, we’ve seen some survival horror titles that wedge their way into a crevice of a man’s psychological armor, making him the vulnerable one; Silent Hill and Siren have been praised in particular for their generally more believable male protagonists, anti-Supermen with common flaws and foibles. Similarly, some of the Resident Evil titles, the third installment of Silent Hill and some others have empowered the female, casting her as a competent, plausible combatant instead of a vulnerable feed sack for zombies. These games have been reflective of a general trend in broader media that has begun to view women neither as defenseless victims nor as sex objects.

Haunting Ground is not one such game.

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Dracula's Girls

October 27, 2007 12:04 AM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

There are some twenty games in the Castlevania family released in the U.S., and the series is relatively simple thematically in comparison to some of its other long-standing contemporaries. The premise from one game to the next is generally simple, and yet the series is beloved for a certain flair. Even in its more primitive days, it added atmosphere and a certain sense of dread thanks to several key elements that repeat in most, if not all, of the titles in the quintessential gothic horror franchise.

For example, the resurrection of a dark lord along with his avatar, a castle so grim and dread it almost seems a living thing, is the usual fashion. It’s usually a safe bet these days that a Castlevania game will likely feature Legion as a boss, that fleshy orb swathed in an army of shambling corpses. One can expect to find oneself in a chapel in the Catholic style, and probably in a clock tower, too. A veritable menu of gourmet comfort foods, from pasta to sushi, is inexplicably dropped by ghostly creatures of myth. Most of all, the majority of the games share monsters in common, and a brush with Death is usually king among these.

But it’s Castlevania’s cruder beasts who are most responsible for its style – even in the earliest eras of the most basic sidescrollers, the elaborate, haunted bestiary set the game apart. Many a button-mashing eighties baby who stayed up late exploring the infested annals of Dracula’s castle found himself unable to sleep, wondering at the creepy, cursed history of those gruesome monsters that was explained in more detail – often one or two unsettling sentences – in the bestiaries of later titles, a cast of characters that, in large part, survives numerous revamps to return, reviled and welcomed, in Castlevaniatitles to date.

Some of those monsters just happen to be really, really cute chicks.

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Pet Projects

October 18, 2007 12:06 AM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

We’ve discussed before the ways that hentai games tend to rely on archetypes to make the impossible possible. Because the common h-game protagonist tends to be a regular, shy young boy – studious, socially awkward, perhaps a bit insecure – only a coup of fate would put him in such intimate contact with a selection of beautiful women. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but Let’s Meow Meow! is not one of these.

In fact, Let’s Meow Meow!, which revolves around a subservient cat girl and a host of other strange creatures from her homeworld, takes both archetypes and fantasy to an unusual extreme. It only makes sense, though – girls with cat ears, or rabbit ears, or puppy ears don’t actually exist, of course, so it takes more than a little stretch of the imagination to create an entire plausibility background for a rather long game employing all of these and more.

Highly fetishistic, anti-realistic, silly bubblegum – Let’s Meow Meow! is all of these and more. But is it really so strange?

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Visiting Red Light Center

October 5, 2007 12:12 AM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

Last week, this column looked at the case of a marriage on the rocks because of Second Life, and wondered how well Aberrant Gamer’s favorite standby, “at the end of the day, it’s only a game,” holds up to a multiplayer environment. After all, the presence of real people, even if they’re just digital representations thereof, throws a monkey wrench into the closed world of immersive fantasy that single-player experiences provide.

The analogy can be taken beyond Second Life, fortunately, whose status as a “game” can be debated (Aberrant Gamer says “not”). I’ve often written here that personifying one’s character in a game is a choice, one the player is advised to make for the best relationship to the experience.

Most video games in general provide a forum whereby people can alternately attack or chat up digital avatars, but only in multiplayer games are those characters representations of other players – many of which may be personifying, caring for their characters just as much, if not more, as you do. For an example, check out Koinup, a new social network not for your real life, but for your virtual one – personal pages, diaries and photo albums revolving entirely around your avatar or MMO player character. Plenty of people spend more mental and emotional time, if not literal time, in Azeroth than they do in the real world.

Which makes a bit of sense, actually, given all the things there are to do in a game like WoW, and the relatively deep level of user engagement required to really be successful there. After spending so much time on a character, it’s only logical that one would extrapolate into more complex social relationships, even romantic ones. But what if there weren’t so much to do?

What if there were an MMO based only on one thing? What’s the world like in an MMO based entirely around sex? Wanna find out?

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Love in the Uncanny Valley

September 27, 2007 4:02 PM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

Last month, an article in the Wall Street Journal generated some considerable buzz. It was the story of a man whose marriage to his real-world wife was suffering in favor of his Second Life marriage. The virtual “marriage”, between a middle-aged biker guy and a woman he’s never actually met, cost the two of them hundreds of real-world dollars in gifts and in-world investments -- the couple owns a Second Life business selling lingerie, and have built a number of social and business relationships with other avatars. More significantly, though, it was costing them hours and hours of their real-world time, and for the man profiled in the article, it was seriously threatening his relationship with his flesh-and-blood wife.

"It's really devastating," the 58-year-old wife told the WSJ. "You try to talk to someone or bring them a drink, and they'll be having sex with a cartoon." She later joined a support group called EverQuest Widows, for women who’ve lost their husbands to an online game, and her children are trying to get their mother to move out.

She doesn’t want to leave, though. She told the WSJ her husband is a “good person” who’s just “fallen down a rabbit hole.” She can understand, she says, how her husband might want to re-live his life as a 25-year-old man, access experiences that he can’t in his mundane life, at his somewhat advanced age.

Sounds familiar – historically, our culture knows exactly what it means when a middle-aged man suddenly buys a sports car and starts “working late.” But there are innumerable reasons why our society is confounded when asked whether the EverQuest Widows are victims of adultery. Is it cheating?

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': In Defense of Breast Physics

September 19, 2007 4:04 PM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

Last week, this column discussed the dignity of our long-standing heroine, Samus Aran, the respect we as gamers maintain for a woman who doesn’t show skin, and the relative low popularity of searches for Samus hentai (which, ironically, have abruptly spiked in the recent week as if to spite me). Scantily-clad game heroines and burgeoning breast physics are a topic quick to raise ire in particular among female gamers – it’s exploitive and degrading, some say; it’s unnecessary and misleading, others claim.

Let's rethink that a little, shall we?

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Childhood Sweetheart

September 13, 2007 12:04 AM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

It was the eighties, and our eight-bit protagonists didn't give us too much to chew on. Who they were, why they were, wasn't deeply explained, and didn't really need to be. The elaborate discussions of character and story we're fond of (or sick of) today would've been ludicrous, infeasible. And yet, somehow, there was room for one of the most arresting character revelations of all time, one that goes down in generally accepted history as one of gaming's most singular moments.

Samus Aran undressed, and a generation fell to its knees.

This 1UP article documents our twenty-year relationship with the silent hunter in far more detail than this column has space to address, but it doesn't answer the question of why. Metroid is a space action game with aliens and pirates, not a psychological essay in character development; the drama revolves around the alien threat, the treacherous terrain, the ubiquitous destruction countdowns - less on the story of the girl at its center. You get more personal information from a generic townsperson NPC in any RPG than silent Samus has offered us in two decades. And yet, perhaps to spite the relative lack of information, fans prize her more dearly than all of the other more gratuitously rendered, more vocal, more revealing (in every sense) game females we've been offered since - Samus is more beloved than most male heroes, too.

Miracle of miracles - could a woman in full-body armor and a helmet be sexier than all the rest? Could it be we don't need breast physics to fall in love?

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': An Evening With Sander Cohen

September 6, 2007 8:05 PM |

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

The following article contains minor BioShock spoilers – there’s no discussion of the ending or of major plot points, but this week’s column focuses on a character who appears about halfway through the game and on the environment in which you fight him.

Still with me?