Highbrow High Score

The Art of Gaming Intellectually

Archive for March 2012

Objectification in Pixels

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When I was around 14 years old, I played a game on PS2 called Bloodrayne. 

Although at the time I knew that feminine images in video games were more than slightly skewed, this game really rubbed it in the gamer’s  face. The titular character embodied the over-the-top indulgence of the game from her thinly veiled (if at all) innuendo to her gravity defying gymnastic style attacks – all clad in tight leather. Albeit blocky and pixellated, Rayne’s breasts were a jiggly extension of her overt sexuality.

Lara Croft

That's your fighting outfit?

But the game was fun and didn’t take itself seriously in any way.  I knew something was amiss with the representation of the female form, but I didn’t care and enjoyed it quite a bit.

The female characters in video games are almost always (if not always always) a vehicle for either direct or subtle eroticism. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing nor is it exclusive to the medium. The problem with women presents itself in every form of storytelling; women mostly tend to be extensions of the lead (presumably male) character in literature and she presents problems as a reminder of both sexual desires and the all but inevitable after effects of said desires: commitment, children, and an acknowledgement of mortality.

Take the dichotomy of the Madonna and the whore used and cited excessively in literature. It’s the basic idea that a woman is pure until she is not and represents itself in a myriad of ways from Desdemona to Lolita. This also plays well into the idea of the male gaze in film meaning that women are a reflections of the male lead, the male creator, and perhaps most importantly, the male viewer and their perceptions.

Now, take those two ideas and fast-forward to the age of the Xbox. Although the origins may not be as visible, the conceptions of femininity are still constructed quite tightly around them. We see a female character in a video game as either something to desire or protect (Princess Peach, we’re lookin’ at you) and the mere fact that they are women is cause enough for either.

There are some female characters that defy these conceptions, sure, but they are exceptions to a rule that the art of storytelling has made for us. Female protagonists seem to try to empower and titillate, contradicting themselves as action-oriented characters and objects of lust at the same time. However, being aware of these constructs, games like Bloodrayne serve as a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the extreme and if you’re in on the joke, you can gawk intellectually.

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March 29, 2012 at 3:22 am

High Score’s Best Scores

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Silent Hill: Downpour was released earlier this week, but I decided long ago that I would not be buying it. Not only has the series lost the atmospheric and unsettling feel (which it lost quite a few releases ago), it also lost one of the main reasons I continued playing.

Akira Yamaoka served as the musical motor behind the series from the original game through the embarrassing Wii rerelease of the original as well as the few great ones in-between. Listening to the soundtracks for the first three games, it’s obvious that Yamaoka had a clear sense of the creepy, haunting ambiance the player would experience and his music heightens the experience. When I learned KoRn would be providing some of the music for Downpour and Akira would not be composing any pieces, I hung up any second thoughts of buying or playing the game. Joystiq also shared some of the same sentiments in their review saying the loss of Yamaoka is possibly the game’s “biggest detriment”

That being said, I don’t want to focus on terrible in-game music. Instead, we’ll listen to some of my favorite gaming scores. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

One of the best musical compositions in a game comes from one of my favorite games: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Symphony, while also being my first foray into the Castlevania series, made me more aware of atmosphere in games. Voice acting aside (“Have at you!”), Symphony brought a more holistic approach to gaming – not only was the gameplay fantastic, the music and art served as an incredibly immersive experience for that console generation. Composer Michiru Yamane gave us the ethereal and classic pieces that are as timeless as the game itself.

Some music fits the game so perfectly, it’s almost impossible to play without it. Garry Schyman’s Bioshock soundtrack and score are the best examples of this. The decaying world of Rapture was almost magical when coupled with his haunting compositions while the in-game licensed music heightened the “roaring twenties” aesthetic, the mingling of the two made Bioshock ‘s ambient sadness a little more perceivable.

And of course, who could forget the Tetris theme? It was the first bit of gaming music that continually got stuck in my head. Wikipedia guesses that Hirokazu Tanaka is the likely composer of this piece. Here’s a dubstep remix… for some reason…

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March 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm

What Games Can’t Teach

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I remember when the first Guitar Hero came out on the PlayStation2. At the time, I was drinking Smirnoff Ice (in hindsight – Ew), playing Twilight Princess on GameCube and going to class in what was my freshman year of college. Video games were what I did in between naps and homework, but Guitar Hero changed a lot of what I thought about gaming at the time.  It was frustrating, fun, accessible, and even if I was just watching a friend play, it was still entertaining.

Since I actually played guitar, my friends and I were surprised when I was terrible at first. Then with practice (probably too much practice), I worked my up to expert and by the time Guitar Hero 2, 3,  Rockband, etc. came out, I could rock some plastic peripherals like nobody’s business.

But now, I’d be hard pressed to even want  to play any rhythm based music game because I’ve played them all and would rather play an actual video game or actual music. Not only did the market become over-saturated with peripheral based games, some attempted to capitalize on the craze by suggesting certain games could help you actually play guitar. While I can’t speak to how true those claims were, it’s clear to see that these types of games have fallen out of favor after dying a very slow death of release after terrible release.

What I find most interesting is the fact there are certain kinds of games that try to crossover to more “tangible” skills. When I see commercials for any dancing games like Just Dance, I’m reminded of Dance Dance Revolution and how that craze gave way to Guitar Hero, etc.  It seems to me the people creating these games are perpetuating an idea of gaming as a means to an end, instead of an end in itself. Either that or they are constantly recycling trends that make consumers feel like they’re doing more than “just gaming” and then gutting whatever falls by the wayside to make profits off customers outside their normal demographic…

Little bit of both?

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March 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Gaming is Life (Except when it isn’t)

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What do you do when you’re not gaming?

Sometimes, the answer is that we are doing things that we ultimately need to do to provide time and money for our hobby. Working, school, chores, etc. Sometimes, we have other hobbies that enrich us in other ways. For instance, I enjoy playing guitar and music in general. It’s often hard enough to find time to sit down for a decent gaming session, let alone a gaming session and time alone with an instrument. We have to work, then workout, then we want spend time with loved ones, then have time to do the things that fulfill us personally. Unfortunately, I find my days falling exactly in that order and by the time I have a moment to myself, I’m too tired to do anything about it.

That’s a lot to keep up with. I’ve been visiting a blog called zenhabits which details the habits and behaviors that may prevent us from doing the things we enjoy. Although the author lists gaming as a “bad habit,” I think the tips he gives for cutting out the unnecessary and the negative can help give us more time to focus on whatever we enjoy doing.

So, is gaming something you do out of boredom or is it an activity you actively try to make time for? And how do you do that?

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March 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Life, Video games

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