This is so geeky but I had to share it. Blizzard entertainment made their own hour long version of the yule log but with all the Christmas carols sung by Murlocs. So funny.
My 2010 summer music pick obsession right now.
I’ve touched upon the commoditization of female avatars in the worlds of Second Life and Warcraft quite a few times.
These are male worlds and they are concerned with male dominance themes. So female players and female characters are rather superfluous. We female players are treated as a group of annoying baby sisters who follow the big brothers around. And when that isn’t current script to marginalize us, there are many half-assed plans to turn us into potential dates. Its a strange dynamic.
Then we get into the sticky topic of avatar creation. From my travels around the internet game sites, most players stick to their original sex. Occasionally there are players who cross gender. The most discussed are male as female toons.
Female avatars in World of Warcraft and other games are objects. Its true that they have the same stats as male characters but there are little things that marginalize them and telegraph the message that they are just pin-ups. Armor styles for one. There is no good reason that one set of armor makes a male character look like a mac truck while on a female character it becomes a metal thong. There is no reason except to pander to the male gaze. Because the developers are working under the notion that most or all their players are men. And female characters are men who want a little eye candy.
When games do buck this trend they feel the need to add in characters that are overly sexualized. The following screenshots are from Warhammer Online. This game I genuinely like better than Warcraft for many reasons. For one, it does allow the creation of female characters that do look tough and resourceful. And they are not forced into playing sexy armor roulette.
However the above is allowed to exist because there is a balance of sexy. To have the above character, you need to throw out this one.
But I’m not just picking on Warhammer. I actually think Warhammer is a bit better on the equality scale than World of Warcraft. In WoW a female playing a female character is forced to play armor roulette and end up in a metal bra with better play stats than anything else. There were so many times that I was thankful that my character was wearing a shirt and tabard underneath her latest hoochie mama armor set.
So ultimately what does this all mean?
What it says to me, is that yes, female characters in games are powerful. Yes, they are just as powerful as the male characters.
But no, you cannot have all that and just be female. Your female character can only have all that as long as she is hot and sexy. Or there are enough hot and sexy female characters running around to off set her ugly.
WoW fanvid spoof of Adam Samberg’s parody “I’m on a Boat”.
In worlds that can be evergreen, always spring with youth eternal and no death…we insist on celebrating our seasonal holidays in them. Holidays that are ancient practices which were created to cushion the blow of our deaths.
Far from giving ourselves up to these fantasies, we seem to have an innate need to wake up from them. To remind ourselves of the real life chain, the one that will not release us even if a part of ourselves exists in worlds that seem immortal.
Around the fansites, some complain that celebrating Halloween and other holidays is unoriginal. These games should really celebrate other newly invented holidays. But no one ever comes out to say just what the citizens in these dream worlds would worship or celebrate. The idea of some newfangled holiday sounds wonderful, but none of us can imagine what that would entail.
Instead our minds fall back to the changing of the seasons. To trees losing their leaves, fields being put to rest and the last of the harvest being stored to sustain a long winter. We prepare for the death of our growing world to await spring, knowing that it will be a long time coming. With all this ingrained into our very being, how could we think of anything else? It just wouldn’t feel right.
So we celebrate the coming of winter…in our worlds of ever spring.
Hulu.com just uploaded a copy of this movie. I remember being outright baffled by it. It may have been a few years before it’s time. But now with the MMORPG games hitting their prime, the message of the film becomes more immediate.
It had the misfortune to be released at the same time as that cultural juggernaut “The Matrix”. And it was compared as being in the same theme. Well, yes and no. “The Matrix” if it had anything to do with “eXistenZ” at all, would be the subject of the mysterious in-game “TranscendenZ”. But it certainly isn’t “eXistenZ”.
In fact, as the real protagonist reveals, he did not create eXistenZ at all. What the movie is about is the war between dreams and reality. How people would love to give themselves up to total immersion in game worlds. Worlds in which they have no consequences for their actions. It is about how the world keeps interrupting these fantasies.
What eXistenZ is, is a projection into a shared lucid dream of the film’s characters. They are beta testers for the game of “TranscendenZ”. A clever play on Transcendentialism, I suppose. In which people turn themselves into the gods of the game worlds.
The film viewer never discovers what TranscendenZ was about. As I stated before, it could probably be “The Matrix” or even the TV show “Heroes”. What the game seems to be is an induced meditative dream state between the players. They are following hidden suggestive clues planted by the designer. But the game is literally dreamed up by the group, and the game would change with each group playing.
In the film the game is literally hijacked by terrorists. It is their sheer will to keep to their purpose that throws TranscendenZ off kilter, and like in dreams their plans keep being revealed to all. However even when this is all in the open, it remains hidden because everyone involved thinks that they are in a carefully designed game.
Cronenberg really pulled out all the stops in piling on Freudian imagery, especially the sexually suggestive. Everyone in the film is constantly sticking their fingers into everyone’s game port implants (body holes). It plays with heterosexual as well as homosexual implications. There is an obsession with bodily fluids, touch and taste experiences. There are also dream symbols that keep returning like the neighborhood dog. Mantras are also used to keep the characters on the correct journey. The game jumps around in time, when the two main characters almost lose control of their shared agenda. Because eXistenZ, is the game of the terrorists. They keep pulling themselves back to existence, to reality and bringing that reality into the dream world of TranscendenZ. While the others are playing, the terrorists are rehearsing.
And they can’t be stopped because the other participants are so enamored by the shared dream/hallucination, they are unable to distinguish between reality and unreality. They have literally welcomed psychosis into their own lives.
Its a fantastic film and I’m sorry that I couldn’t appreciate it more when it was originally released.
I downloaded the Mac Beta for Warhammer Online this week. Its been an interesting foray into another fantasy mmorpg.
As you can see the game itself looks amazing. All of these screenshots have minimal editing, most of them taken the lowest graphic settings. The game uses a wrapper program to port it from it’s native windows to work on mac machines. My Imac is reaching it’s second year, and it runs this port relatively smoothly. The lag so far is no worse than I’ve experienced in WoW. Although I’ve read some comments around the net that this port won’t run on their macs. Granted the game will really only run smoothly on the latest hardware, but it isn’t horrible on machines as old as mine. Since the mac port is still in Beta, set for official release in late Sept/Oct, things can only improve.
The game itself is a strange breed. They incorporate styles that are a mish-mash of fantasy, horror, fairy tales, steam punk and historical motifs. A word of warning, I’m not familiar with the Warhammer publishing franchise. I’ve never read any of the books, illustrated novels, card games or role paying games that created it’s popularity. There has been some sour milk over characters that weren’t represented in the computer game, such as Vampires. Since I’m not familiar with the mythos, the game is quite a different experience for me than most. I like the magpie feel of it. And far from lacking character classes, I feel there are way too many. It has led to a gross imbalance of class representation and I can see that already, even as a lowbie.
The game places more emphasis on their RvR scenarios (player versus player battlegrounds). RvR takes place on instanced battlegrounds and in special quest zones. The one scenario I completed, was a simple capture the flag. The enjoyable aspect of RvR in War, is that lower level characters aren’t handicapped. The spells you receive in War have no levels really, they are powerful from the start. So there aren’t an awful load of twinks pushing around low levels as they do in WoW. And in zones, War has put the kabosh on twinks and gankers by turning higher level characters into chickens. The zones require capturing keeps and defending them from enemy players. However the zones can suffer if there are a lack of players. Some are more popular than others which leads to too many players in some areas and not enough in others. In one zone, I walked to each quest area and finished with nary an enemy player in sight. It is easy to level in War RvR, but that can lead to problems in PvE. It will leave your character in a misfit conundrum. In which they are too high level for their current quests and too low level for the next round of PvE quests.
There is quite a bit of PvE content for those not interested in bashing on other players. The player travels in linear fashion, along a route on a map. This is an intriguing set up for me personally. I was delighted with the fairy tale ambiance, as if I was a character in my own book. Indeed you can read about your past triumphs and characters that you meet in your journeys via a journal. Apparently there are hidden quests sprinkled around the areas, however I only found one. And since most of the quests are thrown at a player all at once, its daunting to go gallivanting off to search for even more. The quests culminate in areas called Public Quests. In which every player in the area whether in a group or not, works on a massive quest which leads to different phased levels and end with a mini-boss. The only setback is that there aren’t enough players to work on the public quests. I myself, only completed one, because I was part of a spurt in new players. However newer toons that I created missed that initial influx and now quest in empty areas.
Not only do players win some nice gear at the end of PQs via a loot bag from the mini-boss, but they are also nicely rewarded by NPC quest givers as well. So it is a bit easier to gear up here than in WoW. Also merchants also offer viable gear to a player as well.
Which leads me to the Auction system. The auction system in Warhammer is basically the same as WoW. But the interface of it, is rather clunky and hard on the eyes. The font needs to be changed from that fancy, medieval script to just plain Helvetica. It also needs to be reorganized in a way that makes it more intuitive. It takes a bit of staring before you discover the input fields for searches. That should be right on the top, no questions asked. The economy in Warhammer is rather moribund. I believe this is due to the fact that most people gear up through public quests and RvR renown merchants. There isn’t an incentive to really use the auction system. So the gear on offer is for really inflated prices.
The professions system in War is weird as well. I took something akin to alchemy on one of my toons. But with no instructions or potion recipes, I had to muddle out what was required to make anything. Eventually I found it fascinating that different ingredients created different potions and amounts of potions. However I believe most people wouldn’t stick long with it since it is so obscure. Perhaps the results of these various professions would fetch more on the auction system. However since I haven’t looked into it yet, so I don’t know.
One of the main problems I see with the lore aspect of the game, is that it is too black and white. One side is really demonically evil and the other is unicorn friendly angelic. There isn’t room to grow in that situation. You can’t grow more evil or more good. Although I know some players like this straight forward aspect of the game, I don’t. I like ambiguity. Which is why the WoW lore works better for me. I like that the darker side in WoW, The Horde, works on generally benign quests given by certain NPCs and also really awful quests by others. The bad side in WoW is fracturing into different factions. And this is mirrored by the Alliance as well. That isn’t so in War. And I think it is a failing.
My final opinion on the game despite some of it’s setbacks, is that it is enjoyable. I do like that storybook feel complete with gorgeous graphics. I hope that the mac port adds much needed players to the War servers to kick start its quests and economy. Which will give the War developers room to change and expand the game.
This was featured recently on WoW.com. A great fanvid about a broken hearted gamer who was ditched for WoW. And then did…the unthinkable.
Blogger Elaine Meinel Supkis at Culture of Life News has a metaphor for the insanity that strikes groups and individuals.
She calls it the Cave of Life and Death. Everything flows from this cave and flows back to it. It creates life and it also causes death. Our fairy tales carry warnings about it. Sometimes the cave is symbolized in fairy tales as seemingly benign or beneficial gifts, such as Geese who lay golden eggs, or spinning wheels that turn straw into gold, or happy fish that grant wishes. In the most potent form the cave appears as an actual cave, and it gives wealth but with the caveat that only the good hearted may enter. Almost always the ones who receive these gifts are rather everyday people, but with the power of the cave they give into irrationality in matters of wealth and sex. These poor people in the fairy tales, if they are lucky, end up where they started in the tale or they perish.
Supkis connects the cave to the destruction of our financial systems. In which bankers searched for the cave and found it through tricky financial formulas which were enabled by powerful computers and powerful mathematical geniuses. They were able to spin straw into gold and turn debt into wealth.
Her blog is indeed a fascinating take on human behavior and psychology.
But it was her comment on TV being the window into the cave that struck me. Immediately I thought about SL and other virtual worlds. As Supkis states, TV may be the window but the Virtual Worlds are the actual CAVE! As I once wrote, sometimes being in SL reminded me of being entombed with Khufu and his symbols of worldly wealth. An emperor who constructed the pyramid of Giza, his own bid to seize control of the cave.
Recent psychological studies have shown that virtual worlds are powerful and have powerful affects on their users psyche. They can give confidence that extends past the screen. They also can deal out abuse as some may try to control others or belittle them.
But the virtual worlds resemble the cave in that all who enter live as self made royalty. The cave gives us wealth, in that our avatars live richly. We are given everlasting youth and the ability to cheat death. We are given beauty unless a user defiantly chooses an ugly avatar. Ultimately we are given the opportunity to satisfy our hidden desires.
It is the hidden desire that finds its ultimate apogee in SL. Remember, we have created the cave but only the good hearted will survive. And even then that is no promise. Because in the cave amid the wealth, splendor and beauty lurks death.
I’ve noticed that people attracted to the extremes, when they try to fulfill those dreams in SL are enslaved by them. They seek out even more extremes. The cave has a nasty way of reflecting back our own illusions at us. It tricks us into thinking that these desires, now deformed into horrific extremes, are normal. That users have a right to these horrors in the flesh as well. You see, the cave flows inward and outward. We take our confidence from VR out into the world but we also take our less honorable lessons from it into the world as well.
This ties into the recent uproar about the Adult content and it’s segregation in SL. It has brought out all the cave aspects in the users. In that they claim the cave is theirs and it gives them the freedom to do whatever they want irregardless of real world law. In the cave, good people see wonders but bad people do as well. In the middle of this controversy, “ageplayers” advocate for their right to create virtual child pornography. And people who would not support that in life, are so crazed by the cave of desire, declare that the cave is not real and therefore anything done inside it is inconsequential. Therefore all players have a right to satisfy their whims…even “ageplay” or more truthfully pedophilia.
What happens when the everyday Joe and Jane get what they want from the cave or cave symbol? They go crazy and eventually they lose the cave. For the cave was never meant to be something that is owned. It is a magical place that opens for a time then pops out of existence, like a bubble. Already other virtual worlds, different faces of the cave, are moving away from the SL form. They are trying to restrict what the cave offers. Will that work? I’m not sure. But the VR caves are also facing another form of control, real world law enforcement.
I believe we will soon discover just how real the cave is, and that it has enormous real world consequences.
As in all things, moderation should be the rule when entering the cave. But it is so easy to get lost and stray from the path to Grandma’s house. Cerberus is out there, lurking and he lets none pass.
This is screenshot from a new social networking VR named Nurien.
As you can see, we gals are again used as commercial fodder to sell a platform. And as usual, we are portrayed as underage teens who were incredibly lucky in the genetic pool for perfect beauty.
In one of the preview conferences about this platform, the company had a demo of life in-world. It was world of these impossible beauties shopping and running up to all male avatars to flirt. They had immature animations that giggled, shook their heads and wiggled their bottoms like things born in the shallow end of cousin breeding. One video had a bubble headed av dancing like Britney in her jailbait days, then the speaker told the mostly male audience to watch it’s face. And laughter was had by all.
It annoys me. That my femininity is dictated by people who will never know what it is to be a woman. That they are imposing these “norms” that tell me what a real woman is supposed to be. I see it constantly in SL, where most women strive to be these fuck fantasies they can’t be in RL.
It is so rare to see avs dedicated to showing character in the person behind the screen. Instead we get these weird plastic things with big lips, big tits and big eyes. And the waist is the size of my pinky. The only consolation about SL is that the users are choosing to look like these things.
But I wonder about these new worlds. Most of them, like Blue Mars, are imposing restrictions on what their users can do. They are not given build tools. I wonder how fluid their allowance for avatar creation is…. Since building is restricted, I would deduce that avatar creation is restricted as well. So most of us will be stuck looking like those things in the preview screenshot. And the few changes they throw to us in the newbie character creation screens. Which means we will get to change hair color, skin color and eye color. The rest will be up to “professional” creation artists and whatever they are interested in building.
That isn’t the type of VR world I want to live. I want full control over my representation. If I want to be short, plump and not very pretty that is my right as a paying customer. I want to be able to create this myself, and not have to rely on people who will do it for me.
As for the Nurien platform itself, it is beautiful and dedicated to realism. Of course, only the new and powerful computers will run it. Which is typical in an industry that is constantly enforcing early obsolescence on it’s customers.
Will Nurien have an economy? Will it have land ownership?
I don’t know, there wasn’t discussion on those aspects. They were just really interested in showing off their little bimbettes in twirly red skirts. From the looks of it, we must all be content to wiggle our virtual asses down the big catwalks of Nurien life.