State of the ‘Corn: “Eat the Press” Edition

16 bit video game screen showing Princess Peach wearing a white dress with red trim jumping between two green pipes against a clear blue sky with a goomba running around on the ground below.
Super Peach from Nicholas Elias Wilson’s hack of Super Mario Bros.

So, I updated the space with a meaty new article a few days ago, but you can still rightly be forgiven for wondering where you’re unicornish correspondent has been these many weeks and months. I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and a fair amount of work of late. I’ve also been interviewed for a few media outlets about gender in gaming.

First is this article in the Wall Street Journal, hitting the streets tomorrow morning: “Fans Take Video Game Damsels Out of Distress and Put Them in Charge.” I was very grateful to be interviewed here and pleased to see the Journal covering this important angle of gamer resistance. I should, however, add further commentary lest my lonely remark be misinterpreted or taken out of context.

I think that this trend of ‘flipping the script’ in these games shows that people want to see women protagonists and are willing to both make and support these hacks. It is also worth adding that even as there has been opposition and some vocal nastiness, a lot of gamers have come out in support of these indie projects. It stands athwart the so-called market logic that says gamers don’t want female protagonists, and that’s an important grassroots-level indicator that, hopefully, augurs for some positive change in the near future. What hasn’t changed in gaming culture is the fact that there are still all too many people who, despite our reverence for hacking, modding, and reinvention as gamers, still oppose these hacks for nonsensical reasons that are transparently sexist. But the winds are indeed shifting, and that very shift has contributed to some of the virulence of the opposition; it is a form of backlash. These creative hacks, and the fact that there are gamer dads who want their gamer daughters to see themselves in classic video games, are hopeful signs of changing times.

NPR's logo, N in a red box, P in a black one, r in a blue one.I was also interviewed by NPR, for KPCC’s cultural programme Take Two to discuss the meaning and context of the recent Microsoft E3 rape joke debacle. To the credit of the show’s producers, they decided to take a wide-lens look at the broader issues facing women in the gaming industry and I was very happy to help with that in my small way. You can listen to the audio here. It was hard to pick one thing that was wrong with that scenario, besides the rape joke itself: the fact that the woman in question was set up to fail (amidst a thick soup of stereotypes about women’s innate lack of gaming skill), or the fact that there was laughter at the ‘joke.’ I was glad to see Microsoft apologise, but this ritual has become, by now, depressingly familiar. A gaming company engineers a scenario very likely to run afoul of sexist landmines and then promptly acts surprised and unconvincingly penitent about the resulting explosion. There’s a disconnect here, one that can be mended by simply listening to women and respecting us as equal participants in this community.

In further ‘Corn news, I have triumphantly returned to writing at The Border House with a review of Capcom’s Remember Me. The ultimate verdict is: “give it a chance, but prepare to be disappointed with the story.” I have plans for more Border House articles and possibly another one here in the near future, so stay tuned!