Lady Gamer

No, this blog is not dead; I just had far too much work to do on the weekends recently.

Anyway, I thought I would post about the fact I am a gamer geek, have been for years. Was never very good at them, but enjoyed them.

My brother supported me through marathon sessions of Streets of Rage on our Sega Mega Drive, but it was not until I went to uni in the late 90’s that I really got into gaming.

I had my own white brick of a PC and the indi gaming industry was just starting to really roar into life. A game called “the longest journey” was the first game that really showed me games could do more than be an outlet for violent tendencies and stress. They could tell complex and engaging stories.

I was addicted to the story of April Ryan and her life at the end of the 21st century was not that different from my own. Sure more tech and shuttle crashes in hers, also I could not shift to an alternate dimension (not for the want of trying!) but the similarities were striking. Same age, both at the end of a century with all the crap that goes with such a traumatic thing as the date changing… both left home carrying more than physical baggage. Funcom really played a blinder with the character depth the huge amount of dialogue and the art, oh the art!

Even on my ‘strictly for uni’ computer which had a very basic graphics card the art was stunning.

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I had to pull all nighters for essays because I had spent days trying to solve a particularly fiendish chapter. I had no net connection and walkthroughs were something I was completely ignorant of. This was a game I literally had to baby step through and some of the puzzles had me screaming at my computer. I wanted to know what happened and this damn puzzle was stopping me progressing with the story!

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These days I would look up the solutions but the game made me work for the story and for that it is lodged in my brain. Also, the story was not finished! It continued in the next game Dreamfall, which was not really of the same quality. (Bringing in combat was a mistake in my humble opinion.) The games creator has now left funcom and set up his own company and will be using kickstarter to fund the final instalments of the story. I’ll be there with my hard earned cash!

I went through various gaming phases but it was not until Bioware released the dragon age cycle that I realised something else about games. Gaming characters could be hot!

It never occurred to me until that point that romance could find any place in a games plot. Oh how wrong I was.

I don’t know how many times I have played through Dragon age Origins. Since I discovered you could mod the game I had to get the PC version and clog my drive with zip files just so I could screw with hair colours and facelift characters I had never liked the design of. Also to insert power weapons into the game that would make even the most butt ugly brood mother quiver. No this is not cheating, much…

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Something so satisfying about the blood splatter in these games… but even Bioware could not make armour sexy.

I waited with fangirlish fervour for DA 2 and was mildly disappointed. I don’t want to play a boring human, I am one already! Also the plotline and locations left me a bit dissatisfied. The romance won me over though. I have a girlish heart! Besides whoever is in Bioware’s character design team knows what players like me like. Many an hour was spent on Steam chat geeking with fellow DA convert Choptail. I love the fandom attached to these games. Good people and some good fanfiction… not to mention the fanart!

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OK, I know he has a big sword but this is a mod too far! The joke is old people!

My point is… (yes sword, point, I’m the queen of comedy!)

It’s nice to see something so traditionally male start to cater for the other 50% of the potential market. I like hacking stuff up as much as the next gamer but to keep my interest I need a motivation; be that saving my family or protecting the planet, it’s all good as long as I am involved in the story. Romance is merely another story hook that females are more inclined to take the bait from. Cynical opinion perhaps but it works on me!

Of course, outside of western gaming females have long been catered for.

I ‘acquired’ a copy of harvest moon for the DS. (Thanks for that test case France, me and my TT card rejoiced.) The game ate months of my life. It appealed to the megalomaniac in me, I got to managed EVERYTHING in my characters life including who she wound up making babies with and thus what her child looked like.

Of course these games are banal and inoffensive. They are a warm cup of tea for the soul. I have HM twin villages in my DS these days and I still love to throw my chickens daily. (You need to play to get that ref.)

But… I am not 16 anymore. I may not have read fifty shades of grey (nor will I) but that does not stop me wanting a little more ‘realism’ in the characters interactions and a bit more depth if there is a romance plot. Hell, I write the stuff online so I’m always looking for inspiration and how others approach characterisation.

With that I went hunting for games purely targeted at women in my particular niche market. At first I was disappointed, and then I stumbled on a blog of a walkthrough for a Japanese game.

Alice in wonderland by Quinrose.

The company are virtually unknown outside Japan and there is no translation. I may have picked up some Japanese through my anime addiction but I’m not that good! 2 weeks in Japan did not teach me to read Kanji. I was still remembering characters by shape when I left.

“Half a house and a tulip, that means bank!”

However, I was not alone in wishing to play this game. The art was stunning from the stills and the plotline was rumoured to be very original and far removed from the novel.

I haunted the net and cobbled together what I would need. Could not purchase the game for the PC… found a download. Patched with a fan patch so it would run on my comp. Then install a program called Agth which is basically a screen scraper for the kanji. Set it up with some incomprehensible code so I can switch between my kirikiris when the text size changes…

Then install translation aggregator which cobbles together Japanese -English translation websites and display the results in real time. Set that up to sync with Agth then finally set comp location to Japan so the characters display. (Thank you Brocciligoesmoo for all the instructions.) After much swearing and sweating I finally got the game running. Totally worth it.

The games are HUGE and packed with dialogue. It’s more of a visual novel than anything but I was hooked! High angst and a refreshing take on the storyline. Sure the translation was clunky but I found myself re writing the translation in my head and as the games are voiced so it’s easy to pick up on the tone of the dialogue and I know a little spoken Japanese.

I went through his process 3 times for all 3 games. Now that is commitment to my geekdom!

They are unashamedly aimed at the fangirl and packed with pretty men/women, but the plotlines are uncompromising and do not shy away from difficult issues or even philosophical and moral issues. Here is a quick run down of the themes.

  • What is sanity?
  • Does life have a value, if so how is it valued?
  • Slavery
  • Inequality
  • Sexual harassment
  • Feminism
  • Environmentalism
  • Family ties
  • Loyalty
  • Madness
  • Assassination
  • Murder in cold blood
  • Random violence
  • Organised crime
  • Duty

And that is me having not played through all the plot lines as of yet.

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Shiny pictures are shiny! Yes the guy has cat ears but he is the Cheshire cat!

I feel I am missing some of the nuances in these games however; some concepts just do not translate.

So, the search was on! Were there games like this in English?

I was quickly dragged into the gaming underbelly of the smaller independent companies.

Hanako games do cute plotlines with moments of gut churning plot twist just to fool you into thinking you know where the story is going. (ie Date Warp) but also addictive stat management and fiendish puzzles. (Magical Diary)

Winterwolves is a company with a personality disorder. Games like Winter in Fairbrook are from the Harvest Moon school of gaming with more emphasis on the characters and the development of the main character’s personality. A little kissing behind the green house is thrown in for good measure. Warm fluff!

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But they also has games like Lauren Amazon Princess that leave little to the imagination character design wise (not that I am complaining as the men are just as half naked as the women are) and the complex plot and storyline do not take any prisoners. Romance is not just an add on or sub plot, it’s half the plot! Addictive and immersive and not for children!

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My final sashay into these sorts of games has been on my phone.

Voltage inc and Solmare are both Japanese companies that have taken a gamble that the western market is sadly lacking in representation for female gamers. From their download history on the android market I’m guessing the expense of translation was worth it.

These are simple visual novels. There are ‘bad’ and ‘good’ choices. The more good choices you wrack up the more likely it is that you get a happily ever after.

The translations are clunky in places especially in Solmare games (people in the Henan period should not be saying awesome, get a writer to rescript these things folks!) but the art is again excellent (if repetitive) and there are apps for different ages of gamer.

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Nice ninjas anyone? Hearts of gold to go with the slaughter!

For example the teenaged fan girl may appreciate non-threatening pirates with added slapstick humour. They are all just misunderstood!

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For the older lady gamer there are much harder edged options. How about a game where you have to decide to save your marriage or get a divorce?

Plotline…

Arranged marriage, parents thrilled, Hubbie well respected and will eventually fight his way up the cooperate ladder… but his parents want the player character to stop working and become a house wife. Oh and Hubbie and PC have been married 3 months and Hubbie won’t even give his wife a peck on the cheek, but he is having a fling with some other woman.

So, do you work it out? Or part ways? No right or wrong answers, no heroes or villains.

OK the player character is a bit of a drip and culturally it’s not such a big decision for western players. There is much less stigma around divorce.

“DUMP THE ARSEHOLE ALREADY!”

*cough*

But it’s nice to see the app stores following where the PC lead. I like to play a few chapters of these games before bed. Helps me sleep.

I think in gaming terms we live in interesting times. I look forward to seeing more games that redress the balance, as long as they are not pink and filled with frills I will be happy.

Now, where is my copy of Streets of Rage? I need some retro carnage!