Friday Flail of Yay

I am sleeping so badly this week. And I know part of it’s down to ridic anxiety with the world at large. Not even mental health related anxiety, since I really don’t think it’s irrational to be anxious given the daily news of what’s going on. As my dear friend Deb Stanish put it on the Twitters “… And yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s the biggest truth I know: Be a light in the darkness. So have a piece of #%@&^ pie.” I assume she means fucking pie and not shit pie, cause no-one wants shit pie. And also the pie is pecan or cherry or even apple and not bloody pumpkin pie, the monster of pies. Not the good sort of monster. The bad sort. ANYWAY, in that spirit, I’m going to try and do a regular blog post on Fridays of Yayful Things I’ve done or seen during the previous week.

1)  My YouTube gaming channel – I started making gaming vids. For it is most yayful and fun and I love talking about gaming but don’t really get a chance to do it all that much. My gaming friends are people what I game with and only game with, and that’s less about gaming chat and more about loot and killing stuff to get more loot. So, yes, this is me nattering away as I play some games. At the moment it’s a playthrough of Skyrim Special Edition, Dota 2 games where I’m trying to improve (I suck, but so much less than I used to; I now feel merely medicorely bad rather than stupendously bad), and classic DOS games from my childhood (also taking requests!). Please do take a look and subscribe if that’s your sort of thing!

2) Verity! talks animated Power of the Daleks – This week’s Verity! is a discussion of the brand new Power animation, and it was awesomely fun, and gosh, I bloody love Power of the Daleks. It’s such a good story. Top quality Who, and I hope more people get the chance to enjoy it now as the animated version is vastly more accessible than the audio or the recon.

3) Michelle Yeoh is a new Trek captain – So, despite not being a Trek fan, ahem, I am quite looking forward to the new Trek show. I’m not sold on the new movies, and having grown up in the Golden Age of Star Trek, I really miss having it on the telly. And the first bit of casting news out of the box is AMAZING. Michelle Yeoh. And then it turns out she’s playing a captain in the new show. I’ve also read that the star isn’t the captain this time but another character (who’s also a woman) which is fine. I care not. Michelle Yeoh. Who is AMAZING. Who is far, far better than we deserve tbh, and she’s going to be there, captaining. And don’t forget female captains are still relatively rare in the Trekverse. There’s only ever been a handful onscreen. And this is sufficiently good casting news that no matter what other nonsense comes out before we get to see the actual show, I am going to be totally rooting for it. Michelle Yeoh, people.

4) Margaret Hamilton, she who led the team that coded the software that got Apollo 11 to the Moon, has been awarded the USA’s Presidential Medal of Freedon.

5) This picture (it’s actually a few weeks old, but it is my favourite one I’ve taken of my local loch…those are starlings, I *think*):

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Despite it being actually freezing, I’m still going out running. Yesterday the loch was frozen over, and the poor local birdlife seemed rather put out at their home being suddenly solid. Also robins have arrived! From somewhere! I hadn’t seen any until this week, and now it’s impossible not to spot a few every day. If pretty rural Scottish scenery and swans, so many swans, are your thing, that’s what my Instagram is entirely composed of.

6) We’ve recorded new Down and Safe! So if you’re missing your fix of tasteful Blake’s 7 commentary a new episode will be with you this Thursday coming.

7) My sister, niece and nephew are doing a Jingle Jog for Parkinson’s UK. Nephew is but a year old so Quite The Challenge for him, but I’ve been assured he will be walking the whole way. If you can spare a pound or two for a good cause, please do consider sponsoring her.

8) There’s been a stupendous archeological discovery in Egypt, a new city! Over 5000 years old! Amazing stuff.

9) Though not QUITE as amazing as the NASA report released about the electromagnetic propulsion drive, which could be capable of taking us to Mars within 70 days. To sum up “it works, but it shouldn’t”. Which is awesome. And totally not giving me Event Horizon vibes. If I was in charge of stuff, we would be building a GIANT ONE anyway, and seeing what happens. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Probably.

10) I’m trying to talk myself out of buying this even though it would clearly be a very sensible practical purchase.

Ten is a very good round number. I shall stop there, and wish ye all a happy weekend!

Farewell!

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Sensible Armour Matters

Computer games have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve loved them from when, under parental supervision,  I stuck a cassette in my much mourned C64 and then had to find something else to do for an hour while it loaded up (with the ever present fear that the load would fail and I’d have to start All Over Again – an hour was a very, very long time in Toddler Days), to my latest purchase: the fabulous Portal 2 that I was told by virtually everyone I know who plays games that I’m a terrible, terrible excuse for a gamer for not having played it yet. (Yes, they were right, it’s bloody fantastic.)

One thing I managed to avoid with games for a pretty long time was the sexism, the overt sexism anyway. The gaming shelves of my childhood were filled with RTS and turn-based games, and point and click adventures. Sure, I remember getting annoying in the original Civilization that the only female leader of a civ was Elizabeth Tudor, and I didn’t want to play the English (partly due to my youthful Scottish nationalism, mostly because I loved playing on the world map and getting to Alpha Centauri first wasn’t easy if you started on a teeny tiny island); and Age of Empires made me role my eyes with all the villagers being male. Still there tended to be some pretty decent female representation in the games I played.

Instead of Mario, I had Jill of the Jungle, a fantastic trilogy of platformers about the eponymous Jill saving said Jungle from vague threats of menace (the fact that the jungle’s saviour was a white, blonde woman went over my head for years). She could throw daggers and shurikens, take down giant ants and devils and, um, frogs. She transformed into a teeny wee whale that shot bullets, a firebird that shot…fire, and a frog that shot nothing at all, but it did jump a lot. For many years it was The Best Game Ever, and I spent a worrying number of hours exploring every nook and cranny of each level, searching for their Easter eggs. At the end, she rescues The Prince; her response to his marriage proposal?  “…Okay.”

Another much beloved game was The Secret of Monkey Island, which I blame entirely for my desire to become a pirate, or governor of a pirate island. While you play Guybrush Threepwood, wannabe pirate, and go through a tremendous amount of puzzle-solving and smashing humour in order to save Governor Elaine Marley from the ghost pirate LeChuck, Elaine has already rescued herself. The idea of this Whole Other Game going on at the same time as mine, where Elaine was the hero, fascinated me. And, okay you didn’t get to see it or play it, but the implication of what had been going on elsewhere during Guybrush’s adventures was enough to cement my very fictional, very romantic notions of piracy and Elaine as one of my favourite computer game characters.

In the second iterations of Age of EmpiresAge of Kings – and Civilization II, things got better. Age of Kings had female villagers, hurrah! No more worrying about how, exactly, my precious civilisation was procreating, and in Civ II there was an aesthetic difference to the game that delighted me: for all the civilisations, you could now choose to be a female leader. It made no difference to the gameplay, except that you were represented by a picture of that woman and referred to as “she”; it doesn’t sound like much, but it mattered.  Sadly, this was lost with the more recent Civs, where there are far more male than female leaders available. (“But in reality, there were lots more male leaders then female, blah, blah…” Yeah, cause more female leaders is unthinkable in a game where I’m discovering spaceflight in the twelfth century.)

Now, course, I have to buy my own games. And finding games that suit my taste is tricky, dammit. These days I like RPGs, a genre where even my favourite company makes headdesk-worthy choices on occasion: after the joy of Mass Effect, it was disappointing and infuriating to see where they’d decided to go with the main female NPCs in Mass Effect 2. If I didn’t love fem!Shep so much, and the first game hadn’t hooked me in, I’d’ve switched it off thanks to the killer combination of absurd clothing and embarrassing female character back-stories.

In an RPG, I don’t care if it’s got the best storyline and most compelling characters ever rendered onscreen, if I can’t play as a woman, I’m not playing. If all the women are ridiculously dressed, I’m not playing; if there are only token women in the cast, I’m not playing. If, in short, the game designers made no effort to remember that women play computer games too, I don’t bother. There’re a lot of games out there, and I’ve still not finished my female City-elf playthrough of Dragon Age.

So the representation of women in computer games matters to me. It should be better. I want it to be better. I want more games that appeal to me and I don’t want to roll my eyes so much at sexist bullshit.

And I’m far from the only one. After a bout of bloody awful harassment, Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project  Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games has received a fantastic amount of support and raised over $150 000 when she was originally looking for only $6 000 to create a series of videos critiquing women’s representation in video games. The video on her Kickstarter page explains why this sort of thing matters, but briefly: computer games are a part of popular culture and whether we like it or not that influences what our society considers right and proper and good. So when women’s roles in games are restricted to a handful of tropes – and those tropes often come with a lot of sexist, even misogynistic, baggage – there’s clearly a problem. It accustoms us to those limited roles, the gender stereotypes, the sexism; it normalises them and makes them seem just fine when, no, they really aren’t.

I want to play games with female characters that are interesting and fun, inspirational and complicated, that are lawful good through chaotic evil, and that when in an armour-wearing situation, said armour is of the sensible, protective variety.