Hi, I'm Heather, long time gamer and virtual backseat driver. I recently finished my MA in Cinema Studies from NYU and now I want to harvest my powers to ponder the deeper (and also shallow) meanings of video games. You can also see my writing on Gamastura, Girl Gamer Vogue, and Medium Difficulty.

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Zelda Kikwi Felted Art/ New Article soon!

Hey there friends!

I know it’s been awhile since I posted but I am NOT DEAD and have been playing videogames (a little too much of one in particular) but rest assured I will have a new article soon! In the meantime I thought I’d share a new little craft I finished yesterday. It’s only my 2nd ever felting project but I think it turned out pretty cute. “Quiiiii!”

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Some amazing drawings from my sister. Still need to frame this beauty…

Check out her blog: duchessofurl

duchessofurl:

i’ve owed this magus drawing to my uncle for basically centuries. the lucca i did for my sister heather (http://videogamegirlfriend.tumblr.com/) spawned from the magus, and i have since decided to draw the whole crew…today i did Marle, Ayla, Chrono, and Glenn (aka “frog”)…pics to come! 

Headlock Highschool.exe

My videogame boyfriend participated in the global game jam this past weekend and made this masterpiece all on his own! Check it out!

ryanparentsandwich:


From the creator of “Bark Boys” comes a coming of age story for fans of training montages. Would YOU do whatever it takes to get the girl of your dreams to notice you? Well you will be doing that in this game. 

Conceived at the 2014 Global Game Jam where it won the award for nothing. Download it above!

"One of the defining pieces of media for the Twitter generation." - RPsandwich


System Requirements: TI-83

The Text Adventures That Never Were: Bioshock Infinite

Exactly.

Bioshock Infinite: Infinite Possibilities, Infinite Disappointments

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Sometimes our household budget leaves me a little late to the table as new videogames go, but it’s a blessing in some ways as it gives me time to hear what the rest of the world has to say on the whole and then decide what I want to spend my not so ample money on. Bioshock Infinite was one of those games I was excited for years in the making. After being absolutely blown away by the masterpiece that was the original Bioshock, I couldn’t wait to see what was next. After seeing the first few trailers, I was enticed by the breathtaking new setting, but curious what all of this really had to do with the original Bioshock. With such a different landscape and different character dynamics, I wondered why a new game “from the creators of Bioshock” wouldn’t suffice. The continued franchise trap is something that I find endlessly frustrating, slapping a famous title on something new might help sell copies, but it comes at a price. Along with a famous title comes expectations that can place unnecessary limits to a new story that might have otherwise been able to blossom into it’s own unique experience. Because of it’s title, Bioshock Infinite failed to become an extension of the Bioshock universe or it’s own unique story, instead it ended up as an overextended mash-up of the two. 

    In the tradition of the original Bioshock and System Shock games, we are immersed in a world that is meant to be understood by exploration. As we enter Columbia for the first time, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by the richness of the world around us. Every pixel encourages discovery and incites many questions we can’t wait to find the answers to. The environment is so immersive that it teaches us everything we need to know about the world; politics, religion, lifestyle.  It even teaches us the mechanics of the game organically with it’s masterful implementation of carnival games highlighting the different guns and special powers. This high caliber environment is what we’ve come to expect from the mastermind that is Ken Levine. Not a word of dialogue is needed, but in Bioshock Infinite they can’t seem to keep their mouths shut, and that’s where things started going wrong.

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Right off the bat I found Booker’s dialogue trite and unnecessary, and it only got worse when the interactions with Elizabeth began. Having a silent hero has always been an incredibly powerful way for me to experience a game, and stripping that away was a huge loss in my opinion. Not that Troy Baker isn’t an incredible voice talent.  In The Last of Us (a game where I had similarly high expectations going in) the interactions between Joel and Ellie are what gave the game meaning, but almost every interaction between Booker and Elizabeth seemed forced and devoid of any real connection. To me, a game world should support the story, not the other way around and that is not the case in Bioshock Infininte. All of the pieces were there to support an amazing story, but as the story progressing the characters all become cardboard cutouts of what they could have been. For instance, when Elizabeth realizes who her parents are while standing in a museum exhibit about them, I expected a meaningful and thoughtful reaction, but instead we get a few painfully obvious lines of dialogue followed by a joke about wanting a puppy.

As someone who is enthralled to see a female character without her boobs out, (although her boobs are out a little bit at the end) I can’t say that Elizabeth is a terrible character overall, but she was most certainly not the strong, real character I had been lead to believe she was by the strong fan reactions. The best I can say about her is she’s fine, but for a character in such an extraordinary situation who has time-bending super powers, she is not near the nuanced woman she could have been. It was nice that they threw in a game note that, “Elizabeth can take care of herself in combat,” but that alone doesn’t make her strong. I appreciate that she goes through some self discovery, but it was all missing the heart it needed to make her real to me. I wanted to love her, I really did, and it pains me deeply that a story that is told so well through visuals is tainted by the lack of care paid to the characters and the words they say.

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As the story continued, I keep my hopes high that things would fall into place and there was still a chance I would end up loving the game the way I wanted to. Instead I found myself becoming more and more overwhelmed and annoyed at how chock full of unnecessary stuff that got jammed into the game. Down to the way a very noticeable graphic pops up every single time you pick up health, everything in this game overdoes it. I love the powers, the guns are fine, the clothing items are neat, the hook is cool, and Elizabeth’s weird time bending power is interesting, but overall it becomes WAY too much to juggle all at once. All of these elements are polished and impressive ideas, but if they had been spread out over the course of multiple games I think they could have been put to such better use. Perhaps if we’d had only the hook and the special powers it would have made for more interesting and challenging gameplay. Or if a co-op option let you split these up between two people. Give player two some salts as Elizabeth, spread it around a little bit. Just save some of your ideas for the next game…please.

Continuing on my rant about the crazy amount of things jammed into this game, there were so many fascinating themes that were touched on that could have given this game some real depth if they had been paired down a bit. I had high hopes for a smart, well thought-out commentary on racism, American history, man’s exploitation of science, and all the seeds were sown but  the game robbed itself of all of that with it’s open-ended, cop out of an ending. When everything is explained in an explosion of endless possibilities, nothing truly comes to fruition and it all amounts to nothing. I had so many more questions that could have had spectacularly fucked up answers. I wanted to find out the bigger story behind so many things that were planted. I wanted to know where the salts came from (my theory was they were drained from Elizabeth’s body.) I wanted real American history to be re-explained in some crazy fucked up way. I wanted the stupid song they randomly decided to sing in the middle of the game to come back and mean something when they have to call the bird for help (and for the bird to have some deeper meaning that was actually explained in a satisfactory way.) I wanted to find out why there was a tear to the 80s. I wanted a real connection to be made to Rapture. There we so many other fascinating threads I wanted to follow to the very end, but it all just became a frayed mess never to be untangled.

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As I was playing the game and expressed doubts to friends who had played and loved Bioshock Infinite, they all told me to just wait until the ending and it would all make sense. This is the opposite of the truth. Sure, the twist of Booker being her father was a mild surprise, although I’m still not sure if the timeline of an impoverished an ex-soldier/single father becoming a religious prophet/tycoon of a city in the sky is very realistic in any dimension, but I’ll let that part slide. Decreeing that, “everything is everything and could be anything forever” is not an ending, it is sloppy storytelling. No loose ends were tied up or explained  in a satisfactory way about the actual world of the game (any version of it.)  At the end of the day, there was just too much packed into this game to ever really wrap it up, so perhaps this was the only solution, and certainly a flashy one, but that doesn’t make it a good choice. That is not to say that many aspects of this game that make it an unbelievable achievement, but that is also what makes me so furious about it’s shortcomings. Everyone needs an editor, and Bioshock Infinite could have benefited greatly by narrowing the scope of their ideas. In this age of ADD gamers, all too often a good story falls to the wayside for flashy graphics and game mechanics and despite the mask of a story that this game wears, I wasn’t fooled. Bioshock Infinite is definitely an appropriate title, but I would have been much happier without the infinite part.

TRUTH.

(Source: nsfwhumor)

Cyber Story!

My significant other finished another opus. Check it out!

ryanparentsandwich:

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From the creator of “Bark Boys” comes a sci-fi cyberpunk masterpiece on par with Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner. Delve into the seedy underworld of Cyber City to find the secret of the universe and answer many questions such as:

What is identity?
What does it mean to be human?
Who are you?
What are you doing in my house? Who invited you to my party? Was it Jane?

"Better than Mass Effect." -RPsandwich

System Requirements: Windows PC that can turn on.

thecottonproject:

Final for my Time Arts class. Nothing gets you in touch with your own anger quite like listening to this and thinking about all the times you’ve been objectified and belittled.

Check out my sister’s lovely new zine.

duchessofurl:

facts ‘o life Volume 2

This is a great idea.

For Aeris (A Final Fantasy VII Poem)

I figured it was time I should post the poem I contributed to the "It’s Just a Game" zine. Although the print versions are sold out, you can still get digital copies of both volumes here.

Warning: If you have not played Final Fantasy VII yet and plan to, and you have managed up until now not to find out the big spoiler, please don’t continue reading.

I somehow had managed to live 23 years without finding out so I want to protect those who don’t know, although I often wonder if I had gotten it spoiled for me, if it would have been easier for me to deal with.

After the “incident” occurred, I cried my eyes out and never played the game again. Many people who I’ve talked to about this have told me I am ridiculous, and maybe there is some truth in that, but I dare anyone to question the power of games as a storytelling medium after suffering this loss themselves.

I wanted to tell my story of losing Aeris in a way that did justice to how deeply I was hurt when I was playing the game. I haven’t written a poem since high school but I felt like it was the best way to express the 32-bit hole that this game left in my heart.

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The Last Of Us: Not a Matter of Choice

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    As someone who critiques things like it’s their job, it’s not very often I experience a piece of media that leaves me speechless. Videogames are still a very young art form, and I feel as if it’s going to take many more years of figuring things out before more than a few mature works can even begin to exist in the mainstream, but The Last of Us is an incredible step in the right direction. It’s hard to believe that the same company that less than 10 years ago was making a weird orange bandicoot run away from boulders, would be able to leave in me a complete state of awe and contemplation after finishing one of their games. (Note: many spoilers ahead)

     Obviously there were some stepping stones to get to this point, the most notable of which came in the form of three incredibly entertaining and cinematic games in the tradition of the good kind of blockbuster action/adventure movies. This was a smart formula, and I absolutely acknowledge the importance of the Uncharted series. They made great strides in lessening the gap between two mediums, and was undeniably entertaining and fun, but it didn’t exactly shake me to my core artistically. I’ve heard a few great thinkers in the games industry comment on how we need to stop comparing games with movies, and although I do think it can be a hindrance, I believe that Naughty Dog’s formula has so far been a very successful one. When we examine the best way for games to tell a story however, I think what it comes down to is a question of choice.

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THE GAME

      I’m from Pittsburgh, the zombie capital of the world, (also featured in The Last of Us in all it’s yellow bridged glory) so I’m all for a good tale of death and infection, but for anyone who has any brains left uneaten, I think it’s easy to admit that the zombie trend has gotten a bit out of hand. Back when I saw the original trailer and demos for this, I was intrigued, but not enough so that I was about to run out on launch day and pick up a copy. The addition of a young girl as a sidekick made me moderately excited, but I had my doubts about her actual role in the story and made the assumption that she was just a tagalong/obstacle for the same kind of generic dude to protect through the same old zombie survival story. I’m happy to admit I was proved wrong. Luckily, a friend was willing to lend it to Ryan and I, and we were somehow able to keep from getting the ending spoiled for us. Now I will admit, I did not actually play this one (as I seriously lack the hand-eye coordination and patience to get through this type of game) but took on a very Ellie-like role of providing backup and a careful eye for arrows sticking out of decomposing corpses.

     From the first few minutes of the game, it was obvious that Joel’s daughter was going to die. Not to undermine the pain of losing her in such a horrific way, at the hands of a human soldier no less, but she’s not on the box, so it was safe to assume she wouldn’t be coming with us. One of the things I find fascinating about this game is how right from the get go, everyone is the enemy. Humans, infected, soldiers, dogs, they all just become obstacles you are forced to take down to continue on your journey, there is no choice involved. Sure, you can sneak past Clickers and some of the other enemies, but it’s not like you’re doing it out pity, necessity is your motivator, plain and simple. Because the game puts you in such an extreme state of distrust and constant fear of everything and everyone, I often found myself guessing what was about to happen, especially when it came to encountering new characters, and even though I was often correct in my horrible assumptions, the predictability never took away from the drama of each experience, and I never could have guessed the ending would unfold exactly how it did.

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THE GIRL

     As someone with an ever critical eye about the representation of women in videogames, I have to take some time to talk about Ellie. At first I thought it was fine to have it her around, but it took a large portion of the game before she really begins to serve her purpose and come into her own, and that’s not a complaint. The way that Naughty Dog chose to wait until the last third of the game to have you actually play as Ellie was a smart choice in my opinion. It comes as a refreshing shock to suddenly become Ellie after Joel’s accident.

     Not knowing if he’s alive or dead, she stalks a deer through a pristine, snow covered field with her bow and arrow. The switch of characters invokes a renewed sense of the struggle for survival as this young girl fights for her life. Although it is easy to assume she will be weaker and more helpless than the character you’re used to playing, after a few minutes as Ellie we see how fierce she has grown. She is just as capable a survivor as Joel, and has her own unique strengths. The game fulfills their male lead quota to satisfaction, and thrust you into a new experience that I don’t think anyone who played the game up until this point could complain about, no matter what their stance on female game characters.

     The bond the player forms with Ellie before stepping into her shoes is undeniable, which is what makes her such a milestone character as far as female game protagonists go. Nothing is presupposed about her ability as a hero or a survivor, it is earned through action, which makes her strength as a stand alone character undeniable. After having the opportunity to play as Ellie, switching back to Joel felt like both a relief and a disappointment. I think the way the gameplay is divided between the two characters through the end of the game is a fascinating device to show who is really in control. Ellie’s struggle propels her into violence and adulthood, but the demands of surviving turn her into something she is not prepared to become, and so she must retreat within herself, and the control returns to Joel.

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THE ART

     Zombie stuff being all the rage generally lends itself to a pretty standard visual style of gloomy, grey and bloody, which serves it’s purpose in setting a dire mood, but The Last of Us does not follow in that tradition. Borrowing from some of the beautiful, full color landscapes of the Uncharted series, most of this world is in full scale color. The juxtaposition of the dire state of the world with the greenery and butterflies all around is an extremely powerful metaphor for what the game wants to tell us.

     There are moments where we are forced to slow down and soak in our surroundings, usually while the characters have some kind of meaningful conversation. We are literally made to stops and smell the flowers (or the rotting corpses, whichever is readily on hand.) Ellie’s innocence and wonder for seeing the world around her for the first time, and Joel’s renewed sense of kinship and fatherhood becomes something beautiful despite their bleak situation, and then watching them discover the horror and the wonder of the world around them is a fascinating journey to take. Though all the trials they face, the beauty of their bond is what helps them survive. And how about those giraffes? Even Fellini would have liked that part.

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THE END

     In the end, when Joel chooses their relationship over saving the human race, it’s difficult to say with certainty whether it feels completely wrong, but the game gives you no choice but to play along.  After finally finding the fireflys, and discovering that against all odds, your journey was as important to the fate of the world as Elle had hoped, it’s hard to feel like you are doing the right thing as you gun them all down, but you don’t have the choice to stop. The awkward balance of the actual gameplay being at it’s most difficult and the stress of just wanting to see what happens was a bit of a disconnect at the climax of the game. We assume we are fighting towards the painful death of one or both of the characters as we plowed through throngs of soldiers (the least fun enemies to fight in the game) dying again and again. One such unsuccessful attempt resulted in Joel being shot to death after grabbing Ellie, which we thought was the actual ending of the game until it reloaded and allowed us to try again. By not having us actually deal the final gunshot, it reinforces the power of the game as the storytelling agent. We once and for all hand off any sense of control and put fate into the hands of the game, but it’s almost a relief not to take on the responsibility of our actions.

    After the dust clears, we find ourselves back on the road, once again playing as Ellie. Joel makes a trying gesture by sharing some anecdotes about his daughter and how he thinks she and Ellie would have been good friends.  It feels strange. We feel as detached, confused, and wonder what could possibly be left of the game. In one last attempt to have some semblance of understanding or control over her own fate, she speaks out to question Joel. Although I’m sure she knows the truth, she recognizes that the choice has already been made for her and there is nothing more she can do, so she resigns to his lie. Ellie did not get to make her own choice and neither did we, and that’s what The Last of Us leaves us with.

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     Most videogames set us on a quest where we get to be a hero who saves the world. The Last of Us forces us to make a different kind of choice altogether. It’s easy to think that the moral of the story is that humans are selfish, horrible monsters only trying to look out for themselves, but I think it’s hard to not be bit a little bit happy that Ellie does live. I think what we are really left with is that nothing is all that black or white, it leaves us feeling uneasy, but not in the least bit unsatisfied. The choice to end the game this way was an incredibly bold one, and I think an important step in the development of videogames as a legitimate storytelling medium.

     When I think back on some of the other big triple A titles from the past few years that have been praised for their story and substance, (Mass Effect, Deus Ex:Human Revolution, and Dishonored) they have all tried to take games to the next level of storytelling by letting the player have some degree of choice in terms of who the characters are and how the story turns out. Although I have had very positive experiences with this formula as far as crafting my own character goes, unfortunately in the end what usually happens is a wishy-washy middle ground ending that no one is really happy with. At the end of the day it’s impossible for an artist to truly tell the story they want without being able to control the ultimate fate of their characters. The Last of Us provides a linear path you are forced to follow, but in exchange for your loss of choice, you get a beautifully told, complete story where the potency of your connection to the characters is greater that any customizable protagonist I’ve ever played. I can’t say with certainty whether it’s better for videogames to yield the potency of interactivity to immerse players in a pre-made story like this one, or to allow a world where you craft the story yourself, but there’s a reason that choose your own adventure books never became bigger than Lord of the Rings.

The Last of Us Review coming soon!

Ryan and I were finally able to get our hands on The Last of Us and finished our playthrough a few days ago. Full article coming very soon!

The “It’s Just a Game” Zine is now available for purchase!

I wrote a final fantasy POEM in it for gosh sakes! Pick one up!

bad-at-games:

I know I’ve been reblogging this a lot, but I want to make a specific post here on Bad-at-Games as well, because this project means a lot to me.

IT’S JUST A GAME is now available for purchase! It started out as a little tiny idea I had and so many people were interested in contributing that now it’s a 2-volume affair, filled to the brim with awesome work by 26 amazing people (comics artists, writers, game designers, etc.), all frustrated with the way people usually talk about games.

I painted the covers in black India ink, which was really fun, and I’m really happy with how they turned out.

And I’m actually paying my contributors, too, so the more the zine sells, the more $$ my awesome creators-of-stuff will get. AND! And and and! If it does super well, I will consider putting together a third volume. And you can submit to it! If that happens!

You can get both volumes for $18 here, or volume 1 here and volume 2 here, for $10 each. Please buy! It would mean a lot to me and 26 other rad people.

Oh, and quit your whining: It’s just a game.

The release of the “It’s Just a Game" zine is coming up fast!
I was trying to decide what to submit and decided to tell a story about the time when I played FF7 and fell in love with Aeris only to have to watch her be MURDERED. I immediately had to go cry in the bathroom for like an hour and then I never played the game again (and I LOVE final fantasy so it was a big blow to quit). I was originally going to write an article about this, as that is my usual means of creation, but after giving it some thought I decided I would write a poem for the first time since high school. It seemed like the most dignified way to express my ridiculous and heartfelt reaction to the whole situation. In any case, it’s going to be featured in volume 1 if you’re interested! Volume 2 will be killer too though, my sister Anna has a great comic about MTG (Magic the Gathering) You can get it here on Sept 3!
bad-at-games:

SOON
itsjustagamezine:

Dry your tears and turn off your consoles: It’s Just A Game comes out in less than a week!
Due to the volume of submissions, I’ve decided to make It’s Just A Game into TWO 24-page volumes, both of which will be released on Tuesday, September 3 and sold for $10 each on my Etsy page. Volumes One & Two feature 26 contributors in total, including new work by Dave Myers, Soha El-Sabaawi, Jacob Smiley, Austin Walker, & Tanya X. Short, just to name a few.
The whole project is shaping up to be like 4 billion times better than even I expected, and if you aren’t excited yet, you really should be.
I’m spending this week working on my own art for the zine, including illustrations for some of the pieces and cover art for both volumes (a preview of Vol. One’s cover is above).
So on that note, back to work for me! Please keep your eye on this tumblr for more updates, and definitely put aside $10 or $20 for one or both volumes next week. Trust me.

The release of the “It’s Just a Game" zine is coming up fast!

I was trying to decide what to submit and decided to tell a story about the time when I played FF7 and fell in love with Aeris only to have to watch her be MURDERED. I immediately had to go cry in the bathroom for like an hour and then I never played the game again (and I LOVE final fantasy so it was a big blow to quit). I was originally going to write an article about this, as that is my usual means of creation, but after giving it some thought I decided I would write a poem for the first time since high school. It seemed like the most dignified way to express my ridiculous and heartfelt reaction to the whole situation. In any case, it’s going to be featured in volume 1 if you’re interested! Volume 2 will be killer too though, my sister Anna has a great comic about MTG (Magic the Gathering) You can get it here on Sept 3!

bad-at-games:

SOON

itsjustagamezine:

Dry your tears and turn off your consoles: It’s Just A Game comes out in less than a week!

Due to the volume of submissions, I’ve decided to make It’s Just A Game into TWO 24-page volumes, both of which will be released on Tuesday, September 3 and sold for $10 each on my Etsy page. Volumes One & Two feature 26 contributors in total, including new work by Dave Myers, Soha El-Sabaawi, Jacob Smiley, Austin Walker, & Tanya X. Short, just to name a few.

The whole project is shaping up to be like 4 billion times better than even I expected, and if you aren’t excited yet, you really should be.

I’m spending this week working on my own art for the zine, including illustrations for some of the pieces and cover art for both volumes (a preview of Vol. One’s cover is above).

So on that note, back to work for me! Please keep your eye on this tumblr for more updates, and definitely put aside $10 or $20 for one or both volumes next week. Trust me.