A single whole through many

There are some things consumers tend to take for granted, but never really stop consider for a significant length of time, unless it becomes relevant due to necessity of circumstances. One of these things is that no product we have is made of one thing. The more complex an item is, the more parts it has. Duh, I hear Jimmy go. However, does Jimmy stop to consider how many different manufacturers are required to produce parts to, for example, a car? A car manufacturing plant, or about any other manufacturing plant overall, does not produce all of the materials they require to build a finished car. More of than not, major elements are produced elsewhere and then delivered to the main producer for final assembly. Windows, wheels, electrical components, and numerous other parts are build elsewhere before being added to the final product. A single car ultimately becomes a finished piece of numerous different hands putting their effort and time into building something that’s at least up to standards. Very few of these people are ever heard or seen outside their own workplace, if even there.

To use another example, you’re using some sort of screen to read this text from, be it a smartphone, tablet or a computer screen. The screen itself was probably assembled by another corporation altogether from the one that assembled the casing now before you, which contains components and PCB produced by another set of corporations. The concept is subcontractors isn’t anything new to an adult, we all know these corporations work and to what extent, yet only at few times we consider how much hell these subcontractors go through to appease the final, larger corporation at the top end of the ladder.

This is also why Kickstarters sometimes meet up with sudden unexpected difficulties when trying to produce rewards to the backers. Printable goods like shirts is easy enough, it require very little hands in the middle, but when you need to produce metallic goods, large books, decal sheets and other items, juggling between subcontractors, prices and budget becomes a rather gruesome task, especially if the Kickstarters don’t have prior experience with producing goods. Sometimes, even the pros may get their share of difficulties, especially with the global market offering all sorts of possibilities, some in lesser quality than others. As such, if you’re considering a Kickstarter of your own, it is always a good idea to set everything into stone according to possible expends at a good, early time and calculate how much surplus you could possibly have, when something inevitably goes to south. Never kid yourself, it’s a rare thing to see something going 100% right with these things.

Of course, a designer has to mind all this while designing, at least on a surface level. For example, if a designer wins a design contest for a bracelet or similar, it is generally expected that the designer would also have readied information and plans how the bracelet could be best mass produced. A simple prototype might be handcrafted in a garage or 3D printed, but the finalised design that would end up in the store shelves would have to have a solid and a direct line from the manufacturers to the stands. It just may end being impossible to produce that bracelet with speedy manufacturing due to its geometry requiring specialised craftsmen working on it, or that it simply can’t be mass produced through general means. Sometimes, a product simply has to be made by hands from start to finish, though that’s increasingly rare.

Jewellery overall could be counted as one of the few fields where subcontractors are used to procure materials rather than readily made parts. Unless you count all the different kind of locks and readily made sockets and adapters, but to keep the more romanticised view, a jeweller would obtain the materials he needs, and does the rest by hand. Turning the wire into separate links to form a chain, cutting and polishing the stones into their shinier and more aesthetically pleasing versions and making all those interesting and beautiful shapes jewellery are known for. It just might happen that, in the end, even those are mass produced in a factory somewhere.

Nevertheless, this is a reality designers seem to forget at times. It is all well and good draw nice lines on the paper and then let engineers figure out how to implement the forms into a finalised piece, or the designer could cut most of that middleman out of the way and consider these elements from the get go. Conceptual designers of course live in the world of their own, as they are not expected to take reality into notion in any significant way outside the item having to be able to exist. Even then, that’s sometimes given a leeway when it comes to certain vehicular products.

This is where the skill of being able to calculate the end-price comes in handy, as a designer has to calculate the material costs, how much the production itself will cost, how much the transportation will cost, what’s the share the end-sales maker will take and add their own hourly pay into the mix. At this point the initial price is far less than the third. You’d think in digital world this would mean that the prices would be considerably cheaper due to some of the middlemen being cut out, like physical pressings and the like, but somehow titles on Steam always start at the same price-range as physical products.

Nevertheless, when does Jimmy considering the multi-partnership manufacturing? Probably when he is looking for new bulbs for his car, or some other part that’s easily replaceable, or when he hears that the part he is looking for is no longer in production, because for some reason the manufacturing has been stopped, and nobody is making that part anymore. Even then, Jimmy probably will only curse Volvo for not making that certain little thingamajig any longer, when in reality, Volvo just had another subcontractor to manufacture the part, or bought readily designed and in production part from somewhere else. In the end, no matter how much subcontractors they have, it’s only Volvo that the consumers see.

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Banning Adult Oriented material, again

Lewgamer has a nice article with sources and citations on Valve threading to take down on adult games on Steam, give it a look before we go further.

The whole issue really is all about having erotica CG within the titles. Doesn’t matter if its just left in the code, if its junk data somehow and completely inaccessible by normal means. If it is there, it counts. Sounds extremely pathetic and funny, but that is the reality. The case this is most compared to, going as far Steam’s own representative doing it as well, is the Hot Coffee case. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas exists a disabled minigame where the player character can bang their chosen girlfriend character. The reason why it was left in the game’s code is because the assets were used elsewhere as well.

This basically set the tone that if a software has any sort of pornographic content inside the code or assets, it’s automatically Adult Only, which further means certain shops will not carry it and places like Australia most likely will instantly ban it.

I also recall something about Valve considering on banning titles that have censorship removing patches from other sites, be it via addition of the content or unlocking. However, I found no solid sources on this, so take this as a rumour at best.

With most visual novels having some level of erotica in them at least, Valve’s probably going to gun them down if this keeps going. This also means that even Muv-Luv‘s Steam releases are under threat in the worst case scenario. Considering Manga-Gamer had their title with “earnest and tasteful exploration of sexuality” is about to get the boot, pretty much anything goes.

This is one man’s crusade, though what Valve is doing here is covering their own asses for the worst case scenario for them. They don’t give a damn about the consumer or developer end due to their monopoly. Games with pornographic content is mere blip on the radar for them, the revenue Valve gains from them is microscopic for them. Worse, they’re a public corporation, and having erotica or pornography on their service in any form is often seen as a sort of stain. This probably also leads to some problems, just like how Steam’s terms of service had to be revised from “purchasing games” to “subscriptions” circa 2012, when Court of Justice of European Union decreed that it publishers can’t oppose of resale of used licenses. EULA ties you to nothing. However, publisher have more leverage if you don’t purchase anything from them, just subscribe to their product.

Valve, of course, never had clear rulings on the issue. They’ve been jumping back and forth regarding adult oriented material on their service in order not to even recognize the topic properly due to the stigma pornographic content still carries with it despite the fact that it’s all virtual.

The discussion about what constitutes as porn and what doesn’t should be made, but it doesn’t matter to Valve. Their view is pretty clear on the issue, even if they aren’t. If it has any kind of sexually explicit content under any kind of depiction, it is counted as porn. There is no room for nuances on the topic, which only tells how puritanical this issue is.

It is unfortunate that things have done this way, as this will probably cause further issues down the line for anyone willing to entertain the idea of having a more sexual title on Steam. It’s a slippery slope we’re in for here. There are numerous solutions, like moving these titles to Nutaku, but that also means raving Steam fans wouldn’t follow in suit.

Mature sexual content, be it pornography, erotica or whatever else similar will always limit your audience to adults and people who aren’t living in a medieval level culture. The approach of simply trying to clean it away is not the right step by any means and it will be met with opposition. However, what Valve could do here is to open a specific section for Adult Only audience, both expanding their market and guaranteeing that places competitors like GOG wouldn’t be tempted to open this sort of targeted service. Then again, this would encourage further competition, so perhaps it would be a chance for them. Muv-Luv on GOG would remove any of my reasons to use Steam.

What is the consumer to do here, if they oppose booting titles off Steam if they contain adult material? Wallet voting by purchasing these products, making your voice hard on social media and elsewhere at their representatives and showcasing support to devs who are inclining towards censoring their products.

I guess this is as good time as any to remind my readers that corporations are there to make money and keep their investors happy. That’s their main goal, and sometimes it is more favourable to enforce certain image and lack of products that could be harmful somehow to the younger audiences.

Funny that, this is pretty in-line with how the US is seen by most Europeans; a place where over-the-top and accurate depictions of hyper violence is awright, but a bare breast will make everyone flip their shit.

The Current Format War

The last physical format war was HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray. HD-DVD met a rather quick defeat compared to the previous format wars, where you had more than one format existing side-by-side for different reasons. VHS vs. Betamax VS. Laserdisc was and interesting and long era, where only VHS and LD really had any place due to their nature of media. Way back in 2012 I had a post about what sort of role OVA had on the format war overall, and looking back at this post I should revise it a lot. Interestingly, history tends to rhyme and we’re seeing some of the same stuff taking place with the current format war, which isn’t between physical media, but between streaming services.

Unlike with physical media, digital streaming services are relatively easy to make. The standard for it is already there, embedded video that’s streamed to a device. Looking at the amount of streaming service there are, pretty much any larger company has one, from A&E to YouTube Red. Of course, Netflix is the most successful and well known of the bunch, and is expected to corner to market on the long run due to its overwhelming global popularity.

However, we are talking about a delivery method that does not require the purchase of a separate player and dedication to a form of media. The paradigm shift from television and prerecorded material to decentralised television and all-access services has transformed television as a concept altogether to something most traditional channels probably can’t handle without large shift in their business plans and structure. While physical media will not be phased out as fast as commentators and industry insiders have thought (we’ve been told the last fifteen years that in few years nobody will purchase physical media anymore), it has gone down progressively alongside abandoning the living room centric television. This has affected video games as well, as we’ve discussed, and is one of the major factors why the Switch is a successful console on its own right.  Everybody has a screen in their pocket, everyone has a television in their pocket.

Format wars have been won by having the most stuff on your format as well as capabilities that are not offered by your competition. Laserdisc was a great format for film enthusiast who wanted quality, but the sheer size of the discs and the costs over Beta and VHS later down the line were higher. BETA may have been better than VHS in quality, but it was more expensive and had Sony’s proprietary tech that cost more to license than VHS. VHS ultimately became cheapest option as mass manufacturing took root and home recording became accessible for the general audience like never before. The old tale of porn winning the format war for VHS is not exactly wrong, as it allowed so many small-sized studios and independents to release their products. YouTube and other similar sites that allow and partner with user-driven content creation would be the modern equivalent. However, this is a paradigm shift in itself, and user-created content, be it home mobvies, indies or recording stuff off the TV, ultimately has less to do with winning the format war this time around. It’s all about what professional content you have.

Shows like Star Trek Discovery, Devilman Crybaby, and Cobra Kai are all shows that were made to drive views and sales of a streaming service. CBS did not go and aim to make a great Star Trek show for CBS All-Access, they aimed to make a show that would drive subscriptions, and considering they’ve greenlight the second season and have boldly announced best results ever, it seems to have worked. World wide, Netflix was the one with STD under their belt, but unlike most other streaming services, they’ve been bringing original animation to the forefront more.

While a site like Crunchyroll streams and simulcasts cartoons from the far orient, Netflix has put more money into original creations, most of which have been largely popular. The aforementioned Devilman Crybaby raised quite a bit of buzz and gained some subs for Netflix, and the same thing can be said of their Castlevania adaptation. Netflix and Crunchyroll have a niche cornered. The only thing that can really affect the amount of money made is how much ads get blocked on free streaming sites and how well the consumer is treated. It’s not exactly rare to hear Crunchyroll shitting on their costumers or dropping the streaming quality for all users, including the paying subscribers, without earning. A site like them should know to keep the front and back of the counter completely separate, but with the advent of social media era, it’s seems to have become really hard not to try and piss people off of Twitter or Facebook.

While new and original content is the main tool in this war, nostalgia is also a grand factor. Something and something old usually work hand in hand. All examples here are really just nostalgia driven somehow. Star Trek is an entertainment institution on its won right, Devilman is one of the most important comic books created on the world wide scale, Castlevania pulls the NES kid out from you and Cobra Kai is YouTube Red’s weapon in this. Cobra Kai‘s a show that people would enjoy and Sony has been criticised for putting it to a platform with smaller consumer base rather than on something like Netflix, where the show could get its proper amount of views.

That is, of course, entirely the point.

Having just one provider for any service will easily lead into situation where the consumer has no other options to choose from and has to be satisfied to whatever products and services in whatever quality the provider gives in. The current format war won’t have one winning side, because there is no need for the consumer to dedicate himself to just one medium. What these providers now have to fight with is content, and the more content you have people want to watch and can’t be seen on other services, the more leverage you have. Disney of course will be an absolute juggernaut whenever they start their own services due to sheer size of their library, but we shouldn’t ignore the likes of Amazon Prime and their constant licensing of niche shows that aren’t available elsewhere in the West. While at face value it would seem beneficial for the consumer to have everything in one place, competition is always a driving force.

Of course, then there are digital luddites like me who just sit and wait for shows to come out on physical media.

Hasbro’s Rangers

Recently Hasbro, the same you company who is in charge of G.I. Joe and Transformers, announced that they have acquired Saban’s Power Rangers and other entertainment related assets. This was almost to be expected, considering Saban cut ties with Bandai a while back, Saban then announced extended broadcast partnership with Nickelodeon with a new season called Beast Morphers, then Hasbro being announced the master toy licensee for Saban’s IPs. The progression of things have been extremely steady, and nobody should be surprised. Hasbro probably will handle the IP better than Disney did, which Saban bought back some time ago.

Why did Hasbro purchase the Power Rangers? I wouldn’t really have a proper answer, I don’t exactly follow what’s going on in the toy industry. However, knowing Hasbro’s history, it’s easy to see them wanting something special from Power Rangers, that they have a niche to fulfill and this IP fits them. They have the more standard boy’s military toys covered with G.I. Joe, Transformers for shape shifting robot toys, Star Wars license for Star Wars… which might actually be the thing they want to cover. Star Wars toys supposedly were shelf warmers with the The Last Jedi, and the SW toys were partially responsible in killing Toys R Us, at least according to Bobby.

If we take this stance, Power Rangers would fit this slot rather nicely. It would allow relatively healthy amount of characters toys to be manufactured alongside different vehicles and role play toys. Hasbro wouldn’t need to pay hefty license payments to anyone, as they’d own the rights. Well, to a certain point. As a reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that Power Rangers is made from the footage of Japanese Super Sentai franchise. The out-of-suit scenes are filmed for the show, while most of the action footage is lifted from the Japanese original. However, with time both Hasbro and Disney increased the amount of original footage they filmed as well as have Toei shoot some footage for the American use only. As such, Hasbro would probably have to pay something for the likeness of the characters to Toei and Bandai at least. That is, unless after Beast Morphers Hasbro decides to go their own way, stop using Super Sentai footage and create completely original content.

Considering how television and streaming services are starting to be full of decent looking special effects live action shows, especially from Marvel and DC, it wouldn’t completely unimaginable for Hasbro to partner with Nick or some other company to produce Hasbro-original Power Rangers to cut license costs altogether. This purchase probably killed all chances for the recent Power Rangers movie to get a sequel, but Hasbro could always have a new one and belong in their shared universe with M.A.S.K., Transformers, G.I. Joe and Inhumanoids. Well possible shared movie universe as well, we’ll have to sit back and see what comes of it, if any.

If Hasbro wants to bring Power Rangers back to its glory days, they have lots of work ahead of them. When the series hit the scene in 1993, it was a massive success, a cultural phenomena and a multimedia behemoth. You could see its influence every which way and sort of brought martial arts back to popularity like it was the 70’s again. You saw its influence on the Old Continent as well, where it took root in certain places. South America already had Super Sentai on their television, so the impact was less impressive, if there was even any. I don’t know about Australia, but I’ve heard that it was moderately popular at least.

But times change, and Power Rangers settled into its role after first few seasons and kept going. We never got to see past the third season, but looking at what the Alien Rangers were, I don’t mind missing any of that. In few ways, Power Rangers is a mainstay in American television and few generations have already grown into adulthood with it.

It would be impossible for Hasbro to capture the thunder in a bottle again, mostly because how saturated the current entertainment media are of super powered heroes and their stories. Power Rangers does have a niche fulfilled there, being aimed at a younger audience overall and the emphasize at martial arts, something that’s been slowly being toned down like no other thanks to Japanese soccer moms wanting Super Sentai and Kamen Rider to be less violent. Hell, Kamen Rider Ghost toned its violence down to the point of the main character fighting enemies by eerily floating around them, but this was deemed to scary for the kids by their mothers and it got changed back to good ol’ punchan and kickan. There would need to be a proper paradigm shift in the franchise in order to lift it from the place it has sunken into.

Whatever the end aim is, money and toys are involved. Hasbro is, after all, a toy company and whatever they do aims to sell toys. If we get good stories out of the deal, like Beast Wars, that’s good. Considering Bandai’s toys with the Super Sentai have been less than stellar for number of years now, with Doubutsu Sentai Zyuogher having immobile cubes as the robot. They’ve become completely gimmick driven. Some of the suit designs have seen drop in overall quality as well in terms of used materials compared to other contemporary shows. It doesn’t help that giant robots is old men’s stuff in Japan, not something that would sell all that well.

Power Rangers has always had a need to produce Western toys anyway, as it is relatively uncommon for Japanese toylines to contain bad guys. This is the opposite to American model, where both sides of the story gets toys. The best examples of this would be Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toylines. MOTU at a point had almost 1:1 ratio between the heros and villains. All this is because of Star Wars, in that kids weren’t just buying toys for the sake of toys, but because the toys were representing the characters. Hasbro has a history of being able do multi-media franchises, as long as they don’t forget that kids and fans are in for the characters, and Power Rangers certainly has characters consumers can connect with.

Well, if nothing else comes from this, I bet your ass that we’ll see Power Rangers/ Transformers crossover toys with the Dinobots at some point.

Streaming as a new-old phenomena in gaming

If this blog hasn’t hammered one thing in by this point is that video and computer games may be relatively young medium compared to literature, music, film and other forms of entertainment like theater, but at its core the reasons for playing these games and methods are not new in themselves. Nevertheless, the evolution of technology does mask old things with new coat of paint. Old things in a different way for the new generation.

This whole post started from listening to a discussion about streaming, to be frank. It is true that streaming has become a way of life and making a living to certain people, and its the kind of work that almost permeates the streamer’s life. If you’re also doing normal video work on Youtube, preparing pre-scripted material with voice over, graphics and video, that’s off from everything else alongside streaming. No kid who wants to grow up to be a streamer should think that’s its an easy or stable job. On the contrary, being a content creator via streaming and video creation takes loads of hard work to get good at it, and even then you might fail because you don’t find the audience or your charisma just isn’t up to the task.

Streamers on platforms like Twitch and Youtube are self-employed. They do no work for Amazon or Google they’re just users like any other. Youtube may have started as a site for people to put videos on that couldn’t be longer than ten minutes, but it’s evolved to this massive network of content providers, which essentially means Google has outsourced the content at their site to people who do it for free. Sure, there are partner programs and such, but ultimately users are external from the company itself. The same applies to Twitch. The money is made from sponsorship and donations from viewers.

None of this is new, and comparisons could be spun to whichever direction we’d want. For example, peeping shows on the net rely on monetary donations from the watcher for the provider to provide some visual titillation and more. Another example could be anyone doing public sports, who has been slabbed all over with sponsorship logos on their shirts, pants and who knows where.

Arts patronage is more or less a dead concept and has evolved into modern sponsorship, where it used to be high-position people like kings and queens supporting their chosen people for arts and crafts, while nowadays the equivalents would be large companies and individuals. There was an interesting paradigm shift about ten to twenty years ago with modern technology, which took place in very slow pace, where tipping someone for their content moulded into the donation via Patreon and other services we have today.

All this is new for current paradigm of electronic games regarding the users themselves, both content providers and supporters. While it all really stems from people wanting to watch other people doing something for their enjoyment (IRL streaming and such are just another form of Big Brother), modern communication technology has broken the wall of interactivity between the watchers and actors. For example, you can watch Casposaurus’ videos and comment on them, to which he’ll most likely reply in a cuntish way. You can also watch his streams and directly interact with him via the chat. The last wall breaks down when you can go to his Discord channel and talk with him directly about pretty much anything. We’ve come from people discussing about things on an online forum to real-time, anywhere at any time. It may not seem like a major change, but the underlying element here isn’t just being able to connect with the audience, but who is doing the connection; a person.

Generally speaking, the separation between a provider (e.g. a corporation) and its consumers is beneficial as it providers a buffer between the front and the back. While this buffer exists between the example content provider above, it is much thinner barrier. You can’t exactly contact a script writer or director directly and discuss their latest episode or a movie with. With streamers and other content providers, that is a solid possibility with most of them.

Content providers who take up streaming and video making as their full-time job are dependent on their content. If the barrier between the user and provider is thin and the product is themselves rather than the content they make, their personal actions and choices can and will affect the rate of viewers and possible revenue. Internet Drama may be fun to watch and laugh at times, yet it can have heavy consequences if those actions cause major loss in viewers. While providers can state that they won’t change their methods or content whatever the sponsors say, the reality is that they have to create content that satisfies at least certain audience. Effectively, providers create something they think to be of value, and hope their submission is worth the patronage of the crowd, that the value can be found in them.

Watching a streamer is akin to watching a sports. People don’t watch sports just for sport itself, because simply watching it for the technical execution can get a bit jarring on the long run. It’s the “drama” they watch it for, the tension of things. The same can be said of streamers’ audiences, who are not looking for just well played game, but the self-contained community surrounding it all. What’s the value viewers hold in the streams is different, though we can generalise them as for the viewer, for the community or for the style of content.

Stream community and cultures have a low-entrance barrier as anyone can enter it either as a viewer or streamer themselves. Everything related to the communities and the sub-culture is easy to understand and grasp by just looking at it for a moment, similar to sports. This is somewhat opposite to high-entrance barrier parts of culture, like high art galleries or opera, where the viewer has to put more of that grey matter into work to get the intended enjoyment. As such, it is only natural for video and computer gaming to adopt something old in a new way for itself, considering it has became one of the largest entertainment industries.

Do we need more genres?

No, but let’s keep this going. Whoever claims to know genres in a clear cut manner when it comes to electronic games lies. This is because as technology evolved, game developers began to mix and match genres with each other to ever growing extent. It’s understandable that the genre count has grown and changed to stupid extents within the last two decades, considering the first two decades of video games were comparatively simpler times. Even then, games like Pac-Man still defy any classical genre definitions and you can still find people using Pac-man as a genre defining naming, because there really isn’t anything good that fits it well. It’s not exactly a puzzle game like Tetris or  exactly an action game like Mario Bros. However, the clever people journalists were in the 1980’s gave birth to maze genre, describing a game where the main play field and game play concentrates around a maze. Pac-Man and its derivatives certainly fit this description aptly, considering it was something new that could not be pulled from pre-existing media.

However, Pac-Man was lucky. Breakout was not as lucky. It has no official genre attached to it. Modern game industry tries to attach arcade as a genre, but that does little to it. Genre, as a term, should be descriptive of the contents. ‘Arcade’ does a poor job at this. There are certainly attempts at making it a convincing genre nowadays, supposedly referring to the shortness and easy to access type of game play, but that is selling actual arcade games short that should fall into this category. Street Fighter or even Tekken are rarely described as arcade anymore, despite them both of them still being very arcade at their roots.

Perhaps the most myriad of genres we got around nowadays is Metroidvania, which means jack shit nothing in terms of description. The user would need the context of the original Metroid games and certain era of Castelvania games to get the reference to. Considering both franchises are pretty much dead in the water, Metroid being thrown into the descriptive garbage bin for the occasional re-use by people who don’t get why Metroid sells in the West but not in Japan, and Castlevania being turned into low-end mobage and pachinko fodder, making the connection a bit dubious for anyone who is not in the know of the two franchises. For someone who has played games at least since the NES days and is familiar with both franchises probably gets the connection, but may also wonder why such a strenious connection is made, considering Castelvania is more about the linear action in its origin. The problem with Metroidvania is of course that is describes the action-adventure genre, but labelled it with a new name for some godforsaken reason, mudding the waters.

Naming genres is required at times, however. While Doom was not the first first-person shooter, it certainly can be argued to be most influential. In its wake we got Doom-clones, which either ran on Id’s engine or a modified version of it. The Dark Forces series started on Jedi Engine, which is said to be a reversed engineered and modified version of Id’s Doom engine. In general, people know what seeing in first person is and what is shooting more than what Doom is like, despite its popularity.

With the late 90’s, developing a new genre for your game was a PR move. Shenmue is, according to its developers, the first game in the F.R.E.E. genre,  Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment, and Mega Man Legends was Free Running RPG. This has continued in some peculiar ways, where the fans pitch new genres either in admiration or mockingly. Walking Simulator has become a thing to use for these adventure games that lack playable elements, though something like Life is Strange is continuation of those girls’ game from the 1990’s thematically and in fashion. That said, girls’ and boys’ games aren’t genres themselves. They’re more about the cultural scenario of the game and its contents, and about the directed audience. As a genre they could be anything.

Still, pitching a new genre or a genre name nowadays is nothing new. Some stick, some don’t. Metroidvania, the new and hot name to describe action-adventure games, has stuck to the extent that it’s slowly, but surely, becoming and industry standard for better or worse. Similarly, Lewis Gordon is trying to pitch a new genre named ‘ambient.’ A game with high ambience supposedly belongs in this genre, first being Breath of the Wild. The problem with this genre is that it describes nothing the game is like, as game genres describe the play, not the visuals or the like, i.e. the action the player engages in. Ambience has been in games since Ultima at latest and are a natural extension of the game’s world rather than the world of the game.

It’s almost as if a pitch like ambient is thrown out when games, or certain games, are tried to be “elevated” from their status as “just” games. The discussion whether or not games are art is tiresome after three decades, and we’re slowly entering a time where that is irrelevant due to the complete mainstream acceptance of the medium, but where we still need to showcase that they’re more than just “games.” As if there was anything wrong in that in the first place, but people have to justify their interests and choices to others still in almost sickly manner.

No, Gordon and his cohorts are missing why BotW was successful. It’s a good action-RPG and is closer to the original Zelda than most other games in the franchise. Unlike with films, music or books, mood, visuals, sounds or the like do not make a genre. As said, it’s the action of the player is required does. Ambience can be part of the game’s play, though that would completely exclude a game like BotW completely.

We don’t need new genres at this point in time. The Red Ocean already uses far too many genre names that it’s becoming a swampland. Just like how games’ core can be distilled back to pure gameplay where needed, genres need to follow the same path and be distilled what they mean atr their core. Simplicity can be complex, but it does not need be incoherent. That leads to things like “ambient.”

On electronic games’ history and culture

This post is a collection of related subject, combined into easier access

A game is an interaction between at least two individuals under certain rules to achieve some sort of goal or achievement. These rules can be shared between the parties and can contradict one side. This idea has not changed with electronic games, and they are not the first ones to have a non-living party. Just like card games have a card deck as the opposing party alongside other human players, electronic games use their device as the party to oppose the human player. In the end, modern video and computer games use the same rules and point calculation methods used past games and plays, be it sports or card games. After all, Super Mario Bros. is just a continuation of our play culture.

Steve Russel’s famous By gosh, it’s a Pinball! is a good contrast how not even the first computer game was, in the end, nothing new. After the Second World War, game parlors had become the cradle of youth culture, and pinball game parlors (or game arcades) became the place where young men and their girlfriends could escape to from the world, essentially becoming their own little separate worlds from the oppressing reality. This world was from the reach of mainstream culture and its moral guardsmen, allowing the youths to let their suppressed side to blow out.

Originally released 1969, this song is iconic representation of the time

Pinball Wizard is an anti-hero, an abused young man who is shunned by the larger world. However, in the game parlors he is able to convey himself to his peers, becoming one with the machine.

As such, it should be no surprise that parents would be worried about these parlors. After all, penny arcades before had been seen as place of vagabonds and men with beaten past. A place where people with less fortune could come together and entertain themselves with cheap coin operated machines, while possibly making connections to the criminal world. Different leagues and mafias controlled these penny arcades at during the 1930’s America, and as such it’s understandable to see people shunning arcades well up to the 1980’s. That shadow never left these places where men could get together and play games. It could be argued that even the games we have nowadays are suffering from similar complains, where moral guardians blame games for ruining whatever they deem valuable. In this light it is interesting to note that it is more than probable that many parents bought computers and game consoles to keep their children out of the arcades later down the line to keep them away from entering the wayside paths of life.

While my text is largely based on American culture, it’s not to say that the rest of the world saw these parlors in any better light. In France, Jean-Claude Baudot banned all coin operated machines in 1937 to prevent the disease penny arcades were seen as. According to Baudot, this law was still in effect up to the early 1980’s, though the law had been eased and circumvented in all ways and manners. In 1981 Ferdinand Marcos, the president of Philippines,  banned all arcade video games. To enforce his rule he smashed arcade machines in public. This is the same man who banned Voltes V  and other similarly themed cartoons just before the series’ final episode. Both of these men echo events that had taken place during world history time and time again, and events like these would be repeated after them, like how Pokémon was seen as the tool of the Devil by some religious forces. In Colorado Springs, 1999, pastor Mark Juvera took a 30-inch sword to a Pikachu toy in front of 85 children and calling Pokémon poison, not to mention the claims of video and computer games causing players to be more violent. Neither of these points are anything special, they’re just continuing  the same backlash games and other media forms have experienced throughout the ages.

It is somewhat ironic to note that television was seen as one of the remedies to keep these rebelling young people at home, as the 1950’s saw it entering mass markets despite not many having the money to buy one. Television didn’t give solution to the problems parents saw game parlors to be, as the problem was social and parlors were not the originator. Turned out that these young people watched television and took themselves to play pinball with their mates. Basically everything that was seen a solution to a problem would later be deemed a problem in itself as well, as seen with books, movies, amateur radio and maybe some day with games too. The problems were real to an extent, they are always more about the stereotypical view the mass culture takes at them. Books, amateur radio, television and games share the same blame that they keep people, children and adults alike, inside rather than “allowing” them to go outside and play, or do something more worthwhile.

Arcades, as we now remember them, didn’t come from nowhere during the 1970’s. They are just those game parlors with a new name and new machines, just like penny arcades before them. We can trace these places back to the game events held before mechanical games existed. In Herrad von Landsberg’s manuscript from the 1100’s we can see a pair of knights fighting each other through controlled marionettes. While it would be easy to compare this to modern era Vs. fighting  game, that would be far too direct. We do not know whether this was a common event or not, nor whether or not this is a real depiction as intended.

Artikel_45890_bilder_value_1_augsburger_puppenkiste1[1]Street Fighter with dolls?

Nevertheless, the core idea of contest and games are still present, even in the physical games. In the same extension, cock-fighting has been compared to Pokémon and other similar games. This is not rare in any way, as all games have their roots in some form of other plays and games. Majority of first person shooters are based on war games, strategy games are war board games, platformers are adventures children have in forest and elsewhere and imitates jumping form rock to rock, fighting games are rooted in physical combat and so on. Plays and games the adults play do stem from the childhood games, and to certain extent adulthood work and politics are just grander, more serious form of these games. It should be noted that video games especially have stemmed from boy’s play culture (and still reside there due to the competitive nature of it), thou arcade games like Pac-Man and Breakout are more or less neutral in their approach.

But what are the original electronic or mechanic games that can be called as the firs physical grandfathers of modern computer and video games? Perhaps the first ancestral machines are the automata, with machines offering entertainment and awe to the audience. However, games require interactivity, and one of the first proto-interactive machines that allowed the user to dictate some elements of the entertainment was the mutoscope from the late 1800’s. It was deemed to cause moral decay and was blamed to corrupt the youths for the pennies they cost. Pornography was a thing, and mutoscope is most remembered for those kinds of movies. We shouldn’t forget shooting galleries and the like as one of the proto-interactive game machines, as Nintendo’s Zapper and the games it used are pretty much a straight continuation.

Perhaps the mutoscope’s history is closer to films overall. However, it’s slightly more interactive nature does make it a relative of playing

1900’s saw all these machines to become everyday objects, and despite the bad rap they got, they spread like wildfire throughout the world. UK created their own machines alongside Americans (a lot of mutoscope’s UK had were either destroyed or exported to the Denmark during coin change in 1971), France and Germany had their own similar history with coin operated machines and Japan had adult-only pachinko parlors in 1930’s Nagoya. It’s not a large step from these mechanical devices towards electronic games, and through that, into computer and video games.


While many of the fears from the late 1800’s and early-to-mid 1900’s still persist when it comes to electronic games, those who play games and are most enthralled by them has not changed too much since then. Things changed with the advent of Golden Era of games, especially with Pac-Man, a game that attracted both men and women to play. Pac-Man as a character was largely a non-descriptive blob despite the game’s and character’s name.

I’ve talked about Industrial revolution being the main dividing point between arts, crafts and design, but when it comes to games it also created a cultural point with boys’ and girls’ cultures. According to E. Anthony Rotundo (1994), the industrial revolution separated boys from their father’s work environment, leaving them for their mothers’ to take care of. Boys moved outside from there, as motherly care usually emphasised good morals, pampering and kindness. Boys’ games and plays often were almost the opposite of this with physical contact with surprising aggressive attitudes. Going against mother’s command was a way to show that you weren’t a momma’s boy, and building from that onwards is a sort of step towards independent manhood. Regardless of how wild these games were, boys would return home to their mothers. One could say that unlike the Freudian Oedipus complex, boys’ fight against their mothers’ culture.

Rotundo contrasts this against girls’ culture, which is tied to their mothers, which have lived in a sort of symbiosis with each other. While he boys’ “adventure island” had a confrontational setting, girls’ had their own place within the “secret gardens.” While girls tend to favour for more socially interactive game with less or not emphasize on competition and physical contact, the concept of secret garden, a secret place reserved only for them and their fantasies. It should be noted that a lot of books for girls are the opposite of this thinking, where their normal lives are broken by a fantastic individual of sorts and their lives see a change, often at the cost of that secluded place. The differences between classic boys’ and girls’ literature is that boys had the heroes travel far away, while the girls’ literature tended to emphasize on staying home. Through that the stakes were different; for boys the adventures were physical like their games, whereas girls’ adventures were more about the psychology and emotions.

It’s not hard to see why electronic games would end up seen as a boys’ hobby. It is far easier to create a game that’s based on competition and rules rather than a game that requires methodical interaction between characters. A game is easy to program to offer a direct challenge the player needs to achieve, like destroying alien invaders than it is to program to reply to inquiries in a naturalistic and sophisticated way to counter the player’s emotional state.

The question whether or not there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ is cultural at its core. American game developer Purple Moon was known for developing games aimed at girls of age 8-14, and their Secret Paths series could be used as an archetypical example of what is generally seen as a girls’ game.

Secret Path games showcases some traditional symbols and images associated with girls. The cursor in the example above is a heart or a ladybug, there is no physical conflict in itself, and whatever action there is leans on metaphysical than physical. Interestingly, despite Purple Moon’s games tend to be simplified in how things are presented, they still manage to make better use of progressive values than most games we have nowadays.

While Purple Moon’s games were designed to be more about places of relaxation, where girls could pour out their stress and observe things with their hearts, so to speak. Each character has their own secret, and it is up to the player to find the secret paths that are laden with gemstones and other artefacts that give social, emotional and psychological strength. These visuals and pathways are representative of the characters’ plight, and the stories these physical environments contain encourage the player to try things out in their own social life. It’s not hard to see why the founder Brenda Laurel called their games as friendship adventures.

Similarly, Theresa Duncan’s Zero Zero is another example of a game that ties to girls’ culture.

While Secret Paths can be regarded as a continuation to the secret garden idea, Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel Harriet the Spy, is about another sort of play space for girls; the city. Within the book, Harriet observes her city’s, her microworld’s she creates, citizens and their complex interactions and how she changed them as she sees fit. This idea of creating a world and having total control over it is similar to SimCity. The difference between the two is how SimCity is more about playing god and micro-manage everything. To Harriet, creating this world is just the first step, and moves towards spying on the individuals to the point of breaking in real world buildings to understand adult interactions. The same contrast repeats here; there is no physical confrontation like there would be in boys’ novel, all the challenge comes from the human interactions and gaining information on the interactions.

It wouldn’t be too hard to see Harriet the Spy as a stealth game that has no combat. Zero Zero is essentially a computer adventure game version of the novel, where the player goes through the city and similarly seeks people’s’ stories. Despite this innocent sounding setting, Zero Zero and other games from Theresa Duncan do not try to be sleek and pat down the reality. On the contrary, Zero Zero‘s French are bored and tend to insult the player in a stereotypical fashion, as do the flowers. Women with strong make-up smoke freely and tend to flash themselves, promising an event in the Red Lights district.  The Sims has a considerable female fanbase, and in a way can be seen as a modern example of a game that allows the player not only play dollhouse, but also play god and decide the interactions.

Secret Path games and Zero Zero are good examples of two strong sides of traditional girls’ games. Secret Path games are very balanced and encourages the player to feel, so to speak. Zero Zero is an example of a game that shows the misshapen world in a very caricature fashion and encourages the player to seek knowledge and information that is hidden from them. Both are about exploring a physical space, but in the end both are about the players’ inner worlds.

Games like Pac-Man and Nights into Dreams are in neither space as such. Pac-Man‘s design as a character and game had no points to either direction, and as such I personally consider Ms. Pac-Man a needles exercise in hindsight despite it becoming extremely popular. Nights into Dreams on the other hand was designed to be androgynous from the get go, both in gameplay and character designs. It even has a boy and a girl character, Elliot and Claris, who have very different dreams for their life.

As games have evolved, contact between the two cultures have become more frequent. One could argue that open world games that contain as much non-physical social confrontation as they do physical are mixing these cultures. MMORPG’s and other games that offer larger interaction with real life people also supports the idea of supportive interaction between girls while offering brotherly confrontation and rivalry boys’ culture has. This sort of neutral space in gaming requires both sides giving something in, and in real life this can cause some argumentation and fighting between children.

Stereotypical girls’ games tend not to be remembered. Purple Moon folded in 1999 and merged with Mattel, and their games were not without criticism. Their games were called to be called sexist, stereotyping the characters and themes, a thing that can be extended to a lot of other girls’ games, especially Barbie games. The space where these games were set in was another major factor.

Space is a keyword here. The pinball culture if the mid-1900’s was very masculine and based on long-standing tradition of penny arcades. When these games began to appear outside their initially designated areas, e.g. pinballs in restaurants and shopping centres, it was seen as a positive progress as anyone, women included, could now access these machines. As games moved away from spaces that were largely seen as dominated by men like universities’ IT-departments and penny arcades, the view on them changed. Pinball is not associated with violent rebels any more, but as a classic game everybody can play. Similarly, the advent of Japanese games in arcades and the renaissance of electronic gaming after the second Video game Crash introduced further colourful and fantastic creatures to the electronic game culture. Pac-Man, Mario Bros., and their like, despite being competitive, offered visuals that weren’t all about blowing shit up, but also attractive colours and challenges that weren’t just about the abstract.

It should be noted that games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and Abe’s Odyssey garnered players from both sexes, and both games shows that in the end, the player character doesn’t really matter as people don’t tend to see themselves in the character. If there is a character creation, sometimes people make themselves, but often it’s an admired, a fantasy version of themselves. They create a fantasy persona, and similarly each player character out there is a fantasy persona that the player doesn’t exactly identify with. After all, the player character is largely unimportant, the game world is what matters.

Perhaps the only truly neutral game between the spaces and cultures is Tetris. Tetris wasn’t just a game that can be described a perfect game and neutral, but a game that was everywhere. It was on home computer where anyone could play it and it was on the Game Boy where everyone could carry it with them. There is no true confrontation in the game, and despite the having a competitive goal in form of scoring, the gameplay is from neither side particularly.