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Author Topic: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?  (Read 13665 times)

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Offline SethalaTopic starter

Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« on: August 28, 2014, 06:39:35 PM »
I have a sinking suspicion that this will end up getting locked sooner rather than later, but the optimist in me still thinks that there's some valuable discussion to be had here, where most of us are reasonably rational, and... well, I can't really find another place online that isn't consumed by either the echo chamber effect (in one direction or the other), or discussion about trolls.

For those who don't know, Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist blogger that has done quite a few videos on Youtube, most notably her "Tropes vs Women" series.  Recently, she started up a new series funded by Kickstarter about "Tropes vs Women in Video Games", which are the videos I want to talk about.  A playlist of the videos in this series so far is here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLn4ob_5_ttEaA_vc8F3fjzE62esf9yP61

I'd like to keep this discussion on the topic of the videos themselves.  Thus, I'm going to ask that no one bring up issues related to trolls against her, what she's actually done with the kickstarter money, whether or not she was a "gamer" before this series came out, where she got her footage and art assets from, or any other "controversies" about Anita herself.  I think that some of those topics can be an interesting discussion on their own, and if someone else wants to make a new thread to discuss them or chat about it over PMs that's perfectly fine, but let's keep it out of this thread.

Now, on to the videos themselves.  Admittedly, I haven't watched all of them yet (though I plan on doing so after posting this), but one thing that seems to stick out at me from what I have seen is that it doesn't feel like she's taking a balanced look; a lot of it seems like she's intentionally taking things out of context in order to make a point.  An example would be how she talks about GTA in the first "women as background decoration" video; she talks quite a bit about how the player can attack female NPCs and uses that as an example of sexism, however she doesn't mention anything about the player being able to attack any NPC, not just female ones, and there's no difference in the rewards for doing so between the two sexes, which really undermines her point.

Anyway, I'd like to know what you guys think while I go back and re-watch all of them.  Hopefully we can get something interesting going on here.

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2014, 05:18:03 AM »
Anita is a professional victim and sadly a typical example of the outspoken Tumblr feminist. Is gaming a boys club? Less and less every year, but yes, it is primarily a male centric thing. On that, me and her agree. What we don't agree on is her many examples of how gaming either puts down or outright pushes out women or encourages Patriarchy. She's been demonstrated multiple times to twist facts to fit her bias. For example, she pointed out a scene in the game Prey where your girlfriend has been partially converted into a cybernetic monster. She asks you to kill her and put her out of her misery because she doesn't want to be some aliens sick nightmare creation.

Sounds pretty moving, huh? This woman, faced with the complete ruination of her entire life decides to end it on her own terms and preserve what dignity she has, while she has the deterministic power to do so. Oh, wait, if you're Anita Sarkeesian, this is CLEARLY an endorsement of Patriarchy, because 'she's asking for it'. I mean, men always make excuses to beat up their wives, right? They usually deserve what they get, right? What better excuse is there then "Oh no, I have Giger stuff spilling out of my flesh, please kill me honey". She's clearly inviting violence on herself from her significant other. What a transparent endorsement of spousal abuse, what a male power fantasy!

Anita is a joke.

Offline Avis habilis

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2014, 09:26:55 AM »
« Last Edit: August 29, 2014, 09:28:10 AM by Avis habilis »

Offline Shjade

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2014, 11:04:51 AM »
I wouldn't call Anita a joke. Her intentions (assuming I take them at face value) seem good, and it's not as though the topic is one devoid of merit. However, her approach feels sorely lacking. Not because of the examples - which, for the most part, seem valid. Women are consistently victimized across a variety of game genres to a greater extent than are men.

It just seems like she's incapable of coming to any greater conclusion than, "Women are being exploited in games."

"Look at all these ways women are exploited in games," she seems to say. At which point I reply, "Well, yes, everyone already knew that. What next?" And there is no "what next" to her position, at least not one that I recall noting in the handful of videos I watched before giving up. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, the one that might have suggestions for alternatives in game design or character creation or, y'know, anything, really, but it always seemed to amount to her going, "Look at all these examples of exploitation. How shameful." And that was it.

How is this any more useful or informative than looking at tvtropes' many examples of mistreated female characters, or Women In Refrigerators, or any of the other already-existing criticism of games and media for their treatment of women? Why did she feel compelled to make a series of videos that are essentially just lists of examples that were already obvious?

I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt - I'm sure she means well. I just wish her content had more meat to it. As it is, it felt like a waste of my time.

Offline SethalaTopic starter

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2014, 11:13:02 AM »
I wouldn't call Anita a joke. Her intentions (assuming I take them at face value) seem good, and it's not as though the topic is one devoid of merit. However, her approach feels sorely lacking. Not because of the examples - which, for the most part, seem valid. Women are consistently victimized across a variety of game genres to a greater extent than are men.

It just seems like she's incapable of coming to any greater conclusion than, "Women are being exploited in games."

"Look at all these ways women are exploited in games," she seems to say. At which point I reply, "Well, yes, everyone already knew that. What next?" And there is no "what next" to her position, at least not one that I recall noting in the handful of videos I watched before giving up. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, the one that might have suggestions for alternatives in game design or character creation or, y'know, anything, really, but it always seemed to amount to her going, "Look at all these examples of exploitation. How shameful." And that was it.

How is this any more useful or informative than looking at tvtropes' many examples of mistreated female characters, or Women In Refrigerators, or any of the other already-existing criticism of games and media for their treatment of women? Why did she feel compelled to make a series of videos that are essentially just lists of examples that were already obvious?

I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt - I'm sure she means well. I just wish her content had more meat to it. As it is, it felt like a waste of my time.

Yes, thank you, I knew something was bugging me about her videos but I couldn't figure out how to say it.  It's a list of cliches used that often put women in a bad light, but her only real follow up to it is to say "don't do that", without really talking about any alternatives.  I think if she took a game that used some of her tropes, really went into detail on it, deconstructed it, and offered ideas of how she would have changed things to make it more "women-friendly", we'd be getting somewhere.

I think that, combined with a few examples that I know are taken well out of context (one of her videos showing how the player can attack a pair of strippers when sneaking through their dressing room, without ever mentioning that the player is actively penalized for doing so, or that most of the time it's easier to take a different path and bypass the strippers entirely, while strongly implying that a player is encouraged to attack them, for instance) really harms her attempts to create a discussion.

Now, I do agree, after watching her latest video, a few of the things she points out are definitely sexist and should probably not be done, but a few other examples I look at and say "Well yes, it's degrading to that woman, but that alone isn't reason to completely scratch the idea if it furthers the narrative."  Though admittedly, most of the games she's talked about are ones I've never played myself, so it's a bit hard to really say how much of it is justified in context and how much isn't.

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2014, 11:14:39 AM »
Shjade makes a much better case of it. I agree with everything you said.

Offline Shjade

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2014, 11:17:10 AM »
Shjade makes a much better case of it. I agree with everything you said.

Considering your earlier post, that actually worries me a bit, to be honest.

other examples I look at and say "Well yes, it's degrading to that woman, but that alone isn't reason to completely scratch the idea if it furthers the narrative."  Though admittedly, most of the games she's talked about are ones I've never played myself, so it's a bit hard to really say how much of it is justified in context and how much isn't.

The problem with this line of thinking is that violence against women is used to "further the narrative" way too often. That's why that site I linked earlier (Women In Refrigerators) already existed. It's a pervasive theme in media: women are victims.

The fact that that's pretty much reaching the point of common knowledge is why I'm not so much a fan of Anita's work, though. It feels like they call attention to things that already have that attention, at least from people willing to give it. They're not videos that seem likely to convince people of a problem existing who don't already think there's a problem; not exactly preaching to the choir, but not persuasive enough to bring the choir more members.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2014, 11:21:03 AM by Shjade »

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2014, 11:21:57 AM »
I dislike Anita as a person for reasons the OP has asked not be discussed, so that does bleed through into my opinion of her videos. If I step back and take a more objective view of things, you and I tend to think very similarly.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2014, 11:41:30 AM »
Speaking here as a female gamer.

The thing that bugs me about most people who criticize tropes in gaming, TV, movies, etc. is that they're mostly talk.  Now, if someone were to say 'These games all follow this harmful trope, and so I'm going to come up with a game that reverses that trope and is still fun to play' - then we're getting somewhere.  For example - for the longest time, all player characters in games were male (or at best, gender-neutral).  The game designers knew that their main audience was male, and guys didn't want to pretend to be girls.  (Shush - I'm a cross-player, too.) 

Then, along came Metroid.  Technically, Ms. Pacman came first, but I doubt anyone really 'identified' themselves with either PacMan or the missus.  Metroid, showed a recognizably human figure doing all the things that game heroes did (defeating bad guys, solving puzzles, all kinds of physical stuff), and then we found out that Samus was female.  It's one of Nintendo's most highly acclaimed (many reviews in the 90% range) and financially successful series.

If Anita Sarkeesian were to even propose the plot of a game that countered the tropes that she rails against, then I would consider giving her more than a cursory glance.

Offline Formless

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2014, 12:24:17 PM »
Speaking here as a female gamer.

The thing that bugs me about most people who criticize tropes in gaming, TV, movies, etc. is that they're mostly talk.  Now, if someone were to say 'These games all follow this harmful trope, and so I'm going to come up with a game that reverses that trope and is still fun to play' - then we're getting somewhere.  For example - for the longest time, all player characters in games were male (or at best, gender-neutral).  The game designers knew that their main audience was male, and guys didn't want to pretend to be girls.  (Shush - I'm a cross-player, too.) 

Then, along came Metroid.  Technically, Ms. Pacman came first, but I doubt anyone really 'identified' themselves with either PacMan or the missus.  Metroid, showed a recognizably human figure doing all the things that game heroes did (defeating bad guys, solving puzzles, all kinds of physical stuff), and then we found out that Samus was female.  It's one of Nintendo's most highly acclaimed (many reviews in the 90% range) and financially successful series.

If Anita Sarkeesian were to even propose the plot of a game that countered the tropes that she rails against, then I would consider giving her more than a cursory glance.

That is the sound argument critics should be heeding.

Alas , most critics be it Anita , or any other critic are only there to criticize. Some are fond of their own voices , and some can only feed on the backlash of those whom they target.

The gaming scene does require a lot of renovation when it comes to its current formula. But whose willing to take the first step? Whose willing to Begin the reformation?

But to speak the truth , It is not easy to come up with a plot so compelling to draw the attention of the gaming community. Be it about a male or a female protagonist. And adds up to that difficulty is maintaining and interesting gaming mechanic that keep the player entertained while the story slowly progresses.

Its doable , but not easy.

Offline Avis habilis

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2014, 12:25:42 PM »
If Anita Sarkeesian were to even propose the plot of a game that countered the tropes that she rails against, then I would consider giving her more than a cursory glance.

You mean like this?

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2014, 12:31:35 PM »
Games like that do exist. Women have been represented as strong and independent playable characters more often every year. The trope of the kidnapped princess waiting to be saved is something that rarely shows up outside of parody any more.

Gaming is already well on it's way past a lot of Anita's issues.

Offline Formless

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2014, 12:37:55 PM »
Games like that do exist. Women have been represented as strong and independent playable characters more often every year. The trope of the kidnapped princess waiting to be saved is something that rarely shows up outside of parody any more.

Gaming is already well on it's way past a lot of Anita's issues.

Actually the likes of Anita may start with a good cause in mind.

But little by little the idea of them realizing someone wants to listen to them gets to their head , and slowly they start to target whatever they can reach.

So even in a perfect world , they wouldn't shut up. This is why it is easier to just play a game for the purpose it is intended for ' having fun ' and stop right there.

Offline Euron Greyjoy

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2014, 12:45:06 PM »
Yes lets ignore the minor (huge) fact that she lied to her audience, not to mention stole other people's work rather than use the money she got from Kickstarter to make her own. Its amusing how violence against men is seen as the norm for feminists, with men being seen as faceless shooting targets. Men in video games are nothing, but objects to acted upon with no real world consequences. Even games with female protagonists or games that allow you to choose your gender, promote violence against men.


Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2014, 12:51:27 PM »
Actually the likes of Anita may start with a good cause in mind.

She may very well be trying to perform an honest service. All I'm saying is that she misrepresents the issue by conflating it to a state it hasn't been in for a good long while. Whether this is intentional or not is up for debate. Her observations can be accurate, but untimely. If this were 1995, her videos would be much more informative, but where we stand now she's chasing an ambulance that barely leaves the hospital.

Even games with female protagonists or games that allow you to choose your gender, promote violence against men.

Meh, ya gotta shoot something in a game, and they can't all be robots :P This is why the best option is to go for realism rather then political correctness. GTA4 is set in a fictional New York City, and that's why equal numbers of men and women walk the street. It's not because Rockstar goes "Gee, what gender do I enjoy harming more? I can't decide"
« Last Edit: August 29, 2014, 12:59:17 PM by Sabby »

Offline Avis habilis

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #15 on: August 29, 2014, 12:52:00 PM »
I'm going to ask that no one bring up issues related to trolls against her, what she's actually done with the kickstarter money, whether or not she was a "gamer" before this series came out, where she got her footage and art assets from, or any other "controversies" about Anita herself.

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #16 on: August 29, 2014, 12:57:59 PM »
Oh, I missed one of those points. Apologies. Edited.

Offline Euron Greyjoy

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2014, 01:07:10 PM »
Meh, ya gotta shoot something in a game, and they can't all be robots :P This is why the best option is to go for realism rather then political correctness. GTA4 is set in a fictional New York City, and that's why equal numbers of men and women walk the street. It's not because Rockstar goes "Gee, what gender do I enjoy harming more? I can't decide"
What about the fact that the cops and military agents of the patriarchy, are all men? Granted I'm trying to satirize feminists by playing the victim card, but as a someone who is used to taking responsibility its hard.

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #18 on: August 29, 2014, 01:09:19 PM »
Are we still talking video games?

Offline Euron Greyjoy

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #19 on: August 29, 2014, 01:18:02 PM »
Are we still talking video games?
Yeah look at Grand Theft Auto and Saint's Row, all the cops are men.

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #20 on: August 29, 2014, 01:37:21 PM »
Honestly, I'd like the police in GTA like games to have both genders like in real life. Then again, I'm one of those weird gamers who actively avoid harming random people in games. Usually when I run down a pedestrian in GTA4 it's an accident while pursuing an actual enemy. But when that happens I prefer it to have impact rather then being comical. So yeah, I'm all for child pedestrians and female cops.

But that's me, I'm fully aware that the average gamer prefers to kill indiscriminately, and that's one of the reasons female cops and children don't exist in many games. They're already called murder simulators by the media.

Offline Vekseid

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #21 on: August 29, 2014, 01:49:14 PM »
Some of Anita's points come off as awkward. She's offended when a man is inspired by someone close to them who happens to be a woman? Should I be offended when a woman tells me they were inspired to write, say, or do something because of me?

Mostly, though, she tends to draw out and complicate the core point. We all expect extras to be part of the scenery, so to speak, but I've scene reverse skits where men get objectified the way women are often -

- Reactive rather than active, if they're mobile at all.
- No thought context outside of that of the privileged gender. Think the Bechdel test, but expanded to include their actual actions as well. Boy meets girl, girl suddenly decides she's going to devote her life to 'fixing' him.
- They don't drive plot, what's done to them, or their reaction to something or some state (either highly stereotypical or out of complete nowhere) drives plot.

It really is more awkward seeing a man take up significant screen time in this position. I shouldn't find it to be, but I do try to be better about it.

She draws this point out over the course of a lot of videos, but they're all very complaining about the same characterization flaws. A lot of people do this, either due to lack of practice in being pithy, intentionally trying to inflate their word count, or both.

I think it's better to simply point out the flaws in characterization plainly, either as a crystal-clear conclusion, the premise, or both.

Offline consortium11

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #22 on: August 29, 2014, 02:04:16 PM »
You mean like this?

But according to her own take on the trope that is still a game which relies on the damsel in distress trope.

Remember, "damselling" is something that happens to the character, not what the character is. The fact that the Last Princess later escapes all on her own and regains agency doesn't change the fact that she is still "damselled" at the very start. It also renders many of her points later in that series about how having help from others doesn't mean damselling seem rather bizzare... the example she uses in the video from Beyond Good and Evil is an explicit damselling... the female character is captured and cannot escape until she is rescued by another character.

Hell, lets go a little more metagame with this. Damselling is intended to give the protagonist character a motivation. But looked at in meta-terms it's to provide the player with motivation. The point of the plot is to give the player something to invest them in the game beyond the gameplay itself and the point of damselling is to add a motivation to that plot. In Mario you're not randomly jumping into and over blocks because it looks fun... you're doing it to save Princess Peach. It may not really work... in truth it frequently doesn't... but that's why it's done... a cheap and easy way to motivate the player.

And looked at in those terms The Legend of the Last Princess is about as blatant a damselling as one can get.

Why can't the Princess avoid being kidnapped in the first place? Because the narrative demands it and if she's not captured there's no motivation for her to escape. She's had her agency removed. The entire plot and motivation of the game (at least until the last part) is about seeking revenge for a kidnapping which removed all agency from the character. The Princess' entire life, history and story is merely to provide motivation for the player to complete the game. The fact that she's the protagonist doesn't change that. She's been damselled. More, she doesn't actually have any agency. Why does she escape? Because the narrative demands it. Why does she change outfits? Because the narrative demands it. Why does she navigate the Forbidden Forrest? Because the narrative demands it. Why does she level up her skills? Because the narrative demands it. Why does she learn stealth abilities and disguises? Because the narrative demands it. Why does she confront the council? Because the narrative demands it. Why does she abolish the monarchy forever? Because the narrative demands it.

When did she ever have a choice that wasn't driven entirely by the narrative?

(We'll ignore the fact that the basis of the plot in the Last Princess game doesn't make sense... she wants revenge against the Council that had her kidnapped and abolished the monarchy because she wants to abolish the monarchy...)

Moreover, the damsel in distress trope is a symptom of the real problem here, not the problem in-and-of itself. The objections she lists to the trope... the lack of agency, the lack of any story outside of the protagonists own, being little more than a MacGuffin... aren't in any way exclusive to damsels in distress. They're there in the vast, vast, vast majority of non-protagonist characters in virtually all games and are a result of the fact that there are a lot of bad writers across all media, including video games (although the nature and constraints of video games tends to make it more pronounced).

How many games are there when the non-protagonist character gets to tell their own story that isn't dependent on the protagonist character? How many of them retain their agency at all times rather than becoming a plot development point? How many of them aren't there to simply provide something for the protagonist character (and thus the player); be it motivation, assistance, entertainment or opposition?

The nature of video games means they are almost always the protagonists story with the other characters simply flicking in and out as the narrative demands. Their agency will almost always be non-existent, their stories beyond what the protagonist does limited at best. The solution to that isn't simply deliberately avoiding the use of damsels in distress, its improving writing full-stop.

Offline Sabby

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #23 on: August 29, 2014, 02:12:55 PM »
How many games are there when the non-protagonist character gets to tell their own story that isn't dependent on the protagonist character? How many of them retain their agency at all times rather than becoming a plot development point? How many of them aren't there to simply provide something for the protagonist character (and thus the player); be it motivation, assistance, entertainment or opposition?

Hmm, I'm not sure it's possible to represent another character in the same way you do the protagonist. The games story is presented from one persons perspective, so no other person can have equal representation. But as for characters merely being a tool to drive the main characters story forward, there are many examples of Triple A games that don't do this.

Rockstar, for example, fill their game worlds with characters who have their own story arcs that have little or no immediate benefit to the gamer. GTA4, Red Dead Redemption and their expansion packs have multiple groups of people whose stories intersect with the playable characters in much the same way that multiple real people would. You're still seeing all this from the inherently self centered perspective of one human with their own objectives, but you're still witnessing people and stories that appear to exist irregardless of you. If you had never come by, these stories would have happened without you. You are not the center of this world.

Offline Shjade

Re: Thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian's videos?
« Reply #24 on: August 29, 2014, 03:20:20 PM »
On phone so I'll keep it brief.

Just thinking over the most recent posts re: how to have multiple characters with agency, it's kinda cheating but I'd say some jrpgs come closest to this. There's usually a main character, but several party members off ten have their own, sometimes conflicting goals in play. For all its faults (and good lord it has a lot of them), FFX makes a fair example for this with Yuna vs Tidus for the first half at least.

Edit: now that I'm home I can extrapolate a little more. On the one hand, there's the whole "Tidus is saving Yuna by changing her mind" thing, which could be seen as a damsel-type situation. On the other, if he's saving her from something, it's from a) society and/or b) herself, as opposed to an actual imminent threat. The big villain of the game is something she's lived her whole life learning how to defeat (with, y'know, a bit of sacrifice thrown in), so she doesn't really need to be "saved" from it. Moreover, while there's some pressure on her to live up to her responsibilities, as far as I recall it's her choice: she's choosing to follow this path to the bitter end to help everyone else. She's not the screaming blonde tied to a post for King Kong to come pick up at his leisure; she's going out into the jungle to hunt him down, even if she's expecting to not come back from the experience.

Gripes about the quality of writing (and voice acting aslgkjasdnfasdfhs) aside, the characters themselves sorta point this out throughout the game, with Tidus and Yuna sorta competing over whose story it really is. It's Tidus' story since he's this displaced hero-out-of-time here to change everyone's minds and save the world, and in that sense Yuna's as much his goal as his companion. It's Yuna's story since she's the one with the real power to save the world, regardless of the cost, and Tidus is just one of her many bodyguards and travel companions. The other characters have less claim to the main plot - Auron probably has the best argument going with a legacy/carrying on for his fallen friends angle - but Tidus and Yuna have ongoing and somewhat conflicting goals through a good part of the game.

...and then FFX-2 happened. -.-


Just off the top of my head, because I feel like I should at least attempt contributing some kind of game mechanics concept for affording agency/plot significance beyond being a gimmick/tool for side characters (regardless of gender, really), I think timed events might be a way to go with it. I'm thinking about all those games where you have a laundry list of characters who are more or less just designed to be cash and experience vending machines with glowing !'s above their heads: quest givers, plot-movers, whatever you want to call them, particularly in games where there are heaps of these people in big hubs.

What if those quests could be completed without the player's involvement?

Maybe they won't be done as successfully, or without cost, but they still get done. The mail gets delivered, but a few minutes later than it would've if you'd done it for them. Whatever. Things get done without you if you wait too long to do them yourself. Or, as an alternative, maybe the quest-giver decides to do something else entirely, solve their problem in a completely different way. It affords developers some room to give these normally inconsequential NPCs some small leeway, something at least resembling agency, in allowing them to fend for themselves if the player's not actively pulling them into the story. And, of course, this would have repercussions further down the line, probably in the form of less goodwill toward the player, maybe even outright hostility in some cases. Maybe it changes the political landscape of the area later and you have to deal with the fallout of not having gotten in on the ground floor of that revolution you ignored.

The trick to giving non-player characters value in games is to make them important for reasons other than getting a Game Over if you fail their escort mission. Let NPCs interact with the game world the way players do, albeit on a smaller scale and off-screen. Maybe some kind of randomizing program involved so they won't always make the same choice if they're ignored, or won't always succeed at what they set out to do. Maybe sometimes the coup succeeds, sometimes it fails. Sometimes it succeeds but the leader dies and his more conservative second in command takes over - that guy who you seem to recall didn't like you very much. Maybe it fails but causes the current regime to rethink some of its policies. All of this can happen as atmosphere, setting the scene around the player, making the world more active without requiring the player's direct interference at every step along the way. It's when you hold all progress in the game world until the player intervenes that the player becomes the only entity in the world with agency.

Now I have no idea how to program my way out of a cardboard box, so I can't make anything close to a suggestion for how to make any of that work in a game, but from a big picture/drawing board/brainstorming perspective, I think that's what I'd aim for. Less D&D-style game worlds where you get a quest and set out to act on the world to complete it, more Apocalypse World where the players are just some (admittedly powerful) people in a much, much larger world that expands and breathes and lives all around them even when they're not doing anything to it themselves.

Edit 2:
You mean like this?
After watching this...I find myself more or less agreeing with Consortium. Even if she saves herself, the story dynamic is the same in many ways. On second thought, while the story she suggests is far from original (and really how many games are at this point), it is an improvement. I think it's the "princess" part that's throwing me more than the dynamics: if it were, say, a genderswapped Wolfenstein 3D setup, for instance, in which the protagonist is an allied soldier caught behind enemy lines, jailed in a nazi prison and subsequently breaks herself out while foiling Hitler's plans along the way, it'd be essentially the same structure as Anita's suggestion, minus the trappings of kidnapped princess. As Consortium pointed out, as-is, it still starts out portraying females in power as weaker than their male counterparts. I mean, think about it: if it were a prince the council were overthrowing, wouldn't they have just killed him rather than kidnapped him, thereby removing the risk of his possible escape and retaliation? They don't worry about that with the princess 'cause, c'mon, she's a princess. The fact that she proves them wrong later doesn't remove that initial assumption. I dunno. It seems iffy to me.

On the plus side, it did remind me of a great Jonathan Coulton song.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2014, 05:05:08 PM by Shjade »