24
Feb
15

Is it bad to draw in the Manga or Anime style?

Before I climb onto my high horse and incur the wrath of an entire generation of budding artists, it’s probably best if I go over my qualifications as a rider, so to speak. Yes I am a professional artist. Art is keeping me fed and paying my mortgage. I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to stop eating crayons, and I’ve been lucky to enjoy a classical art education and 13 years as a professional 2D and 3D artist in the games industry before going to teach the same at Bradford University where I’ve been running the BA Graphics for Games course for 5 years. I now run their whole Games, Animation and VFX division. So I’m just saying I know what I’m talking about here, in case you were wondering.

If you Google “Why is drawing Mange/Anime bad?” You’ll get around 2.6 million results, mostly from forums on Deviant Art or similar asking why this is considered a problem, followed by another 100 bazillion replies from those who vehemently tell them it’s not. In all the impassioned posts and replies there seems to be a lack of professionally presented opinion, which is why riding my horse of average height into this debate.

One of the main issues that is glossed over in the midst of all the shouting is that the well-established “Manga/Anime style” that everyone seems to have an opinion about, is not just one style but a fairly wide variety of aesthetics that range from highly graphic design based (e.g. super deformed) to very slick and commercial (e.g. classic airbrushed Manga) to just plain cheap and nasty (e.g. sweatshop produced anime cartoons). There are many young, budding artists who are inspired to draw by all of these types of Manga or Anime and this is a good thing – anything that inspires someone to draw will help them to become a better artist. Practice makes perfect, right? Well yes. And no.

All artists need practice, but amateur artists who want to transition from beginner to a proficiency of drawing will need to plan that practice in order to progress. And this is where drawing in the Manga/Anime style can be as much of a hindrance as a help. Here’s how it happens:

First of all, many an amateur Anime/Manga artist sets their benchmark for quality at the lowest possible standard; e.g. the cheaply produced anime of Toei Animation studios (creators of many an outsourced TV cartoon including Dragonball) and their kind, rather than the highly commercial airbrushed artwork of Shirow Masamune, or the superbly detailed penmanship of Kentaro Miura or similar[1]. Compare the latter with so-called “Anime royalty” Studio Ghibli and you’ll see a world of difference in style and quality. Even the best aren’t necessarily considered the best, artistically speaking.

Then many of these artists decide that as soon as they have produced an approximation of cheap and nasty Anime, they have “made it” as an artist, and can now sit back and enjoy the plaudits of their peers and a long, lucrative career in the aforementioned style, probably at Studio Ghibli itself or at the very least Capcom or Namco.

This is where the problem of “is Anime bad?” really lies. It’s not about the styles in themselves; it’s more about the misuse of the least challenging variety as a shortcut to artistic prowess at the expense of a wider understanding of aesthetics, theory and technique. Am I saying that Manga or Anime have none of these things? Absolutely not. But simply learning to copy the least challenging aspects of a whole culture of graphical and artistic expression isn’t going to make anyone a great artist.

To examine this issue in more detail – I am an academic in art after all – I’ve broken it down into four critical issues of only drawing in a Manga or Anime style, and why this is limiting to developing artists. Me and my horse will now trample all over them. Sorry.

Aiming low

Aiming low is my personal bugbear with Anime and Manga wannabes. Many of these artists are so obsessed with the subject they are unaware that they’re aiming low in many of their artistic efforts. Mostly what is presented to me at applicant interviews and in first year personal work is a straightforward copy of someone else’s art – and usually this is done badly. I’ve seen countless student portfolios of copied work, some of it line for line. While copying is a good start to developing your observational muscles, this is kid’s stuff and should happen right at the start of your artistic journey, not when you’re 18 and looking for a place at university or have already secured one. If you’re still copying someone else’s work at this stage in your artistic development, as opposed to dissecting it and incorporating its influences, techniques and styles into your own artistic experiments, you’re not a buffed up artist, you’re a puny mimic. Ouch.

But is this because budding Anime and Manga artists want an easy life? I don’t think this is a conscious decision. But copying Anime is quick and there are some very accessible rules (or “formal elements” as we classical artists like to call them) of Manga that make it easy to follow, albeit easy to follow badly. It’s much easier to follow the formal elements of the cheaper, mass produced kind of Anime than it is to follow the formal elements of drawing in general. And this is what makes Manga and Anime drawing so seductive – the results are almost instant, which makes for a very easy life as an artist. You know, as opposed to the life of every other kind of artist which is fraught with long, hard practice, failed experiments and the risky revelation of your innermost being on the page for everyone to see and critique as you develop your own personal style. Much easier, then, to copy something already established and beyond question. This is where drawing in an Anime style is not so good for you.

Formal elements of drawing

So what are the formal elements of drawing that can be safely ignored if the artist is obsessed with copying an established, but simplified style such as the cheaper kind of Anime? The short answer is: Most of them.

The longer answer includes elements such as composition, depth, framing, posture, pose, balance, weight, dynamism, line, implied line, tone, colour theory, a variety of materials and mark making techniques that range from impressionistic to gestural. Planning on the page, the construction of form, negative space, complex perspectives and foreshortening, and not least of all human anatomy are not really part of the formal elements of cheap Manga or Anime. But they form the basis of all observational drawing and are used extensively in Manga’s more sophisticated varieties. Sadly they are suspiciously absent in the amateur Manga artist portfolio 99 times out of 100, because those are not the varieties of Manga that young artists aspire to.

Artificially limiting your influences

Ignoring the formal elements is easy when you don’t know what they are in the first place, and this happens when artists artificially limit their influences – for example by only watching every kind of Dragonball anime and playing JRPGs exclusively. Everyone has a geeky passion that consumes them and inspires them in equal measure, and that’s great – mine is sci-fi and fantasy – but don’t let it blind you to a whole world of visual information and inspiration. The best Manga artists are inspired by other things and bring them into their art, which is why every artist needs to do the same, no matter what style they prefer.

But let’s talk about style for a moment. How do accomplished artists evolve their own personal styles? Animal sacrifice? A visit by the Originality Fairy? Who knows? On a personal level this is one of life’s great mysteries. On a wider, strategic level it’s through a repeated cycle of exploration, observation, inspiration, experimenting, failure, serendipity and practice.

In many ways this is no different to what a wannabe Anime artist does – except these artists just look to one place and one place only and conveniently forgetting the element of exploring mentioned above. This means they are artificially stifling any kind of transition from copycat to innovator and their work becomes cripplingly derivative, and usually not as good as the source material either, because it isn’t underpinned by all the necessary formal elements that underpin all great drawing.

Expand your horizons! Opening up your sphere of influences is critical to becoming a proficient artist, and it’s fun too! Being inspired by something randomly beautiful wherever you may find beauty is what being an artist is all about. But you have to open your eyes to new experiences and (and this is the biggie) get out there to experience them. This means leaving the comfortable safety net of Anime behind, although you can come back to it newly invigorated, refreshed and better informed. That’s what artists do too.

What I’m trying to say is that Manga and Anime styles are OK as long as they are underpinned by those formal elements that are most obvious outside of Manga and Anime. Otherwise they are just copies of throwaway commercial works that were designed to be quick and make the most profit for the smallest possible investment. How could any artist progress if that is their personal business model?

Commercial viability

Talking of business, Anime and Manga are huge commercial entities that are gleefully consumed by fans all over the world. Studio Ghibli, the Anime movie studio that is arguably the biggest in western markets, is reported to have annual production costs of over ¥2 billion (that’s nearly £11 billion)[2]. This may sound like money to burn, but the truth is that Ghibli is an exception to the rule. Anime in particular is mostly produced on the cheap. This is partly due to location: Eastern labour markets work differently to western ones, which is why places like Toei Animation did so much outsourcing for American cartoon companies like Hanna Barbera etc. But it’s also about quantity, market saturation, and the often crushing deadlines of commercial media, because this stuff is needed in bucket loads, and it’s needed fast.

Chances are you’ve heard of the Project Management or Production Triangle, where each of the corners point to fast, cheap and good (or derivatives thereof). The idea is that anything produced can work in positive terms of two of the three, but not all three at the same time. So just like any media product you can have artwork that is fast and good, because there are very highly skilled artists making it, but they cost a lot of money. Or you can have artwork that is cheap and good, but this takes a long time to produce due to smaller or more inexperienced teams with longer deadlines.

Anime is no different, and in this production triangle a lot of it sits firmly in the “fast” and “cheap” corners. As an artist, do you really want to position yourself in this part of the market, to work to crushing deadlines for very little money? There is a reason why I used the word “sweatshop” earlier.

Yes there are exceptions in Manga and Anime, as there are in every line of commercial art. But these exceptions (like Kentaro Miura mentioned above) are hugely successful artists who helped shape the medium from the start of their careers. They’re the innovators here, not the followers. Followers get to work fast and cheap, remember?

This is where I come to an uncomfortable truth about market differences in Europe and Japan: I have never met a western artist who has made it working in a Japanese market on artwork that is so culturally Japanese. And I’ve mingled with literally thousands of artists in games, animation and illustration.

Why this is, I can’t say for certain. I do know that Japanese culture is not as welcoming to outsiders as European culture is, for example. I also know that Japanese media markets are much more insular than Western ones: Media tends to flow out of Japan, not into it. Just look at the hardware sales of Nintendo and Sony in Japan and compare them to Microsoft. Japanese consumers are not hugely interested in western versions of their own, home-grown culture. If you think this is racist, try to look at it this way: If someone from half way across the globe showed up and tried to tell you how to make your greatest selling national cultural media, how would you feel? Especially if they weren’t very good at it, and didn’t understand the intricacies of the medium like you do.

So to answer the question is it bad to draw in an Anime or Manga style, the answer is probably yes: Yes, if you aim low and are bad at it. Yes, if you use the style as an excuse not to develop as an artist. Yes, if you don’t want to work in a cheap, rushed production line of throwaway artwork. And even then, yes if you are not of Japanese descent.

But drawing Manga and Anime is not a completely or inherently bad idea either: Not if you aim high and use the masters as your benchmark. Not if you use these influences as part of your wider artistic journey of self-discovery in developing your own unique artistic style and flair. As for eastern labour markets, it’s up to you if you want to give them a try for a couple of years. Expand your horizons, remember? But don’t expect anyone to roll out the red carpet for you – you’re on your own.

 

[1] Please note I am not making any judgement calls about content here, just about skill and sophistication of technique.

[2] http://kotaku.com/studio-ghibli-might-quit-making-feature-films-says-rep-1608198259

10
Sep
13

Why the suicide of Harley Quinn for marketing purposes is a problem

Today I discovered that DC comics were organizing a new search for talented artists, by setting a brief that I believe is disrespectful at best and dangerous at worst. The brief: Draw Harley Quinn. Naked. And committing suicide.

I was appalled, and immediately tweeted that I saw this as a betrayal of my many years of DC fandom (I have several signed Batman comics, and have an enduring love for all things Vertigo). I also pledged that DC would never get another penny from me again. And this is why:

Women in significant parts of the world are considered disposable. We are bought and sold. We are forced to marry when we are still children, regardless of outcome.  Women are used up and thrown away, as seen in the recent gang rapes in India, or the college rapes in America. We have acid thrown in our faces. Or we are shot, just for trying to get an education. In short: women are brutalised and marginalised all the time in real life. And that is a problem.

In the wider media women don’t fare much better because media mirrors society. In films we don’t get that many speaking roles, and when we do, these roles aren’t even about our own stories. In games women are often reduced to rescue-fodder. Or fetishized in- and outside of the game itself. Even the great bastions of international industry aren’t immune to the dismissal of women as a selection of traits that are designed to appeal to men. No matter how much they try to back pedal.

In comics we know that women have historically had a bad time. Many heroines have to endure some kind of emotional and sexual abuse in order to give them any kind of agency in the narrative. And a significant number of secondary female characters are so inconsequential that they were consigned to death in fridges – I mean seriously: In fridges – simply to provide motivation for a male character to go on some kind of revenge spree. Many a “dark origin story” is a dark ending for the woman. Even if women do occasionally get to be bad-ass super heroines, the emphasis is firmly on the “ass” in ways the male superheroes never have to endure. The Hawkeye Initiative proves that.

So where does that leave Harley Quinn, in her Goth-awesomeness and wild unpredictability? Somewhere between the alleged rape pits of Arkham City and the inhumane treatment of the mentally ill in Arkham Asylum, apparently. With a solid dash of well and truly misunderstood Suicide Girl thrown in.

Most of the comments I have received about the Harley Quinn naked in the bath problem have been well intentioned and ask valid questions such as: Isn’t suicide a valid narrative for a character with mental illness? And isn’t nudity in the bath to be expected and is therefore not sexual?

Here’s my response:

Many an artist or writer has explored the nature of mental illness in their narrative and in real life. There have been countless films and books and probably comics too (although I don’t know of any off hand), that feature suicide in their on-going narratives. I’m fairly sure superheroes kill themselves in the name of self-sacrifice every other day. But Harley Quinn isn’t doing that, and so this is different.

Agreed, in isolation using mental illness, suicide and taking a bath while naked, as narrative in comics is totally valid. Everyone bathes naked, right? But when you put them together you start a conflation of violence and vulnerability that is in this case dangerously sexualised. It’s the fetishisation of mental illness and suicide (and female mental illness and suicide in particular) that is the problem.

Imagine the famous shower scene from Psycho – which was already considered extremely shocking when it was released – but with a contemporary and much more sexualised framing of the action: The character has large, pneumatic breasts and a pout (as seen in current depictions of Harley Quinn), and she also has serious mental health issues. Then imagine it’s not Norman Bates who is preying on this woman at her most vulnerable, she’s doing it to herself.

And in this case it’s not an implied framing of the action where you never actually see the violence or the nudity, nor is it a bold plot point as part of a wider narrative that explores these issues in some complexity – it’s a stand-alone image outside of the DC universe canon. It’s a still frame out of any context other than the most crass and repugnant voyeurism, and is therefore a gratuitous marketing stunt.

As a DC fan I am shocked and disappointed. As a woman I am utterly appalled. As I type my cheeks are burning with indignation. It’s not enough that there are only a hand-full of women characters in comics to begin with. It’s not enough that those who survived the fridge have been brutalised in some way as punishment for making it through that ordeal. It’s also not enough that we have to see male characters dehumanising female characters as a means of affecting other male characters. Now these female characters have to do that to themselves. And it’s not even considered important enough to be part of the wider narrative of the universe. It’s torture porn. And it sickens me.

So DC aren’t getting any more money from me. Not for comics or any other spinoff. Goodbye giving a **** about the new Batman movie. Goodbye Superman movies of the future. Lobo, you were a contender for the name of my next dog. Not any more.

And with that many of the fond DC memories I already have are now tainted: Kid Eternity (I still❤ you, Duncan Fegredo), Enigma, Death.

It’s been fun, but what the actual fuck, DC?

EDIT: Since writing this article a couple of hours ago, I have been pointed to http://hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com/. Last time I checked, it has been 2 days since they did something stupid. And the list of stupid things they have done recently is impressive. Case in point, you might say.

But I still posit that casting another rock into the pool that is misogyny in the media is going to cause ripples that cannot be dismissed as mere stupidity.  Because if this really is about finding new artists for DC, it also counts as one of the most exclusionary recruitment strategies I’ve ever heard of, which borders on illegality. If I were at DC, I’d be calling my lawyers right about now.

03
Jul
12

No Girls Allowed

In recent days, the games industry and wider gaming scene as we all know and love it has become a very different place to be, whether physically as in the E3 Expo in LA, or digitally in multiplayer game spaces, or in any online arena. In the space of a few days, women in a variety of roles at the heart of games have been threatened with physical violence and rape in a tide of humiliation and vitriol that is as sudden as it is overt. When even the mainstream BBC is picking up articles about sexual harassment in the world of video gaming, then you know this is serious business. So what’s changed?

The fact is that women are being silenced, threatened with violence, rape and even death by a vast tide of commentators online. Rather than simply being underrepresented, as we are all very used to by now, we women in games are suddenly being denied a voice from within our own sub-culture, in almost every area:

Feminist Frequency blogger Anita Sarkeesian sought crowd-sourced funding for her Tropes VS. Women Kickstarter Project, a commentary and educational tool on how female characters are designed and used in games. She received literally thousands of threats of violence, rape and death. Her Wikipedia page was repeatedly defaced with pornography. Threats were made against her person. This happened before the project was even funded.

In game development, women haven’t been faring any better:  Jennifer Hepler, games writer at Bioware, was recently the recipient of a great deal of explicit and threatening hatred for voicing the opinion that it might be good to allow players to skip the combat, if they are more interested in the narrative aspect of the game they were playing.

This year there was a considerable online backlash to articles highlighting the poor working conditions of the Booth Babes which continue to grace the stands at the annual E3 Expo in Los Angeles. By contrast, the articles in the games press which asked viewers to “rate” the women on their physical attributes, received only limited criticism, although it was encouraging that this came from within the industry’s more powerful presences, such as games industry.biz and from industry insiders on twitter. This gave many of us women in games a ray of hope.

But things were about to get worse – when the most recent symptom of the new wave of misogyny in games culture came from an interview with Crystal Dynamics’ Exec producer Ron Rosenberg on Kotaku.com. Rosenberg enthused how new Tomb Raider game features Lara Croft’s origin story, and explained that one of the most “enticing” things about the new Tomb Raider reboot was so see her as “more human”, which he described thus: “Lara Croft will suffer” he says, and tells how she is taken prisoner and is about to be raped by scavengers on an island until she is “literally a cornered animal”. This is shocking material: Someone needs to explain to Rosenberg the difference between humanizing and dehumanizing a character.

And not just any character. By disempowering  the best known female game heroine of all time, in a story of humiliation and torture porn dressed up in a dark and edgy origin story, Crystal Dynamic are rubber stamping the use of rape and the threat of sexual violence in games, and by extension in the wider games culture. What’s important about Lara’s fate is that some very big players in the games industry have shown themselves complicit in this new wave of misogyny and the proliferation and perceived acceptability of rape culture as a core and natural part of games and their culture – no matter how much furious backpedalling has happened since. This is normalising rape, and is making Rape Culture normal.

All this combines to make an atmosphere in games that is toxic to women, and is especially toxic to its own. Women who know and love the medium just as much as the rest of the sub-culture does, have the right to an opinion and to voice that opinion. Professional game developer women have the right to talk about their work without fear of backlash in the form of verbal abuse and very real threats of extreme violence and rape. What was once considered the relatively inconsequential act of a few internet trolls has become a wave of very real hatred that has the potential to rip the games industry in two and alienate what is now considered to be 50% of the gaming public. After all, women enjoyed playing Lara Croft in Tombraider until now. But with Lara now reduced to vulnerable rape bait, who could blame the gaming woman for rejecting this new games culture?

I’ve been part of the UK games industry for 17 years; I spent 13 years as an artist in game development before breaking away to teach games courses here at Bradford University. In all that time I have never once felt that I didn’t have a voice or a right to be there. I earned my place in the gang just like everyone else did; by loving the medium, by helping to make it better, by creating and commenting and contributing, and by just being part of it for a very long time. Yes, as women in games we have all at one time complained that Lara Croft had unrealistic physical proportions, and yes, I have spent the last seven years campaigning to get more women into game development (the average is still around 6% of women in the UK game dev workforce), but this has always been welcomed as a valid argument. It was agreed that this would be at least one way to help make the entire games industry better.

But the future doesn’t bright for women in games. For a culture that abhors censorship and criticism of itself from outsiders, it isn’t half quick to criticise from inside. The atmosphere for women has gone from welcome minority to persona non grata within a scarily short space of time.  I feel that all women connected to the industry are now at risk of being censored or self-censoring in fear of the deluge of outspoken misogyny in public discourse. I’m certain if this article is ever published (oops, here I am doing it now), I’ll be next for a verbal “raping”, with comments about my body or sexuality, complete with threats of real life rape and violence.

But I will not be deterred, and neither will many other women in games. Actress Aysha Tyler responded to her abuse after she hosted the E3 press conference with a smart and heartfelt list of her gaming history and accomplishments as a voice actor in games. Clever Pie, with Isabel Fay received national coverage of their Thank You Hater video, a very witty response to trolling and online abuse.  Foz Meadows wrote an outstanding essay on her Shattersnipe blog, deconstructing the wider implications behind this Rape Culture which I strongly advise everyone to read. (Edit: There is now also an excellent rebuttal of some of the main refusenik views on the issue too.)

So it’s time to speak out while we still can. Before the current high percentage of women gamers world-wide is driven away, and games culture censors itself back into the dark ages. Because the industry needs growth and these are already challenging times. Games, you need us to survive.

29
Sep
09

Casual means casual: no hardcore gaming allowed!

I have just discovered why casual games are casual: By their very nature they do not permit hardcore gaming ways. How? I tell you!

Let’s pretend for a minute that I haven’t reached a new personal low by setting up a puppet email account on googlemail with the express intention of then setting up an even more puppety FaceBook account in order to ping gifts back and forth between the real me and the pretend me on FarmVille. Yes, let’s pretend that never happened at all, because the shame of it is hot and uncomfortable, and it feels dreadfully akin to cheating. Yes, I am forced into cheating, in order to actually play the game as much as I want to. What the *&%$ is up with that?

Let us then put aside the core social networking gaming mechanic of FV that relies entirely on how many of your Facebook chums are playing FarmVille, or at least have opened a farm, looked at it twice and then never bothered with it again. As my experiment with a puppet account shows, if you don’t got the mates then you don’t got the XP. Those without friends must play longer and slower than those with friends. It’s like being the fat kid at school sports day all over again!

And then we should never speak of the real-time aspect of your farm on FV, that moves inexorably on the clock, where crops grow, mature and if failed to harvest, wither and die in the time it takes to do a full day’s work and forget about them. Heaven forefend  you should be able to play when you want to, or for how long. That’s just not casual, people!

Instead, let’s focus on the most farcically stupid feature of casual games on social networks, which is the fact that they are irretrievably reliant on the social network itself. And if that goes down for maintenance, so does your game. Doh!

All this has reminded me, in a roundabout and rather wonderful way, that even though I occasionally dally with casual gaming, I am underneath it all, and where it really counts, a hardcore gamer. And all it took for me to find this out, was to utterly break a casual game.

Thank you Facebook!

25
Sep
09

Reverting to type prediction = true!

It seems I was unusually prescient in my statement that playing the Sims 3 would lead me down a slippery path to casual gaming, and archetypal girl gamer fodder. Thankfully I have managed to steer clear of the Imagine series until now, but I have slipped into the life-sucking vortex that is FarmVille on Facebook.

This may, hopefully, be an extension of my vicarious gardening ways in the Sims 3, but Farmville has the added addiction of XP and leveling up (sweet, sweet leveling up!), as well as the frisson of competition with your peers.

I am now a shame-faced Facebook Botherer. You know the kind, the ones who you barely see IRL but who keep spamming your request box with free hugs, drinks, flowers, cause invitations, and now – at least in my case – free f*****g Fig Trees.

This particular journey in self loathing is entirely fuelled by the social networking game mechanics at the heart of FarmVille, and like any good addict, I am looking forward to bottoming out on free-gift-giving and friendly-farm leaf-raking to get that fix of sweet, nourishing FV coinage. Only then can I make the slow recovery into the relative politeness of introspective social networking (you know, where you only read other people’s comments on your posts) where I safely belong.

In the meantime I will return to check on my quick-fix raspberries (harvest in 2 hours), my morning and evening fix of rice (harvest in 12 hours) and my long term intoxication of wheat (harvest in 4 days) while slavishly farming for XP (pun intended) and spamming all your inboxes for fun and profit. Would you like to be my neighbour?

21
Sep
09

Do as I say: Autonomy in the Sims 3

At the risk of turning this blog into some kind of Sims-centric experience (I do play other games too, I promise), I have again come across a gameplay mechanic in the Sims 3 that has taken me by surprise. This time it’s the concept of autonomy in player controlled games, which in the Sims, includes ageing, childcare and someur moralising on the part of the game designers.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with autonomy in the Sims, especially ageing. On the one hand it can become immensely tedious to play the same poor schmuck day after day, knowing that ultimately there isn’t really any point in what you’re doing, and that eventually you will have learned every skill, bought every item (try singing that to the tune of “Climb Every Mountain”) and woohooed with every single inhabitant of your town (or is that just me?). Life in the Sims is so empty sometimes that I wonder if the Sims 4 will have an afterlife Simulator beyond the basic haunting experience already included. Time for a little spirituality in Riverview perhaps? Will I be able to build a church or Temple or Synagogue in the Sims 4?

Anyway, I digress. Back to ageing and autonomy.

On the other hand, ageing in the Sims 3, with its new mechanic of autonomous and active Sims even when you’re not playing their household, unearths some really weird quirks in the design. I decided to experiment with an entire town populated by young metallers and alternative types. That’s what including Emo haircuts in the game does for you: I created several large households of young weirdos in the town with the specific purpose of becoming romantic entanglement fodder for my single player-sims. It was like living in Doningon in 1988, during Monster of Rock season!

After forcing my newly created and active Sim to spend several weeks shunning the town to max out the gardening skill, I found that the relative nature of time and autonomous birthdays in the town had meant that half my young and buff creations had grown up, got married, had children and many had even progressed into decrepitude. The horror!

I wasn’t fully aware of the implications of this until I decided to return to an earlier Sim to continue her leet gardening development and to test the mechanic of gifting omni plant seeds to other sims. To my surprise she had decided to become a single mother, accidental pregnancy having been eliminated from the game in an early patch (how telling is that?). So I was faced with the prospect of playing a single parent against my will. The game had chosen this for me.

I think I lasted 3 in-game days playing the dutiful parent before I became irritated by the needful toddler in the household, and decided the baby had to go. Luckily the Sims has a long-standing game mechanic where children don’t have to die to go away – sufficient neglect will trigger Child Protection services who remove the kid from the household. This was a sure-fire and guilt-free way to get back to my single Sim, or so I thought. It took 3 game-days before Child Protection showed up. 3 days of the child crying constantly, hungry, tired and soiling itself. It rattled the bars  like a n prisoner, throwing the most disturbing tantrums I have ever seen in a game, as I, with increasing disgust at myself, refused to let the mother see to her child’s needs.

The mother too was becoming distraught, despite the distraction activities I lined up for her. For starters, the mother was unable to sleep while her baby was crying. Even if the child was at one end of the lot and she at the other. It simply wasn’t allowed. I found this to be highly hypocritical of the designers, given the large amount of autonomy built into the Sims 3. After all, if they could choose when to eat, sleep, woohoo and even have birthdays/get older, then why was the basic human requirement of rest forbidden to a parent?

I found the only way to get any rest was to head over to the Day Spa to get a package treatment, which restores 50% of energy to the Sim. In the mean time the babysitter I hired by default when a Sim leaves the house without their offspring, did nothing to alleviate the child’s suffering. One the one had I was relieved, at least now I knew that Child Services would be on their way soon enough, but on the other I wondered why a babysitter hired explicitly to care for a child when the parent was gone, would not even bother to feed or change a baby? How could she stand to be in the house when all this was going on? Given the autonomy all over the Sims 3, why wasn’t there any autonomy here too? Especially as the game is l so gung-ho for implicit moralising, I expected there to be a severe telling off from the babysitter, but she just took my $75 and went home.

So after 3 in-game days of the kind of play that really wasn’t any fun at all, Child Services finally showed up and took the child away. This of course triggered a highly emotional scene from the mother, and a hell of a negative mood modifier for a further 3 days. By this point I was so sickened by doing what I felt I had been coerced into doing by the game, that I knew I could never play this poor Sim again. The fun had definitely been taken out of this particular game.

I felt dirty, and cruel. How could the designers force me to go through this, just to undo an AI autonomy action that I as the player had no say in at all? Just so I could play the Sim I had spent hundreds of in-game days building and shaping? Isn’t this the ultimate punishment to the player, for – I don’t know – playing the game as it was fucking intended?

I felt so utterly guilty about the entire episode that I deleted the whole town. I had to bring about the apocalypse for Riverview and all of its inhabitants, because of Free Will. Even though I had set it to “Low” in the game options.
And now I can’t help but wonder: Is this how God feels about us?

08
Sep
09

Sims – is gaming living vicariously?

Recently, I have become an utter sucker for the Sims 3. This, after many Sims-free years playing “proper” games like Dawn of War and Vampire: Bloodlines. Being a woman gamer I am almost ashamed of the hours I’ve been pumping into playing the Sims over the last month or two, feeling like I’m reverting to type, becoming predicatable in my gaming habits.

Who knows, any minute now I might pick up Braintraining on the DS, and then it’s a slippery slope down to the Imagine series and Barbie Horse Riding Adventures (hello Blitz! *waves*) and suddenly I’m Nicole Kidman or Giles bloody Brandreth and not the veteran game dev survivor with the cool Necron wristwatch.

OK, so I digress: What has really surprised me is the fervor with which I have become obsessed with gardening in the Sims 3. Character after character is created with one goal in mind: Max out the gardening skill, complete the gardening opportunities until they can plant the Omni plant, and then live off the land, happily ever after.

At first it was Steak plants – the ultimate cash crop. Well, until you get to Money trees, which are really the ultimate cash crop. Then it was the Omni plant, which is handy for Deathfish growing so my Sim could dine on Ambrosia daily and never age (also quite telling!). Now I’m thinking of growing gold bullion on the Omni plant, or trying cut diamonds to see if that’s more financially efficient. I even wish there were other types of fruit (like Cantaloupe melon, not just Watermelon) to grow.

And then I realised that this all coincided with my current kitchen windowsill harvest of tomatoes, bell peppers and chillies IRL. I’ve been yearning for some proper outdoor space that can accommodate a greenhouse for some time, and even fantasizing about growing all kinds of delicious food, but also roses and  – suprise – a tree or two!

I’ve been told this is something that happens to women of a certain age: We all go self-sufficiency crazy and start talking like Felicity Kendall, but is this why I have become such a keen simulated gardener? Am I living vicariously through my Sims? And if so, should I start worrying when I make them pick fights at the supermarket, for a laugh?




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