Author Archives: Marc

About Marc - Son of a coal miner, musician and artist. Development manager by day, visualiser by night. Video games, writing, design, architecture, art and photography.

Love in a Digital World

ImageCan love bloom in a virtual space? And is the concept weird?

We have all heard the stories of couples who met on dating sites, who supposedly fell in love at first email. There was a time when this was a novel idea and sometimes even made the nightly news. But now this is an every day occurrence and most singles (and even some couples) are registered and active members. All seeking love or just connection in the far corners of the globe.

People meet in the strangest of fashions, in the strangest of places. It is human nature that any gathering of people will result in an attraction of some; be it a club, a pub, a concert, or a holiday abroad. It doesn’t matter where or how, throw enough people together and nature does the rest.

With this in mind, is it so odd that, taking the online example further, people can fall in love with an avatar? A chosen visual representation of the self?

World of Warcraft is an online multiplayer game with millions of players, and one where players choose an avatar, choose their facial features, and dress in virtual clothes. They embark on adventures within this online world and meet hundreds of people a day. It can only be expected that some of them will eventually hit it off, as not only are they conversing and co-operating to complete goals, but would have similar interests and world views as evidence by simply playing the game to begin with.

Imagine if you will — alone deep inside an abandoned mine, dark and unfriendly, wrought with hostile creatures, you are seeking that long lost scroll that will provide the missing piece of the puzzle, that last clue to where the legendary bejewelled crown of a once proud king may rest. You become lost, you are injured from too many close battles. All looks grim until, what’s that? A shining light ahead. It drifts toward you, swaying form side to side as if being carried. Is it friend or foe? Salvation or damnation? Hark! It is human, and it is by coincidence that battle hardened warrior you casually waved to on the way in, who was checking his spoils from his own adventure in the mine and looked to be heading to town. Perhaps he did and returned. You can easily lose track of time in the deep places of the earth.

He approaches, offers food and healing, and a friendly voice in the dark. And as you sit together bathed in the glow of a cozy fire, you find that you both enjoy looking for long lost treasures and, gee, wasn’t that last episode of Game of Thrones really something…

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Battle of the Bads

A story can be offensive yet critically valid as long as the overall message is one grounded in its conviction. Take for example A Clockwork Orange, a film by Stanley Kubrick. A horrible story to witness, yet within lay many things to think about and reflect on of which the creator is attempting to convey. Without the surrounding frame the content would fall apart as the scenes would be nothing more than brutality, pornography and an insult to any thinking human being.

Two games of late that have made me think about this is Test Drive: Unlimited 2 and Saints Row: The Third, as both have received their fair share of criticism for offensive depiction of female roles, and critics thoughts oscillating back and forth as to which is more insulting. Let’s have a look at two outlet’s views for comparison:

Giant Bomb
Saints Row: The Third – 4/5 Stars
“Saints Row: The Third finds the series all grown up. Not in sense of humor, mind you (very much the contrary there), but simply in confidence, wisdom, and overall comfort in being very much its own thing. Whatever similarities Saints Row: The Third might have to the GTA series at this point are purely mechanical. In truth, it has more in common with the imaginary game every obnoxious parent group, pandering state senator, and hack activist lawyer believed Grand Theft Auto was during those tumultuous San Andreas years. It’s Grand Theft Auto filtered through the mind of a fucking lunatic, pushed to boundaries of ludicrousness that make things like giant dildo clubs and man-launching cannons seem altogether reasonable compared with much of the other batshit nonsense going on in here. In a sense, Volition has succeeded in making the mayhem and murder simulator that Rockstar never even tried to make in the first place, and it’s hard to argue that we, the video gaming public, aren’t better off for it.”

Saints Row: The Third – 6/10
“Saints Row’s weakest parts are hand-me-downs from its GTA source text, uncomfortably echoing the squalid business of pimpin’ and hustlin’ in the form of a lame cartoon, a whooping fratboyish endorsement of crime and female degradation, devoid of any conscience or commentary. GTA takes pains to voice moral unease. In doing so it may not offer up reconciliation with the violent mechanics of the game, but the best solution to that dissonance cannot be to pitch the entire thing into a swamp of near-uniform toxicity.

By the time you’ve ploughed through the mission in which you murder dozens of busty stripper assassins (‘Trojan Whores’), dabbled with the option of slaughtering waves of sex workers (‘Whored mode’) or packed whimpering trafficked sex slaves from one container crate into another to either be sold back to their pimps at a premium or put to work in your own prostitution ring (‘The Ho Boat’) you might find the sheer amount of violent abuse of women reaches the point of being oppressive, a sensation so bleak that the taste has to be swilled out with back-to-back episodes of Adventure Time. Clearly it’s possible to take dark themes and spin them into effective humour, but if there’s a hilarious joke about sex trafficking to be told, then it’s not found here. This representation serves no purpose other than shock value. We’re not saying the creation of something in which women only exist to be sold, killed or fucked shouldn’t be allowed, but what does it say for gaming as a type of entertainment?”

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Filed under characters, digital romance lab, dirolab, narrative, Saints Row, Saints Row The Third, Test Drive Unlimted

“Did she just money-shot herself with his neck-blood?”

Did you happen to read this? If not, I’d recommend you do so. Yes, right now. Off you go.

“The consequence of making violence sexy in an ocular medium such as gaming is that the expressions of violent sexuality become more and more graphic, disturbing and explicit. Lara Croft firing guns in a tanktop was considered risqué in her day, now we have a nearly naked women gyrating in the fresh blood of an eviscerated opponent. Given how the objectification of women is derisively addressed in our culture, the femme fatale trope and its enforcement of patriarchal thinking, is extremely problematic. Especially for male gamers, who spend hours devouring content where women (even “strong” ones) are debased. “

A fantastic article on The Border House and one that every gamer should read.


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Cross to Bare

Boobs. I’ve talked about them before, and had argued the case for context providing legitimacy for nudity in video games. Critics and gamers alike are too quick to call foul and point the finger when the bare female form appears on screen, yet happy to look the other way in the case of the odd sex bonus stage; a quick romp amongst a few hours of bloodshed is just a bit of fun, right?

Can the medium of video games show a bit of skin without being criticised for immaturity? In my previous piece linked above, I posit the view that it is the gamers and critics themselves who lack the maturity and level of professionalism to feel comfortable with the mature themes increasingly penetrating the hobby. Indeed, we are so caught up with being taken seriously that we are far too reactionary and therefore seen as argumentative, exclusive, and bratty. How can an artist appease an audience of children?

Nudity can be done badly of course, and most often is. In film the horror genre is full of skin-flicks and a shower scene or torn shirt is par for the course. It is here in the horror genre of film and video games, and specifically Shadows of the Damned and Splatterhouse, that the topic has been brought back to mind. As both have their own flagrant propensity to sling the odd boob around and both, at first glance, with no reason to do so.

Shadows of the Damned sees Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur attempt to rescue his love Paula from the clutches of demons and chase them all the way to hell. Here, Paula traipses around in lingerie teasing Garcia onward. Further, in one particular chapter a giant representation of her is the ground for which Garcia walks, topless, moaning and generally conveying eroticism.

Splatterhouse has Rick attempt to rescue his love Jennifer from the clutches of a doctor gone mad (though as a doctor of necrobiology that was never in doubt), and along the way collect parts of photographs depicting Jennifer nude. The photos will show her in various poses and attire, and are scattered throughout the mansion of which Rick journeys.

Why the nudity here? Is there a particular point this is attempting to convey?

As mentioned previous, horror has an affinity to nudity and there are valid emotional responses that the creator wishes to tap into, beyond the surface level titillation. I did specifically mention the common shower scene before, and many horror stories will feature something happening in at least a bathroom environment. Why? The reason is simple; it’s where we are at our most exposed. Clothes-less, defenceless, sight can be obscured by water, shower curtain or mist, mirrors provide windows into nooks and crannies in the periphery. It is very easy for a story teller to project urgency and unease in the viewer using these environments that we all understand and find ourselves in every day.

Another common tool used to create such feelings in the viewer is sex; two lovers engaged in the act of sex being crept up on by a would-be murderer. The victims here are utterly distracted, exposed, and defenceless.

Abstracting these concepts further, the more basic visage of a woman topless will again heighten the feelings of vulnerability as the heart lay bare. Innocence too, flagrant in the face of violence. The viewer knows there’s reason to be cautious – it’s a horror film after all – yet the victim openly displaying how unaware they are.

So there are reasons for nudity in horror; It’s not just a bit of fun, but a conduit of emotion from creator to viewer. But that’s not to say all attempts work.

Shadows of the Damned and Splatterhouse? Not so successful. Obviously Paula was exposed as she traversed her way through hell, but no sense of urgency passed on to the player. Likewise, the assumed attempt at projecting innocence and intimacy between Jennifer and Rick a more miss than hit affair. The view into their playful relationship providing little back story needed to foster empathy or connection.

Regardless of the quality of the implementation present in the video games highlighted, the approach can be reasoned. Instead of dismissing these as immature and throw away, there are lessons to be learned. One; that video games have a ways to go in maturity of technique compared to film. And two; boobs and horror are like spaghetti and meatballs – they work better together.


Filed under digital romance lab, dirolab, horror, shadows of the damned, Splatterhouse

Like A Man Possessed

Coincidence. An event which coincides with another similar event, can be seen as suspicious by some, supernatural even, hinting at greater meaning. Others can find such uncanny occurrences as a peculiar point of interest, remark as such, and move on.

More aligned to the latter, I was humoured when over the course of a day two forms of media converged on my screen that spanned a good 50 years of separation but with the same influence, and the realisation only setting in a good way into the second.

The Haunted Palace, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. A 1963 film based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. And Splatterhouse, developed and published by Namco Bandai Games. A 2010 video game remake of the classic and seminal game of the same name from 1988, also based on the H.P. Lovecraft work.

Within both film and game the characters bear witness to their own set of coincidences and here the ramifications not so perfunctory.

In The Haunted Palace, Charles Dexter Ward travels to the town of Arkham to claim his inheritance – the former manor of Joseph Curwen, a distant ancestor who was burned alive by the villagers a century ago for practicing necromancy – where the villagers become alarmed to find Charles is the spitting image of Joseph. To them, this could only mean that Joseph had returned from the grave to exact his revenge as he had threatened to do during his killing.

In Splatterhouse, young couple Rick Taylor and Jennifer Willis travel to the town of Arkham and the manor of Dr. Henry West, a necrobiologist, for an interview. Here they find that Jennifer bears a striking resemblance to Dr. West’s long deceased wife Leonora, and soon Dr. West attacks leaving Rick mortally wounded and Jennifer taken away.

With these beginnings both will draw upon similar themes and plot points, with Charles Dexter Ward becoming possessed by the ghost of Joseph Curwen, and Rick Taylor possessed by a demon promising revenge. The two necromancers of Joseph and Dr. West have the same ultimate desire – to resurrect their former lovers. Murder and the summoning of demons just steps and tools needed to arrive at that same ultimate goal.

Love. The most possessive of emotions.

Loss of a love and the grief that follows is often used to drive a narrative. To create a sympathy for one’s insanity. While possession by ghosts and demons is fantastical, personality changes, depression, and other symptoms are certainly comparable. Are our friends Joseph and Dr. West just grief stricken and love sick medical practitioners misunderstood by society at large?

If they hadn’t succeeded in their plan, perhaps.

The Haunted Palace is a great film and comes recommended, especially if you enjoy classic horror and an excellent Vincent Price performance (I’m quite partial to both).

Splatterhouse showed promise and could have been a contender for horror game of the generation given more work. Instead, it suffers from instant death traps, bad checkpointing and extraordinarily long loading times. Unfortunately, with these combined, the game is left almost unplayable in some instances and better left for the most patient gamers only.


Filed under H.P. Lovecraft, Splatterhouse, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Haunted Palace, Vincent Price

Shadows of the Damned

You’ve heard it all before; demons have swept away the princess, and just as the thousand other titles that have used this simple narrative hook before it, the hero grabs his lance (or Johnson in this case) and gives chase. This over used theme comes with a wink and nod however, as there is no naivety here – Shadows of the Damned is utterly self aware.

You may groan at the thought of chasing demons to hell to retrieve your one true love, again, but this cliche is framed in knowing nostalgia. The level progression screen parodies that of the Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins series, giving the player a misty eyed remembrance of when games had used this narrative and were much simpler for it. There are many other welcome and delightful homages to game and film throughout including Evil Dead, Ghostbusters, and others. Entire scenes and set pieces are borrowed in some cases.

However, it’s a bit of a shame these winks and nods are one of only a few areas that entertain.

One somewhat unique and interesting twist though is the relationship between Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur and the ‘not-so-helpless-princess’ Paula. Turning such old conventions on their head, the relationship between the two much less that of hero and damsel in distress. On one hand, Paula is sexualised needlessly and Garcia plays the role of rescuer. Yet on the other, Paula consistently stalks Garcia throughout and strikes him down at a moments notice. Johnson (Garcia’s companion and ‘weapon’ as he transforms into the Boner gun (stay with me here)) calls her crazy, yet Garcia revels in it – “that’s why I love her!”. The pair play off each other in this way and it’s hard to tell who is the hunter and who the hunted. Paula’s chaotic ways not just a manifestation of her demon captors, but a staple of her and Garcia’s interaction before and during.

Unlike much of mainstream media that would portray an uncontrollable female role as evil and undesirable, Shadows of the Damned presents a protagonist who would rejoice in it, celebrate it. His devotion to Paula clearly evident regardless the consequences. Sure, the game may be crass and largely banal, but the interplay between lovers here refreshing amongst an industry that beats the drum of the female submissive.

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Filed under akira yamaoka, digital romance lab, dirolab, electronic arts, garcia hotspur, grasshopper manufacture, shadows of the damned, shinji mikami, suda 51

Scarlet Road

As it happened, and as these things tend to do, the most moving and wonderful film experience for me this year happened entirely by accident. Or, at least, from a set of unforeseen circumstances. Far be it to explore these instead of talk about the film though, as out of the two paths that could be traversed here, the film is the much more interesting route.

Suffice it to say the Sydney Film Festival was the destination and therein a documentary Scarlet Road, of which I had not heard previous. The summary provided in promotional material as follows:

“Scarlet Road follows the extraordinary work of Australian sex worker, Rachel Wotton. Impassioned about freedom of sexual expression and the rights of sex workers, she specialises in a long over-looked clientele – people with disability.”

A topic not on most people’s list of interests, and one that some may actively avoid. And while I’m not averse to such themes it’s not something I’d generally queue for, so a chance viewing in this instance was certainly a lucky circumstance.

Another moment of happenstance revealed itself as the packed theatre finally settled in; most of the cast and crew were present. It was after all, the premiere.

After an introduction by the producer and director and a short film (which was excellent yet unpleasant (the story of a young man in an abattoir)), the feature began.

Immediately engaging, within ten minutes the personalities had leapt from screen to heart as they conveyed their message with warmth, passion, conviction, and justification, exuding confidence in the material presented. The viewer had no reason to question character as each were worn on sleeve and each grounded to common sensibilities; happiness, empathy, honesty and love.

The documentary follows a slice in time of Rachel’s working career as a sex worker, and specifically around two of her clients John and Mark.

With character on sleeve then, Rachel unabashedly a sex worker, just as John with Multiple Sclerosis, and Mark Cerebral Palsy. “Sex workers are people too” is mentioned and you can’t help but infer the same qualifier for the disabled on behalf of the audience, yet the magic in the overall work is that the statement feels unnecessary. Indeed, one should realise the statement only pertains to and wishes to highlight the challenges faced in both, as opposed to a pointed suggestion that the audience may think differently.

Both John and Mark are wheelchair bound, and both have limited function of body. John can talk, but Mark relies on a machine to vocally communicate. Both are men and have needs and desires as any, and over the course of the film you come to see how important the basic sense of touch is, and how much the general populous takes it for granted. Sure, the touch is sexual, however here it is far more sensual and emotional than you might expect; the shower scene with Mark and Rachel is perhaps the most beautiful and moving I have seen on film not just for the context or how it was shot, but because it was real. The emotion unquestionable.

Family plays an important role in the film too, and Mark’s is in danger of stealing the show. An older couple, Mark’s mother and father have an obvious absolute love for their son. The father set in his ways and a character of his time, he builds parts for Mark’s mobility in ‘the shed’, and expects dinner on the table at knockoff time. He’s the hilarious non-pc grandfather you had or wished you had, and the audience loved every second he was on screen. The mother showing unwavering care and love, when her eyes well with tears so too the audience. The empathy palpable.

Both were just a few rows up in the theatre. I could have only imagined their thoughts, and how proud they must have felt watching the film and experiencing the gushing emotion from everyone present.

The end brought uproarious applause.

This is a film every person should be forced to see. Let’s face it, it’s not the most approachable subject. It’s such a beautiful story and one which fills the viewer with a sense of greater humanity, a reminder that there are wonderful people out there doing such important work that touches so many lives. A feeling of, you know, humans are alright.

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