Man weds Anime Game Character

A Japanese man who calls himself SAL9000 has married a character from the Nintendo DS game Love Plus named Nene Anegasaki.

Here is footage from the ceremony with commentary from Boing Boing’s Lisa Katayama:

Katayama emphasizes that no one takes this seriously and that it is more of performance media art piece and that is probably a pretty decent assessment; however, I am interested in the urgency with which she attempts to diffuse this. As a performance art piece, this ceremony speaks to changes in the experience of emotion and sexuality as mediated by digital environments. Marriage between avatars in World of Warcraft has been well-documented (anyone have a good link for this?), but SAL9000’s marriage to an NPC raises a different set of issues, I think. For example, I think this NPC marriage addresses the intimacy with which we interact with virtual environments and data objects as well as the informatization of relationships as represented by such things as the profile matching used by dating websites.

Anegasaki Nene

In any case, may they be happy together:

I must say, however, taking your digital wife to the beach introduces a host of fatal risks not associated with flesh-and-blood partners. If she gets sand in her suit, its all over.

Modern Warfare 2: Campaign against Custom Content

Infinity Ward’s hotly anticipated sequel Modern Warfare 2 goes on sale today amid some degree of protest from the PC gaming community. In mid-October, Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward’s community manager, revealed that multiplayer in MW2 would be handled by IW.net, Infinity Ward’s own matchmaking service, and not on dedicated servers that would be hosted and managed by players. For Infinity Ward, this gives them greater control over online play and will potentially boost stability. For PC gamers, this move fundamentally restructures online multiplayer. From Owen Good’s report at Kotaku:

Here’s the score: by building up its own matchmaking service riding shotgun with Steam, “you can get in and play with players your same rank,” Bowling said. However, “You’re completely reliant on IWNet and there is no dedicated server or server list. You rely on IW Net for matchmaking and your games, but you still have your private matches.”

The level of control over those matches allows players to set a wide array of parameters and rules for the game. But community features such as clans, and the high level of customization available in hosting a modded game or custom map on one’s own dedicated server, face an uncertain future, if not their end outright.

In short, Infinity Ward has rested control from gamers and struck a blow to user created-content and the modding community. Forum folks seem pretty upset and there has been some talk of boycotting the game, however, that kind of protest in gaming circles usually doesn’t gets to far.

The larger issue, from a game studies perspective, is what this represents for what Henry Jenkins has called “convergence culture.” This is the basic idea that digital media often come in broad ecologies that include custom modifications and re-presentations of the intellectual property by a dedicated fanbase. These ecologies are, thus, woven from a convergence of corporate, media, and user adoptings of the media. User-generated content has a LONG history in gaming in particular. Counter-strike, for example, the game which arguable was the forerunner of something like Modern Warfare 2, originated as a mod of Half-Life. Recently, game developers have sought to harness input from their players; the very successful LittleBigPlanet, for example, was basically a tool-kit for making and sharing level designs.

What this move by Infinity Ward demonstrates, perhaps, is that convergence culture is still meeting with resistance. While I don’t believe Infinity Ward is necessarily trying to protect their IP from modders, there is at least some level of distrust here. What is at stake is control over the play experience and for now, it seems, Infinity Ward believes it should own that.

Heavy Rain and the User-Character relationship

I am really excited about this game, Heavy Rain; I even bought a PS3 just to play it. The reason is because of possibilities for gaming like the ones described below. I’m reblogging this from Kotaku. Although I think its odd for the article quoted to suggest that the gaze will be a “new experience” or to suggest that playing a gazed-on character is the same as experiencing gaze, still, the suggestion is that Heavy Rain offers an interesting interpretation of the relationship between user and character has interesting potentials. On the one hand, what I understand from watching development trailers, the game mechanic will be like a HD, next-gen Dragon’s Lair. This report, however, speaks to an emotional depth that I would expect to be seriously lacking from that mostly cinematic, thus passive, mechanic. So, we’ll see if this bears out, but I’m looking forward to it.

The upcoming Heavy Rain features a sequence in which its female protagonist is forced to strip for a disgusting mob boss. It’s sex but it’s not sexy, and it moves the needle for games teaching us to differentiate the two.

Writing for PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams picked up on an interview with Quantic Dream, the developer of Heavy Rain, in which the writer confessed he felt uncomfortable being forced to perform the striptease. “Fantastic,” Quantic Dream’s David Cage tells Game Informer. “You know what? That is exactly what we wanted. … Yes, it’s a strong moment for the character. But if we managed to make you feel uncomfortable it is because at some point we made you believe you were Madison.”

This is a departure from other gameplay-based depictions of sex, Williams argues, where the object was either to reveal skin or engage in a mini-game that “reduces sex to the stabbing motions of button mashing.” He says the breakthrough lies not necessarily in a mature depiction of sex, but in delivering a new perspective on how it is understood, even if it means forcing someone in an opposite gender role to see its more degrading side.

The Gleam of Electric Sex: What Video Games Might (or Might Not) Teach Us About Sex [PopMatters, Oct. 14.]

If I am interpreting Cage’s thinking correctly, he seems to be suggesting that Heavy Rain is moving beyond the voyeuristic simulations of sexuality offered by countless other forms of more passive media and also beyond simply making a participatory simulation of sexuality into a mere simulation of the “‘ol in-out, in-out”. Instead, what seems to be offered here is a potential simulation of some of the psychology of the sexual experience.

In this particular instance, the psychology is particularly fascinating as it is likely a rather novel experience for the largest demographic of video game players, males. If feminist theory concerning the tendency for women to become the object of the male gaze holds any credence, the experience of being made object to that gaze may be an entirely new experience for many players. Indeed, it may also be an uncomfortable one as traditional gender roles and perspectives may be tested and reversed as a result of being made to “believe you were Madison” because players will participate in this humiliating act rather than merely view it.

Certainly, Cage and Quantic Dream’s efforts are not entirely new. Many video game players have toyed with gender bending experiments such as playing avatars that represent themselves as the opposite of their own gender. I have played female avatars in online games and have noted differences in the ways that I am treated when playing as a female character as opposed to a male character. Largely, my own experience had led me to observe that I seemed to receive a lot more gifts from other players when playing as a female (which may suggest something about cultural norms and expectations concerning male-female relationships).

However, this limited sort of experience was not placed in the context of a story or a character whose entire personality is coded as female (my avatar was always driven by my own personality as I am not one to play “in character” in games, not attempting then to specifically act like the character that I am playing in the context of the gaming world). Adding layers of storytelling and the more objective, dramatic qualities of scripted and directed behaviors into this mix may produce more focused statements on sexuality than we have seen in gaming thus far and may push this participatory art in directions that the passive arts are limited in exploring. Because we may have to reconsider who we are as we play out the experiences of someone else. Games have the potential to create empathy with characters rather than the sympathy that film or books might evoke in watching someone else suffer or experience pleasure.

– G. Christopher Williams

Weekend Reader is Kotaku’s look at the critical thinking in, and of video games. It appears Saturdays at noon. Please take the time to read the full article cited before getting involved in the debate here.