Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Joe Keiser weighed in on Bayonetta 2 this week. He enjoyed its silky smooth combat and bizarre tableau, which, for better or worse, includes Bayonetta’s overt sexuality and a camera that tends to linger on her most sexy of bits. That latter fascination has been a sticking point for many players and critics, but there are just as many who believe Bayonetta is more than meets the eye and defend her portrayal. PaganPoet was the first commenter to bring this up, likening the game’s ludicrous sexuality to the campy sexploitation films of the 1960s:

For me, the game has enough self-awareness, purposeful immaturity, and over-the-topness that it sits firmly in the “camp” camp along with films like Barbarella and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Everything about it is so ridiculously in your face that it goes beyond tasteless and back into enjoyable territory.

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In response, Mr. Martini asked whether we can really know if any of those films were made with this knowing mindset:

Was Barbarella and its ilk considered camp when they were released or have the passing years changed our perception of that media to make it seem more outlandish and innocuous? What did feminists in the ’60s think of that media?

I think there is a tendency to judge the social attitudes portrayed in older media with the same leniency we use to judge their aesthetics. The blatant objectification of women is like the platform shoes and bell bottoms: funny in retrospect because they both seem so specific to the era. But that gives us an easy way to diminish issues that are still relevant today. Sexism in media isn’t “quaint,” it is still a huge issue.

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Many commenters weighed in on the intentions and merits of Bayonetta. Here’s a take from deathofspeedy, who compares Bayonetta to the art of drag:

One thing that needs to be taken into account with Bayonetta is its underlying complexity in terms of gaming gender politics. Yes, this game has no qualms in objectifying its protagonist, but it’s also not your typical fan service. Akin to Elvira or Tura Satana, her iconic status is not defined solely by her assets or the way in which she carries herself, rather it’s a blurry somewhere in between. In the world of Bayonetta, the men are either fools getting in the titular character’s way or eccentric villains in cahoots with the evil machinations of Paradiso. In the first game, she’s literally captured by *spoiler* ‘God’ and imprisoned as the pupil of one of his eyes. This is before she escapes and kicks his ass down to Earth.

This makes Bayonetta the exact opposite of the cliché, coquettish, objectified girl. Bayonetta is intimidating, and, for better or worse, invites the exploitation while winking at the camera. While this in no means absolves the game of ogling a woman in order to give the player some cheap cheesecake, it is also being subversive in its context, allowing a female character to be in on the joke—just as Travis Touchdown or Deadpool get to be in their worlds.

Bayonetta is playing with femininity in very much the same way a drag queen does, by both poking fun and celebrating the sexualized woman, the power of the goddess. It’s by no means brilliant satire (it enjoys celebrating much more than deriding), but there’s a point of view within Platinum’s game that I think many write off as typical Japanese perversion. A “waifu” Bayonetta is not.

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And here’s Duwease:

I’m inclined to agree with PaganPoet. All its aspects are overdone to such a surreal level that it’s hard to feel like it is really making any statements that apply in reality. Smashing apart angels flying fighter jets doesn’t say much about religion, riding a motorcycle up a launching rocket in order to punch a planet-sized god in the face doesn’t say much about physics or boxing, and Bayonetta’s posturing to the camera (although tellingly, never for the benefit of any character in-game) doesn’t say much about modern sexual politics. On a meta-level, I understand why a person might balk at the company appealing to its customers with cheesecake, but in the context of the story it doesn’t seem to be reinforcing any negative behaviors in a modern society.

Compare that to, say, Mass Effect constantly treating the supposedly wise, ancient, and self-sufficient Asari race as in-story sexual gratification for human males. Its serious story is still littered with Asari escorts, and even powerful Asari still seem to have “will this costume have enough boob window for the human menfolk” as a priority when choosing an outfit. The placement in such a serious game paints a more insidious view of women in my mind than a game that takes every chance it can to broadcast that it should never be taken seriously.

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And Fluka gave a quick word, along with a link to relevant review from Paste’s Maddy Myers:

The feminist/queer discussion around this series is really interesting and kind of makes me want to play the games. Well, that plus the fact that they actually sound fun and are delightfully colorful and surreal. (Someday when I finally buy a console.) Maddy Myers wrote an interesting positive review in Paste yesterday, talking about those same camp/performative hyper-sexual elements.

A major problem with so much sexualization in modern games is that it is generally lazy and/or coupled with the dehumanization of the same female characters. I’d much rather play a game like this, where the sexualization is sort-of-purposeful and the female character actually has agency (i.e. kicks butt) than hundreds of Watch Dogs and Grand Theft Autos with they’re all dead wives and strippers.

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Second Opinions

Calum Marsh was less enamored with Alien: Isolation, which he found to be a little too bloated, punishing, and frustrating. This game has proven to be one of the more divisive of the year, and our comments certainly reflected that. OhHaiMark provided an even-handed positive outlook on the game:

I’ve been playing/streaming this game on Twitch, and I love how divided everyone is on it. People watching me play keep saying that the game is intense, but my inability to move while I’m hiding doesn’t always make it fun to be a viewer. For me, this game proves something rather fascinating about the Alien universe and something that has been proven by previous entries in the series. The first Alien film wouldn’t make for a fun game because it’s not supposed to be fun. The Alien is a goddamn bastard, and it should remain as such. Aliens is too action-heavy and therefore removes any and all tension related to the creatures.

I’m pretty convinced that games like this undermine the notion of “games have to be fun” and intentionally so. As a monster, the Alien is extremely frightening, and it should be a malicious, strong, and challenging obstacle, which makes them less fun to come up against. I for one am enjoying the grind that this game presents. It really is appropriately workman-like, considering all the working-class discontent that makes up this universe. This game is essentially, as the review states, a simulator. It’s not necessarily a locker simulator but an exercise in dealing with a force that you can’t kill, challenge, or overwhelm. It really is the perfect Alien game in this sense.

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From the sounds of it (and judging from what little I played back at E3), players looking to take on Alien: Isolation could use all the help they can find. If you’re looking for some, KidvanDanzig posted a guide full of tips and tricks:

There are few things you need to know about Alien: Isolation before you get into it. #1 with a bullet is: Keep moving. This is not a game in which you wait for the danger to pass before moving on. It’s always at least semi-present. The thing is, pretty much every first-person horror/thriller game teaches you to crouch all the time and move slowly. That’s not the best way to play this game. Don’t run. Don’t crouch-creep. Walk. Walk everywhere until you’re in the line of sight of an enemy, then crouch.

#2: Sound. Don’t make it. In order to make the game challenging, the developers put the AI on a tether, one whose tightness roughly corresponds to difficulty level and progression through the plot. And as referenced in #1 above, how much you’ve moved. If you camp out in one spot, the AI will slowly hone in on you. Loud noises will really bring it running.

The alien’s appearances are not strictly scripted and if you make enough racket it will show up where it’s not “supposed to.” (In the later game this has made for some fun variation in play. I fucked up once while sneaking through a human-held area. They fired their guns at me, only for the alien to drop in and promptly mulch all heads in the room. I reloaded the game and snuck past them, and this time, the alien never showed up and no one died.) By the later parts of the game, things like opening doors will start to bring its notice, so you need to be more careful. (By that point you have a flamethrower that will deter it, but you can’t kill it.)

#3: All characters can and will hear the motion tracker if they’re close enough to you. Don’t pull it out for more than a split-second if you’re hiding out in a locker and you know an enemy is close.

Lastly, the lower left-hand corner of the tracker shows you exact proximity to the closest ping. Use this to plan your movements. Below .50? Start looking for a hiding place. Below .30? Get in one now. On easy, you can typically wait out the alien until it temporarily despawns (above .96 on the tracker), at which point you’ll have enough time to look around, grab stuff, and even read a little. Between .70 and .80 is generally enough to make the trip to the next room. ABC: Always Be (C)moving.

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The Art Of The Cards

Art from Magic: The Gathering’s Regeneration card

And earlier this week, we shared a video of a guy who frequently films himself opening packs of Magic: The Gathering cards. In this particular clip, he happens to find a Alpha Black Lotus, the rarest and most valuable of all Magic cards (aside from special-issue curiosities). However, the Lotus was the last card in a package of 60 that he revealed, and seeing the other 59 classic cards gave Hold On Now Youngster some thoughts:

For fans of the game, some of those cards are a really interesting trip down memory lane. Icy Manipulator and Serra Angel used to be best-in-class cards, clone is just so damn cool, and I’m sure that more than one kid thought that Craw Wurm was the coolest creature ever back in the day.

It’s worth mentioning Regeneration, one of the earliest cards he flipped over. It has art by Quinton Hoover, who did a lot of early Magic art and has a very stained glass style to much of his work. You can check out some more of his card art here.

Early Magic art basically utilized whoever the hell was around, which is how you got some really crazy art, like Stasis or Time Walk. As the game became much bigger, the art became more governed by a style guide and some of the individual, unique art wouldn’t work any more. (ex: Rebecca Guay’s watercolors, Harold McNeill’s unsettling, sweeping lines, DiTerlizzi’s dreamy soft-focus, etc.) Regeneration is one of Hoover’s earliest, and, in my opinion, one of his best.

Modern Magic is much more streamlined, which is both good and somewhat sad. On the one hand, the sets make more sense now. The most recent set, “Khans Of Tarkir,” is pretty stylistically unified to be a sort of east Asian setting with five clans. (Check it out here.) On the other hand, there’s some really surreal, out-there, non-standard-fantasy stuff that we’ll never get again. Check out the art of the Mirage block (which includes the sets Mirage, Visions, and Weatherlight) or the Kamigawa block (which includes Champions Of Kamigawa, Betrayers Of Kamigawa, and Saviors Of Kamigawa) for some examples of this.

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That’s all for this week, folks. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!