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The pressure to get more women in videogames is finally paying off

For years, games have desperately needed to get over their addiction to tedious generic white guys as their protagonists for their own sake. Now, it finally seems to be happening.

E3 is a weird event, a mixture of a tradeshow, a party conference and religious cult’s coming together to summon its all-powerful yet perpetually indifferent Super-God. It is also, alas, the physical manifestation of all that is rotten in videogames. The blistering cynicism, the exploitation of nostalgia and the carefully nurtured groupthink designed to add more hype, more hope, to whatever products the big studios are pushing, regardless of whether said new product is anything good, new or of any genuine interest at all. You might almost say I’m not a fan.

But for all that E3 remains important, because E3 is the Fountain of Bullshit deep in the heart of the videogame jungle. It is here that the industry sets out its stall for what it considers important.

As such the signals from this year’s E3 are mixed. The first and most important positive from the show itself is that for a lot of the promotional materials shown for a surprisingly large number of games, the player characters shown were women, either as the sole protagonists or optional protagonists being given top billing at a major event. This nod to the greater inclusion of women in gaming has been a long time coming. Given the time it takes to develop videogames it feels like growing pressure to change gaming from being so overtly hostile to the women it depicts is finally starting to pay off.

This is a very good thing because, even setting aside the important issues of representation and casual sexism, games have desperately needed to get over their addiction to tedious generic white guys as their protagonists for their own sake. For years the medium has had a problem with characters seemingly created by focus groups and marketing departments looking to create heroes who will tick the boxes for optimal sales. You don’t make great art by pandering to marketing demographics and anybody claiming you can’t sell a game with a black protagonist or a bisexual protagonist needs to address their argument to the fifty million plus copies of Grand Theft Auto V that have been sold thus far.

That being said, there really is no valid reason to set aside the issues of representation and casual sexism anyway. Diversifying the characters in video games is a win-win.

The bad of E3 this year has taken a couple of forms. The most depressing on a personal level was seeing Bethesda announce Fallout 4 with an accompanying free to play, in-app purchase funded mobile game. I’ve hugely enjoyed the Fallout games over the years, but seeing the mobile game appear, and seeing it become hugely successful, has filled me with dread. I had hoped, in my naivety, that when EA released a mobile version of Dungeon Keeper that was met with an angry mob, lessons had been learned. I hoped that gamers had learned that embracing such products is helping to dig the graves of the games we love. Alas not. Apparently all it took to sell this where Dungeon Keeper failed was a slightly less cynical monetisation plan.

Meanwhile E3 also saw new kinds of shenanigans employed by Sony in exploiting Kickstarter to get money for the long-awaited Shenmue 3. There is no earthly reason why a corporation as large as Sony needs to use Kickstarter to get extra funds for a game that fans have been waiting years for and there is no need for them to use Kickstarter as a means to gauge interest in the game, they know people are interested or else they wouldn’t be talking about it during their E3 show. What we’re seeing here is Kickstarter being used to generate additional revenue during the development of a game and it is an extremely slimy precedent.

Gaming has always been an industry that pushes the boundaries of both of technology and of its culture. There is little or no sense of tradition in gaming, because it has simply not been around long enough to have one form. One unfortunate consequence of this is that there is no real sense of what is right and fair when it comes to how developers make their money from players. As a result we see an industry that seems more invested in finding new ways to squeeze money out of its customers than it is in making them something worth playing.

The highlight for me this year was the PC gaming show and seeing the sequel to Euro Truck Simulator 2, the self explanatorily titled American Truck Simulator being shown up on the big screen. It is hard to imagine a game being less at home at E3 than a detailed simulation of cargo hauling, but there it was amid the Battlefields, Tomb Raiders and Fallouts, a reminder that despite all efforts to understand games, gamers and gaming, it is all still a bit weird.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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Why a Keeping Up with the Kardashians cartoon would make genuinely brilliant TV

The Kardashians are their own greatest satirists.

You’ve seen Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kourtney and Kim Take Kyoto, and Kylie and Kendall Klarify Kommunications Kontracts, but the latest Kardashian show might take a step away from reality. Yes, Kartoon Kardashians could be on the way. According to TMZ, an animated cartoon is the next Kardashian television property we can expect: the gossip website reports that Kris Jenner saw Harvey Weinstein’s L.A. production company earlier this month for a pitch meeting.

It’s easy to imagine the dramas the animated counterparts of the Kardashians might have: arguments over who gets the last clear plastic salad bowl? Moral dilemmas over whether or not to wear something other than Balenciaga to a high profile fashion event? Outrage over the perceived betrayals committed by their artisanal baker?

If this gives you déjà vu, it might be because of a video that went viral over a year ago made using The Sims: a blisteringly accurate parody of Keeping Up with the Kardashians that sees the three sisters have a melodramatic argument about soda.

It’s hysterical because it clings onto the characteristics of the show: scenes opening with utter banalities, sudden dramatic music coinciding with close-ups of each family member’s expressions, a bizarre number of shots of people who aren’t speaking, present tense confessionals, Kim’s ability to do an emotional 0-60, and Kourtney’s monotonous delivery.

But if the Kardashians, both as a reality TV show and celebrity figures, are ripe for ridicule, no one is more aware of it than the family themselves. They’ve shared teasing memes and posted their own self-referential jokes on their social channels, while Kim’s Kimoji app turned mocking viral pictures into self-depreciating in-jokes for her fans. And the show itself has a level of self-awareness often misinterpreted as earnestness - how else could this moment of pure cinema have made it to screen?

The Kardashians are their own greatest satirists, and they’ve perfected the art of making fun of themselves before anyone else can. So there’s a good chance that this new cartoon won’t be a million miles away from “Soda Drama”. It might even be brilliant.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.