UPDATE: Video of Females on Female Characters Panel

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UPDATE: Video of Females on Female Characters Panel

Which characters go beyond the boobs?

Update: The guys over at Nerd Calibur were awesome enough to record video of the "Females on Female Characters" panel. For those of you who weren't able to attend PAX East 2011 - or those who want to watch it again - you can catch all the hilarity and frank discussion of female characters in the following three videos. Share and Enjoy!

Many thanks to Nerd Calibur for posting these videos.

Original post:

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At PAX East 2011, The Escapist's own Susan Arendt led a panel of prominent female gamers to discuss which women characters in games transcend the stereotype of merely being an object of male desire. Journalists A.J. Glasser and Tracey John, Loading Ready Run's Kathleen DeVere and Trina Schwimmer, founder of GamingAngels.com, went through the various characters that they hold as the ideal portrayal of women, as well as the ones that just fell flat, or well-endowed, as the case may be. The panel concluded that writing decent characters of either gender is a significant challenge, but that game developers should continue to focus on creating female characters that portray more than one dimension instead of just "hot." It must also be said that hot isn't always bad either.

"There are some common misconceptions about how female gamers feel about female characters and the first one is that we hate sexiness," Susan Arendt said. "[We don't feel] that if there is a character that is physically attractive - that if she is sexy - then that is automatically sexist."

A.J. Glasser responded that many women she speaks to will complain about a character's breast size first. "Can't I just hate her to hate her? Why do I have to hate her because she's pretty?" she asked rhetorically. The panel agreed that many of the problems that they had with female portrayals in games was inadequacies in game mechanics rather than merely taking offense at the presentation. Fighting games such as the first Soul Calibur did a decent job of having female characters that could be judged on their relative merits - Ivy was difficult to master, but then became eye candy in the sequels - but the Dead or Alive "jiggle" had to be mentioned.

The panel discussed many female characters that just didn't go beyond the stereotype. Much of the cast of Final Fantasy XIII failed because they were written poorly - the main character Lightning in particular, but also Fang because she was originally written as a male character before her gender was switched midway through development. "That makes so much sense," Kathleen DeVere said when she discovered the switch. "She's a cardboard character. This person is gruff and tough. There's nothing in there that makes her male or female."

A second misconception is that female gamers want all female characters to be as tough as the males. "We just want well-developed characters," Arendt said. Ripley from the Aliens series of movies is a great example of a complex female character, because she acts strongly when her children are threatened without losing her femininity, but even a overtly sexual character like Bayonetta has promise.

"It's a silly main premise for a character, and it's supposed to be fun to play and I don't have a problem with that as a female gamer," DeVere said. "[Bayonetta] is a female main character - if they think they can sell a game with a female main character, and make her witty, that's a big step."

Tracey John wasn't sure that Bayonetta was empowering for female gamers, to which Susan Arendt responded, "I think what makes Bayonetta appealing is that she very much owns her sexuality. She's hot, but she ain't hot for you." Bayonetta exists in a world where sex is normal, but that doesn't mean she does it for your approval.

While it is refreshing to have a character that is comfortable with her sexuality, it's important to realize that is only one facet of the human experience. "How many of you spend any amount of time thinking about whether you are sexy when you're playing a game?" AJ Glasser asked.

Other characters were put forth as being excellent or terrible examples of female characters in games - from early Lara Croft to late Lara Croft to the soon-to-be-rebooted Lara Croft - but finally the women on the panel acknowledged that, although steps have been made to create believable female characters, game developers still have a long way to go. Admittedly, all characters in games, both male and female, need to be deeper and more well-rounded. "Gender doesn't define what makes a great character," Tracey John said. "There can be great female characters that don't fall into any of the stereotypes."

"Female characters are hard to write," Glasser said before she was interrupted by Arendt. "All characters are hard to write," she said.

As a writer, I couldn't agree more, but I think that panels like "Females on Female Characters" will empower both the gaming audience and developers to pay attention to crafting well-rounded and authentic female characters. If the packed room of over three hundred strong and the wonderful response from both males and females in the audience for this panel is any indication, gamers would certainly appreciate it.

Permalink

You know I though this was going to be something else. Oh well.

I have to wonder if 90% of the people who opine on character development have ever tried to develop a character. It really is not that easy.

Not suggesting anything specific, just putting that out there as a hypothetical.
I think it's pretty stupid that I have to constantly make disclaimers to avoid mod wrath.

I always think about whether I'm sexy when I'm playing a game. What's wrong with that?

JEBWrench:
I always think about whether I'm sexy when I'm playing a game. What's wrong with that?

Nothing I'd say. Taking a fantasy character and indulging a look that appeals to you with the tool available should never be considered a bad thing. It is a fantasy after all.

Greg Tito:
even a overtly sexual character like Bayonetta has promise.

"It's a silly main premise for a character, and it's supposed to be fun to play and I don't have a problem with that as a female gamer," DeVere said. "[Bayonetta] is a female main character - if they think they can sell a game with a female main character, and make her witty, that's a big step."

Tracey John wasn't sure that Bayonetta was empowering for female gamers, to which Susan Arendt responded, "I think what makes Bayonetta appealing is that she very much owns her sexuality. She's hot, but she's ain't hot for you." Bayonetta exists in a world where sex is normal, but that doesn't mean she does it for your approval.

Surprising responses, to be honest. I was expecting Bayonetta hate. I just knew she'd turn up in there somewhere.

This pretty much touches on the same things that came up in the latest EC episode: step 1 to creating a good female character is to create a good character.

There certainly are aspects to the female experience that can be drawn from to both foster that creative process and also to enrich the surrounding game, but that's no different from creating a well rounded male character by bringing in aspects of the male experience. Characters of both genders, however, fail completely when the only added features are stereotypical ones.

Some valid points in there, for sure.

I'd strongly disagree on the character of Lightning in FFXIII due to actually liking that game (and the character), but I know well I'm in the minority on that opinion (in terms of the game as a whole itself in perspective), so I'll just leave it at that.

It surprises me that they didn't mind Bayonetta. As a male gamer, I personally felt awkward for pretty much every second of the demo. It felt like her sexuality was being forced in my face, from her poses to her mega-legs to the fact that her clothes kept coming off. If I was meant to find it attractive, I didn't. It just felt like it was trying to sell me the game based on the concept that big moves are rewarded with nudity.

Onyx Oblivion:

Greg Tito:
even a overtly sexual character like Bayonetta has promise.

"It's a silly main premise for a character, and it's supposed to be fun to play and I don't have a problem with that as a female gamer," DeVere said. "[Bayonetta] is a female main character - if they think they can sell a game with a female main character, and make her witty, that's a big step."

Tracey John wasn't sure that Bayonetta was empowering for female gamers, to which Susan Arendt responded, "I think what makes Bayonetta appealing is that she very much owns her sexuality. She's hot, but she's ain't hot for you." Bayonetta exists in a world where sex is normal, but that doesn't mean she does it for your approval.

Surprising responses, to be honest. I was expecting Bayonetta hate. I just knew she'd turn up in there somewhere.

Yet they still focus heavily on Bayonetta's sexualized qualities, which means they are not bothering to look below the surface and see what really makes her tick.

Sir John the Net Knight:

Onyx Oblivion:

Greg Tito:
even a overtly sexual character like Bayonetta has promise.

"It's a silly main premise for a character, and it's supposed to be fun to play and I don't have a problem with that as a female gamer," DeVere said. "[Bayonetta] is a female main character - if they think they can sell a game with a female main character, and make her witty, that's a big step."

Tracey John wasn't sure that Bayonetta was empowering for female gamers, to which Susan Arendt responded, "I think what makes Bayonetta appealing is that she very much owns her sexuality. She's hot, but she's ain't hot for you." Bayonetta exists in a world where sex is normal, but that doesn't mean she does it for your approval.

Surprising responses, to be honest. I was expecting Bayonetta hate. I just knew she'd turn up in there somewhere.

Yet they still focus heavily on Bayonetta's sexualized qualities, which means they are not bothering to look below the surface and see what really makes her tick.

You mean a strange motherly-care dynamic she harbors, but is in relation to herself as a child which makes it a strange mix of motherly-care and self-preservation?

Sir John the Net Knight:

Onyx Oblivion:

Greg Tito:
even a overtly sexual character like Bayonetta has promise.

"It's a silly main premise for a character, and it's supposed to be fun to play and I don't have a problem with that as a female gamer," DeVere said. "[Bayonetta] is a female main character - if they think they can sell a game with a female main character, and make her witty, that's a big step."

Tracey John wasn't sure that Bayonetta was empowering for female gamers, to which Susan Arendt responded, "I think what makes Bayonetta appealing is that she very much owns her sexuality. She's hot, but she's ain't hot for you." Bayonetta exists in a world where sex is normal, but that doesn't mean she does it for your approval.

Surprising responses, to be honest. I was expecting Bayonetta hate. I just knew she'd turn up in there somewhere.

Yet they still focus heavily on Bayonetta's sexualized qualities, which means they are not bothering to look below the surface and see what really makes her tick.

We actually went into more detail than that, but what we wanted to address was the common misconception was that because she was sexy, females automatically didn't want to play the game. We discussed why her version of sex appeal is so much different than, say, that dumb whore from X-Blades.

Thanks for defending Bayonetta, definitely my favorite female character, and DMC-like game (whatever the genre DMC applies to).

Female characters are hard to write
... For Guys.

JEBWrench:
I always think about whether I'm sexy when I'm playing a game. What's wrong with that?

Hell I KNOW I'm sexy when I'm playing a game

Onyx Oblivion:

Surprising responses, to be honest. I was expecting Bayonetta hate. I just knew she'd turn up in there somewhere.

Bayonetta IS highly sexualized but she isn't a bad character.

HankMan:
Female characters are hard to write
... For Guys.

JEBWrench:
I always think about whether I'm sexy when I'm playing a game. What's wrong with that?

Hell I KNOW I'm sexy when I'm playing a game

Yes, but I think about just HOW sexy.

I'm really surprised not to see Faith from Mirror's edge mentioned much or at all in these things.
She wasn't represented in a physically over emphasized or overly sexual way.
Her character was confident, independent - yet fragile.

For me She was a pretty feminine character, certainly different to the masculine Kill Everything type, She wanted to protect her Sis and bollocks to the rest.. Politician murdered... pah!.. Sis framed... cue against the odds story to get her back and safe again - the world can wait, family first.

If Faith had been written as a man, rescuing the sister would be a side mission, It would have been called Die hard Running.

How many games end in a hug?

Susan Arendt:

Sir John the Net Knight:

Yet they still focus heavily on Bayonetta's sexualized qualities, which means they are not bothering to look below the surface and see what really makes her tick.

We actually went into more detail than that, but what we wanted to address was the common misconception was that because she was sexy, females automatically didn't want to play the game. We discussed why her version of sex appeal is so much different than, say, that dumb whore from X-Blades.

Here's the difference, as I see it.

Bayonetta is well-written, well-fleshed out, well-crafted and properly motivated. Ayumi is a poorly-crafted, unlikable prat and a metaphoric manual on how not to create a character. The misconceptions are derived from ultra-feminist dogma and the related assumptions that any female character that attempts to radiate sexuality is automatically labeled as an affront to women. Now that is not me saying that all women think this way. But in this day and age, it is how a lot of women are being instructed to think.

And I always say that a person should draw their own conclusions.

Curious to know whether female Commander Shepard came up during the panel. I find her to be an excellent video game character, and I believe her strong portrayal is due both the to the writing and voice acting. Also an interesting situation as, to the best of my knowledge, male Commander Shepard has largely (if not entirely) the same diologue options. But I never got the sense that female Commander Shepard was overly masculine. So there's a case where they've taken one character, given it two possible genders, and (I feel) managed to make them both come across well. At least, the female comes across well. I haven't played as male Shepard, so don't really know for sure.

Tally LRR:
Curious to know whether female Commander Shepard came up during the panel. I find her to be an excellent video game character, and I believe her strong portrayal is due both the to the writing and voice acting. Also an interesting situation as, to the best of my knowledge, male Commander Shepard has largely (if not entirely) the same diologue options. But I never got the sense that female Commander Shepard was overly masculine. So there's a case where they've taken one character, given it two possible genders, and (I feel) managed to make them both come across well. At least, the female comes across well. I haven't played as male Shepard, so don't really know for sure.

Yep, she sure did. She's a strong character that doesn't just feel like a man with breasts and eye shadow, which is what female (and many male!) players so fond of her.

ascorbius:
I'm really surprised not to see Faith from Mirror's edge mentioned much or at all in these things.
She wasn't represented in a physically over emphasized or overly sexual way.
Her character was confident, independent - yet fragile.

For me She was a pretty feminine character, certainly different to the masculine Kill Everything type, She wanted to protect her Sis and bollocks to the rest.. Politician murdered... pah!.. Sis framed... cue against the odds story to get her back and safe again - the world can wait, family first.

If Faith had been written as a man, rescuing the sister would be a side mission, It would have been called Die hard Running.

How many games end in a hug?

We talked about Faith, too. :)

Sir John the Net Knight:

Susan Arendt:

Sir John the Net Knight:

Yet they still focus heavily on Bayonetta's sexualized qualities, which means they are not bothering to look below the surface and see what really makes her tick.

We actually went into more detail than that, but what we wanted to address was the common misconception was that because she was sexy, females automatically didn't want to play the game. We discussed why her version of sex appeal is so much different than, say, that dumb whore from X-Blades.

Here's the difference, as I see it.

Bayonetta is well-written, well-fleshed out, well-crafted and properly motivated. Ayumi is a poorly-crafted, unlikable prat and a metaphoric manual on how not to create a character. The misconceptions are derived from ultra-feminist dogma and the related assumptions that any female character that attempts to radiate sexuality is automatically labeled as an affront to women. Now that is not me saying that all women think this way. But in this day and age, it is how a lot of women are being instructed to think.

And I always say that a person should draw their own conclusions.

A big part of that is the American attitude that sex is something to be associated with shame or embarrassment, especially for women. As though having a healthy interest in sex is somehow dirty or perverted - unless it's in a loving monogamous, married relationship with the lights off, under the covers, of course. So we get these juvenile representations of sexuality.

My problem with sexy women in games is - how many women you know that are that drop-down gorgeous? Real women are rarely sexy, at least not to video games' inflated standards. If you want to create deep characters start with someone who is at least average looking.

I do agree that the problem isn't so much that female characters in games are poorly written, just that all characters in games are poorly written, and so female (as well as black, gay, Asian, British etc) characters' stereotypes show up more, because it's easier to associate them with their stereotype. Of course 'tough space marine' is a stereotype of its own nowadays. But as video game writing improves, so will everything related to it.

Tally LRR:
Curious to know whether female Commander Shepard came up during the panel. I find her to be an excellent video game character, and I believe her strong portrayal is due both the to the writing and voice acting. Also an interesting situation as, to the best of my knowledge, male Commander Shepard has largely (if not entirely) the same diologue options. But I never got the sense that female Commander Shepard was overly masculine. So there's a case where they've taken one character, given it two possible genders, and (I feel) managed to make them both come across well. At least, the female comes across well. I haven't played as male Shepard, so don't really know for sure.

There have been several articles crop up here recently regarding gender in games, and none of them have really mentioned Mass Effect that I'm aware of. It seems like it would be the perfect study in seeing how Sheppard is portrayed as being masculine or feminine, as opposed to simply being biologically male or female and saying the same lines or engaging in the same sort of conduct.

I do think there's a broader preference among men and women than just 'guys like x, women like y' because I've known guys and gals who like sexy, flirtatious characters and those who don't, those that like revealing armor and clothing, and those that don't.

Also, men are quite capable of writing engaging and believable female characters, just as plenty of woman can write authentic and interesting male characters, I've read plenty of books where that was the case, so there's no reason it can't hold true in games. But bad characterization is bad characterization, and it does happen in games more than it should, for male and female characters.

I was just thinking before I read this article that, at least theoretically, you could create a voluptuous, sexy female character and not have her just be some eye-candy to sell your game. Breasts are breasts, some women have big breasts, they more or less grow in on their own; it's not like large muscles, where you have to hit the gym/exercise like an obsessive, often at the detriment of other facets of your life... wait I'm getting off my point.
Conceivably, you could create a game with a well-rounded, fully-developed female character that is smart and capable and has big breasts, though whether your character works or not falls to the developers. If your dev team are a bunch of twits that don't know what they're doing, you're likely to wind up with a cardboard action girl that spouts one-liners, the gaming equivalent of Schwarzenegger with tits. Arguably, this is why a lot of games come off as sexist or low-brow, because they feel they need to make their female protagonists into this stereotype in order for them to be "sexy."

You really need to rephrase that title.

From a purely physical standpoint I don't get (and am not attracted to) Bayonetta's design at all. Her legs a freakishly long and she wears massive high heels to make them look even longer. She's the closest thing to an "Uncanny Valley" reaction I've ever had and I have a decent tolerance for that sort of thing.

I've created female characters in City of Heroes and more often than not I usually have to take them to the Tailor because her legs are too long when running about the city.

Female Shepard, which has already been mentioned previously, is a pretty good benchmark.

I do have a question for people who were there: Did Samus from "Other M" come up at all? If so, what was the opinion on her in that game?

Raithnor:
From a purely physical standpoint I don't get (and am not attracted to) Bayonetta's design at all. Her legs a freakishly long and she wears massive high heels to make them look even longer. She's the closest thing to an "Uncanny Valley" reaction I've ever had and I have a decent tolerance for that sort of thing.

I've created female characters in City of Heroes and more often than not I usually have to take them to the Tailor because her legs are too long when running about the city.

Female Shepard, which has already been mentioned previously, is a pretty good benchmark.

You frighten and confuse me. Uncanny Valley is something that I find more descriptive of Fallout/Oblivion NPCs or those creepy Japanese gynoids.* And I'm not even sure what you're getting at in regards to CoH character creator. Are you saying you don't like long legs? That's fine and all, I suppose. But why not just say that instead of taking issue with character design?

On the issue of Femshep. Even though Male and Female Shepards work from a similar script, the subtle differences are not only apparent in the voice acting, but also in the motion capture work. Femshep still comes off well because she acts like a woman. A hard-nosed military woman, but a woman nonetheless.

*Damn you, Firefox Spellcheck! That's a real word!

Sir John the Net Knight:
I have to wonder if 90% of the people who opine on character development have ever tried to develop a character. It really is not that easy.

Not suggesting anything specific, just putting that out there as a hypothetical.
I think it's pretty stupid that I have to constantly make disclaimers to avoid mod wrath.

Yeah, but it isn't my job to make a good character. If you are given the task of creating and developing a character, then I don't see why it's wrong to be called out on it if you do a bad job, regardless of how difficult it may be.

Sir John the Net Knight:

You frighten and confuse me. Uncanny Valley is something that I find more descriptive of Fallout/Oblivion NPCs or those creepy Japanese gynoids.* And I'm not even sure what you're getting at in regards to CoH character creator. Are you saying you don't like long legs? That's fine and all, I suppose. But why not just say that instead of taking issue with character design?

The problem is when I look at her the legs look like they are *at least* 2.5-3X the length of the rest of her body. I do like women with nice legs, but even compared to the women in comic books her design seems unreal to me.

I use the term "Uncanny Valley" because I look at her and I don't see a real person. The Fallout/Oblivion models do look like they're undead but they at least look like something that might be human. Bayonetta looks like she's a Giraffe in black leather, and I thought that before Yahtzee did his review of the game.

ShadowsofHope:
Some valid points in there, for sure.

I'd strongly disagree on the character of Lightning in FFXIII due to actually liking that game (and the character), but I know well I'm in the minority on that opinion (in terms of the game as a whole itself in perspective), so I'll just leave it at that.

I'm a huge fan of FFXIII (Unlike a lot of people as you mentioned) Lighting had more depth then a lot of people give her credit for, and Fang was my favorite character.

Other then that, good panel, great to see women talking about this. Hopefully the hate on this board will be minimal.

Wakefield:

ShadowsofHope:
Some valid points in there, for sure.

I'd strongly disagree on the character of Lightning in FFXIII due to actually liking that game (and the character), but I know well I'm in the minority on that opinion (in terms of the game as a whole itself in perspective), so I'll just leave it at that.

I'm a huge fan of FFXIII (Unlike a lot of people as you mentioned) Lighting had more depth then a lot of people give her credit for, and Fang was my favorite character.

Other then that, good panel, great to see women talking about this. Hopefully the hate on this board will be minimal.

It seems rare these days I actually find another in my minority group of liking FXIII, and Lightning as a character.

Let's be fri- Oh, invite already?

image

Susan Arendt:
We discussed why her version of sex appeal is so much different than, say, that dumb whore from X-Blades.

Oh man, if I had made it up to the mike, I had every intention of asking you about X-Blades. *grins*

The Random One:
My problem with sexy women in games is - how many women you know that are that drop-down gorgeous? Real women are rarely sexy, at least not to video games' inflated standards. If you want to create deep characters start with someone who is at least average looking.

I think that the problem isn't so much that "real women are rarely sexy" as it is that real women (and men, and everything in between) are sexy in ways that go far beyond physical appearance. I can find someone who is not at all conventionally attractive to be extremely sexy, based on other factors (personality, interest, whether he can recite a plethora of TNG star dates to me, etc). I think it's probably harder to develop that type of charisma, though, for a video game character, which is why most of them are created to conform to our societal stereotypes of sexiness.

Raithnor:
I do have a question for people who were there: Did Samus from "Other M" come up at all? If so, what was the opinion on her in that game?

Yup, Samus definitely came up. I believe that revulsion could best describe the reaction to her in Other M (correct me if I'm wrong, Susan).

All in all, it was a wonderful panel!!

Damn, this is some interesting discourse. Did anyone record (audio or a/v) the actual panel?

The Morrigan:
Yup, Samus definitely came up. I believe that revulsion could best describe the reaction to her in Other M (correct me if I'm wrong, Susan).

Revulsion works. I once explained the plot to someone and he said parts of it sounded like "bad torture fantasy".

The Morrigan:

Susan Arendt:
We discussed why her version of sex appeal is so much different than, say, that dumb whore from X-Blades.

Oh man, if I had made it up to the mike, I had every intention of asking you about X-Blades. *grins*

The Random One:
My problem with sexy women in games is - how many women you know that are that drop-down gorgeous? Real women are rarely sexy, at least not to video games' inflated standards. If you want to create deep characters start with someone who is at least average looking.

I think that the problem isn't so much that "real women are rarely sexy" as it is that real women (and men, and everything in between) are sexy in ways that go far beyond physical appearance. I can find someone who is not at all conventionally attractive to be extremely sexy, based on other factors (personality, interest, whether he can recite a plethora of TNG star dates to me, etc). I think it's probably harder to develop that type of charisma, though, for a video game character, which is why most of them are created to conform to our societal stereotypes of sexiness.

That's very true actually. I've known women who were borderline "ugly" in terms of aesthetics but the way they carried themselves and communicated made them strangely sexy. Then I've known women who were gorgeous to look at and you'd notice them in any room but were so awkward and ill at ease in their own skin that you wouldn't consider them sexy.

"Sexy" is something that is hard to define in real life, which would make it a nightmare to have to convey in digital form. Big tits and ass doesn't necessarily equal sexy; a couple of my red-blooded hetro friends don't even find that appealing. Hell, even back in the day Eddie Izzard was sexie ;-)

Programmed_For_Damage:
Hell, even back in the day Eddie Izzard was sexie ;-)

Mmmmm, Eddie Izzard. Definitely sexy, especially in Glorious (also Velvet Goldmine).

ShadowsofHope:

Wakefield:

ShadowsofHope:
Some valid points in there, for sure.

I'd strongly disagree on the character of Lightning in FFXIII due to actually liking that game (and the character), but I know well I'm in the minority on that opinion (in terms of the game as a whole itself in perspective), so I'll just leave it at that.

I'm a huge fan of FFXIII (Unlike a lot of people as you mentioned) Lighting had more depth then a lot of people give her credit for, and Fang was my favorite character.

Other then that, good panel, great to see women talking about this. Hopefully the hate on this board will be minimal.

It seems rare these days I actually find another in my minority group of liking FXIII, and Lightning as a character.

Let's be fri- Oh, invite already?

image

Just so you know, I highfived the screen. I think we'll make good friends.

Sir John the Net Knight:
I have to wonder if 90% of the people who opine on character development have ever tried to develop a character. It really is not that easy.

Not suggesting anything specific, just putting that out there as a hypothetical.
I think it's pretty stupid that I have to constantly make disclaimers to avoid mod wrath.

I really enjoy P&P RPG's, and in particular fleshing out a character and figuring out what he or she would do in the situations he or she finds him- or her-self in. Not sure I could do that for all the NPC's that matter in a game in a reasonable amount of time to make said game, and prolly people don't feel like hiring enough "me"s to get the job done, so I see your point... It's just kind of disappointing to see the graphics so fleshed out when the writing isn't.

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