Rowan Kaiser

Rowan Kaiser is a freelance pop culture critic currently living in the Bay Area. He is a contributing writer at The A.V. Club, covering television and literature. He also writes about video games for several different publications, including Joystiq and Gamespy. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser for unimportant musings on media and extremely important kitten photographs.

Recent Articles

Boob Jam: Keeping Abreast of a Changing Gaming World

The debate over depictions of women in video games has basically boiled down to “big boobs bad, small boobs good!” A few developers hope to change that.
F ew things fan the fire in video-game culture quite like boobs. It started with Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. By the mid-1990s, games had detailed graphics and characters modeled in three dimensions. Lara came along at the right time. With her rather inflated attributes, she became the poster child for video games as they moved into an era of aggressively courting teenaged boys with sex and violence. It became accepted wisdom until quite recently that games that were actually respectful of women needed to have them be well-clothed and small-bosomed. If, on the other hand, a female video-game character had a large pixelated chest, the game was probably a dumb, anti-feminist male power fantasy. The Boob Jam Tumblr Perhaps the purest expression of this line of thought came from indie game developer Ryan Creighton, who described his efforts at feminism in his game Spellirium thusly: “I patted myself on the back for asking our character designer to give her a small chest, and for...

There's No Fighting in the War Game!

Civilization V: Brave New World, Europa Universalis IV, and Total War: Rome II show how grand strategy games are focusing less on battle and more on the myriad other elements that make up an empire. 

I don't want to start a nuclear war, but it's for the best. My Brazilian empire is on the verge of uniting a world in awe of my advanced culture, a goal that would be achieved almost instantly just by destroying a couple of Polish cities. Forget ethics, this is a simple math: if I win the war quickly and effectively enough, I win all the spoils, and the world benefits. Morality has been trumped by the cold, hard rules of the game. The game in question is Civilization V , a well-known historical strategy series. In that game, those rules are objective reality. Outside that game? Those rules are as ideological as they are fun, loaded with political meaning. All games have rules, of course, but not all of them have clear ideologies—the abstract simulation of how a tennis ball behaves after being struck in Wii Sports doesn't reveal much other than what programming shortcuts were taken. But in games that attempt to model real-world history, society, or politics, 1 1 In the seminal...

Zombies, Zombies Everywhere

How the video game The Last of Us fits into the growing catalog of post-apocalyptic media.

Piles of rubble. Slowly collapsing buildings. Dirty, desperate people. Monsters in human shape, either by choice or by disease. The symbols are common by now. The rising wave of post-apocalyptic stories is one of the dominant cultural stories of the past decade. There's The Walking Dead , which went from comics to television, or The Hunger Games and World War Z , novels adapted to film. More importantly, it looks like the apocalypse is here to stay. Post-apocalyptic isn't “in” just because a few films were popular and spawned more films, it's popular because stories from different mediums are both reinforcing one another and building from the same foundation. The beating heart of this cross-media obsession is, in my view, video games. Over the past decade, games have become an increasingly understood (if not always explicitly acknowledged) component of the media landscape, particularly as people who were raised with games begin to create their own art, or analyze it. 1 1...

Triple-A Games: Pretty and Brain-Dead

There are two video-game industries. The first is the blockbuster industry, in which games cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to create and expect to reap millions of sales at $60 a pop in return. These blockbuster games, often called “AAA” or “triple-A” games in the industry, are typically violent, take about 8 to 12 hours to play though, and feature cinematic storytelling in the style of Michael Bay or John Woo. The other video-game industry takes everything else. For many people, the blockbuster game industry is the entirety of the game industry. This is the industry of Call Of Duty , selling ten million copies, or Halo , or Gears of War , or Assassin's Creed , or basically any game with an advertising budget built to coat the airwaves with commercials. Their dominance over the zeitgeist can be a problem, to the point where game critic Andrew Vanden Bossche recently wrote a “Case for Never Talking About AAA Games.” The blockbuster...

How the Patriarchy Screwed the Starks

How last night’s shocking deaths reveal Game of Thrones’ biggest theme

flickr/IP Anónima_ The King In The North is dead. In Game of Thrones ' latest ridiculously daring narrative move, it killed off Robb Stark, a character who could easily have laid claim to the role of “hero” on the show. Robb was handsome, talented, and possessed of an intrinsic decency rare to find in the show's world of Westeros. He was also the son of the first season's protagonist, Ned Stark, himself killed in the big twist, which positioned Robb as a traditional fantasy hero. And unlike his rival would-be kings, Robb was motivated in an entirely positive fashion. He rebels against the crown in order to free his father. He allows himself to be crowned King In The North in order to free his people, winning battle after battle for that cause. Even his tragic mistake is motivated by the best of intentions—instead of fulfilling his lordly obligations and marrying for strategic gain, Robb chose to marry for love. For the crime of being insufficiently cynical...