Let’s Bitch About Games Not Being Happy for LGBT People! (A response to Kotaku)

I am genuinely not surprised what a giant pile of shit Kotaku is.  It was started under Gawker, so it should have surprised no one.  But every time I see their articles I am reminded of all the bad things about modern “games journalism.”  It’s a joke, and the punch like is that someone, somewhere, takes this shit seriously.  Who this person is and why is a complete mystery to me.  So when I saw an article with the title “Let Queer Characters Be Happy,” my groaning senses immediately were blaring.  I thought for a while I’d just let this stupid shit lie, because it’s more click-bait for SJWs so they can be reaffirmed why video games are awful.  Even though I guarantee that almost nobody who reads this shit and takes it seriously has ever actually played on.  Here’s a link to this bullshit article, now let’s get started.

When The Last Of Us Part II’s new trailer debuted at this year’s E3, protagonist Ellie enjoyed a slow dance and kiss with another woman. My queer friends and I confessed to one another that we were assuming the worst. That happy girl will probably die, because while games allow us to be many things—space marines, mages, and tenacious heroes—they rarely allow queer people to be happy.

Assuming the worst was a safe assumption.  That was mine as well.  I figure that the motivation behind Ellie being willing to go down the violent path that I get the feeling she has tried to escape is the death of India lesbian.

Oh, and boo-fucking-hoo about “they rarely allow queer people to be happy.”  Yeah, because Joel was SO happy in the last game.  Seeing his daughter die in front of him, scared and crying, which broke him inside to the point that he locked his humanity away for fear of being hurt like that again.  Yeah, he had a great time.  Life was all buttercups and rainbows for that mother-fucker.  If I didn’t know that all of this crap was just to get SJW brownie points for how “woke” you are, I’d think you are idiots.

Queer people struggle, as do our intersectional allies. The news is full of horrible daily reminders to all marginalized people that their lives and comfort exist largely at the whim of the privileged. That means bakeries refusing to make your wedding cake or laws meant to keep you out of restrooms.

That struggle has been fetishized by media and is one of the defining traits for queer characters in media. Video games have included more queer characters in recent years—Dorian in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Ellie in The Last of Us, Veronica Santangelo in Fallout: New Vegas and countless others—but all of their stories are tragic. Their partners and lovers are killed. Their families disown or shun them. They seem to be magnets for catastrophe. Rarely do their stories end in comfort, either from others or the larger world in which they live. We have more gays, trans-people, bisexuals, and others games than ever before. Yet we, comparatively, also have more of their corpses.

Fetishized?  What bullshit.  In all of those games that you list, the death or tragedy of their lives is painted as a bad thing.  When it it ever meant to be literal or emotional wank-material?  I hated the death of Riley in the DLC to The Last of Us, but that’s because when you listen to Ellie explain it, it wasn’t some big uplifting speech.  It was two girls who didn’t know what to do.  Ironically enough, I liked the original game’s portrayal of her dying better.  Because it felt like a real kid.  These girls are 13-14 years old.  They are NOT some big uplifting heroes.  The game painted Ellie as a normal teenage girl stuck in incredibly difficult circumstances.  It’s part of why I like her.

In that DLC, Riley is this amazing MLK-esque character who turns what should have been the tragedy that set Ellie on the path of self-destruction and watching the people she cares for die into a big “it’s gonna be okay” moment.  I hated that.  Meanwhile, in the actual game, Ellie paints the story as two girls in a place confused, scared, resigned to their fate.  They were going to “just lose our minds together.”  It’s tragic and depressing.  So yeah, Riley died, but if you go off the DLC, it was a magical and uplifting moment.  What are you bitching about?

It’s interesting that you complain about real life having reminders of things being difficult for LGBT people.  I don’t know if you were aware of this, but art mimics life, despite what Anita Sarkeesian likes to believe about it being the other way around.  So, since the real world has hurdles for them to overcome, so it is in the gaming world.  What a shock!

Not to mention that, once-again, this is another instance of me saying that if you want a game that is buttercups and rainbows for gay people, what’s stopping you from making it?  Do tell, what is preventing you from doing it?  Don’t know how to make games?  Learn.  Don’t know how to publish games?  Learn that Steam exists.  You all were able to get a house-cleaning simulator out to market, so one of you SJW fucks should be able to do this.  You want a game where it’s a magical utopia where Sarkeesian is on a pedestal and LGBT people are treated like they are princes among men?  Go out and make it, you complaining fuck!

They go on and on with example of how sad stories are represented with LGBT characters, so I’m going to jump back to where they make a point.  If you want to go through every example, you can read the article.  I have the same refutation for all of them, so it will make this simple for you here.

Tragedy often serves as a backstory for straight characters in role playing games, too. Party members of all backgrounds hide hidden pasts and personal struggles that the player can learn about and solve. But where the mighty Krogan warrior Wrex might rise to lead his species, and the dwarf Varric Thetras ascend to nobility, queer characters’ happy endings often end up being as romance options for the player. We are, more often than not, unsaveable unless we are fuckable, and even that is up to the player.

Wow.  So much to talk about here.  For starters, you talk about the shuttle pilot Cortez and how his story is focused around the death of his husband.  I actually despise the romance option for male Shepherd because he goes form grieving husband to immediately wanting to jump your bones.  Instead, let’s take a look at the story with Femshep.  There, you have a diligent Commander (which I most-assuredly am) working to help an ally and new friend get through his grief for his lost spouse.  In the end, it solidifies their relationship, both as commander and subordinate, and friends.  Plus, you helping him get through his personal issues saves his life on the final mission.  And my hatred of everything after the Victory Fleet goes to Earth aside, that seems like a damn good end to a story where they are “unsaveable unless we are fuckable”.  Fuck this smug hipster who wrote this shit.

What are you looking for?  A character who is an idyllic monarch of gay pride who leads the gay people on a gay as fuck revolution to glory?  It’s ironic that you list Wrex from Mass Effect on there, since him rising to glory is also something that depends entirely on the player!  You could have killed him when you have a standoff during the Virmire mission.  You could have destroyed the data on the Genophage cure in Mordin’s loyalty mission, which would lead to Eve’s death, which is crucial to him becoming a savior as she helps to rally the other clans under Wrex’s banner.  You also could kill Mordin, sabotaging the Genophage cure that is what saves the Krogan people from destruction.  All of his rise to glory is on you!  The player!  So what’s that bitching about all of this being at the mercy of the player?!  Pure bullshit?  That’s what I thought.

Games that include queer romance sometimes even place the success of that romance in competition with the success of society as a whole. In Life is Strange, teenager Max Caulfield saves her childhood friend Chloe after unlocking the ability to manipulate time. Throughout the rest of the game’s episodes, the two women get closer and closer, and the budding seeds of romance bloom between them. But Chloe already has lost one lover before the game even begins. Life Is Strange revolves around the search for Chloe’s missing girlfriend Rachel Amber. That search uncovers a string of sexual abuse and murder in the town of Arcadia Bay, with Rachel as one of the victims. After uncovering her body, Chloe gets killed by the culprit. That’s two dead gays for the price of one.

Oh fuck off!  Leaving aside that Max’s ENTIRE GOAL for the latter portion of Episode 5 is to save Chloe’s life (they ignore context like it’s the plague.  The Kotaku formula), this is just like that fucking “Dead Lesbian Syndrome” video that BuzzFeed made.  Yeah, Rachel Amber was dead.  It is tragic.  But you ignore several crucial facts leading up to this.  First, we never definitively know that the two of them were a thing.  It’s implied, heavily, but you never know.  Not to mention, we find out in Episode 3 that if they were a thing, Rachel Amber was cheating on her with the drug dealer, Frank.  And lying to her about it.  Oh wait, can’t talk about that.  Then you have a character who has flaws and shouldn’t be put on a pedestal.  My bad.

Yet, even when Max alters reality to save her friend or bring her happiness, Chloe suffers. In an alternate timeline where Max prevents Chloe’s father from dying, Chloe ends up in a car crash and is paraplegic. In this timeline, Chloe begs Max to euthanize her; the story shuts down both disabled and queer people’s right to happiness in one fell swoop.

Fuck this stupid article.  What a way to miss the fucking point!  The point of what made the death of Chloe in the alternate timeline Max created tragic.  This wasn’t about LGBT romance, you fuckers!  It was about Max fucking up her friend’s life again and again.  It’s talked about in Episode 5.  See, Max has fucked up Chloe’s life a lot.  She watches her die at the very beginning of Episode 1.  It’s what sets off her powers.  In Episode 2, you can have her shoot the bumper of a car, which causes her to shoot herself, forcing you to go back in time to save her again.  In that same episode, you have to stop a train from hitting her.  Which leads us to Episode 4, where she has created an entirely new timeline, specifically to make Chloe happy by not having her dad die, and finds out that this fucked up either her friend or her budding romantic partner’s life even more!  The tragedy in having to help Chloe die is in Max realizing that she has destroyed this girl’s life over and over again, only to go back to try and fix it.  In the end, she realizes that she can’t save keep doing this.  That all of these trips back through time are destroying her.

Just once, I wish that Kotaku would actually pay attention.  But no.  They have to get their talking points down so that they can stand in judgement over us EVIL gamers and the games we play.  I just know they’re going to talk about the ending, so let’s get to it.  Here I might find at least SOME common ground with them.

In a timeline in which Max prevents Chloe’s murder, a massive hurricane barrels down on Arcadia Bay instead. The pair conclude that the storm is an anomaly created in response to Max’s time-traveling. The final choice is to either sacrifice the town or to travel back in time and allow Chloe to die.

Narratively, the choice feels empty. Max’s personal growth up to this point revolved around a growing understanding of her place in society and learning to accept consequences for her actions.

I could not agree more!  I do hate the ending to Episode 5.  It is worse than the ending to Mass Effect 3.  None of your choices matter in the slightest, because either you negate ALL of them by having Chloe die, or they don’t matter because everyone is dead.  It was the laziest fucking way to end a choice-based game since Mass Effect 3.  Hell, it was lazier than that.  At least that game gave you 3 nonsensical choices that throw all your choices in the trash.  This game gave you two.  I wrote an entire post about how I would have ended things (link here), and while it isn’t perfect, at least I included SOME kind of choice-based resolution to the game.

The Last of Us focuses on the frailty of society and individuals, both morally and in the flesh. It makes sense that the characters would endure loss. Joel copes with the death of his daughter and his grief over his inability to protect her; he gravitates to Ellie, who serves as a surrogate child and a bittersweet balm for his prior loss. In the end, he gets what he wants — to serve the Hero Dad role — although it comes at the expense of many lives and lies.

What a way to miss the point.  Miss EVERYTHING that made the ending to The Last of Us so powerful.  The ending to that game isn’t some happy ending for him.  It’s bittersweet as fuck.  If you can’t see why, I shall explain.  Joel sold humanity up the river to save the only person left who matters to him.  His connection to the human condition.  You saw how his own brother and him are so estranged.  This one life, this one little life who has become his connection to the human condition, is worth selling all of humanity up the river to maintain.

In the end, he had to lie to Ellie about why he left the Fireflies base, because he knew that Marlene was right.  Ellie would want to give her life to save humanity.  What made their final conversation so powerful was in him accepting his cost, that last of his vestige of humanity, to preserve this relationship.  But it was also about Ellie accepting her cost.  She chose to accept his lie, knowing that it was a lie.  She could see all over his face that he was lying to her, but chose to accept that because she wasn’t just his surrogate daughter.  He is her surrogate father.  The one relationship that will last.  Because she found what Joel had back in the diner.  When she hacked David to pieces, she found that darkness that Joel had embraced, and since now she couldn’t give her life to escape it, she had to live with it.

I love the end of that game so much because of the moral and philosophical implications, and you just sweep it under the fucking rug as a story of Joel being the “hero dad.”  Fuck you, you single-digit IQ hipster.

I want these queer characters to have happy endings, or at least different ones. Hell, I’d settle for kisses that don’t portend death. And I still love the stories that I have, imperfect and tragic though they may be. BioWare’s cast of heroes provide examples of bravery and humility that I strive to emulate. Life is Strange’s tender romance captures a sense of early sexual awakening. The Last of Us’ Ellie is a goddamn survivor. All of that is fantastic, but it comes at a price. That price, often, is the agency and happiness of queer characters.

Does the writer of this article not know that these people aren’t real?  This is why I said that this feels like the video from BuzzFeed.  Because it reads like this person can’t separate fiction from reality in her mind.  Want these characters to have a happy ending?  Fantastic, there’s millions of fan-fiction sites that I’m sure have some happy endings for them.  Hell, read my post about how I would have ended Life is Strange.  There’s a happy ending for ya!  Instead of respecting the artistic integrity of those who create fiction, you have to bitch about it not being happy enough for you.  Well guess what, sugar-tits, you can go and find your happy ending or make it yourself on you Fanfiction.net or your Deviant Art page.

But why do we have to pay that price, and so often? I’m not suggesting that the queers should always get to dance in a field of gumdrops at the end of every game in which they appears, but considering the real world’s continued eagerness to trample the marginalized, one of the most radical things art could do right now would be to show us a world in which we are more than our suffering.

“More than our suffering”?!  Are you fucking kidding me?!  Is that all you see them as?!  You only see Chloe Price as suffering because her *potential* girlfriend died?  You only see Ellie as sad because of her dead girlfriend?  Wow.  What an insult to all the character traits that they had.  If that is all you see them as, that’s on you, honey.  I see Chloe Price as a tragic character, to be sure, but that’s because she’s had a rough life.  Her father died.  Her best friend deserted her.  The girl that she cared for more than any other and saved her potentially from suicide disappeared.  It’s what makes the dynamic better and her and Max reconnect and awaken new feelings into each other.  It’s why I hate the bullshit ending to the game so much because the choices make no difference.

But all of this comes right back to what I said before – if you want gay happy endings for characters, then go out and make it.  Make a game with a Star Trek utopia where gay people are treated as absolutely perfect because of their gayness.  I don’t fucking care.  But STOP bitching about things that you clearly only see as “there’s dead characters in the group I like!”  There is NOTHING stopping you from making the games you want to see.  How about you quit bitching on this SJW rag and get to work?

Until next time, a quote,

“Those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach teach gym.” – Dewey Finn, School of Rock

Peace out,

Maverick

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Lucien’s First Take: The Last of Us: Part II Gameplay Trailer – E3 2018

The sequel to one of my favorite games of all time.  Needless to say the stakes for this are a mile high.  I saw the original trailer and I was pretty interested. Why is Ellie on the war path?  What is Joel’s role in this?  Will it stick with the moral framework of the previous game?  A dark narrative about the cost of living and the cost of being a good person when lights are gone and the cops don’t exist anymore.  I loved the dark themes and the brutal combat.  Joel and Ellie and their dichotomy was absolutely fantastic, and I am genuinely eager to see what they get up to next.  So let’s take a look at this trailer and see if it measures up.

 

We open up with a ho-down.  Okay.  I’m sure this is going to go somewhere.  Our girl Ellie is there and is looking longingly at some Indian girl.  I’m speaking about people from India, not Native Americans.  Alright. Then Asian dude comes up to her to talk.  So this game has all the diversity of a college campus pamphlet because Neil Druckmann thinks that Anita Sarkeesian has a point.  Even when her and her ex-affiliate Josh McIntosh shit-talk his games.  Funny how that works.  Okay, whatever.  So long as they’re good characters, I don’t care.  But this trailer is boring me.

The trailer goes on with this 90210 bullshit.  Where is this going?  What is this place, anyway?  Is it Tommy’s compound?  How have they maintained power over all this time?  With no way to replace parts for the hydroelectric dam, if things break, how do they keep the lights on?  I’m so bored by the stupid banter between these characters I don’t know and the one I do know that I’m finding plot holes.  This isn’t a good look.

We see the banter turn to romantic banter.  Okay.  Since I don’t know who this chick is, I don’t really care.  I guess it’s a cute scene, but I don’t give a fuck.  They kiss.  Okay.  Good for them.  Happy couple.  Where the fuck is this going?!  Then it cuts to her killing someone.  Oh hey!  Now we’re back on point!

Okay, I have SO many follow-up questions.  For starters, where is Joel?  Asian dude alludes to him being overprotective, and Ellie seems to agree.  It comes off as a little bit of animosity between them.  So, is the game going to tell us what happened between them?  Asian dude calls him her old man.  That’s interesting.  Because the audience could see that Joel and Ellie were forming a relationship as surrogate father and daughter.  It’s part of what made their dynamic so beautiful and tragic.  What happened?  Their connection tied in to the message of the game and I kinda wanna know where these two are at.  He is mentioned and then brushed off.

Given that we have India lesbian girl as the central focal point of this trailer (which again I want to stress I don’t care about, so long as she is not a boring Mary Sue), is our connection in this game supposed to be her and Ellie’s relationship?  I assume that she’s dead by the time we get to where the actual gameplay starts.  I mean, what else would drive Ellie to be so eager to go back to her killing ways?  In the last trailer she hinted that she was looking to get some very sweet revenge for what these bandit group has done. Given these two being all kiss-y would imply be killing her girlfriend, which would point that being the central conflict.

Here’s the problem – I don’t know this character.  My hope is that if she’s interesting enough, I will come to feel bad about her being murdered.  Druckmann has shown that he can write a solid relationship.  It’s how I felt bad about Joel’s daughter being killed at the beginning of the last game.  But you spend a solid four minutes on these two’s dynamic, and I don’t know who this love interest is.  It really makes me wonder what the purpose of putting that in the trailer was, if not to win SJW brownie points.  You’ve shown that you seek these people’s approval, after all, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

It’s unfortunate that the India lesbian is probably dead by the point where Ellie is being violent again.  I get the feeling that the moral quandary here is that she was living a very upstanding life, outside of the violence that her and Joel found so easy to embrace in the previous game.  The violence that she wanted to give her life for, rather than be forced to live with it.  They had to accept the people they had become by the end, because Ellie chose to accept her surrogate father’s lie about what happened at the Fireflies base, rather than the truth.

Part of me would like a scene where Indian lesbian sees this part of her girlfriend.  Where she sees this violence inside of her that she is now openly embracing all over again.  A part that I get the feeling she spent years trying to get away from.  Now it’s all back, and she has gone back to that life without a backward look.  A moment where the girlfriend sees that person that Ellie is willing to let herself be come and being horrified by it sounds kinda fun.  It fits with the theme of the universe in the game.  At least from the last game.  I’m not too sure if this game will remember that.  It would be a real shame if it doesn’t.

Also, openly gay characters in a post-apocalyptic setting interests me.  In the last game, we had Bill.  He clearly had a very ugly relationship with someone who hated him for his quirks and his conservative outlook on how to live his life and be regimented about all things at all times.  The game put that relationship and its falling apart as a very hard thing because in a world where so many people are dead, infected, or crazy, finding gay love must be the hardest thing in the world.  And given how in situations where order breaks down, conservative ideologies tend to flourish rather than liberal ones, being openly gay must be a HUGE risk to take.  Unless Neil Druckmann is going to just avoid talking about that.  It’s a magical world where reality and the ugly parts of it don’t exist.

I’m not saying I hate this little romantic thing Ellie and India chick have going.  My problem is that if you’re going to put this relationship in this setting, at least take the time to acknowledge that it’s going to be uncomfortable.  Or difficult.  Don’t just tell us that it’s totally normal part of that society.

Back to where the trailer is.  Ellie has knifed a dude and is back in form.  Alright.  I like this.  Let’s talk about the actual gameplay.  Oh my Groj, the environments in this game are gorgeous.  I noticed that Ellie seems to be able to hide in tall vegetation, much like in Uncharted 4.  I liked it in that game, and I like it here too.  So why is this player having her skirt around her enemies?  That’s not smart.  Especially since she just killed a dude.  It’s always smarter in these games to clear out your enemies.  Less chance of detection.  When they find dead bodies, they raise the alarm, you know.

I also caught that you can go prone through shorter vegetation.  Yes!  I like that too.  The sneaking possibilities in this game are expanded.  This makes me happy on a lot of levels.  Can’t help but notice those two guards you didn’t kill before raised the alarm.  Sure would have helped if you had taken them out so you can kill the enemies better.  Whoever is playing this gameplay bit is an idiot.  Also, are you unable to do the listening thing from the first game?  Because it seems an obvious thing to do given how the player never seems to know where the enemy is.

Given that Druckmann takes what Anita Sarkeesian and her ilk say seriously, it is interesting that we see that now, not only can you kill women, you can kill minority women too.  I’m actually not against that.  I like seeing the people you have to murder get changed up a bit.  The white man as being the only ones with the potential for evil is a tired cliche.  The combat also seems to have gotten a bit of revision.  Is there a kind of dodge mechanic?  It looks that way?  Or at least a parry mechanic to avoid hits.  I like that too.  The brawler combat from the last game did kind of get old pretty quick.  And since Ellie is small, dodging is a good way to get around her smaller size than her opponents.

After having to run away because the player is an idiot and didn’t realize that it’s better to kill all of your enemies as you go, we have Ellie using tall grass to hide in.  Again, I like this.  Then we see her hiding under a car!  That’s cool as shit!  And you can use weapons under the car.  That’s pretty cool too.  Though, a silent weapon would be better.  Not sure what that would be given the tight space under a vehicle, but just floating that idea.  This person playing really doesn’t get being stealthy.

Some more gunplay because this person can’t do headshots, and we see another thing that caught my eye – arrows stick out of you when you get hit.  That’s kinda neat.  Like a mechanic where if you get hit with physical projectiles you have to deal with that.  You can also use bad guys as a shield!  That’s cool as fuck!  I would abuse this SO Much.  There is also some nice destruction of the environment in this game.  That’s a nice touch.  I also like how taking ammo out of corpses like arrows is more involved.  Another nice touch.  The little nice touches are adding up.

Then we see something I was really hoping would be improved upon – the crafting mechanic.  You can make different kinds of ammo!  Yes!  So many possibilities.  This game seems to be big on giving you lots of new tools to deal with the apocalypse.  You can also pick up ammo enemies drop when they’re hurt!  More and more nice touches that go a long way.

Finally, we cut back to 90210 with a character I have no reason to care about.  REALLY hoping we come to care about this character and not have her be a boring token.  Thus far, I’ve seen how Druckmann still has the capacity to write good characters.  But he led on this trailer with this, so he’s putting all his chips in this basket.  Best of luck.

Overall, the gameplay looks slick as fuck, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Initial Verdict
Hyped to see what comes next

Peace out,

Maverick

PS: Wait a tick!  Something just occurred to me.  India lesbian looks kinda familiar.  And it is fitting, since Neil Druckmann takes this woman seriously.  Am I the only person who thinks that she looks a bit like Anita Sarkeesian?  I can’t be the only person who sees the resemblance.  Is this Neil fanboying over Anita by putting her in a video game?!  I mean, we already have Anita’s self-insert fantasy game, but now we have this guy putting her in his video game.  I CANNOT be the only one who noticed this.

LGBT Characters in Gaming

Let’s talk a little history.  I don’t know how many of you were around and conscious of what television in the 90’s was like.  Much like the film industry, it produced some of the biggest garbage in the world.  You had shit like Friends and Full House, both of which got unbelievably popular due to nostalgia that people seem to believe the entertainment was so much better back then.  These people are what people like me call “clinically insane.”  But here’s something you may not remember – the 90’s didn’t always write gay characters very well.  Some of the biggest stereotypes about the LGBT community came into being then.  Now, the thing is that they aren’t negative stereotypes.  In fact, they were overwhelmingly positive.  There is a reason for that.  Maybe it was making up for old negative stereotypes, or people just not being able to write these kinds of characters very well.  Whatever the reason, they were all bad.

Here was the problem – these characters all had a bad habit of announcing that they’re gay to everyone they meet.  They are so damn proud of being gay and they are damn sure going to make sure that everyone knows it.  It was bad writing in the worst way.  All of these characters had a bad habit of the fact that they are gay being their entire life.  It isn’t one facet of it, but every facet of it.  Everything in their lives centers around the fact that they’re gay.  It was lazy, terrible writing that led to some of the most one-dimensional characters we ever got to see.

Time went by, however, and writers were able to get past whatever hangup they had and were able to start writing very rounded gay characters who were characters first, gay second.  They had rich personalities and issues with life that are part of the issues everyone has.  It led to some truly fantastic characters, like my favorite anti-hero, Omar Little from The Wire.

That sure was a long intro to talking about what this post is going into.  Gaming is at a similar crossroads.  What led us here is the fact that a lot of gamers are now part of an older generation.  The average age of gamers is closer to 30 than 20.  It’s become a part of popular culture, and is quickly overtaking Hollywood in telling engaging narratives that people can get wrapped up in.  As such, it’s only natural that we see games taking on more and more adult themes.  Things like the nature of marriage and ’til death do you part (Uncharted 4), the price of fame and losing one’s fame and selling out to greed (Persona 5), justifying evil for the greater good and the redemption that comes with being willing to change (Mass Effect 2 and 3).

Something that comes with writing narratives that are more complicated means having characters that are more complicated.  After all, people are not one-dimensional.  And it also means looking at other parts of life.  Like different kinds of relationships.  It was only natural that the gay community would make an appearance in this medium sooner or later.  Now sure, the core gaming audience is men.  That’s just how that goes.  The CoD games will never tackle this sort of thing.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact that narratives involving LGBT characters will typically be niche.

For a medium that has a real problem with subtlety, looking into something like this should be a niche thing.  There’s a reason why.  Let’s look at one of my favorite examples of it being done right and then it being done wrong.

In The Last of Us, you meet a character named Bill.  Bill is kind of a crazy man.  He’s weird, unwell, and has a real problem with Joel’s tiny companion.  Granted, they meet with her smashing a pipe on his arm.  That’s something.  However, as you go on with his narrative, he tells Joel of a person that he had to look after.  At first, he calls him his “partner,” and really doesn’t want to get very specific about him.  There is genuine venom in his voice when he talks about this guy.  What happened between these two?  When you get to a house after escaping the school, you find out.  He’s hanging from a noose that he rigged to stop himself from becoming one of the infected.

It’s here that we see another side of this.  At first, he’s clinical about it.  He’s looking over the body and seeing what happened.  But as you listen to him talk about him, there’s real pain in his voice.  Pain, anger, all sorts of emotions.  It’s a testament to what a good performance the voice actor does how much depth he brings into talking about this guy.  As I was playing this with my gay girly-mate Erin, she had this to say, “they had to have dated.”  To which I asked, “how do you figure?” “Easy, you don’t hate someone this much unless you’ve dated.”  Well put.  Bill lives a life where everything is regimented and safe.  When you find Frank’s letter, it tells of a man who was angry with Bill.  He wanted more from life than Bill was willing to give, and it ended in him leaving.  In his last letter, he says how much he hated Bill and wanted more from life than he wanted to give.

What happened between these two?  We never know.  It clearly must have been a very damaged relationship.  The audience can see some of the history and it’s enough to tell us a tragic story of two men who ended up hating each other because of irreconcilable differences in how they lived.  In a world where love for a gay person must be unfathomably hard to come by, to lose that relationship must have been hard for both of them.  But by the end both of them hated one-another.  It was done so well, and played very subtly.  I love everything about the nature of that relationship.  It also shows a side of Joel.  He figures out pretty quickly the deal between Bill and Frank, but he doesn’t make a big deal out of it.  After all, he is a Texan.

Now let’s look at this done wrong.  In Mass Effect 3, you meet a shuttle pilot named Steve Cortez.  He seems like an interesting character.  But there is a stark contrast of narrative quality in his his story plays out, depending on if you have male or female Shepard.  If you have female, it is a very interesting narrative about a man who is getting over the loss of someone dear to him.  If you have male Shepard, it’s a narrative about a gay man throwing his grief away in a nano-second in order to try and jump your bones.  It’s cringe-worthy to say the least.  Since I preferred Femshep because she was a much more engaging character, I was able to see the story done right.

What happened?  I’ll tell you – a narrative had to be spun.  See, we have another player in the problem with writing gay characters in gaming right now – SJWs.  Social justice decided to come in and take over the writing process of this character, all so they could call foul when the gamers were like, “this gay sex scene sucks.  Where did this come from?”  Good fucking question.  He was poorly written in order to spread a narrative and get a subject matter talked about.

This has happened quite a bit.  Gay characters are being written where the fact that they’re gay is their entire personality.  Or now the big one is trans.  Like how Ubisoft created an openly transgender character in Victorian London.  A time when I guarantee NO ONE was open about gender dysphoria.  Yet this character is all about talking about it to whoever they meet.  Or the trans character in Mass Effect: Andromeda, who really had to make a big deal out of this when they have a fuck-ton more things to worry about.

I get why this medium is going to be the hardest to write these kinds of characters in.  The core demographic is men.  That’s a demographic that is going to see this stuff pretty black and white.  Hell, in this insanely divisive culture that we live in, nuance is hard to see on any sides.  This is why I genuinely believe that if we are going to see more and more gay characters, it needs to be first handled in the niche markets, where it can be handled with a deft hand, rather than a stick to beat people over the head with, despite how rarely that deft hand is applied.

But maybe there’s hope.  I just got done with the latest episode to a prequel to my favorite game of 2015 – Life is Strange.  That game already had a very well-done relationship between Chloe and Max, but the real stand-out example of a blossoming romance that I genuinely enjoyed playing was in the prequel.  While it is miles below the original, the thing I can say is that the relationship between Chloe and Rachel that I have been able to help shape feels genuine.  And this most recent episode had payoff to that.  We’ll see if it can keep the trend of well-done character development happen.

*Update: The third episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm totally fucked the relationship between Chloe and Rachel.  There was no payoff.  Zero.  The last episode might as well have pretended their relationship didn’t exist*

The ultimate message of this ramble is that making gay characters should be about making characters first.  Being gay is a part of a person’s life, but it isn’t everything.  At least not if they aren’t these social justice idiots who feel the need to make everything tie back into it.  It’s just one part of who that person is.  That’s how these kinds of characters need to be written.  Make them a character first.  Make gamers like them for who they are, then ease them in.  Just like how straight men can have gay friends who they are cool with, I guarantee that that gay friend knows that he can’t be too in this person’s face with how they are, because they know it would make the other person uncomfortable.

Wow, this seems like a whole lot of nothing, doesn’t it?  Maybe I should have made this a RAB post.  Unsure.  What do you all think?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Do you think there’s a point where you’ve been acting so much that you don’t even have your own personality anymore?” – Rachel Amber, Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Peace out,

Maverick

Critical Examination: Realism vs Style

Quite recently I have been playing Persona 5, and man am I in love with this game.  This game has taken the title of best game for me quite handily.  Sony seems to be eager to come out of the gate swinging with some very polished games.  First it was Horizon: Zero Dawn, now it’s Persona 5.  And given some of the exclusives we have to look forward to in the future, I am excited to see what happens next.  The thing to know about this game is that it is DRIPPING with a style all its own.  The punk aesthetic, vibrant colors, and jazzy soundtrack all mesh so well in immersing me in this world.  I feel like each of the Palace worlds was a place that I would at least like to see once.  Style was oozing out of every pore in that game, and bless it for that.

We live in an age where it sees like every game company is looking to go more and more into the realms of realism.  Seems like there is an arms race to get past the uncanny valley of a game that looks so real that I can’t tell the difference between it and reality.  However, there are pros and cons to both sides of that.  This is something that is being lost on people.  Let’s dive into this and show these elements in respect to one-another.

Pros: Realism

When I think of games that have embraced realism so heavily, two that come to mind immediately are The Last of Us and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  Both games had incredible detail put into every element.  Naughty Dog has gotten something of a pedigree for games that are insanely detailed and have characters who feel believable.  This could only be possible with effects that fight that Uncanny Valley I mentioned earlier.  I could get lost in every environment in those games.  They were visual masterpieces, which I can and do replay over and over just for how beautiful it is to go through.

There is also the element when you are looking to capture how grim something is.  A war, for example, can be brought to life much more horrifically when you bring it into the realistic space.  Fear is also more palpable.  I played the PT demo like some of you, and holy shit!  The realistic nature of that is what made it so unnerving to play.  I had the shit getting scared out of me because it felt like I was really in that hallway, with that ghost who was after me.  And fuck that telephone!  Gave me a fucking heart-attack.  It’s hard to imagine such a game being done any other way.  Although, Silent Hill 4 did the concept pretty decently, for the part of the game where you are trapped in the main character’s apartment.

Pros: Style

Style allows a game world to feel unique.  When you want to create an atmosphere in a game, it helps when you have a universe where the rules of it feel unique.  As a frame of reference, let’s take a look at Persona 5.  This game is about youthful rebellion against authoritarian rule-making.  Every element goes along with this.  The vibrant use of colors in every regard, even the menus, makes you see this aesthetic.  Like watching a punk rock music video from the 90’s, and with the jazzy soundtrack to boot.  Everything goes towards making you feel like this world is all its own.  Plus, the style helps tell the stories of the protagonists.

Another game which had a unique style to see it was Life is Strange.  While the ending to that game was bullshit, it was still pretty awesome to play.  Part of this was because the style felt like a teen comic.  While the facial animations could most definitely used a lot of work, you still get invested because these characters have personality that goes along with the soft colors and pastel look.  It’s a game which uses that aesthetic to compel you to slow down, take your time, and investigate things.

Then it can be something that assists gameplay.  Look at Mirror’s Edge for that.  The world of that game was drenched in white.  It made the colors in it stand out so you knew to pay attention to them.  Not to mention that it made the authoritarian nature of the government more apparently.  The world is white, they are always in black and blue.  Their color tells you how you should see them.  It’s not the most complicated method of story-telling, but it gets the job done.

Something that you also have to keep in mind is that style is easier to do.  Games that go for realism take longer to get right.  And in a gaming market where people are demanding games quicker (I have no idea why.  I have no problem with delays to get it right), this ends up with a TON of bugs.  Style has no such limitations.  It can be done much quicker and use a smaller budget.  Which brings me to the cons.

Cons: Realism

There is something to keep in mind when you have games shooting for that Uncanny Valley – they have a bad habit of having bugs.  A TON of bugs.  And with the rush I said before, more and more games are being shipped with bugs that the industry calls “known shippable.”  Hell, when Naughty Dog was working on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, they found a bug in the game just three days before shipping that would have crashed the PS3 console.  Thankfully they were able to patch it in time, but you see what I mean?  Going more and more real means that if you don’t want a game to have a shit-ton of bugs, you have to devote more and more time to it.  For me, that’s fine.  I wish more developers would take the time to hold back and get it right.  If anything, that is rewarded with player loyalty as we feel the developers want to take the time to make us happy.  Granted, that can go both ways.  Just look at the backlash with all the delays of Mighty No. 9.

Another thing is that games that shoot for that point are often pretty ugly.  People complain that games have way too much gray and brown in them, well, that’s part of the fact that they are shooting for realism.  Most apartments have white walls and tan carpets.  Most cities are gray and dismal.  Not everywhere can be Seattle or Tokyo.  So your palate of colors gets very limited the more realistic you shoot for.

Cons: Style

The biggest problem with a game that has a unique style is that you are almost certainly condemning it to be niche.  Remember all the games I listed above?  From Persona 5 to Mirror’s Edge, one thing they have in common is that they don’t appeal to a mass market.  There are so many games I can think of with a fascinating unique style.  Flower, ABZU, The Wolf Among Us, Journey, Borderlands, and one thing they all have in common is that they are niche.  Borderlands is the most mainstream, but even it doesn’t have the mass draw that other games do.  For whatever reason, people are just drawn more to the realism side of the spectrum.  Something I will never understand.

Then there’s the fact that the Uncanny Valley of facial animation is lost on you.  Without exception, it’s gone.  With realism they can use motion capture tech, and it is getting better and better at making facial animations that look like real people.  Stylization has that concept forever beyond its reach.  After all, if the feature of a character are off from normal people, you can’t believe that they are real when they talk.  It’s like how a cartoon can have good lip-synching, but you still know it’s a cartoon.  That’s just how it goes.  But that’s no excuse to skimp on the facial animations.  I’m talking to you, Life is Strange.  So many of the more emotional scenes in that game would have been better if we could see the character’s emotions better.

So, which side are you?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Style – all who have it share one thing: originality.” – Diana Vreeland

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s First Take: The Last of Us: Part II Trailer

In 2013, there debuted a game that was not only my favorite game for the PS3, but also one of my favorite games of all time.  It starred a duo who I have not only loved as characters, but written Critical Examination posts about.  My contention is that both of them have given up something in order to survive in the world of this series.  The name of this series means the last part of yourself that you are willing to throw away in order to stay alive.  Joel describes himself as a survivor to justify the horrible things he has done and continues to do throughout the first game.  At the end, Ellie chose to make the sacrifice in order to continue living.  Will the next game keep that idea going?  From what I have seen so far, absolutely.  Let’s take a look at the trailer.

Alright, we start off seeing somebody who we don’t know tuning a guitar.  I love how detailed at all is.  They start to play, and a familiar voice can be heard.  The song is a miserable one about how she is no longer a good person, and to be seen as good is wrong.  While singing, we see somebody coming into the house.  We don’t see his face, as he walks through what looks to be a real bloodbath.  A lot of people died in there, recently.  The man is holding a gun, so maybe he will be the next one that our girl Ellie decides to waste.  Sucks to be him.

However, as he gets to the door where she’s playing, another familiar voice asks her a question – what are you doing, kiddo?  Joel’s back, and as the paternal figure he has always been, he’s with his young charge.  I’m curious to see how their father-daughter relationship has grown over the last few years.  Ellie has done some growing up, and since she’s covered in blood when we get a close-up of her, she clearly has gotten used to a violent life.  He then asks – are you really going to go through with this?  I think this question has significance.  If my theory is right, and The Last of Us represents the last part of yourself that you are willing to give up to survive, then his question is asking her if she is willing to make the sacrifice once-again.  Another instance has been put to her to make the sacrifice of her humanity to survive.  To which she responds – I’m going to kill every last one of them.  So, yeah.  She is willing to make the sacrifice.  Joel being her surrogate father has come full circle, and now his way of surviving has passed on to her.

There are a lot of things that I am curious about, though.  For instance – what happened to Tommy?  Why did they leave?  Did something bad happen?  There are a lot of unanswered questions, and I am so stoked to see what those are.  No release date, but I am a patient man when it comes to Naughty Dog.  They don’t release games half-done, so I got nothing but time.

Initial Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

SIONL: Uncharted 4 Dialogue (Spoken and Unspoken)

I have heard so many people bitching about modern gaming.  They say that it’s all just interactive movies.  I vehemently disagree with that assertion.  However, I will say that the cues that games have taken from movies have almost all been for the best.  Granted, the insane cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid 4 were more than a little much.  But the thing that gets me is just how far gaming has come in terms of using subtle details to tell stories.  This is something that the newest and final entry in the Uncharted franchise did SO well, and I am in love with it because of that.

Of course, only a studio like Naughty Dog could have pulled this off.  I don’t know what writers they have doing the dialogue for those games, but I demand that those people get paid their worth in gold.  Because they deserve it.  That’s not to say that all the team isn’t amazing.  But the thing that truly gets to me is the way that they handle dialogue.  And as the tech has gotten better, the performances have gotten better to.

I remember that final moment in their previous game, The Last of Us.  I’ve talked about this scene extensively.  Ellie finally reveals how she got infected, and how it started a chain reaction of people in her life dying and her blaming herself for all of it.  That weight she carried has shaped her as a character.  In that final moment, she demands that Joel tell her the truth about what happened with the Fireflies.  He lies right to her face, and we get to see that last look.  Where she is accepting his lie and moving forward.  It’s all done through subtle facial animations and us looking her right in the eye for those couple of seconds.  That was awesome.  However, the step up in visual fidelity took the cake for story-telling that can be done using not a single word.

When Nate and Elena learn the truth of the ultimate fate of the Founders of Libertalia, (this isn’t a spoiler, by the way.  The name of where the game was headed was in the promotional material), and you hear Nate talking about it with such reverence for the history and such sadness for how pointless the whole affair was and how sad he is to see what happened to these great people, you cut away from him talking and see Elena just looking at him.  The look on her face says it all.  She realizes that he is someone who can never be satisfied with life as a typical person.  You can see gears working in her head as she realizes that this man and his love of history is everything.  That’s something that will never die.  And if he tries to live a normal life, this cycle of deception and lies will repeat itself.  All of that is without her saying a single word.  By the time she does speak, the audience has learned so much about her character, and what she’s thinking.  This could only be done with the visuals of the current generation.

I honestly say that if people are complaining about this sort of thing and how games have become this way, then I genuinely don’t know what to tell them.  I love this level of visual fidelity.  I like that games have now reached a point where things can be said without a line of dialogue using just a character’s facial expressions.  If you ask me, I would love it if games could take a few more cues from the more subtle aspects of film.  Like how David Fincher is able to use empty space to signify things like an absent husband or an empty life.  We have reached a point in gaming and story-telling that the visuals of a game can be used to set up a narrative in a greater way than we ever could have before.

I cannot wait to see what Naughty Dog has in store for us next.  A lot of people are talking about an Easter egg in this game that shows a poster of a woman who is pregnant, has red hair, holding a gun, and the front of it has the font that was used for The Last of Us.  A lot of people were stoked, thinking that it’s Ellie’s continued story.  Yeah, not really.  For starters, Ellie wouldn’t need to wear the gas mask.  She is immune to the infection and the spores that come along with it.  I have a theory of my own – it’s her mother.  I believe that this next game is a prequel where we get to learn Ellie’s story.  If you read the letter that Ellie has from her mother when you are playing her for a time, you learn that her mother had something important to tell her about who she is and her birth.  I get the feeling that the girl’s immunity was no accident.  Now we’ll get to learn the truth.  So exciting!  It’s a very cool time to game.

Until next time, a quote,

“These are some of history’s greatest pirates, and they all perished in an instant.  At this very table.”  – Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Unpopular Opinion: LGBT Characters in Fiction

There is a YouTuber named Vee who I really need to give some credit to.  I watch his videos and I often don’t finish them because his videos have given me so much to talk about.  This post is no exception.  In fact, here’s a link to his channel, just so I feel like I’m not being a complete dick to this guy.  It’s only fair to give credit where it’s due.  I wrote a long time ago about the last season of Legend of Korra.  I didn’t like it.  There was WAY too much plot crammed into far too few episodes.  They needed to space that out more.  Like having the season go to 20 episodes or something.  It was insane how crammed that was.  I didn’t like it.  It effed with the pacing and made it impossible for there to be any character development.  Which was important, considering the fact that it was clear that the villain in this season was meant to be somewhat likable.  Or at least someone where we don’t outright hate her.  She was supposed to be sympathetic.  That made sense.  Given how perfect the previous season was, it just felt like a step in the wrong direction.

The elephant in the room, though, was the big twist at the very end of the series.  A twist that had NO build-up and came right the fuck out of nowhere.  Anyone who knows how I overanalyze stuff will be able to see my opinion of this is going.  I didn’t like it.  Let me make something VERY clear – I have no problem if there is a gay, lesbian, bi, trans, whatever character in a fictional work.  For real, it doesn’t bother me at all.  But there’s a caveat to this – it has to make sense.  It has to feel like this isn’t just something being shoe-horned in to either make some political or something statement.  That’s how good story-telling works.  I have the same problem with any kind of character relationship that seems forced.  Relationships have to feel like they are building.  It has to feel like it developed over time and is real.

Let me give you an example.  Whoever the writers are at Naughty Dog studios, those people are utter geniuses.  Using only dialogue, they are able to make relationships that not only feel real, but also are ones that we can emotionally connect to.  They released a piece of DLC to their game The Last of Us where we get to meet Ellie’s friend Riley.  In the course of a DLC that takes a couple hours, not only do they introduce their relationship as friends, but you get to see it develop.  When Ellie ends up kissing Riley, that feels like it was real, because we got to know and care about these characters.  Their relationship wasn’t some forced thing to fill a quota.  Granted, Naughty Dog is very SJW friendly (a fact that has recently bit them in the ass with their latest game and a little controversy surrounding it.  Hopefully that was a lesson to them about pandering to these people), but it still didn’t feel like pandering.  This was a real relationship.  If it weren’t for the STUPID ending to the DLC with a hope speech, it would have been really touching to know that Riley is going to die.  Like if they had had it be very uncathartic.  With Ellie and her just waiting, and eventually Riley turning, while she doesn’t.  Given the emotional weight she was carrying, that would have fit.

Or hey, while we’re talking about The Last of Us, let’s talk about Joel and Ellie.  What Joel does at the end of that game is something that has a lot of gamers getting into heated debates.  I got into one myself when someone tried to postulate that it is Joel who is the real villain of the game.  I argue that he isn’t, and there’s a reason.  Over the course of this game, you see a man who became an emotional brick wall soften and have a paternal side that was long dead be woken up because of this little girl in his charge.  She becomes like a daughter to him.  When he is running with her out of the hospital, listen to what he says to her.  Compare that to what he said to his actual daughter at the very beginning, and it makes sense.  This man lost everything.  Now, he is about to lose everything again.  So he chooses to sell humanity up the river in order to save the person he cares for most.  To hold on to his regained connection to the human condition, he basically sentences humanity to death.  I kind of love that.  Not only is the moral ambiguity awesome, but it makes sense.  The reason we don’t hate Joel is because we understand why he’s doing it.  This is a man who doesn’t want to lose the only person he cares for.  It’s kind of great.  It makes Ellie’s acceptance of his lie that much more compelling, because she has her own lines that she has to make peace with.

Do you see what I’m talking about?  I legitimately do not care if there is some sexuality in a fictional work, so long as it makes sense.  Korra and Asami’s relationship came right the fuck out of nowhere.  There was no build-up.  We never saw them getting close.  Hell, the series never even committed to it anyway, so why bring it into the series at all?!  The SJW community gets all raving and shit when there is an LGBT relationship in a series.  They don’t care about context, because nuance is this weird form of witchcraft to these people.  They can look at it, but they don’t understand it.

Unpopular as it is, if there is an LGBT character in a series, and their relationship doesn’t make sense, I am going to think that it’s stupid.  Take that for what you will.

Until next time, a quote,

“Continuity does not rule out fresh approaches to fresh situations.”  -Dean Rusk

Peace out,

Maverick