Lesbian Matriarchs, Smokeleaf Dealing, and Doomed Pyromaniacs: The Diversity and Zaniness of Rimworld

I’m a fan of story games. Deep RPGs with a lot of character development or walking simulators with well done environmental storytelling tend to be the ones I look out for. I also, however, have a huge weakness for good sim/strategy games; particularly space-related ones like Galactic Civilizations. But even games like the Civilization franchise (okay, mainly Civ V) often keep me going well after bedtime. I also generally want games with good representation (which unfortunately often just means some representation). Rimworld, though still in early access, hits most of these notes and has proven a pleasant surprise thus far.

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The town mothers have a sweet pad. Though I’m not sure who decided the Muffalo could sleep inside. (screenshot from Rimworld)

As a colony sim that plays with the amount of control you have over AI-generated stories that develop between colonists, the potential for complex and diverse scenarios to emerge is similar to that of a game like The Sims and one that provides some interesting opportunity for social commentary, tackling serious issues but not taking itself too seriously in the process.

To give you an idea what exactly I mean, I’ll tell two of those stories: one about a quasi-utopian space-weed dealing colony run by lesbian matriarchs, and one that got burned down by a stressed out pyromaniac and devolved to cannibalism.

TW: Discussion of (non-graphic) extreme violence, drug use, and ableist/sexuality/gender stereotypes after the jump.

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Sexualized Saturdays: “I’ll Make My Own Gender, with Blackjack… and Hookers!”—A Critical Look at Futurama’s Handling of Bender’s Gender Identity

Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have watched these episodes so many times I think I broke Netflix’s suggestion algorithms. While there are many aspects to the show that are brilliant and remarkably nuanced, one topic that they have addressed repeatedly, and one that their exploration has handled in widely disparate and often problematic ways, is gender and gender identity. While not a main theme of the show, various aspects of gender and sexuality are regularly explored and put under the lens of Futurama’s satirical distant future.

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A genderbent recreation of the Barbarella poster with Fry and Leela. (Screenshot from Futurama)

In examining how this is generally handled, the good and bad alike, there are some specific episodes scattered throughout the show’s run that specifically deal with these issues and demand specific attention; mostly through changes to the gender identity of one of its most widely known characters: Bender B Rodriguez.

TW: Discussion of transphobic and homophobic themes.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Fionna and the Ice King—Toxic Masculinity in Adventure Time

It seems in recent years as though a dam has broken and the notion of what is “acceptable content” for a kids or YA show thankfully now has an ever-increasing flow of support. While themes of inclusivity and equality have been a staple of the genre since the early days of Children’s Television Workshop, recent examples like Steven Universe have dealt with gender identity and sexuality in ways that would likely have been vetoed by the networks even a decade ago. One show that, in many ways at least, was at the forefront of that charge is Adventure Time. While by no means perfect, it gives us numerous examples of gender equality and represents a fairly wide range of gender, sexual, and romantic identities that fall outside the heteronormative narratives that many of the genre’s examples, even the best ones, have traditionally retold ad nauseum.

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Grab your friends, we’re going to very distant lands. (screengrab from Adventure Time)

While Adventure Time does this in numerous ways and through numerous characters, there is one example that is among the most direct and the most enduringly popular: Fionna and Cake. In looking not only at these characters specifically, but also more broadly at what they show us about the Ice King and toxic masculinity, we can see one of the best examples of these themes being presented in subtle and complex ways that are accessible to the target age group and, ultimately, further that tradition of inclusiveness.

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Throwback Thursdays: Cat-person Lesbians, Homicidal Robots, and Captain Janeway; Representation in KOTOR

I’ve played quite a few video games in my day, often coming back to the really good ones repeatedly over the years. But only a select few have crossed over into “I set my Steam profile to private so my friends don’t know how much I play this game” territory. Of all those titles, perhaps the most enduring are the Bioware Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games from 2003/2004.

There’s something about KOTOR that gives it a staying power very few story-driven games, even the truly great ones, have ever achieved. The two games combine a massive narrative depth with a mature treatment of the Star Wars universe that sets a gold standard for the franchise, at least in the realm of gaming. They have proved so enduring in their popularity, in fact, that KOTOR was re-released for mobile and KOTOR II was recently patched (after over a decade) to support modern PCs, add Steam Workshop support, fix bugs, and officially support the Restored Content Mod. For those who are not familiar, KOTOR II was rushed to make a physical release date, and as a result, a great deal of content was cut. Rather than removing it, however, the devs left it there for modders to find. Over the years, that resulted in a near complete restoration of that content. The game has remained popular enough to justify a complex, years-long project involving dozens of coders and artists, and it has continued to sell well enough to justify an updated Steam release with official support for that mod.

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Back where it all began… Malachor. (Screenshot from KOTOR II)

Falling thousands of years before the events of the Star Wars prequels, KOTOR showed us a universe where the galaxy is plunged into massive and bloody conflict with the Mandalorian Wars and then almost immediately into the universally disastrous Jedi Civil War, in which Jedi are not trusted, are hated by many, and are ultimately hunted to near extinction. It’s dark and chock full of moral ambiguity and some of the best Star Wars content out there. While these games are technically no longer canon, the general framework and many of the characters from this period, KOTOR games included, did “make the cut.”

The KOTOR franchise also serves as a clear spiritual predecessor to the best of both the Mass Effect franchise and Fallout: New Vegas. Many of the same people worked on many of those titles, and there are themes that almost seemed to carry over directly. While far from perfect, these games dealt with complex racial, ethical, and sexuality/gender identity issues in ways that were often groundbreaking, if occasionally facepalm worthy.

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Throwback Thursdays: Gender, Feminism, and Exploitation Tropes in Y: The Last Man

The comic book series that I come back to over the years tend to be the ones with the most memorable and well fleshed out characters. I generally also re-examine these treasured tomes from a more critical perspective as time goes on, often from an explicitly feminist one. Of these all-time favorites, one that particularly warrants that reexamination is Y: The Last Man.

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The team dynamic in a nutshell. (Scan from Y: The Last Man)

I won’t lie, I’ve been wanting to write about Y since I survived the Jedi/Sith training required to write for LGG&F; I’ve also been absolutely dreading it. For those of you not familiar with the series, Last Man is a story by Brian K. Vaughan that ran from 2002–2008 in which all the characters aside from the titular protagonist are women, as is nearly every other human being alive. It’s a story, written by a man, about the last man alive in a world full of women. To say that there are some inherently problematic issues in the series from that information alone is an understatement. Many of my favorite comic book authors are men and many of my favorite comic book characters are women; that critical angle is one I encounter frequently, but Y takes it to a whole new level as nearly every character you encounter or see is female (or AFAB).

In looking back at The Last Man here, let’s explore how it inverts exploitation narratives in order to undermine them and how it uses gender as a lens through which to examine human nature.

Spoilers for the whole series, including the end, follow.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Batgirl, a Look Back at a Lifelong Hero and a Hopeful Look Forward

With the recent news  that Joss Whedon is in the works to do a (potentially amazing, if arguably problematic) Batgirl movie, I’ve been thinking about Barbara Gordon a lot. I mean, more than usual. BG’s always been a personal favorite and perhaps the first example I remember from my childhood of not only a real “strong female character” but a superhero I actually connected with. Babs has been a hero to many and while she has been used in incredibly problematic ways over the years, she remains one of the most prominent female superheroes to the average geek.

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This shade of purple was forever associated with Batgirl in my brain. (image via Batman Wiki)

As different artists have taken a crack at Batgirl over the years, she has gone through a few phases, as have most of the other major players in the Batman canon. Many of those different versions of BG have been used in exploitative ways. Despite this, many have made her a feminist icon and often a source of inspiration to fans of all genders. In looking back at some of these incarnations, I also hope to highlight a few things that will be crucial to the Batgirl film not ending up horrible.

TW: Discussion of themes related to sexual violence and ableism.

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Throwback Thursdays: Diversity in Cowboy Bebop’s Vision of the Future

For many of us, Cowboy Bebop, as it notes in its opening credits, really did become “a new genre unto itself.” It was a formative anime experience and set a standard for animated television that in many ways continues to be that against which new shows are judged. It was hugely successful and for many people, in the West at least, served as an introduction into what anime was really capable of as a storytelling medium. It was also released during the late 90’s pop culture zeitgeist when the Internet was still relatively new and concepts like media inclusivity and cultural appropriation were just beginning to gain traction in the mainstream narrative.

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They’re gettin the band back together. (image via IMDB)

So how does Cowboy Bebop hold up when exposed to modern criticism? Mostly pretty well. There’s some problematic stuff, obviously, but the universe in which Bebop is set offered a lot of creative freedom and some of that was used to explore social constructs and culture. It presents a vision of the future that is incredibly diverse and where humanity is living on other worlds, but where people are still just people. While there are tropes and shortcomings, some of that vision was ahead of its time and still holds water today.

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