Sexualized Saturdays: “Fully Functional,” Lt. Commander Data and Asexual Representation

In contemplating possible articles related to ace week, I tried to think of classic geek characters who are asexual. That led me to wonder, “How would I even know? It’s not like we get 24/7 access to these fictional people’s’ lives.” But then, very quickly, I realized that we do know that a lot of our favorite characters are not ace/aro because so many of them have had on-screen relationships and sexual encounters that are presented as a product of the characters’ own sex drive (rather than as ace people who are accommodating their partner). But why? Is there something about our sexual lives that is so essential to our identities that it requires exposition in our fictional characters, or is this just an example of ace erasure? After some additional geeky contemplation, it occurred to me that there is one beloved character who is, in fact, perfectly suited to explore this exact question: Lt. Commander Data.

Data - Suaveness engaged

Suaveness subroutine engaged. (Screengrab from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG))

In addition to the issues surrounding Data’s own sexuality, the character is one seeking to achieve “greater humanity” and is therefore extensively used to represent what exactly we think that actually means, sexuality included. While the question of whether or not Data represents an asexual character is one that is widely open to debate (including in this post), the question of why and how we ascribe sexual identities to fictional characters as a way to “humanize” them and what that says about asexual representation in our media is perhaps the more interesting question.

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Floating in Space: Identity and Humanity in Tacoma

I almost don’t know where to start talking about Tacoma. There’s a lot going on at once in the game and, yet, very little of it actually happens to the player character. Like The Fullbright Company’s first title, Gone Home, Tacoma combines a powerful and intimate story about human relationships with a genre setting that creates an immersive atmosphere for the player to piece that story together. In GH, that was the story of a family going through rough times and the setting was a “haunted house” they’d recently moved into, and in Tacoma, the story is that of the crew of a recently abandoned space station and the setting is the station they left behind. Also like its predecessor, Tacoma’s story is extremely inclusive. After playing Gone Home I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to see what they can do with a bigger budget now that this game is a huge success.” The answer is Tacoma, and it’s an answer that was worth waiting for.

Tacoma - Main hallway

The main hallway of Tacoma station; while there’s a cool zero gravity basketball mini game to play here and some fantastic views, the stories behind these doors are what makes the game memorable. (Screenshot from Tacoma.)

Major spoilers after the break.

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Throwback Thursdays: Top 10 and Identity

There’s an oft-problematic sub-genre of superhero comics I’ve always had a particular affection for nonetheless. It’s a genre I have a difficult time even coming up with a name for; one where the nigh-incomprehensibly complex nature of a sci-fi/superhero setting and the gritty humanity inherent in “real life of superheroes” type content collide. Series like Transmetropolitan, Astro City, and Powers fall into that category, and those are some of the greatest comic series of all time. But there is one that I tend to forget about and, as a result, don’t often go back to: Alan Moore’s Top 10.

Top 10 - Squad Room

The Gang’s all here. (Screenshot from Top 10.)

As a police drama set in a city where literally every resident is some sort of superhero, robot, mutant, monster, goddess, or alien, Top 10 hits a lot of zany-but-dark notes. But unlike the (truly brilliant) series Powers by Brian Michael Bendis, Top 10 is much more lighthearted in its take on “how do you do policework when suspects are superpowered beings,” and tends more towards “comics continuity gone wild”-type jokes and narratives.

Top 10 features a dazzlingly diverse cast in an almost unimaginably complex multiverse, but the stories that it tells are surprisingly relatable, due in no small part to the character-focused writing by Alan Moore. The art by Gene Ha crams nearly every page with enough Easter eggs and references that they sometimes come off as being from a Where’s Waldo book. But the comic also, like many of Alan Moore’s greatest works, tackles some very controversial issues in ways that can be (sometimes subversively) heavy-handed and trope-y. Though much of the more problematic content in these books does offer a nuanced and honest look at things like racism, sexism, homophobia, and police corruption, it also sometimes comes off as playing for pure shock value.

Note that this article is about the original 2000-2001 run of Top 10 (and to a lesser extent its prequel The Forty Niners) rather than the 2008-2009 run by Kevin and Zander Cannon (who also worked on the original).

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Sexualized Saturdays: How GLaDOS Got Her Feminist Groove Back

At one point about a year ago, I was thinking of writing a Sexualized Saturdays post on Portal, but when I discovered that our own BrothaDom had already written that article, I cursed the whole “great minds think alike” thing and moved on. But something about Portal kept refusing to let me drop the idea of doing an article on it and I think I finally figured out what it is: GLaDOS is, arguably, an unsung feminist icon.

GLaDOS via TPW

Admit it, even after all the attempted murder… you still kinda want to give her a hug right? (Image via The Portal Wiki.)

Much of the media discussion of Portal centers around the awesomeness of Chell as a groundbreaking example of “female as generic default” for a game protagonist… because she is! But, mostly in Portal 2, there’s a whole lot more narrative devoted to GLaDOS’s backstory and the way it changes the emotional tone of her relationship with Chell. Along the way, we get a narrative about who and what GLaDOS really is, which takes her from being little more than a gameplay mechanic to a truly deep and memorable character. The main story arc in which that transpires is one in which Chell and GLaDOS confront a patriarchal system that has turned them both into pawns in an infinite game and where the cycle of violence brought by abuse is a central theme.

(TW: Discussion of abusive relationships and violence against women.)

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Back in the Bay with Bae

First off, I should probably say that I cannot be totally impartial when reviewing anything related to Life is Strange. That game had a profound impact on me, and, from a storytelling perspective, is one of my all time favorite pieces of media, let alone just video games. Accordingly, I had extremely high expectations for “Awake,” the first episode of the just-released prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

LiS Storm - Chloe Flipoff

Fortunately, this was not meant to be directed at the fans, as the overwhelmingly positive Steam reviews will attest. (Screenshot from Life is Strange: Before the Storm.)

Set well after the death of Chloe’s father William, but years before the events of the original game, Deck Nine’s Before the Storm follows a similar narrative and gameplay style to the original. Playing as Chloe Price rather than a still absent Maxine Caulfield, you enter into the beginning of her relationship with Rachel Amber and the subtly supernatural lead up to the eponymous storm at the ultimate conclusion(s) of Chloe’s story. The gameplay mechanics replace Max’s time-rewinding skills with Chloe’s ability to shit-talk her way out of anything (or at least fail to do so in an intense and often amusing way), but retain the core mechanics of decision-based interactive cutscenes interspersed with walking simulator-type gameplay.

I expected that this game, while technically a prologue, would serve as a form of “emotional epilogue” to Season 1 of the main game from Dontnod, since Season 2 will focus on entirely new stories and characters. In that regard, and many others, Before the Storm has largely succeeded in giving me what I most wanted from it: more Life is Strange, and particularly more Chloe Price.

Spoilers after the break!

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Throwback Thursdays: Those Caught In-between, a Look Back at DMZ

I wish I could say the themes and messages of Brian Wood’s DMZ are less relevant than they were a decade ago, but that is not the case. If anything, this story has become more relevant as the years go by. But even though the central concept of an irreconcilable ideological divide leading to a second American Civil War seems to become more depressingly realistic with each passing day, the stories about humanity and human nature during wartime that DMZ tells remain compelling.

DMZ - Escpe From New York

You know it’s going to be dark when an Escape From New York reference is the most lighthearted bit. (screengrab from DMZ)

Looking back on DMZ, it is tempting to think of it as prescient. But set against the backdrop of the war on terror and the reality of a post-9/11 world becoming firmly established in the American zeitgeist, it was also very much a product of its time. Yet by focusing on the reality of war for the people stuck in one, the result is essentially timeless.

TW: Discussion of 9/11 and life in a war zone. Violent imagery.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Steven and The Doctor; Gender Identity and Role Models in Steven Universe

Since its premiere, Steven Universe has meant a lot of things to a lot of people. The representation of numerous gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities, and creeds has been a phenomenal example of how diversity can lead to better storytelling and has provided many fans of all types with new fictional role models. The recent remarks by former Doctor Who lead Peter Davison, however, have had me thinking about one group that some say is overlooked in discussions of how this diversity is having an impact: straight white men.

Now, before anyone says anything, the reason this group is “overlooked” is that they have occupied a widely disproportionate number of the roles that need to be diversified in the first place; they aren’t overlooked, they’re usually the group being looked at. This demographic is the exact opposite of an underrepresented minority, and the overwhelming number of complaints I see about their exclusion are, as sixth Doctor Colin Baker says in his reply, “absolute rubbish.”

“Straight white male” has been the default target demographic for a wide majority of western mass media in the last century, and that identity is one that is effortlessly validated by a seemingly unending parade of straight white male heroes (even just ones named Chris). There is, IMHO, absolutely no argument whatsoever to be made that straight white men are underrepresented in media, let alone solely within the subgenres of animated kids shows featuring aliens or British time travel franchises. But the result of this debate was that I got to thinking about the nature of what messages these shows send, and how the identity of the messenger can impact the way it is received.

SU WHO - In the real way

He can show you how to be strong. (screenshot from Steven Universe)

Which, of course, led me to Steven Universe. SU is a show with a straight male protagonist, but also one in which the bulk of the show’s main characters are women and many are (essentially) queer women of color. The show demonstrates both that a straight white male can deliver a highly inclusive message and that characters with a different identity can deliver messages that are particularly important for those same young boys in need of a role model—the same ones that Davison is worried about. By validating that a straight white man can in fact be a messenger for diverse audiences, SU simultaneously demonstrates why straight white men can and must begin to learn more of those messages from messengers of other identities.

(Note: while the racial component to the “default” hero identity is equally important, this article will obviously focus primarily on the gender and sexuality components.)

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