The Sims is one of the most popular god-simulation games on the planet. I’ve been playing it since the original Sims game, when babies were made by passionately kissing a bunch of times in a row and children never grew up. Nowadays, Sims 4 is making progressive strides in the world of inclusive gaming. The creators want everyone to feel like they can see themselves represented in their Sims and tell more diverse stories than ever. Most recently, a patch removed the rigid gender binary in the Create-a-Sim workshop. Now you can customize your Sim’s gender, their ability to be pregnant or make others pregnant, and if they prefer masculine or feminine clothing. It’s not total gender customizability, but it’s a new and significant move in the name of inclusivity and representation. We can customize our Sim’s age, education, occupation, and where they live. Sims now come in all colors of the rainbow (literally). Sexual orientation is determined by the player’s will. There are Vampire-Sims, Zombie-Sims, Fairy-Sims, Witch-Sims, Plant-Sims, Werewolf-Sims, Mermaid-Sims, and Alien-sims. So why haven’t the creators touched religion yet? Well, there may be a few reasons, and none of them are great.
Normally I’m a spoiler hound, but while some experts argue that spoilers can enhance enjoyment of a story, I’m not sure if that’s the case for Arrival. Saika reviewed the trailer, but I’m not sure I even saw that one, and I’m almost glad I didn’t. Not knowing anything much beyond “aliens invade and someone tries to talk to them” made the movie more suspenseful. Arrival is the most original sci-fi movie of the year. It’s based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, which was nominated for and won a handful of awards back in 1999. It’s no wonder it was turned into a movie. Most alien movies are about humanity fighting off the evil alien invaders. Arrival is different. It’s a story of a linguist trying to help humanity establish peaceful relations with alien visitors. Arrival is probably going to end up on the list of movies all the cool philosophy professors show to get their undergrads to think about the nature of memory and free will. Wrapped up in suspenseful alien invasion trappings, Arrival is really about how a human may cope once her experience of time is no longer linear. If you could see into your own future, what would you do?
Spoilers abound after the jump.
Plenty has already been said about heroes and anti-heroes. Superman was created over seventy-five years ago, and yet America today prefers its heroes to have a bit more grit, like Tony Stark. What’s undeniable is that a dichotomy exists between light heroes and dark heroes. It’s a way of looking at protagonists that has ancient roots, but manifests differently in male and female characters.
The light and dark dichotomy is very old and very ingrained in our storytelling traditions. On the surface, “light” stereotypes give the character traits that are traditionally associated with positive ideas and symbolism. More often than not these characters will wear white or light colors, have light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. “Dark” characters tend to have dark hair, skin, eyes, and clothing. This color dichotomy is associated with good and evil, for religious and historical reasons. If you don’t have electricity you can be more productive when the sun’s out, while it’s easier for robbers and rule-breakers to hide in the cover of night. White is associated with purity and goodness, especially in Christianity, while black is associated with evil and the consequences of evil (like sin and death).
While light heroes cling to a traditional morality, dark heroes have a more subversive attitude. There’s something bad or wrong or broken with a dark character, which is usually the source of their darkness. Men tend to be gallant, chivalrous heroes or troubled rogues, while women tend to be virginal maidens or seductive vamps. It’s taken generations to move beyond this rigid dichotomy, giving the light and dark new and interesting implications. But if we really care about smashing gender stereotypes, we need to move beyond the light and dark gender axis. Both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones from Marvel’s respective Netflix series take the light and dark dichotomies and smash them to bits.
Spoilers for all of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones below.
A few days ago the staff of Tumblr (you still have a Tumblr, right? We do.) promoted a post announcing “emoji spells” were “having a moment”. I couldn’t help but think about how unique this idea is, and at the same time, really isn’t. Emoji spells are a series of emojis put together with a similar intent to that of casting traditional spells. They’re popular with technopagans and operate under principles similar to traditional spellcraft, combining specific intentions with sending the spell out into the world multiple times. Instead of saying the words aloud thrice, likes and reblogs (or other forms of sharing specific to a digital platform) charge and cast the spell. Witches have used sigils, or symbols, that are experimental and unique to a specific spell. They turn an intention into a magic image, so emojis are the perfect vehicle for digital witchcraft. The more the emojis are shared, the greater charge they get and the more powerful they become, just as many voices are more powerful than one.
The reason emoji spells get so many reblogs and likes isn’t because there are an overwhelming number of Wiccans and magic-users on Tumblr (although there is a thriving community). It’s because people hope they work, it takes next to no effort to pass on today’s version of the chain letter, and if they don’t work, no one actually thinks any harm will come of it. That’s the key: we aren’t really sure if digital manifestations of religion really count in the same way “real-world” religious rituals and practice do. Even in the Wiccan, witchcraft, and pagan communities, practitioners of techno magic are looked down on. One way to start this conversation is to look at geek culture, and the way geeks have been encountering some of the most important fundamental elements of religion since the dawn of the internet.
Sexism is something all of us here at LGG&F are familiar with. Positive gender dynamics, or the relationships between people of different genders, is an important component of feminist storytelling. We all know that the messages we consume in our favorite media will normalize positive behaviors and ideas, or negative ones. That’s why it’s so important that everyone gets fair representation, and everyone gets treated like a human being, not an object. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case, even in geekdom. More often than not, men are treated like people and women are treated like objects: by the plot, by other characters, and in real life. Recently I stumbled upon a particular trope that is especially good at articulating this double standard: “Men get old. Women get replaced.” Not only do some of the most popular geeky stories take this trope for granted, but incorporate it into the basic plot structure.
Spoilers for the Captain America movies, Doctor Who, and The Legend of Korra after the jump.
If any of you have followed my posts in this Sunday column for a while, you’ve probably noticed that one of my favorite subjects to harp on is that by and large, science fiction does an absolutely atrocious job of authentically representing religion. Most of us have come to expect that if religion even shows up at all in a story, it’s likely an evil strawman of some kind of Christianity: really a parody of 1950s Roman Catholicism. If we’re lucky enough to deviate from that, we get a generic “Eastern Religion”. It’s even less common to read science fiction that takes faith-based issues and conflicts seriously. Take theodicy, for example. It’s a tricky topic but in short, it’s the theological discipline that attempts to grapple with the problem of evil. In many ways theodicy attempts to address some of the most serious objections to faith in a loving, powerful God. So when a priest recommended I read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, I was happy to not only find an authentic representation of religious belief, but a deeply moving treatment of the problem of evil and divine providence in a faith-based context.
Spoilers for The Sparrow and triggers for rape, cannibalism, sexual slavery, body horror, and disturbing content below.
Last week Ace reviewed Stranger Things, the runaway Netflix hit. It’s a fabulous sci-fi show quickly gathering what should in time turn into a cult following. The sci-fi-horror-mystery story follows the mysterious disappearance of young Will Byers (and others), the efforts of his family and friends to rescue him, and the mysterious government authorities that want to keep everything covered up. It’s a show that truly pays homage to the spirit of 1980s television and movie tropes, without making the show feel cheap. Most of the time, when a story utilizes a lot of tropes, it’s not a good thing. Usually tropes mean that characters are flat and stereotyped, plots are predictable and boring, and more often than not anyone outside the “straight WASP male” gets shafted. What I find truly remarkable about Stranger Things is its ability to (for the most part) navigate the divide between using familiar tropes and not indulging in sloppy, harmful stereotypes. Take, for example, the way the show treats its female characters.
Spoilers for Stranger Things below. Continue reading