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 (ok, 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.
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.
In the hype of larger productions and bigger fanbases, it’s all too easy to completely miss out on less spoken of productions that are equally as good. With this seeming boom of Dungeons & Dragons webshows, it perhaps comes as no surprise that they suffer from the same thing—it’s definitely easy to fall in the shadow of amazing shows like Critical Role and The Adventure Zone. So today I bring you a beginner-friendly D&D webshow starring some of my favorite YouTubers and led by Wizards of the Coast’s own DM extraordinaire, Chris Perkins. Friends, readers, dim the lights, because it’s time for some Dice, Camera, Action.
Since I started watching Critical Role a few months ago, I have become quite obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons. I quickly realized that while playing D&D is a lot of fun, what I really wanted to be is a Dungeon Master. It unites some of my favorite creative outlets: writing, drawing, acting, and directing. Despite my enthusiasm, it seemed quite daunting at first because there appeared to be so many aspects to it, so I started reading the source books and searching the internet for tips and advice. There is a lot of great stuff out there, so this might become a series of sorts, and I want to start today by talking about one of my more obscure finds—a series of YouTube videos titled Dungeon Master 101 by Acreletae. She has a lot of great advice on the basics of DMing: from organizing your notes and planning strategies for sessions and campaigns to creating non-player characters and cities.
Once upon a time I was one of the many people trying to catch up with Critical Role. During this fantastical, entertaining slog (and it was a slog at times) fellow fan Noodle suggested to me that I take a different route with my catch up plans: instead of watching each 3+ hour episode, I read the summaries of the episodes instead. “What a perfectly logical solution!” I thought. While my stubbornness eventually saw me through the twenty-some episodes I was behind on, I ended up enjoying the site Noodle linked me to, Project Derailed, for its other nerdy content and reviews.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While there has been some notable improvement lately, video games have not historically done a fantastic job of representing queer identities (or really anything other than “straight white dude”). The days of overt homophobia and extreme stereotypes are mostly behind us, but to put it bluntly, LGBTQ+ gamers usually take what we can get in the representation realm. Sometimes, that means playing as a gay character with very little actual identity beyond a statistic on a character sheet. In many cases, it means there is a female character who can be romanced by any gender of player character but basically is just gay or straight depending on your play-through, rather than a realistic portrayal of a bisexual woman. In an increasing number of cases, an NPC (usually one you can’t romance) is presented as canonically gay, but this either comes off as tokenization or even as baiting. It acknowledges that queer people exist within the world of the game, but doesn’t really allow queer gamers to roleplay authentically, unless you count “one dimensional flirting with that person I have no chance of hooking up with” as an authentic roleplaying experience.
As the trend toward inclusiveness increases, we often see developers either avoid defining a character’s sexuality if it doesn’t directly come up in gameplay or taking a “let’s just make everyone pansexual so players can make their own canon” approach (like many Bethesda and Bioware games). While there is actually something to be said for that second approach, particularly in an open RPG where making your own story is the point of the game, there is also something to be said for explicitly defining those identities and making players deal with the reality of not everyone on earth being bi/pan.
Note that the female version of the char is featured in the promo art. (image via Wikipedia)
The debate over the portrayal of sexuality in games has been going on for quite a while (anyone remember the controversy surrounding Juhani from KOTOR 1?), but gender is only just starting to get addressed along these lines, and finding solid representation of BTQ characters is often much harder than finding LG representation. Recently, Dragon Age 3 took a bold stance and allowed players to define not only their sexuality but their gender identity. The success of that game and the fact that the inclusiveness certainly didn’t hurt sales has opened some doors, and developers are starting to cautiously move toward them.
The recently released Torment: Tides of Numenera falls squarely into that category, exploring these concepts in a way that’s actually inclusive but not quite taking it to the level of DA3 in terms of how that is done. Like much about Torment, it’s a solid step in the right direction if not quite a running start.