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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Trailer Tuesdays: Citrus

I’m not very well versed in the world of yuri anime and manga; due in no small part to the fact that yaoi is simply more popular and often overshadows yuri works. Though, if I’m being honest, I never really made a major effort to widen that specific horizon. I think one part of me wants to believe that yuri somehow manages to avoid the annoying, and sometimes disgusting and damaging tropes that yaoi tends to fall into while the other part of me knows that can’t possibly be the case. Then I saw the trailer for an anime adaptation of Saburouta’s 2012 yuri manga Citrus on Twitter—I couldn’t ignore its bright colors. While fans of the series share an excitement for the animation of the manga they enjoyed so much, I couldn’t exactly share in the sentiment.

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Fanfiction Fridays: The Word of Your Body by Poetry

From its inception, Animorphs was always a series dedicated to what we’d term social justice today. It featured five kids of various ethnicities trying to save the world from a secret alien invasion, becoming child warriors in the process. But as a product of the 90s, it didn’t focus on LGBTQ+ issues very much. Sure, the protagonists were very young, and author K.A. Applegate might not have been able to get any LGBTQ+ rep through her publishers if she had had any ideas, but the fact remains that a series about kids literally changing their bodies as a weapon of war should have made trans issues front and center in Animorphs‘s otherwise excellent diversity.

Fortunately, in recent years the Animorphs fandom has taken steps to correct this oversight. One of my previous FFs, Bird in a Cage, was a character study of Tobias, arguably the Animorph with the most gender dysphoria. Canonically, Tobias never felt comfortable in his human body, and when he ended up trapped in his hawk morph, it wasn’t his body he missed, but his humanity in general. In that fic, author etothepii explores the idea of Tobias as a trans girl coming to terms with her gender identity. Today’s fanfic broadens the scope of these gender identity issues by changing the gender identity of all the Animorphs. The Word of Your Body is a series of vignettes about trans, intersex, and nonbinary Animorphs that looks at the many social and family issues that the gender-diverse Animorphs have to go through in the shadow of the war.

Trigger warning for gender dysphoria, transphobia, and internalized transphobia in the fic. As Animorphs was originally written in the 90s, this fanfic was written using LGBTQ+ terms that would have been used in the 90s, despite the fact that we no longer use some of these terms today. Please read with caution.

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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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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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Rin Plays: Dream Daddy

How many of you out there are surprised?

You All Saw This Coming

(via Giphy)

Yes, it appears that even if I say that I’m probably not going to buy a game, I’m going to end up buying it anyway so long as you slap “dating sim” on it and give me pretty art. Though Dream Daddy had a couple problems coming out of the gate and still has a few glitches, my experience with the game has been nothing but positive. I’ll get into the wonderfully fluffy details below the cut, but allow me to give my TL;DR right here. If you’re interested in the game at all, it’s worth purchasing; the writing is fun and everyone is kind of great. Also, if you want cute routes, definitely go for Mat or Damien. Drama? Hit up Robert or Joseph. More information? Well, just follow me below the cut.

Dream Daddy Cute Fam

(screenshot taken by me)

Spoilers for Dream Daddy below.

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