I wrote a review for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children a while back. In it, I went over some of its problems—it panders, has too many characters for its running time, and breaks its suspension of disbelief more than once. I also briefly touched on Cloud’s depression, which I plan to talk about in more detail today. Advent Children has a lot of things wrong with it, and as a whole, the movie simply does not work. Cloud’s character arc is one of those things. The movie doesn’t know how to handle mental health issues, and that makes Advent Children more than a little painful to watch at times. Cloud suffers from depression, but his depression never contributes to his character arc in a way that matters. Advent Children uses it to set up his internal conflict, but it never resolves his issues. Instead, Cloud’s depression is little more than a gimmick, and the way the movie handles it really drags on the story.
A while back, a friend and I attempted what we called a Maximum Chaos playthrough of the game Until Dawn. Until Dawn is basically an interactive horror movie, presented cinematically but offering its players the chance to steer the story in different directions based on character interactions, decisions, and quick time events in action scenes. The Maximum Chaos run involves picking the most risky choices, starting as many fights between characters as possible, and not hitting any of the QTEs, leading to the most exciting, dramatic, and gory story possible. Given Until Dawn’s “anyone can die” premise, this leads to some interesting and brutal action. But, as we learned along the way, it also reveals that certain characters are quite literally indestructible no matter what your button-pressing and narrative choices inflict on them, and some are far too easy to damage, which leaves the game with some unfortunate implications.
Spoilers for the game, character deaths and possible endings beyond this point! Continue reading
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 towards 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.
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 towards 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.
I don’t normally seek out erotic visual novels, but if I did, I doubt I’d leap to describe them as “delightful.” But Sugarscript’s Cute Demon Crashers proved the exception in both of these, by not only getting me to play a sexy dating sim but leaving me with a warm fuzzy feeling that (you’d think) would be uncharacteristic of the genre. If you look at the creators’ mission statement, though, you’ll realize that was the point:
In our team, we felt there was a need of consent and safe spaces in 18+ VNs for women, and NaNoRenO 2015 was the perfect excuse to make a game to fit those needs!
Consent and comfort is a massive, integral part of Cute Demon Crashers. College student Claire (who the player can rename) accidentally summons three incubi and one succubus who sense that she’s lonely, and over the course of the game she can bond with them and learn about them, and, if she wants to, pick one to have sex with that night. Whichever adorable sexy demon she picks, the ensuing sex scene is sweet, gentle, sometimes funny, and each demon is lovely in their own unique way. Because consent is an integral part of the development team’s mission, it’s an integral part of the gameplay: plenty of options pop up throughout the scene, with Claire’s lovers asking her if she wants to do this, or that, or stop. And indeed, a big stop button is available in the corner of the screen at all times. If you hit the button or want to back down, the demons never make Claire feel bad about it, and they do everything they can to make sure she’s physically and emotionally comfortable throughout the whole process.
There are no bad ends in this visual novel. It’s entirely about having a good time and exploring sexuality in a fun, safe, and comfortable way, with the magical love demon aspect managing to be adorable rather than skeevy like it could be. The whole game was a delightful and fun experience, which is why I’m super excited that Sugarscript has announced that they’re working on a “Side B” sequel/spinoff for the game. Continue reading
Overwatch recently introduced some new characters into its ever-growing world, including a new playable hero. And while the giant centaur-like Omnic tank Orisa is an interesting addition to the fighting lineup, her creator is more interesting to me. Efi Oladele is an eleven-year-old inventor from the highly advanced African city of Numbani. Despite her young age, she’s already received worldwide attention after receiving a prestigious grant for her robotics work. After a mysterious attack at the Numbani International Airport, Efi was inspired to use her grant money to create a new protector for her city from an old OR15 defense bot. Thus, Orisa was born. Orisa is well-intentioned but still has a childlike innocence despite her many fighting capabilities, and Efi, while a genius, is also still an adorable preteen. The bot and her creator are to put it in simple terms, too precious, too pure, so I was excited to stumble upon a fic that captured that, especially since it hasn’t been that long since they were introduced.
I really have just about given up on decent female representation in these games. It’s not even that women aren’t in Assassin’s Creed III—we do get a few characters, and they are anything but poorly written. They’re just not in it very much, and I know the story could do better. However, now that Trump has signed legislation allowing DAPL to proceed once more, showing how little both he and other Americans care about Native American lands and the rights of the people on those lands, Assassin’s Creed III was remarkably on point when it came to issues of race. Given the current political climate, it delves into a much-needed conversation about the oppression of minorities, white privilege, and the bad things that happened to make our country what it is today.
Spoilers up ahead.
It’s been a few years since the “are video games art” question has been raised and pretty much resolved. Yes, video games are art. But with that question out of the way, we’re left with “what’s next?” To that end, I believe we are lucky that many outlets (such as our own) are more than willing to discuss games as an art form, in a similar vein to the way we discuss books or movies. For this week’s web crush, I want to highlight Vice’s gaming division: Waypoint.