Because I am nothing if not chock full of ideas, I have decided to start a new series of posts (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my cosplay series—that’ll be updated soon too.) Anyway, the title of this series comes from this xkcd comic:
The impulse to make fun of people who don’t know everything about everything is particularly and depressingly strong in geekdom. You’re made fun of at an anime convention if you don’t get someone’s Portal reference, even though they’re unrelated fandoms. You are appalled when someone you considered a friend doesn’t get your Monty Python joke. Most nerds have probably found themselves on both sides of this problem at one time or another.
I’ve spent most of my life as an out-and-proud geek secretly terrified of being called out for not knowing something about a show, movie, or book that ‘everyone’ is supposed to have seen, and as a result have acquired a staggering amount of suface-level information about dozens of fan-things so that I can cover my tail and look appropriately knowledgable no matter the subject. I can, for example, list off a probably impressive amount of Batfamily backstory for someone who’s never read a Batman comic; laugh at Game of Thrones comics and macros online having never read a Song of Ice and Fire book, etc. etc.
But recently I’ve realized that that’s no way to go through life. It’s pretentious to assume every human being who claims nerd-dom knows what a Sepiroth or a Jayne is, and people who are that way push away other nerd hopefuls by saying ‘you’re not good enough, you don’t have geek cred if you haven’t seen X’. So now I’m not ashamed to say my nerd education is far from complete, and, as I investigate new and different things that I’m supposed to have known about already, I’d like to share my thoughts about them with you.
No one has enough time to know everything about everything. Most of the shows, books, movies, etc. that I plan to discuss in this series have been famous for ages—I just hadn’t, for whatever reason, watched them yet. Maybe you haven’t either. And in that case, I look forward to making you one of that day’s lucky 10,000.
It’s a game without any definition of your character’s gender. It’s a game without any clarification of your character’s race. One of the most appealing aspects of games is the prospect of experiencing one of the epic adventures we read about or watch onscreen. Many times this experience is diluted in games and we never get attain that catharsis we seek. You should care about this game because it fulfills the promise of experience right down to the sensory and emotional levels. It’s a significant step forward for the medium because it is art; it is literature. It’s an interesting game, to say the least. Journey feels like, well, a journey.
Journey begins with you taking control of a character, apparently meditating or resting in a vast desert. My first impression left me feeling as though I was looking at a woman, but after playing for a small while I identified with the character so directly that she became a he, just like me. All you can see is a mountain in the distance and vast, desolate desert. You instinctively move towards the mountain, the correct direction, thanks to the perfect visual design. There is no instruction manual, no overt tutorial, and no explanation of what is going on. Indeed, the only facts you know are that you are alone, and you don’t know what is going on. This leaves you feeling uneasy about your environment, anxious for direction, and eager for help – just like you were wandering alone in a desert. The sand glistens in the bright sun. Things happen in this world that you don’t understand, and you only come to understand the rules that govern you in terms of what you can use to your advantage. As you become confident in your own abilities, anxiety about your survival disappears, and you journey on.
Since there is no explanation about what is going on, the short cut-scenes you view are welcome treasures, almost as though they are prophetic dreams giving you purpose while you rest. Eventually you see another wanderer just like you. This is another human playing the game online. Journey’s multiplayer, you see, works under the assumption that every player is connected to the internet. So, it pairs you with another individual when you are both at the same point in the game. You cannot interact with this individual; in fact you can’t speak or communicate with any language. Whether you join up or go your separate ways, your journey continues. I was so relieved to see someone else during my first play-through that I instinctively clung to my new, anonymous partner. Just as I had come to relate to my character as myself, I related to the other wanderer as another human being. The game can be played solo if you so desire, but, since the multiplayer component is additive and nonrestrictive, doing so limits your experience.
The visual presentation is done to perfection, and not just to the purpose of establishing setting, but even to narrative significance. The brazen sun and shimmering sand don’t make you feel hot sand in your toes and dry air in your lungs. Instead, the bright light from the sun makes everything blend together, and the sparkles in the sand give you reference. It all leaves you feeling very uneasy and confused. You loath the sun’s brightness and the endless ocean of sand, yet it is what you know best. This is how the setting and presentation become narrative, how you become the wanderer, and how you seamlessly acquire instincts befitting of yourself, the wanderer. Making cut-scenes a positive experience is no small feat, making you see a character on screen as a real human being is even greater, still. The journey is authentic. After completing a play-through, you contemplate your experience as though it were real. You search for meaning and context. What you don’t need to search for is satisfaction. Each journey feels complete, yet leaves you hungry to journey again. Oftentimes there is a real emotional connection with the other people you play with, and so the game graciously gives you an opportunity to communicate with your partners after the conclusion. The experience engrossed me so fully that my heart broke at the end when I realized I had in fact played with half a dozen separate people, and I began anew in the hopes of finding a partner to travel with from start to finish. Craving a relationship, I turned to a game.
Subtlety is perhaps the most aptly wielded tool by Journey. Without realizing it, I made emotional connections. Without realizing it, I searched for true meaning and found it. Without realizing it, I forgot about all boundaries of culture, race, gender, or otherwise. Devoid of even the slightest hint of any pretentiousness or presence of a soapbox, this game makes a powerful social statement. If you ask me, it achieves this by allowing the consumer to find the message within him or herself as opposed to scripting a lesson. This is why Journey matters; it is a significant mile-marker not only for games, but for narrative itself.
With a score of “Universal Acclaim” on Metacritic, it has been very well received. Journey was developed by ThatGameCompany and is the third and final game in fulfillment of a contract with Sony. As such, it is a Playstation 3 exclusive title. It comes after Flow and Flower, respectively, and is a wonderful capstone to this otherwise unrelated set of games. Feeling wholly natural, making profound statements, and expanding games’ possibilities, Journey fulfills that promise of games, to allow us to experience in ways impossible for any other medium.
I’m a terrible horrible no good very bad updater, and for that I apologize. But I’m back with a vengeance. Get ready.
So I’ve spent a bunch of time telling you why ponies are awesome for a lot of reasons, and addressing where they have some issues as well. Now for my final installment in my MLP series, I wanna touch on the brony fandom itself and some of its high points.
Bronies have banded together for various charitable/fundraising endeavors. They auction albums, art, and other creative works for charity. They banded together to support the Humble Bundle indie video game charity (you pay whatever you want for the games, and the proceeds go to mostly children’s charities); and dropped hundreds of dollars on original Lauren Faust artwork whose proceeds benefitted post-earthquake Japan. Bronies have big hearts.
Bronies, whether they want to or not, are becoming a more visible part of pop culture purely because of their novelty to the ‘normal’ people. But from what I can tell, most bronies are owning their bronydom with pride. This is a refreshing change because it means that somewhere out there is a generation of young people who won’t judge their children or each other for liking things society says their gender shouldn’t like.
Brony fandom has exploded with creative original and manipped works from remixes and original music to art in all mediums imaginable (from felt to plushies to fan-designed pony video games) to fanfiction. One of the most impressive creative works in my opinion are the fanmade video games, simply because of the unpaid effort of designing and coding and debugging an entire game.
I gave this a separate category because it’s one of the most charged areas of brony fandom. But just as with any fandom, there is everything from cute one-shots, adventure stories, romances, and yes, clopfic (the NC-17 of ponyfic). Some stories, both ongoing and complete, have already become famous/infamous in fandom (See: My Little Dashie, Fallout: Equestria, and the terrifying Cupcakes). All I’ll say about clopfic is this: your kink is not my kink, and I don’t want to know that much about horse genitals. But as far as shipping itself is concerned (especially between the female characters), I think it’s important to separate the characters from the fact that they are nonhuman, and consider that here is a community that we associate with men, writing lesbian relationships that are focused on the romantic rather than the objectifying. If Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy can be together, why not other women? (I personally don’t ship anypony, but mostly because I don’t see the ships, not out of any squick…)
Inclusion and Community Acceptance
Finally, bronies in general tend to be sweethearts. They take to heart the idea of love and tolerance that sits at the root of the show and run with it. From small area meetups to conventions like BroNYCon and Everfree North, bronies make an effort to find other bronies and make them feel included. Jump into fandom and try it out, non-bronies, and I guarantee you’ll be welcomed into the herd. 😉
This concludes my MLP series, everypony, but don’t doubt that I’ll keep posting about it as I’m inspired to, and check out ladybacula’s weekly episode reviews as well!