Of Course Games Are Political

It’s been a wild year in politics these past few months, and there are no signs that this will change anytime soon. As with most cultural events, this tends to bleed into the media we consume. As such, there are both people who celebrate the addition of politics into media, and those who abhor it. This commonly manifests in the meme-level response “keep politics out of x”. With the controversies and subsequent blowback over whitewashing (and lack of starring Asian roles) in Doctor Strange, Ghost in The Shell, Marvel’s Iron Fist, and Death Note, a large portion of people seem to want to consume media in a vacuum and ignore these issues. My personal experience tends to be more rooted in the video game space, considering the rise of progressive themes in games. Especially after the storm that was Gamergate, some people hate the idea of political themes in video games. I’d like to delve into why that claim is disingenuous, and why it’s never been possible.

When talking about politics in video games, a good place to start might be the Grand Theft Auto series. A lightning rod for controversy, GTA has never been shy about including political topics in their settings. GTA, with all its warts, does have a basis in satire, even if it is mostly present in the side content. In the worlds of Liberty City and San Andreas, for example, there are television programs parodying both “liberal social justice warriors” and “right-wing conservative firebrands” as uninformed, misguided, and wrong. It’s the classic South Park approach where “caring in one way or another is the ultimate sin”. Regardless, politics are incredibly present in these games. So, how could anyone ever claim that they don’t want politics in games?

Continue reading

Rin Plays: Average Maria Individual

Average Maria Individual 1With my back-up of Steam purchases, which felt like a good idea at the time, the ever-looming feeling of “I should really play this” is always in the back of my mind. Yet I always get distracted. As people who play games, what I think a lot of us are looking for is a new experience. Yes, there are times where one wants to know what they’re getting into, appease the desire to turn off one’s brain and just enjoy the ride. But as a whole, games with new angles and new points to make are the games that catch people’s attention and stay in their minds—hell, it’s why indie games have gotten so popular and why, seven years after its release, people are still talking about Braid. The narrative of the modern AAA game is stuck; audiences are beginning to see nuance in the way their protagonists think about their situation, but at the end of the day, the protagonist is still the big damned hero whose sacrifices are worth the final outcome. In some cases, the world bends to the choices they make, but generally speaking the in-game world at large is unaffected. That is to say, there are no repercussions for egregious acts of violence. So upon coming across a game that set out to challenge this kind of ingrained gaming sensibility, of course it caught my attention and made me want to see what it had to offer.

Continue reading

Getting to the Sweet Stuff: A Closer Look at One of Nintendo’s Starlets

In light of my last post, I began thinking about Nintendo’s roster of female characters as a whole and how they influenced my general outlook on girls in video games. Out of all of them, there was one that took a while to remember, but on closer inspection, she was really the basis for a lot of my own characters and opinions of what a lady character in a game should aspire to. And no, she’s not a princess.

Back in my wee baby days, I only used to watch my family play games while perched on the arm of a chair trying to get a good angle for the Gameboy screen (this predates the Nintendo 64, even). I remember my excitement after watching my brother do a speed run of Metroid II and seeing the swimsuit ending confirming Samus as a girl, but at my young age, I didn’t really grasp how important that was. No, my favorite female character for a time ended up being someone from Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. A mouthful, I know, but in the midst of Wario and all his unique powers and lust for greed sat a woman who, though the final boss of the game, really presented me with my first character with moral ambiguity.

Who could it be? I mean, I already said she wasn't a princess so I'm obviously leading you on with this picture...

Who could it be? I mean, I already said she wasn’t a princess so I’m obviously leading you on with this picture… (art by TheJayPhenrix @ deviantArt)

Continue reading

Games for Girls: Nintendo’s Failed Grab for the Girl Gamer Crown

If there’s anything we’ve learned from Disney over the years, it’s that princesses sell. In fact, even if a girl isn’t a princess, she ends up being turned into a princess all for the sake of marketing—is it any wonder why toys of Lilo and Stitch are no longer being made despite the strength of the film itself? There’s something timeless about a princess, or at least the concept of them, and the movie industry hasn’t been the only one to notice this. Many modern games still employ princesses as a trope or a stand-in collectible, both of which aren’t really ideal for the representation of ladies in games. But let’s bring this back to marketability and the line-up of one very specific puzzle in the 3DS Mii Plaza.

Nintendo Starlets 3DSEver since I saw it, I knew that I’d have to complete the ‘Nintendo Starlets’ puzzle no matter how many people I’d need to street pass to get the pieces. Obviously I knew Princess Peach would be on there, but the other characters were a mystery to me: which female characters would Nintendo deign to put on the same rank as the pinnacle of princessliness herself?

As I continued getting pieces, though, I became more and more disappointed. Rosalina was the next princess I unlocked: not unexpected, and my feelings on her are rather neutral. Then Zelda. Then… Zelda again. And finally Pauline. I don’t know about you, but there’s something incredibly boring about this group. The disappointment came twofold: from a girl who didn’t sign up for a puzzle called “Nintendo Princesses” and from a Nintendo fan who knows that Nintendo has a wealth of female characters to choose from, or at least enough that they didn’t have to use Zelda twice.

Continue reading

Nintendo’s Other Princess

Female representation in video games is something that I’ll always be looking at. I’ve looked at it since I got my Pokémon: Red Version game and wondered why I couldn’t play as a girl, and even before then when I watched my mom play Metroid 2 and stared in wonder while Samus traversed the depths of her home planet of SR388. While many series warrant a look, the series that has continuously kept me watching with the evolution of its female characters is no doubt the Mario series of games.

Mario Party 9 Princess Peach Princess DaisyAs to be expected, the lovely Peach is often at the forefront of the conversations and why not? Arguably, she’s the main female of the series and the main love interest, so of course she’d be under the most scrutiny. In the past years she’s become so much more than the unseen damsel offering the hero cake; she’s become a hero in her own right. She’s come to star in her own game and is even starting to get recognized more prominently in other Mario games such as Paper Mario and the upcoming Super Mario 3D World. Though many of these things in and of itself are still problematic (see: the execution of Super Princess Peach), it’s still an important step that she’s actually becoming a character rather than remaining an object for players to obtain. And I like Peach, I really do, but she has never been my princess. That title belongs to the oft-overlooked Daisy.

Continue reading

Legitimate Reasons to Not Like the Girlfriend Character

cnsmovie_indianajones_temple_05In fandom, there is a lot of hate for the “girlfriend” character. I have discussed this before in a post I did on sexism in Supernatural, where I criticized fans for hating on female characters because they get between their favorite male/male ship, or because they somehow think that the actor or (weirdly) the character belongs to them, the fans. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: hating female characters because of a ship, or because you think you are this actor’s/character’s “true love”, is just silly.

I can’t preach on this topic enough, and I often get annoyed with other fans for immediately hating on a female character after one episode. That being said, sometimes it is okay to be wary of or dislike the girlfriend character.

Let me explain.

Continue reading

Pokémon: Black & Blue

wallpaperSo, being the epic procrastinator that I am, it has taken me eight months to get around to playing Pokémon: Black and Blue, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’s parody of Pokemon Black and White. The game turns the Pokémon games on their head by having Pokemon battle against trainers for their freedom. The premise, in long form, is as follows:


Designed, apparently, to call attention the negative messages that our children are learning from the Pokémon games, the game’s heavy-handed approach leaves the whole thing feeling like a publicity stunt (which it obviously is), though not nearly as ugly as some of their other public relations material.

You see, PETA’s advertisements, publicity, and what have you often trade in racism, sexism, misogyny, and the commodification of the female body to make their points. They seem to be fond of comparing women to pieces of meat, as they did here, and again here. In a fit of sensitivity and tact, they’ve even been so bold as to dress up as Klan members in front of the Westminster dog show in 2009 in New York. Continue reading

Manga Mondays: Do the Mario

Back in the day before I even knew what manga was I still found myself addicted to a certain comic. My mother was surprisingly up to date with the strange things her kids were into and thusly the year after my brother and I received our Nintendo 64, we found ourselves gifted with two very special comics: Super Mario Adventures and the comic adaptation of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Whereas I enjoyed the Zelda one greatly, reading about Mario going through those adventures from the old Game Boy games that I was too impatient to enjoy at the time really just interested me more. The vibrant colors, the jokes, the characters, just…everything was completely enjoyable. I’m only going to cover the main story here, but the compilation also includes a hilarious tale between Mario and his nemesis (who is around one hundred times more [sym]pathetic in this comic), Wario.

As expected, the comic follows the usual formula: Bowser invades the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Toadstool gets captured, and Mario—plus Luigi, for once—must go save her and bring peace to the kingdom once more. We’re not breaking any new territory here: the audience knows that Bowser is going to be defeated and Mario will happily tromp back to the Mushroom Kingdom, princess in tow. No, the characterizations of these well-known figures is what makes the audience keep reading and damn if it isn’t one of the most brilliant characterizations of the cast (outside of Super Mario RPG) that I have seen.

Mario, our silent protagonist, is finally granted a voice and he is just about as happy and positive as you could imagine. In fact, he’s even so positive that he talks to a Big Boo until it becomes so happy that it just disappears. And there’s something really endearing about seeing Mario put in doctorate to work in a way that benefits not only himself, but the creatures around him (even if he was just trying to leave the ghost house). Luigi once more takes the roll of the cowardly comic relief, but he can still keep up with Mario. One of the great things I love about this comic is that it really shows the brotherly love between the two plumbers. When Luigi gets despondent, Mario is there to cheer him up and help him. When Mario is momentarily defeated, Luigi is the one who puts him back on his feet. With more modern games such as the Mario and Luigi series, their relationship is a little easier to understand, but before this comic such a thing was hardly heard of. It really was a breath of fresh air to see Luigi be more than just ‘Player 2’, finally.

This comic is also, in my opinion, a point of solidification for the characterization of the king himself, Bowser. As we have come to see in games like Super Mario RPG and Super Mario Sunshine, Bowser is about the least threatening bad guy ever, despite him being a huge, spiky turtle-man. This is how he is portrayed in the comic as well. He’s a goofy guy who is, for some reason, desperately in love with Princess Toadstool but when it comes down to business he can still turn all of your subjects into stone. He also really cares for his seven kids, for whom he seems to really bend over backwards for despite their reputation. Taking one look at his daughter, Wendy O. Koopa’s, room we find that it is decked out in pink and designer clothes. Honestly, where are you going to find that stuff in the middle of his kingdom? So, in some sense, they’re all just looking out for each other; when Bowser wants to marry Toadstool (which also has some desires based in the fact that Bowser wants his kids to have a mom), his kids are willing to do anything to make that happen. It’s rather sweet.

Finally, this brings us to my favorite character in this comic, Princess Toadstool herself. From this point, Toadstool (now known more commonly as Peach) is the character that has made the biggest change in characterization. Although she’s pretty cool now, I really do prefer her in this version. She’s a princess that doesn’t mince words. She doesn’t take any shit. She will kick your ass in heels and that pink dress. In fact, in comparison to the modern day Mariocharacters, this Toadstool is really much closer to Princess Daisy than Peach. She is the unorthodox princess of the Mushroom Kingdom, but she still has a soft spot for the two plumbers. In fact, in one part she even works with Luigi to hatch a rather cunning plan to save Mario proving in one fell swoop that 1) minor characters can do important, amazing things and 2)really, don’t mess with Princess Toadstool. I really could just gush on and on about her character, but I’ll just let this panel speak for itself as I fangirl in my corner over here.

If you can get your hands on it in any manner, I would highly suggest reading it. It’s a more than enjoyable read and it’s always fun to nostalgia about some of your favorite game characters.