As you may have guessed from my last post, I’ve lost a family member recently in a half-unexpected fashion. I’ve been trying to get back to normal since then, but the aftermath, both emotional and logistical, has been messy. The way things have been going, I’ve barely had time to pay attention to the blog, and when I have found the space, either to write or to read others, I haven’t been able to engage the way I usually do.
Last time I went on a hiatus due to life happening, I didn’t announce it or anything, I just disappeared for a while. I wanted to be a bit more organized with it this time. Hence, this post. I’ve always been a big advocate on the occasions people have been bringing up that your blog has to work for you. It has to be fun or fulfilling, just the experience of it, without all the glitz and glamour and fame and huge audiences and those big blogging bucks for this whole experience to be worth it. And I do love blogging and I’ve got several posts roiling around in my head right now that I want to write, but I rarely have time to get into the word processor right now, and when I do, it’s just not fun at the moment. It’s not just blogging, lots of things aren’t fun at the moment, that’s just the way of grieving. It’s been the same with reading other people’s posts, I really want to, but I can’t find the time and I can’t make it fun right now.
So, deliberately here, I’m going to take a bit of a break. I intend to come back, once life gets back to normal, once I get out of this funk, and once I can find the fulfillment in this again. And I hope it’s quick. A matter of weeks or a month or so, is what I’m envisioning. But I do know it’ll take me some time yet to get there, and I don’t know for sure how long. But, as I said, for blogging to be worth anything, the base exercise of it has to be fulfilling to me, and I need to sort some things out to get to that point.
So, I’ll be around. In time. All of you take care of yourselves until then.
I mention it here sometimes. In real life, I’m a case manager. Which is a job title that probably doesn’t mean much to most anybody, particularly as it’s one that’s used for a lot of very different jobs. Basically, I’m supposed to work with people on public assistance and help them get jobs. But the thing about jobs is that they are so intertwined with everything else that goes on in life that there’s often a lot of other things I have to address to help people get there. Over the years, piling training on top of training and building it up with experience, I’ve gotten to the point where I can help people work through a lot of very serious things and make it out the other side. I’ve defused suicide crises. I’ve helped people start the road to substance abuse recovery. I’ve triggered people separating from their abusers. I’m not always qualified to deal with a lot of the heavy stuff fully, but I can keep crises from crashing down and I can get people to take individual steps in the right direction. It’s hard, it’s stressful, but I’ve been able to do some amazing things with it.
Oftentimes, the stuff I help with professionally pops up in my personal circles as well, with my friends and family. And I’ve tried to help the same way. Because there’s a reason I have the job I do, and a reason I still stick with it, and it’s given me these abilities and if I don’t use them to help those close to me, what’s the point of doing it at all? But it doesn’t work. Professionally, I can help people work out the necessary steps and move towards the end of their depression. Personally, I can be there for people, I can talk with them, support them, but the minute I try to prompt action, work in terms of values or future self, or any of the other things that are effective for me on the job, the walls come up. I have been a key figure in helping several people break out of their alcoholism and find life on the other side. But when it comes to my friends and family, I’ve been absolutely helpless, unable to do more than stay by them and watch as they eventually break themselves and die from it.
The roles are different in these relationships. Which makes the rules different, I am learning. When people come to me, at my profession, they’re looking for a change. Open to it. And we may go beyond the comfort zone, we may break some boundaries, but, to them, that is what I’m here for. The whole purpose of my relationship with them is to do these things if needed, towards the goal of getting them gainfully, long-term employed. Because I am their case manager. But with friends, with family, I’m not their case manager. I’m any of a hundred other things. And with all those things, that largely closes the door to that type of help. I can suggest someone gets assistance, I can try to talk with them about it, but nobody wants to get into the weeds and work out their mental health struggles with the same person whose relationship is largely all about just getting together and having fun with. Nobody wants to hash out their life direction with they guy who used to be that weird kid doing wrestling moves on their trampoline. Nobody wants to unspool the deepest, darkest issues of themselves with someone they mostly know from the family gatherings and holidays. There are things I can do, sure. But they’re the sort of things most people do. Once I’ve reached that personal level with someone, I have to help them according to the rules of that role, not everything I have available to me as a case manager. If I try to get more active with them, bring those techniques and abilities to bear, the boundaries slam up.
It’s something I have to get used to. And with most applications, I am, and I can at least use my enhanced awareness to get people to someone who can help them the way I help others, in a pinch. But sometimes, things come crashing down. And it’s hard. Sitting there, watching, and knowing that I can help strangers with these things, but sometimes, I’m just going to lose those close to me to them, and I can not save them, just by virtue of that closeness.
I swore to myself I was going to finish with these posts before the end of the year. Of course, time being what it is, I’m still not sure, even as I’m writing this, that that’s necessarily going to work out, but hey, I’m giving it a good, honest effort here.
We hit AK’s questions out of the park a while back, nailed Red Metal’s questions perfectly, and now, it’s time for the final part of this three-ening of blog awards, taking the questions posed by Alex (I think it’s a fair assumption that that’s their name) of Alex’s Review Corner. Alex’s Review Corner is one I’ve only started following relatively recently, but I’ve rather enjoyed the movie and game reviews you can find there. They’ve also gone through all the Showa-era Godzilla films, so if you’ve been enjoying my work on the subject in my Project G posts, it might be worthwhile for you to check out their blog and get some alternative takes on the subject.
Let’s get on to Alex’s questions!
1: Is there a game and/or movie you particularly love from a genre you typically dislike?
I’d say Mario Kart. Pick a game from that series, although Mario Kart Double Dash and Mario Kart 8 are probably the ones I’ve given the most love to in recent years. I don’t really like racing games. I can’t necessarily say why, I remember playing a lot of them growing up, but they’re just not where I like to spend most of my gaming time. Mario Kart though, I’ll get down with any day. And it’s not just being a kart racer that does it. I’ve played plenty of other kart racers I don’t enjoy, either. I do Mario Kart, though. Quite dearly.
2: Reversely, is there a game and/or movie you particularly dislike from a genre you otherwise enjoy?
Alex already pointed to GTA V in their answer, but I have to go with a pretty similar tack here. I love open world games, and I also really enjoy those open world crime simulators, as evidenced by my love for the Saints Row series. I really enjoyed Grand Theft Auto III, and Bully was pretty good, but ever since, Rockstar Games output in that model just hasn’t been doing it for me. I tried to get into GTA IV and just wasn’t able to make it stick, Red Dead Redemption had some interesting ideas but I didn’t find it very fun, and I just started Grand Theft Auto V recently and want to give it a good chance to grab me, but I fear it’s heading in the same direction as the others. I think the main issue is that, for all that Rockstar is good at making large, expansive, and involved violence playgrounds that offer a lot of opportunity for fun, the actual gameplay you’ve got, your ability to interact and get involved with said playground, is outright clunky. Walking and driving in their games are kind of loose and slippery, and the running and gunning just doesn’t feel as good as most other games. GTA III and Bully still had those problems, but I think I give them a bit of a bye, as GTA III innovated the whole genre and so everything felt new and fresh with it, and Bully had such a unique setting and ways of interacting with it. Otherwise, I find Rockstar’s games get overshadowed in the same genre they put on the map, just by dint of other games having basic gameplay that feels a lot tighter and less clunky.
Also, when it was time to end my last GTA V session, I found that mission triggers were overlaid on top of all the save points available to me. So I’d be locked into a new mission and unable to actually go to the save point whenever I tried to record my progress so I could, you know, save the game. Seems a really basic oversight, but one that’s been representative of my whole experiences with these games. They get a lot right, but they do things wrong on the basic level. Here’s hoping the autosave has my back.
We’re back! As mentioned last time, we’ve got a combo of blog awards to respond to! Today’s award comes courtesy of Red Metal, longtime official Friend of Lost to the Aether and a man with many thoughts on films and video games. Of which he writes. And does a good job as well. Normally, when a reviewer gives a game a rating score, it doesn’t really mean all that much. Hence why I don’t really use them here. Red Metal though, has it worked out such that any given score relates to a very distinct impression he has with it. So there. Red Metal. Numbers you can use.
Speaking of numbers, I’ve got a number of questions to answer! Let’s hop to it.
Do you prefer RPGs where your characters end the game at a high level (70+) or a lower one (20-30 or so)? Assume that these outcomes are not simply the result of grinding levels for hours.
You know, this is one I haven’t really thought about before. Both are good flavors of the same thing, and both could definitely apply better to given circumstances. I think I’m going to err towards having a lower max level, because I like levels that are meaningful more, levels that give you more than just numbers going up, and you’re more likely to hit that more often when there’s a lower max level in the game. Each level might unlock a new ability, or you might get a new perk every even level, or something like that. That said, having a high max level does give a better sense of having progressed a huge amount since the start, and so that’s better for a lot of the epic scale adventures you’ll see it used in.
That said, you know what leveling system I like the best? The ones where you have to unlock it bit by bit. Like, you have your options, each of which costs a certain amount of resources, and you’re constantly having to pick and choose which of many options you’re going to go for. Some of which might boost your stats, some of which might give you new active abilities, some might have good passives, etc. Give me a sphere grid over a strict linear system any day.
2. Do you prefer RPGs with turn-based or real-time combat?
Again, both are good in their own ways,and this is kind of a hard comparison for me to make, because they end up being very different types of games. At their best, I can’t say I’d have a preference, I really enjoy the both of them. So, to really pick a winner on this, I’m having to compare them both at their middling level. So we’re not, say, comparing Persona 4 with Tales of Symphonia, because even if they may both be what people think of when they’re talking about these styles of games, they’re both at the apex of their models and not the most representative of the type. So, thinking of the hypothetical average turn-based RPG versus real-time, I’d have to give the hat tip to real-time combat. I don’t like it when games become mindless, and the average turn-based RPG will usually have a lot of points where the best way through the jobbers it throws at you is to just mash the ‘fight’ command, over and over, and no real thought required. Real-time combat may not always be the most involved, but it’ll require at least a bit more thought than that.
3. Do you prefer RPGs that introduce your entire lineup upfront with no changes beyond the prologue or ones that feature rotating lineups? Assume in either case that you have no control over your party lineup at any point.
Rotating lineups all the way. In games that let you choose your party, I usually swap members in and out constantly. I like the variety, and I like making full use of absolutely everyone in an RPG, so I’d much rather get some changes in there than have a static party the whole game.
Now, if we have the same cast the whole game, but get to change up their classes so they do play very differently and I still get that gameplay variety, I’d be pretty ambivalent between the two. In which case it’d all come down to they type of story they’re trying to tell. I think having the rotating cast would usually lead to a stronger story even then, but I could see some using the static cast’s staying power to good effect, too.
As you know if you’ve been reading this space for any real length of time, Lost to the Aether is an astonishingly award-winning blog. We’ve gotten so many. I’m going to have to build a new room to hold all the trophies and plaques we’ve been issued here through these viral blog awards, as soon as the internet gets around to sending them. Just check out my Stupid Blog Stuff category to see just how many we’ve gotten. I’m constantly checking the mail, just waiting for those physical representations to come. My trophy room shall be so shiny.
In the meantime, though, we’ve been tagged for another one. And not one that’s ever come our way before. The Let’s Blog Award. And we’ve been tagged not once, not twice, but thrice, in short order. A three-hit combo of success and glory, coming first from AK of Everything is Bad for You, then next from Red Metal of Extra Life Reviews, and finishing off with the prolific Alex’s Review Corner of, uh, Alex’s Review Corner. And I quite enjoy these blog awards. Get a bit of rainy day blog content set up, and get to do one of my favorite things and just talk about myself at the same time. It’s a win-win.
Of course, it’s December, time of stress, panic, and hatred, so time’s a little too limited this month for me to answer all of those tags in one long post, so we’ll break it up, and respond with a counter combo of our own. First up here, we’ll be taking on the questions posed by AK of Everything is Bad for You, a blog that is in fact very good for you. AK is weirdly good at getting me interested in big giant 40+ games I’d had kind of negative impressions of before. I never thought I’d be trying out the Disgaea series, due to their grindiness, but the way he’s talked about them got me really interested, so I dipped my toes in, and it turned out to be a pretty good time. And now he’s doing the same thing with the Atelier series. So if something happens and you never see me again it’s probably because AK made some big long Japanese game series I’d never normally consider look so good I broke down and got it and got so wrapped up I never emerged again.
Here’s a nothing of a post for a moment. This post doesn’t have to be nothing. It could be a whole lot of things. It’s about time for another one of those Godzilla things, for instance. Or there’s a couple of those viral blog awards I need to get up on. Or there’s any of a hundred thoughts I have on the games I’ve been playing lately. There’s lots of things I could do.
But I happened to notice recently that after my most recent post, I had written a total of 399 posts for this blog. Which makes this post 400. A milestone, it feels like. And some might feel the need to mark that milestone by making something grand. But I feel like doing quite the opposite today. I want to celebrate my 400th post by doing something understated.
Which is odd for me. Few would describe me as shy. I am bold, and brash, and rakish, and sexy. I am out there and in your face and I love making my mark in the most spectacular way possible. But not today. Today, I’m just surprised it’s come this far. Because really, small as this blog’s readership is, it’s still an awesome thing that people come here and read it at all. Like, I am wise, but there’s wiser out there, talking about the same subject. I’m funny, but there’s funnier all over. I’m beautiful, and there’s nobody more beautiful, but it’s not like anyone gets to see me over the internet. And even so, my thoughts here mean enough to people that they take a bit of time out of their day to read over them and engage. All of you gift me with just a little bit of real estate in your minds, for just a bit of time. And that’s a powerful thing to me.
So really, 400 posts in, all content people have engaged with in some way, shape, or form. All of you, friends, fellow bloggers, commenters, and even you lurkers that don’t make your presence known but my stats show are consistently out there, thank you. Thanks for taking the time to read the random thoughts of one incredibly amazing and gorgeous soul at there in the sea of the same. I enjoy doing it, and knowing it’s got somewhere to be, that people are willingly taking it in, makes it all worthwhile.
Hope to keep great things for you going down the road.
You ever have those days where you’re just in a bad mood for no real reason? I’m hitting that right now. I’m generally pretty good-natured, because I am awesome at life so crappy things don’t come up that often. But, even if there’s nothing out there that can beat my shine, I guess the human psyche just needs to get in a funk every once in a while, because that’s where I’m at now. So, apropos of nothing, I’m just going to gripe for a bit here about some things that video games sometimes do that consistently ticks me off.
Automatic Difficulty Adjustments
You know what’s a feature I’ve really come to love? Getting to change your difficulty at the start menu. Or even if a game just offers you the option to lower the difficulty a bit when you’re consistently getting your pleasantly shaped rear end handed to you. I don’t generally take it, but I both love challenging myself and hate getting stuck in a game and unable to advance, and this seems like a great solution to that. I’ve noticed I will more often plunge into the deep end of difficulty when I know I have the option to scale it back when things get too hot to handle. I always have to swallow my pride a bit to take it, but that’s generally a small price to pay to keep doing something I enjoy at an appropriate difficulty level for me.
But I hate when games just decide to do it for me.
I’ve been playing a fair bit of fighting games recently, where this feature seems common. You’re on a campaign, and you lose, and it just pulls the challenge back when you try again. Rinse and repeat until you get past it. Or, you select a difficulty level, but it actually starts you below that, and makes you earn your way up there. Which I find frustrating. Smash Bros aside, I am officially not good at fighting games. When I go up against the standard difficulty, I tend to lose a lot. Which is good. If I’m not losing at times, I’m not challenging myself, and that would mean I’m not getting better at the things I’m wanting to get better at. What I would like to be doing, when I hit a challenge that is too much for me, is to ram myself into it again and again until I get good enough to overcome it. But recent fighting games say no. You want to fight against a level that will test you, in the arcade/story/mission/campaign modes? You have to earn your way up there against the foes you know you can beat first, and then you only get one shot before we pull that away.
Now, sure, I could just go into the one off fights, where I get to chose the difficulty straight out, but that’s not as engaging to the way I want to play as the arcade modes. And I understand a bit of the motivation behind it. Fighting games are notoriously inaccessible, so having the mode the beginning players most gravitate towards have this on-the-fly performance-based difficulty so they’re sure to reach the ending with persistence makes sense. But I want to be able to turn it off. And I never seem to be able to.
I’ve griped about this a couple of times before. So, probably nothing new here. But I’m ranting, so I’m going to rant.
I think I’ve figured out why I don’t mind the grinding in Disgaea as much as I do in pretty much anything else. In most games, when its grinding time, you just end up mindlessly milling through combat over and over, fighting the same enemies in the same areas with nothing really stimulating occuring. Disgaea on the other hand, puts you into a new challenge area. It requires mental engagement, although you might be doing it to grind you have a goal beyond the grinding itself, and you get a sense of progress beyond just watching numbers go up. You might be stepping into grinding in Disgaea, but it’s not just grinding. You have things to do beyond that, and the grinding just happens incidentally.
More games need to do that. I find myself suffering through the end game of Xenoblade Chronicles, in which the enemies of the final area are of a much, much higher level than anything you ran across before, coupled with a mechanic that if an enemy is five levels above you, you just don’t get to hit them anymore. So bam. Hit the final area, you have to spend several hours grinding your levels up so you can actually defend yourself against the enemies your stats say you should do just fine against. So just hours I’ve spent, running in circles, fighting the same enemies over and over again, barely paying attention to what had formerly been an incredible game for the first two thirds of it. I despise it when games waste my time, and especially so when they seem deliberately designed to do so. The only reason I stuck it out was because I’d already invested 60 hours into it, but even so, it killed all the good will I had left for the rest of the game.
So. Forced grinding. Don’t do it.
Player Controlled Suicide
I loathe when this comes up. Superhot does it. Superhot VR does it so much worse. Yandere Simulator does it. Distraint does it. Spec Ops: The Line does it, albeit only in a route choice there. Situations where a player character is going to suicide, and you have to press the buttons to do it to advance.
It disgusts me. And I admit that’s because it hits my personal triggers. It bothers me in a way that controlling other video game violence does not. Not because I think it’s especially harmful; much like garden variety video game violence isn’t going to lead to real world violence where that tendency isn’t already there, simulated suicide isn’t going to lead to suicidal ideation away from those who are already in deep. But it does rub against my personal values so hard to be in control of an avatar’s suicide that I find it sickening.
So, look. Video games often involve simulated violence. And generally, if I’m not up for the particular violence a game has to offer, that particular implementation of simulated violence is made apparent before I make a purchasing decision. So I can choose the content I expose myself to. There’s never any warning about being put behind a suicide. That’s always just thrown at you. And that’s not how it should be.
You spend enough time playing games, you develop a set of instincts around them. One of those instincts is if you get given a quest arrow pointing you someplace, you check out absolutely everywhere else you have access to before you follow the quest arrow. That’s just how these things work. When there’s somewhere you’re clearly supposed to go, you actually want to go everywhere else first. Because that’s where all the cool treasure is.
That’s all well and good. But apparently, some developers thought it’d be a good idea to make their games bug you about that quest arrow. Like, some people’s jobs were to program the game’s AIs to get impatient with you. That’s a thing they did with their lives. So you get persistent in your face reminder text of what your supposed goal is when you’re rifling through side rooms looking for cool loot. NPCs start bugging you about how you’re having fun slaying random jobbers instead of pressing a button to do something you’re not ready to do yet. The game itself will give you grief for trying to explore the setting fully rather than seeking the next event flag directly. As if you don’t know what you’re doing.
You know what? They can all just take a chill pill. I’m being thorough. Because you find some sweet item in one out of the way place, that’s going to spur you to check them all. Progress is often the enemy of sweet loot.
Not Being Mr. Shifty
This is something I didn’t notice games did, until I tried out the game Mr. Shifty, but it really opened my eyes. You know how, every once in a great while, a game comes out that does something unique, creative, and interesting that ends up moving the genre or the whole medium forward? Super Mario Bros. did it with the scrolling screen. Mario 64 did it with effective 3D game play. Final Fantasy VII did it with the cinematic storytelling abilities with games. Mr. Shifty does it with being Mr. Shifty.
Since I played Mr. Shifty, I really started noticing how much most games are not Mr. Shifty. I’ll pick up a random game, play it for a while, and I might have a good time with it, but I’ll be realizing just how much Mr. Shiftiness it lacks. I’ll be like, “Man, this plot is deep, and this gameplay is solid, but I’d like to be able to Mr. Shifty it up right now.” But I can’t. Because even though Mr. Shifty offers an excellent example of how to incorporate being Mr. Shifty into your game, so far, developers don’t seem to be picking it up adequately, sticking with the tried-and-true, traditional but inferior ways of not being Mr. Shifty. We can only hope the medium picks it up with time.
Anyways, in case you missed it, we just finished up October. Which is a well-regarded time for getting into spooky/horror media, and I got caught up in that myself. Wanted to pick myself up a good horror game. And coincidentally, at the same time, Yandere Simulator came out with a big content update. The game’s been in development for seven years by this point, and the developer feels that he’s almost ready to complete the game, having got about everything done that he can on his own. But to really get the game finished, he’ll need to hire people to do the parts of it outside of his capabilities, which will require a crowdfunder, but after the standard cycles of long development time plus short internet patience, he feels he’s not poised for a successful crowdfunder right now. So, in order to demonstrate the product and build up faith and interest in it again, he’s used the assets he currently has to develop a full story mode for the game, for the first time. Albeit not the story mode everyone was expecting. That’s the one he needs to hire people to do the animations and the voice acting and the whatnot for. Rather, we’ve got a fully-fledged prequel story mode.
Anyways, I was looking for something horror-themed to play, and a game where you’re basically a horror-movie villain sounded pretty solid to me at the time. And I can get behind the idea of putting out a show of good faith for your audience, work to show you’re taking them seriously with a lot of new content. And besides, it was probably my victory over this game years ago that cost it a lot of it’s positioning. So I figured it’d be a good time to jump back into it, and see just how much the game has grown since I defeated it last time. We’re still fated opponents, but maybe destined rivals this time, rather than enemies.
Here we go. For a good comparison to our old post, rather than jumping in to the prequel story mode, I’m going to be going for the main, incomplete story. Because that’s what we did last time. The full game will have ten rivals, but the current edition only has one that’s fully set up, so only a single level’s equivalent of content. But that’s fine for the sample we’re going for. After all, I’m trying to make amends, of some sort. Don’t want to crush this game too fully again.
Starting up, the first thing it has you do is customize your senpai, the absolutely heartthrob that will be the subject of your and at least ten other girls’ affections. I love customizing characters, and I know super well what makes the female mind fall in love with someone, so you can rest assured that I will create a being who is the pinnacle of attractiveness.
And there. There he is. Ladies, you may take a number, and form a line to your left. He won’t have time for you all but don’t worry, there will be consolation prizes.
And then we get a cutscene detailing the premise of the game. So, if you’ve spent too much time around certain parts of the internet, like, you know, this blog, you’ve probably heard of a few of the ‘dere’ types of characters in Japanese fiction. Yanderes are characters that seem sweet and lovely, but then turn around and inflict horrific violence out of a hidden insanity driven by their affection. Or something like that. People find that attractive, apparently. I’ve got at least two posts on this blog touching on that. Well, three now, I guess. Anyways, that’s us. We’re one of those. We spend our whole life feeling nothing, until one day, we run into senpai. Then all of a sudden, a feeling blossoms through. Complete, all-encompassing love. Or something that ol’ Yan-chan confuses for it.
Anyways, Yan-chan is so enraptured by that feeling that she immediately resolves to inflict bloody horrors on anyone who gets between her and the object of her affection.
So she stalks him. Some other girl catches her doing so, and texts her some information on another girl with designs on him. And kind of encourages her to take drastic action.
I’m guessing there’s lots of people in this scenario that could use a bit of professional help.
And with that, we’re in the game proper. We start off in our bedroom, with a few interactables, but so far, only one that’s really meaningful, an anime we can watch to teach us new murder methods. Which seems kind of inappropriate for a high schooler, frankly. From there, I can check out the basement, so I do so, and find it a perfectly equipped murderhole. Also has a cassette tape in there, of which I can figure out no way to play. Because it’s 2022. Who has cassette players anymore?
I do. In my car. In the real world. Aether. That’s who.
Anyways, not a lot to do at home, so I head to school. I get there, and immediately make two impressions. The first, last time I played the game, going to school meant I spawned in with the camera buried underground and staring up my own skirt. That seems to have been corrected in the years since then. And second, holy hades are there a lot of people now. I find myself in the midst of a sea of students. All of them individually designed, and as I find out through playing the game further, all of them with their own schedules and pathing. That’s an impressive thing to see coming together, really.
This is my first time with full control here, so I start messing around, seeing what all the buttons do. I find a button that makes me laugh. This creeps out everyone around. I do it again. Senpai hears that time. And my laugh was apparently so creepy that he never wants anything to do with me again. I got a game over within like thirty seconds of starting the game proper. Harsh.
Ok, starting that over again. This time, no laughing in public. I start formulating a plan. But not much of one. First step is to find my rival/target. I do this quickly, as she’s talking to senpai just off the walkway into school. Second step is to find a reason to… you know, do something about her. Because although Yan-chan is down for wanton murder, Aether’s really not. I have a hard time playing the bad guy in games, particularly when it comes to inflicting horrors on the innocent. Like, I don’t have any moral compunctions with it, really; I’m not sinning by having my electronic avatar commit simulated violence on collected bits of graphics and ai mechanics or anything, but it does require going somewhere that just doesn’t come naturally to me. I usually go for the super good moral choices in games. That’s just more satisfying to me.
Today, I thought we’d talk about something light. Something casual. Something easy. So let’s do that. Let’s talk about racism.
I’m planning a Disney World trip in the coming months. In preparation for that, I’ve gotten myself a Disney+ subscription and have been marathonning through a bunch of the classic Disney animated movies. I’ve found, over the years, I like going through the works of different cultures and different times. It feels like it opens my eyes, just a little bit, to different ways of life, to different sets of values. And going through the classic films, which pull from a lot of different cultures and are both made and use source material from a wide variety of different time periods, so the Animated Canon has been a real trip on that.
A lot of the classic films on Disney+ have a bit of a racist warning at the beginning. Which is understandable. Values change with time, our comprehensions of race and people have changed with time, and the things Disney presented then may not match what they want to present now. And generally the content they’ve been warning of has been pretty benign, in my view.
And then I got to Peter Pan. And that was… something. Now, to be perfectly clear on my own lens on the issue, I wouldn’t consider myself hypersensitive to racism in media. I’m vehemently against categorism in general, which tends to put me at odds with the mainstream anti-racism lens on things that drives a lot of the outrage that crosses at least my sphere, and I think context and understanding are important before leaping to offense. And yet even with all that, the intensely stereotypical Native American tribe in Peter Pan and the extended goofy savages show we got out of them was incredibly cringey to me. The hooting and backwardsness and the extended segments essentially making jokes about a wholesale collection of real world people, I found it uncomfortable.
“Well, I don’t think we’re ever watching that again,” said one of my family members when we were done. But I don’t agree. I actually found the racial insensitivity here enlightening and thought provoking. The original Peter Pan play was released in 1904, explicitly based the Native American tribe more on what the average child at the time expected of them because of their portrayal in media rather than any actual fact, and was considered pretty noncontroversial. Because, after all, most people had no knowledge of Native Americans outside of what was displayed in fictional works, and this lined up with that. Most people didn’t know any better. That portrayal was then interpreted through the lens of 1953’s American culture in the Disney film, and that goofy savage portrayal described above was actually considered a pretty positive portrayal. Because in films of the time, Native Americans were generally vicious enemies, whereas this one, although briefly antagonists and possessed of strange ways, showed them to be generally amicable and competent.
Of course, looking through the modern day lens on it, it seems abhorrently insensitive. And rightfully so. As we are coming to understand, anything that implicitly represents “this is what this group of people are like” is going to run into that because human beings aren’t stereotypes and dealing with groups rather than individuals leads directly to insensitivity. There’s a lot of dialogue out there being rather judgmental on the creators. And if it came out today, I might agree with a lot of that basis. As is, though, given the context of the time it was made in, I find it hard to make personal aspersions for people who at least seem to have made this is good faith, creating something that was viewed as being in the right direction at the time. Even if it did turn ugly in the future. But, I did find this ugliness thought-provoking, as I said.
Twelve Years a Slave is the auto-biography/memoirs of Solomon Northrup, a black man who was born free in the pre-Civil War north, and was then illegally kidnapped and lived in the south as a slave for twelve years before being rescued. All that. Anyways, the first person to buy Solomon, never knowing he was born a free man, was William Ford, who was, as Solomon describes him, a gentle, God-fearing man who was full of kindness and generosity to all. Solomon really respected William, and thought of him as a great person. In his view, William was a good man doing evil simply because the environment in which he lived was such that slavery was normalized to the point that it couldn’t occur to him that it was wrong.
After going through the Native American scene in Peter Pan, I ended up reflecting on that. The creators of this scene were, I’m just going to assume, generally well meaning people making something in good faith that seems to have been unusually good for the standards of the time. It’s wrong now, and we know better, but they didn’t back them. Solomon Northrup went so far to say that slavery would have lost a lot of its sting if all slavers were like William Ford. But slavery was still evil, and William and his environment were such that they largely didn’t know better. So what now are common thoughts, actions, behaviors, ways of living that are acceptable at the modern time, but become absolutely abhorrent and seen as evil in the future?
It’s a question with no answer, as yet, but I found the mental exercise valuable, and I’m glad to have run into the racially insensitive spots of Peter Pan to have prompted that. Several times over, I can recall running into outrage over screenings or reprintings or whatever of old works of media that feature views less controversial at the time but abhorrent to many today. Lots of calls to either not expose or outright censor those views, so people don’t have to confront them today. I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it. I don’t begrudge decisions such as Disney’s determination not to release Song of the South, if it made a statement then they don’t want to now, but I do believe that facing the insensitivity of the old both as a means of seeing what things were like then compared to where we have gotten now and as a means of reflecting on what might be wrong with current habits that will be viewed in the future just like we do on the past is a much better way forwards.
More Memorable Title: The one with MECHA-KING GHIDORAH!!!
Yeah! It’s Godzilla-time!
So, last time we left of Godzilla with Godzilla vs. Biollante, an ambitious film that ended up falling short of its financial goals. Longtime series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka wanted to follow it up with something safer, using more material that had proven successful in the Heisei era, leading to the more familiar King Ghidorah returning. Unfortunately, his failing health limited his involvement, leaving this film and most of Godzilla’s future works in the hands of Shogo Tomiyama, who had co-produced Biollante with him. Tomiyama continued bringing the film back to its Showa-era roots, establishing a more fantastic atmosphere and simple story with this film, taking it away from the gritty trailblazing of the past two Heisei era works. Director and writer Kazuki Oumori, thinking that the real reason Godzilla vs. Biollante fell short in the box office was because of being outshone by Back to the Future, added a time travel story to it as well, thinking that’s what people were going for.
So that’s how we ended up with this film. Now you know.
As you might guess from the above, it is a bit of a hodge-podge. Feels like it has a lot of puzzle pieces going in that it has a hard time matching up with each other. Has a lot of cast members (although not as much as Biollante), a lot of moving parts, and moves at a pretty quick pace. The Heisei era had really started to find its own identity with the last film, and this movie sees it turn a corner into something more rooted in the Showa era, although it still carries a lot of Heisei establishments along with it.
It also serves as a retcon of sorts in the Heisei era. It retells Godzilla’s origin in a way that’s firmly different than that of the original 1954 G and his Showa successor. From what I understand, there was still some question of continuity by the time this film originally came out, whether the Heisei era lined up with the Showa or not, and this firmly establishes it as something of its own. Although it also messes a bunch up. Whatever. Also, Heisei Godzilla was already canonically bigger than either of the other ones, but apparently Toho wanted him even grander than that. So they do that here. Makes him more terrifying for the monster fights to come.
So, how does it all come together? Well, read on to find out.
The year is 2204. We’re underwater. A submarine is investigating some sort of giant monster corpse. People are saying mysterious things about it that we won’t realize what they mean until later. And then the camera moves so we can see just what kind of corpse they’re investigating. And it turns out, it’s GHIDORAH!
And then all of a sudden the year is 1992 again. Do you remember that year? I sure don’t. Anyways, the world’s all afluffle because a UFO appeared and is flying around. A bunch of news outlets are covering it. So there’s this guy who used to write really successful sci-fi novels and now writes for some magazine or other. And there’s this girl who obviously wants up ons and she goes up to him and goes “Dude! Aliens! You’ve totally got to write about this!” And he’s like “Pfffft! What do you think I am? A rich and famous sci-fi author?” And she’s like “Yes. It turns out that’s exactly what you are.” But he’s still like “No. I don’t care about the fact that we’ve got proof that so much of what we thought about the universe is wrong and there’s new and exciting forms of life out there. I’d rather write about what that one crazy loony was raving about in the middle of nowhere, about how he saw dinosaurs in WWII and Godzilla is really one of them and saved his life or something.” Let’s call the guy Fred. Because I don’t remember his real name and no descriptor is coming to me, but he totally looks like a Fred.