The Fantasy Prejudice Problem

Fantasy.  Science Fiction.  The whole Speculative Fiction umbrella.  A genre or genres that are very much apart from this lame boring realistic world were you have to get a job and not all the lasses are buxom and not all the dudes are hunky and you only get to hunt dragons a few times a year.  These stories present their own worlds, with their own rules, that can be as separate from meatspace as the writer’s skills can stretch believability.  At the same time, though, they’re close enough that they can actually speak to the real world.  Allegory and metaphor are powerful tools available to this medium, with the writer offering familiar situations in an unfamiliar setting to help the reader see them from completely new perspectives and in a completely new light.  Lots of authors feel strongly about lots of things, lots of authors write speculative fiction, so lots of authors bring these two great tastes together.

But lots of authors don’t think things out the whole way through.  And therein lies the problem.

So, racism is bad.  Sexism is bad.  There’s a whole lot of –isms out there that are bad.  You know what?  Let’s just go ahead and say screw prejudice as a whole.  That will be our platform.  Screw Prejudice 2024.  Then if anyone argues with us, we can prove that they’re really a racist elf.  That’s how you win politics, people.  Anyways, the roots, causes, and impacts of it are an incredibly complex subject, far more than any self-proclaimed expert can just pick up from Tumblr, but we can still go out on a limb and say prejudice is a bad thing.  We all on the same page here?  Good.

Lots of other people think prejudice is a bad thing, too.  So they decide to use their medium of choice to change hearts and minds around it.  Get people to understand it better, look at it from a new perspective.  Make the world a bit of a better place.  Speculative Fiction is a ripe ground for metaphor, so it seems to fit right in.

But in the process, it’s easy to change too much, and tie a whole lot of other implications into that metaphor as well.  It’s easy to inadvertently give ammunition to the counter-point.

Elves and dwarves just hate each other.  You can find entire slave races all over the place.  So many people have to deal with a world that hates and fears them for having powers they never asked for and can’t control.  And all too often, these aren’t meant to just make a plot point in and of themselves, but to remind you of the plight of a specific strain of humanity.

Real world prejudice is a blight because it assigns poor treatment to people because of traits that really don’t matter.  A lot of speculative fiction prejudice impacts people with real, tangible, physical differences that set them apart from other races.  That weakens the metaphor drastically.  Having races with different capabilities and stats makes them interesting, but if you’re trying to use them to create a real world analog for racial treatment, making them differently capable just starts implying that there’s maybe a reason for that prejudice.  Like, you remember in the Elder Scrolls, where Khajiit just get treated like an entire race of thieves but that’s what their stats lay out?  And you know, that was all fine, until they started brushing, lightly brushing, but still brushing, against the real world “racism is bad” metaphor in Skyrim, where wasn’t it such a shame that all the Nordic cities treated all Khajiit like thieves even though EVERY SINGLE FREAKING KHAJIIT NPC WAS A MEMBER OF THE THIEVE’S GUILD!

And then when you go further than that, start giving races access to weapons and tools that others don’t have, that they can’t even control themselves, and yet isn’t it such a shame that everyone else is so phobic to them?  X-Men is a big offender here.  Back in the day, it just made itself more realistic by grounding itself in the more recent civil rights movement rather than directly confronting it.  The struggle of mutants was something that the team was working on, was a major focus of the plot, but they didn’t start trying to make the real world parallels right away.  And when they did get around to it, did start saying that “these are your blacks!  These are your gays!”, the whole comparison rang a little unfortunate, because really, by that point the humans were at least partially justified in their fear.  The comics have spent story upon story detailing characters with little control of their deadly, dangerous, powers, showing people who first realized they had these mutant powers in the first place by nearly murdering those around them, and have spent years showcasing mutant characters who were unabashedly, openly evil.  Trying to make that analogy, trying to say you have no reason to treat a population that way, just makes things worse when you give the people in your story plenty of reason to fear and be wary of them in the first place.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a good reason or a good way to handle this topic in media.  Honestly, there’s a lot of works that do it well.  Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Final Fantasy X, and Tales of Symphonia all hit those notes quite well, for example.  Just, when you’re dealing with it, keep in mind that you’re walking into a very complex subject, and make sure you’re paying attention to all the elements you’re bringing to it, as such.

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Playing Against Type

Bloodborne.  Lots of people call it a good game.  And they’re right.  Some people call it a great game.  I’d agree with that.  Some people call it a masterpiece.  Those people, I start wondering if they need their heads checked.

Bloodborne has a lot going for it.  It was built on top of a great, proven engine, it has a great design, its lore is steps ahead of your average game, the combat engine pushes the player’s limits in just the right ways, and so on.  But it’s also a flawed game, and it has a lot going against it that other games I would consider true masterpieces, such as its predecessor Dark Souls, deliberately and deftly avoid.  Two big things come to mind.

The first, I’m just not very good at Bloodborne.  I don’t click with the combat style.  Which is fine.  I didn’t get to where I’d actually consider myself good at Dark Souls until Artorias kicked my face in for two hours, so I think I just need a moment like that.  And everytime I look online for help, I come across a past conversation with the type of infuriating wanker that thinks there needs to be a holy war between the haves and have-nots of Bloodborne skill.  Which, really, is not a problem with the game itself, but I get to choose what I think are masterpieces, and the skill barrier disqualifies a game until I cross it.

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The second factor, I have to blame on the game.  Bloodborne’s gameplay has several mechanisms that just work counter to each other.  Bits of the design philosophy that conflict.  The most prominent is that Bloodborne requires grinding.  Specifically, it punishes you with grinding.  Your health items and one of your key defensive tools are consumable.  You use them, and they’re gone, even if you screw up and get all your progress you had used them towards erased.  Enough failed runs, and you’ll have to spend an hour’s time just farming enemies in order to build your supplies back up for another go ‘round.

Which would be a black mark on its own.  But what makes it even worse here is that Bloodborne is built around trial and error gameplay.  You are expected, almost required, to fail.  Because that’s how you grow.  Enemies are built to be too much for you at first.  Even at second.  Maybe up to fifth or beyond.  It doesn’t matter.  They only put you down so that you can get up again.  They hurt you so you get better.  As you fail, you learn their timings, you try new strategies, you find yourself moving where they’re weak, and by the time you’ve triumphed, you have had internalized who and what they are, through your repeated trials in overcoming them.

It’s glorious.  It’s one of the things that make so much of From Software’s recent output so great.  But it’s made so, so much weaker by the fact that you are punished for it.  The game requires you to learn from failure in order to succeed, but if you fail, it will take away from your experience.  The game abuses you for playing as it intends.

Thing is, having some mechanics push in one direction and other mechanics pushing you back is totally common thing in games.  In fact, to some extent, games are built on it.  The later Persona games created their whole time management gameplay by matching their mechanics encouraging you to take as much outside-dungeon activity as possible with mechanics limiting the amount you got to do.  Resident Evil 4 was all about deftly navigating hordes of enemies as you cut them down, yet would constantly limit your ability to do so by locking you into a vehicle or situation that restricted your movement.  Fire Emblem is focused on utilizing the near complete availability of information to build completely safe and defensive strategies, yet still left the unpredictable elements of critical hits and enemy reinforcements in there.  And they’re all great games.  In fact, the counter-productive elements add to the experience.  So why is it that it works here, but not in Bloodborne?

A lot of it lies in the nature of how these counterproductive elements are used.  In all those good examples?  The interworkings were set in place to provide limits.  To place challenges to overcome.  Games require rules and boundaries, and those elements were how the designers set those in place.  They gave you something to work around.  Providing new gameplay, even if, the way I explained it, it seems they should take away.

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Bloodborne’s grinding requirements?  Along with stuff like Dark Cloud’s fragile freakin’ weapons when the game requires you to be grinding them down?  Like Skies of Arcadia promoting exploration when the game has a monstrous random encounter rate?  Like Final Fantasy 2 requiring you to enter doors, yet more often than not sticking you in a stupid monster closet whenever you did so?  Those are all mechanisms of punishment.

Failure needs to have consequence, or so goes a common set of game design knowledge.  Thing is, games don’t exist in meatspace.  They can’t reach out of the screen and slap you when you screw up.  Yet.  I call dibs on the patent.  In fact, game designers don’t have a whole lot of torque over players in the real world.  So, for punishment, they use one of the few things they do have power over.  They punish you by wasting your time.  They remove the progress or resources you’ve already bought with your time.  Or, as in Bloodborne’s case, they make you spend more time before you get to the stuff you want to play.

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It’s not a good system.  Wasting your time is one of the biggest sins a game can commit.  There’s a reason why gaming has largely been moving away from this method of punishment, or, at least, limiting its impact, as the medium has developed.  And yet, we still see it pop up.  And it’s never to the game’s favor.  The sparse placement of checkpoints and the long walks after failure was one of the few black spots on an otherwise gleaming game in Dark Souls, and that, combined with the time required to grind up to recover from your losses, is one of the biggest weights dragging Bloodborne down.

It does lead to a more old-school feel, which is what I believe the Soul series is going for, but unfortunately, it does so without adding to the experience.  It’s better than a lot of other applications, such as the Do It Again, Stupid style gameplay I’ve been running into all over the PS2 era lately.  But I do feel that this is misused.

So how would I overcome this without changing this feature of the gameplay?  Try and make more use of it to add to it.  Bloodborne’s a bit more straight-lined than Dark Souls, but mayhaps this would lead to an opportunity to expand upon the rails.  Have one area give you a certain type of resource as a common drop, another area give you another, both needed to get through.  So, if you’re having a lot of difficulty with one place, the game guides you towards the section that carries the resource you’re lacking, so you still make progress there, while taking a break so you can get back to your trouble spot with a fresh mindset.

Then again, that doesn’t really fit in with the philosophy of the souls series.  But then again, neither does making endless runs through areas you’ve already got down pat just to get yourself back to a state where you can try the area that’s giving you trouble once more.  In any case, the counter elements should be posed more as limitations or as obstacles to be overcome, rather than as punishments, in order to lead to greater gameplay.  If Bloodborne implemented a more complex system of resource management, or a better way of recovering your supplies than mindless repetition, this may be a good fit.  As is, it only hurts the game, and it’s largely because of the way it’s posed rather than anything else.

Story Quality and the Persistence of Memory

Every once in a while I get something stuck in my head that’s absolutely unproductive but I spend a whole lot of time thinking through.  So here’s a question I was faced with recently.  Can a story be considered good, have the right mix of elements that resonates with the readers and makes for a good plot, when it’s absolutely unmemorable?

I came upon this when I started up playing Max Payne 2.  This wasn’t my first go round with the Max Payneiverse.  I logged my time in with the first Max Payne, like 15 hours or however long it took to get through it.  And that was an award winning game.  Back in 2001, it was the talk of the town.  The video games journalism town.  It’s scummy and the family trees are all tangled up there, I wouldn’t recommend you visit.

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Anyways, the first Max Payne.  Most highly praised for its gameplay, atmosphere, and squinty mugshots, but more than a few people gave it props for its story as well.  I played through all of it.  I have memories of my impressions of the plot.  But, in going to the supposedly familiar places, meeting all the supposedly familiar people, and killing a bunch of dudes all of again, I discovered that I don’t remember much of the actual events at all.  I spent hours with it, yet the actual happenings of the story are a big void to me.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad story.  Plenty of people had a good time with it, else it wouldn’t have gotten all those plotprops.  The few memories I have of the plot are decent enough.  I remember it being surprisingly down to earth compared to what else I was playing at the time, I remember being satisfied by the noir style telling, and I remember hating the Nordic theming at first but then absolutely loving it towards the end when I realized Payne is pretty much a historic berserker.  But the things that went on to cause those impressions?  No idea.

Part of that is just the nature of the beast.  Max Payne pulls back some noir storytelling, and noir by its nature is very introspective, reserved, and doesn’t tend to lead to the big Aha! Moments that really stick in the mind for the long term.  So the fact that a lot of it’s not sticking around may be a sign that it’s hitting the form it’s going for.

It may well be the type of story that only really shines on multiple retellings, when one’s had the chance to absorb more of it and read into it more fully.  I’ve come across quite a few plots that require experience or a certain mindset to really get into.

In any case, I find it difficult to look back on Max Payne and evaluate what I went through there.  Of course stories are subjective, and there are a lot of elements that can go into making a quality plot.  Does memorability need to be one of them?  If something was good while you went through it, even if it has no aftertaste, can you still consider it just as good after the memories leave?  I find myself torn.  To some degree, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed Max Payne’s story while I was playing.  There were at least good points to it, and just because I don’t remember them doesn’t mean they weren’t there.  But none of it stuck.  I spent all that time with it, and I’m carrying none of it around with me.  And to some degree, that has to diminish the experience once it’s over.  Is it enough to make it all invalid?

Then again, a lot of this is me trying to internally evaluate a work that I have no memory of.  I had my time with it.  I may not of been the most engaged, but I know I had some fun, and just because I don’t remember it any more doesn’t take that away.  Beyond that, it doesn’t matter to me now.  Whether I can call the original Max Payne good or not doesn’t have an impact on me until I start playing the game again.  We’ll see if a story can be unmemorable but still be good then.

Yandere Simulator: The Destined Battle

I hear you.  You don’t speak much, but even so, I hear you.  And perhaps more importantly, I listen.  You’ve been telling me something for a long, long time now.  You’ve been telling me what you want, for a good long while now.  I haven’t given it to you yet, and for that, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening.  I know what you want.  My search terms tell me so.

Specifically, you want some Yandere Simulator porn.

In fact, you’re absolutely hungry for it.  No, you don’t need to deny it.  I know.  See, here’s the top search terms bringing you to my site in 2015.

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That’s changed a bit in 2016, but I can tell your desire is still there.

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All that, in spite of the fact that I have never actually written about Yandere Simulator.  Or porn of Yandere Simulator.  It dominates my search results, but has never touched this blog.

But I am a man of the people.  So, there’s two great tastes we’re looking at here.  One is a pre-alpha build of an indie video game steeped in creepiness.  The other is graphic images and films intended for sexual arousal of a third party.  Together, this is really far outside of my usual wheelhouse, but I’m willing to meet you halfway.  We’ll pick one of those aspects, the one in the medium I’ve spent my whole life and most of the posts on this blog building myself up in, and we’ll have ourselves a good old runaround about that.

Now, which aspect we’re picking up should be pretty obvious.  I’ve got a great passion for video games.  Hell, just count how many words I’ve devoted to gaming in this blog alone.  Go ahead, count them.  I’ll wait here for you.

Yeah, you’ve got that right.  On top of that, I’ve been a player since I was a cub, barely learning to walk.  Video games make up a large part of who I am.  It’d be amiss for me to choose any other aspect.

ButI’mverysexyandIlikebeingverysexyandIalwaystalkaboutbeingverysexysolet’smakethispostaboutporn!

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