Tidus: Video Games’ Answer to Toxic Masculinity

Final Fantasy X

[Trigger warning: emotional abuse, grief, and racial discrimination.]

Tidus from Final Fantasy X is a man we don’t often get to see in video games. While the stoic Cloud, brooding Solid Snake, and snarky Drake are familiar staples of mainstream video game land, Tidus eschewed this common hard-jawed machoism in favor of sensitivity and humor. What many games would even hold back on in favor of a sad reveal, you witness in the first few hours of Final Fantasy X—from Tidus sharing his hurt at the hands of his father to the loss of his mother to, yes, even being told he’s known to cry often—and that’s before this sports all-star gets teleported from his home in Zanarkand into the unknown world of Spira by a mysterious monster called Sin! When he encounters a group of people willing to help him find his way home (while trying to defeat Sin along the way), he opens up to them early on and proceeds to lay waste to many damaging hypermasculine tropes.

Tidus connects to fellow protagonist Yuna not through passive-aggressive quips, but comraderie and laughter (and, for the record, I include that scene). The emotional constipation normally reserved for protagonists who are men is tossed out the window and replaced with an overarching spoken narrative by Tidus, revealing his innermost feelings at key intervals—a touch that I still appreciate to this day. His outfit embodies the very best and the very worst of Tetsuya Nomura’s character design work (water soccer gauntlet???). Yes, Tidus really is something special. Thankfully, this hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The reaction to him over the years has been generally positive. Some love his youthful enthusiasm, citing him as a refreshing and funny break from the cold Cloud and aloof Squall from Final Fantasy VII and VIII, respectively. Others fell head over heels in love with his tender relationship with Yuna and consider it one of the best Final Fantasy romances in the series (and I won’t pretend like I haven’t gotten incredibly mushy over it myself). Yet more found the proceeding plot twists later in the game both in turns fascinating and tragic—all of this and more cementing Tidus as one of the Final Fantasy protagonist greats for years to come.

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Top 8 Women & Girls of Color in Games Who Deserved Better


American feminism was not made with women and girls of color in mind. Sure, this seems like a downer to start off with, but being ignored by a massive Western movement supposedly trying to create better livelihoods for women for the past 200 years isn’t exactly positive. Intersectionality, a term coined by black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the crossroads of race and gender and how it uniquely affects women and girls of color in the West. Mainstream vernacular has grabbed hold of the term to discuss any intersections of identity, be it woman and lesbian, woman and Muslim, or woman and transgender (also known as transmisogyny).

Below, we’re going to look at women and girls of color in Western or Western-released games. Some of these characters are well-written. Hell, some of these characters are incredible and long-time favorites of mine! But it’s important to dissect the omnipresent, harmful clichés and myopic narratives that favor the perspectives of white people or men (or both) if we’re to create stronger, more authentic media in the future. And, really, just support women and girls of color making their own games. That’ll already solve, like, 90 percent of the issues I have on this list. (Spoilers are marked.)

1. Daisy, BioShock Infinite

[Spoilers!] Let’s start off the list with the most egregious example of why white people should generally step the hell off when it comes to taking inspiration from historical racism (which, let’s be real, isn’t that different from modern racism). BioShock Infinite is a steampunk first-person shooter where you play an agent sent to rescue a young girl from the floating city of Colombia, an old-timey Americana paradise with all the unsettling genocide, slavery, and war-related undercurrents that implies. Daisy Fitzroy is the leader of the Vox Populi, a rebel group created to fight back against the rampant racism and classism the founder of Colombia established. Where the game got its visuals and atmosphere right, it fumbled its racial issues like a hot potato.

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‘Eat All The Ice Cream Ever’ Review: The Things We Take for Granted

Eat All The Ice Cream Ever

Trigger warning: eating disorders, body shaming.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a fast metabolism. No matter how much I ate or how often I laid around (which was often, as my pastimes were drawing, reading, video games, and more video games), I remained thin as a rail. Clothes were regularly baggy on me and my knees always knocked together. My friends and family, however, were on the other side of the fence. My mother, my aunt, my close friends, and many of my acquaintances found their weight to be a constant struggle at the best of times. It was an average day when I would find out about a new diet they wanted to try, or something insensitive a relative said, or reflections on a bad day at school. If you think weight is no big deal, you were—and probably are—as thin as I am.

Eat All The Ice Cream Ever (now abbreviated as EATICE) starts with a young woman opening the fridge for something to eat, finding nothing but a low-calorie microwavable meal à la Weight Watchers. Her growling stomach is all it takes to punt the tray through the roof and go off in search of some sweets, in which we’re introduced to the main goal of the game: eat ice cream. Like a society that constantly invents new ways to pick someone apart, though, it’s not that simple: you have to dodge offensive commentary, build up your self-esteem meter, and, of course, try not to get a brain freeze.

As I played the game, railing against my inability to clear my high score (21500, for the record), I began to reflect on all the subtle and not-so-subtle abuse my loved ones have gone through for their size. My mother was bullied in high school when her weight would start distributing to areas deemed ‘unacceptable’ for her gender and age, girls wielding words like knives just as much as the boys did. A childhood friend of mine had to struggle with the contradictory nature of the ‘slovenly’ stereotype despite being an active and outdoorsy person who climbed trees and ran after frogs like it was her part-time job. Even more of my friends have confessed to me their dislike of mundane activities like shopping for clothes and going swimming in public. Years of insecurity and self-scrutinization can begin with a phrase as simple as, “You’ve already had dessert.”

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Nostalgia By (Art) Design: ‘Spyro the Dragon’ Analysis, Part One

[Art by Ashe]
[Art by Ashe]

One of the most vivid video game-related memories of my childhood came in the form of a little purple dragon. While I know I’m not alone in turning a platformer into a symbol for idle childhood days spent slumped in front of a television, it unfortunately hasn’t escaped my notice how this symbol in particular has fallen out of the public eye. It might have something to do with the original studio, Insomniac Games, signing the rights over to another company after the third game and the direction of the series becoming polarizing for old fans (I have a less-than-fond memory of tucking Spyro 4 back into my shelf after an hour, never to touch it again). It could also have something to do with Spyro‘s recent revival in the pocket monster-esque franchise Skylanders where he’s delegated to a supporting character. Needless to say, time isn’t always kind to its subjects.

I picked up the game recently, buried it was beneath old books and yellowed fanart drawings in the boxes of my garage, and attempted with varying degrees of success to get it to function on my old PlayStation 2. The majority of my younger days were spent hunched over copy paper, construction paper, or a notepad—anything to better give life to the ideas brewing in my head. Picking up Spyro again was like being catapulted back into those days, but this time armed with an adult perspective and all the analytical, jaded implications that comes with it.

Everything from its signature soundtrack to loving art design reignited a fire in me. It really cemented that without art theory, a meaningful atmosphere, and strong visual and narrative contrast, no video game can stand the test of time and remain stamped in memory. Let me tell you why you should be familiar with him—in his very first title, no less.

Continue reading “Nostalgia By (Art) Design: ‘Spyro the Dragon’ Analysis, Part One”

Motherhood in Video Games: The Unsung Heroines of Plot Devices

Final Fantasy

Let’s cut to the chase here: we don’t see a lot of mothers in our video games. Sure, they exist … to die off for a character’s angsty development, to be mentioned offhandedly in a single line of dialogue or to not be mentioned at all. Video games almost put film to shame in how quickly the medium tosses motherhood into the bin of inapplicability.

As someone raised by a single mother because the father was more interested in a power dynamic than a loving family, I’d be lying if I said this trend didn’t piss me off a little. I see every single day how motherhood is undervalued and mocked in the form of archaic laws (no country-wide maternity leave in the U.S., for starters) and casual terminology (baby mama, teenage mom, welfare queen, etc.) while fatherhood is postulated as something heroic. Even deadbeat dads can expect entire sitcoms and movies dedicated to them!

This problem goes a lot deeper than go-to tropes or lazy writing—it’s reflective of a myopic cultural attitude toward women and the role we are often pressured to be in. This steady devaluing of motherhood is aided by a never-ending deluge of protagonists who are men written from their perspectives for presumed consumption by men. While fatherhood is a separate can of worms that shouldn’t be shoved to the wayside (the previously mentioned lauding of deadbeat dads is a problem), the unfortunate fact is that is what usually happens to mothers. Fridged, passive caretaker, forgotten, Not Mentioned At All, or demonized are usually the names of the game, if you’ll pardon the pun.

“Now, hold up,” I tend to hear. “Fathers are killed off, too! In fact, one of the most common clichés in any media is a character going to avenge a father’s death. A lot of fathers are even portrayed in a less than appealing light, so why the focus on mothers?” And to that question I’ll answer with another: how often do you see a character spurned to action from the death of their mom? Even if a mother and father are killed, who tends to get the most focus in the narrative? I can hear the list shrinking already.

Continue reading “Motherhood in Video Games: The Unsung Heroines of Plot Devices”

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