The Game Isn’t Over: Picking Up My Controller After the Election

Dishonored 2

So: last week was a bit of a colossal trashfire. Like so many of us, I’m still shocked, scared, and angry. However much the optimist in me wants to believe that it’ll all be okay, that we’ll get through the next four years somehow, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that even in the single week since the election — even in the scant hours following the results — events have shown that we’re already entering an era of extreme hatred, ignorance, and backlash for all the social progress this nation has made in the past decade. This election wasn’t just about a woman not being elected president of the United States. It was about a man being elected on a platform of bigotry and hatred.

It’s very easy to say that, right now, playing and talking about video games isn’t going to do a damn thing to effect change. That escaping into fiction won’t fix a single one of the world’s problems. That representation and diversity in popular culture is the least of our worries right now.

I say it matters more now than it ever fucking did.

Video games — and popular culture in general — are more than just escapism or entertainment, though they are singularly valuable as both those things. Popular culture is, literally, the form of culture that is being consumed by the most people at a given time.

Linda Holmes, pop culture blogger for NPR, once wrote that pop culture might not be what people ideally should be consuming, but it is what they’re actually consuming. It doesn’t matter whether a piece of pop culture is created for love or for profit; it’s the medium through which, for better or for worse, so many of us see the world, and that can influence people in unknowable, far-reaching ways.

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We Could Be Heroes: Revisionist Gaming & Representation

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I’ve been revising and reinterpreting video games for as long as I’ve been playing them. As a kid, I grew up with only a handful of computer games like Math Blaster, LEGO Island, and The Amazon Trail, which my brother and I played over and over and over again until we knew the games by heart and ran out of things to do and places to explore. And when that happened, we’d start making up our own stories to revitalize the gameplay.

LEGO Island in particular got an extensive backstory. The police were secretly evil and in cahoots with the Brickster, and Pepper and a couple other people were leading a rebellion of some kind—but I digress. We got what entertainment we could out of these games, and when they came up short, we stepped in and made up our own additions.

Fast-forward to college. I just played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Portal for the first time, and now I’m completely hooked on video games and thirsting for more. But the gaming world is big and aggressive and overwhelming, and I have no idea how to find more games that I like. So I did what I always do when I’m trying to figure out where to start a new game—I began looking for protagonists like me. Specifically: women.

Seeing a key part of my identity made trying a new game less of a gamble, because I assumed that a game with a woman as the protagonist was probably made by people with at least the absolute baseline understanding that women are people, not objects, and have stories worth telling. (Alas, if only this were reliably true.) I discovered Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge, and Beyond Good and Evil.

I still clearly remember Googling “Can I play as a woman in Skyrim?” one day because the promo pictures only ever showed a man. “Yes,” Yahoo Answers helpfully informed me, “You can have boobs.” Um … thanks, Internet. You’re really making me feel welcome in the gaming community.

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I’m Not Calling You a Liar: Complicated Canon & Unreliable Narrators in ‘Dragon Age II’

Dragon Age 2

About a month ago, I finally gave up trying to finish Dragon Age: Origins and just skipped straight on to Dragon Age II—and Maker’s breath, am I ever glad I did, because it was amazing. A character-driven, darker and grittier sequel set in one unholy mess of a city over the span of ten years? You can keep all your epic quests and your goofy Grey Wardens, I’m going to go hang out with the gang in The Hanged Man for the rest of my days.

Naturally, one of the first things I did once I finished was to go online and try to find all the memes and fanart and things that I’d scrolled past in confusion before playing the game, but which would now finally make sense. Coming straight out of a playthrough that had dominated my free time for the entire past month, it was pretty jarring to discover that, of course, not everyone had the same playthrough as me. Most of what I found was Garret Hawke/Fenris shipping, or people drooling over Anders, or Cassandra and Varric Dragon Age: Inquisition stuff that was confusing at best and spoilery at worst.

What I was seeing wasn’t my playthrough; the warrior Marian Hawke taking names and snarking at people with Varric at her side, who sided with the mages at every turn out of undying love for her sister, and who really thought she could’ve smoothed out everything with the Arishok bloodshed-free if he’d just come by The Hanged Man for a drink or nine.

Ultimately, I was left grumpily pondering one of the fundamental questions of fandom, especially with interactive media: what made my playthrough any more or any less legitimate than all these others?

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Cozy Stress Relief With ‘Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector’

Neko Atsume

It is with great sadness that I think of those among you who have not yet heard of Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector. I, myself, was once like you—lost, wandering, my days unfulfilled and empty. I still clearly remember that night almost a whole week ago when I lay exhausted on the couch, thinking about all the work I had yet to do. And then a stranger came unto me on Tumblr, speaking to their followers thusly in a text post:

SOMEONE IN NEKO ATSUME REACHED 23 CATS! TEACH ME YOUR WAYS.

Intrigued—nay, summoned—by this mystic message, I opened the Google Play app (and then closed it and opened it again about six times until it decided to actually work), and downloaded this mysterious game.

Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is as easy as one, two … and that’s it!” the game’s download page declared. “Step 1: Place playthings and snacks in your yard. Step 2: Wait for cats to visit.” Surely nothing in this world could be that simple and pure? I had to find out. I filled the virtual bowl with cat food, left a rubber ball on the rug, closed the app … and then reopened it.

My weariness vanished. My woes and cares became meaningless and were forgotten. There was a cat! In my virtual yard! Playing with a rubber ball! Everything was now good and pure and perfect in my world!

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Hiding in Plain Sight: ‘Invisible, Inc.’ Is My Stealth Pick for 2015

Invisible

I discovered something funny as 2015 drew to a close and everyone started talking about the best games of the year: I hadn’t played a single one of them. Oh, I’d been playing video games all right, but none of them had been 2015 releases. However, as I was rummaging around in my games folder, trying to figure out where all my time had gone and where the heck I’d saved that Undertale demo, I discovered that I actually had been playing a game from 2015—I just hadn’t realized it, because it had been released so quietly and received so little attention that I’d assumed it had come out a year or two ago and I’d simply missed it.

Released in the spring of 2015 from Klei Entertainment (developers of the acclaimed Don’t Starve and Mark of the Ninja), this new gem of a game has stealthily remained under the radar, despite acquiring a respectable little fandom and dedicated player base in online forums. Now, I’d like to try drawing it into the spotlight by introducing you to my nomination for Best Game You’ve Never Heard of From 2015: Invisible, Inc.

What? Never Heard of It.

Invisible, Inc. (get it? get it?) is a turn-based roguelike stealth game in which you control a small team of agents in a dystopian, tech-riddled future. The entire world is now run by three or four sinister tech corporations, and your little team is one of the last bastions of freedom, struggling to survive from one job to the next as the collective corporate world tries to hunt them down and kill them all.

This game was a bit of a fresh start for me in terms of genre; my first encounter with roguelike games was actually with Klei’s other, more famous title, Don’t Starve, and if I learned anything from that game, it was that roguelike games were not for me. My stance on turn-based games was similar after a baffling and short-lived attempt at playing Final Fantasy VII, and I’m still a very new fan of stealth-based games. Fortunately, I had no idea the game involved all three of these genres when I first tried it on a free-to-play weekend, or I might never have downloaded it in the first place. But I’m so very glad I did.

Continue reading “Hiding in Plain Sight: ‘Invisible, Inc.’ Is My Stealth Pick for 2015”

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