Planting the Seed: Patience & Nurture in Virtual Gardening

I love gardening in video games. Planting the seeds, watering them, watching out for that first little sprout and then seeing it grow. The themes and ideas behind gardening can add so much more depth to a narrative or, in the case of video games, meaning within the player. In the book Gardening – Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom, Dan O’Brien explains:

“Gardening is not just a pleasant thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, or a way to reduce one’s supermarket bill — gardening is a human activity that engages with core philosophical questions concerning, among other things, human well-being, wisdom, the nature of time, political power and ideals, home, aesthetic experience, metaphysics, and religion.”

Even though gardening is used very rarely as a game mechanic, I’ve found it to be a relaxing and reflective process. Video games have the potential to conjure up vast and unique emotions within a player, and I think the ambient and thoughtful process of gardening makes its own contribution toward this. Some might consider relaxing activities mundane, but there is much to learn from these slow, meaningful styles of play. So, what influence does the act of virtual gardening have on the player?​

When gardening, there is one quality that is of the utmost importance: patience. Waiting for something to grow and bloom after nurturing it for days (or weeks) is a slow and diligent process. To expect immediate gratification is to miss the point of gardening. The want for a quick reward comes from a place of consumption instead of care. It definitely sounds odd talking about patience in relation to gameplay, but gardening games do rely on the patience of the player.

A majority of video games have a constant feedback loop — this action and re-action tends to happen quickly so that the game stays interesting and keeps the player’s attention. Using first-person shooters as an example, running around, shooting enemies, dodging, etc. can all contribute toward keeping the player captivated. They are attuned to the game’s high-intensity gameplay. Although this is most obvious during exciting and intense sequences, I think that this idea can also be applied to relaxing and ambient play.

In relaxing play, the action and re-action loop is slowed down, and the rhythms of the game and the player are set at a sedate pace. It is in these moments that a great deal of emotion and meaning can grow. Walking through a beautiful landscape, pausing to listen to music, or taking the time to nurture and care for plants all hold quiet and humble experiences. It’s the act of humility and care that improves both the garden and the gardener.

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The Search for Positive Portrayals of Fatness in Games

atelier

From childhood bullying to fake concern from friends and family to society physically and emotionally rejecting your body, being fat has always been hard. Where can a fat person turn to for an ounce of respite? Video games might be a viable option, but alas, they are sprinkled with all the fat-shaming a person finds in the real world. I decided to dig deeper into how fatness is portrayed within video games and I found the impossible: a positive portrayal of fatness. However, before I can showcase that example, I need to explain a bad one, which will be easy due to the abundance of negative portrayals.

I decided to pick a character from the games series that I am currently playing. It is called Atelier, a typically super cute series that features adorable girls. These games revolve around a central protagonist (sometimes two) who is an alchemist. They must either solve some kind of overarching problem with their alchemy or simply train to become a better alchemist.

In Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, Sophie is our main protagonist. She desires to improve her alchemy skills, and one day, she finds a book from her late grandmother … that can talk. This book ultimately guides her through becoming an alchemy master, however, the book has lost all its old memories. While Sophie continues to build upon her skills, she looks for a way to recover what was lost. Sounds cool, right? I mean, I like them. They can be a bit corny (okay, a lot corny), but sometimes a girl wants corny games.

The character from Atelier Sophie who is shown as fat is named Oskar Behlmer. Although he actually looks realistically fat and not like a balloon, the game still ends up making his weight a crucial part of his personality. He is described as extremely lazy and irresponsible, and throughout the game, Oskar leaves his mother to maintain their shop alone while he lays around in nature. Except his special ability is talking to plants. Who wouldn’t want to be around nature if they could talk to plants?

Sadly, Atelier Sophie portrays Oskar’s love of plants as shirking his duties. Even on the Wikipedia page for his character, Oskar is described as “lazy and unfit.” He also constantly gets fake concern from literally every single character in the game; from comments like “Wouldn’t you feel better if you lost weight?” to the grossly inappropriate “You would be so handsome if you lost weight!”

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Autism & Empowerment: What Gaming Means to Me

pokemon

The word “empowerment” is thrown around quite frequently in discussions surrounding identity and representation in media. Seeing or reading a positive and respectful depiction of one’s identity can have a tremendously beneficial impact on an individual, especially if said individual is from a marginalized community.

That being said, what defines empowerment can mean different things to different people — especially within the medium of video games. This can include the ability to choose or, ideally, to customize the pronouns one is able to use when playing a game; the chance to accurately represent your skin tone and natural hair in a game’s character customization; or the option to romance characters who are the same gender as the player. All of these features can be deemed empowering, which results in an extremely satisfying gaming experience.

With this in mind, I cannot help but wonder, as an autistic woman, what images of empowerment come to mind when autistic people reflect on their favorite video games. For those of us on the autism spectrum, video games can be a tool to relax and break away from the stresses and anxieties that everyday life presents — be it sensory overload or the exhaustion associated with social interactions. I, myself, recognize the importance that video games have had in helping me cope during trying times, alongside enjoying them for their distinctive methods of storytelling and engrossing gameplay.  

Despite this reality, allistic (non-autistic) writers and developers fail to recognize that their works can be perceived as empowering to an autistic audience. While I cannot state exactly why this is, I believe a combination of ignorance and misinformation is why allistic writers are still far behind in providing positive experiences for their autistic fans. They showcase ignorance through their failure to realize that autistic audiences exist, and probably already enjoy their work, and they are misinformed by only being able to comprehend autistic identities from a stereotypical or ableist point of view.

I have decided to relate on what aspects of video games have been empowering to me as an autistic woman gamer.  I cannot guarantee that my experiences of empowerment will be exactly the same as all autistic gamers — especially since both the autistic spectrum and the category of “gamer” are extremely diverse even without the overlap between the two — but I can say that these experiences are important to me because I am autistic.

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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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Rolling the Dice: Trauma as a Play Mechanic

Dungeons & Dragons

This is the second part of “Trauma as a Play Mechanic,” a cursory investigation into the use of trauma as a mechanic in games. Initially, video games and the use of programmed psychological distress was discussed, but now we’re about to delve into pencil and paper entertainments. Just to recap: for the purposes of this article, psychological trauma is being defined as damage to the psyche as a result of distressing events. These can be short- or long-term symptoms, often measured in a hard, quantifiable mechanic within the game’s system of rules.

The term ‘Sanity’ used in this article references a specific characteristic within the physics of a player or non-player character defined by the rules of a game. Sanity often takes the form of a point system that mimics the determination of a character’s physical proximity to death. In these instances, Sanity does not represent the varied uses of the word in real life, though they may be an attempt by a designer at mimicking their perception of a character’s proximity to mental distress.

Unlike video games, the nature of psychological trauma’s effects on gameplay can be tweaked and entirely changed by the Game Master, or some combination of the agency of the Game Master and players during the course of play. Here, I will be primarily covering and breaking down what is printed in the guide books for three tabletop games, supplementing with the creators’ intentions where I can.

How the mundane, yet extraordinary nature of some traumas versus the supernatural is often left up to the GM. Otherwise, those more reasonable fears of the everyday person are treated as lesser when compared to slowly revealing the traumas of a world more dangerous than players ever imagined.

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