The fun I had last week – Sunday wrap-up

I am in a race against time: Later this month, Ever Oasis and RPG Maker Fes will be coming out – on the same day, even! Since one of them is technically not a game, but a game creation engine (for noobs), I can easily play them at the same time without getting annoyed. But I still haven’t finished Dragon Quest VII. I haven’t been playing a lot of videogames lately. Some adults would consider this proof of their maturity, but I just feel like a failure.=P  I hate having unfinished games, and when it comes to Dragon Quest, it’s like I’m cursed. But I will finish this one.

So much manga, though. So little time. I am proud of my collection. It’s not especially large, but that’s the point: it’s only titles I actually consider worthwhile or interesting! There are so many Youtube videos where people show off their manga collections, and it’s all about how many books they have, like, the sheer numbers! Many people even say that they keep buying a series just to have it complete, even though they don’t enjoy it. I don’t get that. I wouldn’t have the space for this to begin with, but I don’t see the point of spending money on something you don’t care for.

I feel very disconnected to English-language manga fandom. That’s probably to be expected, because I’m not American and I rarely read manga in English. I speak French, so I buy French manga. The quality is better, the price is lower and there’s a greater choice of titles. But English is the language I’ve always used for my fandom activities, so I’m kind of stuck in my own personal corner!

While tidying up my manga shelf corner, I found a potted plant that I had put in that corner at one point, and then … forgotten. It’s a vriesea … in red, but I cut off (ripped off) the red leaf padle because it had completely dried up. Considering that this plant hadn’t been watered for a couple of weeks, or even months, it must be completely dried out anyway. But I can’t tell, the leaves are still completely green. Apparently this particular plant dries out without turning brown? Or it’s super-resilient. It’s also growing two or three sideways offshoots, which makes me excited about this plant again. The reason I forgot about it to begin with was that it always looked the same … Is there a manga about house plants? There must be.

I bought Dungeon Meshi vol. 1. In the USA it’s being released under its Engrish subtitle, Delicious in Dungeon, but I got the French version, which has the superior title: Gloutons et dragons. Admit it, that’s brilliant! One thing I’ve found surprising about the reception of this manga is that no one is mentioning how very many JRPGs contain a cooking feature. It’s been in some older titles, like Tales of the Abyss, but more recently it’s been in I Am Setsuna and in Breath of the Wild! Just to name some. The feature felt a bit out of place in I Am Setsuna, which really made me wonder when and why “cooking in jRPGs” even became a thing. This is an excellent opportunity to promote the blog Pixelated Provisions, which is dedicated to the worthy cause of recreating meals and food from videogames.

The weather is nice and I am feeling much more energetic than I’ve felt in a while! I’m a loser who’ll spend that energy on videogames, manga and hopefully on blogging.


Originality is overrated! and other thoughts on JRPG plots

I enjoy daydreaming about ~the perfect JRPG plot. Come to think of it, it’s something I’ve been doing since the 1990s, when I first played a JRPG. It’s a videogame genre that I find particularly appealing and even inspiring. I believe these games just give me a sense of fun, of adventure, freedom and discovery that others don’t necessarily give me. They are usually really long, they are about journeys and are full of interesting, diverse characters. (I don’t mean diverse in the modern US marketing speech sense, just that any decent JRPG party will feature characters with different skills, personalities and backgrounds. This is just more interesting than a cast of characters who all have the same age and the same approximate background and job … looking at you, Final Fantasy VIII.)

Anyway, what is the perfect JRPG plot? Or rather, what makes a JRPG plot great? I believe that it’s easy to overestimate the importance of complexity, realism and especially originality. These things are not actually that important. In fact, they can get in the way and destroy your gaming experience. Because that’s what a good videogame plot is: an experience.

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Something I like: Outlander!

Now for something completely different: I like Outlander! The TV series, that is. I have not read the novels it is based on … and if I am entirely honest, I don’t think I would like them. If I go by quotes and excerpts that I have seen, it’s just not a writing style I could enjoy, so there’s that.

Anyway, why did I start watching Outlander? Because videogames! That’s right, a conversation about Uncharted inevitably led to the topic of Graham McTavish, who played my everyone’s favourite Uncharted 3 character, Charlie Cutter: What’s McTavish up to these days? Oh right, he’s on that Scotland TV show, probably headbutting the English* …oh, it’s on TV, let’s just check it out!

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Ranty ramblings about the culture of videogames

Is it only me who loses interest in discussions about the state of videogames because of my total disinterest in big, important AAA games producted by big important companies? So when gamers complain about the lack of innovation in that segment of the market, I sort of want to shake them and say “Well, why don’t you play other games? Try out new genres? Indie games? Other creators?” Why do so many of these discussions pretend that “videogames” means Mass Effect, The Last Of Us, Dragon Age and Bioshock? I think that the strength of videogames, as a medium, lies in the variety of graphics style, gameplay methods, approaches to storytelling and so on. It’s a medium that can cover so much ground and appeal to so many different people with totally different expectations. Yet when we talk about videogames as a culture, it so often leads to arteficically narrowing down the focus, dismissing entire genres and gamer demographics – and then, paradoxically, the whining starts because – surprise, surprise – there is not much variety to be found within that stupidly narrow focus that was arbitrarily chosen by gamers ourselves.

I never liked the idea that there are “real gamers”, who are people who play specific games. Everyone else is casual gamers, and little girls, or old people or whatever other group could not possibly be considered a “real gamer”. Not too long ago, I saw a couple of people who insisted that the entire output of Nintendo should not be considered real games for real gamers. What the hell? Nintendo is iconic. Even if they are in a slump, it’s incredibly stupid to claim that no true gamer enjoys Super Mario games. I suspect these are the same people who only like dark, gritty videogames (and movies, and TV shows) and think the more monochrome a game’s colour pallette, the more realistic it is. The kind of people who think realism (and photo-realism) matters in videogames in the first place. Who think despair is realistic, fun is not. I guess they have something to prove, though I am not sure what, or to whom.

You know the type of gamer who keeps whining about how uncreative the Final Fantasy series has become? But who would never consider buying a non-Final-Fantasy JRPG? Sure, it’d be nice if gaming journalism and ur own gaming friends did a better job at alerting us of great indie games, innovative ideas off the beaten tracks trampled by AAA games… but you know: be the change you want to see in the world?

There will always be unoriginal but successful big budget games. But just like the existence of generic Hollywood blockbusters don’t render the entire world’s movie industries’ output (because we are not talking about just one industry, are we? we are talking about the medium as a whole, for some reason!) dumb and meaningless, the existence of generic big budget games doesn’t have to diminish the worth of gaming as an art or as a culture. There seems to be a lot of defeatism, and confusion, about this within the gaming community. Could we overcome this? It’d be much more fun, and worthwhile.



Rambling on the Bechdel Test

People always misunderstand the Bechdel Test. Both its fans and its critics do this. I don’t really know which annoys me more. On the one hand, there is something uniquely aggravating about the anti-feminist vloggers on Youtube, who ooze arrogance and smugness, who think they have something important to say when they have not even grasped the most basic facts about the things they are trying to criticize. On the other hand, how can you be convinced of the importance of a test without knowing what it actually means?

Both types of idiocy probably comes down to the same mistake: thinking that the Bechdel Test is directly related to a film’s quality or to a film itself being overall feminist. That’s not what it says. The only thing the Bechdel Test tells you is if a film has more than two women who talk to each other about something other than a man, at one point over the entire course of the story. What you acually do with this data is up to you. The original comic presents the idea that movies that fail to meet the test’s criteria are not worth the comic character’s time or money. But not because they are automatically bad or offensive. Just because she isn’t interested in films like this, just like other people are not interested in romantic comedies, or in war movies, or in movies with specific plots or character archetypes, settings or themes or actors.

The interesting thing about the Bechdel Test is that it’s a seemingly low hurdle that a lot of movies still fail. That’s worthwhile to think about. Although women make up ca. 50% of humanity, important roles are still predominantly male. There are ensemble casts with ten guys and two women. You will find a lot more movies that pass the reverse Bechdel Test: that have two men who talk to each other about something other than a woman.

While there are many stories where a relative lack of women is justified due to setting or topic, you also get abominations like The Bee Movie, an animated film about honey bees who are mostly guys! although that’s not realistic. It’s bees, goddammit! In real life, male bees are basically sex slaves … and don’t make good protagonists for kids’ movies. The film is proof of how reluctant some people in Hollywood truly are to have female protagonists.

I can understand why the Bechdel Test has become popular with bloggers and vloggers. The online Social Justice community has really been building a culture of quick, definite answers. They are seldomly interested in nuanced discussions that take different view points into account, that go “on the one hand … on the other hand” and reach interesting, unexpected and thought-provoking conclusions. Instead, you find a lot of superficial, brief analyses that dramatically declare a whole story, or genre, or medium to be completely awesome or completely horrible, with no nuances allowed, apparently with nothing more complex to say regarding gender than “yes” or “no”. I don’t quite see the appeal of this, but I do understand that it is a lot easier than actually thinking about a story.

So of course the Bechdel Test is popular with them. It requires only a very superficial analysis. A monkey could do it! But the problem is that it does not mean as much as people think it means. Passing the test does not mean “feminist”. Not passing it does not mean “unfeminist”. There will never be a single, brief checklist to determine that sort of thing. People who put so much stock in the Bechdel Test probably also believe that there are “good tropes” that you put into your story and bam! it’s a feminist/anti-racist masterpiece of great writing, and “bad tropes” that instantly doom a story by merely existing, regardless of the overall context.

On the other hand, the people who say the Bechdel Test says nothing at all are also wrong. The kind of people who say movies are “just movies” and videogames are “just games” whenever someone has a negative opinion they do not agree with, whine whine. The Bechdel Test does say something, but it’s a rather specific thing that’s mostly interesting as a statistic to illustrate a larger point. As a tool to talk about the worth or quality of an individual movie (or book or videogame etc.) it’s really mostly useless, especially all on its lonesome. It does make a decent starting point for a proper in-depth discussion. That’s true for many things the Social Justice community considers to be conclusions.